When the rest of us act this way our parole is revoked. The rules, however, are slightly different for the loan sharks and market manipulators on Wall Street. From the New York Times:
The reopening of these cases represents a shift for the government, the first acknowledgment that prosecutors are coming to terms with the limitations of how they punish bank misdeeds. Typically, when banks have repeatedly run afoul of the law, they have returned to business as usual with little or no additional penalty — a stark contrast to how prosecutors mete out justice for the average criminal.
When punishing banks, prosecutors have favored so-called deferred-prosecution agreements, which suspend charges in exchange for the bank’s paying a fine and promising to behave. Several giant banks have reached multiple deferred or nonprosecution agreements in a short span, fueling concerns that the deals amount to little more than a slap on the wrist and enable a pattern of Wall Street recidivism.
Even now that prosecutors are examining repeat offenses on Wall Street, they are likely to seek punishments more symbolic than sweeping. Top executives are not expected to land in prison, nor are any problem banks in jeopardy of shutting down.
As always, the fix is in. Yves spells it all out for you in the post from which this comes:
Raw Story interviewed the whistleblower attorney who approached Kim after she made her charges of gross mismanagement and waste of resources. Her letter presumably represents the meatiest of his cases. He describes how the agency has been captured by large corporations:…the private sector lawyer and ex-IRS attorney explained that since 1998, IRS restructuring has focused on bringing in “outside people.” This led to the employment of an extra layer of executives who were previously “partners from big accounting firms.” Citing active IRS criminal agents, the ex-IRS attorney said: “Almost every large firm or corporation has a person inside the IRS. It’s a revolving door, with the top two or three management layers all from big accounting and law firms, and this is why they won’t work big billion-dollar cases criminally. Private bar attorneys are, in effect, controlling the IRS. It’s a type of corruption – that’s the word used by one IRS agent I’m in touch with whose case was shut down by higher ups without cause.”
The incumbent IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins, was previously a lobbyist at the WilmerHale firm where for 21 years he represented and lobbied on behalf of private sector clients including the Swiss Bankers Association. Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse have faced penalties, hearings and convictions for helping wealthy Americans illegally conceal billions of dollars of taxable income.
Attorney James Henry, former chief economist at financial consultancy McKinsey, said that Wilkins’ firm “continued to represent the Swiss Banking Association throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Now Wilkins gets appointed chief counsel of the IRS in 2009, and he’s presiding over these whistleblower cases.”
So while we have Treasury attempting to defuse public ire over the latest high-profile form of corporate tax gaming, inversions, by relocating their headquarters overseas to a lower-tax domicile while not changing their US business, we have billions uncollected as a result of the IRS becoming a big-corporate crony.
From Social Problems by Henry George, published in 1883:
Great wealth always supports the party in power, no matter how corrupt it may be. It never exerts itself for reform, for it instinctively fears change. It never struggles against misgovernment. When frightened by the holders of political power it does not agitate nor appeal to the people; it buys them off. It is in this way, no less than by direct interference, that aggregated wealth corrupts government, and helps to make politics a trade. Our organized lobbies, both legislative and Congressional, rely as much upon the fears as upon the hopes of moneyed interests. When “business” is dull, their resource is to get up a bill which some moneyed interest will pay them to beat. So, too, these large moneyed interests will subscribe to political funds, on the principle of keeping on the right side of those in power, just as the railroads deadhead President Arthur when he goes to Florida to fish.
The more corrupt a government, the easier wealth can use it. Where legislation is to be bought, the rich make the laws; where justice is to be purchased, the rich have the ear of the courts… A community composed of very rich and very poor falls an easy prey to whoever can seize power. The very poor have not spirit and intelligence enough to resist; the very rich have too much at stake.
The rise in the United States of monstrous fortunes, the aggregation of enormous wealth in the hands of corporations, necessarily implies the loss by the people of governmental control. Democratic forms may be maintained, but there can be as much tyranny land misgovernment under democratic forms as any other — in fact they lend themselves most readily to tyranny and misgovernment. Forms count for little…
This at least is certain: Democratic government in more than name can exist only where wealth is distributed with something like equality — where the great mass of citizens are personally free and independent, neither fettered by their poverty nor made subject by their wealth.
To understand The Paul Ryan and his hapless plans to save America (the latest one, under discussion here, is a doozie), we need to start with The Ronald — just as to get the idea of silly putty you ought to have some idea of what putty is.
Ever since President Reagan uttered his most notorious Zen koan — “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” — conservatives of the heartless type (the neoconservatives) have been running around trying to convince the unwashed, the gullible, and the angry old white men and women of a myth: that if government is shrunk, then the nation, its young and old, its rich and poor, will soar to ever-higher prosperity. National and international greatness will soar in step.
Soar, that is, if and only if: costly government-run social “entitlement” programs (what a wretched label!) are cut back or eliminated; certain taxes shrunk or eliminated; union extortion of free-enterprise, job-creating heroes is blocked; and certain (note that word again) government regulatory powers are neutered or eliminated. Then and only then will riches and happiness pour down along the Laffer Curve and spray upon the rabble.
Of course, Reagan’s principle, so sweeping and unmodified, is for that very reason empty of rational support, either empirical or deductive — another way of saying that it is rubbish. But constitutionally harmful rubbish. Cloaked in the drama of the Immense and Immediate Danger of the “runaway” national deficit, this approach of favoring wealth and the wealthy served Ronald and Nancy well politically during their ascension and reign in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, it undermines attention to what our Constitution refers to centrally as “the common welfare,” which one would have thought comprises the welfare of all our people — welfare of many kinds and in many shapes. Hey, Willard and Grover and “Dick,” we live here too! Are we really supposed to mope around in the national sump waiting for scraps of largesse to trickle down upon us?
Governments everywhere are established in order to … govern. The Reagan principle, as if the excited impulse of a child, blatantly ignores the raft of things our national government, in particular, does that everyone seems to like. This is a looong list, such as getting a man on the moon, researching medical applications (which are then usually handed over to Big Pharma), providing disaster relief, building the Interstate Highway System, making sure airplanes don’t crash into each other, bringing aid to people suffering from massive disasters, making sure the economically marginal elderly have food and get medical care, and — oops, better be careful here — invading countries that are not imminent threats to us, with 100% of routine congressional Republican support…
The primary target of Reagan and his whining acolytes of our own day has been the power to regulate activity within our society, a power which is of course vested at all levels of … yes, government. Regulation is an aspect of social control. And it is overwhelmingly the conservative mentality to glorify control, and has been since Edmund Burke at least. Control is needed to protect and, yes, conserve the social order that serves them well, keeping the disorderly riff and the raff out of the gated communities and the lobbies of doorman condos. It so happens that the Big Daddy of social control is none other than government regulatory activity: by dint of laws, statutes, and all sorts of other rules. The relevant term of art here is “police power.” But wasn’t it the founding neoconservative, The Ronald, who ordained that government is the problem, not the solution? What’s going on here?
INTO THE AMERICAN WEEDS:
We need control: traffic lights, drivers’ licenses, and such. The efforts of conservative control go beyond those things, into extended control of behavior in the general population. This starts locally, with zoning laws and other restrictions on property us such as un-mowed lawns, the prohibition of “saggy” pants (as in Ferguson, Missouri), and the like. In short order it rises to government-ordered vaginal ultrasounds (Virginia and elsewhere) and oversight and control of women’s uteruses, and of bedroom activity they deem to be contrary to God’s natural order, as they claim He has been telling them. On the still-wider stage, they have vigorously taken up The Ronald’s lead to more closely regulate union organizing.
Yes, that’s right: the conservatives do want some government regulations. (Union counter-pressure against corporations of course reduces the corporations’ own powers of control — and which friends sit highest at the Republican table?) The full list of controlling activity on the neoconservative wish list — some active, some reactive — is achingly long: prohibiting personal use of marijuana; shrinking the use of food stamps for the poor; minimizing supplemental school meals for poor children; removing pesky industrial safety inspections; reducing the power of organized workers…. It’s a list that is always growing.
Growing, because control is addictive and — like most addictions — it is dynamic, always driven by the feeling that a higher dose is needed to get that warm glow of well-being. Control never lays back in calm satisfaction with a task well done. Laws to control the behavior of us ordinary citizens are always seen to be in need of extension, as cracks in existing controls — real, potential, or imagined — rise to mind. Threats abound, if you put yourself to looking for them. The neoconservatives are always a-trembling about something.
Note that most of the social control of us folks down in the weeds, selectively cataloged above, is exercised by … why, by government. It’s the very same entity Reagan’s neoconservative camp followers loudly and consistently disparage. Aren’t their principles, taken together with their fondness for social regulation, a fundamentally unstable system internally? How to resolve this paradox?
AMERICAN VALUES AS SEEN FROM ON HIGH:
Wait — there’s even more confusion. There appears to be a big blank space on that ever-lengthening conservative list of aspects of our society deemed necessary to regulate. What about the activities of our financial and corporate giants? Say what? Stifle the exercise of The Free Enterprise that Made America Great? Tax corporations and hit high personal incomes, both engorged with the plunder derived from various financial rent-taking schemes plus tricky but mostly legal tax avoidance? No, regulating those things would be unfair to those “persons” who create jobs. Inheritance tax on those who have not themselves earned the money? A rape of God-given property rights. (Yet unfettered inheritance is an “entitlement” program, truly labeled, if there ever was one.)
Given the loud woes and the gnashing of teeth by the neoconservative Republicans about corporate and financial regulation, it is no accident that the people down in the weeds perceive the Republican Party as the party of business and wealth. (Wealth which today massively bankrolls the legislative and judicial election efforts largely within the Republican Party — a mutually self-sustaining ecological cycle.)
Still, we must consider the scholarly macroeconomic evidence the Republicans have to offer on the overriding value to our nation of these trade-offs away from the poor and needy and powerless, and in favor of the ever-greater benefit of the wealthy and powerful? Well, there isn’t any such evidence. In fact, there is mounting hard economic evidence supporting the contrary view. No matter: Reagan has spoken, and that is just fine with the beneficiaries of his dicta. Control of the rich and powerful and their interests is deemed a no-fly zone; it is socialistic and contrary to individual liberty. It violates a concoction called natural law. At best, it is socialism. But … this fervent conservative tic further deepens the internal instability of neoconservative thought.
Neoconservative thought seems to have become the default position in much of our country, especially in the halls of Congress. And so the paradox lying at the heart of our nation’s polity and politics as of Labor Day 2014 remains unresolved. Government to control the unwashed: OK. Government control for the plutocracy and the corporations they control: not OK, un-American. If history is any guide here, this inner “cultural” contradiction suggests that dynamics will build up within society at large and the national polity until there is some kind of major, tectonic shift-like resolution. We can only hope that it will not be violent.
So far, these broad thoughts about the neoconservative right are a distillation of what might be looked at as a kind of astrophysics-like Standard Model of the twenty-first century American polity. In other words, these are not new views. They are commonplaces among intelligent, balanced, good-spirited observers, people who can and do actually think and who get their news and commentary from The New York Times' side of things, that is, and not the MSNBC’s or Fox’s or National Review’s. This Standard Model is summarized here for the purpose of setting up a discussion of Paul Ryan’s latest plan to save the America that matters.
Before finally getting to the new Ryan plan, however, we might recall the Reagan principle and keep in front of mind the neoconservative mantra of reducing government. It is precisely that absolutely central anti-government consensus on the Right which Ryan seems now to be bucking. Ryan is no addled wanderer in life who thinks that there is such a thing as libertarianism that is not actually anarchism. No, this supposed change of spots comes from a — if not the — leading Village Philosopher of the congressional Right. A man who has read unreadable concept novels in order to forge his own soul and go forth to heal the soul of America.
SLASHING AT THE GORDIAN KNOT OF POVERTY IN AMERICA:
After having been caught receiving anal intercourse from the fat cats during the 2012 election campaign, Republicans have been struggling to find ways to get ordinary, not-so-fat-catlike folks to believe that their party really, truly cares about them (it doesn’t). It is within that context that U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently completed a tour of America to “listen to Americans in poorer cities” about “their needs,” as reported in The New York Times largely from a Ryan press release. (Don’t you love the “poorer” cities twist?) Imagine Ryan in a college class being asked, What might the needs of poor people be? “Uh, uh … money? Maybe food? No, everyone can afford some food, can’t they? We can’t all live on caviar, ha ha. Medical care? Well, I guess they have the ER. Uh, they need jobs, too, I guess. Why don’t they just go out and get them? And they have houses, don’t they? Yeah, they’re already living somewhere, right?”
The transparent listening-tour cliché is laughable in its own right, of course, but there’s more. As reported in the July 25, 2014, New York Times, Ryan — having subsequently become deeply knowledgeable about poverty in America during his whole week of photo ops with Americans in a carefully selected posy of those poorer cities, has come up with yet another of his seat-of-the-pants plans to “combat it.” Shades of the bizarro old “war on drugs.”
Chairman of the House budget committee, Ryan is renowned within his circle of apparently less intellectually endowed fellow Republican congressmen and craven, sell-out think-tank camp followers as something of a economic genius. (The hard evidence of that is … well, there really isn’t any for that, either, except that he pontificates a lot on the economy; in the country of the blind….) According to the Times, Ryan’s plan “includes a mix of both traditional Republican proposals to expand the earned-income tax credit and [but of course!] reduce regulations.”
The first step of Ryan’s plan is the consolidation of a dozen federal anti-poverty programs, then to move responsibility for administering the new stew from the federal government to the individual states (states such as Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, and Wisconsin, whose governments are so notable committed to providing succor to their poorest and neediest).
Right away, an overpowering scent of rat arises. Each state would have autonomy to spend the federal anti-poverty funds on whatever anti-poverty programs it, the individual state, desires — so long as Washington approves the state’s plan. (Note: or not spend, on poverty or anything else? And “Washington” means the Administration? Congress? Hey, gang, when that money would leave the U.S. Treasury and hit Madison or Atlanta or Jackson or Boise or Lansing or Austin, it would be whisked away out of public sight forever.)
The shift of anti-poverty efforts to the states is not a casual prescription. It is direct and slavish obeisance to the states-rights platform, a corollary to the Reagan anti-government principle. It is the national government that has been a burr under many American saddles since the days of Jefferson, John Taylor of Caroline, and of course John Calhoun and the slaveholders in the major slaveholding states. It is thus the Apostles’ Creed of the Southern secessionists — a critical tool of the shifty Nixon, with his “Southern strategy” that successfully hobbled the Democratic Party. States-rights efforts remain virulent, hobbling our Republic.
If the neoconservatives cannot neuter Washington, DC, they can at least cry states’ rights — while moving as many regulatory and police powers as possible down to the state or local level. There, the “good” conservative controls can be expanded, and the “bad,” so-called liberal regulations — environmental, safety, equal rights, and in particular financial regulations and taxation — can be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.
Ryan has christened his states-centered consolidated program one of “Opportunity Grants.” “Opportunity” is one of the Republican juju words, signifying the great promise America offers with open hands. But if that rather mysterious but supposedly omnipresent opportunity happens not to be grasped by some person, such as a poor person and family — maybe single mothers working at shit jobs, or an elderly widow living alone — and they remain impoverished, that’s regrettable, but it’s the way of the world. Jesus said so.
To the conservative mind, it is ipso facto their own fault; more than a hundred years ago Herbert Spencer and the conservative doctrines of Social Darwinism ordained it so. The opportunity-averse poor — including their infants, little children, and other dependents such as aged parents — must reap what they have failed to sow. Why, the oldsters should have been saving ten percent of their income every month for those golden retirement years, as the Wall Street Journal has been saying for decades, but they themselves chose to ignore that wise counsel. So far in this story, the Ryan plan is just more same old, same old.
OK, but what about the administration of these Grants. How will they work? The devil really is in the details here. So, hold onto your chair! This is where Ryan, that sworn enemy of government and its regulations, converts, like Saul on his way to Damascus — prostrating himself before the need for even more regulation. A huge brand-new steaming heap of it, and so anathema to the Reaganites? Well, let’s take a look: control of whom, exactly?
Per the Times’s summary of Ryan’s “Grants” program: [Step A] “If a state opted into the … program, it would have low-income residents meet with case managers who would create an ‘opportunity plan’ offering both financial advice and coordinating the provisions of the several different programs they need. [Step B] The residents would sign contracts with these case managers [i.e., with the state?] that would offer incentives [for the residents] to reach financial security and sanctions if they do not. A neutral agency would evaluate each provider’s success at moving poor Americans out of poverty.”
Mother of pearl! What a Rube Goldberg apparatus this would be, and stretching from coast to coast! Case managers. Contracts. Incentives. Providers (?). And sanctions. Oversight by a “neutral” agency (whatever the hell that might mean). All a vast new-from-the-ground-up nationwide (but definitely not national) bureaucracy — one luscious and ripe for outsourcing to private contractors within each state, which is to say the more avid contributors to a state’s political hacks. Can this really be what the top line of the Ryan plan means by “reduce regulations”?
We do have to be especially curious about those “sanctions.” They may turn out to be steps to push the failed applicants even deeper into debt and poverty if not actual incarceration (in private-capital funded facilities, of course), even though that last would contradict another of the Ryan plan’s anti-poverty tools: sentencing reform. With marijuana on its way to legalization, private prisons’ business models may however need some shoring up with a new class of customers.
REACTION FROM THE RIGHT:
Keep in mind that the underlying theme of this polemic is the absolutely central principle of conservative Republicans, their Holy Trinity: to reduce the size and reach of government and its regulations, a k a control — albeit highly selective in that reduction. So, what would neoconservative saint Ronald Reagan say about Ryan’s heaping up of new government scaffolding? You can only imagine his horror. But not to worry. None of that Opportunity Grant night soil will ever hit our statute books, so long as there is a Democrat in the White House, or a Republican president who is not mean spirited and devoid of understanding of what it means to have government for the people (or devoid of a brain and a heart).
Even many Republicans are likely to recoil, perhaps the ones who privately loathe “Bill” Kristol’s Mephistophelean smirk and the felon Ralph Reed’s Uriah Heep imitation and the lies and horrors that pour out of “Dick” Cheney’s mouth in a deadly monotone. After the Ryan plan was unveiled, Paul Krugman commented on Ryan in his Times column: “One of the best insults I’ve ever read came from Ezra Klein…. In 2007, he described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as ‘a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.’ It … applies to quite a few public figures. Rep. Paul Ryan … is a prime current example.” The chairman has no clothes.
But then another columnist, Ross Douthat, entered the lists with an especially witless column, even for him. Douthat, the Times’s second-string conservative-opinion placeholder, concocted an admiring distillation of Ryan’s latest Plan to Restore America’s Greatness and Cure Poverty. After cataloging other conservative, libertarian, or tea party public-policy fabulists — Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul — he goes on, “Now that list includes Paul Ryan, who last week released a blueprint that folds together many of the strongest reformist [??] and libertarian ideas…. [As if there exists a coherent set of Libertarian ideas, beyond the classic, I’m all right, Jack; how about you?]”
Douthat continued, “There’s…
• a larger earned-income tax credit [only for childless single filers, not so incidentally],
• proposed cuts to corporate welfare [You have to smile at the artful term “proposed” reserved for the corporate item in an anti-poverty plan],
• a call for sentencing reform for nonviolent offenses,
• a critique of ‘regressive regulations’ like licensing requirements [Ah, yes, regulations yet again. Which might those be? What might the ‘critique’ entail? And which progressive regulations, if such things are even deemed to exist in Neocon World, would survive? If any, let’s hope they include eighteen-wheeler truckers’ driving licenses and licenses to practice medicine.],
• and much more.” [Bullets added.]
So after we pour this cocktail of single-filer tax credit (how much?); “proposed” cuts to corporate welfare; sentencing reform; and fewer regulations and license requirements, then — voilà — poverty in America will surely become a thing of memory, like polio and typewriters.
We have to wonder: were those people in “poorer” cities to whom Ryan supposedly listened actually poor? If so, did they really tell him that they need a reduction in those terrible governmental regulations suppressing them? Or an urgent need for more earned-income tax credits for all those poor but childless single people who are careful to file on April 15th every year? Did they actually call for a reduction of corporate welfare to help them and their families out of poverty?
Hmmm. Did the Word file Ross zapped down to the Times pressroom accidentally delete the account of Ryan’s revolutionary poverty-fighting “Opportunity Grants” program, with its phalanx of case managers and sanctions and “neutral” review agencies? His published column contains not a single word about the “Grants” program, not even a breath of a hint. Or, as is more likely, did the power player wannabe Douthat sense how loony the program is, and put his thumb over the “Grants” stuff as he cobbled together his copy.
We might well suspect that the ol’ sly-boots Ryan is indeed floating mock-liberal proposals on poverty so his Party can say, “See, we do so care about poverty. Hence we care about you.” He and his benighted staffers may even have glimmers of how brainless their poverty proposals are, but Chairman Paul and fellow party hypocrites may think they can hoodwink the public into delight over the St. Francis- and Pope Francis-inspired charity that the party of the plutocrats has miraculously become. As the public is pretty dim-witted, chockablock with millions of low-information voters in what liberal writers call the Moron Crescent, Ryan and his cynical buddies may well be right.
That seems to indicated by the way Arthur C. Brooks, identified as president of the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, chimed in on the Times OpEd page following the Douthat nonsense — quickly, and, as it were, out of hand. Mr. Brooks’s flimsy column fits in pretty well with a golly-how-Republicans-really-hate-poverty-wink-wink conspiracy hypothesis. Brooks: “Mr. Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan, for example, features an expansion of the earned-income tax credit for childless workers — an outstanding idea the Democrats have favored for decades. The Washington Post declared the Ryan plan ‘so bipartisan it doesn’t sound like [sic] he’s running in 2016,’” the gullible Post adding the supposition that Ryan’s proposal might hurt him with the Republican base. Ooooh, it’s a risky move for Paulie, so it must be the real deal. What a mensch!
Arthur Enterprise then hears a sour note to his left. “The influential progressive blog Think Progress quickly posted a series of pieces dismissing Mr. Ryan’s plan out of hand. ‘While Ryan is trying out new rhetoric around the issue of poverty,’ they wrote, his plan ‘is full of the same empty promises he’s been making for years.’ Other progressive pundits followed suit, some appearing more eager to silence Mr. Ryan than to build a compromise that would help the poor.” (“Compromise?” What compromise?) Arthur Enterprise — who may be cynical but is probably very intelligent, unlike Ryan — goes on to suggest that the Democrats would do well with voters if they would openly discuss “personal morality” and extol “strong leadership in foreign affairs.” Thanks for the advice, Arthur; we’ll get back to you on it. Well, it seems unlikely to at least one polemic-writer that any politician or political party has something of any value whatsoever to say about “personal morality.” As for Enterprise Brooks’s phrase “strong leadership in foreign affairs”: a stirring concept, but wonderfully empty of any specificity, hence meaning. (By the way, we must remember to go to Think Progress more often, as their quick, out-of-hand assessment is spot-on about the ludicrous Ryan “plan.”)
To spend a minute analyzing Arthur C. Brooks’s cunning wordplay in the preceding: “quickly” is quack commentators’ code for knee-jerk; “out of hand” is also think-tank code for knee-jerk, as in, No thought being applied. “Pundits” is the old polemic substitute for commentators or authorities — but of course Arthur Enterprise is himself a pundit. And a polemicist, like me! Hello, my brother. Dear Reader, there is another well concealed but telling clue. Note the slick use of “for example,” above, when Arthur mentions a single detail — only one — of the Ryan “anti-poverty” plan (the childless single-filer earned-income tax credit). So there: that should put an end to poverty in America. But not a word from Enterprise Brooks, not even a tantalizing hint, about the wildly lunatic “Opportunity Grants” part of the Ryan plan, or any other example (because there is none).
THE KNOT YET STANDS:
Let’s not beat around the bush. Today’s Reagan-worshipping mainstream Republican Party, not just the snarling neoconservatives, doesn’t give two farts about reducing poverty or helping make more opportunities available to that formulaic entity “all Americans.” If they did, our Congress would long ago have expanded pre-school nationally, as well as full funding for school breakfasts and lunches for our needy children, and after-school programs. The Democratic President would have signed the bills in a heartbeat. The leading Democrats wouldn’t have had to trade off some of the family jewels to get the supplemental child nutrition program (SNAP) approved. The food stamp program would have been expanded, not cut — paid for maybe by reducing socially and economically useless subsidies to “farmers” (giant agribusiness corporations). Sorely needed major public works projects would be pumping up economies from coast to coast. And so on, in ways actually to help reduce poverty in America, ways that operate far from the influence of insipid anti-poverty plans enshrined in press releases.
Is it too much to hope that angry old white Americans, even in the Moron Crescent, will suddenly wake up and figure out that increased government help for themselves is more important to them and their children than social fluff such as keeping gays from marrying — or shielding the “job creators” who are dicking the country over for ever more profit to be sequestered among the One Percent? Yes, it probably is too much to hope. “The American People” is, as so many of the Founders fretted about, ignorant and emotionally vulnerable.
So, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Only a polemic can do justice to the foolishness — and the ugliness — of all this flapdoodle from Ryan and the chorus of neoconservative toadies. How else we can convey the stench of the evident lack of intellectual application and statesmanship of so many of our leading political figures, some of whom — not including Ryan — actually do possess smarts? Paul Ryan is no statesman. More than that, he is a jerk. This polemic has a serious purpose: to try to demonstrate why he’s a jerk, not just throw out an epithet. To think that he might have become Vice President — or President! And may still. It’s time to send him back to the smug little village that spawned him.
Oddness is breaking out here and there in American politics. Look at this by Nat Stoller on Naked Capitalism. Tiny cracks in the bipartisan military-industrial-congressional complex appear. Could there be hope?
To put it another way, Cuomo paid roughly $48 for every vote he got, where Zephyr paid roughly $2.70 (UPDATE: Philip Bump has a more accurate count, and calculated that it’s $60.62 for Cuomo to $1.57 for Zephyr, though all the data isn’t in yet). That’s a very big differential, in terms of the power of the messaging. If Zephyr had had a bit more money, she could have easily won…
Zephyr’s base bloc isn’t enough to win a primary, but it is part of a potential coalition that could do so. It’s the Occupy voter bloc, perhaps what Howard Dean had from 2002–2004 but infused with an economic justice frame. It is the only organized voting group that is able to sit outside the political establishment…
Zephyr Teachout consistently drew her biggest applause line with “It’s time for some good old fashioned trust-busting.” She made a point of saying that big cable is too big, and that Amazon is a threat to open markets. Zephyr often said she is an old school Democrat. What she meant is not just that she backs more funding for schools, but that she believes in a redesigned relationship between powerful private actors and the state similar to the one implemented by FDR. This is first and foremost about a strong antitrust agenda…
Micah wrote: What I find most intriguing about this is the way some tech VCs and entrepreneurs really seem to understand their success as tied to (or born up from) the open Internet and how we may link that to open politics or open democracy (defined as a system where the little guy can enter and compete on an open playing field, rather than one dominated by political and economic monopolists and duopolists). In other words, Comcast and Verizon are to the 21st century economy what the Democrats and the Republicans are to the political system.
From Sam Smith. What think?
Places like Harvard and Oxford — and their after-school programs such as the Washington think tanks — teach the few how to control the many and it is impossible to do this without various forms of abuse ranging from sophism to corporate control systems to napalm. It is no accident that a large number of advocates of this war — in government and the media — are the products of elite educations where they were taught both the inevitability of their hegemony and the tools with which to enforce it.
It will be some time before places such as Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations are seen for what they are: the White Citizens Councils of state violence. Still, in a little gift of history, one of their lesser offspring, George W. Bush, may speed things up a bit as he brags and blithers about, gleefully brutalizes, perversely exaggerates, and cynically promotes cruel and authoritarian ideas his brighter colleagues have worked so hard to wrap in the costume of decency and democracy. He is the Council on Foreign Relations out of the closet, the carefully contrived paradigm run amuck, the great man of history turned dangerous fool, real politik turned into absurdist caricature. For that at least, we should thank him: he has shown us the true nature of a great lie.
As a people we are vicious, vengeful, ignorant, callous and most of all cowardly. What else could account for the Dickensian criminal “justice” system we permit to exist? Excerpted from We Meant Well:
…Debtors’ prisons in the U.S. were declared unconstitutional, but states have re-implemented them anyway. A person locked up can’t earn money to pay the debt. And most significantly, it ends up costing many jurisdictions more money to punish someone for not paying than they would have “spent” just forgetting the debt. So why do states do this? To be fair, many states do not, and some that do often try and work out some sort of payment plan first. OK, good enough.
Now this may all be for the best. On the streets, nobody is overly concerned about providing food, medical care and shelter to poor people; outside they’re lazy, don’t want to work, nip at the public tit and all. Why, it would be socialism to help them after all. However, inside the prison system they all get food, medical and dental care, all tucked in a warm bed. Our society is apparently more ready to care for a criminal than for a citizen down on his luck.
The reality in America is that far too many people go to jail as punishment for not paying the fees and court costs incurred finding them already guilty of something else. One is left with a tough conclusion: we are more and more a crude, course society on path towards some sort of feudalism, where the rich (if ever brought to court at all) pay their money and walk out, while poor people are punished for no valid reason. We as a society want to set examples, clear the streets of our lowers, punish those who aren’t able to pay the government for giving them their day in court. That’s who we are now. And you better pay your bills…
The excerpt below is from a review by Bill Curry of Ralph Nader’s new book, Unstoppable, which sounds like something we should all read. Curry is a former Clinton White House advisor who ran twice for governor of Connecticut against John Rowland. Both times the voters in their wisdom chose Rowland — a sleaze bag who wound up in prison for corruption and is currently a minor-league Rush Limbaugh who sells his political endorsements on station WTIC.
Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party’s upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.
In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.
The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.
Guest blogger John Shannon, author of the Jack Liffey mysteries, takes on the mystery of economic inequality:
This is not a good era to be a bleeding-heart liberal — or a progressive, as many of us would prefer to be called. Yes, I admit it, I empathize with the orange-sellers on our freeway on-ramps, and with the homeless holding up their hand-lettered squares of cardboard for spare change. I feel for the fast-food workers holding down two or three jobs who were just denied a tiny increase in their minimum wage. And I even sympathize with those who hear a click on their telephone and fear the NSA is on the line, recording. Disheartening times indeed.
But just last week in a flash of inspiration I saw an incredibly simple fix to all these problems. I don’t know why it hasn’t been proposed before. Who could oppose a constitutional amendment that simply declared every person a corporation?
Think of it! Overnight, the Justice Department would be assigning teams to protect our privacy rights as corporations. We know they would, because it’s exactly what the U.S. keeps lecturing China about. That it’s perfectly reasonable to spy on governments, we do it too, and on individuals (even heads of state like Angela Merkel), but it’s unacceptable to spy on corporations. Their secrets are sacred. As individuals our secrets were fair game, but as corporations, not so much. With this new amendment, the NSA would have to be reined in or at least re-aimed overseas.
But that’s only the beginning. We’d all be corporations so we’d be too important to fail. I know, it used to be too big to fail, but we know from the Declaration of Independence that all of us (all of us corporations, remember) were created equal. So if GM and Chase Bank are too important to fail, so are you and I, so is that guy at the stoplight asking for change. Whenever any of us edged toward failure, there would have to be a new TARP fund ready to bail us out.
The banks were offered, what, $700 billion by Congress? And the Federal Reserve, under the table, offered to lend trillions if necessary, though nobody knows how much actually went out. In a new dispensation, we might need even more money than that, there’re so many of us small corporations. That could be a lot of money, of course, but getting it is the government’s problem, not ours. Perhaps they could tax billionaires, or offshore funds, or Wall Street stock transactions, or capital gains.
The working poor would be corporations, too. Since all these hard-working small corporations would need to survive, we would have to boost the minimum wage right up to something above the bottom edge of livable — like most other industrial countries. It’s $17 an hour in Australia after all, $12 to $25 an hour in Switzerland, $13 in France.
There are probably many more unforeseen benefits to making us all corporations. For instance, as we know, the Supreme Court decreed in Citizens’ United that money from corporations is identical to political speech and must be protected against any Congressional or state limitations. It’s perfectly logical then to assume that all us corporations must be guaranteed an equal vote, too.
The Supreme Court would have to protect our corporate voting rights against all the forms of voter suppression and gerrymandering going on in the so-called red states. We certainly don’t want to discourage our poorer and darker-skinned brother and sister corporations from voting. With a little imagination, I’m sure we can identify other benefits, too. Just think of all the state protections that corporations have against “frivolous” lawsuits, liability laws, environmental legislation, etc.
Of course, even this modest proposal might turn out to be controversial to some. After all, Congressional foot-dragging over a straightforward yearly increase in the debt ceiling hurt the U.S. credit rating and nearly brought down the world economy. Just in case, then, we could prepare a back-up proposal. It would follow the legacy of that grand compromise over slavery built into our Constitution — if you recall, for purposes of state taxation and voting rights, each slave was three-fifths of a person. Our backup plan could offer that each of us would be only three-fifths of a corporation. It’s not perfect, of course, like any compromise, but we’d have a lot more rights than we have now.
There’s no time like the present to get to work on a nation-saving “people are corporations” constitutional amendment.
Wikipedia: A long con is a scam that unfolds over several days or weeks and involves a team of swindlers, as well as props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines.
