Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year

I don't know if I'll get a chance to write another post until the New Year, so I'd like to wish everyone a Happy 2012 now. It's been a great year for me, with a lot of changes, and I'm hoping next year will be even better. I'm not one for resolutions, but I do hope that we see more solutions in 2012, more of a push to the table for compromise in our government, more emphasis on the people instead of on policy, and a greater focus on our nations well-being. I hope everyone is safe, happy, and healthy in the coming year, and that you continue to read my blog. It's very rewarding to me to see how many people take the time to read this every day! Thank you!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!

Celebrating Keynes

The artificer of modern democratic fiscal policy, John Keynes is regarded as either an economic genius or economic tyrant of the modern era. Paul Krugman explains how our current global crisis has brought forth new evidence to prove Keynes's policies true (again).

The idea that Keynes had was that cutting spending during a recession (AKA austerity measures) does not help the problem of the recession. In fact, it can make it worse. The logic is that the driving force behind getting out of a slump is to add jobs, start people buying again to increase demand, which then leads to more jobs. In the end, the government's spending helps to buoy consumers through the hardest times until this cycle can get going. Then, once a boom has been well-established, then the government can peel back on the spending.

The interesting thing about Keynesian economics is that it is like kryptonite to many conservatives, because it focuses on increasing the spending of government, something they are dead set against all the time (I find it odd that this is their single solution to every problem we have ever faced. Ever). They call it crazy, say it's a failure, and try to produce evidence that contradicts it. The problem is, there isn't much. They will tote the original stimulus package, but any Keynesian economist will tell you it was doomed to fail because it was too small. Critics will point to Ireland and Greece as being examples of successful austerity, even though both have failed.

The problem is, facts don't lie, and whether you like something or not does not change whether it is true. Keynesian policies have more evidence to support them than discredit them, and vastly more evidence of success than strict austerity. To point out a bit of irony, some of the evidence for Keynesian economics comes from Reagan. Reagan, the deified poster boy for modern conservative economics, raised taxes during a recession, which helped end the recession.

So, how do we relate Keynesian economics to our current situation. Therein lies the difficulty. When the discussion is predominantly about deficits and not jobs, about cutting spending instead of bulking up industry, then it's next to impossible to bring up policies like this. But this is the starting point of recovery. The government can spend, creating the demand, which leads to jobs. From there, its a cycle as those who start working get more money, which they use to buy, which raises demand, which brings it all full circle. The only way to start that from its current stagnation is with the government.

Oversight

It's like something out of a John Grisham novel. the commisioner of an oversight group being targeted by politicians who have strong ties to the industry being overseen. Trumped up charges and false accusations being made to discredit a man who is trying to regulate safety for Americans. And strange coincidences between this most recent attack and one made over a decade ago against a different man in the same position. It has intrigue, conspiracy, and grave consequences for all involved.

Actually, it's happening now. Seems the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, has been getting some fire for not working closely enough with Congress. Read this great article to see just how this coup is being pulled off, and decide for yourself if Jaczko should be removed from his position.

What struck me in this article, though, were the similarities between this latest attack on Jaczko and one that was performed against Terry Lash in 1998, who was appointed to the same position that Jaczko is in now, and who was accused of almost identical charges.

The thing is, in both cases, the accused was found to be well within the law to act as they had and, at least in Jaczko's case, was found to be operating as they were expected to. The thing that's most interesting in these cases is that the major push for removal, the major criticisms, and the most devastating accusations, all seemed to stem from the industry that the NRC oversees. Also, in both cases, the targeted individuals had no ties to the industry and were actually active in restricting it and promoting safety over profit.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Economic ratings

A number of economists were recently polled, and the results found that they believe Obama's economic policies are mostly in the "fair" and "poor" categories. The primary criticisms by the economists are that Obama spent too much time focusing on health care instead of the economy, and that Obama's stimulus program didn't go far enough to help.

The article also discusses the economists' views on the GOP candidates and on the Fed. They overwhelmingly support Romney, which is understandable since he has the most experience in business and economics. They also seem to like what Ben Bernanke did to respond to the recession. However, there were those who said that Bernanke went too far with lowering interest to 0.

I tend to agree with a lot of this article, and also would like to point out that Obama's policies in economics are not being criticized, but that his not going far enough in his policies is. Obama compromised his plans to get the support he needed, and ended up with a stimulus package that was a fraction of what he wanted. According to these economists, Obama's original plan would have been better.

When it comes to the HCR law, I agree that it took too much time, but I also think it was neccessary to some extent. We needed to fix the system. Obama should have devoted more time to the economy, perhaps, but he also understood that there were other issues, and wanted to fix those too.

So, Obama may be getting poor ratings from economists, but it's not because his policies are bad. It's because he did not go far enough. That's an interesting perspective, since most of the conservative pundits say that the POTUS has done nothing right so far. I often wonder which economists the conservatives listen to, since there seems to be a good number that believe that Obama is doing a good job. If their entire economic platform is coming from the likes of Grover Norquist, that would certainly explain a lot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cutting does not equal growth

Listening to the radio this morning, I happened across a couple guys discussing a proposal to cut unemployment insurance from 99 weeks to 51. Anyone who pays attention to the conservative talking points knows that, in their view, cutting benefits is a good thing because it promotes independence and personal accountability. In a perfect world, that is the case.

But what struck me as odd was their assertion that cutting the unemployment would spur job growth. Their claim was that unemployment would plummet because people would no longer be receiving benefits. It's an interesting theory, and one that makes no sense.

For starters, let's assume that they're right about unemployment benefits keeping people from looking for a job. If that's the case, why is it that those who have been without a job for longer than the cut-off mark for unemployment still aren't employed? Are they all lazy? I doubt it.

It amazes me that something like unemployment benefits and people's innate laziness are blamed more than companies who refuse to hire. The unemployed are not lazy, and there are more job-seekers than ready jobs right now. So, whose fault is it? Really?

Cutting the unemployment benefits when there is no recession might be a good idea. I could agree with that. But when there are millions of people who want to work, taking away the one thing that helps them survive is ridiculous. And it's not a job-creator, either, because cutting those benefits does nothing to entice businesses to hire.

So don't cut the benefits. Not right now. It will accomplish nothing except push people further into despair than they already are.

And here's another great example of this thought process at work.

Part 2



The second part of this year's review. Enjoy the holiday season!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Age of Reason

I would post the picture, but the comments are very interesting. Feel free to add what you think is a reasonable recommendation.

There are so many concerns facing our country, and we can't even decide on a tax cut extension. What we need is a good dose of common sense, an end to partisanship, and a revitalization of American values.

My addition to the linked photo would be: No more nationalized private institutions. Companies can only operate in the region where they base their headquarters. Not only would this keep competition and growth at healthy levels, it would also eliminate tax evasion by using off-shore tax havens, since a company that puts its headquarters overseas would not be able to operate in the US.

Crazy Congressional Tactics

In a surprise move yesterday, Democratic Representative Stenny Hoyer (MD) tried to bring a vote to the House floor on the Senate-passed bill to extend the payroll tax cut for two months. As soon as Hoyer got up to speak, Republicans adjourned the House and left, despite only being in session for a few minutes. Then, apparently, John Boehner ordered the C-SPAN House cameras to cut out, meaning no one could watch the aftershock from this move by the GOP.

This is an interesting move by the GOP leadership, who claim they want the Senate to come back to negotiate the bill. Even more interesting is how Boehner spun this decision; he claimed he wanted to set up a committee (a super-committeee, perhaps?) of House and Senate members to negotiate a deal. This is very itneresting, since the Senate already passed a bill and the House killed it, even after they killed a year-long extension. These diversionary tactics are not helping Boehner's credibility, and it sounds like his post as SOTH may be in jeopardy over this. Boehner is quoted as saying in a statement "We're here. We're ready to go to work. And we're hoping that Senate Democrats will appoint negotiators, come to the table and resolve these differences."

This stuff is so frustrating because anyone can see that it is all just fluff and nonsense. Boehner seems to be running around with his head up the collective ass of the wealthy, and appears to be incapable of doing anything in a straightforward way. He's has asked for a committee to negotiate this? I thought that's what the House floor was for. Negotiation. The Senate passed the bill cleanly. So what's the hold-up? Boehner can't be hoping to squeeze more ammunition out of this to use against the Dems; he already shot himself in the foot several times.

