July 31, 2009
You think the birthers are over the edge? Here comes the new smear, people:
How come whenever I hear something described as the 'centrist' position on a policy, it is always, always the exact position that the big DC corporate lobbyists are pushing?
Is the definition of the word 'centrist' "the postion favored by DC lobbyists for big corporations"?
How come the positions favored by huge majorities of the public are "fringe" while the positions that take from the public and give to a wealthy few are always 'centrist?"
I'm just sayin'...
Disturbing results from a new poll: Only 42 percent of Republicans believe President Obama is a citizen. 28 percent think he's not, and 30 percent say they're not sure.
Overall, the poll -- conducted by Daily Kos and Research 2000 -- found that overwhelming majorities of Democrats and independents do believe Obama's a citizen. 93 percent of self-identified Democrats, along with 83 percent of independents, gave that answer. Four percent of Democrats and eight percent of independents said they think the president is not a citizen.
Here's the thing. EVEN IF HE WAS BORN IN KENYA he would still be a citizen, because his mother was American. Dumbasses.
There are things you can see in front of your face, and then there are things that conservative “free market” ideologues tell you.
One example is when they talk about the minimum wage. (An increase in the national minimum wage goes into effect today.) Conservative “free market” ideologues tell you that raising the minimum wage “costs jobs.” They say that if employers have to pay a few cents more per hour they won’t employ as many people.
But then there is something you can see in front of your face: whenever the minimum wage is raised, things get better. Things obviously get a little better for the people who work at the minimum wage, and for their families. As this works its way up the food chain things get a little better for the people and stores these workers rent and buy from. But also, studies looking into the effect of what actually happens after the minimum wage is raised show that the net effect is no loss of jobs.
Here is why. Employers hire the number of people they need to get done what needs to get done, according to demand. Ideally they employ the correct number of people to fill orders, run checkouts, stock shelves, etc. They don’t just have extra people sitting around for the heck of it. Of course there are some tasks where a calculation of a few cents in wages can make someone “not worth it,” but in the aggregate any jobs lost from this are offset by the new people hired to meet the increased demand created by people spending the higher wages. More people with more money to spend increases demand, which is good for business. Profits for some employers may be reduced a bit by the increase in labor cost, but these are also offset by increased profits for others due to increased demand.
Even so, conservative free-market conservative ideologues continue to make the claim that increasing the minimum wage “costs jobs” anyway. It’s what they do. They make a bad thing out of paying American workers good wages and benefits. They complain about workers getting pensions and health care. They just don’t seem to like it when regular people are better off. But here is a warning: never, ever dare suggest to a free-market conservative that a CEO or a trust fund child should pay some taxes – you’ll get an earful about how this would just ruin the economy.
The free-market conservatives are just wrong.
A second thing a free-market conservative ideologue wills tell you is that it is good for more and more of the things that used to be made here to be made in other countries instead. They say that by moving factories to other countries we all benefit because “we pay lower prices.” They say we benefit because “foreign competition encourages greater productivity” (even though we are talking about moving our factories from here to there.) They say that moving factories to other countries, “unites people in peaceful cooperation and mutual prosperity.”*
They say that moving factories to other countries, to make the same things that the factories were making here, should be called “trade.”
But we can all see right in front of our faces that none of this is so. Moving jobs out of the country to make the same things that were made here is not "trade" and it certainly hasn't brought us prosperity. It is just moving our jobs out of the country to make the same things that were made here, so a few people can pocket what was being paid to the American workers, while they stick the taxpayers with their unemployment pay and the costs of trying to keep their devastated communities alive.
Free-market conservative ideologues seem to believe that society works better when a few people get paid a lot, while the rest of us have very little, and advocate policies that bring that about. They have been the dominant force in our country's policymaking for many years, and we can see in front of our faces that the result is that a few people are getting paid more and more and the rest of us less and less. (Bailed-out Citigroup is paying one person a $100 million bonus, 738 others bonuses of $1 million or more, and Merril Lynch paid 696 people bonuses of $1 million or more.) They have put in place policies that stick the taxpayers with the costs and the wealthy few with the benefits.
We can all see that moving factories out of the country has destroyed lives, torn apart communities, created massive debt, created a very few massively rich people at the expense of the rest of us ... oh, and ruined the economy. That, too.
It is time for us to realize that these free-market conservatives are just wrong. They get paid to say that stuff, but it is just wrong. Moving a factory out of the country to make the same things it made here is not “trade.” It does not benefit anyone except a few, and when the purchasing power inevitably dries up it doesn’t even benefit those few either. They made a short-term profit and now we all suffer a long-term loss.
it is time for us to come up with new policies, new plans, new strategies and new rules of the game.
*Actual claims at Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies
July 30, 2009
The mass layoffs started just under a year ago. That means that for a lot of people extended unemployment benefits are going to be running out not long from now.
Shouldn't Congress do something about that before they head off on vacation?
Just got this in an email from the National Republican Congressional Committee:
Four months...that is how long it took President Obama to pick his dog. Two weeks...that is how long Democrats want to take to pick YOUR doctor.
Think about that for a moment. Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat puppets in the House are trying to rush through their trillion dollar boondoggle in two weeks - all in an attempt to avoid public scrutiny. Because the more you know about this bill, the more you will oppose government-run healthcare.
Every dollar donated will support candidates opposed to government-run healthcare. Please fill out the form below to complete your contribution. Thank you!
There's your bipartisanship. They just lie.
If you want to know why health care reform has stalled in Congress - and may now be dead - look up the name Billy Tauzin.
Billy Tauzin was the member of Congress in charge of getting the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill into law. That was the bill that gave huge government subsidies to the impoverished pharmaceutical industry, and banned Medicare from negotiating for better prices on drugs. Yes, the one where they held the vote at 3am and kept the voting open for a record amount of time so they could find the votes.
2 months after getting this bill done Tauzin left Congress and took a "job" as a pharmaceutical lobbyist, receiving $2.5 million a year. Others received nice "jobs" as well,
Along with Tauzin, many of the other individuals who worked on the bill are now lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.
That's all you need to know about why health care reform has stalled in the Congress.
If you want to know why health care is stalled and may be dead look at who (read: "Blue Dogs") in Congress is suddenly buying nice houses and cars now or in a few months.
July 29, 2009
So what did banks do that was criminal? Well, first they paid your government to eliminate bank restrictions, then they overleveraged, knowing they could not honor contracts with such leverage, then they lied to their shareholders about the risks and magnitudes of their positions, hid their positions illegally off balance sheet, and through the use of derivatives managed to violate minimum capital requirements on an almost daily basis. They took bank debt leverage from 8:1 to over 30:1, thus assuring that the banking system could not survive even a modest credit tightening or recession. They made crazy bets in the credit default swap market that they could never honor in a downturn. They loaned money to anyone who could fog a knife because they knew they were going to stuff it to others through securitization and CDOs. If we had a criminal investigation, we would have access to the incriminating phone calls and e-mails in which the banksters disclosed what they really thought of the assets they were pawning off on others. ...Go read the whole thing.
The final storyline of criminality is the biggest of all. It is bigger than the current financial crisis. It is corporate America's complete control of our nation's elected officials, especially our Congress, through lobbying and campaign donations. Yes, the banks played this game, but the game was much bigger than just the financial industry. Coal-fired utilities have so watered down impending legislation concerning global warming that they have now come out in favor of it in the House vote. TARP money went to banking friends of Hank Paulson, although 97 percent of congressional correspondence from the American people was against it. The credit card industry took a minor slap on the wrist, but faces no limitation on the egregious interest rates it can charge its customers. Pharmaceutical and hospital corporations are fighting hard to keep Americans from having a public alternative to their healthcare, and right now are winning that fight. The transportation industry is at the government trough trying to pass a $500 billion windfall. The AARP prevents any meaningful reform of Social Security; the teachers' union does the same for education reform. Is it crazy to think that defense companies like Dick Cheney's Halliburton (which saw its stock price increase 700 percent during the Iraq war, thanks to no-bid contracts) may be promoting U.S. aggression around the world?
Why no investigations and prosecutions? Is the Justice Department again operating under rule of law or not?
Citigroup is one of those huge companies that was "too big to fail." So our taxpayer dollars propped them up. We have so far given them $45 billion dollars. And what are they doing with the money>
Well ONE person is getting a $100 million bonus. See Clash Brewing over $100M Citi Bonus, They say it is because he "has a contract."
July 28, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
You may have heard that some European countries have banned models that are underweight because seeing them has a harmful effect on teenage girls.
Should we be thinking about the negative societal effects of marketing? Should we ban marketing that is based on manipulating people by harming their self-esteem or encouraging them to do unhealthy things? Should we ban advertising that utilizes techniques that effect how our brains work? Should we demand that ads stop distracting us from our thoughts? I have been wondering about this.
Marketers today are learning how to reach down into the wiring of the brain itself, to manipulate us at a level that we do not consciously perceive and cannot control. Science has come a long way in recent decades. There is a new kind of marketing called neuromarketing that actually uses brain scans to measure how our brains react to certain stimuli. We are in danger of marketers using the information gained from these new techniques to come up with ways to sell us things and make us do things and we may in many cases be literally unable to resist.
It is not unprecedented to think about restricting marketing, even in the "free market" United States. We have confronted the problem of people being harmed by marketing in the past, with tobacco advertising and false claims of medical benefits. It used to be against regulations to make false claims in TV ads. But by and large companies have free range to manipulate people as they see fit.
But today we have an epidemic of obesity, the result of food-company marketing. The companies have learned to literally manipulate our metabolisms to the point where many of us cannot resist overeating. When you have a third of all of our people obese and another third seriously overweight it is obvious that the problem is not "self-control." The problem is systemic and beyond an individual's ability to control. Don't we as a society have an obligation to step in and correct this?
Obesity is just one example of what I call "marketing diseases." What about marketing that hits at our self-esteem? Makes us think we are ugly, undesirable, stupid, etc? Is this good for us?
Another kind of marketing is aspirational. Don't get me started about people who live fantasy lives, thinking they are starring in a James Bond or Marlboro Man movie, because of the harmful effects of unrestricted marketing on our human psychology.
Here is one more reason I think we should step in and regulate marketing and advertising. Advertising is the science of getting our attention. The most effective advertising gets us to stop what we are doing and pay attention to the ad.
But have you considered the extent to which such advertising is a distraction from our lives? We have public nuisance laws that prevent people from disturbing the peace. So what about advertising? At what point does advertising rise to the level of attention-grabbing distraction that we have a right to take control and prohibit? Good advertising gets our attention – and our attention is OURs.
I think we have the right to think about the things we want to think about. A concurrent right then would be the right not to have our attention distracted -- not to have things shoved in our face.