The myth of the rugged American individualist works so well because it convinces the poor that they should not act in concert or they will never be rich. The rich, after all, have become that way by being rugged, independent entrepreneurs. Most of them have not, however, as Thomas Piketty has just demonstrated.
In general the rich have got that way by acting in concert, and the poor will remain poor as long as they fail to do the same. Schools, country clubs, corporate bureaucracies, professional societies, stock exchanges, and a wide variety of other social, economic and political organizations are the cooperative tools of a class that habitually acts in concert to advance its interests. One of the ways it advances them is to persuade the poor that nothing of the sort is going on: that each rich man got that way all by himself, and anyone who hopes to imitate him must do the same.
Word has reached the Koch brothers that a few North Carolina judges remain unbought. From the New York Times:
RALEIGH, N.C. — The ad first appeared on television the Friday before last, a black-and-white spot charging that Justice Robin Hudson coddled child molesters and “sided with the predators” in a North Carolina Supreme Court dissent. It has run constantly since.
As notable as the ad’s content and frequency, though, is its source. It was created and aired not by one of Justice Hudson’s two opponents in Tuesday’s primary election, but by a group that had just received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, which pools donations from corporations and individuals to promote conservatives in state politics and is now broadening its scope to target judicial races.
The sums have been unusual for such elections. The primary race for Justice Hudson’s Supreme Court seat alone has drawn more than $1 million — the bulk of it by independent groups including the Republican committee and an arm of the state Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $250,000 to promote both of her opponents with money from companies including Reynolds American, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Koch Industries…
If after-death rotation exists for atheists, Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave. From today’s New York Times:
BOSTON — The death rate in Massachusetts dropped significantly after it adopted mandatory health care coverage in 2006, a study released Monday found, offering evidence that the country’s first experiment with universal coverage — and the model for crucial parts of President Obama’s health care law — has saved lives, health economists say.
The study tallied deaths in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2010 and found that the mortality rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — fell by about 3 percent in the four years after the law went into effect. The decline was steepest in counties with the highest proportions of poor and previously uninsured people. In contrast, the mortality rate in a control group of counties similar to Massachusetts in other states was largely unchanged…
Big deal. As the second paragraph clearly shows, Romneycare’s so-called “success” consists mainly of keeping a bunch of moochers and slackers on big government’s teat for a few more years.
As an economic illiterate, the following had never occurred to me. But then I don’t remember ever seeing this obvious fact in the public prints before, so maybe I’m not alone. Maybe we’re all idiots.
[Thomas] Piketty’s big point about the United States is that we actually do engage in substantial wealth taxation in this country. We call it property taxes, and they’re primarily paid to state and local governments. Total receipts amount to about 3 percent of national income. The burden of the tax falls largely on middle-class families, for whom a home is likely to be far and away the most valuable asset that they own. Rich people, of course, own expensive houses (sometimes two or three of them) but also accumulate considerable wealth in the stock market and elsewhere where, unlike homeowners’ equity, it can evade taxation.
Piketty also observes that the current property tax system is curiously innocent of the significance of debt. A homeowner is taxed on the face-value of his house, whether he owns it outright or owes more to the bank than the house is worth.
“If you own a house worth $500,000 but you have a mortgage of $490,000 then your net wealth is $10,000,” he explains. “So in my system you would owe no tax.”
Right now, an upper-middle-class person with a pricey house and a mortgage is taxed identically to a colleague with a similar income who inherited a similar house from his parents. This, to Piketty, is nonsensical. He thinks economists who emphasize the importance of building a tax code that’s friendly to wealth accumulation are onto something, but that the emphasis on low rates for the rich is entirely misguided. The goal should be to make the haves pay more so that the rest of us can pay less.
The excerpt below comes from a Bill Moyers interview with Diane Ravitch, the former advocate of both Bush’s educational policies who changed her mind upon further reflection. Presently she sees those policies as part of a drive by the 1% to destroy our public schools. Read the whole scary transcript.
They’re not all bad. The worst thing about the charters is the profit motive. And I want to reiterate that most charters are not for-profit. Although many of the non-profits are run by for-profit organizations. For instance, in Ohio, where they’re overrun with for-profit operations, they’re actually not for-profit charters. It’s just they’re run by a company, in one case, called the White Hat company. Which has extracted about a billion dollars in taxpayer funds since 1999.
In Florida where there are some nearly 600 charter schools, they’re overrun with for-profit schools. There’s a charter empire in Southern Florida where the brother-in-law of the guy who runs the charter empire, which is worth more than $100 million, is in the state legislature and is in charge of education appropriations. And he never recuses himself. And the charter industry has basically taken over the legislature of Florida.
…and we’re here to help. From The New Yorker:
Because West Virginia has a population of only 1.8 million — less than the city of Houston — an investment in influence goes far. The conservative fossil-fuel magnates Charles and David Koch, through their charitable foundations, have devoted particular attention to the state. The Investigative Reporting Workshop, at American University, found that, between 2007 and 2011, the Kochs gave $30.5 million to two hundred and twenty-one universities; West Virginia University received nine hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, the third-highest amount, behind George Mason and Florida State. In February, the university announced that it was creating a five-million-dollar Center for Free Enterprise, funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
The Kochs also helped fund research at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, a think tank that, in 2007, published “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It,” edited by a West Virginia University economics professor named Russell Sobel. The book argued against mine-safety regulations, on the ground that “improved safety conditions result in lower money wages for workers,” and asked, “Are workers really better off being safer but making less income?” It also called for relaxing rules on water usage. “Although they are intended to benefit citizens, water use regulations will only hamper prosperity by impeding the state’s ability to retain and attract businesses and to generate new employment opportunities.”
Governor Manchin invited Sobel to brief his cabinet, as well as a joint session of the Senate and the House Finance Committees. The state Republican Party chairman said, “Unleashing capitalism will be our party platform.” In February, Americans for Prosperity, the political-advocacy group funded heavily by the Koch brothers, established a chapter in West Virginia. A state Republican consultant told me, “You can do things here incredibly, incredibly cheaply. For instance, A.F.P., the Koch brothers, went and did North Carolina last time. Well, a legislative seat here is about one-fourth the size of a legislative seat in North Carolina. So there’s bang for your buck.” In any given district, he said, “You can go in for twenty grand, and probably fix a problem.” He also noted, “People are just showing up with pockets full of money, saying, ‘We want to help you out.’ ”
Today the local Democratic Socialists meeting was held in my town. After the typical business of a volunteer organization, we began a discussion of Adolph Reed’s article Nothing Left – The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals (behind a firewall unfortunately) in the March issue of Harper’s. Far be it from me to attempt a synopsis of this article, but quoting Reed’s closing statements may suffice.
We need to reject the fantasy that some spark will ignite the People to move as a mass. We must create a constituency for a left program — and that cannot occur via MSNBC or blog posts or the New York Times. It requires painstaking organization and building relationships with people outside the Beltway and comfortable leftist groves. Finally, admitting our absolute impotence can be politically liberating; acknowledging that as a left we have no influence on who gets nominated or elected, or what they do in office, should reduce the frenzied self-delusion that rivets attention to the quadrennial, biennial, and now seemingly permanent horse races.
It is long past time for us to begin again to approach leftist critique and strategy by determining what our social and governmental priorities should be and focusing our attention on building the kind of popular movement capable of realizing that vision. Obama and his top aides punctuated that fact by making brutally apparent during the 2008 campaign that no criticism from the left would have a place in this regime of Hope and Change. The message could not be clearer.
This is a bitter pill for long-time leftists to swallow – admitting impotence is not easy for any of us. The discussion went in a few different directions, but ultimately we all came to realize that in electoral politics, leftists have no alternative – either support the Democrat or take the risk that the usually far worse Republican will win.
Every two years, leftists who know that the Democratic candidate does not share their views nevertheless turn out to campaign for that candidate. Most around the table admitted to voting for Obama in 2008, although most of us knew at the time that he was going to serve the interests of Wall Street, not Main Street. A majority voted for Jill Stein in 2012, but only after doing the math and ascertaining that Romney had no chance of winning our state. But what’s a leftist to do?
My own position is that leftists have failed to convince a significant number of working Americans that the interests of the wealthy do not and will never be the same as the interests of workers – elementary Marxist class analysis. Without that essential bit of political understanding, workers will be easily swayed by the enormous advertising campaigns for and against the two major party candidates and will vote for one of them, thus sealing their fate for another two to four years. Left organizations, including even the American Communist Party, covered their web sites in 2012 with pictures of President Obama and urged their followers to support him, not because they believed he was a leftist, but because there was no alternative.
It strikes me that unless the left spends as much of their limited time, money and resources on creating an alternative, they will continue to face the choice between two corporate parties that are anti-labor, pro-war, and eager to bail out the next failing bank. Continuing to hold rallies, send petitions, or hold placards in front of Congressional offices about this or the other righteous cause will have the same effect it has had for the last 40 years – things will keep going in the opposite direction.
We were lucky to have a political science professor in our midst who said this reminded her of the situation in Chile. Chile had a multi-party democracy, but the post-Pinochet era has been dominated by two parties, both of whom espouse neoliberal policies. However in recent years, the students and the indigenous population have formed splinter parties that are truly socialist and although the recent election has returned Michelle Bachelet to power, she is far more likely to pursue real socialist policies rather than the more centrist policies of her 2006-2010 presidency. It is those new parties and their popular support that push her in that direction.
Can we move in that direction here in the United States? I think it is possible, but difficult. Students, and recent ex-students, are a natural constituency for a party that has a platform to eliminate student debt and provide free higher education. Recent immigrants and their communities might support a party that calls for easy naturalization for those whose only crime is entering the country without proper documentation. Unorganized labor, such as those in the service industry, might support a party that supports a $15/hour minimum wage indexed to inflation. Lots of thinking people might support a party that is calling for a repeal of the Bush and Reagan tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans and Medicare for all. It will take a lot of work to convince people to support a third party, but failing to do so traps us in a duopoly that gives us only a choice to make our lives worse quickly or more slowly.
Did you happen to notice that Democrats, except for Senator Elizabeth Warren at least, have stopped talking about “income inequality” and starting talking about “the opportunity gap”? It seems the party’s donors get worried that people talking about income inequality might get the idea that you should — horror of horrors! — redistribute some income from them to the people who need it. If we talk about an opportunity gap, we simply plan on providing some additional pseudo-opportunities to the less fortunate but they will have to man up and accept responsibility for their own economic fate.
No less a conservative icon than David Brooks wrote a column on the opportunity gap where he talked about the uncomfortable decisions that “liberals” would need to take to address it. According to Brooks, to address an opportunity gap you must champion traditional marriage and stop trying to exploit class divisions.
If you have trouble making that connection, it seems that single parents or gay parents are unlikely to spend enough time reading Goodnight Moon to their kids, and pointing out the incessant class warfare against working people is just going to get them all upset and they’ll start demanding things instead of taking advantage of whatever opportunities their betters choose to hand them.
Of course, Democrats aren’t really going to be that successful in creating new “opportunities”, but they might sneak a couple of them through the Neanderthals in the House in an election year. My senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is on a PR tour for her “American Opportunity Agenda” which represents the Democrat’s best hope for addressing “income inequality,” er, the opportunity gap.
Here are her proposals:
1. Set up a dedicated Paid Family and Medical Leave trust fund within the Social Security Administration supported by a .2% increase in the employee and employer SS payroll tax. So we are taxing working people to pay for this and creating another bureaucracy to determine who is eligible and not eligible and how much they can get, and of course, no one is saying whether their job will exist when they return from taking advantage of this opportunity.
2. Increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next 3 years (by which time that will be an even more inadequate wage) and index future increases to inflation (Obviously this will be sacrificed to get the horrid Republicans to agree).
3. Expand the Dependent and Child Care Tax Credits and make them refundable — not a bad idea, just an inadequate one. Also she wants to create some kind of incentive for college students to work in child care through loan payoffs or tax credits — something other than making the work pay enough to be attractive to college grads.
4. Create a federal-state partnership to increase the availability of Pre-K programs — which might work in New York but don’t bother dressing little Johnny in the morning if you live in Mississippi or Texas.
5. Pass a Paycheck Fairness Act to require employers to demonstrate a business justification for wage gaps between men and women doing the same work. She’s obviously pandering with this one since even those who support the concept would realize that this would be difficult and expensive to enforce so will be opposed by the donor class with a vengeance.
This is what we have come to expect from our “liberal” party: half-baked halfway measures that don’t even pretend to address the underlying systemic problem and have little chance of being enacted into law. Even if some parts manage to get through Congress, you can be sure they will be distorted into a kind of Obamacare of opportunity. When you’re a Democrat, even when you win — you lose.
…used to be Google’s much admired motto, remember? The full statement of this philosophy, still to be found on the company’s website, is “You can make money without doing evil.” Well, yeah, but it turns out you can make even more money the other way:
The case involves some of the biggest high-tech companies in the business: Apple, Google, Intuit, Intel and others. As outlined in court documents and in a story at Pando.com by Mark Ames, back in mid-2000s the companies decided to limit the potential earning power of their highly educated employees by entering into a secret non-aggression pact or cartel.
As part of the pact, top executives in each company agreed not to recruit employees from each other with offers of higher pay; they agreed to notify each other when employees of another cartel member came to them looking to improve their job situation; and they agreed to share salary information, so that all the employers were basically offering the same pay scale for the same kind of work, making it more difficult for workers to improve their paychecks by shopping their talents.
According to the suit, companies that violated the non-aggression pact were threatened with large raids to steal their workforce, and enforcing the pact was made easier by the fact that top executives sat on the boards of other companies and reaped very handsome rewards for doing so. For example, Paul Otellini, CEO of cartel member Intel, was invited to join cartel member Google’s board of directors in 2004, an arrangement that netted him $23 million in 2007 alone. It was a club that protected itself very well.
Here is James Truslow Adams, from his 1929 essay collection, Our Business Civilization:
The Republican Party may well look back to Hamilton as its high priest, but the odd thing is that Hamilton created all this heritage of strength and power and banks and tariffs for a very simple reason, and that reason the Republican Party would not dare to breathe about in any party convention, campaign, or speech: “The People, your People, Sir, is a great Beast.”
Imagine that as an exordium of a keynote speech to nominate Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover. Hamilton deliberately set out to create special privileges for certain classes so that those classes would in turn support the government and control the people. What does the Republican Party do? It hangs on for dear life to all these special privileges, it preaches Hamilton’s corollaries as the one pure political gospel, and then it steals Jefferson’s major premise, and preaches the wisdom and the nobility and the political acumen of the common people!
One feels like inquiring in the vernacular, with deep emotion, “How did you get that way?” As when watching a prestidigitator, one’s jaw drops with amazement as the rabbit pops from the one hat we could not possibly have expected it from.
At Gin and Tacos Professor Ed says:
General Motors under [CEO Roger] Smith spent $90 billion on robotics and automation in nine years … Of course none of it worked, with factory robots breaking down constantly, painting one another, and welding car doors shut…
The fact is that General Motors didn’t go bankrupt, it committed financial suicide because its executive culture fostered a loathing for the UAW and the hourly workforce that was so extreme that it obliterated basic logic and business sense. The idea was not to replace the workers with Japanese robots (GM Robotics was acquired from Fujitsu) because it would save money; it was to replace the workers with robots because fuck the workers.
Try to picture the mindset of people who would rather run their company into the ground than give their grunt employees a Cost of Living raise. It’s like an airline that would rather blow all of its planes up on the runway than give passengers an entire can of soda.
But enough about Delta.
Is this a great country or what?
Almost a third of the country’s half-million bank tellers rely on some form of public assistance to get by, according to a report due out Wednesday.
Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks. The workers collect $105 million in food stamps, $250 million through the earned income tax credit and $534 million by way of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center…
Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone:
Only slightly more than thirty percent of Americans over the age of 25 have earned the B.A. or its equivalent. It is important to pause for a moment to reflect on the significance of that statistic. Seventy per cent of the adults in this country are simply ineligible for almost every decent job because they lack the appropriate educational credentials.
To be sure, you need a college degree to be a professor, a doctor, or a lawyer. Indeed, you need several. But you also need a college degree to be a high school teacher, to be an elementary school teacher, to get into a corporate management training program, to work for a business consulting firm, to be an architect, a Registered Nurse, an FBI agent, to have any hope of working for a non-profit. If the Walmart website is to be believed, your chances of becoming a Walmart store manager without a college degree are minimal. So seventy percent of Americans can kiss all of those jobs goodbye.
Since virtually everyone who talks or writes about education and the American economy is in that thirty percent — and most are in the very much tinier segment of graduates of top colleges and universities (counting UMass and its equivalents as part of the “top”), the talk is all about how hard it is to get into the elite handful of Ivy League schools and their equivalents, as though that were the only question worth discussing.
Save when the conversation turns to African-Americans and Latinos, no one really acknowledges that most Americans do not have college degrees. Now, to be sure, a larger share of each age cohort gets some post-secondary education. After all, those 2774 four-year schools manage, on average, to graduate within six years only about 55% of the students who enroll. But the fact remains that even now, not having a college degree is the norm. By the way, when I was an undergraduate, only about six or seven percent of Americans had a college degree!
Education in America has been transformed from a pathway to prosperity into a barrier across the road. Through underfunding and overcharging, colleges have become important tools in our pursuit of inequality. I served in the army with a fellow draftee named John Schaar, a poor kid from the rural slums of western Pennsylvania. He had heard that a college education was essentially free in California, and so he hitchhiked out.
By the time I knew him he had his Ph.D. in political science. After the government got through with wasting his time at Fort Bragg, he went back to the California and became a legendary scholar and teacher in the state university system that Reagan later did his best to destroy. Today Jack would never have made it out of Pennsylvania.
For today ballooning tuition and crushing student loans effectively wall off most Americans from a college degree. And that wall itself is in large measure artificial. Law schools do little or nothing to prepare graduates for the actual practice of law. The skills required to be successful on the floor of the Stock Exchange are difficult to distinguish from those of a retiree who can keep track of a dozen cards at once at the Bingo parlor. Any good watchmaker or taxidermist or seamstress could become an equally good surgeon after an apprenticeship in the operating room. It is, after all, a manual skill.
By the time I started out as a reporter in the 1950s some of the major papers and a few of the smaller ones had begun to require a bachelor's degree. But the two best writers at the Washington Post in my time there were veterans who had started out as copyboys.
The same barriers were going up in other businesses, with even less justification. At least newspaper work required crude reading and writing skills, but what reason could there be for demanding a college degree from would-be bond salesmen, bankers, advertising men, and insurance adjusters?
Over and over universities have tried to demonstrate the relevance of a college education to job performance. Over and over they have failed, because no such relevance exists. The best argument the academy can come up with is entirely circular: college graduates make more money than nongraduates. Well, duh. People with enough money to buy into the game wind up richer than people who don’t? Is that the best you got? Post hoc is not propter hoc, as the academy should have learned in college.
Ethan Couch again, the spoiled 16-year-old killer of four given a walk by a kindly Texas judge. Yesterday I made a quick search of the initial coverage to find out who was responsible for spoiling this pathetic little rich kid. The only information I could find was that his parents were divorced. No names given. No occupations, no bio at all on this “wealthy family.” A psychologist testified that the parents were disasters, but again the news accounts left them nameless. The pickup Ethan was driving was owned by his father’s company, the watchdogs of the press reported, but apparently they were unable to dig out its name. To find it, I had to go to the Cleburne (Texas) Times-Review, in a December 3 story about the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against Cleburne Metal Works, owned by one Fred Couch. Plenty of interviews with the parents of the killed; none with the killer’s parents. No mention of unsuccessful attempts made. No word as to whether they were even present in court. Nobody seems to have staked out the Couch mansion, or mansions. No photos of the parents who apparently infected their brat with affluenza at birth, and followed up regular maintenance doses for 16 years.
Judge Jean Boyd, it seems, isn’t the only one passing out free rides.
Forget about Swine Flu, MERS, type 2 diabetes, COPD, HIV/AIDS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, hantavirus, and Low-T. Here’s what’s really killing us all.
The controversial decision, as well as backlash over a defense strategy that included testimony that 16-year-old Ethan Couch suffered from “affluenza” — an upbringing so privileged that he was unable to discern right from wrong — has led to significant criticism from the public.
Heads they win, tails we lose. David Dayen at Naked Capitalism explains how the fix is in:
Consider also how the nature of the gridlock itself empowers elite goals in this case. Democratic pundits and allies have talked themselves blue about the doomed Speakership of John Boehner, the lunacy of Ted Cruz, and whether the Republican fever will break. Precious few words, by contrast, have been written about the fact that the SOLUTION here, the position that Democrats have been pushing, is a “clean” continuing resolution, which will enforce sequestration limits, a spending cap below societal need and economic demand, into Fiscal Year 2014.
And while that would only hold for a couple months, anyone who thinks sequestration will somehow be cancelled (or even “replaced,” which does the economy next to no good from a macro standpoint) by the same people who just shut down the government over “defunding” Obamacare, which is by its nature mandatory spending and not defunded today, is nuts. But Democratic politicians benefit from the virtual silence about how the country is doomed to austerity spending caps for what could be an entire decade. And elites enjoy advantages from such a state of affairs as well.
… in just six words the GOP’s threats to shut down their own country’s government and destroy its credit rating:
Lest we forget, what Obama is trying to undo is what Clinton did. From CounterPunch:
The Clinton crime bill of 1994 introduced mandatory life imprisonment for persons convicted of a third felony in certain categories. It maintained the 100-to-1 disproportion in sentencing for crimes involving powder and crack cocaine, even though the US Sentencing Commission had concluded that the disparity was racist. It expanded to fifty the number of crimes that could draw the death penalty in a federal court, reaching even to crimes that did not include murders–the largest expansion of the death penalty in history. Pell grants giving prisoners an avenue to higher education were cut off. Federal judges were stripped of their powers to enforce the constitutional rights of prisoners and the power of states to set sentencing standards for drug crimes was greatly diminished.
The curtailment of states’ rights went further. Grants for new prisons contained the provision that receipt of the money was dependent on the states ensuring that prisoners served at least 85 percent of their sentences. These inmates, remember, had been convicted in state, not federal, courts so this was simply federal blackmail to curtail parole at the state level. The Clinton administration also pressed the states to try juvenile offenders as adults. Gore articulated the administration’s position: “When young people cross the line, they must be punished. When young people commit serious, violent crimes, they should be prosecuted like adults.” Nonviolent offenders were to be sent to boot camps. Not, it should be noted, his own kids, who evaded punishment for nonviolent infractions such as smoking pot and having an open alcohol container in the car.
…and the poor get poorer. Did you know this disturbing little factoid? I didn’t.
Never mind that some states “expanded” Medicaid and others did not. Here is the central point of unfairness for me, and the Kaiser site describes it falsely. They write: “[Y]ou will be eligible for coverage.” In fact, you aren’t “eligible,” because you don’t have a choice. You’re forced into Medicaid. This is important if you’re over 55, because Medicaid expenses will be clawed back from your estate. ObamaCare, in other words, prevents you, by force majeure, from providing for your children if you’re poor and over 55. You don’t even have the option of taking on risk by buying a crappier policy. How can that be fair?
A new royal heir recalls to mind this passage from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, clothing insight in beauty as Gibbon constantly did. Discussing Constantine, who established Christianity as the Imperial religion, then had his wife and first-born son executed for plotting against him, Gibbon says this about his remaining heirs.
His destined successors had the misfortune of being born and educated in the Imperial purple. Incessantly surrounded with a train of flatterers, they passed their youth in the enjoyment of luxury and the expectation of a throne; nor would the dignity of their rank permit them to descend from that elevated station from which the various characters of human nature appear to wear a smooth and uniform aspect.
Why are high schools free but colleges aren’t? For over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth.
By the middle of the 19th century, New York City also provided free higher education through what would become the City College of New York. Hunter and Brooklyn colleges also were tuition-free, as was California’s rapidly growing post-WWII state college and university system. The GI Bill of Rights after WWII provided significant resources to over three million returning veterans to go to school tuition-free, which in no small part, helped to build American prosperity for the next generation. (Tuition was even provided if GIs attended private colleges and universities.) A further impetus to free higher education came as America fell behind the USSR during the Sputnik-era space race.
But the spread of free higher education stalled and then retreated precisely as Wall Street began to grab more and more of the nation’s wealth. As financialization transformed the economy starting in the late 1970s, average wages flattened while Wall Street incomes shot through the roof. At the same time taxes on the super-rich collapsed placing more and more of the burden on working people. Lo and behold, free higher education rapidly became “unaffordable.” Wall Street then swooped in with loans as students and their families loaded up on debt in order to gain access to higher education. This is the very definition of financialization.
More unfond memories of the recently late Margaret Thatcher, these from filmmaker Ken Loach via the Information Clearing House. What set him off was the news that Thatcher’s funeral is expected to cost the British taxpayers more than $12 million.
“Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times,” [Loach] said. “Mass Unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class.
“Her victories were aided by the politically corrupt leaders of the Labour Party and of many Trades Unions. It is because of policies begun by her that we are in this mess today…
“Remember she called Mandela a terrorist and took tea with the torturer and murderer Pinochet. How should we honor her? Let’s privatize her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted.”
Lynn Parramore at Alternet:
LP: One look at your Yale syllabus shows that fraud has been rife through business history. Yet for the last 20 years, many people have insisted with near-religious conviction that markets are efficient and therefore resistant to fraud. Where is this belief coming from, and why is it a problem?
JC: It rests upon an assumption that is deeply flawed, and that is that the people who are stewarding your capital in the marketplace — the boards of directors and the people that the boards hire — management — are acting not only in your best interest, but are playing by the rules all the time, so that, for example, the accounts that the company puts together for the accountants (and keep in mind, management prepares financial statement, not accountants, not the auditors) are accurate. The auditors simply review them, and that’s an important point I always stress to my class. If there are games being played, and if you read the boilerplate of any auditor’s opinion, it says “we rely on the statements of management” — and so if, again, the people in the corporate suite have ethical flaws, we have a system based on truth-telling that may not be exactly always accurate.
I point out to my class that in 1998 there was a survey — Business Week (which is owned by McGraw-Hill) and McGraw-Hill (which also owns Standard and Poor’s) had a conference for the S&P’s 500 chief financial officers. They asked these chief financial officers if they’ve ever been asked to falsify their financial statements by their superior. Now, the chief financial officer’s superior is the chief executive officer, or the chief operating officer — basically the boss. It was a stunning — of course anonymous — survey. 55 percent of the CFOs indicated they’d been asked, but did not do so. 12 percent admitted that they’d been asked and did so. And then 33 percent said they’d never been pressured to do that. In effect, only one third of the companies in the S&P’s 500 at that time did not have a CEO or COO try to pressure their financial officer to falsify financial results.
From Naked Capitalism:
Now Johnson carefully laid the bread crumbs, but so as not to violate the rules of power player discourse, pointedly switched from the banana republic term “oligarch” to the more genteel and encompassing label “elites” when talking about the US (“elites” goes beyond the controlling interests themselves to include their operatives as well as any independent opinion influencers). Yet despite his depiction of extensive parallels between the role played by oligarchs in emerging economies and the overwhelming influence of the financial elite in the US, there’s been a peculiar sanctimonious reluctance to apply the word oligarch to the members of America’s ruling class…
But the fact that some people have advantages and are able to make the most of them, isn’t the reason to pin the “o” word on America’s top wealthy. It’s that, like Simon’s prototypical emerging market magnates, they increasingly dominate our society and are running it strictly for own self interest and devil take the rest of us. And the results on important metrics are worse than in Russia. The Gini coefficient is a widely-used measure of income inequality. The Gini coefficient is worse (higher) for the US than for Russia. Even though its rich have gotten richer and have pulled away from their lessers, the rest of the population has also done better:In dollar terms, Russia’s GDP increased 7.5-fold over the last decade from around $200bn to $1.5 trillion; at the same time, nominal average wages increased 14-fold over the same period from $50 to around $700 a month.And the latest statistics on the Gini coefficients (at least readily findable on the Web) are a few years stale. As we’ve written, the income gains in the US from 2009 to 2011 went entirely to the top 1%, which saw a 121% increase; the rest of the population suffered a small decline. That would increase the US Gini coefficient even further.
The architects of the Iraq war are still at large, as are the pundits who cheered them on, as are the bankers who created the economic crash. The lesson is clear in each case: American elites are not held accountable for their failures. They are an aristocracy that is free to do whatever it wants, knowing that it will not lose its power, prestige and status no matter what happens. Once you’re accepted into the club you get tenure, and you can indulge in as much fraud, extortion and folly as you wish. The little people will be tasked to suffer the consequences and pay for the mess, and you can enjoy your evening at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner without any anxiety whatsoever. As long as you don’t download kiddie porn, sleep with 13-year-old girls, frolic with Boy Scouts, or get photographed in a brothel with a chicken mask and a bull whip, you’re golden.
The rest of us get zero tolerance laws, paramilitary police forces, surveillance drones, warrantless wiretaps, German Shepherds sniffing through our kids’ lockers at school, sobriety check points, “click it or ticket” sweeps and other such delightful previews of life in post-Constitutional America. But that shit ain’t for you.
If we sell pot we go to jail, maybe even lose our careers. If you start a disastrous, unnecessary war that kills millions of people and wastes billions of dollars, you go on the Sunday talk shows and get fawned over like you’re the biggest foreign policy wiz since Lord Palmerston, or even Dr. Kissinger! You get a lucrative book deal. You hire a hack to write it. You give it an idiotically simple title that you’ve plagiarized from a third grader’s essay like Lessons Learned or What I’ve Learned. Have your wife go on The View to share your sweet human side to the housewives of America. Put together an exploratory committee. When you’re a member of the elite, failure is an option, and every crisis is indeed an opportunity. There’s nowhere to go but up, up, up.
About that book. Keep it simple. If your average football coach can’t imbibe its main points during a single bout with the piles, you haven’t accomplished your mission. Remember, David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos might be reading. Tailor your prose accordingly. Never mind that no one outside of Chris Matthews’ boudoir actually will read it, and don’t worry that it’s going to end up in a bin at the Salvation Army next to Vanna White’s biography and innumerable copies of A Million Little Pieces. This is about marketing and public relations, not literature. It’s about your worldly success in the here and now. The future doesn’t matter, as one of your colleagues famously observed, because we’ll all be dead.
Thus the same people who brought us the Iraq disaster and the Great Recession are now bringing us bomb Iran and bring on austerity. That’s how the game works. It’s one great big obscene charade. They know it. We know it. They know we know it. They know we know they know we know it, and no one cares. Even if we did, there isn’t a damn thing we could do about it anyway, is there?
From Peter Turchin, professor of ecology and mathematics at the University of Connecticut:
In the US, there is famously a close connection between wealth and power. Many well-off individuals — typically not the founders of great fortunes but their children and grandchildren — choose to enter politics (Mitt Romney is a convenient example, though the Kennedy clan also comes to mind). Yet the number of political offices is fixed: there are only so many senators and representatives at the federal and state levels, and only one US president. As the ranks of the wealthy swell, so too do the numbers of wealthy aspirants for the finite supply of political positions.
When watching political battles in today’s Senate, it is hard not to think about their parallels in Republican Rome. The population of Italy roughly doubled during the second century BC, while the number of aristocrats increased even more. Again, the supply of political offices was fixed — there were 300 places in the senate and membership was for life. By the end of the century, competition for influence had turned ugly. During the Gracchan period (139—110BC), political feuding led to the slaughter of the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius on the streets of Rome. During the next century, intra-elite conflict spilt out of Rome into Italy and then into the broader Mediterranean. The civil wars of the first century BC, fueled by a surplus of politically ambitious aristocrats, ultimately caused the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.
We take up the story of Downton Abbey several years after Lord Grantham’s mismanagement has lost his beloved manor house and estate to an unhappy band of creditors. Lord and Lady Grantham now share a bedsitter with Carson the butler in the nearby town of Bleakly-on-the-Never-Never.
Lord G: I say, Carson, do set a third place for dinner. MaMa will be joining us.
Carson: Very good, my Lord.
Lady G: Dearest Robert, must we see MaMa so soon again. The tiresome old crone was here only six months ago.
Lord G: Cora, how many times must I ask you not to call MaMa a tiresome old crone? She may be tiresome but she represents the Way It Used To Be. I say, Carson, what is on tonight’s bill of fare?
Carson: I’m afraid it’s bangers and mashed again, my Lord.
Lord G (sighing): Good heavens, Cora, this is what it’s come to — bangers and mashed two nights in a row. MaMa will be appalled. I say, Carson, let us hope at least that we will have some of that delicious spotted dick to finish.
Carson: That we do, my Lord. There’s enough spotted dick here to last out the month.
Lady G: I think your beloved MaMa will be lucky to get anything after the way she’s behaved. Of course, we wouldn’t be in this situation if you had worried less about your studs and cufflinks and more about the management of the estate.
Lord G: Only an insensitive colonial would talk that way to a peer of the realm. You really must try harder, my dear, to understand the British upper class.
Lady G: My dear Robert, to understand the British upper class one had only to watch the episode where an entire hour was devoted to the issue of which dress shirts and ties were suitable for wear with certain dinner clothes. Is it any wonder the British Empire has all but disappeared?
Lord G: Some issues are more important than they may appear to an outsider. Besides, that episode was no less compelling than the one that had me lusting after one of the maids like a demented goat. Or that tedious business with Bates and whether he murdered his wife. And let us not overlook the romance between our darling Sybil and the Irish chauffeur. Who would believe any of that?