And of course, this is just adding to the uncertainty of the American People at the holidays, one of those times when money is tight and people tend to struggle more. Winter is around the corner, meaning people are going to be spending more on heat, too. A payroll tax extension, balanced against a small surtax on millionaires (excluding small businesses) would have been perfect. Instead, this was shot down over a pipeline. The average American is not going to benefit from the pipeline, but will benefit from the tax cut. The GOP muddied the argument by mixing apples and oranges, and trying to combine them together as fruit. It's amazing how our "leadership" can staunchly ignore job creating measures until tax cut extensions are on the table, then suddenly bring up something that has nothing to do with tax cuts and say "here's a plan for job creation." It seems like when the people are saying "go left," the legislature is going right. The people are supposed to be the focus, and the power that is wielded by the government needs to be curbed back substantially. Bring back the focus on the people, and solve one issue at a time. PLEASE!


UPDATE: House members finally agreed to the two month extension, and all they got for it was a lousy t-shirt (actually, they got another super-committee that gets to fail in two months. yippee). Boehner caved after he struck a deal with Harry Reid, which is interesting because Boehner didn't cave to Obama, McConnell, McCain, or the American People; he caved to Reid because Reid stuck a pacifier in his mouth and got him to suck up his pride and political posturing long enough to see reason.

In two months, we'll be having this same discussion, so please revert to this post at that time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Privilege Not a Right

With the job situation so rough in America right now, there's a lot of discussion going on about jobs. Just about everyone agrees that we need more jobs here, but people are not discussing what value a job really is. Considering that the majority of jobs being added to the economy pay less than the average jobs they are replacing. And consider that many of the jobs being added are positions that pay based on speed, not skill.

As this article points out, the idea of the American Job is changing. It is no longer something people feel is their right, but is turning into a privilege. And when something is a privilege, it is not something people expect or demand, but are simply thankful to have. If that's the mentality, as the article shows, workers are willing to put up with much more for much less.

It  used to be that a job was something that the American People demanded. It used to be a badge of honor to have a good-paying job, especially in the blue-collar world. Now, those jobs are becoming so scarce that to have one makes people feel as though they are somehow beholden to their employers, when it used to be the employers that were beholden to the employees.

When you make a job a privilege, you take away any sense that it is a right, and people stop fighting for it, but are simply thankful for what they have. What happens when they no longer have to give a minimum wage, or when everything is production based? Read the article. Look at what happened in that one setting when pay was based on how quickly you worked. And forget about demanding better pay or treatement because there's somebody else who will do the work without complaint.

The American worker is being consistently devalued in their own country. Jobs are moved overseas, or come with fewer benefits and less security. They come to the few, and those few are left at the mercy of their employers, who know they now have more control over their workers than ever, because they are less likely to rock the boat when they know they're lucky to have a job to begin with.

In this environment, coupled with low economic demand and increased automation technology, employers have every incentive not to hire and to keep unemployment high. As long as they meet the present demand, there's no difference.

So how do we change that? How do we revert back to the frame of mind that says a job is not a luxury and should not be treated like a gift? I'm not sure of the answer. Any suggestions?

2011 memories

This Modern World is a great comic, and every year, the artist comes out with a yearly review of events. This is part one for the year 2011.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Monetary Policy

Paul Krugman's latest article is a dig at Ron Paul and his economic policies. This is one area that I don't know much about, and so parts of this article went over my head. But, the premise is hard to miss: that the GOP has adopted an economic view similar to Pauls, that they have claimed the expanded monetary base would lead to inflation, and that they have stuck to this view even in the absence of evidence to support them. In fact, the opposite has happened, but they continue to say that we are on the cusp of inflation, on the edge of depression, and on the point of financial ruin.

The interesting this is that none of this has come to pass. Krugman points out that, despite all these warnings, nothing that was predicted has happened.

What bothers me most about what Krugman says is the observation that this is a pervasive mentality across the GOP. It is held onto despite evidence to the contrary and continues to do so. Not only is this a bad way to believe in anything, but it directly jeopardizes economic recovery because it makes the GOP resolute in their opposition to promoting these policies.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy BOR Day!

It may not be a holiday that is written on your calendar, but today marks the day that the Bill or Rights was ratified by the first United States Congress. It's ironic that we would see the passage of a bill in today's Congress that completely disregards this famous legislation, but it is worth noting what rights we have and how we got them.

The Bill of Rights was well ahead of its time when it was ratified, and is still considered one of the most humanistic pieces of legislation. Considering the conditions in many other parts of the world, it seems amazing that a group of people could come together and craft a set of laws that protected people's rights so completely that they have only been revised a few times in the years since its adoption.

Of course, there are those who believe that our society and government are meant to function on the bare bones of the original law. I find this position ridiculous because it flies in the face of the way our laws were laid down, and the very actions of our founders. Those who believe this today say that our executive and legislative branches are only supposed to operate in the strict limits set forth in the constitution and bill of rights, but neglect to point out that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson presided over a government that expanded its power beyond those confines. Furthermore, it neglects to point out the system of lawmaking, and how the legislature was designed to grant itself powers over time. If the founders did not want this to happen, why include a mechanism to do it?

Our government is meant to be a group that thrives on change, that uses the bill or rights and constitution as models for its growth and progress. We live in an age our forefathers could not have imagined, and it is ridiculous to believe that their solutions will work today.

So, Happy Bill Of Rights Day! Remember that you have rights to be protected, that cannot be taken, and that we stand on the cusp of a battle to retain those rights. We are close to losing fundamental parts of our liberties that make us citizens and make our country great. We cannot sacrifice freedom for security, because we will end up safe from foreign enemies but victims of enemies domestic. We cannot sell the soul of our country to protect its body, nor can we allow our own protections to be taken to protect us.

Remember, remember, remember that we are the ones who are meant to have the power, and that government is our servant.

Stupid Reasons

The New Internet

The SOPA bill is working its way through Congress with little fanfair. Most people have not even heard of it. Yet its implications are similar to those of the recent bill that allows the government to indefinitely detain American citizens without respecting constitutional rights.

We in America have great freedom of information, whether its streaming movies, music, television shows, or reading news, following sports, etc. We all stream information in some way through the internet. For the most part, we have to trust websites to go through legal avenues to bring us this information. It is up to a website to agree to and respect copyrights and trademarks. But with this new bill, there is a new level of power that companies will have to control web content. And this goes beyond protecting their own brand. It can be used to stop small businesses from being able to start their own websites.

How? Well, the language of the law is very vague and open to interpretation. It has been argued that, giving private businesses the power to censor the internet for copyright protection will inevitably lead to them using that power to stifle competitors. If you recall, there was another bill not too long ago that would have allowed ISPs to reduce connection speeds or block access to certain sites at their discretion. It was argued in that instance that such an act would lead ISPs to blocking access to sites that related to their competitors. It would be the equivalent of a GPS made by Toyota that steers you away from car lots that sell Fords. Why should you trust one company to let you have free access to their competitor if they can choose to stop you?

The concern is the same with SOPA. There is nothing in the bill that would limit the use of this power: no hearings, no justification, no legal oversight, nothing. A company can simply go out there, find a website, and shut it down. It doesn't matter if that website infringed on their trademark or not, they can still target them. Imagine if I wrote a blog post about how much I hate Pepsi. What stops Pepsi from blocking my website? Nothing.

There is already technology devoted to shaping people's online appeal. There are companies that advertise how they can alter how you look online by suppressing negative reviews and bolstering positive ones. If this can be done now, imagine what SOPA could do. Instead of simply suppressing bad reviews, the company can completely censor them.

We in America have freedom of Speech, and until now the Internet has been a safe haven for that. But with things like SOPA being debated in Washington, it may not be a free exchange of ideas for much longer. I don't believe in piracy of copyrighted content, but censoring everyone to stop a few makes no sense, and infringes on our liberties.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Self-Regulation is Self-Destruction

We hear a lot about how regulations destroy jobs and ruin the profits of business. We hear how they take away our freedoms and make us slaves to the state. Well, there is another side to regulations, the good side, and this is the perfect example of why we need common sense, not overbearing, regulations.

MF Global is the new poster child for financial mismanagement, having somehow lost some $1 billion in customer assets. The problem, as stated in the article, is that regulators pulled back their oversight and gave MFG more freedom to control its own lending practices.

To describe how insane this is, imagine telling a drug addict that you are going to scale back your supervision of them while they continue to have access to their drug of choice, and say that you are going to trust that they can contain themselves. Would anyone be surprised if the drug addict took advantage of that?

So, when we have companies that are profit-junkies, and only care about the dollars rolling into their private pockets, why would anyone think that such groups could self-regulate? It makes no sense.

I know that most Republicans don't want to get rid of all regulations. I know that most just want to simplify the system. I agree with that completely. But there is a group that wants to de-regulate everything, and let the markets and the private sector work themselves out. To me, that is insane.

So, regulation and oversight are good to a degree, and can be helpful. Lessons learned from groups like MFG should stick with us and continue to change our attitude about the government's role in the markets.

