Friday, July 30, 2010

Moody's Analytics Becomes Low Down "Democrat" Tool - Gives Republicans Serious Agita

Great video at the end of today's blog. Check it out.

Arguing with the Republicans is like arguing with the neighborhood drunk who sits at the end of the bar at the corner tavern. You say Williams, he says DiMaggio. You say Magic, he says Larry Bird. You says FDR, he says - Herbert Hoover?

And now, in spite of the fact that both the sober-as-a-judge Moody's Analytics and the bipartisan CBO pretty much agree on how best to stimulate the economy, the Republicans are crying, "It ain't necessarily so..."

What are they disputing? These little tidbits will illustrate, courtesy of Bob Cesca's marvelous website:

1. For every dollar of money spent on extending the Bush tax cuts, there's only a 32-cent return on investment in terms of pass along economic stimulus in the United States.

2. For every dollar spent on unemployment benefits, there's a $1.61 return in economic stimulus. You save people from untold suffering and blows to dignity AND stimulate the economy.

3. Cutting the corporate tax rate - also a 32-cent return in economic stimulus on the dollar here at home.

4. Infrastructure spending? $1.57 return on the buck. And you get bridges, tunnels and broadband in the bargain.

5. Capital gains tax cuts? 37-cents on the dollar.

6. Even a temporary increase in food stamps? $1.74 in return. No such thing as a free lunch? Well, pretty darn close. 

So, what are the right wing's big beefs? (or is it beeves...)

Republican objection:  we can't really be sure what infrastructure even is. (See italics below.)
Answer: if it's got a brick, a fiber optic, concrete, steel, etc., it's infrastructure. Imagine being a teacher and having these right wingers in your high school social studies class. 

Republican objection: there is too much corruption in food stamp programs.
Answer: as opposed to... what Wall Street? The health care industry? Defense contracting? Big Oil?

Republican objection: not keeping capital gains taxes at current historically low levels will be a "jobs killer."
Answer: kinda sorta... it will be a jobs killer in India, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, etc. American corporations have created 8 times as many jobs in other countries in the last 20 years as they have in the United States. Keep that excess cash here at home and at least we'll have something to show for it rather than more lost jobs. (For instance, we can build infrastructure.)

(For the drunks at the Republican Club Bar avidly poring over this blog, click here for an article on the 8 public mega-projects going on right now in New York City. Then there's the rebuilding on the World Trade Center site, and about 160,000 new housing units in the works. Also, although it's hard to keep track, there are approximately 8 new 45-plus-story office towers that have just been completed in Manhattan. Oh, and two huge replacement bridges are being put up over two of our tidal estuaries. Now... right wingers, you have an elementary idea of what infrastructure is.) 

On to the video. Who better than the Moody Blues?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Boomer Solution To Our Intractable Reading And Math Proficiency Problems

The strategy is - put people back to work and teach young children to read well. Below are some tactics to get there, at least in part.

Last week NPR reported that the unemployment rate among the 55-and-older set hit 7.2%, the highest since the end of World War II. And while that may be lower than the overall rate, older workers tend to stay unemployed longer, with the average length of the job search more than 35 weeks.

A Pew survey shows that 1 in 3 unemployed older workers hasn't had a paycheck in more than a year. As a result, in 2009, 3 million older workers have simply given up and declared early retirement and have begun drawing Social Security benefits.

Yet this is the best-educated, most highly-skilled cadre in our society as of this moment and it is being pulled from service.

Meanwhile, disadvantaged students in the first grade have a vocabulary that is approximately half that of the average advantaged student (2,900 and 5,800 words respectively). The first grade! For the underprivileged, the race is essentially lost before the starter's pistol has been sounded.

And, if you can't read well, the chances you will do well in math are next to nil.

The marriage of Boomers and needy preschool children is of urgent importance.

Almost anyone with a few years of college and beyond, or even those with a solid high school education, are capable of reading aloud to and giving basic reading, writing and math instruction to a 4, 5 or 6 year-old.

The Boomers who want to retire because of difficulty in finding new employment should be entered into a new program dedicated to transmitting these basic skills to deprived and neglected youngsters.

The Boomers would receive a stipend that would not be taxable and that would not affect their Social Security payment levels. The reading and math sessions could easily be conducted in schools before or after hours, in community centers, in the halls of religious institutions, libraries, even outdoors. The sessions could be for two hours per day, four days per week.

Let's say there were 1,000,000 of these "into-the-breach" senior tutors. And let's say they received $1,000 per month. That would cost $12 billion per year. The extra money added to the average retiree's $1,170 per month in SS money would help immensely, raising their monthly income to $2,170 per month. One can fairly assune that the extra money, like unemployment benefits, would immediately be recirculated into the economy in the form of consumer spending.

By contrast, we are spending over $100 billion per year on the two wars in southwest Asia, plus another 700 billion on defense in general. Corn subsidies cost us about $10 billion per year. Tax and other incentives to the petroleum industry cost us about $105 billion per year.