Lady G: I would, for one. Given the general intelligence level of the script, one is expected to believe just about anything. Why would a rich, good-looking woman like me marry a dithering relic like you, for instance? You squander my fortune on idiotic investments. You insist that birdbrain with a title attend Sybil in childbirth with disastrous results, and then you manage to lose our house. So now we eat pub food at a card table and the butler sleeps on a Barcalounger in the kitchen. I should have divorced your sorry ass thirty years ago and moved back to the States.
Lord G: Yes, so you say. But then you wouldn’t have been Lady Grantham anymore, would you, my sweet? You wouldn’t have been able to cock a snook at those barbarians who spawned you in Pittsburgh, or wherever it was. And you wouldn’t have had all those wonderful years at Downton Abbey playing lady of the manor with that ghastly smile pasted on your face.
Lady G: My smile comes from good breeding. I am a lady. I had an example to set.
Lord G: Your smile comes from the makeup department. And the only thing you ever set was your hair. If there is anything that provokes my contempt it is a snob who has no reason to be a snob.
Lady G: Unlike you, I suppose, a bona fide snob.
Lord G: Exactly. I am the real thing, a snob’s snob. I am convinced that I am better than everyone else, even though I’m not very bright, not in the least bit interesting, and have never accomplished anything except to learn how to tie a white bow tie.
Lady G: Well, of course you’re right, my dear. That’s what won my heart all those years ago. I saw in you a man who presided over the biggest, ugliest house in all of England, a man with whom I could create a family of girls every bit as uninteresting as their parents, all living and yawning together in a vast pile full of servants whose intrigues, romances and betrayals were just as boring as those of their masters. It was life imitating art — in this case a TV miniseries that threatened to last until the end of time.
Lord G: Beautifully put, my dear. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I say, Carson, might we have some tea?
Carson: Very good, my Lord.
I was greeted today with the news that Robert Bork has passed away. Robert Reich offered this generous assessment on his Facebook page:
We all can get angry with people who don’t share our views and values, attributing to them the worst motives. But permit me a personal note. Robert Bork died today. He was a conservative, lionized by the right, condemned by the left, rejected by the Senate for the Supreme Court. But I knew him as a man of great honor, extraordinary wit, and deep commitment.... And although we disagreed on many issues, he was always willing to listen carefully and debate forcefully. I admired his intellect and his courage. He cared deeply about America.
I cannot quibble with Professor Reich’s firsthand knowledge of Judge Bork’s temperament. No doubt he was a nice enough guy to those who knew him personally. But that’s one of my complaints — most of these guys are nice to those around them. It’s the people who aren’t around them to whom they are unpleasant. As Dave Barry so astutely pointed out, “A person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person.” From where I’m sitting, Robert Bork was not nice to the waiter.
During his confirmation hearing, I was working as a messenger. Since I was in the car all day I tuned my radio to NPR, which carried the hearings live. Bork was articulate and had a very pleasant speaking voice. He sure didn’t sound like a nut. But there was something troubling about him that actually took me several days to identify. It came down to two assertions that he made. 1) There was no right to privacy in the Constitution because it wasn’t explicitly spelled out. 2) The Fourteenth Amendment only applied to African Americans because clearly that was what its drafters intended.
Maybe you spotted the problem already. In one instance there had to be explicit provision, in the other there didn’t. But there was consistency in the two positions nonetheless: Bork’s assertions in each instance curtailed the rights of individuals.
It was a wonderful education, listening to those hearings. Robert Bork taught me to listen — really listen — to what his side is saying. And to really think about the words themselves. Plus once I figured out how they put their arguments together, I could punch holes in them much more quickly. For that I am grateful.
And for the fact that he was not confirmed, I am even more grateful.
So RIP, I guess, Robert Bork. I do not know what lies on the other side, but I hope when you got there you learned something as useful as what you taught me.
Here they come again, hordes of undead gentleman farmers lurching toward Congress:
A significant increase in the federal estate tax is possibly just days away. And without quick congressional changes, the farmers say, their heirs could face crushing taxes that could force the breakup of their decades-old family farms…
“Death should not be a taxable event,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, Republican of Missouri. “At the very least we need to increase the exemption and drop the tax rate. We need family farms more than ever, and the death tax as it stands right now will force too many families to sell their land.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, also a Missouri Republican, said he faces estate tax concerns across the state.
“Missouri has 100,000 family farms,” he said. Of those, “15,000 farms would be impacted (by the new rates) ... More often than not, that means the family will have to sell the farm to save the farm.”
And here is David Kay Johnston, writing in the New York Times back in 2005 :
The number of farms on which estate tax is owed when the owners die has fallen by 82 percent since 2000, to just 300 farms, as Congress has more than doubled the threshold at which the tax applies, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report released last week.
All but 27 farmers left enough liquid assets to pay taxes owed, the budget office found, although it hinted that the actual number might be zero. The study examined how much in cash, stocks and bonds these farmers left to pay estate taxes, but the report noted that no data existed on how much life insurance the farmers had put into trusts. Virtually all wealthy farmers own life insurance in trusts, say estate tax lawyers who specialize in working with farmers…
President Bush, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have asserted that the estate tax is destroying family farms. None, however, have cited a case of a farm lost to estate taxes, although in June 2001 Mr. Bush said he had talked to such farmers.
The number of farms subject to the estate tax, always a minority, has fallen because Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to raise the threshold for estate taxes to $1.5 million, double that for married couples, for last year and this year. With simple planning, couples with children can shield several million more dollars from the tax.
In 2000, when the threshold was $675,000, taxes were owed by 1,659 farm estates, the study found. Had the current threshold been in effect, only 300 farms would have owed any tax.
Next year, when the threshold rises to $2 million per person, just 123 farms will be subject to the estate tax, the study found. And in 2009, when it rises to $3.5 million, only 65 of the nation's 2.2 million farms will be affected, the study said.
And now me, in November of 2003 (full post here):
First of all, I would point out to Mr. Norquist’s suppositional seventy percent that it is not a death tax. The dead no longer possess their money, being dead. Lacking money with which to pay taxes, they cannot be taxed. Are we clear so far?
Nor is the estate tax double-taxation. The dead man presumably paid his taxes while still alive. But he cannot be required to pay further taxes after death on money he no longer has. Being, you see, dead.
And so the “death” tax is not levied on the dead at all, but upon the heirs of the dead. These heirs did not earn that money, nor have they ever paid taxes on it. Their inheritance is income to them, and is taxed on the same theory that lottery winnings, found money and large cash gifts are taxed.
Thus the estate tax is not paid by dead millionaires who dedicated their lives to creating jobs for their less fortunate countrymen, but rather by their fat rich kids.
Examples would be Bush the Elder, Donald Trump, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Rupert Murdoch. Other examples would be John F. Kennedy, Ted Turner, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Estate taxes are levied on a nonideological basis, but only conservatives whine about them.
…had thought of this:
TOKYO — Shintaro Ishihara has been a rare, flamboyant presence in Japan’s otherwise drab political world for four decades. A novelist turned right-wing firebrand, he has long held celebrity status on the political margins, where he was known for dramatic flourish. He once signed a pact in blood to oppose diplomatic ties with China because of its communist government…
For those who wonder what would happen if the GOP had won the presidency and both houses last month, an interesting experiment is playing out right now in Kansas. It turns out that the laws of math still apply, even inside The Bubble:
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Acknowledging that the state is facing a “hard dip” in revenues, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that the Legislature should consider ways to pay for massive income tax cuts that he signed into law earlier this year…
Legislative fiscal analysts predicted the tax cuts would cost the state about $3.7 billion in revenue over five years.
Brownback and other advocates of the tax plan are banking that a short-term dip in tax revenues will eventually be replaced with revenues created by economic growth spurred by the tax cuts.
When Brownback first proposed the income tax plan in January, he did propose a number of ways to cover lost revenue, but he ran into trouble when lawmakers received a cool reception from constituents who didn’t want to give up their home mortgage interest deduction.
He also ran into a public relations problem when it was revealed that his tax plan — as originally proposed — would actually have raised taxes on people with incomes under $25,000 while lowering taxes for everyone else.
Eric Hartsburg, the 30-year-old Michigan City, Ind., man who had Mitt Romney’s campaign logo tattooed on his face, has had enough.
Even though in the wake of Romney’s defeat, Hartsburg said he planned to keep the 5-by-2-inch image, he told Politico on Wednesday that he’s now preparing to get the image removed by laser after Romney’s postelection comments. Hartsburg pointed to Romney’s claim that President Barack Obama won because he offered gifts to minority voters.
“It stands not only for a losing campaign but for a sore loser,” Hartsburg said of his tattoo and its connection to Romney. “He’s pretty shameful as far as I’m concerned, man. There’s no dignity in blaming somebody else for buying votes and paying off people. I can’t get behind that or stay behind that.”
Go here for a long and frightening Wichita Eagle story about a hometown boy who didn’t have to run away to seek his fortune. It was right there in Wichita, piled up for him by his daddy, Fred Koch. The word bully never appears in this profile of son Charles. It didn’t have to. It rises from the page.
A hundred and fifty-one years and still counting, the Civil War goes on. The Confederacy morphed into the Dixiecrats and then into the GOP which was easily swallowed by the Tea Party and here we are. I cannot think of a single core principle of American conservatism which does not, upon close examination, serve the interests of the master over those of the slaves. Wage slaves to be sure, and no longer exclusively black, but a slave is a slave.
An excerpt from Michael Lind’s analysis of the Confederacy’s continuation of war by other means:
…Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern work force that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers.
A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like child care…
Following up on Pennsylvania’s shame when the legislature and governor decreed that in order to vote citizens needed two government issued forms of picture IDs, now finally the courts have thrown the whole thing out.
Registered voters now may sign the voter roll book and vote just like last year. The shame, though, continues because the GOP-controlled administration decided to send a full color mailer to every voter in the state saying two government-issued picture IDs were needed to vote. Conveniently they sent the mistaken mailer before the courts threw out the controlling law. No corrective mailers have been sent.
In addition, several counties in this cradle of democracy have failed to change their online voter directions to reflect the court’s rulings. It is fair to say that thousands of Keystone State voters will believe they can’t vote because of the Republican efforts to suppress the vote. This is all part of the continuing effort by the GOP to deny large groups of voters their Constitutional rights.
Incidentally there has never been a prosecuted case of voter ID misrepresentation in Pennsylvania, though Florida has seen a wholesale voter fraud attempt this year funded by, you guessed it, the Republicans.
Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone:
The angle of the video makes it clear that it was not recorded by one of the guests, so we can only conclude that one of the wait staff managed to set up a camera and film the proceedings.
Upper classes always ignore the presence of their servants, a fact that gave rise to an entire genre of eighteenth century French comedy. [Think “The Marriage of Figaro” without the immortal music.] Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they seem constitutionally incapable of remembering that the working class is populated by actual human beings with eyes and ears and fully functional intelligence. This failure is ideological, not personal, in nature. Were the rich and powerful of the world to acknowledge the full humanity of those they exploit, they would find it difficult to sustain the easy air of superiority that they consider their birthright…
At Romney’s rich donor dinner, it is a virtual certainty that the wait staff consisted of men [and perhaps women — one cannot tell from the video] who make too little money to pay federal income taxes, and hence are among the 47% whom Romney says are dependent moochers who cannot take personal responsibility for their lives. These people were obviously in full view of Romney as he stood at the podium and spoke for more than an hour. The fact that it obviously never occurred to him that he was talking about people present in the room says more about Romney than any formal biography or hatchet job exposé possibly can.
We’ve heard a lot of moaning these past days over the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Sure, it was fun while it lasted — but you can’t change the world without an agenda, without leaders, without structure, organization, bureaucracy.
And yet out of this anarchy has just come an enormously useful handbook — by anonymous authors of course — called The Debt Resistors Operations Manual. It is available — free of course — here. (h/t to Naked Capitalism.)
Credit card companies don’t mind if you’re late paying your bill or if you maintain a balance, as long as you go on paying your monthly minimum. Cardholders who never carry balances on their cards have long been known inside the industry as “deadbeats,” money-losers. Since almost all of the industry’s profits come from late fees and interest rate penalties, it depends on your slipping up.
This is why monthly statements are intentionally designed to be confusing. If they change the design of your statement — say, by moving a box to the left, or making the print a little smaller — in such a way as to cause even one cardholder out of a thousand to misunderstand and miss a payment, that’s millions of dollars in additional profit for them. In the past they would trip up consumers by intentionally making the due date fall on a Sunday or a holiday. This enabled them to extract even more from late fees, the whole time insisting it was all your fault…
Medical debt is debt that individuals accrue when they are charged, but don’t or can’t yet pay for, out-of-pocket health-care-related expenses charged by the hospital, clinic or doctor (provider). As soon as you pull out the plastic and put it on your credit card — something strongly advised against when trying to manage medical bills — it becomes personal or consumer debt…
In addition to making sure you receive coverage that you’re eligible for, avoid putting medical bills on your credit card. Doing so converts your medical expenses to consumer debt, which puts you in an even worse place. Having credit card debt instead of medical debt likely means greater fees and penalties, and greater difficulty securing a job or mortgage.
Tired of home-grown class acts like the Romneys and the Koch brothers? Time to hate on Gina Rinehart for a change:
The richest woman in Australia has caused a storm by calling her struggling fellow countrymen ‘whingers’ and telling them to get out of the pub and work harder…
The daughter of the late Australian iron-ore mining magnate Lang Hancock, 58-year-old Mrs Rinehart was declared the world's richest woman in May…
The controversial Mrs Rinehart has also attacked Australia’s ‘class warfare’ and insists it is billionaires such as herself who are doing more than anyone to help the poor by investing their money and creating jobs…
In an extraordinary accumulation of riches from the mining industry, Mrs Rinehart’s wealth has grown by an unprecedented £11 billion this year alone. She makes more than £630,000 every 30 minutes, say financial experts.
For those who may have missed this when I blogged it in 2006, here’s a re-run of a passage from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a 1965 novel by the late Kurt Vonnegut that never goes out of date. Although now that I think of it, maybe it has. Maybe things have gotten worse.
The speaker is a fictional millionaire named Eliot Rosewater who was determined to love his country no matter what:
Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created.
Honest, industrious peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed.
Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
Go read this interview with Salon’s Joan Walsh. Do it now. It’s the most subtle and informed examination of our class wars that I’ve come across anywhere. Afterwards you can go out and buy her new book, What’s the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was, as I intend to do.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A group of former U.S. intelligence and Special Forces operatives is set to launch a media campaign, including TV ads, that scolds President Barack Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and argues that high-level leaks are endangering American lives…
Calling itself “OPSEC” for short — which in spy jargon means “operational security” — the anti-leak group incorporated last June in Delaware, a state that has the most secretive corporate registration rules in the U.S.
It also set itself up as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. Tax Code, allowing it to keep donors’ identities secret. Spokesmen for the group declined to discuss its sources of financing.
And so the Swiftboating begins. Can Karl Rove and those adorable Koch boys be far behind?
The Perrspectives piece from which the following excerpt comes is the most powerful indictment of Romney’s character that I’ve seen yet. It’s worth reading in its entirety.
In his interview with David Muir of ABC last week, Governor Romney trotted out a new defense of keeping his secret tax returns secret:
“From time to time I’ve been audited as happens I think to other citizens as well and the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job pay taxes as legally due. I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.”
Put another way, if you paid a penny more to Uncle Sam than you could’ve, you’re not just a sucker; you should be disqualified from becoming President.
Just like Mitt’s dad, George Romney.
Mitt’s idol didn’t merely establish a precedent by releasing 12 years of tax returns during his failed 1968 presidential campaign. As Paul Krugman recently reminded voters, the auto magnate and Michigan governor not only paid a lot to the U.S. Treasury, but probably much more than he needed to.
Those returns also reveal that he paid a lot of taxes — 36 percent of his income in 1960, 37 percent over the whole period. This was in part because, as one report at the time put it, he “seldom took advantage of loopholes to escape his tax obligations.”
(The contrasts between father and son hardly end there. As Rick Perlstein documented, George Romney didn’t merely develop an innovative profit sharing plan for his employees at AMC and return bonuses if he thought them too high. He also believed that “rugged individualism” is “nothing but a political banner to cover up greed.”)
Here’s L. Randall Wray, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
…Bill Black joined our department in 2006. At UMKC (and the Levy Institute) we had long been discussing and analyzing the GFC that we knew was going to hit, using the approaches of Hyman Minsky and Wynne Godley. Bill insisted we were overlooking the most important factor, fraud. To be more specific, Bill called it control fraud, where top corporate management runs an institution as a weapon to loot shareholders and customers to the benefit of top management. Think Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine.
Long before, I had come across Bill’s name when I wrote about the S&L scandal, and I had listed fraud as the second most important cause of that crisis. While I was open to his argument back in 2006, I could never have conceived of the scope of Wall Street’s depravity. It is all about fraud. As I’ve said, this crisis is like Shrek’s Onion, with fraud in every layer. There is, quite simply, no part of the financial system that is not riddled with fraud.
The fraud cannot be reduced much less eliminated. First, there are no regulators to stop it, and no prosecutors to punish it. But, far more importantly, fraud is the business model. Further, even if a financial institution tried to buck the trend it would fail. As Bill says, fraud is always the most profitable game in town. So Gresham’s Law dynamics ensure that fraud is the only game in town.
As Sherrill said, without regulation, capitalism is thievery. We stopped regulating the financial system, so thieves took over…
Mitt the Twit offers us this assessment of the choices we face in November:
...I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.
Mitt, Mitt, Mitt… “stuff from government” is not free. We pay for it. That’s what those things we call “taxes” are supposed to be used for. It’s not free. And most of us realize it’s not free. You only think “stuff from government” is free because you’re not paying those same taxes.
I hope this has been helpful, Mitt. Feel free to drop me a line if you find any other fundamentals of the social contract to be confusing.
Here’s Frank Rich, making a vidious comparison:
Q: House Speaker John Boehner told supporters at a West Virginia fund-raiser that hating Obama is enough reason to go to the polls and conceded that “Americans aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney.” (The latest Washington Post/ABC poll backs him up.) Can people really vote for Romney in spite of him?
Frank Rich: In the television era, only one hopelessly stiff, awkward, and socially inept candidate has ever been elected to the presidency, Richard Nixon. What he also had in common with Romney was a rogue’s gallery of secret fat-cat donors who would only become known after Election Day, thanks to Watergate.
From the Los Angeles Times:
EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — As protesters assembled on a beach in advance of Mitt Romney’s evening event at the home of conservative billionaire David Koch, the candidate slipped to East Hampton for his first of three fundraisers on this tony stretch of Long Island…
A New York City donor a few cars back, who also would not give her name, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.
"We've got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who's got the right to vote — they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income — one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."
From Salon, here’s David Weigel with a look backwards at the GOP’s history of voter suppression in Florida:
James Ridgeway writes on the mechanisms that keep voting rights away from felons. In Florida, for example, home to around a quarter-million black men with felony convictions, the new-old rules force “any former felon who wanted to regain voting rights to appeal directly to the governor.”
What does that mean? In a 2004 Vanity Fair piece titled “The Path to Florida,” David Margolick and a team of reporters looked at the manifold ways that the state can keep people off the rolls. They attended one voting rights-restoration hearing for Beverly Brown, “a black Miamian who has been applying for seven years.”
“Thank you, Governor and Cabinet,” she says, her voice trembling as she looks up at Jeb Bush, in a beige suit, and three of his cabinet members, seated above her on the dais. “I’m a graduate patient-care technician, and there’s nothing more I’d like to do than to utilize my skills to help others.”
She has been lucky enough to have had some private health-care jobs; recently she cared for a young quadriplegic. But what she’d really like is to get a state license — something she can’t do unless her civil rights are restored. Her convictions, all drug-related and nonviolent, date back almost 20 years, except for a more recent conviction for having been caught with pot.
“Since when have you been drug- and alcohol-free?” Jeb asks flatly, looking up from her file.
“About nine years,” says Brown.
“O.K., in 2001 there — you were convicted of marijuana possession?”
“I had — yes, it was in my possession, but it didn’t belong to me. Someone left it in my car…”
Bush gives her another once-over and delivers his verdict. “I’d like to take this case under advisement.” It’s not a no, but it’s not a yes either. Over the next couple of weeks, Brown will try to find out why the case has been on hold, but she’ll get no answers; Bush is not required to give any.
Some two years before this hearing, Governor Bush’s 25-year-old daughter Noelle had been sentenced to ten days in jail after crack cocaine was found in her shoe at an Orlando drug treatment center.
Governor Bush was not in the courtroom. He was campaigning for reelection elsewhere — accompanied that day by his younger brother, President George W. Bush, himself a recovering addict. But their sister Dorothy flew in from Maryland to represent the family at the sentencing.
My questions: Were Noelle’s civil rights ever restored by a governor, so that she could vote in Florida and maybe even become a licensed patient-care technician? And if so, by which governor?
As for Beverly Brown, who really cares? The world is full of Browns.
Something I've done that I’ll bet Mitt Romney has never done is... fill out a job application.
Guys like Romney don’t fill out job applications, y’see. According to Mitt’s Wikipedia page — and here Wikipedia's notorious subjectivity works in our favor — his employment history begins thusly:
Romney was recruited by several firms and chose to remain in Massachusetts to work for Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reasoning that working as a management consultant to a variety of companies would better prepare him for a future position as a chief executive.
In contrast, my employment history began with a clean shirt, my own pen, and an index card on which I had jotted down three personal references. I went to the mall just north of town and went from store to store, asking at each one if they were accepting applications. If they were, I reasoned it would make a better impression if I had my own pen than if I asked to borrow one. There’s something else I bet Mitt Romney has never done: give an iota of thought to the impression he would make by asking to borrow a pen.
Eventually, my efforts yielded the sort of job one would expect from a shopping mall in the late 70s — a minimum wage gig that turned out to be seasonal. I was told when I was hired in September that this particular store did not hire seasonally, which led me to expect that I could work there for as long as I did a good job. However, when there were massive layoffs the following January — myself among them — I realized that I had been lied to about that. I would bet that, too, is an experience Mitt Romney has never had. Rather, my guess would be that Mitt has always been the one lying to employees. (Although one could argue that currently he is lying to his prospective employers, which to varying degrees we have all done.)
Since then, I have filled out many job applications for all sorts of jobs. One is worth mentioning. When I fled Ohio for San Francisco (to launch my illustrious stand-up career) I had to choose between necessities and luxuries. One of the things that came under the heading of luxury was... a telephone. Ya know why? Because I had no credit history, the phone company required a prohibitively large (for me) deposit. And because I had no phone, a prospective employer refused to take my application. Apparently, what I considered a minor inconvenience he considered an insurmountable barrier. I will bet Mitt has never had to worry that he would not be seriously considered for any position in which he was interested. And I don't have to bet on this one — I will guarantee you Willard M. Romney has never had to do without a phone, for any reason.
I am happy to report that it has been a long time since I’ve had to fill out a job application. I have graduated to the ranks of people who get hired by circulating resumes, and from there to the exalted ranks of those who have their resumes dismissed out of hand. I am quite sure the being in that latter category is another experience that Mr. Romney and I will never have in common.
Romney recently suggested adding a Constitutional qualification that “the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.’” I might go along with that — if those three years began with filling out a job application. Unlike Mr. Romney, I think that would educate any would-be president in the way this country reallyworks.
After all, who can say they have never used the bus? Maybe not on a regular basis, maybe only for an emergency. I myself have done both. When I lived in San Francisco I could not afford a car (something else Mitt Romney has never experienced.) But I didn’t actually need one. I could get just about anywhere in 30 minutes or so. All sorts of people took the bus. People in business suits, people in waitress uniforms — some of those were even women — people in jeans and t-shirts. It was all very democratic. (And I got some decent exercise and a lot of reading done.)
In Los Angeles, the buses aren’t quite as useful. Oh, they go just about everywhere, but LA is so goddam big that relying on them is something of a desperation move. (Mind you, I don’t denigrate the people who depend on them - rather, they have my sympathy.) So I use the buses every now and then, usually when my car is in the shop. I make a conscious decision to do without a rental, and take a bus home. My wife will invariably ask why I didn’t call someone to pick me up. But the fact is I like to take the bus every so often. I feel it’s an experience to which I should maintain a connection.
Sometimes it’s quite an experience. The last time I took an LA bus there was a guy sitting in the back having a very spirited conversation with his own reflection in the window. At one point he said to his reflection, “I don’t care — I’ve got a bullet for everyone on this goddam bus!” To which I mentally replied: “And it’s neatly mounted on a nifty plaque, right? With a commemorative T-shirt?” I was quite relieved when he got off at the next stop.
So that’s something else I’ll be Mitt Romney has never done — having to wonder, really wonder, what someone five feet away from you is contemplating. Even in San Francisco where the “right” people also took the bus, I was engaged in conversation by a guy who kept his entire right arm suspiciously concealed in his coat. Turned out he was a Moonie, turned out he’d hurt his hand and it was in a cast, but it took a good ten minutes to find that out. And then there were all those guys who wandered past the bus stops shouting at the air. (This was in the 80s, when he had not yet started electing people who shout at the air to state legislatures and Congress.)
So there are several experiences that are not uncommon that I’ll just bet Mitt Romney has never had. I’d also be willing to bet that were he to have them, he would not learn the same things from him that I did. If Mitt Romney is elected, there will most likely be fewer buses, and they will wind up costing more. Those who have to wait will find themselves waiting longer — for a lot of things.
Ian Welsh gets it right:
Ordinary people hate other ordinary people who are doing better than them. The politics of envy isn’t about the rich, whom ordinary people almost never see, but about their neighbours. And Americans want a mean economy, one where everyone has to suffer like they do. As long as the union movement is about a few people keeping higher wages, it will continue to fail. A union movement which is centered around public service unions cannot stand.I think this is the real story of the Wisconsin elections. Corporate money was a factor, no doubt, as was conservative propaganda, but all the money and spin in the world won’t help you win if most people just flat out don’t agree with you. The fact is, demagogic appeals to people’s fear and envy almost always trump good will and common sense. Nowhere is this more true than in America, where the only thing we love more than money is kicking someone in the guts when they’re down.
But, say lefties like Michael Moore, poll after poll shows that Americans usually come down on the progressive side of the issues. Well, maybe, but election after election keeps putting reactionary Republicans and conservative Democrats back in office. Why is that?
I don’t care what any poll says. This country is firmly, staunchly, stupidly center-right. It doesn’t matter if a poll says most Americans favor single-payer health care, because those same people will turn right around and vote for some right-wing demagogue who cries that it’s “socialism!” Most Americans would benefit from bigger stimulus spending, extended unemployment benefits, and a strong labor movement, but all of that’s irrelevant. Rational considerations like that get thrown out the window as soon as a politician or a talk show host tells people that the dirty fuckin’ Mexicans are stealing their jobs, or that lazy government workers are prospering on their dime, or that class warfare against multimillionaires in the form of the capital gains tax is wrecking our economy.
If Americans are so damn progressive, why do we live in the least progressive nation of all the advanced industrial democracies? Why does public policy always, always, drift in favor of the rich and powerful? The divide and conquer tactics employed by the likes of Scott Walker succeed because so many American fundamentally agree with them. When they’re told about wicked teacher’s unions, they remember the high school civics teacher who always gave them detention and think, “Yeah, fuck teachers!” When they hear about public service workers getting higher pensions than themselves, they remember some petty government department that levied a fine on them for some minor infraction, and they think, “Yeah, fuck government workers!”
As for the Mexicans, they haven’t got a chance in this environment. Anti-Mexican bigotry is de rigueur among the white working class. It is openly and proudly expressed. It’s just taken for granted that Mexicans, who may work as dishwashers and sleep six to a room, somehow constitute a privileged aristocracy that the government mysteriously favors over good hard working white Americans when dispensing all the benefits. This view as common as the day is long, and it’s impossible to dislodge it from a brain where it’s taken root. I’ve given up trying. I’ve been inches away from fist fights over this issue. The fact is, they want to blame Mexicans for their problems for one simple reason: they want to blame Mexicans for their problems. Period. Keep your logic to yourself.
Appealing to the the lowest common denominator works because the lowest common denominator is our most potent driving force. We are the lowest common denominator. We are overlapping, interwoven bundles of lowest common denominators that, working together in perfect synergy, has produced a nation whose most salient traits are militarism, economic inequality, and authoritarian police agencies. There’s a deeply ingrained core of hysterical, money-grubbing, self-defeating stupidity that makes up a large part of our national character. It goes all the way back to pre-colonial times. It’s just who we are. Read Richard Hofstadter, or even de Tocqueville, where the theme also pops up.
(A side note: while of us liberals and progressives are wringing our hands in despair, I’d bet money that the big strategic brains in the Democratic party are betting that going against public employee unions is smart politics. I heard this being ever so gently mentioned on some of the talk shows after the election results came in. Rather than standing up for organized labor on principle, they’re going to kneecap it for short term political gain. Public employees unions are going to be the next bargaining chip, the next sacrificial lamb, in some Obamian grand bargain with the far right. Watch the Democrats sell them out. You just watch them do it.)
Read Matt Stoller’s piece at Naked Capitalism if you’re still puzzling over why brutal economic inequity and untouchable Wall Street crooks seem to be baked into the American cake. Here’s the nut graf:
The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important. What matters is post-election employment. It’s all about staying in the elite political class, which means being respected in a dense network of corporate-funded think tanks, high-powered law firms, banks, defense contractors, prestigious universities, and corporations. If you run a campaign based on populist themes, that’s a threat to your post-election employment prospects. This is why rising Democratic star and Newark Mayor Corey Booker reacted so strongly against criticism of private equity – he’s looking out for a potential client after his political career is over, or perhaps, during interludes between offices. Running as a vague populist is manageable, as long as you’re lying to voters. If you actually go after powerful interests while in office, then you better win, because if you don’t, you’ll have basically nowhere to go. And if you lose, but you were a team player, then you’ll have plenty of money and opportunity. The most lucrative scenario is to win and be a team player, which is what Bill and Hillary Clinton did. The Clinton’s are the best at the political game – it’s not a coincidence that deregulation accelerated in the late 1990s, as Clinton and his whole team began thinking about their post-Presidential prospects.
(For new evidence backing Stoller’s argument, go here.)
It came out this week that Mitt Romney was an asshole back in prep school, too. The hijinks cited in the Washington Post article include assault and battery, and whimsically tricking a vision-impaired teacher into walking into a door. Romneybot’s empathy simulation protocols were malfunctioning even then. In short, our Willard was something of a bully.
Oddly enough, that’s okay. Or it might be. Sort of.* People do stupid things when they’re young, and some of them are egregiously, even criminally stupid. Part of growing up is learning that those things were stupid or wrong. Part of being a grownup is to be able to acknowledge one’s mistakes, and what one learned from them.
I’ll let Steve Almond explain that part that is not and could never ever be by any stretch of the imagination even sort of okay:
I don’t mean to suggest that Romney is without compassion. I believe, for instance, that he loves his wife and his children, and that he believes in God and the flag. But there is something in his character that I am starting to get frightened about, an unwillingness, or an inability, to feel remorse, to simply own up to a moral failing, to apologize not just if “somebody was hurt” but because you know, deep down, that you hurt someone.
Think about it: here are these half dozen men who took part in a savage act nearly fifty years ago. It has haunted all of them. And the ringleader, the guy who made the plan and led the mob and cut the victim’s hair off remembers … nothing?
It’s just bullshit, total fucking sociopathic bullshit. And it makes me sad that such an episode comes to light and all Romney can do — a guy who wants to be elected to our highest office — is nervously lie and make excuses, as if this were political problem.
Nicely put. And it got me to asking a very simple question: What is Romney afraid of here? Is he afraid to admit to having been cruel and thoughtless as a teenager? Or is he afraid to admit that he is no longer cruel and thoughtless as an adult? Frankly, it’s pretty clear that he’s still thoughtless, if not cruel, as an adult. But hell, even George W. Bush knew enough to pretend to care. Even George W. Bush could declare, however glibly, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.”**
All of this has crystallized in my mind just what it is I find so troubling about Mitt Romney. I don’t think this guy has the slightest idea just who it is he wants us to think he is. Never mind who he actually is — I don’t think that one’s even knowable. Who does he want us to see when we look at Mitt Romney?
Obviously, Mitt wants to be president in the worst way. And if elected, he would be. (Ba dum pum!) But here’s the thing: He’s not even willing to pretend to do the first part of the job — i.e. act like he gives a shit during the process of campaigning. He was willing to pretend to be something he wasn’t when he ran for Governor of Massachusetts. And in the earlier primaries he was obviously willing to pretend to be anything else. But here — when he arguably should have the sense to put up a good front — nothing. I guess putting up a good front, like laws and taxes, are for little people.
(In reflecting on this I can’t help hearing in my head the voice of Greg Marmalard from Animal House saying, “Let the unacceptable candidates worry about that.”)
There’s one other thing that really bothers me about the bullying story. Consider: Mitt was born into a rich family. His father was the goddam governor. He didn’t just go to Harvard, he knew he was going to Harvard, pretty much from the moment the doctor announced “It’s a boy!” What’s more Harvard knew it too. And all of this wasn’t good enough for our Willard. No, he had to torment classmates and teachers alike to prove — what, exactly?
I’m guessing we’ll never know that one either.