So suppose that we require companies to get our permission to expose their advertising to us? Suppose we charged a fee for the right to promote products and services to us?
So even when legitimate, there must be regulation of advertising and marketing to be sure that it is being used legitimately and that we are being fairly compensated for the use of us as a market for the products.
I hope this gets us thinking about our rights as people, vs the rights of companies to project marketing at us regardless of the effect.
What are your thoughts?
One part of the health care reform plan is a requirement that everyone buy health insurance.
Without a "public option" -- allowing people to buy into a Medicare-like government health plan -- this will be one more corporate lobbyist scheme, getting the government to require us to give money to big insurance companies.
This is why the public plan is essential. it gives us an option to NOT pay the big corporations. Without this we must not let the health reform plan become law.
This post originally appeared at Blog for OurFuture. It was written for the Making It In America project.
I am pro-corporate. I’ll go a step further with that and proclaim that I believe that there are no bad corporations, and that I haven’t seen any corporations do anything wrong.
I see the way you are looking at me. I’d better explain.
The reason I say there are no “bad” corporations is because corporations are not sentient beings that can “do” things or that can be good or bad. They can’t make decisions. Corporations are just a bundle of contracts that allow groups of people to more easily raise capital and amass resources. Corporations are things, like chairs, and things do not make decisions, any more than a chair does. Corporations are tools and tools are neither good nor bad.
When I say I am pro-corporate, this is what I mean: The things that the corporate legal structure enables people to do are good for society. This is why We, the People decided to enact the laws that created corporations. If we want to be able to accomplish things on a large scale, like build a railroad or airports and airplanes or skyscrapers – or solar power plants to replace coal power plants – we want to enable people to more easily raise the necessary capital and amass the resources needed to get the job done. The legal structure of the corporate form of a business accomplishes this.
Corporations, a bundle of contracts, don’t “do” anything, people do. And that is why this discussion is important right now. We are looking here at how to restructure our economy, but before we can do that, we have to correctly identify what went wrong. We have to understand who the good and bad actors were.
So what are some of the things that companies have been doing that we as progressives think should change? Let’s use the highly-publicized example of Wal-Mart and their low wages and benefits and Chinese imports. Wal-Mart always complained about being cast as the bad-actor. They said that if Wal-Mart raised wages and benefits and their competitor Target didn’t, then they would be at a competitive disadvantage and Target would take over the business. And, by extension, any company that tries to “do the right thing” is immediately at a disadvantage to a company that does not.
Looked at this way, if we make Wal-Mart raise wages and Target doesn’t, then not only is Wal-Mart in trouble as a company but now we’re starting all over again trying to get Target to raise wages. And if THEY do so, then along comes K-Mart or Costco or a new company X-Co to pay the low wages, charge lower prices and take away the business. This feels like it is going around in a circle, trying to fix a problem in one place and the pressures of the system immediately make the problem appear somewhere else.
I think blaming companies for the things they "do" also places a lot of stress on people inside of them who might agree with us, and even can alienate them from otherwise supporting progressives. People in the corporate world often feel trapped because the rules of the game require them to engage in what we think of as bad behavior. These are good people who would be very helpful to us in making the correct changes but they feel forced by the system to do the things they do. They are pulled two ways. Executives at Wal-Mart on the one hand can be want to raise wages, and on the other hand have a responsibility to compete with Target.
So what am I getting at here? The companies are not the problem, the rules we set up for them are. Companies operate on a playing field on which the rules of the game are supposed to be decided by US. We, the People are supposed to set up the ground rules and then the companies are supposed to follow those rules. Wal-Mart followed those rules. If we didn’t like the wages and benefits that companies pay, why don’t we change the rules and tell them they all have to pay higher wages and provide better benefits?
Now we’re getting somewhere. Many progressives have been trying to get companies to "behave" in better ways, and haven't been getting much done -- I think due to not correctly identifying the problem. The real problem is that we haven’t set up the rules of the playing field to require these companies – all of them – to provide good wages and benefits, etc. It is our job to regulate what these corporations do. So why didn’t we, through our government, change the rules for all the companies, so they all had a level playing field and clear rules? Identifying why we have not fixed the rules is the path to fixing the larger problem.
What has been happening is that a few people in the bigger companies have been using the resources of those big corporations to influence our system and set the rules of that playing field to give an edge to their companies. They do this so they can personally gain.
This is where we need to focus to fix the corporate system. There should be no way for people in companies to have any say whatsoever in how the playing field on which they operate is set up. How to accomplish this is a subject for future posts.
As I said above, corporations are just a tool, like a hammer. But a hammer can do a lot of damage if a person hits you upside the head with it. That is what we have to stop: a few people using corporate resources and hitting us upside the head.
Oh, and for the record, I am pro-chair, too, though my wife will probably insist I am a pro-couch partisan.
July 27, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
OK, sit down for this. The root of the "forged Obama birth certificate" idea is that Obama was created as part of a Jewish-Communist conspiracy to take over the United States. More on this later in the post.
We all know that the "birthers" are gaining momentum. Senator Inhofe is pushing it now. CNN and FOX have people pushing it on the air. The followers of the conspiracy theory are becoming increasingly fanatical. It's all over YouTube.
They disrupted a Congressman's town hall meeting the other day. Watch this to see the intensity they have:
And here is the great Mike Stark chasing down a few elected Republicans in DC, asking them to go on the record about this:
A recent component is they that a birth announcement in Hawaii papers back when Obama was born was planted there by someone. Yes, a conspiracy so vast that someone on the other side of the planet posted this item in a Hawaii newspaper for a child born in Kenya to make it look like he was born in Hawaii because they knew that one day he would need to be a "natural born" citizen in order to be President of the United States.
Seriously. This is serious nut stuff, but we saw nut stuff when Clinton was President and it was able to go as far as an impeachment. And then they won the Presidency on a campaign of "restoring honor and integrity to the White House." So don't discount nut stuff.
Why does it matter whether Obama was born in the United States or in Kenya? After all, as the child of a citizen he is automatically a citizen. And as for being born outside of the United States disqualifying him to be President, John McCain was also born outside of the United States and both Bush and Cheney were from Texas, which violated the 12th amendment. So exceptions are easily made -- IOKIYAR.
Here is the story of why this is so important to them:
I wrote about the origins of this weird attack on Obama last year at my blog Seeing the Forest, when it showed up in right-wing magazines and websites. See Seeing the Forest: "Who Sent You?" -- The Coming Attack on Obama.
I'll call it the "Who Sent You" campaign. As weird as it sounds -- and it is weird stuff -- the gist of it is that Obama's birth was part of a secret plan by communists, Jews and one-worlders to take over the world. As you read this it is going to sound so fanatically wingnut/John Birch Society/black helicopter/precious bodily fluids weird that you are likely to dismiss it as the rantings of crazy people. But I have learned over the years that this stuff resonates with a certain crowd, and they are remarkably effective at tapping the fears of Americans.
Was I right a year ago when I said this is the kind of story that "resonates with a certain crowd"? Heh.
It is a long post there with background and links, but to sum it up sites like National Review's The Corner and others started pushing a weird conspiracy theory, laying the groundwork for the attack on Obama that you are seeing today.
In February, The Corner at National Review Online posted Obama's Political Origins.. . . all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League.
. . . I don't know how Barak Obama's parents met. But the Kincaid article referenced above makes a very convincing case that Obama's family, later, (mid 1970s) in Hawaii, had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual.
. . . Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama's mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student.
This story refers to this from Accuracy in Media, Obama’s Communist Mentor,In his biography of Barack Obama, David Mendell writes about Obama's life as a "secret smoker" and how he "went to great lengths to conceal the habit." But what about Obama's secret political life? It turns out that Obama's childhood mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, was a communist.
[. . .] Obama's communist connection adds to mounting public concern about a candidate who has come out of virtually nowhere, with a brief U.S. Senate legislative record, to become the Democratic Party frontrunner for the U.S. presidency.
. . . AIM recently disclosed that Obama has well-documented socialist connections, which help explain why he sponsored a "Global Poverty Act" designed to send hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid to the rest of the world, in order to meet U.N. demands
There is more there, and you can click through to the sources...
So this story with its claim that Obama wasn't born in the United States, and his birth certificate was "forged," etc. isn't coming out of nowhere. There is an actual reason that some of them give for why anyone would do this, plant phony birth announcements, etc. This comes out of the incredibly paranoid and weird "John Bircher" core of the conservative movement. Yes, the ones who coined the phrase "Democrat Party." I'm not saying that your everyday birther is even aware of this as the basis of the complaint. But there it is.
It is nut stuff. It is serious nut stuff. But nut stuff works for them so watch out.
Update - See Talk to Action: New World Order Conspiracy is not disseminated by white supremacist groups alone
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
A blogging experiment.
In America people won’t work. They are lazy. You have to make them work. If you don't make them, they just want to sit around.
If you just give people money or pay people too much it makes them dependent. They get used to it. They demand more. It never stops.
Enlightened managers provide incentives (carrot) instead of just punishing them but really it’s still the same thing, you have to make them work or they won’t. You have to keep on them.
My students are good kids. I know they get into trouble sometimes but they mean well. Most of them don't have the kind of background that let me go to college. I was lucky and I want to give back what I can.
I don't get paid a lot. And now I have to work extra hours since the budget cuts, and I don't know how I will make up for the loss in pay. Especially lately, since I have been buying the materials for the class projects myself. The school couldn't pay for them anymore.
They say I am a good teacher, so they put me with the worst students because they need the most. But that means these students test worse than the other students, and that is how teachers are rated now. It is too bad that I don't get raises anymore, but it us so important what I am doing. I know I am doing a good job with them. Some of them will go on to college.
I got another "average" review this year. That stupid boss really resents me for making him look bad.
It's hard getting around my boss and his stupid ideas. He just wants what will make him look good so he can climb the ladder.
When I did the Peterson project my own way I knew he was wrong. I did get the sale, so the department met its goals again. He hated that because everyone knew it was me. But the company needs to get through this and I knew how to get it done.
At 75 I could be taking it easy. But I don't know what I would do with myself. I have been at this desk for fifty years now and I hope I'll be here showing them how it's done for another fifty.
They think I don't know anything and then I keep being there for them when they have messed up again. I have seen it over and over, new ones come in and make the same mistakes, and I just let them do it because the only way they are going to learn is to see what they did wrong. Then they won't do that again. And I'll be here and show them how it has been done for fifty years.
You can fill in each of these sketches with stories from people you know. You have heard them or stories like them. You can especially fill in the "people are lazy" narrative by going to any conservative source.
I learned privately of some rather strong reaction to a post I wrote the other day here at Open Left, in which I developed the idea of people getting a national dividend, like people get in Alaska as payment for the state's oil that is taken out of the ground. The reaction was that if people just get money they won't work and the economy will fail. (Never mind that the economy has failed under its present model.)