The benefits to the children who would be affected by such programs are not immeasurable, although the following statistics would serve to astound even the most skeptical among us.
(Stats are from - there are plenty more at their site.)

It is estimated that the cost of illiteracy to business and the taxpayer is $20 billion per year.

It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems. 

The educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they don't read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough.

Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 - 4 times more likely to drop out in later years.

One-fifth of high school graduates cannot read their own diplomas.

Let's say of the 1,000,000 Boomers employed, they each affect 8 to 12 students per day. That is, obviously, 8 to 12 million students per day.

The children would receive the benefits of all the cumulative applied knowledge of the Boomers. They would stay in the school and learning environment for a longer amount of time each day. They would be sheltered from detrimental home situations, from excessive TV watching and video game playing.

The Boomers - with all their phenomenal skills coming back into play - would find a new sense of purpose plus a reasonable new source of income.

That income would help in a directly stimulative way to reinvigorate our struggling economy.

Volunteerism is all well and good, but the educational crisis is reaching high tide and it needs to be treated with early in a child's life. Volunteers are wonderful, but this is a different kind of predicament.

Maybe this is the new WPA or CCC. Spend money directly on things that are of dire importance to our future. And do something intrinsically good in the bargain.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Illegal Immigration, The Decline Of Unions And... Prohibition

Yes, Prohibition. The mother of all unintended consequences spawned by modern social meddling.

Every quasi-educated individual knows the Prohibition Cliff Notes by heart:

A gaggle of reactionary, business-led, do-gooder blue-noses pushed to "dry out" America in a quest to stop rampant drunkenness, promote money-saving, stop domestic abuse and improve industrial man's work habits. What they didn't bargain for was Al Capone, mayhem on the streets, an enthusiastic disregard for Law with a capital "L," and not much of a rollback in drinking.

Now to the decline of unions. From 1948 to 1975, the percentage of people who belonged to unions was remarkably stable. The high water years were 1952 through 1955, participation averaging around 32%. The level stayed right around 29 to 31 per cent those 27 years.

Today's mark is the lowest ever at around 10%.

More shocking is the decline in real earning power.

As union membership has declined, so too have real wages across the board. Figures are given in 1982 dollars for easy comparison. In 1954, average weekly wages were about $319 for all workers. In 1983, they were about $277. Latest figures show that today they are about $272.

This trend accelerated beginning with Ronald Reagan's 8 years of union busting. He was the "Great Communicator" and the message he conveyed so clearly to American blue collar (mostly male, white and black) workers was this: "Go to hell."

Turns out it wasn't morning in America at all, but rather the beginning of a long, cold night that shows no signs of ending. Adding insult to injury, hours worked have risen during that same long period of wage decline.

A good part of the blame falls on so-called right-to-work states - AL, AZ, AR, FL, GA, ID, IO, KS, LA, MS, NE, NV, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA and WY. (Notice a pattern here? Right-to-work equals right wing for the most part.) This backward kind of legislation began the scramble for ever-lower-wage workers.

Enter the illegal aliens, like stock characters in a depressing morality play.

Who wrote them into the script? Certainly not native-born American workers, who had much to lose, and indeed have lost out, to the imported low-wage workers.

Illegal aliens cannot organize, they cannot lobby, they cannot demand the humane benefits - good wages, health care, safety standards, payment for sick days, paid vacation, etc. - we once upon a time associated with the American way of life.

Who wrote illegal aliens into the script? Business interests and their right wing political handmaidens who think the once-proud and productive American worker has had it too good.

Depending on which traditionally typical union industries you examine, the wage differential between union and non-union pay is staggering. Overall, union jobs (including benefits) pay an astronomical 28% more than non-union jobs. There's the difference between the good life and the slave life.

While neither outright condemning nor fully supporting illegal aliens seeking better opportunities in the United States, it is clear that de-unionization has led to a labor free-for-all that has thrown more and more unskilled and semi-skilled workers into the same boiling cauldron. This has a natural spillover effect on even better paid white-collar, and stereotypical pink and light-blue collar wage-earners. The ever popular war of all against all is on. (To boot, many illegal workers are paid in cash, so they and their employers avoid paying taxes and Social Security and disability insurances.)

Further, these recently-arrived low-wage workers have children and grandchildren, so a new culture of low expectations in terms of pay and benefits settles in pretty quickly. Not to mention a certain docility when it comes to employer demands and a general sense that one's destiny is consistently in the hands of others.

Poured into the cauldron come the effects of "Free Trade" and "Globalization."

How much further can our real wages fall?

A lot. One little-heralded Congressional Budget Office report has said that real wages might fall as much as another 10% in the next 10 years. The forecast for unskilled and semi-skilled Americans-by-birth is even grimmer. The CBO predicts their wages will fall by 22% in real terms. There is a particularly ominous message in that for many African-Americans.

To circle back around to Prohibition... at least it ended through the efforts of F.D.R.'s administration and a general sense among the electorate that it was an almost entirely idiotic policy. Although its after-effects live on in the general lawlessness that we experience as Americans. (For instance, in the early 1900s, the United States had the lowest murder rate in the developed world. That rate become the highest by the mid-1920s and we take that dubious honor to this day.)