* By saying it might be okay, I don’t mean that bullying is acceptable or something to shrug off. I was myself bullied in high school for being gay — even though I wasn’t gay. My point here is that if Mitt showed an iota of reflection or empathy, we could at least put his actions in prep school in some sort of perspective.
** Okay, it’s waaaaaay too early to be starting any sentence with “Even George W. Bush...” Hell, it took 35 years for things to get bad enough to start sentences with “Even Richard Nixon...” Says something about our friends in the GOP that they can hit a moral nadir and keep going down.
It is hard to avoid thinking that these people are perfect swine, so I won’t even try. Oh, and let me be clear: I’m not talking about people like Annette Alejandro.
From the New York Times:
Annette Alejandro just emerged from bankruptcy and doesn’t have a job, and her car was repossessed last year. Still, after spending her days job hunting, she returns to her apartment in Brooklyn where, in disbelief, she sorts through the piles of credit card and auto loan offers that have come in the mail…
But as financial institutions recover from the losses on loans made to troubled borrowers, some of the largest lenders to the less than creditworthy, including Capital One and GM Financial, are trying to woo them back, while HSBC and JPMorgan Chase are among those tiptoeing again into subprime lending.
Credit card lenders gave out 1.1 million new cards to borrowers with damaged credit in December, up 12.3 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to Equifax’s credit trends report released in March. These borrowers accounted for 23 percent of new auto loans in the fourth quarter of 2011, up from 17 percent in the same period of 2009, Experian, a credit scoring firm, said.
In celebration of Easter here’s (via Brainstorm) Spiro Agnew whining about people smarter than him. Nixon’s soon-to-be-former vice president disparages such vermin, in words insinuated into his oral orifice by his amanuensis, Pat Buchanan, as “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
While the rest of us were giggling over Rick Santorum’s fact-free attack in California’s university system, Sara Robinson wasn’t. I’d bet ten thousand Romney dollars that her decoding of Santorum’s babble is right on target.
Santorum was setting the stage. He warned us, very clearly: Following the War on Public Employees and the War on Women, this will be the summer of the War on Public Universities. Whether the proposals will be to revoke their charters, close campuses, or sell off their facilities to for-profit colleges, you can bet that ALEC already has the bills in the can, and will be introducing them in state legislatures presently.
More from The Twentieth Century by historian Howard Zinn:
1976 was not only a presidential election year — it was the much-anticipated year of the bicentennial celebration, and it was filled with much-publicized events all over the country. The great effort that went into the celebration suggests that it was seen as a way of restoring American patriotism, invoking the symbols of history to unite people and government and put aside the protest mood of the recent past.
But there did not seem to be great enthusiasm for it. When the 200th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party was celebrated in Boston, an enormous crowd turned out, not for the official celebration, but for the “People’s Bi-Centennial” counter-celebration, where packages marked “Gulf Oil” and “Exxon” were dumped into the Boston Harbor, to symbolize opposition to corporate power in America.
America continues to soil itself. Ho, hum.
So what is the best anti-poverty program? Higher wages for the jobs that are out there, currently yielding impossibly low annual incomes. The current American minimum wage ranges between $7.25 and $8.67 per hour. From time to time senior executives of Wal-Mart call for a rise in the minimum wage since, in the words of one former CEO, Lee Scott, “our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks.” The minimum wage in Ontario, Canada, is currently well over $10 per hour, while in France it now stands at nearly $13. Australia recently raised its minimum wage to over $16 per hour, and nonetheless has an unemployment rate of just 5 percent.
This is from The Twentieth Century by historian Howard Zinn, published 32 years ago. Hardly a word or a number would need to be changed today.
One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country…
In this uncertain situation of the seventies, going into the eighties, it is very important to the Establishment — that uneasy club of business executives, generals and politicos — to maintain the historic pretension of national unity, in which the government represents all the people, and the common enemy is overseas, not at home, where disasters of economics or war are unfortunate errors or tragic accidents, to be corrected by the members of the same club that brought the disasters. It is important also to make sure this artificial unity of highly privileged and slightly privileged is the only unity — that the 99 percent remain split in countless ways and turn against one another to vent their angers.
How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers.
Willard Romney, eBay’s current top bidder for the GOP presidential nomination, is the proud owner of no less than six homes.
Romney’s personal real estate includes six homes: one in La Jolla, two in the Boston area, a ski lodge in Utah and two lakeside residences in New Hampshire.
No word on whether any of those homes have a dog strapped to the roof.
Here are some assumptions that I think it is safe to make from the above list:
1) Willard’s houses will all abut nicely paved roads. After all, he wouldn’t want to risk gravel dings on any of his wife’s Cadillacs. Who paved those roads? That’d be “the government.” Who paid for that roadwork? That’d be “the taxpayers.”
2) Willard’s houses will all be hooked up to a sewer line. Said line will feed into a municipal system and ultimately a treatment plant. Who runs those? That’d be “the government.”
3) Willard undoubtedly sits placidly in each of his six houses, untroubled by the prospect that any of them are likely to collapse about his head. How can he do this? Because those houses will have been built to code. Whence cometh this code? That’d be “the government.” This same code also means that our Willard doesn’t have to spend any of his valuable time worrying that faulty electrical wiring will reduce his home to a pile of ashes. (Of course, if he turns out to be wrong about that, the help will promptly call the socialist Fire Department.)
4) I know nothing of the geography of Boston. But it’s safe to say that Willard’s two houses in Boston will be in the nicest parts of town. What makes them so nice? One thing would be well-maintained roads, which we’ve already covered. Another would be a solid police presence, in the form of either regular patrols or prompter response times should there be trouble. Government and taxes at work, once again.
5) La Jolla I’m more familiar with. Let’s say that Willard’s home there has a lovely ocean view. What makes that ocean view so lovely? One of those things would be government protection of coastal areas. And I’d be willing to bet there are some very nifty zoning laws that help to keep the ocean view unobstructed.
6) We can make similar assumptions about the lakeside residences in New Hampshire. Willard simply would not live next to a lake that was a fetid pool of waste and pollution. What keeps those waterways so pristine? One way or another, that will be overseen by that terrible horrible no-good very bad government.
The evidence is clear — Mitt Romney is a lousy stinking socialist! You don’t hear him denouncing any of these benefits he receives from the Government, do you? Nope. Not a peep. That means he must approve of them.
That, of course, is always how it is: It’s only “socialism” when it benefits someone else. (Especially if that someone else’s skin tone is darker than beige.)
This is a letter dated 17th July 1902 to Mr. W.F. Clark of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, from George F. Baer, president of the Philadephia & Reading Railway Company. Mr. Clark had urged Mr. Baer to end an ongoing strike of his railroad:
I see that you are a religious man; but you are evidently biased in favor of the right of the working man to control a business in which he has no other interest than to secure fair wages for the work he does.
I beg of you not to be discouraged. The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for — not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends. Do not be discouraged. Pray earnestly that right may triumph, always remembering that the Lord God Omnipotent still reigns, and that His reign is one of law and order, and not of violence and crime.
The Hearst paper in New York said, “The pious pirate is no new thing. Baer and the relations between a just God and the thieving trusts must be left to the pulpit for adequate treatment.” The Times said the letter “verged very close upon unconscious blasphemy.”
The religious newspapers went farther. From Chicago: “selfish ignorant cant that this captain of industry mistakes for religion. This is the sort of thing that makes anarchists.”
From New York: “A ghastly blasphemy.”
From Boston: “The doctrine of the divine right of kings was bad enough, but not so intolerable as the doctrine of the divine right of plutocrats to administer things in general with the presumption that what it pleases them to do is the will of God.”
Today these hostile reactions from the MSM of 1902 read as odd relics of the nation’s remote pre-Christian past. Today Mr. Baer’s views have become the guiding principle of one of America’s two large — I can’t bring myself to say great — political parties.
Ohio state legislator Nina Turner has decided to dramatize the War On Women: Contraceptive Theater of Operations by attempting to place an equivalent burden on men:
...the Democrat has become the latest in a series of female state legislators to give her male colleagues a taste of their own medicine by introducing a bill that limits men’s ability to get a Viagra prescription without meeting certain government conditions.
Not bad. But I suggest we think in different terms. This is a calculated burden on a settled issue of the rights of American citizens. I modestly propose we burden another settled right, to dramatize that fact. Therefore, no one should be allowed to purchase a firearm in this country without being required to watch a 30-minute montage of coroner’s photos of children who have been killed by firearms in this country. The montage’s soundtrack should include “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Remaining music should be left up to the states, in acknowledgment of the Tenth Amendment.
Undoubtedly we will hear that this violates the Second Amendment. But since it doesn’t actually prevent anyone from acquiring the means to slaughter additional children, that argument should be easily countered.
From Ezra Klein:
“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” said Alan Dlugash, a partner at accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP in New York who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”
Foster Friess, one of the leading bidders in the current E-Bay auction of the 2012 election, is being rightly excoriated for saying this:
“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he said.
There are men in this world still who think contraception is solely the woman’s problem. Clearly, Mr. Friess is among them. That would be fine, maybe, if they would at least get out of the way and leave it to the women to solve. Right?
Apparently not. For we also have this:
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out of the hearing in protest of [Issa’s] decision, citing frustration over the fact that the first panel of witnesses consisted only of male religious leaders against the rule. Holmes Norton said she will not return, calling Issa’s chairmanship an “autocratic regime.”
So what we have is what we always have, in the Republican worldview: It’s your problem, whatever it is - until you try to do something about it. Then and only then will they take an interest - and only to tell you that you can’t solve it at all.
And they call this process “freedom.”
Corporations are indeed people, and very nasty ones, Robert Stein argues. And he ought to know. Here’s an excerpt from his valuable blog, Connecting.the.Dots:
If corporations are indeed people, they are the most greedy, selfish and ruthless in the society. During years of sitting on boards of directors, I was always astonished by what happened to individuals (including myself) when they sat around a corporate table.
Institutional roles acted simultaneously as a narcotic that suppressed conscience and a stimulant to bring out every bit of low cunning to profit the organization. I have seen religious leaders, academics and business statesmen propose solutions to problems that would make a carnival pitchman blush.
If corporations bear any resemblance to individual human beings, they are people who have been lobotomized of all social instincts except their need to protect themselves, profit and grow.
Robert Paul Wolff is a Jewish philosopher who taught at Harvard, Columbia and Chicago before becoming head of the Afro-American Studies department at the University of Massachusetts. Now retired in North Carolina, he blogs at The Philosopher’s Stone. The excerpt below is from an essay called “Free, White, and Twenty-one.” In it he takes on the political question of the week: What Can South Carolina Possibly See in Newt?
It was more or less at this time that a new and curious linguistic practice entered the public speech of America. Ordinary White working class families began to be referred to, and increasingly referred to themselves, as “middle class.” Now “middle class” is itself a rather suspicious bastard sociological category. It does not have the historical roots and deeper meaning of “petty bourgeoisie,” which conveys the notion of shopkeepers and small business owners who, although owners of their means of production, are yet not the great geldbesitzeren or haute bourgeois who command the economic heights. But it also does not merely mean “between rich and poor.” It does, in the American context, somewhat correspond to the old distinction between “suits” and “shirts” or “white collar” and “blue collar.” However, in the racially segregated America of the ’50s and ’60s, “middle class” clearly meant suburban, respectable, not living in an inner city ghetto. It meant NOT BLACK.
The Civil Rights Movement challenged the Black Codes, it challenged Jim Crow, it challenged the deeply embedded caste system of American society. And it was successful! I will yield to no one in my outrage at the discriminations that still afflict Black Americans, but I am old enough to recall what this country was like in the ’40s and ’50s, and that change has been dramatic, transformative, and irreversible.
We may celebrate this change as the greatest progressive victory of the twentieth century, but to a large number of Americans, the change has been devastating, incomprehensible, and hateful. No longer can Whites at the bottom of the economic ladder console themselves, in the dark night of their souls, with the secret thought, AT LEAST I AM NOT BLACK.
The Rude Pundit quotes Martin Luther King:
Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
Exactly. Greenspan and the Chicago boys. Newtie. Governor Walker. The Koch brothers. Cantor. Perry. Reagan. Bush the Lesser. McConnell. The Tea Party. The two Pauls. On and on. All of them conscientious objectors in the war against poverty. And all of them bound, if the Bible is right, for the same place as Dives.
Tacked on to the end of The Rude Pundit’s daily scatology is the question below. None of Romney’s Republic opponents will dare to raise it, for fear of having to answer it himself. However we can surely count on the truth-seeking pit bulls of the MSM to… Okay, okay, forget it.
In other words, everything Mitt Romney wants to do would harm Americans. Everything. So of course he’s gotta get out there and be the total dickhead he always was and always will be.
Here’s the question someone needs to ask, repeatedly, of Romney: “If you had been elected in 2008, what would you have done to clear the wreckage left behind by George W. Bush?”
From The Carter Center:
Half of the workforce of the artisanal mining sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is comprised of children. Children as young as two years. Without viable economic alternatives, most children must join their parents in rudimentary mining pits. Children as young as two years transport, wash, and crush minerals to earn half a dollar a day.
These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work; they’d have cash; they’d have pride in the schools. They’d begin the process of rising…
Go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job at 9 to 14 years of age. They are selling newspapers, going door to door, washing cars. They were all making money at a very young age.
In August of 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas, a speech in which he laid out what he hoped would become the fundamental beliefs of the Republican Party.
Here is part of what he said:
The new Nationalism puts the National need before sectional or personal advantage. It is impatient of the utter confusion that results from local legislatures attempting to treat National issues as local issues. It is still more impatient of the impotence which springs from over-division of governmental powers, the impotence which makes it possible for local selfishness or for legal cunning, hired by wealthy special interests, to bring National activities to a deadlock.
This new Nationalism regards the executive power as the steward of public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than any one class or section of the people…
The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows…
We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.
Here is all of what President Obama said earlier today in Osawatomie. I hope you will read it all, after the jump. The president has found his true voice at last. See if you agree. I have posted the remainder of his speech after the jump.
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking a few of the folks who’ve joined us today. We’ve got the mayor of Osawatomie, Phil Dudley; your superintendent, Gary French; the principal of Osawatomie High, Doug Chisam. And I’ve brought your former governor, who’s now doing an outstanding job as our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius……
It is great to be back in the state of Kansas. As many of you know, I’ve got roots here. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Obamas of Osawatomie. Actually, I like to say that I got my name from my father, but I got my accent — and my values — from my mother. She was born in Wichita. Her mother grew up in Augusta. And her father was from El Dorado. So my Kansas roots run deep.
My grandparents served during World War II — he as a soldier in Patton’s Army, she as a worker on a bomber assembly line. Together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over a Depression and fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried — no matter who you were, where you came from, or how you started out.
These values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known. It was here, in America, that the most productive workers and innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth, and every American shared in that pride and success — from those in executive suites to middle management to those on the factory floor. If you gave it your all, you’d take enough home to raise your family, send your kids to school, have your health care covered, and put a little away for retirement.
Today, we are still home to the world’s most productive workers and innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefitted from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t — and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.
For many years, credit cards and home equity loans papered over the harsh realities of this new economy. But in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or sometimes even understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets — and huge bonuses — made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.
It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs, homes, and the basic security of millions — innocent, hard-working Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were still left holding the bag.
Ever since, there has been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity; balance and fairness. Throughout the country, it has sparked protests and political movements — from the Tea Party to the people who have been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. It’s left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. And it’s been the topic of heated and sometimes colorful discussion among the men and women who are running for president.
But this isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
Well, I’m here to say they are wrong. I’m here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.
You see, this isn’t the first time America has faced this choice. At the turn of the last century, when a nation of farmers was transitioning to become the world’s industrial giant, we had to decide: would we settle for a country where most of the new railroads and factories were controlled by a few giant monopolies that kept prices high and wages low? Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary? Would we restrict education to the privileged few? Because some people thought massive inequality and exploitation was just the price of progress.
Theodore Roosevelt disagreed. He was the Republican son of a wealthy family. He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy. He believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.
But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest. And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for customers with better services and better prices. And today, they still must. He fought to make sure businesses couldn’t profit by exploiting children, or selling food or medicine that wasn’t safe. And today, they still can’t.
In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here, to Osawatomie, and laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist. But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign: an eight hour work day and a minimum wage for women; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.
Today, over one hundred years later, our economy has gone through another transformation. Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere in the world. And many of you know firsthand the painful disruptions this has caused for a lot of Americans.
Factories where people thought they would retire suddenly picked up and went overseas, where the workers were cheaper. Steel mills that needed 1,000 employees are now able to do the same work with 100, so that layoffs were too often permanent, not just a temporary part of the business cycle. These changes didn’t just affect blue-collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs or the internet. Today, even higher-skilled jobs like accountants and middle management can be outsourced to countries like China and India. And if you’re someone whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don’t have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages and benefits — especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union.
Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. Sure, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everyone else. And even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, they argue, that’s the price of liberty.
It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.
Remember that in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history, and what did they get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class — things like education and infrastructure; science and technology; Medicare and Social Security.
Remember that in those years, thanks to some of the same folks who are running Congress now, we had weak regulation and little oversight, and what did that get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity, and denied care to the patients who were sick. Mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford. A financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
We simply cannot return to this brand of your-on-your-own economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and its future. It doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.
This kind of inequality — a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity — that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them — that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.
And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.
It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. It flies in the face of everything we stand for.
Fortunately, that’s not a future we have to accept. Because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country — a view that’s truer to our history; a vision that’s been embraced by people of both parties for more than two hundred years.
It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all society’s problems. It’s a view that says in America, we are greater together — when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.
So what does that mean for restoring middle-class security in today’s economy?
It starts by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success. The truth is, we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages or pollute as much as they want. That’s a race to the bottom that we can’t win — and shouldn’t want to win. Those countries don’t have a strong middle-class. They don’t have our standard of living.
The race we want to win — the race we can win — is a race to the top; the race for good jobs that pay well and offer middle-class security. Businesses will create those jobs in countries with the highest-skilled, highest-educated workers; the most advanced transportation and communication; the strongest commitment to research and technology.
The world is shifting to an innovation economy. And no one does innovation better than America. No one has better colleges and universities. No one has a greater diversity of talent and ingenuity. No one’s workers or entrepreneurs are more driven or daring. The things that have always been our strengths match up perfectly with the demands of this moment.
But we need to meet the moment. We need to up our game. And we need to remember that we can only do that together.
It starts by making education a national mission — government and businesses; parents and citizens. In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average. Their income is twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. We shouldn’t be laying off good teachers right now — we should be hiring them. We shouldn’t be expecting less of our schools — we should be demanding more. We shouldn’t be making it harder to afford college — we should be a country where everyone has the chance to go.
In today’s innovation economy, we also need a world-class commitment to science, research, and the next generation of high-tech manufacturing. Our factories and their workers shouldn’t be idle. We should be giving people the chance to get new skills and training at community colleges, so they can learn to make wind turbines and semiconductors and high-powered batteries. And by the way — if we don’t have an economy built on bubbles and financial speculation, our best and brightest won’t all gravitate towards careers in banking and finance. Because if we want an economy that’s built to last, we need more of those young people in science and engineering. This country shouldn’t be known for bad debt and phony profits. We should be known for creating and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.
Today, manufacturers and other companies are setting up shop in places with the best infrastructure to ship their products, move their workers, and communicate with the rest of the world. That’s why the over one million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed shouldn’t be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and bridges; laying down faster railroads and broadband; modernizing our schools — all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.
Yes, businesses, not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. But as a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed. Historically, that hasn’t been a partisan idea. Franklin Roosevelt worked with Democrats and Republicans to give veterans of World War II, including my grandfather, the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, a proud son of Kansas, who started the interstate highway system and doubled-down on science and research to stay ahead of the Soviets.
Of course, those productive investments cost money. And so we’ve also paid for these investments by asking everyone to do their fair share. If we had unlimited resources, no one would ever have to pay any taxes and we’d never have to cut any spending. But we don’t have unlimited resources. And so we have to set priorities. If we want a strong middle class, then our tax code must reflect our values. We have to make choices.
Today that choice is very clear. To reduce our deficit, I’ve already signed nearly $1 trillion of spending cuts into law, and proposed trillions more — including reforms that would lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
But in order to actually close the deficit and get our fiscal house in order, we have to decide what our priorities are. Most immediately, we need to extend a payroll tax cut that’s set to expire at the end of this month. If we don’t do that, 160 million Americans will see their taxes go up by an average of $1,000, and it would badly weaken our recovery.
But in the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally. We have to ask ourselves: Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education, and research, and high-tech manufacturing? Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country? Because we can’t afford to do both. That’s not politics. That’s just math.
So far, most of the Republicans in Washington have refused, under any circumstances, to ask the wealthiest Americans to go the same tax rates they were paying when Bill Clinton was president.
Now, keep in mind, when President Clinton first proposed these tax increases, folks in Congress predicted they would kill jobs and lead to another recession. Instead, our economy created nearly 23 million jobs and we eliminated the deficit. Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century. This isn’t like in the early 50s, when the top tax rate was over 90%, or even the early 80s, when it was about 70%. Under President Clinton, the top rate was only about 39%. Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One percent.
This is the height of unfairness. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million. It is wrong for Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. And he agrees with me. So do most Americans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.
This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get to the middle class, and the economy as a whole.
Finally, a strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street. As infuriating as it was for all of us, we rescued our major banks from collapse, not only because a full blown financial meltdown would have sent us into a second Depression, but because we need a strong, healthy financial sector in this country.
But part of the deal was that we would not go back to business as usual. That’s why last year we put in place new rules of the road that refocus the financial sector on this core purpose: getting capital to the entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and financing to millions of families who want to buy a home or send their kids to college. We’re not all the way there yet, and the banks are fighting us every inch of the way. But already, some of these reforms are being implemented. If you’re a big bank or risky financial institution, you’ll have to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail, so that taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes. There are also limits on the size of banks and new abilities for regulators to dismantle a firm that goes under. The new law bans banks from making risky bets with their customers’ deposits, and takes away big bonuses and paydays from failed CEOs, while giving shareholders a say on executive salaries.
All that is being put in place as we speak. Now, unless you’re a financial institution whose business model is built on breaking the law, cheating consumers, or making risky bets that could damage the entire economy, you have nothing to fear from these new rules. My grandmother worked as a banker for most of her life, and I know that the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals want to do right by their customers. They want to have rules in place that don’t put them at a disadvantage for doing the right thing. And yet, Republicans in Congress are already fighting as hard as they can to make sure these rules aren’t enforced.
I’ll give you one example. For the first time in history, the reform we passed puts in place a consumer watchdog who is charged with protecting everyday Americans from being taken advantage of by mortgage lenders, payday lenders or debt collectors. The man we nominated for the post, Richard Cordray, is a former Attorney General of Ohio who has the support of most Attorneys General, both Democrat and Republican, throughout the country.
But the Republicans in the Senate refuse to let him do his job. Why? Does anyone here think the problem that led to our financial crisis was too much oversight of mortgage lenders or debt collectors? Of course not. Every day we go without a consumer watchdog in place is another day when a student, or a senior citizen, or member of our Armed Forces could be tricked into a loan they can’t afford — something that happens all the time. Financial institutions have plenty of lobbyists looking out for their interests. Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them. I intend to make sure they do, and I will veto any effort to delay, defund, or dismantle the new rules we put in place.
We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening them. Here’s another example. Too often, we’ve seen Wall Street firms violating major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender. No more. I’ll be calling for legislation that makes these penalties count — so that firms don’t see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business.
The fact is, this crisis has left a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. And major banks that were rescued by the taxpayers have an obligation to go the extra mile in helping to close that deficit. At minimum, they should be remedying past mortgage abuses that led to the financial crisis, and working to keep responsible homeowners in their home. We’re going to keep pushing them to provide more time for unemployed homeowners to look for work without having to worry about immediately losing their house. The big banks should increase access to refinancing opportunities to borrowers who have yet to benefit from historically low interest rates. And they should recognize that precisely because these steps are in the interest of middle-class families and the broader economy, they will also be in the banks’ own long-term financial interest.
Investing in things like education that give everybody a chance to succeed. A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share. And laws that make sure everybody follows the rules. That’s what will transform our economy. That’s what will grow our middle class again. In the end, rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot, and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success. And it will require all of us to take some responsibility to that success.
It will require parents to get more involved in their children’s education, students to study harder, and some workers to start studying all over again. It will require greater responsibility from homeowners to not take out mortgages they can’t afford, and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It will require those of us in public service to make government more efficient, effective, and responsive to people’s needs. That’s why we’re cutting programs we don’t need, to pay for those we do. That’s why we’ve made hundreds of regulatory reforms that will save businesses billions of dollars. That’s why we’re not just throwing money at education, but challenging schools to come up with the most innovative reforms and the best results.
And it will require American business leaders to understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel put it best: “There’s another obligation I feel personally,” he said, “given that everything I’ve achieved in my career and a lot of what Intel has achieved…were made possible by a climate of democracy, an economic climate and investment climate provided by…the United States.”
This broader obligation can take different forms. At a time when the cost of hiring workers in China is rising rapidly, it should mean more CEOs deciding that it’s time to bring jobs back to the United States — not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for the country that made their business and their personal success possible.
I think about the Big Three Auto companies who, during recent negotiations, agreed to create more jobs and cars in America; who decided to give bonuses, not just to their executives, but to all their employees — so that everyone was invested in the company’s success.
I think about a company based in Warroad, Minnesota called Marvin Windows and Doors. During the recession, Marvin’s competitors closed dozens of plants and let go hundreds of workers. But Marvin didn’t lay off a single one of their four thousand or so employees. In fact, they’ve only laid off workers once in over a hundred years. Mr. Marvin’s grandfather even kept his eight employees during the Depression.
When times get tough, the workers agree to give up some perks and pay, and so do the owners. As one owner said, “You can’t grow if you’re cutting your lifeblood — and that’s the skills and experience your workforce delivers.” For the CEO, it’s about the community: “These are people we went to school with,” he said. “We go to church with them. We see them in the same restaurant. Indeed, a lot of us have married local girls and boys. We could be anywhere. But we are in Warroad.”
That’s how America was built. That’s why we’re the greatest nation on Earth. That’s what our greatest companies understand. Our success has never just been about survival of the fittest. It’s been about building a nation where we’re all better off. We pull together, we pitch in, and we do our part, believing that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; and that our children will inherit a nation where those values live on.
And it is that belief that rallied thousands of Americans to Osawatomie — maybe even some of your ancestors — on a rain-soaked day more than a century ago. By train, by wagon, on buggy, bicycle, and foot, they came to hear the vision of a man who loved this country, and was determined to perfect it.
“We are all Americans,” Teddy Roosevelt told them that day. “Our common interests are as broad as the continent.” In the final years of his life, Roosevelt took that same message all across this country, from tiny Osawatomie to the heart of New York City, believing that no matter where he went, or who he was talking to, all would benefit from a country in which everyone gets a fair chance.
Well into our third century as a nation, we have grown and changed in many ways since Roosevelt’s time. The world is faster. The playing field is larger. The challenges are more complex.
But what hasn’t changed – what can never change – are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule in our national life – the rule which underlies all others — is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”
I believe America is on its way up. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
From Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature:
I suggest that we will want to give [universal human rights] primary status not because it is a divine ordinance…or through obedience to an abstract principle of unknown extraneous origin, but because we are mammals. Our societies are based on the mammalian plan: the individual strives for personal reproductive success foremost and that of his immediate kin secondarily; further grudging cooperation represents a compromise struck in order to enjoy the benefits of group membership.
A rational ant — let us imagine for a moment that ants and other social insects had succeeded in evolving high intelligence — would find such an arrangement biologically unsound and the very concept of individual freedom intrinsically evil. We will accede to universal rights because power is too fluid in advanced technological societies to circumvent this mammalian imperative; the long-term consequences of inequity will always be visibly dangerous to its temporary beneficiaries. I suggest that this is the true reason for the universal rights movement and that an understanding of its raw biological causation will be more compelling in the end than any rationalization contrived by culture to reinforce and euphemize it.
Is Dr. Wilson right? “In the end,” who knows? At present, in the United States at any rate, the biological consequences of inequity are invisible to its temporary beneficiaries.
If you think you’ve seen the last of Barney Frank, think again. Here’s why.
“Barney Frank is not now, never has been, and never will be retiring.”
One of the great puzzlements in politics is the lock that the GOP has on businessmen, from Main Street to corporate America. Are they blind to their own self interest? The truth is out there, after all, and not hard to find.
By virtually every measure, over the lifetimes of every voter in the country, Democratic administrations have been better for the economy than Republican ones. Not by a little, either. By a lot.
In a sense this is a vindication of the GOP’s economic principles, which are the opposite of its actual practices once in power. The GOP, in fact rather than in theory, is historically the party of big deficits and big government. Reagan busted the budget. Clinton balanced it. Bush busted it again, even worse.
What’s going on, then? Are all these tough-minded, hard-nosed, bottom-line business men actually suckers? Well, yes and no. Yes if the businessmen are engaged in what Samuel Ricard called gentle commerce. This is positive-sum commerce, in which both parties profit from a transaction. It characterizes much of what we thing of as Small Business and it largely depends on return customers.
But the answer is no if the businessmen are engaged in zero-sum transactions where there is a loser for every winner. Think of a monopoly electric utility, as we are doing so unhappily in Connecticut right now. Think of a broker selling a mortgage to a man who can’t afford it. Think of most of the credit “industry.” These people don’t need to care if they cost the other fellow his job, his health or his home; they’ve got yours, Jack, and now they’re off to the Hamptons with it.
When they win, everybody else loses. This is one of the reasons for the seemingly odd disconnect between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the real economy in which most of us live. After all, profits go up when you fire workers.
The small businessman easily grasps this point, and so he votes Republican in order to bust the unions and do away with the minimum wage — even, if Newt Gingrich has his way, to bring back child labor. He only grasps when it’s too late the further point that fired workers can no longer afford to be his customers.
Wall Street and the corporations may grasp the point, but don't much care. Their operating principle is that of those Enron energy traders who cashed out after collapsing California’s economy — IBG, YBG. I’ll Be Gone, You’ll Be Gone.
More tomorrow on the role played by budget deficits in implementing this great Republic moral principle. (As a member of the Democrat Party, I guess I can turn Republic into an adjective if I want to…)
Sinclair Lewis famously observed:
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”
I’m seeing some tut-tutting around the blogosphere over this:
To our knowledge, Jay-Z has not been to Occupy Wall Street, or any other Occupies across the world. Yet he was recently seen wearing a t-shirt that read “Occupy All Streets,” with the W in “Wall” crossed off and the S added. His clothing company, Rocawear, is about to start selling said shirts. None of the profits, thus far, are scheduled to go back to Occupy Wall Street.
It seems to me we’re missing out on a teachable moment here.
Here’s the thing. You pay Jay-Z for a t-shirt, and whaddya get? You get a t-shirt. You’re supposed to get a t-shirt, ’cause you paid for it. That’s what we used to call “business.”
Compare and contrast with the way our Wall Street friends operate. You pay for a house and wind up with nothing. You pay for retirement and wind up with nothing. You pay for an investment and wind up with nothing. That’s what we used to call “fraud.”
But now it’s what we call “business.”
I suppose it says something about the woeful state of this country that mere hucksterism and crass exploitation seem more straightforward and honest than the institutions that currently control our national policies.
Read Krugman today. And copy your Congressperson if he, she or it is a Republican. In a nutshell:
…But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver.
So how’s it going? Iceland hasn’t avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable; the social safety net has survived intact, as has the basic decency of its society…
From The Acquisitive Society, by R.H. Tawney (1920)
All these rights — ground-rents, monopoly profits — are “Property.” The criticism most fatal to theml is not that of Socialists. It is contained in the arguments by which property is usually defended. For if the meaning of the institution is to encourage industry by securing that the workman shall receive the produce of his toil, then precisely in proportion as it is important to preserve the property which a man has in the results of his own efforts, is it important to abolish that which he has in the results of the efforts of someone else.
The considerations which justify ownership as a function are those which condemn it as a tax. Property is not theft, but a good deal of theft becomes property. The owner of royalties who, when asked why he should be paid £50,000 a year from minerals which he has neither discovered or developed nor worked but only owned, replies, “But it’s property!” may feel all the awe which his language suggests. But in reality he is behaving like the snake which sinks into its background by pretending that it is the dead branch of a tree, or the lunatic who tries to catch rabbits by sitting behind a hedge and making a noise like a turnip. He is practising protective — and sometimes aggressive — mimicry. His sentiments about property are those of the simple toiler who fears that what he has sown another may reap. His claim is to be allowed to reap what another has sown…
In countries where the development of industrial organization has separated the ownership of property and the performance of work, the normal effect of private property is to transfer to functionless owners the surplus arising from the more fertile sites, the better machinery, the more elaborate organization…
It is the foundation of an inequality which is not accidental or temporary, but necessary and permanent. And on this inequality is erected the whole apparatus of class institutions, which make not only the income, but the housing, education, health and manners, indeed the very physical appearance of different classes of Englishmen almost as different from each other as though the minority were alien settlers established amid the rude civilization of race of impoverished aborigines.