And the Person of the Year is...

The Protester!

That's right. Time Magazine announced their person of the year and, as in the past, they bestowed that honor on a group (they've also bestowed it on "you" and "the earth" before). It's a great point for Time to do this because it shows just how in touch some people are.

Now, you may not agree with the OWS movement, but you have to realize that it is just one of the groups being praised. There have been unheard of demonstrations all over the world this past year, and those demonstrations have inspired each other and effected great change worldwide. Now, some people, not naming names, are not happy with this decision by Time. But like Time's decisions in the past, this is not a condoning of protesters, but an acknowledgment of their influence and popularity.

We have seen a very interesting year, and there's been a lot of changes happening both domestically and overseas. A lot of that has to do with these protesters and the uprisings and social statements they've been making. Whether you agree with them or not, you have to admit that they have had a major impact globally, and continue to do so.

So here's to the protesters. Thank you for standing up against corruption, and claiming the equality and voice that we all deserve.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Double Standard

The GOP has been trying to push legislation like crazy over the last few weeks. Most of it has been under the guise of trimming the deficit and getting us out of economic instability. But the ulterior motive of this legislation has been lost on no one, and is clear in the bills being presented.

One bill by the GOP would extend unemployment benefits, but slash the amount that the unemployed receive, making for a net reduction in the cost of supporting the unemployed. Not only that, but the bill would authorize all of the unemployed to be drug tested. It's one last little "fuck you" from the government: We're going to give you benefits for a longer period of time, but they're going to be much less, and now you have to be screened for drugs on a regular basis. Welcome to the United States.

The tragedy of this is that the demonizing of the unemployed is coming at a time when we have more of them in our country than we have in a long time. We are still hovering around 8.6% unemployment, and that doesn't count those who've stopped looking. How can you tell those people that you are not only going to cut their support, but also force them to be screened for drugs? And what is that supposed to accomplish anyway. There's no statistic that says the unemployed are more prevalent drug-users.

The problem with these bills is that they accomplish nothing, and wouldn't even if they passed Congress. Cutting unemployment benefits doesn't entice people to find a job, and won't spark any hiring. When you have GOPers saying that hard workers don't stay at minimum wage for long, and a group saying that the unemployed are parasites that don't want to work, it's clear that there is a serious disconnect between reality and Republican leaders.

The double standard here is that, when Republicans running for office get up in front of hundreds of supporters, many of whom are unemployed, they change their tune. They become defenders of the unemployed, champions of the working class, protectors of the American worker. It's hilarious that they can say that they feel the pain of the unemployed. How do they do this? They say that it's the "other unemployed", the ones not in the room, that are the problem. It's the "other unemployed" that don't want a job that are setting a bad example, and it's those guys they are targeting. But if that's the case, why not change the lettering of the law? Why not state that a recipient of unemployment benefits must show they are seeking a job in order to receive all their money. If they can't prove that they're looking, they only receive a portion? Wouldn't that get rid of the "parasites" that don't want to work? But then, you have to contend with the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and those who can't work. How do you help them?

We the Invented People

It's been rehashed so many times by now, but news today is a bit skimpy on anything else that's new and exciting, so here are my thoughts on Gingrich calling the Palestinians an "Invented People."

Gingrich went off on Palestine, calling them an "invented people", one whose sovereignty has been created on paper, but who have no historical land to call theirs and who have more or less been cobbled together from refugee groups. It's interesting that Gingrich would say this in defense of Israel, since Israel itself is an invented state. It was not a country until the 1920's. And what about the old Ottoman Empire areas that became countries. Are those invented?

And what about the United States? The vast majority of Americans are not indigenous to America, so aren't we also an invented people? Gingrich would of course say that we are not, but why? We fall in the same category, if we go by his description. I think Gingrich is missing the point. Nationality is not what makes a People. After all, we talk about the Jewish Community, the Muslim Community, and the Christian Community. What makes a People is not their country but their society.

This all brings up another point for me; why is it that America will defend Israel in absolutely everything? Why do we not condemn them for their bullying of the Palestinians (whether they're a legitimate people or not, they are still people, are they not?).  Why is it that we are so strongly tied to Israel, a nation that continually backstabs its neighbors in treaties, is the source of a large amount of oppression, and is generally not very nice? I don't know a lot of the history, but I know that you can't speak out against the nation of Israel without being burned politically. Why?

And what about that other group of invented people: corporations? According to the Supreme Court, Corporations are people. And since a corporation literally has to be licensed and "invented", aren't they more of an invented people than Palestine? Now, here's another point. How is it that, between Israel (invented in the last century) and Corporations (granted legal personhood in the last century), America will bend over backwards and route out other "invented people"? It boggles the mind.

Whether Gingrich meant what he said, or whether he didn't, it's still an interesting concept to consider. I'm sure that even if Gingrich goes back on this, it's clear that the thought entered his mind at one point, and that means other people think this way, too. So the question is, what makes a people not  invented?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Electoral Slide

While Gingrich has been soaring in the polls recently, he's been taking a lot of attacks from all sides about his record, his character, his policies, his head, and his general intellect. But some of the criticism coming his way has had a very interesting tone to it. This, for example, from Glenn Beck not only shows you how far the mainstream conservative mind has gone, but how radically wrong Beck has been in the past.

Let's ignore the whole thing about racism in the Tea Party, shall we? That part is pretty self-explanatory. What I want to draw your attention to is this little tidbit:

"'You read this guy's record,' he said. 'You read his words...see what he believes. This man is a progressive. He knows he's a progressive. He doesn't have a problem with being a progressive.'"

Okay. That little quote from Glenn is the perfect example of Beck's premise in his book The Overton Window. I know I'm giving a plug for this, but you should at least read the summary flap. It's very interesting. The only thing is, Beck had it backwards, as he usually does. We are not in a constant shift to the Left, we're in a constant shift to the Right.

How do I know this? Because Gingrich was the conservative speaker of the house under Clinton. He was considered a conservative by mid-90's standards. Now, in less than 20 years, he's become a progressive without ever changing a philosophy. If anything, he's become more conservative to stay viable to the base. Yet despite this, Beck is now saying he's a progressive. Whether or not this is accurate is irrelevent. Beck has set the bar, and now things will shift to encompass it.

And I'm not saying that Beck has that much power on his own. That's why I present this as further proof. You see, Gingrich is the punching bag of the Right. What I've noticed is that these super-conservatives always latch on to the most extreme candidates (Santorum, Bachmann, and Cain in his time were and are favorites in this crowd). This does two things. First, it pushes the listeners of these people toward more conservative candidates. Second, it sets them up to be able to berate the system when their preferred candidate is not elected. It's like what would happen if all the third party candidates entered on the democratic side and debated each other. Extremists would go for their particular brand of leftist crazy, even though they have no shot of winning, and then decry the system when their candidate gets less than 1% of the vote.

This criticism of "the system" then perpetuates into an even more conservative view. It just goes on and on, the ball keeps on rolling downhill. Meanwhile, those at the top who've stood still and watched this suddenly find ourselves being labeled "extremists" becasue we held the same position while the other side got more insane.

The idea that Gingrich of all people is being called a progressive should be laughable, but here we are seeing that happen now. Pretty soon, We'll be talking about how Rick Perry is a centrist, Ron Paul is a Blue Dog Democrat, and Michelle Bachmann is a moderate. Can you imagine what a conservative candidate would look like in comparison?

Depression waxes, Democracy wanes

Paul Krugman sets a grim picture of Europe in this op-ed, and it doesn't help that he's not even talking about the economy. Krugman's point in this piece is that, when the recession and depression get worse, democracy itself starts to dissolve. He makes a few great points, mostly in regards to increased pushes of austerity measures, the rise of fringe political parties into the mainstream, and the takeover of extremists in positions of power, and how these moves have made the continuation of democracy a tenuous goal.

While Krugman is focused primarily on Europe's concerns with democracy, we can take some lessons from this as well. In a depression, there are those who would use this financial crisis to disintegrate our democracy. Whether this threat comes from the Left or the Right is irrelevent. It's there. Consider the legislation that has nothing to do with our economy, but has sailed through Congress recently: the ability for the federal government to detain American Citizens indefinitely without charge, representation, or time limit. It flies in the face of our Constitution, but our lawmakers don't question this. They simply pass it without any real discussion.

And consider the pushes that we are seeing nationwide to limit access to voting, redistrict our states to favor one party over another, limit women's access to their legal right to an abortion, and the ongoing gay marriage debate. All of these issues have a few things in common. First, they all seemed to be stewing in some form for a couple years, but have since erupted into political prominence. Second, none of them have a thing to do with our economy, but are being hotly debated across the nation anyway. Third, they are being pushed by conservatives. It's as if all these plans were formed years ago, and they have been waiting for a good, stiff recession to pass them all under the radar.