I have been thinking a lot lately about this idea that you have to make people work. Of course, they claim that if you tax the super-rich they'll stop "working" and that would be a disaster for the country. Heh.
This idea that people won't work if they don't have to is pervasive in America. We aren't really set up with a system that lets people work - we make them work. And we treat workers like criminals who will "steal" the wages, using time cards and rules preventing them from making calls or looking at web pages. This isthe manager mentality that many of us encounter in many job situations.
We also treat people who need help like they are suspects in a crime, forcing public humiliations on them. Now in California they are going to start fingerprinting people who get public assistance. You can only get unemployment pay for a very limited time, even when everyone knows there are no jobs. "Welfare reform" meant that assistance runs out after a limited time and some rules say you can't ever get it again. This is because conservatives say people "become dependent" -- as if they are nothing more than squirrels.
But everyone I know wants to work or at least be contributing to something and leaving something behind, and most people are more than conscientious, they feel that they are contributing to a greater goal and make sacrifices for the team. How many people choose to work in non-profits for little pay?
Some people hate their jobs, but everybody wants to be occupied. When they find things they like to do they get involved, work hard at it. We might call it a hobby, but it is work and contribution. Many jobs are meaningless and would be hated by almost anyone. Bit that's the job, not the people.
"Work" often has connotations of unpleasantness, of being forced to do something that you don’t want to do. When you show up at work they "own" your time. You sell your labor to another, they are the boss and tell you what to do. They own you for the time you are at work. The mentality is little different from slaveholding days.
Who was it that said that at least slaves had value to the owners and had to be fed and cared for to some extent, but wage workers can just be tossed away?
In many if not most other "developed" countries the society has a very different perspective on work and life. There is respect for people. In Europe they have shorter workweeks, several weeks mandated vacations, generous pensions and of course people receive great medical care often completely covered by the government. The society exists for and respects the people. Here, not so much.
American society now seems to exist to serve the few who "own" the companies and resources. (I put "own" in quotes because the concept of ownership needs to be thought out more than it has been.) Making as much money as one can is seen to be the purpose of our economy, and of life these days. Gaining knowledge for the sake of it is considered a frivolous waste, as in getting a degree in poetry or history or anthropology. You go to college to get a job. You get a job to get money, climb the ladder, etc.
I have been wondering if these attitudes are a relic of America as a country that had slavery? I don't know the answer, I am exploring the question. Could this be a reason for America's modern corporate work environment, and the relationship we have seen here between workers and companies? I haven't explored this very far yet and I thought maybe I would try an experiment here with it, and see if we can bounce the idea around in the comments.
What are your thoughts? And I on the right track?
July 26, 2009
Atrios posted Sunday Rooftop Harvest Blogging so I figured I would post a Sunday Backyard Harvest Blogging post.
This is what we picked this morning:
And this is what we picked Friday:
(This is also posted at Growing the Garden)
July 25, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
I said it the other day, and I feel the need to repeat it: the public does not yet understand that the government is about to order people to buy health insurance, with their own money. Yes, the government is about to order people to cough up hundreds of dollars a month each.
When the Republicans start using their toxic message-machine magic on this, and the public starts to understand that they are being ordered by the government to cough up a huge amount of money every month, Democrats had better have good hiding places, because things are going to get really bad out there.
This is the kind of policy that results when "centrist" Democrats give in to to the demands of Republicans and big corporations and the top 1% of the wealthy. Instead of just taxing the wealthy and corporations at reasonable rates and using the money to provide We, the People with health care -- thereby vastly improving the economy for ... the wealthy and big corporations -- they instead come up with a scheme to order regular people to pay for health insurance because they don't already have it because they can't afford it.
This is how things work in the Post-Reagan era: The corporations and vastly wealthy get tax cuts. We, the People get service cutbacks, increases in the retirement age, jobs outsourced, the infrastructure deteriorates... When huge financial corporations get in trouble because they got too greedy the government salutes and says, "Yes, Sir!" and coughs up trillions in bailouts. But when regular people can't afford insurance, the government as presently constituted comes up with a plan ordering them to buy it.
This fight over health care seems to be exposing the contradictions much more visibly than other policy battles we have had. Against the background of the vast sums spent on the bailouts we have people in power telling us that it wouldn't be fair to insurance company profits to come up with a health care plan that provides great care to the public for a low price.
Who is our economy FOR, anyway? That is the question that my own blog asks. Just asking the question takes your thinking in new directions.
What can we do about this? We need to fight for meaningful health care subsidies so regular people who do not now have health insurance will not have to pay for health insurance. It is a simple tradeoff, really: every dollar in new taxes on corporations and the top 1% can be applied to a dollar of subsidies covering health care. This will result in a more equitable, prosperous and healthier society -- and happier voters.
July 24, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
Is Obama's insistence on bipartisanship killing his presidency?
I submit that health care reform could fail and take the Obama Presidency with it, and that this may well be the result of attempting to appease Republicans who want only to destroy him.
Let's look at the record. When Obama took office the country urgently needed sufficient stimulus to make up for the slack in demand from consumers and businesses. But before even offering his plan Obama weakened it because he believed this would bring in Republican votes. And then while the plan was going through Congress more and more actual stimulus was removed. Then the stimulus didn't get a single Republican vote in the House, and only a couple in the Senate. In the name of bipartisanship Obama gave up a good plan in exchange for nothing. Now the economy is beginning to suffer the consequences.
Meanwhile the Republicans who Obama gave up so much to bring on board are working to destroy his administration with propaganda and lies about how the plan is failing, how the plan is part of a socialist conspiracy to ruin the country, etc.
With health care Obama is again repeatedly offering up compromise in the name of bipartisanship while the Republicans are again working to destroy him and health care reform. If he was giving things up in exchange for the promise of votes that is one thing, but there will be no Republican votes. This is the big game now, and the Republicans have correctly stated that a failure of health care means the failure of this presidency. So they are doing everything they can to kill health care reform. They are telling every lie they can find, using every scare tactic in the book, calling him every name, and encouraging the worst in every nutcase out there.
Bipartisan must be a two-way street. The assumption of bipartisanship on the part of the other side is a mistake when the other side has no intention of reciprocating. It misjudges the changes that have occurred in the Republican party.
This political call for bipartisanship in understandable and politically astute. The country longs for a return to the days when the parties could argue their positions with Senatorial camaraderie and reach compromises that incorporated the best ideas from both sides. Politicians are smart to recognize this longing and appeal to it. But they are not smart to extend that wish into a belief that today's Republicans are willing to play along.
We have seen this before. At the 2006 YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas a few bloggers were invited to a roundtable with Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who was contemplating a run for President. With the "mainstream" press watching from the sidelines as if this was a football game, Marcy Wheeler and Natasha Chart tried to pin down Warner on his insistence that Iran was a problem while Pakistan was not. (It turned out that Warner hadn't thought that much about Pakistan.)
Then we asked about his instinct for bipartisanship. "Hunter" from DailyKos asked Warner, "You said that in Virginia you got a lot done working across the aisle. Do you think that is possible on a national level now?" Warner answered that you can't "ram through transformational change in a 51-49 way, I don't think it 's going to get done. I may be naive on this, but I think there are still enough people of goodwill in the country and even in Congress. You have to reach out and grab them."
I then pointed out that in 1993 as a party strategy the Republicans had decided to block Clinton's health care plan, even before any plan was decided on. Then I asked, "I think part of what Hunter's asking is, what if they don't? What if, just like with Clinton's plan they decide they're just going to block whatever you do?"
Warner answered, "If you don't think there are enough people of goodwill willing to step up and do the right thing regardless of party, then I'm truly worried for the country."
I replied, "So are we. That's why we're here. The question is, what if they don't? What's plan B?"
Warner didn't have a plan B. He was going to just get bipartisanship because he was a nice guy who was willing to work with the other side. This appears to be Obama's position as well.
This is recorded in Matt Bai's book, The Argument, pages 248-249. In the book, Bai faults the bloggers for their attitude against working with Republicans, saying that we are uncompromising. I love Matt, but he gets it fundamentally wrong here. I, and I think most bloggers, long for a Republican party that can be worked with again, because the extremists that have taken over are harming the country and the world.
But when the other side is trying to destroy you, you just have to take that into account. You don't give in, and then give in more, and then give in more, thinking they will change. Why should they when you just keep giving them what they want? We're certainly learning that in California. Obama needs to learn that as well, before there is nothing left to give them.
That's what they are waiting for, and that's when they will make their move.
Here is my suggestion. The next time a Republican circulates anything like the picture of Obama dressed with a bone in his nose, and claims that he is trying to make us all live under socialism, Obama should say, "That's enough" and "ram through" a health care plan that works for the people. It will save his presidency.
Take a look at the project I am working on at Campaign for America's Future: Making It In America | OurFuture.org
Everyone should read Ian Welsh's post Open Left:: How insurance works and why private insurance costs more than universal government insurance.
How insurance works and why private insurance costs more than universal government insurance
July 23, 2009
It's up to us to make them stay in DC until health care passes.
A year ago I wrote about an insane smear attempt on Obama. This is the root of the "birther" conspiracy theory - that Obama was not born in the United states. The origin of this is truly wild, insane stuff - that Obama is the product of a secret Jewish/Communist conspiracy to take over the world. But more and more people are fanatically falling for it...
The latest on this is that there was an announcement of Obama's birth posted in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 13, 1961, on page B-6.
But the wingnuts are claiming that it was forged, or placed there, even though he was born elsewhere. Think about the level of conspiracy involved: a baby is born in Kenya but secret agents plant an announcement of his birth in a Hawaii newspaper, because one day he will be President and it must be believed that he was born in the U.S. for that to happen...
Over at Open Left I just posted: Conservatives Depend On Good Government For Their Positions. Go read.
July 22, 2009
Read the comments. Scary.
The Free Republican is a conservative website, and they have an interesting post up. Go read it.
FYI, about that line just after the "Therefore" ... the Secretary of State is Hillary Clinton, dumbass.
Here is an example of the basic problem of today's insular, childish, gossip-focused news media.
WHO has to wait? Obama HAS health insurance. HE doesn't have to wait. THE REST OF US CITIZENS HAVE TO WAIT.
The needs of the citizenry and informing the citizens isn't the concern. It isn't even on the radar. The reaction to a post like this is "what is he even talking about?" The gossip, the process, the confrontation is the concern. Finding an "angle" to drive the corporate concerns of the media owners and the career of the report is the concern.
This post originally appeared at Open Left.
I'd like to talk about government. The conservative/corporate propaganda machine has turned "government" into a bad word. Conservatives portray our government as some kind of enemy of the public. We have all heard the scare stories about the harm done by meddlesome regulations from intrusive big government programs run by government bureaucrats.