San Francisco Police Department and Department of Public Works are using the same tactics toward the protest encampment that they do toward all encampments: property sweeps, second-day cleanup property sweeps, repeat property sweeps wherever the “swept” people next set down, all punctuated by actual or threatened citations for offenses like littering and lodging in public…
I don’t find it “mystifying” at all why San Francisco’s municipal attitude toward the “occupy” protesters is meaner than in, say, Los Angeles or Seattle. It’s because San Francisco is institutionally accustomed to cleansing the appearance of disorder from all of its public spaces. This isn’t about politics, or rather, it’s not about party politics though it is political in a deeper sense. The city has just put its usual cleansing machinery in operation. The particular people being cleansed today are organized, at least partly middle-class, and intentionally making a political a point. That, and I suppose the scale of the rousting, are the only differences from every other damn day of the year…
SFPD reportedly took the Occupy SF demonstrators’ tents and sleeping bags last night. When the police were beginning to bear down, the demonstrators put out a call on #OccupySF to the public to express concern. I was one of, apparently, many who called. The officer on the line at Southern Station was unfailingly polite but also clearly busy with other calls. He was very much aware that the station’s phone number had “been tweeted.” As he got me to admit, it’s true SFPD is better than many police forces when it comes to crowd control.
The demonstrators report the police really did take all of their camping gear, even, they say, homeless people’s possessions. And we were between rainstorms at the time. We had torrential rain all the earlier part of this morning after daybreak. Also, briefly, hailstones.
Kerry Trueman at AlterNet explores the question of why those irritating Danes go around smiling all the time:
KT: Denmark is famous for having so much less income inequality; do kitchen workers in Danish restuarants make a decent salary?
TH: Yes, a dishwasher in Denmark gets $25 an hour.
KT: Do they get sick days and benefits, too?
TH: Yes, and a pension, and health care, and maternity leave. To me, the more equal your society is, the better it is for everybody. It’s not right for a country as rich as yours to have so many poor people. This thing with Americans and taxes, I don’t understand it.
I make quite a lot of money, I pay 67% tax on much of it, and I don’t mind. I like the idea that the girl who’s sitting next to my daughter, whose mother is a cleaning lady, has exactly the same opportunity to get an education that my daughter has. I don’t think that’s socialism. To me, that’s human decency. That girl didn’t choose her parents, why shouldn’t she have the same opportunities?
The point, which Teddy Roosevelt was the last Republican president to grasp, is that the natural and inevitable result of “free market” competition is not efficiency, invention, a level playing field, personal freedom, or the greatest good for the greatest number. It is monopoly.
This is what the Republican small government types would fear if they had a clue. Not government regulation. Ask anyone for his or her worst experiences with unresponsive, uncaring, indifferent, and rapacious bureaucracies. The answer will seldom be the Post Office or the Social Security Administration or even the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Nine times out of ten it will be a bank, an insurance company, a giant utililty, a cable provider. You can’t vote the rascals out. There is no congressman to complain to. You haven’t got a hope of successfully suing them. Corporate decisions are unappealable, mercilessly and mindlessly enforced by courts and bill collectors.
You can’t even get past the phone tree to speak to anybody in actual authority. Such people must exist, but they are faceless and unaccountable. You are in Kafka country. Just ask any of the poor bastards defrauded and evicted in the great mortgage swindle that blew up the economy for everyone but the bankers responsible.
This is the “big government” the useful idiots of the Tea Party ought to fear. Instead they are speeding its arrival. Perhaps it has already arrived. Look at the chart.
The only thing capable of standing in its way is the regulatory authority of the “big government” that the boobies have been taught to fear. Indeed it may already be too late. The Citizens United decision and the corporate-owned Congress and Obama’s economic team may have seen to that.
In which case God bless us all, and Tiny Tim Geithner.
The New Yorker has a wonderful story this week about the only pharmacist in Nucla, Colorado (population 700). His name is Don Colcord, and he does his best to serve an area of 4,000 square miles. Somehow he manages in spite of Medicare Part D, George W. Bush’s unfunded gift to the insurance industry and the nation’s deficit:
…He keeps watch-repair tools behind the counter, and he uses them almost as frequently as he complains about Walmart, insurance companies, and Medicare Part D. Since 2006, the program has provided prescription-drug coverage for the elderly and disabled, insuring that millions of people get their medication. But it’s also had the unintended [Editor’s note: my ass] effect of driving rural pharmacies out of business.
Instead of establishing a national formulary with standard drug prices, the way many countries do, the U.S. government allows private insurance plans to negotiate with drug providers. Big chains and mail-order pharmacies receive much better rates than independent stores, because of volume. Within the first two years of the program, more than five hundred rural pharmacies went out of business.
Don gives the example of a local customer who needs Humira for rheumatoid arthritis. The insurance company reimburses $1,721.83 for a month’s supply, but Don pays $1,765.23 for the drug. “I lose $43.40 every time I fill it, once a month,” he says. Don’s customer doesn’t like using mail-order pharmacies; he worries about missing a delivery, and he wants to be able to ask a pharmacist questions face to face. “I like the guy,” Don says. “So I keep doing it.” Don’s margins have grown so small that on three occasions he has had to put his savings into the Apothecary Shoppe in order to keep the doors open…
Rick Santorum offers up this frothy bit of wisdom:
“Does anybody in this room believe that somebody that’s 62 years old is too old to work in America today?” Santorum asked. “Social Security was established for people who were too old to work and therefore they needed the support of the federal government.”
For the moment, let’s leave aside that this is not historically correct. (Thom Hartmann neatly pointed out on his show today that both Roosevelts believed people should be able to retire after a lifetime of work. But since they were both commies, that probably doesn’t count.) Instead, let’s take Santorum’s statement on its own terms. Just for a few moments.
I don’t know specifically who was in the room when the statement was made. But the reality is that there are a lot of people who believe that someone who is 62 years old is too old to work in America today. Most CEOs. Most HR managers. Most of the so-called “job creators.” Pretty much everybody, in other words, in a position to actually hire someone who is 62 years old.
But don’t worry — they feel the same way about someone who is 52 years old. This is the reality in America today: the de facto retirement age is somewhere in the neighborhood of 49. That’s the age at which business is done with you — unless it’s your own business, of course. But if that’s the case, you’re most likely not hiring people older than 49 either. And if you’re a Republican you are most likely berating everyone you think is too old to hire for being lazy when everyone else with a job to offer makes the same unfair assessment of older workers that you did.
So, Rickster, here’s a modest proposal: Ask your campaign contributors if they think 62 is too old to work.
And then get ready to offer “the support of the federal government” to a whole lot of middle-aged, able-bodied people.
Here is a posting on The Corner by a philosopher named David French. It deals with the well-documented links between poverty and sin. Jesus was dismayed by the same phenomenon. He is on the record as saying, “For ye have the poor always with you,” while twitching the hem of his richly embroidered robe away from some beggar lest it be soiled.
Read French's powerful mini-essay, and then scroll down to this comment, in which it is dissected and its parts laid out for inspection by a reader (almost certainly not named George W.) who seems actually to be poor, or to have been poor once, or at least to have known one or two of the nasty wretches.
For this call to storm the barricades we are indebted to Jim Fallows. The true horror comes not from the video itself, but from the fact it was made at all.
Few American conservatives would be as honest in public about their true beliefs as Macaulay, quoted here in A.N. Wilson’s history, The Victorians. Most of them, no doubt, wouldn’t be this honest to themselves. They would hide behind trickle-down economics and Laffer curves and the Chicago Boys and “job creation” and survival of the fittest and so on. But at the end of the day, they’re not Gentle Jesus. They’re just Gordon Gekko.
In the mind of Macaulay, the great Whig historian, for whom the Whig Revolution of 1689 was the high point and defining moment of British history, Chartism was a disastrous idea. He saw the notion of giving the vote to the uneducated and unpropertied classes as a recipe for national suicide.
“Have I any unkind feeling towards these poor people? No more than I have to a sick friend who implores me to give him a glass of water which the physician has forbidden. No more than a humane collector in India has to those poor peasants who in a season of scarcity crowd round the granaries and beg with tears and piteous gestures that the doors may be opened and the rice distributed. I would not give the draught of water, because I know it would be poison. I would not give up the keys of the granary, because I know that, by doing so, I should turn a scarcity into a famine. And in the same way I should not yield to the importunity of multitudes who, exasperated by suffering and blinded by ignorance, demand witlh wild vehemence the liberty to destroy themselves.”
But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.…
“Democrats created Social Security and Medicare, and we have fought for decades against Republican attempts to end these programs,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “And President Obama believes that now is the time for Democrats to be the ones to step up and save Social Security and Medicare.”
One of the most famous quotes of the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett. Writing about the provincial capital, Ben Tre, on February 7, 1968, Arnett said: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.” The quote was distorted in subsequent publications, eventually becoming the more familiar, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Jonathan Chait cuts to the chase:
The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily “deficit reduction” is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.
On Rupert Rosebud, see this and this. I always look forward to the moron defense, so popular with captains of industry: “Gee, I’d love to help you guys, but I just can’t remember things too good. If only I was as smart as you fellas, with all your lawyers and documents and everything! But I just woke up one day and there I was CEO. Nobody ever tells me anything, and every time I ask about stuff or make some little suggestion they just laugh at me and hand me a private jet to play with and off they go off to do whatever it is they do. Sometimes I just cry myself to sleep wishing I wasn’t such an idiot.”
I was a great Howard Dean fan because he, like the two Roosevelts, came from the high-WASP moneyed aristocracy. All three grew up with self-satisfied, over-privileged assholes and understood that the slowest of their old playmates went to Wall Street, just as the slowest of the British aristocracy were historically packed off to the church or the military. Inconceivable that Dean would have been as impressed by the wisdom of moneylenders as Obama has been. As with Clinton, the circumstances of Obama’s life have made him a shape-shifter. The best we can hope for as president of a plutocracy is the occasional election of a traitor to his class, a renegade plutocrat.
Before we leave this repellent subject, recall that Murdoch, like William Randolph Hearst before him, didn’t lift himself up by his own bootstraps (that being, as we too often forget, an impossibility). He is just another fat rich kid, born on third base under the impression he hit a triple — like Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, the Koch brothers, George W. Bush, Richard Mellon Scaife, and so many, many other living arguments for a Death Tax set at a comfortable 100 percent.
We look back at the Great Depression and out the window at our present one, and wonder why we never seem to learn from our mistakes. At the cycle of deficits and income inequality and again wonder why. At Vietnam and Iraq and wonder why. Are we blind? Amnesiacs? Idiots?
If an individual citizen presented with symptoms so repetitive and self-destructive, no psychiatrist would hesitate to pronounce him, in layman’s terms, crazy. Why can’t they — the conservatives of both parties — ever learn?
This, though, is to misunderstand matters. They have learned. The disasters brought on so predictably and persistently by Republican administrations were not, in their view, deplorable. They were, and are, great victories.
From the GOP’s point of view both Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s stewardships of the economy were not failures, but wildly successful. Wages stayed flat or dropped, unions were busted, public and private debt skyrocketed. Good news everywhere you looked — if you were a stock gambler or an asset-stripping takeover artist or a money lender. Jobs lost to assembly lines in China, call centers in India? Marvelous. Pointless and endless wars? God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world. Without war what would become of war profiteers?
What would become of the rest of us, you ask? Who cares. We’ve got ours, Jack. And yours, too.
What happens every time a large company announces that they're going to fire thousands of people? Their stock goes up. Every. Time. So it seems to be a reasonable conclusion that our Wall Street friends love them some unemployment! Jobs mean wages, after all, and wages come out of the bottom line. Bad wages! Terrible horrible no-good very bad wages!
And yet, today we have this:
The major U.S. stock indices fell at the open Friday morning and continued falling, on the heels of a employment report that showed the jobless rate tick up to 9.2 percent in June...
So... Wall Street doesn't love them some unemployment? I'm terribly confused now.
I guess no one could have foreseen that when you do everything you can to eliminate jobs, the end result is likely to be, y'know, a lot of people without jobs…
Buck sends along a 1932 essay in Harpers Magazine by Albert Jay Nock. By “barbarian” he meant something like the British aristocracy, which in his view still possessed a certain residual noblesse oblige. Most likely he was over-generous in this, being something of a snob himself. But a snob who could write. Here’s a passage from the article, titled Our American Upper Class:
In other societies, as a general thing, a member of the upper class is not supposed to make the accumulation of wealth his master-concern, or expected to be particularly good at it. His ancestors are supposed to have stolen enough in the first instance to enable him to rub along, merely taking care of what he has and devoting himself to other pursuits. The hoarding of wealth is not a serious infraction of the upper-class canon, though when it shows itself as a master-concern it is usually regarded with disfavor; but a master-concern with accumulation is not thought to comport with upper-class dignity…
When Mr. Hoover, Mr. Ford, Mr. Rosenwald, Mr. Sloan, Mr. Gifford, Mr. Dawes, Mr. Schwab, Mr. Farrell, Mr. Strawn talk nonsense their words are not referable to any class-criteria, for none exists; their divagations are published widely, accepted complacently, lauded uncritically, and it goes for nothing that the mere passage of time proves them to be nonsense.
The complete bankruptcy of intelligence exhibited in these representative pronouncements from our upper class should make a clean sweep of the notion so often advanced to account for the low level of our general culture, that our best minds nowadays go into business. They do not. They do not go anywhere. There is nowhere for them to go.
Our society has made no place for the individual who is able to think, who is, in the strict sense of the word, intelligent; it merely tosses him into the rubbish-heap; while picking out the stupidest millionaire in sight and placing him in the White House to the accompaniment of a deafening fanfare of adulation for his almost superhuman abilities.
Intelligence is the power and willingness always disinterestedly to see things as they are, an easy accessibility to ideas, and a free play of consciousness upon them, quite regardless of the conclusions to which this play may lead. Intelligence, therefore, while not precisely incompatible with success in accumulating wealth, is unrelated to it; hence it is disallowed by our Philistines.
It is ineffectual among our Populace, on account of that class’s intense preoccupation with the bitter problem of keeping body and soul together from day to day. The only class with which it might be effectual, our Barbarians, is virtually forbidden to transform itself by the cultivation of intelligence because of society’s strong insistence that it shall set up no class-ideals and class-criteria of its own, but shall keep steadfastly to those of the Philistines.
One may see evidence of this in the character of the great and rich educational institutions that our Barbarians have founded, as compared with those founded by the corresponding class in England. They are strictly middleclass institutions; that is to say, they are organized to do everything for the “average student,” for the motor-minded, a great deal for the incompetent, the merely clever, and sagacious, but nothing whatever for the unconsidered minority which gives promise of some day becoming intelligent.
… they’re even worse, Philip Green argues in Logos. Excerpts:
…Thus the extension of the rule of law to encompass governance over the destructive powers of the free market for labor has often been the most important arena of all for the protection of democratic citizenship. If the dogma of the market rules over all, there can be no democratic political equality: One law for the Lion & Ox is oppression…
As though to underline a reality that the commentariat prefers to ignore, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was followed by the abolition of all Ba’athist legislation: except for the outlawing of unionization in the dominant public sector — including the nationalized oil industry — which the American occupiers left in force. Capital’s class war knows no boundaries…
Put simply, the wealthy won’t pay for public goods or collective welfare, and the declining middle class can’t. To take but one of many examples: the aging of the population is a pending demographic and policy disaster, yet the only approach ever discussed publicly is the destructive idea of cutting back or worse, privatizing social security — presumably so it can share the same visible fate as private pension-dependency and home ownership…
As for opposition to “big government,” this has always and only referred to extensions of the social safety net, of the possibilities of truly equal opportunity, never to the bigness of militarism and empire; let alone “the enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled intervention” that made the free market for labor possible.
From the Washington Post:
In one-quarter of the country, girls born today may live shorter lives than their mothers, and the country as a whole is falling behind other industrialized nations in the march toward longer life, according to the study…
What surprised Murray and his team was that despite increased consciousness about disparities and per capita spending on health care that is at least 50 percent higher than European countries, the United States is falling farther behind them with each passing year.
What failed to surprise me and my team was this:
The region where life expectancy is lowest, and in some places declining, begins in West Virginia, runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains and west through the Deep South into North Texas.
This is a swath of red states where the right to bear arms is particularly cherished. Without it, voters would have trouble shooting themselves in the foot on election day.
The criminal code is brutally harsh about assigning responsibility where the lower orders are concerned. The kid sitting outside in the car while the others rob a convenience store is responsible for the clerk’s death, even if he didn’t know she was killed. So is the grandmother or girl friend who harbors the suspect knowing of his crime.
Try this on Goldman Sachs, AIG, Countrywide, or BP. The jails would burst. The shakiest entrapment and encitement tactics are routinely used against suspected terrorists, but almost never against bankers or CEOs or industrial polluters. Not to report a crime is a crime for you, but not for them. Shielding a criminal makes you a criminal, but not them.
Where’s the fairness? Fairness is for suckers. Grow up.
From the Associated Press, 9:52 a.m:
WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for unemployment benefits surged last week to the highest level in eight months, a sign the job market may be weakening.
The Labor Department says applications rose by 43,000 to 474,000 in the week ended April 30, the third increase in four weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the fourth straight week to 431,250.
From the Associated Press, 9:52 a.m:
NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list.
The annual ranking, released Thursday, also shows that the largest U.S. companies have fared much better than ordinary Americans. Companies that made the Fortune 500 this year posted the third-largest combined profit gain in the lists’ history.
Fortune Magazine compiled its list based on revenue for 2010. Editors say that companies increased profits by increasing productivity and cutting jobs. They also grew faster overseas than in the U.S.
From Aging Well, by George Vaillant. The Inner City study followed a group of Boston area men throughout their lives. The men, mostly from working class backgrounds, were born between 1925 and 1932.
When reinterviewed at age 67, one Inner City man was asked about how his parents had supervised him. He earnestly replied, “Oh, they really made us go to school, and back in that era, you know, elementary school, you would go home for lunch. My mom would have a hot meal waiting for me. And I would spend an hour or so with her, then I would go back to school. No foolish stupid buses or these cold, dumb lunches that they give you today. My mommy took care of these things. Didn’t let the State worry about it.
“Maybe that’s probably one of the reasons I have a lot of resentment toward liberals; I don’t want to get into no political thing with you, but I don’t like liberals. The left liberals especially.” The interviewer asked, “Was your family poor?” “Ah, no,” came the answer. “I would say we were probably lower middle class back then.”
The original record revealed that when this man was one year old the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) had been called in. They noted that the subject had rickets (a disorder of malnutrition) and “the house was dirty and in disorder.” When he was 16 the interviewer noted that his parents “harped on how little aid they were getting from Welfare.” Selective amnesia at 67 allowed him to feel in control. He needed no help from liberals; he had never needed help from liberals.
This is from a Measure of America report which contains, along with a whole raft of other things you didn’t know, the following:
Rankings by state, for each major racial and ethnic group, on the American Human Development Index. The index reveals that the starkest disparities in well-being fall not between blacks and whites, but between Native Americans and Asian Americans. Asian Americans as a group top the rankings, with Asian Americans in New Jersey coming in at number one. If current trends continue, it will take Native Americans in South Dakota an entire century to catch up with where New Jersey Asian Americans are now in terms of life expectancy, educational enrollment and attainment, and median earnings.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was ticketed by U.S. Park Police after being found responsible for a four-car traffic accident on his way to the high court Tuesday morning.
The incident occurred just before 9 a.m. on the southbound George Washington Parkway across the Potomac River from Washington in Virginia. Scalia reportedly rear-ended another driver who had stopped in traffic, and two other vehicles followed behind. No one was injured.
Mark Wilson reminds me that in 2001 I posted an item under the headline “Scofflaw Jurist OKs Soccer Mom’s Bust,” which I reprint below to save you the trouble of following its link. Nothing, it seems, is beneath plutocracy’s mouthpiece — including but not limited to the law.
In 1997 a soccer mom named Gail Atwater was bringing her two young children back from practice. She was almost home, travelling 15 miles an hour, when a Lago Vista, Texas, police officer stopped her pickup because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
The policeman arrested her in front of her children, handcuffed her, searched the truck, and took her to jail. There she was locked in a cell until she came up with a $310 bond for a $50 misdemeanor. She got home to find that on top of everything else, her truck had been towed.
It was okay, though.
Because on April 24, 2001, the United States Supreme Court decided, 5-4, that none of this violated Ms. Atwater’s constitutional right to be free of “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Among the majority, as is usual when the Bill of Rights is being undermined, was Justice Antonin Scalia.
On December 14, 2000, the New York Times ran the following copyrighted pictures of three Supreme Court justices leaving for home after the Court appointed George W. Bush president. The one on the bottom, the only one not wearing his seat belt, is Antonin Scalia. It was at that time, and had been since 1985, illegal under Section 40-1602 of the District of Columbia code to drive without a seat belt in place. Justice Scalia was not, however, seized, cuffed and jailed. Luckily for him, he had not yet got around to ruling that the Constitution permitted such a thing.
The more I think about Joe Bageant’s early death the sadder I get — not so much for him, who now could care less, but for what the rest of us have lost. If you don’t know Joe’s work you should, and here’s a sample to show you why.
My daddy ran the eastern seaboard in a 12-wheeler — there were no 18-wheelers yet. It had polished chrome and bold letters that read “BLUE GOOSE LINE.” Parked alongside our little asbestos-sided house, I’d marvel at the magic of those bold words, the golden diamond and sturdy goose. And dream of someday “burning up Route 50” like my dad.
Old U.S. Route 50 ran near the house and was the stuff of legend if your daddy happened to be a truck driver who sometimes took you with him on the shorter hauls: “OK boy, now scrunch down and look into the side mirror. I’m gonna turn the top of them side stacks red hot.” And he would pop the clutch and strike sparks on the anvil of the night, downshifting toward Pinkerton, Coolville and Hanging Rock. It never once occurred to me that his ebullience and our camaraderie might be due to a handful of bennies.
Yessir, Old 50 was a mighty thing, a howling black slash through the Blue Ridge Mountain fog. A place where famed and treacherous curves made widows, and truck stops and cafes bloomed in the tractor trailers’ smoky wakes. A road map will tell you it eventually reaches Columbus and St. Louis, places I imagined had floodlights raking the skies heralding the arrival of heroic Teamster truckers like my father. Guys who’d fought in Germany and Italy and the Solomon Islands and were still wearing their service caps these years later, but now pinned with the gold steering wheel of the Teamsters Union. Such are a working-class boy’s dreams.
I have two parched photos from that time. One is of me and my brother and sister, ages 10, 8 and 6. We are standing in the front yard, three little redneck kids with bad haircuts squinting for some faint clue as to whether there was really a world out there, somewhere beyond West Virginia.
The other photo is of my mother and the three of us on the porch of that house on Route 50. On the day my father was slated to return from any given run, we’d all stand on the porch listening for the sound of air brakes, the deep roar as he came down off the mountain. Each time, my mother would step onto the porch blotting her lipstick, Betty Grable-style hair rustling in the breeze, and say, “Stand close, your daddy’s home.”
And that was about as good as it ever got for our family…
Years ago the first assignment I gave to the first class I taught at Harvard (or anywhere else) was for my freshman students to find something new or interesting to them on the campus, inquire into the matter, and then write a paper on it.
Martha Bridegam (who doesn’t remember this, but I do) chose the blue lights she had noticed on the outside of buildings in Harvard Yard. These turned out to indicate emergency lines for students to call security. She could have stopped there, at the explanation university officials had given her, but instead she decided to check the system for herself. No one answered at any stations she tried. She had her paper.
Martha is still checking systems, and still finding out all too often that they don’t work. Today she is a lawyer and writer in San Francisco, advocating for the homeless. Her new blog is called Lodging in Public. Samples follow. Links to each complete post here, here and here:
By the way, does anyone else find this term “behavioral health disorders” a little creepy? In a way it goes beyond saying a person has an attitude problem, or a neurosis, or a personality disorder. It suggests that a person’s decisions in life have been objectively wrong and are to be dealt with as medical illnesses — rather than, for example, politically, or socially, or economically. Only a short step from there to these proposals for forcible medication of homeless people under conservatorships imposed for the purpose. It’s part of what SF State sociology professor Bev Ovrebo was predicting in the early ’90s, that the problem of homelessness would become medicalized…
I got to know Grimes Poznikov briefly, quite a few years ago, during an activist effort to document police harassment of campers in San Francisco’s southeastern warehouse district. He was as proud and independent as anybody gets. He was famous, in fact, for bringing out the worst in policemen by never knowing when to shut up. Even in that world of territorial personalities, he was an outlier. For a while he was living in a group of camouflaged hutches in a brushy vacant lot in the nearest thing our compact city offers to the back of beyond. On a day that had turned chilly, he gave me an old leather jacket. Gracious, though the jacket was mildewed and I had to throw it away…
Lately the UK Guardian is having to defend a film it made about the harsh living and working conditions of illicit migrants who grow salad vegetables in Spain for the north of Europe. In doing so, the paper notes that some years ago in Britain, similar abuses were similarly dismissed as the isolated crimes of a few bad apples. “Yet,” it notes, “by the time the Gangmaster Licensing Authority was established in 2005, it was clear that the problems were systemic. Inspections and raids on mainstream factories, packhouses and large farms found extreme conditions even though many had passed their supermarket audits.”
Such a useful term, “gangmaster”, pulled from the uglier older reaches of labor history, to match conditions that recall the bad old days. In the U.S. we apply polite words like “contratista” or “H-2A employer” and indentured or undocumented laborers go on working for low pay and living in barracks or worse…
Chuck Butcher at Chuck for… says something that probably needs saying:
In Wisconsin half of you bothered to vote. Half. That means about a quarter of the eligible voters picked your elected officials. How many of you teachers didn’t bother, how many of you public janitors didn’t bother, how many whatevers of you just didn’t bother?
That begs the question of how many of you ignored your actual interests to vote against Obama or for some social right wing hobbyhorse that you won’t get. In point of fact, regarding the “Family Values Party,” not only won’t you get it but they don’t bother with it themselves.
You folks are providing endless amusement for the national media. What the hell, you haven’t listened to what the GOP has actually had to say? You didn’t pay any attention when reputable analysts said, “liars, liars, pants on fire?” Are you now saying, “We thought we were voting for reasonable, responsible Republicans,” and continue to believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa?
Another item for your cognitive dissonance file:
(CNN) — Amid a number of bills filed in Texas that address the issue of illegal immigration, one, proposed by Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle, stands out.
As proposed, House Bill 2012 would create tough state punishments for those who “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” hire an unauthorized immigrant. Violators could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
But it is an exception included in the bill that is drawing attention. Those who hire unauthorized immigrants would be in violation of the law — unless they are hiring a maid, a lawn caretaker or another houseworker.
As if facts made any difference, but here they are:
…If you prefer it in non-graph form: “Wisconsin public-sector workers face an annual compensation penalty of 11%. Adjusting for the slightly fewer hours worked per week on average, these public workers still face a compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector.”
The deal that unions, state government and — by extension — state residents have made to defer the compensation of public employees was a bad deal — but it was a bad deal for the public employees, not for the state government. State and local governments have been able to hire better workers and get more work out of them by negotiating contracts that they might not follow through on.
The ones who got played here are the public employees, not the residents of the various states. The residents of the various states, when all is said and done, will probably have gotten the work at a steep discount. They’ll force a renegotiation of the contracts and blame overprivileged public employees for resisting shared sacrifice. It’s a neat trick…
What’s going on in Wisconsin is a replay of what Bush did to the whole country’s economy, except that Bin Laden handed Bush a crisis to exploit. While the country was still in the fetal position, whimpering with existential fear, he was able to put two wars and a huge security bureaucracy on the national credit card. Then he cut taxes on the nation’s hard-working millionaires so that the nonproductive rest of us would be stuck with the bill.
But if Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker wanted to succeed in his new job as butler to the rich, he had to do something fast about that pesky balanced budget he inherited. Since he couldn’t go to war (although he’d plainly like to), he did the next best thing. He created a fiscal 9/11 by looting the state treasury for his bosses:
Like just about every other state in the country, Wisconsin is managing in a weak economy. The difference is that Wisconsin is managing better — or at least it had been managing better until Walker took over. Despite shortfalls in revenue following the economic downturn that hit its peak with the Bush-era stock market collapse, the state has balanced budgets, maintained basic services and high-quality schools, and kept employment and business development steadier than the rest of the country. It has managed so well, in fact, that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently released a memo detailing how the state will end the 2009-2011 budget biennium with a budget surplus.
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.
To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes — or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues — the “crisis” would not exist.
At a press conference this morning, Li’l Johnny “Where-are-the-jobs?” Boehner had this to say about the presumptive fallout from the GOP’s suggested budget cuts:
“In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,” Boehner said. “If some of those jobs are lost so be it. We’re broke.”
Of course, he neglected to mention one thing: We’re broke because we choose to be. We’re broke because of a deliberate strategy of his party and his party’s backers to bankrupt this nation as a way of targeting those individuals, groups and programs of which they disapprove. (It’s what Grover Norquist means by “starve the beast.”)
And just to add to the fun, yesterday Obama spoke of “living within our means.” Jerry Brown said the same thing not too long ago — I guess this is what Democrats say now to look grown up. But it raises a question that no one seems to be asking anywhere: Just what are our means? A government has the means to increase revenue darn near anytime it wants to. It seems to me if we’re talking about maintaining the basic trappings of a society — which is a topic for another time — that a government has the duty to do so as well.
We’re fond of the metaphor of a family tightening its collective belt. Somehow we’ve overlooked one of the things families consider when they tally up the bills: How to bring more money into the house.
Just ask any parent working multiple jobs…
From last night’s State of the Union address:
For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change. (Applause.)
Highest corporate taxes in the world? I hollered at the TV that this was Chamber of Commerce crap. Not being Rushbo, however, I checked before shooting off my mouth in public.
Turns out the answer is, it depends. Tax rates, as the President pointed out, can have little or no relationship to taxes actually paid. Every nation has its own complicated system of taxation, and direct comparisons are very difficult to make. But one method produced this result:
Other methods show our corporate taxes higher than some developed nations, lower than others. No pattern, at least that I could see, links corporate taxation convincingly either to economic success or failure.
I have no real problem with what the President may have been driving at in this section of his speech. To the extent that his vague and careful remarks meant anything at all, it seemed to be that the big corporations slime out of their taxes and leave Mom and Pop stores to make up the difference. Probably this is so. Certainly neither party will do much about it. This is America.
I’m sorry, however, that Mr. Obama went for a cheap applause line which reinforced the GOP’s ancient Big Lie: that Americans, poor babies, stagger through life under one of the world’s heaviest tax burdens.
But take a look at Business Pundit’s ranking of tax rates in 12 developed nations. Belgium taxes the most heavily, followed by Finland, Germany, Denmark, Italy and France; the United States is among the lowest — below Switzerland, but slightly above Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
High taxes or low, only one country on the list can’t afford universal health care for its citizens. Again, this is America.
From Colonel Girdle:
About once a year I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, a prescient satire about America in 2001 when the nation has been thoroughly raped by its capitalist owners & soldoff to other countries. Here is a brief excerpt taken from where the college professor protagonist recollects a speech given by the college’s writer in residence. A speech that causes consternation among the college’s board of trustees:
He predicted, I remember, that human slavery would come back, that it had in fact never gone away. He said that so many people wanted to come here because it was so easy to rob the poor people, who got absolutely no protection from the government. He talked about bridges falling down and water mains breaking because of no maintenance. He talked about oil spills and radioactive waste and poisoned aquifers and looted banks and liquidated corporations. “And nobody ever gets punished for anything,” he said. “Being an American means never having to say you’re sorry.”
This is from an essay by George Orwell. Reading it I thought of Nixon’s exploitation of the hard hats whose sons and brothers he was sacrificing in Vietnam to get reelected. And of the working class dupes in the red states who turn out on election day every four years, if they turn out at all, to shoot themselves in the foot.
The backbone of the resistance against Franco was the Spanish working class, especially the urban trade union members. In the long run — it is important to remember that it is only in the long run — the working class remains the most reliable enemy of Fascism, simply because the working-class stands to gain most by a decent reconstruction of society. Unlike other classes or categories, it can't be permanently bribed…
Time after time, in country after country, the organized working-class movements have been crushed by open, illegal violence, and their comrades abroad, linked to them in theoretical solidarity, have simply looked on and done nothing; and underneath this, secret cause of many betrayals, has lain the fact that between white and coloured workers there is not even lip-service to solidarity.
Andrew Trees in the Los Angeles Times:
“Swilling the planters with bumbo” was what it was once called — the Colonial American tradition of treating voters with gifts during election campaigns, particularly plying them with rum (including a concoction known as bumbo). Virtually everyone who could afford the practice did it, including George Washington, who served 160 gallons of rum to 400 voters during the 1758 campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses. Needless to say, this was a prohibitively expensive way to campaign, and it meant that politics was largely the preserve of the rich.
I was reminded of this phrase when a recent Center for Responsive Politics study of 2009 data found that 261 of the 535 members of Congress were millionaires (this probably understates the actual number because members of Congress aren’t required to report their homes as assets). When looking at both houses together, the legislators weighed in with a hefty median income of $911,000. For the Senate alone, median income was an astounding $2.38 million…
John Adams railed against this development more than two centuries ago. At the time, the prevailing view was that government positions should pay little, if any, salary so that only men with virtuous intentions would fill them. But Adams pointed out that this so-called solution did not ensure the election of virtuous men, only the election of rich men…
Adams’ great fear was that we would have what he called “an aristocratic despotism”: the possibility of “the rich, the well born and the able acquir(ing) an influence among the people that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense.” In typical fashion, his judgment of that aristocracy was unstinting in its harshness. He wrote of “the weakness, the folly, the pride, the vanity, the selfishness, the artifice, the unbounded ambition, the unfeeling cruelty of a majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratical influence…”
As [Adams] warned back then, you get the politics you pay for.