Krugman points out that this is not random, but an issue that feeds off of unrest in our society, and hardly anything creates unrest like prolonged economic hardship. As the depression continues, so does this attack on our democracy. We have seen so much gutting of our basic rights that it is hard to distinguish what was once ours and what never was. Continuing to let these policies, and the groups that promote them, dictate the conversation will bring an end to the democracy we have cherished in America for over two hundred years. It will be the end of democracy in any definition.

Does this seem bleak? Does it seem far-fetched? Maybe it is. But consider what's happening in Europe. Consider what's happening here. Whether the corporate interests control us or the government itself makes no difference. It's all the same. We as Americans have to stand against the rich and powerful, have to defend our rights and keep our freedoms for ourselves. Extremist views, both Left and Right, have no place in public discourse because they reject discourse as appeasment. This is not an apocalyptic view, it is clear that this is a very real possibility. Consider the positions taken by many of the GOP candidates for president. Stopping a bill that gives millions of people affordable health coverage? Cutting the EPA, FDA, and departments of Education and Energy among others? War-mongering? Further de-regulation of the markets? Tax cuts for the wealthy and businesses? Bans on gay marriage and abortion? Disrupting the system of checks and balances in order to limit the power of the Supreme Court? How are these positions promoting our liberties and democracy? I don't see it. Unless their position is that democracy means fending for yourself, then I don't get it.

We have to hold on to our Democracy, even if it means we have to challenge our own institutions. Our rights are being taken away all the time, and we have to get them back before we forget we ever had them.

Change over Time

A wonderful article written by Jim Wright on the Stonekettle Station blog. He discusses how his views have not changed in decades, but he is now considered a liberal when he used to be a conservative.

It's an interesting phenomenon, and one that people on both sides of the aisle have discussed. Glenn Beck even wrote a book on the topic (The Overton Window). While Beck's perspective was that the overall movement was to the extreme left, Jim points out that it seems to be shifting the other way.

Read the article. It's not that long. He makes some great points about how his opinions are now considered liberal when they used to be conservative. It's not that he's changed, but that the world has changed.

And things change all the time. Look at Gingrich, who recently called child labor laws "stupid." Such a thing would have been unheard of a decade or two ago, but now people celebrate that view. Science is no longer revered but reviled by the conservatives who maintain their position on the right of the spectrum. Evolution, pollution, global warming, overpopulation, resource disparities, all of the evidence to support these ideas is dismissed by the ardent conservative of today, even if it was embraced by the likes of Ronald Reagan, their patron saint.

And social issues are the same thing. It wasn't too long ago that the compromise between the Left and Right over abortion was that federal dollars could not be used to fund it. Now, that's not good enough. We have folks who say it needs to be made completely illegal, that it's their way or no way (which also happens to be their way), and we all need to give them what they want because they are right. Well, somewhere along the line, the mainstream conservatives forgot about moral relativism, that there are no absolutes, and thus can be no legislation. They forgot that not everyone is straight, Christian, white, and rich.

Time changes things, and it will take time to remedy these failings of the Right. I have no doubt that they can come back to the realm of sanity, but it's too soon for them. They are still marching in the wrong direction with their eyes closed to the destination, oblivious to reason, their own hypocrisy, and even law. We can change them, but we have to help them take the blinders off first, and teach them that America is a place where everything comes together, not as one, but in a unified coalition.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Turning the Tables

Election years are always the best time for political theater. There's the theater of politicians constantly charging how they are the only ones with a sterling record while their opponent is little better than a sleazeball. You've got pundits kicking juicy soundbites left and right, claiming ridiculous promises and life experiences to gain votes. And you've got the debates.

Now one of my favorite things about campaigns is watching politicians squirm as they try to come up with excuses for their new positions and opinions. The rise of the internet and its elephantine memory of every single bit of useless information is wonderful for backing politicians into corners. While it's helpful to remember that most of us change our minds on things over the course of a few decades and in response to the times, it's interesting that politicians see this as bad. Why should they?

apparently, believing in tax cuts before tax cuts were cool, or believing that single payer was bad before it was even thought of in law, is a good thing. Why is it that being completely committed to one point of view on everything good, especially when it leads you to reject new information or changes in circumstances? I would much rather have a politician who responds to the times than one who tries to make their views fit every situation.

But that's not what passes for a politician these days. In fact, it's demonized by quite a few people. Why should we hold politicians to a higher standard than the average American? Aren't they supposed to be representatives that reflect ourselves?

Consumption Tax: Pros and Cons

A recent three-part article by Robert Frank detailed his views on the income gap, why it's widening, and what we can do to stop it. To read the whole article, start with Part 1 and Part 2. Part the third deals almost exclusively with Frank's #1 solution to the problem of wealth inequality: a consumption tax.

Consumption tax is a tax on any money spent on goods or services. The basic formula is to take your yearly income and subtract your saving and investments. Anything left over, whatever you spent on consumables, is what is taxed. The consumption tax is inherently progressive because those who spend more pay more, and those who spend more tend to be the ones that have more to spend (i.e. the rich). It's an idea that has a kind of cult following, and there are many who believe it would be the best way to correct some of the major problems facing our current economic system. But like any system, it has some serious shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Pros: First of all, consumption tax would be completely progressive. Those who spend more, such as on nice cars, expanding their houses, purchasing expensive food or clothes, and so on would pay much higher taxes. The idea is that a consumption tax would prompt more fiscal restraint, more re-investment of funds (which is non-taxable), and therefore stimulate the economy. Secondly, a consumption tax would encourage more saving and investment. It would be in people's best interest to hoard their money in savings accounts and IRA's, keeping it out of the government's hands. Third, a consumption tax would get everyone on the rolls, since everyone consumes something throughout the year. No more nonsense about the poor not paying their fair share, right conservatives?

Cons: Well, the problem is that, while in absolute dollars the consumption tax hits the wealthy more, in relative terms it will swallow every cent of the poor's money. Why? Because the poorest Americans save nothing on average, being forced to spend every cent they make to survive. It's this fact that keeps them from having to pay taxes, and this fact that would make a consumption tax on them equal to 100% of their income. Secondly, a pure consumption tax makes no allowances for things like medical expenses and other emergent expenditures. For example, a person may spend more than a year's salary fighting cancer, relying on saving. The costs for things such as medical procedures would double. While insurance may be able to absorb some of that, it's a good bet that premiums would double as a result, in order to make up for the tax. Third, the consumption tax would increase the cost of everything, since you are taxed at a percentage of the value of the good or service you are buying. While sales tax does this, it is assumed that a consumption tax woudl do it to a greater extent.

Conclusion: There are some very serious concerns with instating a consumption tax, but I feel that many of thsoe could be overcome with exemptions. For example, the first, say, $25K of any person's consumption could be exempt from the consumption tax. This would make sure that those who are in poverty still don't have to pay tax to the government that could make a major impact. Also, there could be exemptions for things like insurance co-payments for emergency procedures and prescriptions. That way, the consumption tax would primarily be targeting luxury items and essentials, which is the whole point of the consumption tax. While I don't think that a consumption tax is a good idea when you have high unemployment, putting it in place when unemployment drops may help to balance out the income inequality somewhat, as long as it is implemented correctly.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The logic of Class War



It's amazing that we are witnessing a crumbling infrastructure, the dismantling of the social safety net, the dumbing-down of education, the end of services for the needy, and we still have to debate whether we should raise taxes on millionaires or not. In theory, a millionaire could create jobs. In theory, I could create jobs. The reason I don't is because I can't afford to. The reason the rich don't is because they have no incentive to. We need to increase demand and get people back to spending. To do that, they need support so they don't flush away all their money on things that were once covered by the government. To do that, we have to raise taxes on the wealthy. They can afford it, and they're not using their money to create jobs anyway, so what's the difference?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When Ronny says you're wrong

It has long been the habit of the GOP to equate themselves and their policies to Ronald Reagan. Reagan is heralded on the Right as the greatest conservative President of all time. "He cut taxes and stimulated the economy!" they say. "He slashed the size of government and we had an economic boom!" Unfortunately, neither of these assertions are true, and the Dems have shown a stronger adherence to Ron's policies than the new GOP.

Let's start by pointing out that Ronald Reagan cut taxes, but then raised them 11 times because of the recession he faced. He didn't just let deficits sit, but acted to pay them off. He raised capital gains, raised income, and raised estate taxes. It's true that Reagan cut the size of the government in some places, but he ballooned it in others, and the cuts he did make caused some serious problems. It was pretty clear that his small-government policies didn't actually do anything for the economy, but his tax policy did.