Let's step back from reacting to the word as we hear it today and think about what the word really means.
In America government is us. It is, by definition, "We, The People." Our Constitution is the defining document of our government and it couldn't be clearer, declaring that We, the People formed this country "to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves"... In other words, watch out for and take care of each other; "We, the People" have banded together to watch out for each other, take care of each other and build institutions to protect and empower each other.
With this in mind let’s try an experiment. Try substituting some variation of the words, "We, the People," "us" or “the people making decisions for ourselves” every time you read or use the word "government." Or use the word "our" instead of "the" when you say "the government." Our government, us, we, the people, working together to take care of and empower each other.
My favorite use of this experiment is to apply it to Reagan’s keynote statement, “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Reagan is making a profoundly anti-democratic statement here. He is saying that “The people making our decisions for ourselves and watching out for each other is the problem.”
With statements like these, Reagan and the conservatives are advocating a different system of government than democracy. They are saying that we should hand those decisions and responsibilities over to the "private sector" - the corporations - and let others decide how things are going to be done and how our money and common resources will be used.
Another example is when conservatives repeat, “Don’t let the government tell us what to do.” That becomes, “Don’t let us tell us what to do,” or a little more broadly, “Don’t let us decide the rules that we will live by.” If WE aren’t the deciders, then who is? What about the conservative pejorative, “big government?” They are complaining about “big We, the People.” They want “limited government.” So they have a beef with US having more power over ourselves! Of course, if WE don’t have this power, who do you think will?
Conservatives complain about government as a meddlesome, intrusive problem. But just who is government a problem for? If you are a top executive in a large chemical corporation and your bonus depends on lowering the cost of discarding toxic wastes, government stands between you and the river into which you want to dump the wastes. It costs the company less to dump the waste into the river, you will get your bonus, but We, the People don't want that stuff in our water. So for you, government is the problem. And that is a good thing. But our government is us. Our government protects us.
How about the refrain that people shouldn’t rely on government, but instead should rely on themselves? That sounds good, somehow. But try it with “each other” and a small adjustment to “themselves,” and what they are saying becomes, “People shouldn’t rely on each other they should be on their own.” This is a variation on their “personal responsibility” mantra. They want us alone and defenseless. (This is also why they hate unions.) Is alone and defenseless really such a good way to live, especially in a world dominated by big corporations always trying to trick us and get our money? Wouldn’t it be better if we were working to protect each other from the big corporations?
Spending: When conservatives complain about government spending they mean empowering and taking care of each other. They don’t like us doing that. We as a species learned from the beginning to band together, take care of each other. And now they want us separated and on our own.
Government taxing and spending is what empowers us. In the 1950s President Eisenhower proposed building the interstate highway system. That was an example of government spending, and as I wrote the other day, the top tax rate was over 90% on income above a certain amount. So after executives and owners of big companies made several hundred thousand dollars additional income was taxed at a very high rate. They could still become very, very wealthy, but more slowly. This taxation meant that the major beneficiaries of our government helped us pay for our government.
It paid off. The interstate highway system triggered a surge of economic growth, new industries, new products -- and even greater income for the very people who were taxed to help pay for it.
We also spend money protecting each other. Let’s talk about the distortions in military spending another time. What about our spending to regulate corporations and enforce those regulations? Or spending on education or health care or parks? Conservatives just hate that. They have convinced much of the public that government spending - the people taking care of each other - is bad. And the way to disempower us is to cut taxes, the ability to gather the resources we need to fight the battles we fight with the rich and powerful.
Try these experiments, substitute "us" and "We, The People" when you hear conservatives complain about government. Substitute "the resources we need to empower each other and fight the powerful" when you see the word "taxing" and substitute "taking care of each other" when you see the word "spending." This can be very powerful and empowering. It helps us see what kind of world the conservatives are really advocating.
July 21, 2009
Take a look at The Commonweal Institute Blog: Uncommon Denominator, and scroll down.
LOTS of good stuff there from the Progressive Op-Ed Program. You might recognize some of the names because you mightalready read their blogs: Brad Friedman, Jill Richardson, Brad Reed, Nezua Limon, Allison Arieff, Michelle Mustonen, Joanna Guldi, Chris Bowers, Kyle Gillette, Mary Ratcliff... Go see them all.
This is progressive infrastructure being built before your eyes.
Hear it for yourself:
Listen to this wingnut talk about how if seniors get health care soon "the government" will control everything we do.
Here is how it ends:
If you don't stop Medicare, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free.
Here is some of the nonsense:
As if we’re not already overextended enough financially, the issue of National Health Care is now on the table once more vote. Here’s some perspective you might find interesting.
Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program.
One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it.
Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it. We had an example of this. Under the Truman administration it was proposed that we have a compulsory health insurance program for all people in the United States, and, of course, the American people unhesitatingly rejected this.
Let’s take a look at social security itself. Again, very few of us disagree with the original premise that there should be some form of savings that would keep destitution from following unemployment by reason of death, disability or old age. And to this end, social security was adopted, but it was never intended to supplant private savings, private insurance, pension programs of unions and industries.
Now in our country under our free enterprise system we have seen medicine reach the greatest heights that it has in any country in the world. Today, the relationship between patient and doctor in this country is something to be envied any place. The privacy, the care that is given to a person, the right to chose a doctor, the right to go from one doctor to the other.
But let’s also look from the other side, at the freedom the doctor loses. A doctor would be reluctant to say this. Well, like you, I am only a patient, so I can say it in his behalf. The doctor begins to lose freedoms; it’s like telling a lie, and one leads to another. First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then the doctors aren’t equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him you can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go some place else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.
This is a freedom that I wonder whether any of us have the right to take from any human being. All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it is a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay and pretty soon your children won’t decide when they’re in school where they will go or what they will do for a living. They will wait for the government to tell them where they will go to work and what they will do.
What can we do about this? Well, you and I can do a great deal. We can write to our congressmen and our senators. We can say right now that we want no further encroachment on these individual liberties and freedoms. And at the moment, the key issue is, we do not want socialized medicine.
Former Representative Halleck of Indiana has said, “When the American people want something from Congress, regardless of its political complexion, if they make their wants known, Congress does what the people want.”
So write, and if your representative writes back to you and tells you that he or she too is for free enterprise, that we have these great services and so forth, that must be performed by government, don’t let them get away with it. Show that you have not been convinced. Write a letter right back and tell them that you believe in government economy and fiscal responsibility; that you know governments don’t tax to get the money the need; governments will always find a need for the money they get and that you demand the continuation of our free enterprise system. You and I can do this. The only way we can do it is by writing to our congressmen even we believe that he is on our side to begin with. Write to strengthen his hand. Give him the ability to stand before his colleagues in Congress and say “I have heard from my constituents and this is what they want.”
Write those letters now; call your friends and them to write them. If you don’t, this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until, one day, as Normal Thomas said we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
So they reached a budget deal. The gap was closed entirely with cuts to essential service, schools, health care, etc. Democrats had to cave out of fear that elderly people literally would not have oxygen tanks.
And to add insult to injury, instead of paying for the oil they take from the state the oil companies receive waivers to allow them to drill offshore! In the last deficit-fix deal big corporations got a huge tax cut and now oil companies get more of our oil for free. And we will suffer more pollution of our coasts. (It's pretty clear from deals like these who is in control of the Republican caucus. The citizens get services taken away, the big corporations get perks that increase the deficits.)
This is a Republican budget deal, entirely on their terms. Make them own it.
Here is how you make them own it: Make them vote for it.
Before any Democrat votes for this deal, every single Republican has to vote yes. When the voting start, just sit there. Wait. And then when the Republicans have all voted, ONLY THEN should Democrats start voting, but not before.
If we are going to have to live with a budget forced on us by Republicans and oil companies, then the Republicans have to show up and vote for it.
Click through to Speak Out California.
This post originally appeared at Open Left
How many stories have we heard in recent years of CEO’s and other executives looting, stealing, polluting and wreaking general havoc? The incentive to loot a company’s pension funds is money. The incentive to outsource our jobs is money. The incentive to deny needed treatments to an insured patient is money. The incentive to pollute our rivers and air is money.
Generally the incentive to lie, cheat and steal is money. This is especially true in the corporate world where the reason for … well, everything … is money. This is normal, and can be kept in check. But the temptation that pushes many over the line is not just money, it is the possibility of the big, humungous jackpot. And that is what we have today.
It used to be that you could make, why, millions of dollars if you worked hard, built a company, invented something important, or had amazing talent. But today mere millions is for chumps. Today you can loot a fund, rig an energy market, forward-run stocks or threaten to bring down an economy and end up with a quick payoff of billions.
When excessive, massive paydays are possible, it opens the door to overwhelming greed and a resulting compromising of principles.
There is a way to prevent the destructive behavior we have been seeing from the top. People won’t have an incentive to cheat and steal if they can’t get the huge jackpot from the proceeds. Let's limit the possibility of collecting a vast and fast return. The vast and fast return is the motivator, so take it out of the equation.
The way to do this is with a very steep progressive income tax with a very high tax rate on income above a certain level. So suppose we set the top tax rate back to 90% for people making over, say $3 million. $3 million a year is nothing to sneeze at, so there is still plenty of reason to do what you do to make a lot of money. And if you pass $3 million you still take home $100K for every million more you make, which is also nothing to sneeze at. But there is no longer a reason to engage in quick-buck schemes. Instead there is plenty of reason to build a solid business over time, and hopefully eventually build a fortune of hundreds of millions. As I said, nothing to sneeze at.
People could still become vastly wealthy, except it would take ten or twenty years to become vastly wealthy. You would have to actually do a good job, consistently, instead of looking for fast-buck schemes to cash out in a year. And for those who still need to make a billion or two a year, We, the People are the beneficiaries while they still take home hundreds of millions. It's a win-win.
Again, if we limit the income that can be realized from such behavior we reduce the incentive to engage in it. We as a society used to understand this. We used to tax high incomes at very high rates. We used to see that this provided all of us with a benefit.
An additional bonus from this idea: by limiting the amount that can be made in a single year we provide an incentive to stay involved and work hard and over a longer period of time build up a respectable fortune. Just not a vast and fast fortune.
Another benefit from increasing the top tax rates is that we need the money. Because of the huge tax cuts that were given to the wealthiest we neglected maintaining our infrastructure, we have run massive deficits, we cut services to citizens and now we are reaching a limit of our ability to borrow. So it is time to ask the beneficiaries of the policies that got us into this jam to pitch in again and help us get back out of it again.
Until the late 1970s the United States had a very, very high top income tax rate. From the time of FDR until the 1960s the top rate was 90% plus on very high incomes. From the 60s until the Reagan years it was in the 70%s. Under Reagan it ramped down to 28%. (See the numbers here.)