From Reconstitution 2.0. Picture McConnell or Boehner as Jeeves, and you will never see either of them quite the same way again.
Since the Rushpubliscums are pissing and moaning about raising taxes on the wealthy, let’s turn it up a few notches. Let’s propose raising taxes on only the ULTRAwealthy. And then, let the Rushpubliscums fight tooth and nail for their REAL constituency (or rather, their owners, since the Rushpubliscum Party has become an organization of butlers.)
Read this whole post by Ed Yong at Discover. It seems that the creationists are half right. Sure enough, we have not evolved from the monkeys — we have instead devolved from them.
The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.
“When humans invented poverty,” Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”
This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”
The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.
Harvard sends me a magazine, gratis, each month. It makes for tough reading what with all the $30,000 tours, the $2 million homes, and the rich and snobbish women looking for financially secure mates.
This month’s issue contained an especially telling piece about the effects of high quality preschool and kindergarten. The researcher came up with a marvelously capitalist solution: compare the earnings of the privileged tots with those who got a regular early education. It developed, the piece claims, that the first group earned $1,000 a year more on average throughout their lives than the “regular” kids. (Evidently some kind of really long term study.)
No measure was given of happiness, academic achievement, or general tranquility. No, the value of preschool education was measured by life long earning capacity. The author was thrilled that he proved the efficacy of high quality early education.
Further on in the issue is a piece about an architect who designs basic, low income houses. There are accompanying photos of square or rectangular wooden structures with windows and doors. Presumably, I surmised, the potential residents were already used to this architectural format from having lived in cardboard boxes. No cultural shock then when they move up to the wooden variety.
The story explains that the featured architect was greatly influenced by the Bauhaus School. Luckily I am an expert on this type of architecture, having lived in a Marcel Breuer-designed house (below) from time to time. It was a gift to my dad’s school, and he stayed there during his retirement.
You won’t be surprised to learn that it was a rectangle. It was also the worst-designed house ever. I’ll spare you the sorry details, but the architect could not even get the box right. The house was so impractical, so out of touch with nature, so misplaced and screwy, that major modifications were required just to make the thing livable.
So that’s my report on the latest issue of Harvard Magazine.
We have a bankruptcy lawyer in the family, so we knew from the beginning what a horror the banks had purchased from Congress — from most Republicans and a shamefully large number of Democrats — back in 2005. It was called bankruptcy “reform,” which in a sense it was. In the same sense that changing bank robbery from a felony to a misdemeanor would look like “reform” to Bonnie and Clyde.
So how’s that reformey stuff workin’ out fer ya? Let Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz walk you through it.
In 2005, we passed a bankruptcy reform. It was a reform pushed by the banks. It was designed to allow them to make bad loans to people to who didn’t understand what was going on, and then basically choke them. Squeeze them dry. And we should have called it, “the new indentured servitude law.” Because that’s what it did.
Let me just tell you how bad it is. I don’t think Americans understand how bad it is. It becomes really very difficult for individuals to discharge their debt. The basic principle in the past in America was people should have the right for a fresh start. People make mistakes. Especially when they’re preyed upon. And so you should be able to start afresh again. Get a clean slate. Pay what you can and start again. Now if you do it over and over again that’s a different thing. But at least when there are these lenders preying on you should be able to get a fresh start.
But they [the banks] said, “No, no, you can’t discharge your debt,” or you can’t discharge it very easily. They have a right, now, to take 25% of your before-tax income. Now imagine what that means. Let’s assume that you wound up, as it’s not that hard to do, with a debt equal to 100% of your income. You’re making $40,000, and your debt is $40,000. You have to turn over to the credit card company, to the bank, $10,000 of your before-tax income every year. But, the banks can now charge you 30% interest.
So what does that mean? At the end of the year, you’ve paid the bank $10,000, a quarter of your income. But what you owe the bank has gone from $40,000 to an even larger number because they’re charging you 30%. So you’re debt is larger. So the next year you have to give a quarter of your income again to the bank. And the year after. Until you die.
This is indentured servitude. And we criticize other countries for having indentured servitude of this kind, bonded labor. But in America we instituted this in 2005 with almost no discussion of the consequences. But what it did was encourage the banks to engage in even worse lending practices.
From Chris Floyd, further thoughts about those undisciplined socialist frogs:
While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich.
The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American “dissidents” froth and rant about a fantasy world of “socialist” programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing Messicans — and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.
The American protesters vociferously denounce the healthcare “reform” bill — not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.)
They protest against the laughably anemic “financial regulations” that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street — PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America’s greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.
This is from a study (download file) by Larry M. Bartels at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs:
In addition, senators seem to have been quite responsive to the ideological views of their middle- and high-income constituents — though, strikingly, not to the views of their low-income constituents.
Whether we consider the three Congresses separately or together, the data are quite consistent in suggesting that the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution had no discernible impact on the voting behavior of their senators. (The point estimates are actually negative, but in every case the standard error is large enough to make it quite plausible that the true effect is zero.)…
The apparent responsiveness of senators to the views of high-income constituents was even greater, despite their somewhat smaller numbers; the pooled parameter estimate of 4.15 implies a shift of .39 in a senator’s W-NOMINATE score in response to an equivalent shift in high-income constituency opinion.
These results imply that responsiveness to the views of middle- and high-income constituents account for significant variation in senators’ voting behavior — but that the views of low-income constituents were utterly irrelevant…
The roughly linear increase in apparent responsiveness across the three income groups, with those in the bottom third getting no weight and those in the middle and top thirds getting substantial weight, suggests that the modern Senate comes a good deal closer to equal representation of incomes than to equal representation of citizens…
The results for the vote on raising the minimum wage reflect the political plight of poor constituents in especially poignant form. Those results suggest that senators attached no weight at all to the views of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution — the constituents whose economic interests were obviously most directly at stake — even as they voted to approve a minimum wage increase.
From the New York Times coverage of an academic conference about “elites.” (The quotation marks are mine, and indicate skepticism as to whether the word is properly applied to people whose only distinction is that they have somehow got their hands on a lot of money. The photo was taken by Weegee in 1943, on a fire escape outside the Metropolitan Opera House.)
“If you look at the poor as a problem, you’ll be angry at elites or you’ll expect them to come up with a solution,” said Mr. Venkatesh, who took the most pragmatic line. “You have to come in accepting that there will always be poor people in society and there will always be wealthy people in society, and neither of the two reached that status by their own efforts…”
More news from the swill kings who caused the present depression. (Don’t tell me this isn’t a depression; I have eyes.)
However, while Paulson has been criticized, unfairly or not, because $12.9 billion of the bailout money went to Goldman, he’s drawn little scrutiny for what he did in his first 18 months in office, during the final frenzied stages of the housing bubble.
In his eight years as Goldman’s chief executive, Paulson had presided over the firm’s plunge into the business of buying up subprime mortgages to marginal borrowers and then repackaging them into securities, overseeing the firm’s huge positions in what became a fraud-infested market.
During Paulson’s first 15 months as the treasury secretary and chief presidential economic adviser, Goldman unloaded more than $30 billion in dicey residential mortgage securities to pension funds, foreign banks and other investors and became the only major Wall Street firm to dramatically cut its losses and exit the housing market safely. Goldman also racked up billions of dollars in profits by secretly betting on a downturn in home mortgage securities.
“No one was better positioned . . . than Mr. Paulson to understand exactly what the implications of his moving against the (housing) bubble would have been for Goldman Sachs, because he knew what the Goldman Sachs positions were,” said William Black, a former senior thrift regulator who delivered the harshest criticism of the former secretary.
Paulson “knew that if he acted the way he should, that would have burst the bubble. Then Goldman Sachs would have been left with a very substantial loss, and that would have been the end of bonuses at Goldman Sachs.
It’s worth reading Matt Taibbi’s whole article in Rolling Stone on the tea party. This tiny sample contains a particularly fine specimen of snark — one that will ring true to anyone who has attempted communication with these muddled patriots.
Hardcore young libertarians like Koch — the kind of people who were outside the tent during the elder Paul’s presidential run in 2008 — cared enough about the issues to jump off the younger Paul’s bandwagon when he cozied up to the Republican Party establishment. But it isn’t young intellectuals like Koch who will usher Paul into the U.S. Senate in the general election; it’s those huge crowds of pissed-off old people who dig Sarah Palin and Fox News and call themselves Tea Partiers. And those people really don’t pay attention to specifics too much. Like dogs, they listen to tone of voice and emotional attitude.
In many countries the army is used frankly and directly to keep the poor afraid of the rich. Most soldiers, worldwide, never have and never will fight in the actual military defense of their countries. They would mostly be incompetent to do so, as the murderous Argentine army proved to be in the Falklands war.
A principal if unadmitted point of armies is to keep the citizenry in line, using the traditional methods of rape, theft, prison, extortion, torture, kidnapping, and murder. Many armies do nothing but this; all armies stand ready to do it. Ours is no exception, as we have seen in the Homestead Strike, the Kent State murders, in General MacArthur’s attack on the Bonus Marchers, and on countless other occasions.
And yet the people doing this dirty work, the soldiers, are themselves poor. Why would they do such a self-destructive thing? Because they themselves will be murdered or imprisoned by their upper class officers if they refuse, of course. But even more sadly, because all of their lives they have been made to believe, by the schools, the media, the church and the government, that the army is not just for the country but in a very real sense is the country.
For the occasional chance of promotion to the officer ranks, for an escape from poverty, for health care and housing, soldiers are easily convinced that the enemy du jour is real, whether made up of socialists, capitalist or communist imperialists, Moslem or Christian crusaders, or immigrant hordes of dusky terrorists. But all too often the true enemy is their own brothers and sisters.
A little off the point, but I’ll throw it in—
Police bureaucracies in the United States, unlike the military, make no sharp distinction between enlisted men and officers. Police are all “officers” and their leaders, almost without exception, come from the ranks. In this respect civilian society is coming to be structured more like the army and less like the police, with an absurdly expensive college degree required for entrance into the officer class.
The beauty of this is that it seems to make advancement a matter of “merit,” and few stop to think that most college education has nothing to do with the jobs for which it is required. Lloyd C. Blankfein and Hank Paulson wouldn’t have got their first Wall Street jobs without college degrees, but they no more needed them than Jay Gould did, or Andrew Carnegie.
(Again off the point, but not too much: When Gould hired strikebreakers during a 1886 strike against his railroads, he is reported to have said, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”)
…and have been since that night early in the millenium when I first heard Professor Warren on late night radio as I drove through Virginia on I-95. Thrillingly, she was talking about a trick employed by insurance companies to extort fake “late fees” out of customers. The companies, it seemed, would require East Coast customers to mail their payments to a West Coast address, and vice versa. That way a sucker could pay on the dot but still incur a late fee because of the extra day or so in the mail. A few million pennies here, a few million pennies there… It all added up.
Here, I knew at once, was a woman who really, truly understood me to the depths of my socialist soul. We two could find true happiness together, I said hopelessly to myself as I drove forlorn and lonely through the gathering dark of Bush’s America.
All those opinion polls must be sinking in at last. This is the first time, so far as I can remember, that John the Bronze has yielded so much as a millimeter in his lifelong battle to hand everybody else’s money over to the rich. Presumably Boehner’s about-face is due to President Obama’s recent discovery that class warfare is a game two can play.
WASHINGTON — House Republican leader John Boehner says he would support extending tax cuts only for middle-class earners even though he considers it “bad policy” to exclude the highest-earning Americans from tax relief during a recession.
President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser said Sunday he is happy that Boehner, R-Ohio, isn’t willing to hold hostage an extension of tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 a year, or more than 97 percent of earners, to try to gain a continuation of breaks enjoyed by the wealthiest…
Hardly a CEO in the country would not argue that high wages are necessary to attract the very best type of chief executive. They make precisely that argument in defense of their own bloated paychecks. Paying less would put the stockholders at the mercy of a lower type of CEO altogether — a less competent and less efficient steward entirely.
But not a one of these CEOs, obscenely overpaid or merely grossly so, would give a moment’s consideration to the idea that low wages might result in less efficient and less competent workmen as well. Nor that higher wages might attract a better class, likely to work smarter and harder. Somehow workers do not need the motivation of good pay, while managers can hardly exist without it.
As we see in this uplifting story from CNN:
According to the report “CEO Pay and the Great Recession,” chief executive officers of the 50 firms that laid off the most workers since the start of the economic crisis earned nearly $12 million on average in 2009. That’s 42 percent more than the average pay of CEOs at S&P 500 firms as a whole.
“I think that really shows a really perverse incentive system in this country,” said Sarah Anderson, lead author of the Institute for Policy Studies’ 17th Annual Executive Compensation Survey. “You are handsomely rewarded for slashing jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis in 80 years,” she said…
Another disconcerting finding of the report: 72 percent of layoff-leading firms announced mass layoffs while delivering positive earnings reports. Anderson explained layoffs are really driven by efforts “to boost short-term profits even higher and also just to continue to have such high CEO pay levels.” She said these mass cuts are often bad for business over the long-term because they impact worker morale, which can lead to lower productivity. She said they also result in additional costs related to hiring and training new workers down the road.
You may have noticed, to the point of nausea, how deeply in love Republicans are with small business. They just have a funny way of showing it, as George W. Bush demonstrated after Katrina:
While stories of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s contaminated trailers and the Army Corps of Engineers’ inability to shore up the levees captured the headlines in the aftermath of the deadly storms of 2005, the bungling of the SBA, the lead federal agency helping people rebuild their homes and businesses, has largely been untold.
The sagas of Schmitz, Bazile and the SBA’s Young, who worked out of the agency’s massive loan processing center in Fort Worth, Texas, collectively reveal how the SBA failed in so many ways, an ominous experience as the agency prepares to play a similar role in the aftermath of the massive BP PLC oil spill.
These are stories of a mismanaged bureaucracy that still hurt half a decade later: tales of applications for low-interest disaster loans that should have been approved but were not, of applications deleted from the SBA computer system for no valid reason, of impossible-to-meet deadlines manufactured to clear backlogs, and of a process so chaotic and painful that thousands simply gave up…
However… [my note]:
• Country clubs, yacht clubs, exclusive private schools and megachurches received millions in loans from the agency founded in 1953 with a mission to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns.” Some of the more substantial operations rebuilt bigger and better, often contradicting SBA rules that say damaged buildings should be repaired only to their original state.
• Homeowners and businesses in higher-income areas were more likely to get a loan than those in lower-income areas, according to AP’s analysis of SBA data by ZIP code. “The truth is that only the wealthy moved through the system easily,” said Gale Martin, another former SBA loan officer. “If you were of a certain income, we funded you first, which is not the way the system is supposed to work.” Martin contended that contrary to the SBA mission to especially help people who didn’t always have the means to rebuild, applicants with higher credit scores and bigger incomes were cherry-picked for processing first because those files could be closed quicker.
Connecticut was once called (by its residents; who else would come up with such crap?) the Land of Steady Habits. That was then. Now we’re closing in on South Carolina for weirdness champion of the mid-terms. Setting aside the groin-kicking GOP senatorial candidate, Linda McMahon, the mogulette of pro wrestling, let’s concentrate for now on the governor’s race.
The Republican candidate is one Tom Foley, a money manipulator from Greenwich who drives a hundred-foot yacht named “Odalisque” which proudly flies the flag of the Republic of Marshall Islands.
Let’s set him aside, too, and return to the Democrats. The losing candidate in Tuesday’s primary was Ned Lamont, who came from family money, as we WASPs delicately say, and made millions more in cable television.
The winner was Dan Malloy, born in Stamford as the youngest of eight children. He got his law degree from Boston College and rose to become Stamford’s longest serving mayor. If he has a million dollars, nobody has heard about it.
So there’s the cast of characters as we close the first act in the race for governor. (If I mix metaphors, why then I mix metaphors.) As the second act opens:
1. Connecticut’s campaign financing law provides extra money to a publicly financed candidate who is outspent by a millionaire;
2. The Second Circuit recently ruled that the initial grants given to candidates who chose public financing were okay, but the law’s extra grants to match millionaires were unconstitutional;
3. The Connecticut legislature then passed a law that simply increased the size of the post-primary grants to gubernatorial candidates;
4. The outgoing Republican governor then vetoed the law increasing the grants;
5. So the Democrat-dominated Senate then voted to override the veto;
6. The gubernatorial primary occurred. Result: the GOP nominated Foley, a self-financed millionaire, and the Democrats in an upset nominated publicly financed Malloy;
7. Tomorrow, the Democrat-dominated House votes on veto override. The Democrats will be doing their best, that is, to benefit one single person in Connecticut: their own gubernatorial candidate.
To complicate the equation further, the Speaker of the Hous backed the losing Democratic candidate, the self-funded millionaire Lamont. And Malloy won’t be able to lure votes with the promise of jobs, having already promised all the good ones to win support in the primary. Or so rumor has it.
Are you with me so far? Good, because I’m not. Stay tuned.
…speak Truth to Power, which does not care.
But Washington is providing only a trickle of help, and even that grudgingly. We must place priority on reducing the deficit, say Republicans and “centrist” Democrats. And then, virtually in the next breath, they declare that we must preserve tax cuts for the very affluent, at a budget cost of $700 billion over the next decade.
In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter…
The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.
So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.
Our pals from the Republican right and the craven Democratic middle of Congress, not content with their recent abasement before the NRA, are now lubing us up for the auto dealers:
There are 18,000 auto dealerships that make loans, and according to the studies of consumer advocates, they often do so using deceptive and predatory practices. Most dealerships do not directly provide the credit for borrowers; they grant a loan and then resell it to another financial company. Often, the dealership charges the borrower a higher rate than the creditor requires — keeping the difference between what the car buyer pays in and the financial company takes back as a kickback. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, those kickbacks make auto dealerships $20 billion a year.
Many dealers offer subprime car loans for borrowers with tarnished or no credit, meaning sometimes that borrowers pay more than twice the value of their car. They use bait-and-switch scams, changing financing terms after the deal is made. One in four borrowers who made less than $25,000 was scammed last year, and one in eight making less than $40,000 a year. People of color are more likely to get bad loan terms. The CRL found that more than half of black borrowers were charged kickbacks, compared with 31 percent of white borrowers.
But they won’t. President Obama has walked back his promise to veto the bill if auto dealers are exempted. And yesterday, House and Senate negotiators agreed to exempt them. “The political reality is that those of us who have fought against an auto dealer carve-out can’t prevail,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said…
Details on the exemption are here. Read ’em and weep.
…what’s the matter with the South? It’s worth remembering that Dixie was well on its way out of the toilet before it chose to dive right back in. Badtux the Southern Penguin poses the question in this excerpt. And here’s his answer, which is not likely to surprise you. But plenty of people don’t know the backstory.
Historically, the American South in the period from around 1920 to 1965 was characterized by populism. A series of charismatic progressive governors was elected in most Southern states during this time period who brought their backwards states up to then-modern standards in many ways.
Public education had been crippled for decades by barriers that prevented most poor kids from advancing past the 6th grade, especially the cost of textbooks. Those barriers were removed and poor kids for the first time had the opportunity for a high school education. Public universities were vastly expanded and tuitions cut to zero for poor kids in many cases, allowing access to higher education for many for the first time.
A road network that was primarily rutted dirt roads in 1920 was by 1965 as good as any road network anywhere in the nation. Taxes on the wealthy that basically didn’t exist in 1920 were at national norms by 1965. In 1920 most Southerners had no electricity, indoor plumbing, or telephone service, by 1965 those were at national norms. Manufacturers noted the new infrastructure and the newly-educated work force and flocked to the South in droves. Decrepit cities like Houston and Atlanta started throwing up modern skyscrapers and becoming thriving metropolises.
Yet this burst of modernization basically had slammed to a halt by 1975. Instead of electing progressive governors, the South started electing regressives, people intent upon rolling back the reforms instituted by the progressives. When progressives did get elected, like Edwin Edwards in Louisiana during the late 1970’s, they found themselves fighting holding actions, basically trying to keep government services from being gutted by a populace increasingly hostile to government.
City parks and recreation programs were gutted and closed, city bus services were cut back or eliminated, and the roads and schools started to deteriorate. A few cities fought back and managed to become isolated islands of progressivism and prosperity, but most Southern cities started a long slide to ruin…
I have analyzed this tendency in my paper “The Future of Socialism” (on line at UPenn Law School — Google it). It is exactly what Marx meant by the new system of social relations of production being born in the womb of the old. The reason those in charge do not react to their failures by going backwards to a less centralized time is that, by their conception of rationality, the rational thing to do is to take greater control of what seems to be out of control, which is to say to centralize. Oh, mere self-interest plays a role, but it would be a big mistake to suppose that is all that is at play.
Why does Obama ratify the seizures of executive authority pioneered by George W. Bush? Because, confronted with terrorist incidents, it is the rational thing to do. Why does a progressive like Krugman call for greater regulatory oversight? Because that is the rational way to deal with an economic system that is “out of control.”
In short, the technical and systemic pre-conditions for socialism are being born in the womb of world finance capitalism, for socialism requires the very highest level of rational management of the entire economy, something that nineteenth century capitalists were completely incapable of attempting, and that even twentieth century capitalists could only achieve fitfully.
This is the deeper reason why the right cries “socialism” at the actions of the Congress and the proposals of the President. Although they do not really understand what they are saying, they are, in an odd way, on to something. This is also why the very people who think of themselves as Masters of the Universe celebrate a “free market” while they devote their lives to enslaving it. These people are not stupid.
So, as I ask in my essay, if this is so, why aren’t we on the left having any fun? The short answer is this: the ever greater establishment of central control over the world economy is being carried out in the interests of the haves, not of the have nots. Now, those interests are not totally opposed. Both the haves and the have nots have an interest in avoiding economic crashes, because both suffer from those crashes (although the have nots may starve to death as a consequence of the crashes, whereas the haves simply must pause in their endless accumulation of wealth).
But Marx was, alas, wrong in believing that the consolidation process by those at the top of the economic pyramid would, as an unintended consequence, also consolidate the power of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Marx was almost certainly right in expecting ever greater instability — greater crashes. But though he saw that this would provoke ever greater consolidation of capital (what Douthat is calling consolidation of power, because of course it is not polite on the right to speak of “capital”), Marx failed to anticipate the fragmentation and collapse of the working class movement that was being born in his day…
I belong to a newsgroup called the Vietnam Old Hacks, composed of doddering old farts who used to cover the Southeast Asian wars. A fair number of us found ways to stay on after Nixon no longer needed the war, having been reelected. Somehow I doubt that many American journalists will hang around Iraq and Afganistan after Obama wins a second term and calls off the killing.
But I digress, as old farts do. Back to the point, I’ll be posting some of these ex-pats’ reports from Bangkok next week, but meanwhile look at these searing photos from the Boston Globe’s site. Asymmetrical warfare has never been made more visible.
Most of the Red Shirts are poor folks from northern Thailand, who speak Lao rather than Thai. They are driven by poverty to Bangkok where they work at menial jobs to support their families back home. Sort of like Mexicans in Phoenix, actually.
The real, immutable core concern of the Republican Party is, and has forever been, to shift taxes from the very rich to the rest of us. Everything else — abortion, immigration, creationism, small government, law and order, gay rights — is just bait to lure the suckers into the net. Here’s Daniel Larison at The American Conservative, cutting to the chase:
On the other point, it is not all that remarkable that Republican officeholders are being punished entirely for their fiscal errors. It is difficult to think of incumbent Republicans abandoning their party because of a backlash against their social liberalism, but it is fairly easy in recent years to find examples of fiscal moderates and liberals in the party that the rank-and-file have turned against or liberal Republican incumbents who switched parties at least partly because of disagreements over fiscal policy (e.g., Jeffords).
Indeed, we can look at Arlen Specter’s recent political career as proof that social conservative litmus tests frequently count for a lot less than fiscal conservative tests in the modern GOP. In 2004, the party establishment rallied around Specter on the grounds that the party supported incumbents against primary challengers. To his lasting embarrassment and discredit, Santorum endorsed Specter over Toomey.
Pro-lifers’ objections to Specter’s position on abortion weren’t important enough to Santorum or to the administration to risk losing that seat to the Democrats, and in the end they weren’t quite important enough to the primary voters, either. Five years later, one vote Specter cast for the stimulus made him persona non grata in the Pennsylvania GOP. Had Specter not cast that vote, it is questionable whether Toomey’s challenge would have still driven Specter to switch parties.
In practice, fiscal issues tend to be more important to more Republican activists and primary voters than social issues in almost every contest, except perhaps presidential primaries, and even in these contests it depends. Huckabee translated his strong social conservative record and evangelical Christianity into a sizeable following by the end of the primaries, but he never won outside the South and he was widely loathed in the conservative movement for his fiscal record as governor. His combination of social conservatism and economic pseudo-populism went over very badly with party and movement leaders generally, even though there is some reason to think that socially conservative and economically populist candidates could tap into a much broader base of support nationally.
For party and movement leaders, Romney had become sufficiently conservative on social issues to pass muster, despite having zero credibility on these issues, and what really mattered to them was his position on fiscal and economic issues. McCain took a lot of grief from activists and conservative voters for several reasons, but his opposition to Bush’s tax cuts earlier in the decade was always high on the list of McCain’s errors.
…when you could register low-income voters in far greater numbers with a national ID card?
As DDay reported, the Reid-Schumer-Menendez draft on Immigration Reform calls for a national ID card (which they call a “biometric” or “fraud proof” social security card). Perhaps in a move to placate civil libertarians, the draft insists the card will only be used for employment.It will be unlawful for any person, corporation; organization local, state, or federal law enforcement officer; local or state government; or any other entity to require or even ask an individual cardholder to produce their social security card for any purpose other than electronic verification of employment eligibility and verification of identity for Social Security Administration purposes.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment that this national ID program would actually fix the problem of employers trying to hire cheap, vulnerable labor rather than paying market rate wages. Let’s pretend for a moment that this national ID program would avoid all of the security and privacy issues that such a program will be bound to have.
Why in fuck’s name would anyone with a “D” next to their name advocate for a national card — of any sort — without at the same time attaching it to automatic voter registration, also tied to the card? Why would the Democratic party propose any national program that did not, at the same time, insist on getting rid of our byzantine voter registration system that leaves large chunks of the population exposed to disenfranchisement?
Even if this is just a stunt designed to prove Democrats are “serious” about compromise so they can embarrass the bigots even more for their refusal to accept the compromise, why would you ever miss the opportunity to tie a universal registration card to a potential fix to the problems in our election system?
…among the simple folk of Wall Street is foreseen by The Epicurean Dealmaker, and should certainly be fun to watch. Unhappily it will only end in the triumph of a new Great Vampire Squid with a different name. In the long run we will all be, once again, drained.
I must agree with Felix Salmon and others, who claim that the real damage to Goldman Sachs has already been done, with its formerly venerated name being dragged publicly through the mud with an accusation of fraud. While this may have little effect on the majority of Goldman’s business on the sales and trading side of the house — where counterparties are generally too smart to raise a stink about the 800 pound gorilla of the global financial markets (and often too unprincipled themselves to care) — it should and will have an effect on Goldman’s extensive investment banking business with governments, corporations, and other entities.
The Great Vampire Squid has been living for years off the simple fact that, like the fabled IBM of yore, no-one ever got fired (or sued) for picking Goldman Sachs. That calculus has been changed, and I and every one of my red-blooded peers in the industry who is not currently drawing a paycheck signed by David Viniar are making damn sure that CEOs, CFOs, government officials, and Boards of Directors know it.
For those of you who were wondering, this is the real reason why Goldman’s market capitalization has taken the vapors to the tune of more than ten billion dollars in response to an action likely to cost it no more than a tiny fraction of that amount: its reputation premium is quietly and rapidly evaporating.
There is no shortage of competent investment banks and adequate investment bankers available to conduct the financing and M&A business of the global corporate and government economy. No longer can Goldman rest assured that it will win mandates simply because it is Goldman Sachs. In fact, it may lose many for that very reason…
Although just wait and see what happens if enough of them sense that Goldman is mortally wounded. They’ll gang up and rip it to shreds without a second thought, just like they did to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and almost did to Morgan Stanley. Live by the sword, die by the sword, baby. Booyah!
David Leonardt in The New York Times highlights a key component of Obamacare that you may not have focussed on. I hadn’t, anyway.
Incidentally, if the first person to call the bill “Obamacare” was a Republican, that person will have a lot to answer for in years to come. Johnson wasn’t lucky enough to have Medicare named after him.
For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago…
It seems, [Carl] Sandburg began, that two cockroaches, brothers, were riding on a farmer’s cart into town one day, when the cart hit a bump, and they were both thrown off. The first brother fell on a big pile of dung, which is seventh heaven for a cockroach. He settled in, ate himself fat and glossy, and prospered.
The second brother fell into a deep hole, where there was nothing to eat and scarcely any way to get out. Slowly, laboriously, he dragged himself up the side of the hole, repeatedly falling back and starting again. He grew thin and weak, and his shell lost its sheen, becoming dull and discolored.
At long last, by the greatest of effort, he managed to heave himself back onto the road. Looking up, he saw his brother perched happily atop his dung pile. “Brother,” he said, looking up, “You are so fat and sleek. How have you managed to flourish like that?”
His brother looked down disdainfully over the edge of the dung and said, with a smug self-congratulatory smile, “Brains. And hard work.”
…or so says former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Myself, I would never impute ulterior motives to the fat freak.
When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.
If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office — Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished.
For the cause they purport to represent, however, the “Waterloo” threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own.
Joe Bageant is at it again, telling the truth right out where the children could hear it. Not that we’d listen.
…What would happen if America had leadership that stood up and coolly, intelligently described the economic and ecological peril we face, both of which are completely interrelated. What would happen if a president told the people, “What we have been doing has obviously not been working (they’d sure as hell agree on that), so we are going to have to remake America to save it, and it’s going to mean real sacrifice.” And what if he could do so without capitalist forces sending out ideological swiftboats to blow him out of the water, or launching hate campaigns against him, branding him as an evil fascist eco-socialist, or whatever.
I dare say the number of Americans who would respond, be willing to sacrifice and meet a challenge issued by cohesive, focused leadership, might surprise us. They might well do it, if for no other reason than that Americans are the most authority worshiping people on earth, outside of North Korea…
Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman are onto something in this excerpt. Klein used the word “thoughtful” in the quote below. He meant “smart,” of course, but was too thoughtful to say so.
[Jonathan] Chait professes himself puzzled by the right’s intellectual insecurity. Me, not so much. Here’s how I see it: in our current political culture, the background noise is overwhelmingly one of conservative platitudes. People who have strong feelings about politics but are intellectually incurious tend to pick up those platitudes, and repeat them in the belief that this makes them sound smart. (Ezra Klein once described Dick Armey thus: “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”)
…Race, on the other hand, has been a more successful technology of mystification. In the US, one of the great uses of racism was (and is) to induce poor white people to feel a crucial and entirely specious fellowship with rich white people; one of the great uses of anti-racism is to make poor black people feel a crucial and equally specious fellowship with rich black people.
Furthermore, in the form of the celebration of ‘identity’ and ‘ethnic diversity’, it seeks to create a bond between poor black people and rich white ones. So the African-American woman who cleans my office is supposed to feel not so bad about the fact that I make almost ten times as much money as she does because she can be confident that I’m not racist or sexist and that I respect her culture. And she’s also supposed to feel pride because the dean of our college, who makes much more than ten times what she does, is African-American, like her. And since the chancellor of our university, who makes more than 15 times what she does, is not only African-American but a woman too (the fruits of both anti-racism and anti-sexism!), she can feel doubly good about her.
But, and I acknowledge that this is the thinnest of anecdotal evidence, I somehow doubt she does. If the downside of the politics of anti-discrimination is that it now functions to legitimate the increasing disparities not produced by racism or sexism, the upside is the degree to which it makes visible the fact that the increase in those disparities does indeed have nothing to do with racism or sexism. A social analyst as clear-eyed as a University of Illinois cleaning woman would start from there…
…and incorporated himself…
From a New York Times editorial:
Under the three-strikes law, a man named Gary Ewing was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifting three golf clubs from a golf pro shop.
Mr. Ewing challenged his sentence before the Supreme Court as a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. By a 5-to-4 vote, with Justice Kennedy in the majority, the court rejected the challenge. The dissenters were right that Mr. Ewing’s sentence was so disproportionate to his crime that it should have been declared unconstitutional.
It’s not that the court is insensitive to excessive punishments. It has repeatedly thrown them out — when they are against corporations. In 2003, the year the court rejected Mr. Ewing’s case, it overturned a $145 million punitive damage award against the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company as so excessive that it violated the 14th Amendment due process clause.
Here is an economic primer for all your teabagger friends from Fred Clark at slacktivist. It deserves as wide circulation as it can possibly get. Now I’ve done my part. Do yours.
Hey you. You there in the Glenn Beck T-shirt headed off to the Tea Party Patriot rally.
Stop shouting for a moment, please, I want to explain to you why you’re so very angry. You should be angry. You’re getting screwed. I think you know that. But you don’t seem to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can stop it. You can stop it easily because the system that’s screwing you over can only keep screwing you over if you keep demanding that it do so.