Today, Reagan is deified, and there is no conservative in office that doesn't fawn over him. In a recent debate, the question was posed like this to conservatives: "Aside from Ronald Reagan, who do you believe is the best President of America?" That pretty much sums up the mentality of the Right.

So what do the people of the Reagan administration think of the policies of the neo-cons? They don't seem to like them all that much. This article, written by a member of Reagan's administration, is a great example of how the Right has become incredibly conservative over the years, to the point where their own patron saint of conservatism would have balked at their policies and been labeled a socialist. It provides strong evidence for the conservative shift of politics in America in recent years/decades, and how the modern GOP is beyond the extreme of their predecessors.

The article points specifically to the GOP failing to support a bill that prolongs the tax cut on middle-class Americans that pays for it by adding a small surtax on millionaires. The argument by the GOP was that such a tax would effect job creation for small businesses, but the original bill had a special exemption for small businesses. They would get a similar tax cut to middle Americans on payrolls for new hires, a way to encourage job growth. In other words, the GOP stopped a bill that would have lowered taxes, and created jobs, to stand on the third leg of their mantra, which is to protect the interests of big business and the wealthy. If the roles had been reversed and the GOP had put forth this bill and the Dems had stopped it, we'd never hear the end of it. As it is, the GOP is trying to explain away their argument, and doing a very poor job of it at the moment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Powers that Be

President Obama gave a speech today in Osawatomie, KS. That speech mostly had to do with the growing inequality between the rich and the poor, the shrinking middle class, and the threat such inequality poses to the American Dream of personal achievement.

While the President didn't come right out and say this, the premise of his speech is that we are at a teetering point in this country. It's been a long time coming, and some might argue that we're not quite there yet, but the fact is we are facing or will face a defining moment in the near future. This is not just a slogan for this election being recycled from an old election. This is the truth. The wealth gap in America today is wider than ever. We have new evidence today that the main culprits of the financial crisis will be getting off scot-free while the rest of us are in danger of being thrown out of our homes or jailed because we are speaking out. There is a serious imbalance of power, privilege, wealth, and even freedom. Depending on what sources you find and who you listen to, the cause of this is very different. Some say it is corporate elitists, others that its liberals or conservatives or anarchists. The fact is, however, that we are approaching a point where great change is going to occur. The only questions are, who will effect that change, and what will the result be.

I honestly believe that the majority of our representatives on both sides of the aisle are having strings pulled for this kind of gridlock and debate we are seeing. I believe that the corporate powers are directly influencing many in Congress to push towards a plutocracy where the rich are deified and the poor are demonized. I believe that, if we elect a Republican to office in the next term and allow them to pass their expressed plans into law, that we will see the wholesale destruction of our American way of life.

Why do I believe this? Because the only thing that has ever been done for the poor in America is the social safety net. Those programs are the only thing that keep millions of people fed, clothed, clean, and healthy. Though they work hard, arguably harder than anyone else, their efforts are in vain because of the system of upward wealth mobility. Money and power constantly condenses at the top, leaving less at the bottom. There is no exchange here, no conscious decision to give up wealth and representation. It is simply a matter of course in our society today. The policies outlined by those on the Republican side are intended to dismantle this safety net, to cripple government representation and protection for millions of Americans, to give more power and privilege to the wealthy. The poor have been given little over the years, including little incentive to better themselves. Saying that you must let them fall to teach them to fly is poor logic if they were never built to fly in the first place.

I honestly believe that the ultimate result of a conservative plan at this point would be the creation of a permanent under-class in America. A class for whom education is out of reach, health care is too expensive, luxuries are dreams, and work for the minimum wage is the only thing they receive. I honestly believe this because it is the logical conclusion to the ideas put forth by conservatives over the past decade. NCLB condenses the best students with the most resources into privately owned for-profit schools while the lowest-performing students are herded into public classrooms and given fewer resources to work with. The disparity in education will inevitably lead to the complete privatization of our education system, at which point, education will become a commodity and a luxury that not everyone can afford.

I honestly believe that the middle class will disappear within ten years and will become a part of the lower-working classes. I believe that business owners will rely more and more on cheaper labor and will no longer provide high-paying jobs. I believe that many companies will begin to change their nature (indeed already have) so that they no longer have to rely on demand or supply as is needed now, but will survive solely on governemt subsidy. That subsidy would come from the lower classes, who would be taxed "fairly", that is at the same rate as those who make hundreds or even thousands of times more money than they do. I believe that companies will soon no longer produce anything intended for the poor, allowing them to simply wallow in their degredation.

I know this is a bleak picture. I know that some of these things may never happen. But I see them as the ultimate conclusion of these policies as clearly as I see the words I write here. I see that we are headed toward great change, and whether that change will result in power shifting to the hands of the few or the many, it is coming just the same. I know many believe differently, believe we are on the cusp of complete governmental control of our lives. To be honest, that is a scary scenario as well. It could be the case that the government is on the brink of taking over the private sector, is swallowing up businesses and private industry alike. It might be the case that regulations are forms of control and that they are how the government will force us all to be exactly the same. I can see where people get these ideas, and I see that they are scary. But I also see how the things that spark these ideas are consistently dismantled. Regulations are constantly being cut. the laws that govern Washington are constantly being questioned. More and more power is being given to the private sector, and there is no backpedaling it. The government is in a constant state of flux, its powers and presiders always changing, but the slow, steady granting of power to corporations and special interests is constant, unrestrained, and unstoppable at this point.

The powers that be are the powers that bind us all. When one American is held captive by the system, we are all held captive. When one is exploited, we're all exploited. We are in this together, and it is only by sharing the burden and the reward that we will have a strong, united populace once more. Evidence abounds of the importance of the middle class to the economy, not job creators. We must foster the development of that which makes us unique: people who live in the middle. We can, we must, and we will do this.

Standing up for Progressivism

Tammy Baldwin, a Rep from Wisconsin, had some choice words for Progressivism at the Nation Institute's Annual Dinner. As the article points out in the beginning, a pervasive mentality has been to go more neutral and try and keep your opponents from labeling you a liberal. Apparently, "liberal" is a bad thing while "conservative" is good nowadays. But Baldwin steps up to the plate and knocks this one out of the park, raising the hopes of people like me that the days of the punching-bag progressive are coming to an end.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Dems were the party of progressive thought, moderation, debate, and compromise. The GOP would listen and would engage in helpful discussion on topics, and a resolution would be reached. Such camaraderie among lawmakers has since disappeared. The GOP has learned to strong-arm Liberals while the conservative media has been attacking those progressives who stand up to the will of the conservative party. This constant deluge of criticism has crippled the Democratic Party, which has the annoying weakness of wanting people to like them to the point of selling themselves out for a "thank you."

Today's democratic party has very little willingness to stand on its principles, and seldom do. They negotiate on their bills to the point where they become irrelevant, and then get attacked for producing bills that make no difference. Today's democratic party simply gives in to the demands of the Right because it's the only way they think they can survive the onslaught of endless criticism from places like Fox News. They have to debate with a group of people who refuse to accept their opinion and who is not interested in compromise. The Dems have given up trying to debate in many cases, and just give in.

But with Baldwin's statements, it's clear that at least some of the fire is being rekindled in the Progressive movement. Far from dead, it seems, the progressives are moving against the cons again. The most recent tax cut extension debate in Washington is a great case in point. The Dems have very nicely backed the Cons into a corner where they have to either go back on their promise to never raise taxes, or they have to admit that they are puppets for the rich. It's great.

And Baldwin's sentiments are great because they show that progressivism is not anti-American; in fact it's decidedly pro-American. It is a philosophy that champions the middle class and small business, instills a sense of duty and service in the wealthy, and promotes the idea that we must work together for common prosperity or we will fall apart. Progressivism is not Communism, Socialism, Marxism, Anarchy, or a government takeover. It does not fly in the face of American values. The smear campaign against Progressivism has been widespread and successful in recent years, but it doesn't change the fact that Progressivism stands on better principles than Regressivism or even Free Market Capitalism.

The one thing that Progressivism does not do is usher in pure Free Market (not that we have it now, any way). Instead, it creates a system where common-sense regulations are kept in place, the consumer is protected, the poor are given the ability to become parts of the economic system, the rich maintain their wealth and class, the middle class is vibrant, and competition between companies is done in a style that is more indicative of a cage match than a war.