The periods of highest taxation of the highest incomes coincides with periods of the most investment in the country’s infrastructure, the period of building the middle class and American leadership in areas of education, science, technology and manufacturing. Perhaps this is because we, as a country, had the financial resources available to invest for the public good rather than tied up by a few at the top as we see today. Perhaps this is because in a consumer economy more regular people with more money keeps things going, and moving the taxes up to the prime beneficiaries increases the amount of money that regular people have to spend.
There were multiple historical justifications for these tax rates. Among these, we understood that the purpose of our economic system was for OUR benefit. So while we encourage people to produce we also understand that once the production is stimulated we all want to benefit from it. So after a certain point a tax kicks in and increases and we all share in the returns from the enterprise.
Another justification was that we needed the money to pay for WWII, and to invest in the things that pulled us out of the depression. Yes, we got out of the depression by raising taxes at the top.
But beginning in the 70s the malefactors of great wealth started a well-funded drumbeat of marketing messages to convince people that government and regulation are bad, the richest should not be taxed, the rich “create jobs,” cutting taxes increases government revenue, etc.
This huge propaganda campaign succeeded and turned the public against taxes and government. They convinced the people that the people should have no power. (Marketing can convince people to smoke -- it can convince people of anything.)
Look at the changes in the nature of our economy since tax rates were lowered. We have financialized the economy. We have been shipping manufacturing and jobs out of the country. We have been eliminating pensions. Wages have stagnated. We have massively increased debt. And a very few at the top have been able to use financial power to consolidate to themselves much of the income and benefits of the economy that We, the People built.
Reasonable returns that build up over time are boring. They require work. So when you can make out like a bandit you act like a bandit. Since the tax rates were lowered the nature of our economy has changed from building solid companies that treated their customers well and provided well-built products, to quick-buck schemes designed for fast cash out.
Corporate conservatives will argue that we just want to “punish success” by asking the wealthiest to pitch in. Actually we want people to make lots of money. In fact, we want more people to make more money. That’s the point of our economy – so that we all are prosperous. And with ever higher tax rates, when those at the top make more money we all make more money. So in fact with high top tax rates there is an additional societal incentive for the rest of us to encourage those at the top to make even more.
What we don’t want is people gaming the system so they can reap vast personal returns for themselves at the expense of the rest of us. We want the system functioning smoothly. A very high top tax rate helps fight this problem. In the recent financial collapse it was vast and fast returns that provided the incentive for the gaming, for taking huge risks and not worrying enough about the downside.
Some other points, off the top of my head: (This is a blog post not a Ph.D. thesis.)
- High tax rates at the top encourage work.
- High top tax rates limit the concentration of wealth.
- High top tax rates distribute the benefits of our economy to all of us, paying a dividend for participating in a democracy.
We can also use high top tax rates to increase investment incentives. A top rate of 90% provides a lot of room to set a favorable capital gains rate. If you only tax, say, 60% of the income from capital gains this would provide a huge incentive for the very rich to invest. This way a person in the 90% tax rate would only pay $54 in taxes and a person in a 20% tax rate would only pay $12 on capital gains.
We used to believe as a society in democracy and sharing the wealth. We used to believe in not letting a few get wealthy enough that they can use the resulting power to skew the country's policies in their favor. We used to believe that windfalls should be shared. This idea helps return us to a functioning democracy with the resources to act for our mutual benefit.
This idea retains the profit incentive while reducing the greed/bad-behavior incentive by capping the potential gains. These potential gains can be great enough that anyone can strive for them, without being high enough to drive massive greed.
So, what do you think? Should we set the top tax rate back to 90% or higher?
July 20, 2009
The economy is terrible. There aren't enough jobs. Most of the jobs that are still there are not paying enough for people to keep up, and people are afraid they could lose them tomorrow. So we all have too much debt. We have too little health care. We have too much stress. And in the bigger picture we have too little power to do anything about it.
They say we're reaching a "bottom" and that there are "green shoots." But I am afraid that this isn’t your father’s recession. I'm afraid this economy isn’t a pendulum that has swing too far in one direction, ready to be pulled by natural forces back to the other side. I am afraid that this isn't a "business cycle" pattern with a fall, then a bottom, then a recovery where all the shoppers return to the stores, all the jobs come back and growth picks up where it left off. Even "green shoot" optimists admit there will be few new jobs if there is any recovery.
It may be that we are not in a period of waiting for things to "get back to normal." Many people think that this economic collapse IS the return to normal.
For decades concerned observers have warned about problems with the "sustainability" of our economic paradigm. If you look at charts describing changes in the economy, environment, population - all kinds of things - you see that in recent decades they all change and start to move, often exponentially, in directions that obviously cannot be sustained. They look like this:
A wise man once said that when something is unsustainable it can’t be sustained. And here we are. A very good explanation of the problem of unsustainability of our economic paradigm is The Story Of Stuff. "It's a linear system and we live on a finite planet."
It is not just the economy out of whack. The business practices that brought us here -- overextraction, overextension, overleveraging, overconsumption -- have also whacked the planet’s resources. The fisheries are increasingly depleted. The aquifers are increasingly drained. The forests are increasingly logged. The landfills are increasingly full. And, of course, the planet is increasingly hotter.
Our economic system has also taken a toll on the people. Too many hours at a stressful workplace with too little sleep have burned many of us out. Our thinking and identity are about our jobs, not our spirit and character. Our values are devoted to markets with many of us placing making money over loving and caring for families and others. And there's no time for that stuff anyway. We have become consumers instead of citizens and humans. Decades of falling wages, decreasing savings and increasing debt have tapped us out. Consumption has used us up. And we’re fed up.
So things reached a breaking point and broke down. This has been coming at us for decades. And here we are.
If this economic collapse was the consequence of decades of an unsustainable economic model, then what do we do?
The government, of course, has been working to fix this problem within the context of the current failed economic system. And in that context they have been doing a good job. They lowered interest rates to encourage even more borrowing. The stimulus pumped borrowed money into the economy to cover the loss of demand from people and business. They raised the FDIC protection levels so we're not all wiped out if banks fail. They bailed out overleveraged financial institutions so they could again provide credit.
Of course the stimulus is better than none. We need unemployment benefits and infrastructure investment. And investment has a longer-term payoff.
But what happens after the stimulus? What do they think will drive our economy back to what they think of as normal? Will it be renewed manufacturing of cars? If we don't bring back the good-paying jobs, who will buy them? Same for houses. Same for TVs and appliances and furniture and jewelery and expensive shoes and all the rest.
In a June interview on the Lehrer News Hour, Treasury Secretary Geithner said that they are doing what they need to do to "get growth back on track."
Back on track? Does he mean we will fish out the remaining fish? Cut the rest of the trees? Drain the rest of the aquifers? Take the tops off the rest of the mountains? Does he mean that we will run up the rest of the credit cards? Will we cover the rest of the land with even bigger houses and subdivisions and strip malls? Will we export all the rest of the jobs? Will we hand the rest of the nation's income and wealth over to an elite few?
I don't think they are going to get things back "on track" by applying more of the same "solutions" that got us to where we are today. Will they bail out more companies, making them even too bigger to fail? None of the fixes will work if the problem is that we have reached the limits of sustainability of the economic model we have been following for decades.
So what can we do to change the system itself? How do we restructure the model - the economic paradigm - in ways that let We, The People enjoy and share the benefits of our economy? There are a number of clues that I will be writing about in my work with Campaign for America's Future. Maybe we can follow the clues and find answers.
One obvious part of problem is that we have an economic system in which we tolerate a few people controlling –- and thereby getting most of the benefits from –- things that should belong to and be controlled by all of us. Aren't We, The People supposed to be making the decisions here? And shouldn't we make decisions that benefit all of us instead of just a wealthy few?
At the center of this problem is the role of the corporation in our society. Corporations have amassed immense power and that power is used to control the country's decision-making processes, always to the benefit of the wealthy few. Getting a grip on this problem requires us to regain understanding of why we have corporations in the first place. We, The People enacted the laws that allow corporations to exist because we felt that it would be to our benefit to do so. And to the extent that they are now benefiting a few at the expense of the rest of us, we can change the laws. Let that sink in.
Another thing we have to get control over is the concept of externalization. Why do we allow companies to externalize their costs while internalizing the profits? In other words, companies are allowed to push costs onto the rest of us, but are not asked to share the resulting profits with the rest of us. We even let them see and treat people (us) as "costs" -- a layoff pushes the responsibility to support a worker onto the community while the company keeps the wages they were paid.
When a company replaces a worker with a machine, the company pockets the wages that would have gone to the worker and the worker is discarded. But now we are learning that eventually enough workers are discarded that there is no one to purchase what those workers replaced by machines were making. So the company and the economy lose, too. This just doesn't work.
Here is a big one: We need to understand that actually making things is what drives an economy. America became an economic powerhouse because we made things here. China is an economic powerhouse because they make things there. I'll be writing about that a lot.
These are just a few of the things that I will be exploring in the coming months. Let's see where it goes.
July 17, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left
How much of what we see on TV, hear on the radio and read in newspapers or online as "conservative" or "centrist" opinion is actually paid for by corporate interests? In fact, how much of what we think of as "conservatism" itself is actually just paid corporate PR?
A story about "pay for play" is surfacing today in Politico. And to reward good behavior: I say good for them.
The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.
For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”
This follows the story the other day about the Washington Post and then reports of other media outlets selling “access” to lobbyists.
I have followed this stuff for some time, and I venture to say that most -- not all but most -- of what I see coming out of the so-called "conservative movement" appears to have been little more than corporate pay-for-play for many years.
I started thinking about this back when the "conservative" position was pro-logging. Remember how they mocked the spotted owl? (The spotted owl is an "indicator species," or a shorthand way to judge the health of an entire ecosystem.) I wondered why the logging industry was a cause for conservatives, but not the fishing industry, which was greatly harmed by the logging practices advocated by conservatives. The answer turned out to be that a guy who ran a corporation that had made a ton of money looting S&Ls (how come no one remembers the S&L Crisis?) had bought a lumber company and was destroying all the old-growth redwoods was hooked into (i.e. paying) the conservative movement. (Please read the links and follow the links there!) And so the "conservative" opinion became that logging old-growth forests was a good thing. Cash payment was the reason for this core pillar of conservative ideology. (The whole thing ended up paying off even more handsomely, probably thanks to more conservative movement backscratching.)
Over the years I have seen one after another example of this use of the so-called "conservative" movement to drive the interests of particular corporations, in exchange for money. We used to see it serving tobacco interests. Now we see it serving oil and coal interests -- and right now insurance company interests.