So stop demanding that. Stop helping the system screw you over.
Look, you can go back to yelling at me in a minute, but just read this first.
1. Get out your pay stub.
Or, if you have direct deposit — you really should get direct deposit, it saves a lot of time and money (I point this out because, honestly, I’m trying to help you here, even though you don’t make that easy Mr. Angry Screamy Guy) — then take out that little paper receipt they give you when your pay gets directly deposited.
2. Notice that your net pay is lower than your gross pay. This is because some of your wages are withheld every pay period.
3. Notice that only some of this money that was withheld went to pay taxes. (I know, I know — yeearrrgh! me hates taxes! — but just try to stick with me for just a second here.)
4. Notice that some of the money that was withheld didn’t go to taxes, but to your health insurance company.
5. Now go get a pay stub from last year around this time, from January of 2009.
6. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld for taxes in your current paycheck is less than the amount that was withheld a year ago.
That’s because of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, which included more than $200 billion in tax cuts, including the one you’re holding right there in your hand, the tax cut that’s now staring you in the face. Republicans all voted against that tax cut. And then they told you to get angry about the stimulus plan. They didn’t explain, however, why you were supposed to get angry about getting a tax cut. Why would you be? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get angry at the people who voted against that Obama tax cut?
But taxes aren’t the really important thing here. The really important thing starts with the next point…
7. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is more than it was last year.
8. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is a lot more than it was last year. I won’t ask you to dig up old paychecks from 2008 and 2007, but this has been going on for a long time. Every year, the amount of your paycheck withheld to pay for your health insurance goes up. A lot.
9. Notice the one figure there on your two pay stubs that hasn’t changed: Your wage. The raise you didn’t get this year went to pay for that big increase in the cost of your health insurance.
10. Here’s where I need you to start doing a better job of putting two and two together. If you didn’t get a raise last year because the cost of your health insurance went up by a lot, and the cost of your health insurance is going to go up by a lot again this year, what do you think that means for any chance you might have of getting a raise this year?
11. Did you figure it out? That’s right. The increasing cost of health insurance means you won’t get a raise this year. Or next year. Or the year after that. The increasing cost of health insurance means you will never get a raise again.
That’s what I meant when I said you really should be angry. That’s what I meant when I said you’re getting screwed.
OK, we’re almost done. Just a few more points, I promise.
12. The only hope you have of ever seeing another pay raise is if Congress passes health care reform. Without health care reform, the increasing cost of your health insurance will swallow this year’s raise. And next year’s raise. And pretty soon it won’t stop with just your raise. Without health care reform, the increasing cost of your health insurance will start making your pay go down.
13. I wish I could tell you that this was just a worst-case scenario, that this was only something that might, maybe happen, but that wouldn’t be true. Without health care reform, this is what will happen. We know this because this is what is happening now. It has been happening for the past 10 years. In 2008, employers spent on average 25 percent more per employee than they did in 2001, but wages on average did not increase during those years. The price of milk went up. The price of gas went up. But wages did not. All of the money that would have gone to higher wages went to pay the higher and higher and higher cost of health insurance. And unless Congress passes health care reform, that will not change.
Well, it will change in the sense that it will keep getting worse, but it won’t get better. Unless the problem gets fixed, the problem won’t be fixed. That’s kind of what “problem” and “fixed” mean.
14. Sadly for any chance you have of ever seeing a raise again, it looks like Congress may not pass health care reform. It looks like they won’t do that because they’re scared of angry voters who are demanding that they oppose health care reform, angry voters who demand that Congress not do anything that would keep the cost of health insurance from going up and up and up. Angry voters like you.
15. Do you see the point here? You are angrily, loudly demanding that Congress make sure that you never, ever get another pay raise as long as you live. Because of you and because of your angry demands, you and your family and your kids are going to have to get by with less this year than last year. And next year you’re going to have to get by with even less. And if you keep angrily demanding that no one must ever fix this problem, then you’re going to have to figure out how to get by on less and less every year for the rest of your life.
16. So please, for your own sake, for your family’s sake and the sake of your children, stop. Stop demanding that problems not get fixed. Stop demanding that you keep getting screwed. Stay angry — you should be angry — but start directing that anger toward the system that’s screwing you over and taking money out of your pocket. Start directing that anger toward fixing problems instead of toward making sure they never get fixed. Instead of demanding that Congress oppose health care reform so that you never, ever, get another pay raise, start demanding that they pass health care reform, as soon as possible. Because until they do, you’re just going to keep on getting screwed.
And it’s going to be that much worse knowing that you brought this on yourself — that you demanded it.
Thanks for your time.
We have a new entry in the highly competitive race for the most grudging non-apology of 2010. Shown below is Rudolph Andreas “André” Bauer with an adorable Scientologist friend.
[South Carolina’s] Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Monday he regretted comments comparing people who take public assistance to stray animals, but the incident continued to draw fire.
In a phone interview, Bauer said he regretted the remarks “because now it’s being used as an analogy, not a metaphor.
“Do I regret it? Sure I do. I wouldn’t have to be taking this heat otherwise.”
As an antidote to the contemptible drivel in my last posting, here’s Joe Bageant (shown below) on the same subject:
…We are all brothers and as such are our brother's keeper. Besides, when I look around me, I do not see a nation of leeches. I see damned few folks getting something for nothing. I see the top dogs, who actually are getting something for nothing, using the bullhorn of media to convince us that one of our brothers and neighbors is getting everything. They would have us believe that the most miserable among us — the poorly educated and those whose souls have been brutalized from birth by the system’s failure to provide the basic security necessary for the development of whole people — are indeed getting something for nothing. And further believe that the most wretched deprived among us are a causal factor in the upcoming and rightful collapse of the overall meanest economic system ever devised. I see an empire of theft and coercion — both of our own people and others around the world in our name — which names the victim as the perp.
And I see a people who no longer feel the bonds of coursing humanity and their species, the sustaining earth under their feet, and beneath whose carpet their eternity waits. Rather I see a people conditioned to believe in the state and obey the state’s designated bosses. And I see the moving hand of the corporate state active in all things from birth to death — opening the eyes of the newly born and closing those of the newly dead. There’s a profit to be made in both, and every human activity in between.
Even those among us who can see, who can observe the hardening condition induced by the enemies of human liberty and well being, feel powerless in the face of this darkening and omniscient order. Despite the quadrennial claims of our political parties during national election years, no savior has arrived and none is coming. No Obama, no miracle of “green science,” no national genius will emerge to lead us. We have only the simple, direct, undeceived intelligence of ordinary men and women to rely upon. We must regain respect for the seemingly meager and often lonely powers an individual does have, and choose work and a way of living upon which we can all rely…
This is from a speech by another of South Carolina’s many statesmen, Republican Lieutenant Governor Rudolph Andreas “André” Bauer. For the full flavor, listen to it all. Bauer is shown below with another college varsity cheerleader, George W. Bush:
“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals,” Bauer told a Greenville-area crowd. “You know why? Because they breed.
“You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”
I can’t come close to saying anything better than what Bill Doolittle said about his involvement with and participation in the Civil Rights Movement as well as his coverage of the event, but I hope I can add a little something to remember Dr. Martin Luther King today by posting this YouTube Video of another great American announcing the untimely death of Dr. King, who, like Dr. King, was a short time later likewise shot down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet.
Thank you, Bill Doolittle, for what you said and I hope this short post also helps us to continue to remember the life of Dr. King and the great changes that he and others around him helped make become a reality. I was one who witnessed as a child the horrid conditions in the South for blacks and I saw the changes that he helped to make happen as I grew. And the sad chapter in America now referred to as the Jim Crow Era fortunately passed and was put away in the history books. Unfortunately the ending of that era is sadly forgotten or its elimination viewed with anger by too many Americans to this day.
Let us not forget his tragic and unfortunate death, the circumstances of which still trouble Americans to this day. But the Dream truly lives on in so many of us today.
The World Peace Prayer is a paraphrase of a verse from the Upanishads, the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism, and is also prayed daily by the Roman Catholic Benedictine Sisters. It is also said near the end of the service at the UCC church my wife and I attend.
A reader who calls himself Colonelgirdle mentioned in a recent comment that he had lost his small business and his livelihood when refused credit by a bank which used its bailout money to buy another bank. I asked him if he could expand on his brief comment, and he has kindly done so:
For three years I owned and operated a mini-market/gas station in a Cincinnati, Ohio suburb. I bought an already existing store using all the assets I had, including my 401K funds, after being down-sized from my middle-management career of 22 years (in one of the many industries which the U.S. can no longer keep onshore).
Things went along fairly well and the business grew as I acquired a large clientele of regular customers from the local construction companies, other business owners, and the Ford plant. My girlfriend and I worked 90+ hour workweeks and, along with help from a few part-time employees, we operated 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, I was a real practitioner of the kind of free-enterprise capitalism that our windbag politicians and business leaders praise to the heavens while making sure it doesn’t apply to them.
In the spring of 2008, I went to the county “economic development board” asking for advice about expanding my business. And because his office is in the same shopping center as my store, I walked over to Representative John Boehner’s (remember him? the Republican House Majority, now Minority, Leader?) office to ask for help. I asked the bureaucrats whether grants or tax breaks were available to help me hire employees, buy equipment, etc. No, no such thing available. Their only advice was to go to the Small Business Administration.
So I called the SBA. I won’t go into details other than that they sent out someone to take a look at my store and see if he had any words of wisdom. He was the former head of Ford’s truck and ambulance division and knew nothing I could discern about small businesses in general nor especially the retail store business.
So back I went to the county development board. After a few lengthy consultations, I was steered to a Vice President of Lending at a local branch of one of our nation’s larger banks (I won’t tell you which one, but their initials are PNC). In cooperation with that very nice VP, my girlfriend and I hashed-out a business plan and jumped through a multitude of hoops necessary to secure a relatively paltry SBA loan of $75,000.
Meanwhile, I realize now that throughout the spring & summer business had started to go sour. We were close enough to our customers that many of them confided their troubles: they were losing their jobs, they were losing their homes, their own small businesses were taking on water like Katrina. We finished up our paperwork with the bank and awaited an answer.The V.P. anticipated no problem as I had A-1 credit, very little debt, and a good plan for growing the business.
Then the financial tsunami hit…
Suddenly, Americans were informed the banks were bust and Wall Street toppled! Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his bankster buddies told us it was our money or our lives: we could either pony up nearly a trillion dollars or our economy would eat lead.
My business flow slowed to a trickle; people who are terrified don’t go out shopping. In the midst of all this it was announced that the bank I had asked for money was using its government bailout to buy the bank where I had my business accounts (National City). I didn’t think badly about that arrangement, until during that same time my business loan was turned down. The nice V.P. confided that “we just aren’t loaning to anyone right now. Come back in the spring and you can probably get it then.”
We hung on for five months after that. The store died a slow death. People without jobs to go to don’t buy near as much gasoline and candy. I let the employees go after the New Year holiday. In late February, I contacted the bank V.P. but was turned-down again. I heard on the news that the credit markets were still frozen.
A few weeks later, I put up the sign that said “Out of Business.” I didn’t get much out of the used equipment because so many businesses have gone belly-up that there’s a glut on the market (part of that real free-enterprise again).
I’m not embarrassed about my story because now most everyone is either financially ruined or close to it. And our so-called “leaders” don’t really seem to know or care about fixing it because the Dow Jones Average is going up again. I’m unemployed, broke, and waiting, praying/working for the revolution that seems inevitable.
(Editor’s note: Earlier today the colonel commented on Chuck Dupree’s posting, Thirty Million More Criminals. Since it follows naturally on the preceding account, I reprint it below.)
As one of America’s many financially-ruined citizens I have first-hand frustrating experience with applying to the government for assistance. To cite two examples: 1) so that my working, divorced daughter could go to college, she needed financial help with my granddaughter’s daycare. That took seven weeks of almost daily calling the social workers and, finally, in desperation a call to our state governor’s office hotline to get results. 2) I applied for heating energy assistance for this winter, which involves getting up about 3 am in order to stand in line in the freezing cold outside the application office to get one of 25 entrance tickets at about 8 am.
I was 17th in line, because some people camp out there all night. There were about 50 people in line, which means a lot of people turned away each day. My point is that there will be a lot of poor people spending a lot of their time going begging “hat in hand” to the bureaucrats in order to buy insurance.
I was once solidly middle-class and paid taxes for 37 years before being destroyed in the Great Recession. I was surprised at how confusing, uncaring, and inadequate our social safety net is. Pray that you don’t have to find out also.
After hitting the Medicare Part D doughnut hole, this old rooster became so confused he wound up at a demonstration in support of Colonel Sanders:
Here’s the Word of the Lord from John Hart, who is communications director for famed Christian Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma:
Coburn’s opposition to government programs, Hart said, stemmed from his concern for the poor. “His faith informs everything he does,” Hart said. He went on to say that, in the New Testament, Jesus mentions the poor some 300 times. “He doesn’t view the Bible as a think-tank document.,” Hart said. So, Coburn, before he contemplates a policy, Hart said, first asks himself, “How will it impact the people least able to fend for themselves?”
“He has come to the conclusion that large government enterprises harm poor more than help them,” Hart said, offering Medicaid as an example. He conceded that the government health-care program does help some poor people, but he contends that it hurts others, because “40 percent of doctors refuse to accept Medicaid.” (Coburn is an MD himself.)
Hart said that the expansion of Medicaid beyond the ranks of the “truly poor” will only hurt more people.
And, in a not unrelated story, we learn that, “Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.”
The snippets below are from a survey of the Right of the Right, carried out by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Not much you didn’t know, perhaps, but the words are often interesting even if the tune is familiar.
Most fascinating to me was the way the respondents talked about President Obama himself. They thought he was a socialist, Manchurian candidate control freak, sure. But it kept peeping through that they couldn’t help respecting and admiring the guy — maybe even liking him. Most peculiar, Obama…
For the complete text, download file.
The conservative Republican base represents almost one in five voters in the electorate, and nearly two out of every three self-identified Republicans…
Asked about the issues of greatest importance to them in choosing a candidate for Congress, health care ranked sixth among the Republicans, below issues such as tax cuts, immigration, and a candidate’s personal values and faith; but for the independents, health care was number one…
—I think it is another media attack on people who have views other than their own… It almost makes you think they are trying to create some kind of a divide… Tearing us up. Fabrication to prove the point that they want to prove that may or may not be truth. It is relative to their need to get a headline and they are stupid if they think we’re not seeing this stuff. They’re stupid if they think we’re so stupid.
—There’s a school of thought that if you overload the system with programs and bailouts and all that, that it will create an opportunity, some people believe it started in the 60’s with welfare and Medicare and Medicaid; if you load the system down enough till it totally collapses it, I mean, I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theory, but it opens the door for this whole new way of governing. I’m not saying he’s a sleeper or anything like that, but it is something to think about…
—I think [Glenn Beck’s] brilliant. No one goes after him because he does his homework. He checks, double checks, triple checks and he says he refuses to put it on the air unless it’s been checked a hundred different times. So when you can’t get at him, you start calling him names and start digging into his past.
From Jay Bookman, who, unlike me, seems to have a paid subscription to Rupert Murdoch’s online Wall Street Journal. The question raised by the stolen excerpt below is whether there is any outrage at all, any slap in the face so contemptuous, any display of greed in a time of widespread suffering, joblessness, bankruptcy and homelessness so shameless that we will finally wake up?
It’s no good blaming Congress. Both House and Senate would vote to vivisect kittens on prime time if enough members were afraid that going soft on Fluffy would cost them their seats. The trouble goes beyond that.
In Michael Moore’s movie Sicko, an American ex-pat in Paris reflects that in France the government is afraid of the people, while in America the people are afraid of the government. And there you have it. And here’s the latest atrocity that will not send Americans to the barricades:
“Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.
Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.”
Total compensation and benefits at the publicly traded firms analyzed by the Journal are on track to increase 20% from last year’s $117 billion — and to top 2007’s $130 billion payout. This year, employees at the companies will earn an estimated $143,400 on average, up almost $2,000 from 2007 levels.”
Marcy Kaptur is a 14-term Democratic member of Congress from Toledo. Here she is, talking to Bill Moyers:
Let me give you a reality from ground zero in Toledo, Ohio. Our foreclosures have gone up 94 percent. A few months ago, I met with our realtors. And I said, ‘What should I know?’ They said, ‘Well, first of all, you should know the worst companies that are doing this to us.’
I said, ‘Well, give me the top one.’ They said, ‘J.P. Morgan Chase.’ I went back to Washington that night. And one of my colleagues said, ‘You want to come to dinner?’ I said, ‘Well, what is it?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s a meeting with Jamie Dimon, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase.’ I said, ‘Wow, yes. I really do.’ So, I go to this meeting in a fancy hotel, fancy dinner, and everyone is complimenting him. I mean, it was just like a love fest.
They finally got to me, and my point to ask a question. I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to speak out of turn here, Mr. Dimon.’ I said, ‘But your company is the largest forecloser in my district. And our realtors just said to me this morning that your people don’t return phone calls.’ I said, ‘We can’t do work outs.’ And he looked at me, he said, ‘Do you know that I talk to your Governor all the time?’ He said, ‘Our company employs 10,000 people in Ohio.’
And I’m thinking, ‘What is that? A threat?’ And he said, ‘I speak to the Mayor of Columbus.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you come further north?’ I said, ‘Toledo, Cleveland, where the foreclosures are just skyrocketing.’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll have someone call you.’ And he gave me a card. And they never did. For two weeks, we tried to reach them. And finally, I was on a national news show. And I told this story. They called within ten minutes. And they said, ‘Oh, we’ll work with you. We’ll try to do some workouts in your area.’
We planned the first one after working with them for weeks and weeks and weeks. Their people never showed up. And it was a Friday. Our people had taken off work. They’d driven from all these locations to come. We kept calling J.P. Morgan Chase saying, ‘Where’s your person? Where’s your person?’ And they finally sent somebody down from Detroit by 3:00 in the afternoon…
A shocking story in today’s Washington Post confirms what has seemed probable all along: the subprime housing scams that sank our economy were a vast criminal enterprise that Alan Greenspan not only knew about from the start, but actively encouraged.
Read it all, but here’s a brief excerpt that goes to the underlying problem with the anti-Keynsian Chicago school of economics — what Paul Krugman calls the “freshwater school.” This is a failure to see that the big picture is made up of millions of tiny dots. In laymen’s terms, these are known as “human beings.”
Throughout the lending boom, consumer advocates trooped regularly to the Fed’s monumental marble headquarters on Constitution Avenue to offer specific accounts of abuses in financial transactions. But what seemed powerful to advocates often was dismissed as anecdotal by regulators.
“The response we were getting from most of the governors and the staff was, ‘All you’re able to do is point to the stories of individual consumers, you’re not able to show the macroeconomic effect,’ “ said Patricia McCoy, a law professor at the University of Connecticut who served on the Fed’s consumer advisory council from 2002 to 2004. “That is a classic Fed mindset. If you cannot prove that it is a broad-based problem that threatens systemic consequences, then you will be dismissed.”
Fortunately those dark days at the Fed are past. President Obama’s choice to continue as its chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, is outraged:
Bernanke asked the Fed’s lawyers to revisit their concerns and, in July 2007, the Fed announced a pilot program to examine a few subprime affiliates.This summer, pronouncing itself satisfied with the results, the Fed announced it would launch regular consumer compliance examinations.
“In looking at our responsibility to enforce these consumer laws we believe a somewhat more proactive stance is justified,” Bernanke told Congress.
“If you’ve been in a poker game for half an hour and you don’t know who the patsy is yet, you’re the patsy.”
Republican appointees outnumber Democratic justices two to one on the Supreme Court. Of the six Republicans, five were named by multimillionaires (the Bushes and Reagan; Ford appointed the other).
These things render tomorrow’s arguments over Austin and McConnell all but irrelevant. The fix is in. The Roberts court wouldn’t have taken the case at all if the Chief Justice didn’t intend to use it to scrap the last few limits remaining on the power of the rich to buy our government.
A few shreds of today’s legal fig leaf may survive, but basically the game is finally over. Democracy lost. If Joe the Plumber and the government-hating tea-baggers had even the dimmest grasp of who was really responsible for their troubles, they would be rioting in the streets already.
Today, one political class is the overwhelming majority — we express our preferences with our votes or volunteer efforts. The other class consists of those wielding real power — the ability to finance the bulk of candidates’ campaigns and effectively “set the menu” of candidates from which the rest of us may choose.
The justices’ motivation for treating money as speech may not be racist, but the impact is. Major political donors are fully unrepresentative of Americans. According to a 1996 study by the Joyce Foundation, eighty percent of people investing $200 or more in political candidates are males from households with annual income exceeding $100,000, and about 95 percent are white.
Not surprisingly, Congress closely mirrors those distinctly unrepresentative demographics.
When you get into the real money — donations of $1,000 or more — the picture is skewed even further. Just one in a thousand adult Americans contributed $1,000 or more to any candidate in the last election, yet candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination raised more than 80 percent of their individual investments from these elites. And people wonder how Congress can consider repealing inheritance taxes for multi-millionaires while plunging us ever-deeper into debt.
The power of that 1% of citizens making thousand-dollar investments is further amplified by their ability to “bundle” contributions in the name of family members, co-workers or employees to offer many thousands of dollars to a candidate in a lump sum. In George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, bundling $200,000 was the measure by which donors gained serious influence.
A column by my nephew, Will Doolittle of The Star-Post in Glens Falls, New York:
FORT EDWARD, NY — Jim Sullivan looked at his 3-year-old son Jimmy, sleeping on his wife’s lap, his head turned to the side, his mouth and nose smushed against her chest.
“This is his third head of hair,” Sullivan said.
The drugs Jimmy takes have made his hair fall out. He was born with Down syndrome and, last October, after a bad summer of fevers and vomiting and nasal and chest infections, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Because of the Down syndrome, Jimmy’s family gets a Medicaid waiver for his care, which they have needed recently. In May, after Jim tipped over an 18-wheeler on a sharp corner, he lost his job as a truck driver.
Losing his job meant losing the family’s health insurance. Jim and his wife, Valarie, also have two daughters — Victoria, 5, and Abigail, 4. The whole family was home on Monday morning this week. Abby, wearing a pink unicorn suit, was sitting at the kitchen table with her parents, peering up at them as they talked about their struggles.
They have three sources of income: Jim’s unemployment insurance, Jimmy’s supplemental security income and food stamps. Valarie used to work as a bus driver, but, after Jimmy’s diagnosis, she stopped to stay home with him. Now she and Jim are both looking for jobs.
Valarie went to Aldi’s, where they were hiring a cashier. About 60 people showed up for the one job, she said. “When we both were working, we were OK,” Jim said. With neither one working, they are not OK.
Last year, they got a couple of months behind on their mortgage. When they tried to make a payment, the mortgage company — Tammac — wouldn’t cash the check because they sent only enough for one month, not the full amount.
Now, they’re about a year behind, and Tammac’s representatives call their house to berate them and threaten foreclosure. Friends and family have given them some cash, which they used to pay the $1,500 fee for a company, Amerihelp on Long Island, to negotiate a loan modification on their behalf.
But it has been nine months since then and nothing has changed.
They’re still in their house, but they’re still way behind on their mortgage. Jimmy is doing better, but he still has leukemia. He loves his bedroom in their little house off Durkeetown Road — “he just loves that room and being in it,” Valarie said. But she doesn’t know how they’re going to stay. She lives with the worry that, any day, they will be forced to leave.
Maybe Ben Bernanke can help. Then again, maybe not: “The damaging error that Bernanke — and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have committed is to hand out all that money without demanding anything in return from the bankers and financiers.”
Like forcing them to renegotiate the subprime mortgages they continue to milk for every last penny. Ask the Sullivans.
…”A Nation of Children Roots for the Mafia.” By all means read Joe Bageant’s complete take on healthcare. Excerpts:
There ain’t any healthcare debate going on, Bubba. What is going on are mob negotiations about insurance, and which mob gets the biggest chunk of the dough, be it our taxpayer dough or the geet that isn’t in ole Jim’s impoverished purse. The hoo-ha is about the insurance racket, not the delivery of healthcare to human beings. It’s simply another form of extorting the people regarding a fundamental need — health.
Unfortunately, the people have been mesmerized by our theater state’s purposefully distracting and dramatic media productions for so long they’ve been mutated toward helplessness. Consequently, they are incapable of asking themselves a simple question: If insurance corporation profits are one third of the cost of healthcare, and all insurance corporations do is deliver our money to healthcare providers for us (or actually, do everything in their power to keep the money for themselves), why do we need insurance companies at all?
Answer: Because Wall Street gets a big piece of the action. And nobody messes with the Wall Street Mob (as the bailout extortion money proved). Better (and worse) presidents have tried. Some made a genuine effort to push it through Congress. Others expressed the desire publicly, but after getting privately muscled by the healthcare industry, decided to back off from the idea…
Most of all though, it is testimony that we live under an induced mass hallucination where spectacle replaces fact, information and common sense. In place of actionable information, we are served up screaming red faces — angry mobs manufactured for TV protesting “government interference in the people’s healthcare choices.” One must wonder what inchoate anger is really being tapped by the organizers of these strange “citizen protests.” As usual, the straw boogeyman of socialism is once more invoked. “Oh my god! I’ll have to give up my $1,100 a month insurance bill, which only pays 80% of my insurance costs AFTER I pay the initial $5,000 of those costs! If that ain’t Joe Stalin all over again, I don’t know what is!” We get the false media drama of “death panels.”
And being captives of spectacle and hyperbole, we friggin love it. The idea of death panels plays to our childish attraction to the extreme and entertaining. Killing Grandma is far more entertaining to our imaginations than say, guaranteed access to chest screens and blood pressure medicine. Two generations into this national infantilization, it’s now the only national life we know — the ideological spectacle made real.
As Congress considers various proposals for overhauling our health care system, it would be well for us to recall the words of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who once said, “This is the only country where poor people are fat.”
Ex-senator Gramm, who was known as the bankers’ friend for the many kindnesses he bestowed on the finance industry, brought a brand of “compassionate conservatism” to his politics long before George W. Bush was a gleam in the eye of the Republican Party leaders. Gramm never used the phrase, that we know of, and we don’t hear much about it anymore, but compassionate conservatism is at the heart of the debate over health care reform. What it describes, basically, is a political philosophy that might be summed up thus: We’ve got ours and screw you, Jack.
Congress itself has health care coverage that is better than just about any plan currently available to the public. President Obama has said everybody should have the same coverage as he and all the employees of the federal government, including senators and congressmen, now have. That would be fair, he said.
But “fair” is one of those wishy-washy and fiscally irresponsible notions that liberals are always using to confound their opponents in debate. Phil Gramm had it right: If poor people would take better care of themselves and not go around eating Big Macs with fries and swilling down Pepsi they would be a lot healthier and wouldn’t need health care insurance. Most of the time, when poor people get sick it’s their own fault. If they can’t be bothered to take care of themselves, why should we?
This is a powerful argument and one can only wish that Phil Gramm were still in the Senate to make it. But Phil had to follow his destiny. It wasn’t enough to lead the deregulation charge that made it easier for banks to wheel and deal, Phil secretly yearned to be a banker. And now he is, right there in Washington, D.C., where the best deals have the biggest wheels.
But even without the stalwart leadership of Phil Gramm, Congress seems more than up to the challenge of thwarting the new president’s attempt to foul up a perfectly good national health care system. Since losing so many seats in both houses, the Republicans faced the possibility of being flattened by a unified Democratic Congress. Fortunately, the Democrats are never unified and the party’s dubious leadership in Congress and the Senate seems to be faltering.
Obama, who may be too committed to the idea of bi-partisanship for his own good, has given so much ground to pressure groups from everywhere that the bill, now a thousand pages-long, is all but incomprehensible, much less effective. It is so complicated the Democrats conducted an hours-long seminar in the House basement to make sure its Members understood what the hell the bill provides.
This was a good sign for opponents of the bill. Nothing stops progress like confusion. Meanwhile, help arrived, like the cavalry, with the Blue Dog Democrats of the House. This right-thinking group of fiscally responsible, if sometimes misguided, Democratic Congresspersons has done its obstructionist best to ruin Obama’s reckless plans. With skillful wielding of the monkey wrench and generous deployment of flies to ointment, this estimable band of brothers and sisters is doing its best to discredit the Obama Administration.
With any luck they will so befoul the health care plan that Obama will not recover and his presidency, which some fools believe to have great potential, will be fatally weakened. This would be a kind of justice for a country where the poor people are fat and the head of state is skinny.
Most sentient Americans have heard the bleatings from the medical industry, repeated endlessly for half a century, about the unspeakable horrors of the Canadian medical system.
Those of us who are even marginally skeptical will have dismissed this nonsense long since as the paid propaganda it is. Others may find the list below of interest. Or not, since for most of them anything said loudly enough and often enough must be true.
Anyway, the list:
1. Tommy Douglas
2. Terry Fox
3. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
4. Sir Frederick Banting
5. David Suzuki
6. Lester B. Pearson
7. Don Cherry
8. Sir John A. Macdonald
9. Alexander Graham Bell
10. Wayne Gretzky
Two questions will immediately occur to low-information Americans: Why is Gretzky number 10, and who did the other nine play for?
The list, however, is of the ten Canadians most admired by their countrymen, in a 2004 contest conducted by CBC Television. More than 1.2 million votes were cast. A third question, then. Who the hell is Tommy Douglas?
Oddly enough, considering the horrors he unleashed on his suffering nation, the “Greatest Canadian of All Time” was the father of Canadian Medicare:
For more than 50 years, his staunch devotion to social causes, rousing powers of speech and pugnacious charm made Tommy C. Douglas an unstoppable political force. From his first foray into public office politics in 1934 to his post-retirement years in the 1970s, Canada’s ‘father of Medicare’ stayed true to his socialist beliefs — often at the cost of his own political fortune — and earned himself the respect of millions of Canadians in the process…
Tommy Douglas’s legacy as a social policy innovator lives on. Social welfare, universal Medicare, old age pensions and mothers’ allowances — Douglas helped keep these ideas, and many more, watching as more established political parties eventually came to accept these once-radical ideas as their own.
Well, yeah, but how about all those Canadians, doctors included, heading south to escape the vicious embrace of affordable medical care?
As far as the healthcare seekers heading south, see this. (And for Americans heading south for care — to Mexico — see this. As for Canadian doctors fleeing their homeland, here’s one Canadian’s take on it:
A large number of doctors trained in Canada, with an education hugely subsidized by Canadian taxpayers, immediately head for the United States, where they can make much more money (Canada deals with this by poaching doctors from places like South Africa).
Most stay, but a few come back, giving as a reason the complete lack of focus in the American system on actually caring for patients. In the American system a doctor is not a professional, but a cog in a massive profit-making machine.
The main advantage of single-payer, besides the oodles of money it saves, is that it maintains the doctor-patient relationship as a professional medical relationship, not solely an economic relationship. Patients understand this, if politicians and ‘journalists’ do not.
Wonderful post on unions by Joe Bageant today. The taste below contains a quote — the one about one man, one vote — that was new to me. The unnamed speaker had nothing to worry about. In two short years the Supreme Court would solve his problem by ruling in Buckley v. Valeo that money was the functional equivalent of votes: the more of the former you had, the more of the latter you could buy.
If a few pricks and gangsters have occasionally seized power over the dignity of labor, countless more calculating, bloodless and malevolent pricks — the capitalist elites — have always held most of the cards — Gould could sneer, “I can always hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” And why a speaker at the U.S. Business Conference Board in 1974 could arrogantly declare, “One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II.” And why that same year Business Week magazine said, “It will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow — the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more. Nothing in modern economic history compares with the selling job that must now be done to make people accept this new reality.”
Who needs the Mafia when we’ve got Congress? Here’s a taste from William Greider. Go read it all in The Nation.
The much-celebrated “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” is a fresh example of how the Democratic Party tries to have it both ways — avoiding the tough votes while mollifying the folks. The credit card reform measure imposes new rules on the industry and does away with many of the most outrageous gimmicks bankers use to extract more money from debtors. Banks cannot raise interest rates retroactively on old credit card balances or pile on hidden fees or fail to give advance notice for rate increases. These and other changes are worthy.
The achievement seems less courageous if you know that Congress was largely ratifying the regulatory rules already adopted by the Federal Reserve last year. Or that the legislation gives the industry another nine months to gouge their customers before the new rules go into effect. Or that Visa and MasterCard, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are free to raise future interest rates to the sky — without limit. That is the industry’s intention, as bank lobbyists reported after the bill was passed.
One of the fundamental issues that party managers wished to avoid was the scandal of American usury. Usury is the ancient sin of charging inflated interest rates sure to ruin the borrowers. It is considered immoral by Judaism, Christianity and Islam because usury involves the powerful using their wealth to ensnare weak and defenseless borrowers. The classic usurer offers an impossible choice that debtors cannot easily refuse. If they reject the terms of the loan, they will not be able to pay the rent or buy necessities. If they accept the usurious interest rates, their debts will accumulate until they are bankrupted (at which point the creditors claim their property). No civilized society can endure in such conditions.