Baldwin and her comments strike to the heart of Progressivism and revatilize this dying philosophy. It is not discounted yet, but could be if we don't demand its preservation. Like any theory, it does not answer all questions and has its own problems. But that is why balance is so important. Conservatism has ballooned out of control, lost its moorings and its direction, and become a weapon of the rich against the rest of us. Either conservatives must come back from the brink they are flirting with, or progressivism must become strong enough to pull them back.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Couldn't Resist

Photo detail


Every time I see this, I start singing the song in my head. Genius.

Gingrich is the latest guy to jump in the polls, but the question is how long will he last? Will he be able to resist the embarrassing soundbites and debate-night flubs that have done in other candidates? Perhaps. But Gingrich has already made some questionable remarks, most recently about child labor and how we should get rid of child labor laws. I don't doubt that Gingrich felt he was coming from a warm, fuzzy place in his heart of hearts, but he seems to have failed to notice the bigotry, discrimination, immorality, and general nastiness of his comments. Gingrich may well be able to save himself from himself, but the real question is whether he will be able to inspire super-conservative base-voters who want a genetic duplication of Reagan? Time will tell.

Red Puppets

It's pretty rich of the Fox News crowd to complain about puppets that are teaching our children extremist views. But that's what a couple of guys over on Fox Business's show "Follow the Money" discussed without a hint of irony last week.

The muppets are about as communist as the characters of Sesame Street. To be fair, though, that has been a target of controversy-prone groups in the past as well. But the idea that the muppets are "indoctrinating" children is laughable. First of all, indoctrination is the word that people use for education by someone who does not share their views. Glenn Beck indoctrinates kids with his "Liberty Treehouse" show. School teacher indoctrinate kids when they teach them math and reading skills. Parents indoctrinate kids when they tell them not to stick their finger in the power outlet. The other issue with the idea of "indoctrination" is that the very use of that word completely discredits the group being labeled and disregards completely their point of view and opinion. Having an alternative point of view is demonized, is seen as an oppressive weapon against unassuming and innocent children. When that's the view that is promoted by the use of the word "indoctrination" it completely negates any hope of reconciliation or discussion.

So, no, the muppets are not communist. Just like Obama is not an anti-American Socialist Muslim, Glenn Beck is not sane, Rush Limbaugh is not compassionate, Fox is not fair and balanced, and "indoctrination" is not a problem in our country. It's all about your perspective.

Liberty and/or Death




Here's an interesting thought. We constantly hear from Republicans that people are generally responsible for their own fortune or failure. Cain became notorious for saying "if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself." Gingrich's comments about child labor are somewhat more overt, but generally make the same claim: that a person is responsible for their own station, and can move up in the world if they have the motivation. I don't know where Republicans got the idea that the poor could all be rich if they wanted (and believe me, most of them probably want to be), but it's a slap in the face to all those who actually have to work for a living, and work hard.

But my question is this. If we are supposed to be responsible for our own station, even if it was brought about by things beyond our control, then why do we have an insurance industry? Let's say that you get in a car accident. By the conservative logic it's your own fault because you are responsible for everything, even the other guy who ran the red light and hit you. Now, if that's the case, and you have to own the consequences of that situation, then why should you get an insurance claim? It seems to go against the Republican philosophy, doesn't it? Maybe it just goes against the super-conservative philosophy.

So, the choice is, either we have ultimate freedom and ultimate responsibility over what happens to us, in which case we can be forever abused and defrauded by the system and take all the blame for it, or we must resign that we are not always responsible for how things turn out. I went to school, have a job that allows me to pay my bills, and I live fairly well. If I get sick, or my car is stolen, or some other tragedy strikes, am I ultimately responsible for that? I don't think so. It's like saying that rape victims are responsible for their own rape, and that it was their bad decisions that led to that. People are responsible for their own decisions, not the decisions of others, and certainly not for things they have no control over.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The way of the Republican

Republicans have been fighting regulation for a long time, and their most recent push is no different. What is different is how the GOP is going about trying to get rid of regulations. Instead of going after the things that keep our food, goods, services, and workers safe and healthy and our environment clean, they are instead looking to make the process much harder on the government. The party that constantly talks about the ineffective and slow progress in Washington wants to slow down the process of regulations. They want to add red tape to the system that they say is too full of red tape to begin with.

What interests me about this is that the Republican argument against regulation makes very little sense, yet people agree with them all the time. First, Republicans say that regulations cause undue financial burden to companies who have to meet these standards. They're required to buy more expensive paint that is not lead-based, or use meat that meets minimum standards of freshness. The GOP says that if you cut regulations, businesses will be freed up to cut the costs of their production, thereby delivering cheaper goods. What that tells me is that businesses will choose to adopt goods and/or services that are more harmful to consumers to make more money.

The response I've gotten to this is that the free market, fully free from government oversight, would deal with that. A company would not use lead-based paint if their competitor didn't so that they could be competitive. But then my question is, what's the problem with regulations? If the companies would do it themselves anyway, what's the difference?

And no one knows what the ultimate costs to Americans will be if health and safety regulations are completely gutted. Companies who directly cause health problems for their customers would not be held liable because, like everything else, that is something that is covered under safety regulations and would likely be dismantled. Consumer protections would go out the window. The mantra would be "let the buyer beware." In short, we would have a catastrophic move back to the 1900's, complete with the cut in life expectancy and the increase in dangerous products.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

70%

An interesting and short discussion of one way to look at taxation. The argument is that we should base taxation of the wealthy, not on how it affects the happiness of those taxed, but how that tax rate will benefit the rest of society. Based on this model, the top tax rate is theorized to be at a premium around 70%.

That may sound high to us today, but consider the rate in relation to historical top tax rates. The highest we've ever had in this country is 90%.  With all of that money, we built America into a powerhouse of industry, a cutting edge nation in technology, and still had money left over the build the infrastructure that is now crumbling. So, 70% isn't the highest it's ever been. But even more important, and as the article points out, the reason we feel that the rate should be so low has a lot to do with our perception of the wealthy.

We tend to revere and feel a strong attachment to others, especially those we admire. The more postively we view someone, the more we sympathize with them. We also have a tendency to reject the idea that those who work hard should have to give up their money. But here's the thing: the wealthy don't necessarily work harder than the poor. How many wealthy individuals work three jobs? How many put in 80 hours a week, or work nights and weekends? How many have to go into work when their sick because not doing so will cause too great a hit to their paycheck? No, the wealthy don't work nearly as hard as the poor. This is not true for all of them of course, but I honestly believe that most do not work nearly that hard.

So, raising the top tax rate to 70% may sound ridiculous at first, but consider what we could do with that money. We could fix our infrastructure, fully fund eduction, medicaid, medicare, stop funneling money from SS, stop deficit spending, beef up our R&D, and pay off our debt to foreign powers. That's a lot of good for some sacrifice. And bear in mind, this tax rate would apply to the wealthiest individuals. They may be paying 70% in tax, but that's still leaving them with thousands of times more money than the majority of Americans to live on.

Occupy Hearts and Minds

With the recent wave of crackdowns on OWS demonstrations across the country, the movement is starting to rethink its strategy. While there are still plenty of people on the streets occupying parts of major cities, thoughts are beginning to turn to what will happen come winter, and how the movement should move forward when the weather turns warm again.

I've been listening to talk radio when I can, which I find detestable for the most part. It amazes me how much over-generalization there is, how much ignorance is still abounding about OWS, and how these talk radio personalities are ready to destroy OWS, but glorify the Tea Party.

The new movement of OWS should be one away from tactics that easily draw scorn, and be a move towards more careful and logistic strategy. What I mean by that is, more bang, less flash. The occupations got a lot of media attention, got people listening, but didn't capitalize on that. While the message was distorted by the media, there was the perception that nothing was actually happening. When OWS ramps up in the spring, this should be their goal: to drive their movement to a clear, definable, and attainable goal. Not only that, but make it something that people can understand and support. For example, stand up and demand that the wealthy take a tax increase of 5%. That is clear, concise, attainable, and helpful to the overall objective of the movement. Most of all, no one should be able to argue about whether or not OWS has any clearly defined goals.

The next few months will be a trial for OWS, but I strongly believe that if they refine their tactics and message, and use this time well, they will come out much more organized, driven, and popular than they are now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday

Jon Stewart recently celebrated his birthday. He's been a cornerstone of the media for several years, is one of the most trusted news sources, and has received a number of prestigious awards. He's funny, engaging, and incredibly insightful. Perhaps the best thing about Jon is that his personality and intelligence are not hampered by the network he is part of. I find that a lot of news anchors seem very plastic and one-sided both on and off the camera. Jon is not like that at all. When he is a guest on other people's shows, he is an engaging, thought-provoking individual, and always injects a little humor into the most serious topics.

For some great Jon Stewart quotes, click here.

Happy belated birthday, Jon. Hope you have many more happy years ahead of you!