A few years ago I said at a YearlyKos panel, Ethics, Corruption and Movement Politics,
So, like I said the conservative persuasion machine and media echo chamber quickly moved past that initial far-right funding to also take in big corporate money. But corporate money is “interested” money – it necessarily has strings or it would not be given. And the strings necessarily go back to the interests of the corporation – not the public or the country – or even the conservative movement.
The movement followed the money and started to change from pure ideology to lobbying for the interests of the corporate backers. The think tanks began making arguments in support of what were little more than paying customers.
The corporations saw an opportunity and took over the so-called "conservative movement" and big, big, big money started flowing in.
As i said at the start of this piece, "How much of what we see on TV, hear on the radio and read in newspapers or online as "conservative" opinion is actually paid for by corporate interests? In fact, how much of what we think of as "conservatism" itself is actually just paid corporate PR?" I think the answer is pretty clear at this point, and that is most of it.
July 16, 2009
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
I looked around and found that "businesses are leaving the state because of taxes" is one of those drumbeats that the corporate conservatives are using. (Also, FYI the wealthy are leaving, too, parking their yachts in Salt Lake I guess.)
I wrote about this myth the other day, basically you pay taxes on profits and you certainly don't pack up and leave profits behind. I wrote,
Oh, one more thing for the slower-thinking Republicans out there: profits are a good thing, not a bad thing. And when you are making a profit the last thing you do is pack up your business and leave behind the circumstances that enabled making that profit.
So I looked around for "businesses are leaving the state" articles. Here are a few:
A Republican member of the Assembly writes, Governmental Restrictions, High Taxes Driving Businesses & Jobs Out Of California.
Oops, the example company didn't leave, it started in Nevada, and it wasn't because of taxes it was because they wanted "freedom" to dump toxins into the environment.
Oops this is another company that started in Nevada. This time it was an income tax avoidance scheme where Californians set up the company in Nevada - but still live here. So it's a PO box, not employees, etc.
This one quotes a Republican Party official,
"The high cost of living that continues to force Californians out of state should serve as a powerful reminder of the effect high taxes are having on our society," said Ron Nehring, the Republican state party chairman.But doesn't give any examples, and in fact shows how California has very favorable business conditions, credits, and is the only state that doesn't ask oil companies to pay for the oil they take.
California's High Taxes and Burdensome Regulations Drive People and Businesses Away -- scary title, lots of scary words, but no examples of businesses actually leaving the state.
Another Company Leaving California because of High Taxes, Regulations - Oops, this one is leaving the state because they want to pollute the air, not because of taxes. Nice title, though. Scary.
We went through a flurry of this a few years ago, too. Did any leave then? Let's see what we can find.
Companies Can't Leave CA Fast Enough - A title insurer left the state. The 2003 article doesn't explain why but mentions retail energy rates. Remember Enron, Bush, all that?
Coast Converters is spending $800,000 to move to Las Vegas, but the Los Angeles plastic bag manufacturer will save enough on workers' compensation, electricity and other costs to recover that in less than a year, CEO Mitchell Greif says.
"It's really an unfair business practice to allow companies to move to Nevada and sell into California," Greif says. "But I'm doing it."
Nope, not taxes. And how do you like living in the desert, Mitchell? Another 2003 electricity-costs thing. You want deregulation? Deregulating energy costs worked out great, no?
Nation's Business. Oops, the headlines are misleading, they are leaving because of costs. Yes, it costs more to live here because people are coming here, not leaving. Also,
... 10 percent of the 90 Southern California companies responding said theyOOPS, this one is from 1993, before the huge business boom. Sorry. I guess all the businesses left California. Oh, wait...
"definitely" plan to move some or all operations from California within a year, and an additional 13 percent said they would "probably" do so.
Wait, here are some more articles:
New York's Taxes Send People and Businesses Out Of State -- Maybe they're coming here.
Are Millionaires Leaving Maryland to Escape Higher Taxes? -- Maybe they are passing California's millionaires going the other way.
Poll shows many mull leaving state (Buffalo)
I guess all the businesses are leaving ALL the states!
Click through to Speak Out California
It is "leaking" that the secret program was to assassinate Al Queda leaders.
How convenient. We're being told that this was something that no one would object to, that in fact everyone will say "Why would those sissy, terrorist-loving Democrats want to stop THAT? Dick Cheney is a hero for this."
Of course this isn't the secret program. Don't fall for it.
So now the wingnuts are trying to claim that the House health care reform plan makes private insurance illegal.
They are pointing to a provision that outlaws the OLD kinds of private plans that trick people out of their coverage once they get sick using pre-existing conditions, etc. The NEW plans from private insurers will have NEW rules that protect the people who buy them. For example new plans must have caps on what a person has to pay out themselves so no one goes bankrupt anymore. They can't refuse to pay when someone gets sick because they didn't tell the insurance company that they had acne when they were a teenager (yes insurance companies do refuse to pay because of that now.)
No wonder no one takes them seriously anymore.
Oh, and please read some of the comments at the referenced sites.
This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute's Progressive Op-Ed Program
Progressives believe in a “we’re all in this together” philosophy while conservatives follow a “you are on your own” philosophy. The differences between these approaches can be clearly seen in the battle over how we share the benefits of our economy.
Conservatives encourage people to take “personal responsibility” rather than to rely on each other for support and guidance. When it comes to things like negotiating for pay and benefits this approach limits each of us to the power and resources that we have alone as individuals.
But big companies are not “on their own.” They are legally allowed to concentrate resources and power that dwarf anything an individual could muster. Companies might have thousands, even tens of thousands of employees who have to do what they are told. They have top legal teams at the table across from you. They can place advertisements and hire PR firms to spin false stories that turn the public against you.
A “you are on your own” approach puts each of us alone at the table with powerful the big companies. When we ask for higher pay, time off, benefits or better working conditions they can set us against each other by saying, “we’ll just find someone else to do your job.” Big companies seeking to lower or eliminate worker costs (you) and pocket the savings on one side of the table with regular individuals on the other side of the table is a one-sided negotiation. The result is an increasingly one-sided economy, with the benefits of the economy going overwhelmingly to those who control these powerful companies.
The negotiating table is out of balance and the result is this terrible economic downturn.
There is another approach. We can create win-win solutions that work for companies and for each of us as individuals. This will happen when there is balance between those at the table negotiating shares in the benefits of our economy. To achieve this we need to strengthen the unions. We know this because there was a period in our history when we had a few strong unions which brought a better balance of power at the negotiating table. This balance didn’t just help union members, it created the middle class.
Unions are the very essence of “we’re all in this together”. People banded together and refused to work unless conditions improved. This unity gave them the power to ask for better wages, benefits, time off, sick pay, health care, pensions and other benefits that we all came to expect and enjoy. The resulting balance of power forced both sides to look for balanced, win-win approaches. It created an economy with a stable workforce that could afford to purchase consumer goods, so companies prospered as well.
But in recent decades the unions have been weakened. The companies have created a stacked deck, forcing unions away from the bargaining table. With only the big companies at the table, of course the outcome reflects their short-term interests. Job security is non-existent. Raises are rare. Benefits are cut. Pensions and health insurance are ever harder to find.
The fact is, when unions are weakened the interests of all workers, unionized or not, are not represented.
The current state of the economy demonstrates how the conservative “you’re on your own” approach has failed us. Our economy is terribly out of balance because the negotiating table has been out of balance for so long.
So it is time to restore balance. A progressive “we are in this together” approach can restore our economy. The Employee Free Choice Act, now before the Congress, is an example of the kind of progressive policy that would let workers join unions and again sit at the table without fear of being fired by their employers.
When working people are once again represented at the bargaining table, the big companies will be forced to accept win-win solutions. The economy will be restored and can once again benefit all of us.
Seeing the Forest is seven years old today.
This is one of my favorite posts:
The Retirement Plan of the Unemployed Man
Who Is The Crazy Person In The Room?
The reason Republicans claim the stimulus plan is failing is because they don't know anyone on extended unemployment or getting their health care through the new, subsidized COBRA health insurance plan that pays 2/3 of the bill.
There wasn't anything in the stimulus plan that helps people get their yachts refitted, so they don't see any effects.
Update -- Take a look at Headline 2020.
This post originally appeared at Open Left
Yesterday I wrote about ideas. Today I'd like to write about dreams.
At the recent America’s Future Now conference put on by Campaign for America’s Future, I attended a session led by Commonweal Institute’s Executive Director Barry Kendall called "Collaborating on Ideas for the Long-Term." Barry is also Co-Chair of the Progressive Ideas Network (PIN), an alliance of progressive think tanks. (Note - PIN recently published a book, THINKING BIG, Progressive Ideas for a New Era.)
Barry has been working with this group of think tanks to encourage long-term thinking, and was talking to the people attending the session about PIN's model for creating and supporting collective projects on big ideas.
To introduce the idea of long-term idea work, Barry used a concept that he calls "Progressive Victories, circa 2020," based on an idea from Joe Brewer at Cognitive Policy Works. His idea is to think about headlines that we would like to see at some point in the near or even distant future. Barry asked the group to imagine the headlines they would see in newspapers in the year 2020, if progressives are able to build true governing power and enact their agenda.
Here are just a few of the 2020 headlines offered by the group:
Rail Passengers Outnumber Auto Passengers 2 To 1These are great.
UN Global Governance Task Force Reels In Corporate Anarchy
Annual Citizen Dividend Raised to $20,000 - (mine)
World Population Growth Stabilized
Steady-State Economy Realized
10 Global Corporations Have Their Federal Charters Revoked For Criminal Activity
Citizen Representatives Now Hold Majorities on Corporate Boards
US Manufacturing Reaches New Peak
OMB Enacts Full-Cost Accounting on All Policy Proposals
Planet Temperature Stabilizes
An exercise like this helps get us past the current habit many of us seem to have of reacting mostly to today’s events and battles, and thinking instead about where we might be able to take our society in the future. It was difficult to dream about the future when we were plagued by George W. Bush and the far right in office But we have some room now to try. Of course, some of the headlines presented (which I didn't include here) dreamed of a progressive resolution to current events, but the exercise is an attempt to move us past reaction and into proaction.
Thinking about possible futures brings with it the question of how to get there. I'll write about that tomorrow.
I am hoping that readers can leave comments with headlines they hope to see in 5, 10 and 20 years. My own headline from above, in the form that would be useful in a comment here, would be "May 2020, Annual Citizen Dividend Raised to $20,000". The opening paragraph of the accompanying story would be something like,
"The annual citizen dividend has been increased to $20,000. This is the dividend paid to all citizens as their share of the fees collected from businesses that put pollutants into the atmosphere up to their allowed cap, for oil and other extracted resources, and other recovery of externalized costs. A similar amount is added to the National Income Trust to increase future payouts. In similar news, because of increasing productivity the maximum workweek has been reduced to 15 hours and the minimum wage has reached $50 per hour."