Usury used to be illegal in the United States but it was “decriminalized” in 1980 — the dawn of financial deregulation. A Democratic president and Congress repealed all interest-rate controls and the federal law prohibiting usury. Thirty years later, American society is permeated with usurious practices — credit cards charging 30 percent and higher, subprime mortgages and other forms of predatory lending, the notorious “payday” loans that charge desperate working people an effective interest rate of 500 percent or more. Businesses, especially smaller firms, are also prey to usury in less direct ways…
Read these stories from today’s New York Times back to back. The first tells how the disgraced and incompetent but very, very rich gamblers from Wall Street rolled the President of the United States. The second tells how the Prime Minister of Russia rolled Russia’s richest man.
Okay, okay, I know. The parallels are not exact. Russia is not the United States. Putin is not Obama. Fine. But here’s something to think about. Unlike the unpaid factory workers in Pikalevo, our unpaid factory workers are, by and large, taking their beating from Wall Street and shutting up about it. Only when they start kicking and hollering as loud as their Russian counterparts will Obama have the political muscle to cram down his various cram-downs.
Tangentially on this point, here’s Heather K. Gerken at Balkinization:
Some naively think that the Obama administration can pass anything it wants because the Obama campaign had so many energized supporters and such an impressive grassroots network.
That’s a mistake. Electioneering is different from governing. Note, for instance, how hard it’s been to convert Obama for America into an equally muscular Organizing for America. Elections are the rare moments when voters pay attention; the drama of the race focuses people’s attention on the issues, and candidates provide human stand-ins for abstract policy proposals. Politics, in short, is what happens when policy gets personal.
When candidates turn to the workaday project of governing, voters tend to fall away. They stop organizing, they stop volunteering … they even stop paying attention. That is precisely why passing policies comparable in scope to the New Deal is exceedingly hard to do…
Voters use party ID as a rough proxy for holding election officials accountable. The problem is that voting based on party ID isn’t usually enough to put the fear of God into politicians; it’s too rough a proxy for holding politicians accountable on specific issues. Americans want health care reform, yet they routinely vote for politicians who don’t provide it. As long as people vote based on general conditions, not specific legislative failures, the status quo remains a pretty safe option for politicians.
Sure it’s like kicking a cripple, but let’s explore the crossed synapses of the Newt brain anyway. Here’s Thomas Frank, the Wall Street Journal’s house liberal:
…As an example of this habit of mind, consider the essay that Mr. Gingrich published in Human Events last week. “The current liberal bloodlust over interrogations,” he wrote, referring to the Nancy Pelosi-CIA flap, is merely “the Left’s attempt to hunt down and purge its political opponents.” And yet, in a different essay he published on the very same day (this one in the Washington Times), Mr. Gingrich regretted that, in all the years of Republican rule, “there was a strategic failure to root out the left and the special interests of the left.”
Mr. Gingrich’s side failed to “root out” and destroy their opponents; now he imagines that this is what is being done to his team.
Psychotherapists might call this “projection,” and something similar pervades the essay the remarkable Mr. Gingrich published only two days later in the Washington Post. Here the former speaker can be found calling for a populist revolt in the “great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites.”
A healthy sentiment, to be sure, except for the fact that “elites” are exactly what decades of conservative rule gave us by unleashing the banks, smashing the unions, and funneling the economy’s gains into the hands of the rich…
Riding freights around the country many years ago, I ran across a man who told me, “If you’re ever hungry, boy, ask a poor man.” Good advice, and still good today:
America’s poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What’s more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does…
Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America’s households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent…
Pastor Coletta Jones, who ministers to a largely low-income tithing congregation in southeast Washington, The Rock Christian Church, thinks that poor people give more because they ask for less for themselves.
“When you have just a little, you’re thankful for what you have,” Jones said, “but with every step you take up the ladder of success, the money clouds your mind and gets you into a state of never being satisfied.”
They’re mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. Who? Wall Street bankers, of course.
The mighty Atlases upon whose shoulders we sit are getting angry at our ingratitude. They give, we take; they build wealth, and we sponge off it; they motor the world, and all we do is unthinkingly criticize and complain when the invisible hand of the market rewards them. Well, Mr. and Mrs. American whiner, they want you to know they’ve had it, as reported by Gabriel Sherman in this article in New York Magazine:
“No offense to Middle America, but if someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco out of a huge, shiny truck?” e-mails an irate Citigroup executive to a colleague.
“I’m not giving to charity this year!” one hedge-fund analyst shouts into the phone, when I ask about Obama’s planned tax increases. “When people ask me for money, I tell them, ‘If you want me to give you money, send a letter to my senator asking for my taxes to be lowered.’ I feel so much less generous right now. If I have to adopt twenty poor families, I want a thank-you note and an update on their lives. At least Sally Struthers gives you an update.”
You might think your life is tough, what with losing your job, your home, your retirement, but you just don’t get it. Your perspective is warped by the distorting prism of reality. You should have gone to Columbia or Wharton. Maybe then you’d understand that the rich have special needs. They also face special problems, the likes of which you and I could never hope to understand. For example, cost structures. Cost structures are an invisible web of interlocking expenses that, well, force you to be a greedy snob. A former Goldman Sach’s man explains:
To Wall Street people who have grown up in the bubble, the meaning of the crisis is only slowly sinking in. They can’t yet grasp the idea of a life lived on less. “Without exception, Wall Street guys have gotten accustomed to not being stuck in the city in August. So it becomes a right to have a summer home within an hour or two commute from Manhattan,” says the Goldman vet. “There’s a cost structure of going with your family on summer vacation that’s not optional. There’s a cost structure of spending $40,000 to send your kids to private school that is not optional. There’s a sense of entitlement, that you need that amount of money just to live, that’s not optional.”
Do you get it yet? If you happen to be stuck in the unemployment line this August, just know it could be worse: you could be stuck in a dreary penthouse in Manhattan. But then again, you didn’t go to Columbia or Wharton, so it’s probably not sinking in. It’s all about cost structure, which never enters our beautiful minds, or the beautiful minds of those lucky Sysco delivery drivers who get to idle away their days in huge, shiny trucks.
There’s one more thing. A lot of these beneficient Wall Street people were willing to vote for Obama. You know, because they care about you, me, America in general. But this liberal sense of entitlement he’s been spreading around violates their free market principles, and not even the billions of dollars in TARP money that he’s giving them is enough allay their concerns. Thus, they warn, Wall Street just might do something unheard of in the history of American finance — turn right!
During the campaign, Obama was never shy about his promise to undo the Bush tax policies. But it was easy to ignore his occasional lapses into populist rhetoric and focus on his intense intelligence and Ivy League education. Now, in the wake of the crisis, Wall Street’s politics are shifting rightward. “All the rich people I know took George Bush for granted,” says an analyst at a midtown hedge fund. “I’m a Democrat, but I agree with Rush Limbaugh on a lot of this stuff,” rails the wife of a former AIG executive.
The argument that Obama has in fact done a great deal to help Wall Street—to the tune of trillions of dollars—doesn’t have much truck with these critics. “If you really take a look at what Obama is promising, it’s frightening,” says Nicholas Cacciola, a 44-year-old executive at a financial-services firm. “He’s punishing you for doing better. He doesn’t want to have any wealth creation—it’s wealth distribution. Why are you being punished for making a lot of money?” As a Republican corporate lawyer puts it: “It’s the politics of envy, and that’s very dangerous.”
There you have it. We’re pushing Wall Street right into the arms of Rush Limbaugh. When they deliver us to another Republican regime, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
I bet you feel really stupid now about complaining over paying their bonuses.
If you set out to completely discredit the bankers and eviscerate their political power, you’d proceed exactly as Obama has done, enabling it to reach its reductio ad absurdum conclusion of fat bonuses and tax-funded bailouts in the trillions of dollars, at which point the public will rise up in fury, doing the work which was impossible for you, a new “liberal” president…
What better way to trigger “change” that even the banking Aristocracy are powerless to stop than to give them everything they want: no restrictions on stupendous bonuses, no punishment or prosecution, no mark-to-market rules with actual bite, no limits on accounting legerdemain, and on and on and on?…
And what will be the result? A complete repudiation of the entire Bush/Treasury/banker bailout and “free pass” to further plundering. And when the public rises up in righteous fury, then you appear to bend, almost reluctantly, to “the public will.”
David Brooks put his finger right on our main problem as a people today, although he doesn’t seem to recognize it as a problem. We are not individuals, standing squarely and independently on our two feet like mountain men. Neither were the mountain men.
We are herd animals, social animals. We cannot and do not live alone. Anyone who tries to tell us different is either a damned fool, ignorant of history and science, or a con man trying to hustle us. Or a Republican. Or do I repeat myself?
So whom do they turn to in times like these? Themselves. Americans have always felt that they are masters of their own fate. Decade after decade, Americans stand out from others in their belief that their own individual actions determine how they fare. That conviction has been utterly unshaken by the global crisis. In question after question, large majorities say their own actions will determine how much they will make, how well they will endure the recession, how healthy they will be and so on.
The crisis has not sent Americans running to government for relief. Nor has it led to a populist surge in anti-business sentiment. In a recent Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans said that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 32 percent said big business. Those answers are near historical norms.
“Changes in the structure of income distribution between 2002 and 2007 reveal three clearly distinct situations. Nine countries (Argentina, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay) have significantly narrowed the gap between the groups at the extreme ends of the spectrum, both by increasing the poorer groups’ share of total income and by lowering that of the highest-income households.
“The most notable reductions in the two aforementioned indicators (36% and 41%, respectively) were recorded in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Significant improvements were also observed in Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua, where both indicators fell by about 30…”
What Cepal fails to point out, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the politics of all this. Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela as the fastest improver? A pile of centre-left governments (Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula in Brazil and — ahem — Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua) following close behind? This is provocative stuff.
Don’t get too excited, though. These improvements only get us back to the level of the early 1990s, (though that’s no small achievement in a world where inequality generally goes in the opposite direction). Moreover, a lot of these positive trends are now under threat from the impact of the global crisis, which is cutting regional growth to zero (from 5%), hitting employment and wage levels and reversing the trend towards formalization. Sigh.
As seen on Wall Street:
Steve Benen says:
Once in a while, a politician drops the pretense and lets his true colors come through. In this brief interview, Dick Armey, perhaps best known for calling his then-colleague Barney Frank "Barney Fag," showed just what he's made of, before a national television audience.
Here’s the silver-tongued former House Majority Leader on Hardball, debating Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com:
Asher Pavel sends along this pathetic plea:
Tellingly, the only time Studs failed was when I suggested he try a book on power. The people he approached were such accomplished liars that none of them would even admit that they held power. It was the one project we had to give up.
Sarah Palin’s M.O. during her brief political life has been to cozy up to some unsuspecting mentor, then knife him in the back and step over him. Now she’s at it again. Colin McEnroe spells it out:
Palin is pretty clearly running a double campaign these days — one for Nov. 4 and the other for her future position as a leading Republican voice during the Obama era.
It was most noticeable when she openly questioned McCain’s decision to pull out of Michigan. What kind of language do you think McCain used when he heard about that one? This is not a guy who reacts well to being crossed or second-guessed, especially by a woman he yanked out of obscurity five weeks ago.
Since then Palin has announced a bare-knuckles strategy of denouncing Obama as a strange guy with terrorist pals and Stokely Carmichael attitudes. She has again questioned McCain’s tactics — this time his reluctance to brawl and spill blood and bring up Rev. Wright — and openly announced that she will advise him to follow her lead.
Do you not see a little needle directed at her boss in the way Palin worded this? Particularly the phrase “I guess”:“I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more,” Palin said, “because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character.”
“I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up,” Palin added.
You guess? That, my friends, is classic passive-ag[g]ressive criticism…
So that’s at least twice that Wilderness Woman has told her boss to man up. First she called him on the cut-and-run from Michigan. Then she told him to knock off the soft stuff. My guess is that McCain is steaming. He’d send her home if he could. No wonder he renewed his vows to Joe [Lieberman] last night.
Meanwhile, Palin’s no dummy. She can read polls, and she knows that a loss is more likely than a win. She has become a favorite Republican of Republicans…
If they lose this election, the GOP will probably want to get her out of Alaska and into a Senate seat where she can be closer to the limelight and more able to speak out for the loyal opposition. She knows this, and that’s why she’s running two races. McCain may go down, and, if so, she’s not going down with him.
Does any Libtard know how Jimmy Carter pronounced Nuclear?
And what job did he have in the Navy?
I feel pretty sure that we libtards in his speechwriting office would have noticed (and bitched about it to no avail) if President Carter said nukular. But what the hell, I don’t even remember yesterday, let alone the 70s. Why do you ask? Do you have audio of him mispronunciating? If so, lay the link on us.
My feeling about the matter is that nuclear is in the process of being displaced by nukular, due to the slow but inevitable workings of linguistic evolution toward sound sequences easier to pronounce. Thus February has become Febyoowary and library has turned into liberry. Jewelry to joolery, familiar to firmilyar, hundreds to hunderds. More examples will be appreciated. I collect these things.
This evolution, which has been extensively documented by linguists, is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. The only meaningful point to consider is the one made by my stepfather years ago, when I was a teenager and my stepbrother Ralph was a little boy slurping up iced tea through a straw.
“Don’t slurp your tea,” Ralph senior said.
“Jerry does,” Ralphie said.
“That’s different,” Big Ralph said. “He knows it’s wrong.”
Noam Chomsky may well be right about the former president’s conspicuous and repeated mispronounciments:
The focus is on personalities, on Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter, or whatever it may be. In that terrain, the Republicans have a big advantage. They also have a formidable slander and vilification machine which has yet to go into full operation. They can appeal to latent racism, as they are already doing. They can construct a class issue. Obama is the elite Harvard liberal; McCain is the down to earth ordinary American, and it so happens that he is one of the richest people in the Senate.
Same thing they pulled for Bush. You have to vote for Bush because he is the kind of guy you would like to meet in a bar and have a beer with; he wants to go back to his ranch in Texas and cut brush. In reality he was a spoiled fraternity boy who went to an elite university and joined a secret society where the future rulers of the world are trained, and was able to succeed in politics because his family had wealthy friends.
I am convinced, personally, that Bush was trained to mispronounce words to say things like “mis-underestimate” or “nu-cu-ler”, so liberal intellectuals would make jokes about it; then the Republican propaganda machine could say see these elitist liberals who run the world are making fun of us ordinary guys who did not go to Harvard (but he did go to Yale, but forget it).
Here’s a great rant from Alicia Morgan, whose enemy you would definitely not want to be.
…George W. Bush, in celebrating his own lack of intellect and curiosity, has made a virtue of ignorance, and by breaking the glass ceiling on stupidity, demonstrated to those who already think this way that there are no limits to where ignorance can take you. He has also demonstrated that governing by ignorance is not only possible, but easily done, and that ignorance can beat intelligence, given the right set of circumstances…
Case in point is the love child of George Bush and Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin. While George Bush is a relative latecomer to the fundamentalist fold, he insisted that “God told him to attack Iraq.” He relies on his ‘gut’ instead of brains, and considers that a completely acceptable, even preferable choice.
Sarah Palin takes those traits to a whole different level. No Johnny-come-lately she, Palin was steeped in fundamentalist principles from birth, and is both far more radically religious and far less educated than George W. Bush. Which, in the Bizarro-World of right-wing logic, makes her...even better! According to the Bush standard, all you need is a mule-stubborn refusal to yield to be a successful world leader, and intelligence just gets in the way of that. Sarah Palin describes it as “you can’t blink.” What she means is “you can’t think.”
This demonization of intelligence is getting worse, not better, as the ignorant and venal are rewarded ever more richly in our society. If the unthinkable come to pass, with a McCain presidency Sarah Palin — would-be book-banner, science-hater, reproductive-rights-destroyer, Rapture-ready end-timer — will be a fibrillation away from being the leader of the free world. One would not think it possible, but she makes George W. Bush look like Noam Chomsky.
Hell, yes, I’m an elitist. You should be, too.
Mark Wilson, just back from Washington, sends this very brief photo essay on the State of the Union:
A bailot tutorial in English plain enough to be understood by even the lowest-information voter, from Chuck Butcher’s excellent blog, Chuck for…
Since we’re becoming socialists it might be important to know what that means. AIG was bailed out by the US government and now it seems we’ll be buying mortgages and securities. Our government just went right straight into business, stock market business. Try to find the government in the world that has gone into a one trillion dollar socialization program.
We’re not buying something like Exxon Mobil; we’re buying junk. Now, it isn’t like we can watch the credit markets implode and think the rest of the system won’t go with it. I’m not going to argue that and I’m not going say that “these people” getting taught a lesson is nearly as important as avoiding economic catastrophe. But now I do want to know where this socialism experiment is going to go.
Where it stands is that people took out loans they shouldn’t have, and people issued loans to those who shouldn’t have gotten them, and then those got packaged up into a real mess. Lots of blame to spread around but where it stops is the lending.
The money was loaned because it could be loaned and then sold and sold and sold. The US government said, OK, you’ll do fine on your own. When the foreclosures started the government was fine with it, “that’ll teach them,” as long as it was individuals - regular folks in over their heads. So, we understand that it has to be a crisis and one in a big way…
I can think of other crisis situations, like health care. Today we have some sort of socialization of health care — broke and uninsured you can still go to the emergency room and those costs get dumped into the system, governmental health programs and insurance to pay for it. Those pieces get to socialize this in an uneven and strategically stupid fashion. A single payer system is called socialized medicine by the Republicans and plutocrats in general. Somehow this crisis doesn’t rise to the bar. Why is pretty interesting.
The health care debacle in the US is killing our companies’ ability to compete, untreated illnesses are morphed into serious conditions costing multiples of treatment costs, huge amounts of money are being dumped into the private system with poor return — essentially we are throwing away a catastrophic sum of the citizens’ and businesses’ money daily.
But it is the where it’s thrown that is the difference, that money goes into the insurers’ hands and from there into investment banks (what doesn’t stay in the hands of insurers). The citizenry and businesses are financing the plutocrats with their health care. Your health risk is socialized into the pockets of wealth.
Nobody who is being raped is big enough to strike the chord of interest of the plutocrat enablers. The Democrats won’t do it, not without the Republicans getting on board, even with a solid majority and the Presidency they won’t try. They will get handed their heads for trying alone. The Republicans have come on board, along with their plutocratic pals and that is not going to happen as long as they have the incentive to rape the nation.
Here’s what the tax adverse don’t get, there are legally few ways to restrict greed. You can create disincentives. The tax structure is the one way individual money can be managed by government, and Republicans are aware of it — see the Bush tax cuts. Over- amped CEO compensation starts to look manageable if the tax load is based on multiples of average worker compensation, say at 20x for the total package (that’s everything, jets, stock options, even the executive restroom) the rate goes from 40% to 70%.
Wealth that only generates wealth through paper games can be addressed, if your money is in concrete working assets like factories and equipment (no your yacht isn’t an S-corp business) you’re safe but once you’re above the top 5% in total complete income your capital gains go to 25%, inheritance taxes to 25%, and there is no sheltering, everything is out there. FICA gets uncapped, no upper limit. If you send money overseas, it gets taxed both directions at the top rate. Off-shore your corporation, all US operations taxed at the top corporate rate. Military and national security and infrastructure projects denied to any non-US tax paying entity. Mortgage deduction for 1 house and zero for any house in the top 10% valuation. Enough of subsidizing these people.
Class Warfare is the first response of the Republicans and I’ll agree that it is, it is the counter-attack in the war that’s been waged from St Ronnie on. You’ve been screwed to the wall — you’re reading this, I mean you — and you have no idea just exactly how badly. You cannot go to the IRS/US Census data and see how badly; it is hidden. All that huge wealth you’re looking at is only IRS-reported taxable income, not the real extent of it. The tax games that hide this are arcane and I have no ability to break the actual numbers down for you but what you see has no relationship to reality.
This is what the government has encouraged, absolute naked greed and rapaciousness, because there is no downside to it. The mess we’re in right now let run its course would only dent true wealth while killing everybody else and it is being socialized because it would dent wealth. There is the specter of global chaos and violence, but you have a lot of faith if you think that is the foundation.
The next Republican or plutocratic enabler that says something about personal responsibility should have a gun stuck in their face and be given some personal responsibility. By rights, there should exist in this country a real opposition to the plutocrat agenda and there is not. There is no payback for sticking it to the citizens, we’ll actually re-elect a bunch of these dirtbags and wealth itself will not be held to account at all. They won’t be burned out of their mansions and tarred and feathered, they’ll hang onto their wealth. Too bad.
This video pretty much speaks for itself. Click on the video to go to YouTube and there are many more videos of protests by Alaskan women against Palin. The Real News Network also has a video of one of the rallies with a number of short interviews of the women who showed up to show up to voice their displeasure with the policies and experience of Sarah Palin. If you’ve ever been to Alaska, you’ll know this is a huge crowd for the state with the fourth smallest population in all of the United States, and which has many small hamlets and villages comprising much of the population. You gotta love that pioneer spirit of Alaskan women who know how to think for themselves and aren’t authoritarian followers like so many other women in the lower 48.
…and so I won’t even try. These are excerpts from Women Against Sarah Palin, the wonderful website to which my sister Pat alerted me, and about which I blogged earlier this week.
Sarah Palin is the classic example of a woman being used by those in power to remove power from women.
I want to love a mother, governor and VP candidate, but Palin horrifies me, she seems to epitomize the American inability to be introspective, to polarize and see everything in terms of black and white, good or evil, right or wrong. This intolerance and inability to get out of a narrow perspective and see the divine spark in all is at the core of the danger America is creating for itself, and feeds the dissension in America. She has a sharp, but not a deep mind fast with the comebacks, but more interested in bullying an argument than in understanding the truth.
Even in this very red state of Alabama, we know the difference between a show horse, a hobby horse, and a work horse. You do not represent working class women, farm wives or single mothers — ALL of whom turned to Hillary Clinton with great hopes. You charged women for their own rape kits when you were mayor in Wasilla. You use housekeepers and nannies to care for your kids. You don’t want sex education in schools, but you let your daughter get pregnant! You do not now, nor will you ever speak for us!
I can hardly begin to express the depth of my anger at hearing Ms. Palin denigrate the many community organizers I worked with and proudly call my friends. Community Organizers make the world a better place, doing God’s work day in and day out, night after night. To hear that convention audience laugh in response to her snide remarks really pissed me off. I didn’t realize just how steamed I was until a dear friend (another longtime community activist) sent me an e-mail with this message: Jesus was a Community Organizer. Pontius Pilate was a Governor.
Sarah Palin represents the slap of the dinosaur’s tail — a deadly, horned swipe of a breed going extinct; quite likely, in her throes of excited thrashing, to kill off many individuals, many careers, many dearly held gains, won since 1963, for which many of us fought with our brains, our convictions, our blood, our time, our eloquence, and our money…
Are we ready to stand idly by while an old, ill man, watches Sarah’s shapely behind, while fingering his wedding ring? Are we ready to give up our time to choose, our right to decide and let this mockery of a modern woman, this poorly educated bigot tramples our civil rights? Are we ready to die if our life is endangered by an unhealthy pregnancy? Are we willing to let Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and the other megalomaniacs at the helm of the Republican party decide the course of our lives, our daughters’ and granddaughters’ lives?
Even the power she gained as the mayor of a town of a mere 5000, immediately corrupted her; her wide swipes through the administration she inherited were so disruptive to that small government entity that an immediate remedy was set in place — an administrator had to be hired to do the job of running the town while she was mayor. And still, the surplus she inherited turned into a deficit — IMAGINE the damage she could orchestrate on a national level.
The Alaskan legislature took to wearing buttons that said, “Where’s Sarah?” because she spent so little time in Juneau. Once again, the GOP is deceiving the American people in a most callous and calculating way — just because they put a skirt on this time doesn’t change a damned thing!
Women in particular should project hope and love and caring for others, and Ms. Palin does none of this, choosing instead to be mean-spirited and accusatory in every single speech and action. I can only hope that with time, people will recognize this and realize that we need someone quite different from her to take us down the road to respect and REAL morality.
But she is not the problem — our problem is the white old men that insist on running this country with their need to control, their archaic laws and ideas. Their lives are based on fear and ridiculous needs to dominate our pocketbook, our bodies and to shoot before thinking and talking. They also have a great need to distort the truth — in other words LYING. This young woman from Alaska is being fooled with — she is their decoy — but she might be elected and then she could be a heartbeat away from being in charge of our lives.
The American people have become distracted. Palin, participating in this election as a trojan horse, has come with phrases that involve animals and lipsticks, bridges to nowhere, and eBay, leading americans in to an abyss of distractions pulling away from the very sobering facts that who she represents and the policies she supports are a complete replica of the current Bush administration, on paper, and without personality mud-slings, the Palin/MCCain ticket represent four more years of the same policies the world has come to hate.
Here we have the ideal ticket for anyone who supports women’s rights — Obama and Biden — versus two people who think women are brainless fools. The fact that Palin wears a skirt doesn’t mean she has respect for women. On the contrary. It just means that she uses her sex to stop any questions about her competence by accusing the questioner of sex-discrimination. Frankly, I didn’t buy that argument when Hillary made it and I’m certainly not buying it from Palin.
This classic bait and switch move has the electorate once again focusing on the culture wars instead of the real ones, on pseudo-feminism instead of tolerance and equality.
Her extreme beliefs regarding abstinence-only education did not work even for her own daughter! and yet she wants to force it on our daughters! We will not have it. We can do better, there are stronger, more thoughtful and fair minded women in this country who are fit to run it.
Is Ms.Palin really the best the Republican party has to offer in terms of a female? I guess there are slim pickings for a woman who will support an antiquated and sexist Republican agenda.
The cruel irony of Senator Clinton blooding herself on that glass ceiling only to have a puppet escorted through on the arm of a warrior…
These people are two loose cannons on a rolling deck and I genuinely fear for the future of our great country. If John McCain is unable to see his term through, Sarah Palin is next in line as leader of the Free World.
“To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.” Really? Because the parents of children with disabilities in Alaska don’t have much of a friend or advocate right now. Even in years of great surplus, she actually cut state funding for special education services and Medicaid — the program that children and adults with disabilities rely on for health care.
Ms. Palin is also well documented as a local bully who tries to fire anyone who disagrees with her. After eight years of an unqualified President who has done everything in his power to position America as a global bully, this characteristic is the last quality we need in the White House for four more years.
Sarah Palin sees the hand of God in a $30 billion Alaskan national gas pipeline. “I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” she has stated.
Ms. Palin and I clearly worship very different gods. I see the hand of God not in the wallets of the oil companies, but in the pristine Alaska coastline, its majestic polar bears, whales, and glaciers — all of which Big Oil will despoil. Perhaps Ms. Palin has made the mistake that afflicts a frightening number of our citizens: confusing God with money.
Let’s see you argue with this, from Eye of the Storm:
i’m going to say this one time, and then i’m going to shut up. re: bristol palin. the american liberal is, — seriously, literally — pro-abortion and anti-choice, believes essentially in mandatory abortion. what does the average liberal mom do when her 16-year-old daughter shows up pregnant? drags her immediately to the abortion clinic, whatever the daughter’s (or the babydad’s, of course) misgivings.
the american left thinks that bristol palin having her baby is, actually, morally wrong. and more to the point, it shows something terrible about her mom, who had a moral obligation to make her daughter have an abortion. and one reason for this is that if you have a baby when you’re 16, you will likely slip out of our class. you’ll go live with joey, the kid who wants to be a mechanic. you’ll take classes at the community college instead of heading off to a decent school. you’ll end up in a housecoat with a houseful of wailing babies, listening to faith hill.
what haunts the imagination of the american liberal: my family, in the next generation, will be white trash. maybe it would be more interesting to look at these sorts of motivations than to try to figure out “when human life begins.”
As much as it pains me to say it, I think Obama will lose this election. The American public really is far, far more stupid than we tend to give them credit for. A majority of people eagerly buy into whatever Republican meme is being peddled, facts be damned.
As a rather personal example, I have my own father. He loathes George Bush with every fiber of his being. Yet, not two weeks ago my father was telling me how Obama is really a secret Muslim — he knew this because Obama’s campaign symbol is an “O” and that could only mean something Muslim.
I asked him what he thought of John McCain’s campaign symbol — a red star — which happens to be the communist party symbol, and whether there might be some connection to McCain’s five years of being held by communists. No, the red star doesn’t mean anything at all — it’s just McCain’s symbol, see?
Back in 2004, some of us were excoriated for saying the public was stupid enough to buy into all the Swift Boat lies. Yet, as we now know, those lies helped give Bush a second disastrous term.
So you will have McCain running his campaign on the theme that he represents true change in Washington because he will continue all the policies that you hate — and he’ll add a few more that you despise as well.
Joe Sixpack has no clue — none at all — what Bush’s policies have been. All Joe knows is that Bush did great against those Muslims, and that maybe the economy needs a little perking up. He doesn’t much like Bush, but he probably can’t tell you why he doesn’t like Bush.
Enter McCain, who will promise to perk up the economy by cutting taxes — and everyone knows that works because they’ve been told for 30 years by Republicans that cutting taxes ALWAYS boosts the economy. McCain will talk tough, tough, tough — and Joe Sixpack likes the idea that we’ll be killing more Muslims. McCain will promise to begin drilling off Miami on Jan. 21, and Joe knows gas has been expensive lately.
McCain will present every existing Bush policy as though it is his very own, and he’ll tell Joe Sixpack that the existing policy is change. And because Joe doesn’t really pay any attention to these things, Joe will think McCain is actually promising change from Bush’s policies.
And Joe will be constantly reminded that John McCain — who owns four (or six, or nine) houses, flies in private jets he personally owns, has held exactly one private-sector job in his life (and that for just a few months), wears $500 shoes and $2000 slacks — is just a regular guy. Obama, however, is a rich fat-cat elitist who eats funny-sounding vegetables and is just so out of touch with Joe.
And a majority of voters will joyfully pull the lever for McCain.
One thing about the Brits, they know their snark. A self-described “liberal European elitist journalist” — Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian — live-blogs last night’s performances in St. Paul:
8.18pm: [Quoting Romney] “I know what makes jobs come, and I know what makes them go.” What made jobs come and go often enough in the past, as Ezra Klein points out, has been the noted private equity firm chief executive Mitt Romney.
8.32pm: Mike Huckabee actually just said this: “My Dad lifted heavy things”. And this: “I was in college before I found out it wasn’t supposed to hurt to take a shower.” It’s something to do with having to clean himself with stones, because he grew up so poor. But this is an almost entirely crazy speech, I’m afraid to say. That’s an unbiased opinion.
8.50pm: Themes of the evening so far: xenophobia, “anti-elitist” rabble-rousing, media-bashing, smalltown boosterism versus liberal city people. Pretty unpleasant, all told.
9.05pm: Wait, wait, wait, WHAT? John McCain was a prisoner of war. He has proved his commitment with his blood. On the other hand, Obama worked as a “community organizer”. “What?” says Giuliani, pretending not to understand. He laughs unpleasantly. The crowd laughs. “Then he ran for the state legislature — where nearly 130 times he was unable to make a decision yes or no. It was too tough. He voted ‘present.’ I didn’t know about this ‘vote present’ when I was mayor of New York City. Sarah Palin didn’t get to vote present when she was mayor or governor.”
“Barack Obama has never led anything. Nothing. Nada. Nada. Nothing.” This is real, jeering anti-Obama stuff, the nastiest we’ve heard, and the delegates are loving it — yelping and whooping.
9.18pm: If you say the war in Iraq is lost, you are saying that Osama bin Laden has won, and that makes you a terrorist. Or something like that.
There’s something rather troubling about the way in which Giuliani enjoys the roiling up the audience. He claps softly to himself, and chuckles.
10.12pm And in a parallel to Obama’s surprise arrival at the end of Joe Biden’s speech, here’s John McCain. “Tremendous, tremendous, fantastic, tremendous,” he says, vaguely hugging the Palins. “Don’t you think we made the right choice for the next vice-president of the United States? And what a beautiful family!” Militaristic music. McCain and Palin are both doing an awful Republican version of Hillary Clinton’s already sufficiently awful pointing-and-smiling thing.
Shortly, these psyched-up delegates will hold a roll-call vote officially to nominate McCain. First, three country singers including John Rich are reading out random bits of famous American speeches and documents, in between lines of the national anthem. Extremely strange.
Brilliant, now Rich is singing his criminally stupid song Raising McCain.
Joe Bageant has written an important column in today’s Guardian UK. I urge every latte’ sipping liberal who drives a Prius and looks down on rednecks who live in trailer parks to read it (a teaser appears below). And everybody else too. I’ll make a confession here, I’ve been guilty of the same kind of snobbery that Joe compains about, even though I was raised as a child in a southern version of Levittown (that wasn’t quite as prosperous as that place) and ought to know better. Now get on over there and read the rest of what Joe’s got to say.
A third of Americans live in the geographic “redneck” south and more than 50% in the cultural south — in places with white southern Scots-Irish values such as western Pennsylvania, central Missouri and southern Illinois, eastern Connecticut, northern New Hampshire, and others never seen as southern. When you look at people in what has come to be called the red-state heartland, most of their values are traditional white Scots-Irish values.
They hold the key to any national election, yet the liberal and alternative media never speak to, or for, them. Progressives dominate the internet, politically speaking, but use it to talk to one another in a closed, politically correct conversation that by definition excludes others, particularly rednecks. I had an editor once, an old-school shot-and-a-beer newsman, who told me: “Joe, don't become a stenographer for the powerful, regardless of their politics or party.” I still believe that. It's humanity and a nation we’re obligated to, not political junkyism or political correctness.