A Dangerous Precedent

This recent vote in the Senate really shocked me. The bill that was passed would allow the military to indefinitely detain any American citizen they suspect of terrorism without due process of law. That means no reading of rights, no trial, no lawyer, nothing. And you can be detained for life.

As Benjamin Franklin noted, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." If we give up the basic human rights guaranteed under our Constitution, there is no way to get them back, at least not easily. And even if you have strict limits on the criteria by which an American citizen can be detained against their rights, then you have to acknowledge that those limits will likely change over time, or the groups like the FBI will find ways to abuse these powers. Look at what happened with the most recent individual that was arrested in New York City after he was found to be making pipe bombs to use against US officials. It was found that the FBI actually encouraged the individual to make these things, provided him with tools and guides on what to do, and essentially drove him to the point where he could be arrested and charged.

Now, consider what would happen if the FBI were allowed to detain anyone they suspected of terrorism without due process of law? They have already shown that they are willing to create their own targets to prove progress.

And the arguments made by those who support this bill are not very good at all. They say that terrorism is alive in America? Well, maybe so, but having people picked up by the government and detained for life is not how you route it out. It's too easy for that power to be abused; it almost begs to be when you think about it. It's like giving the government carte blanche to move against anyone who speaks out against their policies, including their policy of illegaly detaining citizens.

While this may not turn out to be the case, I can't support a bill that directly violates our rights as citizens, no matter how much it's supposed to help. If our intelligence and defense communities need this much power over us to do their job, they're not the best people for the job they have.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Tax Plan

Here's a good breakdown of the bill that is likely to hit the Senate floor soon: a proposal to extend the middle classes payroll tax holiday another year, and balancing it against a small tax increase on the wealthy. Chris Weigant makes an excellent point that the GOP has put themselves in a very difficult position. Either they vote on the entire bill, thereby supporting a tax increase, they vote against the whole bill whereby the vote against a tax cut, or they submit their own proposal that is all tax break extensions but that then has to be balanced with massive spending cuts immediately. Those are the options put forward by the article.

But I believe there is a fourth option, and one that is much more likely. First, Republicans will refuse to vote on the bills as-is and demand it be broken into two parts: the tax cut extension and the tax increase on the wealthy. Then, they will pass the first part and stop the second. They will take credit and pat themselves on the back for extending the tax holiday, and then attack Dems for proposing a tax increase. They will also say it's the Dems fault that they now have to cut billions of dollars, and as such the Dems should give the GOP all the cuts they want.

I think that the tax plan as proposed by the Dems is great because it not only helps the middle class by continuing a needed tax break, but it is in line with what the majority of Americans say they support: higher taxes on the wealthy. And, really, the tax increase proposed is fairly small. It's nowhere near the size that Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan would have hiked taxes on the poor. And the wealthy millionaires will not be out on the streets over this. The other important piece to the plan are the tax incentives that are meant to spur on hiring by small businesses. These incentive alone should be enough to lure any congressperson to vote for it, but you know that ideological one-sidedness will likely prevail. It'll be a pre-"Christmas break" miracle to see this pass as it stands now.

Endless War

Glenn Greenwald has a great article in Salon about the continuation of war against terrorism, even after many officials say we have essentially eliminated the leaders of the Al Qaeda network and the foiling of several "terror plots" by "lone wolves" in our own borders. Greenwald makes a good point about the manufacturing of fear, the publicity of terrorism, and how we as the people are being groomed to, if not support, then at least accept as inevitable the continued military operations in the Middle East and worldwide.

He even makes the observation that, as things wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, things seem to be heating up in Iran. It's not that Iran has suddenly become a major issue; it has been for some time. But now that the war-mongers are in need of a new enemy, Iran and it's "nuclear program" seem to fit the bill. It's worth noting that we have already placed sanctions on Iran (which were defied by the Koch brothers, but that's a different topic), and we have been conducting a major smear campaign against them. Yet despite this, other countries have helped Iran develop nuclear capability.

While the situation in Iran is concerning, I can't help but feel that it is being used as the next excuse to engage in a lengthy occupation. I don't think that's what's needed there. There must be a solution that keeps us from investing multiple years, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives to stabilize that region.

I think Greenwald's greatest point, though, is when he says "what little Terrorism does exist is caused directly by our own actions — the very actions justified in the name of stopping Terrorism." It's a great observation, and one that many people, including the iconic Noam Chomsky, have been making for years. While we bemoan the loss of thousands of Americans on 9/11, and rightly so, we must also take that with the understanding that we have directly caused similar atrocities in many other nations over the years. In many ways, we are a terrorist nation to the rest of the world. While it's difficult for us to see ourselves in that way, and even more difficult to accept that without trying to justify those actions, it is worth it to understand that this is how we are seen by the world. Even Ron Paul, in his own way, has flirted with this idea, by saying that the people who oppose us in the Middle East have told us exactly why they don't like us: we built a military base in their holy land, we've oppressed them economically and politically for decades, we take their natural resources, use their people to fight our wars, and don't give them a chance to develop on their own. He also made the point that if we want to understand their frustration with us, imagine if another country did to us what we do to them. We act very presumptuously with the rest of the world, and this is the result.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Silent (and Imaginary) War

Every year around this time, holiday* decorations and paraphernalia crop up everywhere. Christmas lights, Hanukkah lights, Advent candles, they all spring out of the dusty boxes in the back room and bedeck our stores, streets, and homes.

Every year it gets bigger, brighter, more festive, and more disheartening. Why disheartening? Because there is an imaginary war going on, and there are people who believe in it so strongly that they make the rest of us look bad just for being associated by religion.

When I look at things like this, I get worried about two things. First, I'm concerned about the commercialization of the holidays*. That is, that the spiritual message of the holidays* is lost in the wake of things like Black Friday, amazing sales and deals on things, and the constant streaming media that glorifies it all. Second I'm concerned about people who honestly believe that Christmas is under attack. To me, these are the people who desperately want to be the victim. Like many in the conservative world, they see themselves as the misunderstood and often devalued victims of society. It's ironic that self-described Christians should feel this way living in America, where Christianity is practically oppressive to other religions and beliefs. But no, they prattle on about how they are the ones being disenfranchised in the stores when the clerk says "happy holidays" instead of making the choice to wish them a "merry Christmas" without knowing whether they celebrate Christmas or not.

And how are the stores supposed to know if you celebrate Christmas? Really? The only place I know of in my area that it's not an issue is the place that is specifically geared toward Christmas. But saying "happy holidays" should not make people think that the spirit of Christmas is somehow diminished. If that's all it takes to make you feel like Christmas is under attack, I would encourage you to take a midwinter trip to North Korea and shout "Merry Christmas" from the tarmac. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be home for New Years.

The fact is, America is an incredibly tolerant place, but that tolerance goes for everybody, and in that spirit, many retailer have rightfully decided to do away with greetings and thank-you's that are focused to one holiday. As this article cleverly points out, the war on Christmas is nothing more than a stunt of publicity and has more to do with being upset and angry about something than it does about being oppressed.

My concern, though, is that these people who believe in the war on Christmas don't seem to understand that they are doing more damage to the name of Christ and Christians than department store clerks. They become so hot-headed about this stuff, and it turns people off. Christianity is supposed to be about love and acceptance and Christmas, being ranked second as most-important holiday on the Christian calendar, ought to usher in a time of greater love and acceptance of everyone, don't you think?



*I use the word holiday here, not to diminish the spirit of Christmas, but to acknowledge that there is more than one holiday at this time of year, that they all deserve equal acceptance, and that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. I'm not engaging in anti-Christian warfare.

Raising Taxes is not Evil, It's Economics

Paul Krugman tackles one of the biggest lies floating around the conservative universe: that taxes on the wealthy will not result in a meaningful amount of money. This, coupled with the mantra of "job creators" has essentially caused a line in the sand to be drawn, and the conservatives to attack the idea from every direction with their baseless opinions.

Then, Krugman points out another tax that we don't even have that could be levied to help raise money: a tax on all financial transactions. While this might sound like it's taking money from the poor, it would receive that vast majority of it's money from the millions of transactions made on Wall St. each and every day by mindless computers that are buying and selling at the rate of hundreds a second. Krugman points out that this would raise a significant amount of money, even if you compare to the amount saved from proposed spending cuts.

Krugman concludes by making a point that is so full of common sense that it's a shame more people don't seem to agree: that taxation alone is not the answer, just like cutting alone is not the answer, and that any solution that is worth consideration must have both in it. Krugman's ideas are not groundbreaking, they won't spell the end of America, and they're not extremely liberal or out-of-touch. The idea that we should tax the super-wealthy more is decidedly progressive, but it also makes fiscal sense. Taxing financial transactions is done in many other countries, and it could generate billions in tax revenue, helping to balance out the government's costs without harmful cuts to programs real people depend on.