Yes, I imagine an economy in which every person has a guaranteed income (before working) of $20,000, people only work 15 hours and the minimum wage is $50. Why not? With computers, robots and machines doing more and more of the work for us, why not? The economic paradigm we operate under today sure isn't working for most of us, so why not imagine something better for all of us?
We all feel the pressure of so many people competing for jobs. But imagine that instead of competing for scarce jobs, everyone just works fewer hours. Last March, in A Stimulus for Working Fewer Hours, economist Dean Baker wrote,
An alternative would be to have everyone share in the adjustment to excess supply by reducing work hours. Fewer work hours would mean roughly proportionate reductions in pay, but there would be the offsetting benefit of more leisure time. Workers would have more time to spend with their families or in nonwork activities. This would bring us more in line with the rest of the world, where the standard workweek and year is considerably shorter.
So what is your vision for a progressive future? Let’s come up with some headlines you would like to see in five, ten and twenty years. Give it a try. Tomorrow we can work on how to get there.
July 15, 2009
This post originally appeared at Open Left
I’m looking over the House’s "Affordable Health Choices Act." Like so many families, my wife and I need a good health insurance plan when COBRA runs out in a few months, so let’s see what this plan offers us. (Of course like most people here I would prefer just one Medicare-like plan for everyone, but this would be unfair to insurance company profits so it is off the table.)
The proposed legislation includes a “mandate” requiring everyone in the country to purchase health insurance or pay 2.5% of their income as a penalty. Employers are required to pay for health insurance for all full-time workers or pay an 8% payroll tax instead. (That means that they pay the government 8% on top of all the wages they pay out.) I haven’t figured out yet what happens with part-time workers.
The supporting materials say that “public plans” have to be on a “level playing field’ with private insurance, including holding rates higher to cover "startup costs and contingency funds".
People making up to 133% of poverty level will be covered by Medicaid. Then the plan has a subsidy to help people pay for the mandated insurance, but only for individuals who make $43,320 or less and a family of 4 making $88,200 or less. People just above that 133% will have their payments limited to 1.5% of income by the subsidy. That slides up to the “high” end where people will have payments capped at 11% of income, which is $4765.20 per year, $9702 for a family of four. Above that income level, people apparently just have to buy health insurance without subsidies – currently as much as $4-500 a month per person if they want just a basic plan.
Good: Everyone will be covered so those with insurance won’t be paying for those without. And everyone GETS covered - no pre-existings, etc. Costs will be lower because people will have access to care instead of being forced to wait until desperate then heading to an emergency room. It will reduce the future health care burden on the economy.
Best: No one will ever be forced into bankruptcy again. (What about nursing homes and home care ?) No one will be forced to stay at a job just to be covered anymore. Age discrimination based on health coverage costs will end.(Assuming older people don't have to pay higher rates.)
Bad: Mandates without meaningful subsidies. People and businesses are required to cough up huge amounts of money. The people and businesses most affected by this are those who don’t have insurance now – often because they can’t afford to.
Worst: Republicans will be able to savage Democrats for this bill because they didn’t choose to subsidize the mandated costs in a meaningful way.
Summary: This is an excellent plan within the context of preserving insurance company profits, trying to appease Republicans who won’t vote for it anyway and not spending more over ten years than we spent on big financial corporation bailouts in about ten minutes. It makes some extremely important changes that we all need. But overall I think the restrictions they are operating under might make the plan unworkable because needed public support could erode before the plan takes effect.
This plan has a mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance. A mandate is the only way that health care reform can work because of the cost savings that come from universal coverage, but a mandate without meaningful subsidies is political dynamite that Republicans will use to try to destroy the plan – and Democrats – for decades. If you don’t think they will call the mandate a “big government ordering you to pay a huge tax” and do everything they can to destroy Democrats who vote for this, then you don’t know Republicans.
My wife and I currently pay about $850 a month for the minimal plan in this area under our COBRA, and under this House bill that becomes a mandate. So the House bill will require us to cough up about $10K per year if we make a dime more than whatever the married maximum is going to be, and quite a bit even if we don’t because the subsidy is minimal. The fact is we wouldn’t have health insurance today if COBRA were not subsidized, and certainly can’t afford anything approaching $10K, public option or not.
Businesses will have to cough up 8% of payroll. Ian wrote about this earlier.
The plan doesn’t appear to take effect until 2013, giving Republicans a lot of time to campaign on “stopping this massive tax” and spread lots of lies about it after it passes. So we could lose both Democratic control of Congress AND health care reform. I wonder how much of this plan is the result of political calculations by many Democrats who worry about directly taking on the Republicans and the insurance companies -- even though I expect both will work to kill this bill no matter what is in it. On the other hand maybe this plan is just a step in a strategy involving introducing increased subsidies later.
I think the political cost of mandates, combined with keeping private insurance, demonstrates why Medicare-For-All (insiders call this “single-payer,” apparently to confuse ordinary people) really is the only workable plan. But, as I said, meaningful subsidies could make this plan politically workable. As I said above it could be that this is a strategy to introduce a plan that “pays for itself” and gets that out of the way, but increasing subsidies later as the public reacts to the amounts they will have to pay.
At least there is a “public option.” Without it this mandate would be the final straw in the complete corporatization of the government – just passing a law requiring everyone to give the rest of their money to big companies. If the public option gets removed I’m not sure how requiring everyone to buy health insurance from private insurers is supposed to be different from requiring everyone to buy a cell phone (but only from ATT with a data plan) or cable TV, except health insurance costs a lot more. If the public option is removed a mandate must not pass.
I ran a business for a number of years and provided health coverage until I couldn’t afford to. I understand the effect that a new 8% payroll tax will have. (Of course businesses that don’t provide health insurance aren’t going to do so under this plan either, and will have to pay this tax instead.) But this may be worth it to help everyone get health insurance. I might think so, but most business owners are going to howl and scream about this. Remember, health care costs are a big reason companies like GM moved plants to Canada.
Final word: Increase the subsidies so no one making less than $100K has to pay very much and this will breeze through and be loved. Republicans and insurance companies are going to try to kill this no matter what you do so get the public behind you with meaningful subsidies.
I'm blogging over at Open Left for the next two weeks. My first post, Open Left:: Ideas, is up now. I'll cross post some of my posts here as well.
July 14, 2009
Beginning tomorrow I will be blogging at Open Left for two weeks, sitting in for Chris Bowers while he is off getting married and taking some time off. See Open Left:: Going To The Chapel.
Also, Monday I will begin as a Fellow with Campaign for America's Future, writing there twice a week.
Jack & Jill Politics' Jill Tbman writes about how the NAACP is old and slow, in The NAACP Doesn’t Care About Black People - Jack & Jill Politics. I wonder if the problem with so many old and slow "issue organizations," so often DC-based, all with tons of money, might be that after they get established - and funded, and therefore safe to work for - the people who take over are more interested in having a career than in getting things done. And SO often getting things done will feel like you are possibly going to offend the people who give you money. So career-oriented people won't risk it.
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Republicans like to claim that businesses leave California because of having to pay taxes.
I used to own and run a business, and I have some news for Republicans: Businesses only pay taxes on profits. You don't pay taxes unless you are making a profit. Paying taxes means you are making a profit. Making a profit is a good thing, and California businesses pay a small percentage of the profits to the state to help cover the expenses that enabled you to make that profit.
I'm not sure how many different ways I can say it. You pay taxes after you make a profit. At the end of the year you add up your revenue and you subtract your expenses and other deductions and then you know what your profit is.
Oh, one more thing for the slower-thinking Republicans out there: profits are a good thing, not a bad thing. And when you are making a profit the last thing you do is pack up your business and leave behind the circumstances that enabled making that profit.
I understand that Republicans hate government and are enraged by the idea of actually giving something back to the community to help pay for the roads, bridges, courts, police and fire protection, educated citizenry and the other parts of the state's infrastructure that created the environment that led to the ability to make a profit. Yes, they hate that. I understand.
But the fact is that businesses do not pack up and leave when they are making profits. So if Republicans want to trick people into supporting tax cuts for the big companies that shelled out so much cash put them in office they really do need to come up with better stories than trying to claim that businesses pack up and leave the state because they are making too much profit.
Click through to Speak Out California
Bill Moyers writes about the influence of money at the Campaign for America's Future blog: Some Choice Words for 'The Select Few' | OurFuture.org,
...the serious business of Washington – happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only occasionally – and usually only because someone high up stumbles -- do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has become.
July 13, 2009
There are jobs where you get something for your work, and there are jobs where you work for others and get the smallest measliest tiniest fraction of the proceeds that they can get away with giving you. Why do we allow that?
Maybe if we take away wires, and all of us bring electrons to machines in buckets, then all of us can have "jobs."
a little-noticed study the Labor Department released several months ago found that the benefits of the biggest federal job training program were “small or nonexistent” for laid-off workers.We have 10 percent unemployment. So why don't we just work 10 percent less, instead of throwing away 10 percent of our people?
July 12, 2009
Well those green shoots are fading fast. Much more stimulus will be needed to make up for the demand slack from consumers and businesses or the economy could fall to deflation. The Republicans are united around blocking this and bringing the economy down, hoping to turn blame on Obama for their own failures.
July 11, 2009
July 9, 2009
What Would Republicans Do? The Republicans criticize ... well, everything. Currently they criticize the stimulus because it is "spending."
So a quick question. Can anyone tell me what the Republican plan for fixing the economy is? I mean, of course, cut taxes, especially taxes on the rich and corporations. That goes without saying. That was their solution to the terrorists attacks, Katrina, health care, and caribou migration.
But seriously, can someone leave a comment and let me and the readers here know what it is the Republicans think should be done about the economy? Everything I have heard amounts to firing people (government workers), paying people less, getting rid of pensions, and, well, cutting taxes on the rich and corporations.
The economy is not getting worse as fast as it was getting worse.
It's still getting worse, but, you know, things are better because they aren't getting worse quite as fast. Which means that although people are still losing jobs at an incredible rate, not as many people are losing jobs each week as was happening a few months ago.
So even though things are really, really bad, and getting worse, they aren't getting worse as fast.
Therefore ... Well I'm not sure what the point is. If a job loss of 565,000 in a week had been reported at almost any other time in the last 50 years, it would be considered horrific. But today it is good news because although things are still getting worse -- much worse -- they are not getting worse as fast as they were getting worse.
Have you visited The Left Coaster lately?
July 8, 2009
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Today's San Jose Mercury News has a front-page story, California leaders in no hurry to break budget impasse. From the story,
Despite plunging tax revenues, Wall Street's unwillingness to loan the state money and billions of dollars worth of IOUs hitting mailboxes, California's leaders are displaying a seeming lack of urgency to close the state's $26.3 billion deficit.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders blew past a supposedly ironclad June 30 deadline to pass a new budget...