A Bold Solution in Search of a Problem

Cain has been toting his "bold solution" which is 9-9-9 for a while now. He has claimed, time and again, that this one plan will solve all of our problems: inequal taxation, excessive government, bank and financial institution greed and mismanagement, Market volatility, endless wars, and the list goes on. At least, that's the way it sounds. However, Cain is not just a one-act show. He's got a whole lot of other ideas too.

This one in particular caught my interest. Cain, like many conservatives today, believe we should end the payroll tax cut, cut unemployment benefits, and reform the tax code. The interesting thing is that, when you suggest allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire, Cain says this is a bad idea, because a) you should not raise taxes on "job creators" and b) you don't raise taxes during a recession.

What strikes me as odd is that Cain and the others seem to have a serious disconnect in their minds between raising taxes on the poor and on the rich. Cain's signature plan would raise the taxes of the poor while slashing those of the wealthy. His proposal to let the payroll tax cut expire is the same as raising taxes on the poor (this using the logic of Grover Norquist, who is unusually silent on this latest push to raise taxes). The utter ridiculousness of these positions is that the changes in tax will bring in a good amount of money, but will also leave the poor with less. Furthermore, those poor individuals now paying more in tax are being left behind by the continued cuts in our government's social programs. So, the Republicans are calling for increased taxes on the poor, decreased taxes on the wealthy, and cuts to social programs that benefit the poor and help them to make ends meet.

In other words, Republicans are interested in increasing the wealth gap, starving the middle class, and returning us, not to the 90's when we had the biggest economic boom in history, but back to the 1900's when the wealthy had a monopoly on government, jobs, wealth, and prosperity, and the masses were left to suffer. It seems that this is their ideal vision of America. It is scary.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I won't be able to post tomorrow due to the festivities, but I wanted to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Even if you don't celebrate, it's nice to stop and think about all we have and take for granted. Here are a few things I'm thankful for.

1. My family. I am blessed to have my wonderful wife, a close family, and many friends to share this time with, and to share my life with. I am also grateful for their support as I make many changes in my life and step in many new and unexpected directions.

2. My freedom. I am blessed to live in a country where I can live, act, and speak as I wish. Despite what I say think of others and their positions, I respect them, and acknowledge that my freedom is contingent on theirs.

3. My health. I am blessed to be healthy, and to have the tools I need to stay that way.

4. My job. I am blessed to be able to work hard and support myself. I am glad that I have the opportunity to make something of myself, pay my bills, and manage to live comfortable enough.

5. My country. Everything sort of rolled into one. I am blessed to live in America, a land of opportunity, freedom, and ingenuity. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else, and though it has its flaws, I believe that it is worth fighting for and preserving.

Take the time to reflect on what you have, who you have, and where you are in your life. It puts struggle in perspective, and seems to calm our lives briefly to have a time together.

Happy Thanksgiving, and God Bless.

The Newt Makes Sense

During last night's debate, which centered on foreign policy and national security, Newt Gingrich may have been the only one, aside from Ron Paul, who said anything that broke against the party policy lines. Gingrich, who has been driving up in the polls, recently got flack from a lot of people for suggesting that students in schools be made to do janitorial work. During last night's debate, this did not come up, but Gingrich redeemed himself somewhat, at least in my mind, by making a strong case for reasonable deportation exceptions on illegal immigrants.

While many of the other candidates berated Newt for this, he stuck to his views, which is a nice change from the sniveling pandering to absolute conservative doctrine that these debates usually entail. Newt made the point that, if an illegal immigrant that came here 25 years ago has set up shop, had their family, joined a church and gotten involved in the community, it is not in the best interests of anyone to deport them back to their own country. Gingrich noted that this does not apply to illegals who have no ties to America or who break other laws while they are here. In fact, Gingrich even said that those who have been here a long time and have families here should be allowed to be made into legal residents, even if they are not considered full citizens.

This last point is a good one, but it went right over most of the other candidates' heads. They all claimed this was "amnesty" which it's not. Amnesty involves making the immigrant a full citizen with all the rights that entails. What Gingrich said is that you make the person a legal resident, so that they are no longer labeled and illegal alien. I think the distinction Gingrich was trying to make is that immigrants legalized in this way may be counted in a census, taxed, and allowed to have driver's licenses and work here under their real names, but that they are not full citizens, and therefore cannot hold office, vote, or have any of those rights that are afforded to citizens only. That is an important view to take, because it represents a significant departure from the black-and-white, all-or-nothing mantra of the Right, and is a relatively reasonable proposal.

Other candidates tried to make claims about solving the illegal immigration issues, including increasing border security, finishing the fence, applying more border agents, and cutting back on the things that lure immigrants here. This last point especially was disheartening to hear, since many of the things that lure illegals here are what lure legal immigrants and what make America a great nation. To say that we should give that up is ridiculous.

Overall, I think Newt made some good  points, and only Ron Paul really beat him out on the debate in my opinion. While I still hold reservations about the candidates, Gingrich has gained some of my respect for this debate. Who knows, maybe he'll shed some of his more ridiculous views in order to appeal to people like me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Innocence Lost

Just in case you had any thoughts about just how far the GOP base has shifted into insanity, I offer this as proof that they are currently hopelessly lost. Then, I offer this rebuttal as a starting point for this particular discussion.

First and foremost, let's address this idea regarding child labor. For the last century or so, children have been kept out of factories, mines, and other dangerous or inappropriate work places by laws that limit how old a person can be to have a job. Children are not allowed to work anywhere full-time. In fact, the only thing that children seem to be able to do to make a living these days is work on the family farm or open a lemonade stand.

The reason for this is that America realized that it has a heart and a soul, and that those things were contingent upon how well it treated its citizens. It may have been good for business to have cheap, youthful laborers who can crawl into small spaces to fix or retrieve things, but it's not moral or ethical. We stopped forcing children to take on work because it was hazardous to their health and their future.

Apparently, Gingrich does not understand this, or he would not have proposed this idea. As the first link above indicates, Gingrich suggested firing unionized janitors at schools (how many jobs would that cost?) and instead offering the poorer students the chance to do the work themselves. While Gingrich tries to make this a lesson in civic duty and taking pride in one's school, he misses the rather large point that this is not what schools are for, and not what poor students should have to do.

Education is a free right in this country. We have laws that say children must attend school for a certain number of years, and that education is not something that should be based on your ability to pay for it. But that's what Gingrich's mentality pushes us towards. I've said it many times in my critiques of charter schools and the privatization of education: for-profit education, or any other fleecing of the American Poor such as this, is frankly un-American. We are better than this, and Gingrich should know better.

Never Enough

I've noticed that there's been a lot of dirt being tossed around over this Super Committee failing to come to an agreement. Dems are blaming the GOP for being unwilling to compromise, GOPers are blaming the Dems for being unwilling to give them everything they want so the Dems get to keep the government running. There are political pundits and Presidential candidates who are taking swipes at Obama for the kill-switch deal, for not being more involved, for being too involved, for existing, etc. In essence, we've seen a hyped-up version of what has been a non-stop mud-slinging contest for almost four years.

The thing that really bothers me about all of this is that no one group has all the answers, there's no magic solution that will fix everything overnight, and yet these are the things that are being espoused by our representatives. All we are hearing is "if we just repeal Obamacare" or "if we just deregulate the markets" or "if we just cut the size of government" and these solutions are misleading and false. First of all, no one of these things alone will solve any more problems than they would create. Second, they are playing more to rhetoric than actual good policy.

A friend of mine pointed out that not one of the people who are proclaiming to have the solution seem to have even a most basic understanding of the problem. None of them are saying "I promise to not do a single thing until I know everything there is to know about this issue." Instead, they offer gimmicks to the people, they offer one-liners for applause, and they rake in contributions on platitudes. But none of them have any idea how to fix our situation.

This issue with the Super-Committee is a great example. None of the politicians can say anything that sounds like a solution to this crisis they created. Democrats failed to pass a budget when they were in power, the GOP has failed to do it since, they are wrangling over the Super Committee failure, but no one is offering any way to avert "catastrophe." In the end, it's all a blame game. Obama seems to be getting an unfair portion of that, since he is not supposed to inject himself in Congressional affairs (if he did, he'd be attacked by these same people as a dictator cramming his will down their throats), but has been attacked for inaction.

There never seems to be enough crap flying around to make people stop and wonder what this is all for. Why not just sit down and agree that both sides have good points and that there needs to be a compromise? It's too much to ask for, I know, but it's desperately needed, and the minute we get it, the better of we'll be.