Blew past? The legislature did pass a budget fix last week, but the Governor vetoed it! This choice by the Governor led to the state needing to issue IOUs.
To their credit (I guess) the San Jose paper hinted at the veto in an editorial a week ago, Governor didn't need to push state over the edge, writing,
In rejecting a stopgap fix for the budget on Tuesday, the governor and GOP leaders have accelerated a budget meltdown that pushes the state deeper into debt."
Talking to people involved, I pick up a sense that passing a budget fix after the Governor said he would veto it was pointless, so not worth mentioning. But isn't that for the voters to decide? Many would say that passing the fix, especially at the last minute after all negotiations had failed and the state was going over the cliff was the responsible thing to do, also known as governing. This put a budget fix on the table and available for use to avoid the calamity and cost of IOUs, rating downgrades, etc. The Governor had a clear choice at that point, and chose to take the state over the cliff. The voters should have been told, not kept in the dark that the Governor made that choice.
Meanwhile, the other side still refuses to offer up any plan of their own, still insisting that the Democrats fix the budget entirely with cuts to services that the public needs and take the blame for that. They refuse to allow any plan that asks oil or tobacco companies to pitch in. They claim the wealthy will "leave the state" if asked to pitch in an additional $40 a week. They make up stories about companies leaving the state (but can't name any). But it is not reported that the Republicans refuse to offer a plan or engage in serious negotiations. It is as if the Republicans are expected to not be serious, so it's not worth reporting that they aren't serious. The voters should have been told.
The system of democracy depends on the voters being informed so they can apply pressure as needed and remove officeholders who are not doing what the voters want them to do. But none of this works if the citizens have no way of learning simple facts, like that the legislature did govern responsibly and pass a budget fix, which the Governor vetoed. The voters should have been told.
Click through to Speak Out California.
July 7, 2009
This post originated at Speak Out California
The resignation of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin provides an opportunity to understand what is happening to us in California. There are people who have so little respect for government and governing that they thing Palin's resignation is a good thing. In California there are also people who have so little respect for government and governing that they think it is a good idea to let the state fall off of a financial cliff.
Sarah Palin is said to be resigning so she can climb the ladder of Republican politics -- possibly even to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2012. One would think that abandoning office in the middle of her term would disqualify her from having a future in seeking elected office. But this is not the case -- just the opposite. In fact this is so much not the case that the resignation is seen as a "brilliant" strategic move to increase her chances of obtaining that Presidential nomination prize.
The lesson to take away from Palin's resignation is that actually governing once elected to office is not the point. Modern-day Republican Party politics is not about governing, not even a little bit. It is about being against governing.
This is how they can get away with being against government: Good government was put in place in this country in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s (with 90% tax rates at the top, by the way) and has been taken for granted since. The infrastructure of roads, laws, trash collection, etc. has been in place and functioning for so long that it is taken for granted. And so it all provides a safe platform for anti-government ideologues to pretend that government is not needed.
This brings us to California. We have a minority of elected officials who also do not care about governing. So far they have been able to get away with it, because of the work that We, the People did for several decades to build this state and make it governable.
California enjoyed massive government infrastructure investment from the 1930s through the 1960s. We built the best roads, water systems, schools, courts, etc. As a result we had the most prosperous industries, most well-educated people and best-functioning government.
And so the anti-government tax-cutting ideologues were able to defer maintenance of that wonderful system, handing the maintenance money out as tax cuts, and no one saw the foundations of that prosperity slowly begin to erode. They were able to complain about government and ignore governing because government was there for them and all of us anyway.
Well now we have coasted along on the infrastructure built decades ago, but it has eroded, and we are coming to the end of the time when the ideologues can enjoy the luxury of deferring maintenance. But our Republican leadership is firmly entrenched in their anti-governing ideology. They are willing to let the state fall off a cliff rather than actually pay to maintain the governing structure they depend on -- because they believe it will just operate as it seemingly always has, for free.
But governing is about about the people of the state and their needs. It takes skill, wisdom, an understanding of government and governing to be an elected leader. Sarah Palin obviously has none of these qualities, nor does Ahnold, for that matter. While our most vulnerable people are begging for their services and programs not to be dismantled so that they can actually have food and help in their most basic needs, our Governator boasts about sitting in his jacuzzi smoking a stogie.Would FDR ever suggest that? Would Dwight Eisenhower? What kind of leadership, compassion, understanding is reflected in these kind of "leaders." The answer is obvious and dramatic: NONE.
Click through to Speak Out California
July 6, 2009
The equation was clear: More government equals less individual choice. And to prove it, Jackman showed that all politics are ultimately personal.I know I don't need to explain the problem with this person's statements to Seeing the Forest readers, but I will explain for the occasional people dropping by from Fox News:
"My mother had two cataracts removed, two new knees and a new hip, and she's up and running at 79," he said. "With a single-payer system, she'd still be a long waiting list. And I don't want to be on a waiting list when I get to be her age."
1) The reform plan being discussed adds an EXTRA option, where we KEEP THE CURRENT system and we add one more option in which the government provides health insurance by letting people buy into a Medicare-like plan. This is called a "public option."
2) The person's 79-year-old mother certainly had her procedures done by Medicare, which is a "single-payer" system run by the government, and not by private insurance.
3) Whether she was on Medicare or not, Medicare (single-payer) exists, and she was not on a waiting list. Maybe she used her free Medicare, maybe she paid extra. This is how the new plan would work as well.
In the 1920s the big money organized "stock pools" with which they could force stock prices up and down, bringing them immense profits. Part of the stock market crash was the result of these manipulations coming apart.
Something similar may be going on today involving computer "program trading." I recommend taking a look at: Is A Case Of Quant Trading Sabotage About To Destroy Goldman Sachs? You may be hearing more about this.
Here's the thing. Last week "program trading hit 48.6% of all NYSE trading". Let me repeat that, half of all trades on the NY Stock Exchange were "program trades."
This is not about humans deciding a stock is worth owning. This is about financial manipulation by computer. And now the NYSE is going to end their requirement that the companies report their program trading!
The new rule means the public will no longer be able to tell if large investment banks are manipulating the stock market for their own gain, says Matt Taibbi, the journalist whose Rolling Stone article on Goldman Sachs’ role in asset bubbles over the past century has rocked the financial world.This is an important, developing story and it could mean that were are nowhere near getting this financial crisis under control.
According to previous NYSE rules, any company that carried out program trading -- essentially, large computer-automated trades worth more than $1 million -- had to report the trades to the NYSE, which then made the information publicly available.
But, under new regulations (PDF) published last week, that requirement has been removed.
. . . Taibbi argues that the move is designed to protect investment banks from bloggers who are exposing the companies’ stock market manipulations. Goldman Sachs is singled out because the investment bank’s share of principal NYSE trading has gone from 27 percent at the end of 2008 to fully 50 percent of trades in recent months.
There aren't jobs, and they aren't coming back. We need to figure out another business model for the economy. Jobs were about putting parts into a gizmo as it went past you on the line. Machines do that now. Jobs were about adding up the numbers in a column. Computers do that now. Jobs were about pumping gas or checking out items in the supermarket. Self-serve does that now.
The problem with our model was that a few people at the top got the profits from finding ways to disemploy people, but not the disemployed people. They just got thrown overboard. But this economy depends on people having income from jobs.
We became very efficient at disemploying people, but all we did was throw those people away and pass everything to a few at the top. So now the base of "consumers' has shrunk below the point where the economic model works anymore.
So now what?
Opinion leaders and economists have been SO wrong for SO long I wonder ... do the ones living in, say, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado -- somewhere other than New York, SF, DC or LA for example -- have better records? I suspect they do, because they are outside of the bubble where the people they see every day have high incomes and are not particularly affected by the economy except maybe "their 401K" is down.
In fact, they live in a world where people even HAVE 401Ks and think everyone does.
July 4, 2009
Even more evidence that invading Iraq was about the oil. Everything else was misdirection.
People need to understand that in Republican circles, resigning as Governor does not harm Sarah Palin's career. Being a Governor is just ... governing ... and Republicans don't do that.
In fact, there is a contempt for the idea, and Palin has just reinforced her brand as one with contempt for government. The very word, "Governor," is suspect to them. The only use of the job is to affect redistricting so Republicans can have more power, and to keep a state from "spending" (also known as providing services to the citizens) and especially from asking the rich or corporations to pay any taxes for their use of the infrastructure the rest of us built.
In California we understand this.
July 2, 2009
A good read: Debt is capitalism’s dirty little secret
Summary: Lightly-regulated capitalism pushes all the gains to a very few at the top.
"So why has there been no revolution? Because there was a solution: debt. If you couldn’t earn it, you could borrow it. Cheap financing was made widely available."Well those days are over. All the benefits still flow to a very few at the top - sometimes without any masks over what is happening, as with the bailouts. But the rest of us no longer even get to borrow a lifestyle.
What comes next?
July 1, 2009
For many years the world has suffered under a “free trade” regime that eliminates good paying jobs in every country, sending the work to countries that keep wages low and restrict workers' ability to organize for a better life. The profits went to an already-wealthy few and the inequities increased, wealth concentrating massively at the very top.
And now consumers around the world have run out of money. This is not a surprise.
Did these trade policies cause the recession?
Imagine a company in South Carolina that makes 20,000 pairs of shoes a week and distributes them to stores. Now, imagine that the company closes its South Carolina plant, opens a plant in a low-wage country, ships all the machines and raw materials there, ships back 20,000 pairs of shoes each week and distributes them to the same stores. Is that “trade?” Are the raw materials sent out of the country an “export?” Are the shoes brought back into the country an “import?”
The only thing that has been “traded” in this scenario is American jobs traded for huge executive bonuses. The workers in the low-wage country are not paid enough to buy any remaining American-made products. And, as the economic collapses as a result of shenanigans like this, American workers are no longer able to buy shoes so the executives won’t be getting bonuses next year.
I submit that nothing in this example is “traded” except that our standard of living has been traded away. And this exchange brings little benefit to the workers in the low-wage country. This is exploitative trade, not free trade, and we need to protect our workers, the workers in other countries and the world's economy by demanding that our trade partners provide living wages and benefits. We can enforce this demand by attaching import tariffs at a level that makes our own goods competitive. This removes the advantage gained by exploiting workers - and the revenue reduces our own tax burden to maintain our competitive infrastructure. It is an incentive to pay their workers enough so they can reciprocate and buy the things we make here. Instead of the race to the bottom that led to this recession such tariffs create an incentive to raise standards of living around the world.
We should have national policies that prevent exploitation of workers and the environment and that share prosperity. This is a choice between lifting each other up or continuing a spiral to the bottom.