The decline of organized labor and the attendant rise in the number of low-wage workers shows no sign of abating.

Border fences and random stops are not the answer to the illegal immigrant problem; persuading, if not compelling, low wage workers - regardless of their origins - to join unions in order to feel empowered, to become part of the historic American Dream, is one large step toward solving the puzzle.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Credit Cards: How The Poor Subsidize The Rich

You know what happens when you swipe this or that card. You rack up miles or points, or receive a special discount, or any of the seemingly innocuous rewards that credit card companies pass out like lollipops at a kid's birthday party.

Guess who's actually paying for the party? Lower income America.

It's another manifestation of the way poor people subsidize the excesses of the rich according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Here's how it works: A credit card user goes to a store and buys what should be a $10 item. Tacked onto the price, however, are the fees and percentages that the credit card company charges. The item ends up costing $10.38. Fair enough for the credit card user who gains a number of advantages by charging: deferred payment, a computerized or hard-copy record, sometimes loss or damage insurance, and those little rewards spoken of above.

If you pay cash, you pay $10.38 just like the card user even though you don't receive the benefits of using a credit card.

The cash purchase's extra 38 cents goes mostly to keep down the cost of merchandise to credit card users at the point of sale because merchants generally do not (and mostly cannot) set differential prices for card users. (Some gas stations feature differential prices in order to build traffic.)

Simply put, this means that the price of the $10 item for cash users ought to be $10, and for credit card users it ought to be $10.76.

In general, disproportionately, the poor use cash and the better off use credit cards. The Boston Fed says:

Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general.

Credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. 

On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks [credit card issuers], the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $23 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $756 every year.

This spreading of costs is imposed not by government mandate, but by credit card companies themselves. (So much for the right wing and business being against over-regulation.) The Boston Fed explains:

Merchants may want to recoup the merchant fee only from consumers who pay by credit card. In practice, however, credit card companies impose a "no surcharge rule" (NSR) that prohibits U.S. merchants from doing so, and most merchants are reluctant to give cash discounts.

Shamefully, the heaviest users of credit cards - that is, the very rich and rich - receive progressively the most in subsidies from the cash users, i.e., the lower middle class and underclass. As the Fed report puts it:

This regressive transfer is amplifi ed by the disproportionate distribution of rewards, which are proportional to credit card sales [of] high-income credit card users.

In other words, the higher you go, the higher you go yet again. On the backs of the poor.

When we consider that virtually every kind of store and service takes credit cards, this "tax" on the cash-paying poor is likewise virtually universal. And what does a person who makes $20,000 per year mostly buy in shops?

After housing expenditures are taken out, the poor spend about 90% of their income on food and other household items, clothing, transportation, and medicine. So, the poor pay about 4% more for everything they really really need in order to subsidize the vacations and other luxe items of the rich. (And this on top of the most regressive form of tax, the sales tax, which hurts the poor even further.)

In the wishy-washy financial reform just passed in Washington, debit cards attached to checking accounts will fall under increased regulation regarding fees and overdrafts. Credit card company practices such as the one described above will remain untouched.

Pop Quiz: Guess which Senators stripped enhanced credit card regulation out of the bill?  "Moderate" Republican Senators Snow and Collins of Maine and Brown of Massachusetts. That was the cost of their crossing the aisle and joining the Dems on reform.

If you would like to see a copy of the full Boston Fed report, write to

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Different Take On Church and State

There can be no better day than this Sunday in the midst of a hellishly hot July almost exactly 85 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial to give some honest advice to the religious institutions of America.

Lay off, ease up, back down on matters of sex, clean up your own backyard, and become more sympathetic, more caring, more specifically involved in the quotidian spiritual and economic needs of people while becoming less involved in the pointless abstractions that necessarily arise when church and state tango.

This goes for all established religions, although my take comes from a particular perspective.

I attended Catholic religious schools from kindergarten through college, so religion was a part of my everyday life. Hard as it may be to believe given that, religion informed my life without governing it.

What made me proudest was giving to charity on an almost daily basis - nickels, dimes and quarters - for other children, a lot like me but who lived in squalor in far off Africa and Asia. Or right here at home. Maybe down the block. Being suffused with the good feeling of having helped out someone, even from afar, inflected the long hours of kneeling, praying, singing and contemplation.

In April of 1966 Time Magazine published its famous edition that asked "Is God Dead?"

Not yet 16 years old, I was a sophomore in high school, and for two full weeks, in Theology, History and English classes the debate raged on. This in a Catholic prep school in suburban New York 45 years ago now.

Many of the conclusions are lost in the shrouds of time. But a summation would run something like this: God is not dead. We are dead to the possibilities of God. And to belief in "the good." And therefore to the action needed to bring about a better world.

Why we were open to such thoughts at 15 and 16, aside from the intellectual courage of our teachers, is a topic for a much longer thought piece.

It was heady stuff and best not discussed at the family dinner table lest our hidebound parents find themselves in the middle of a collective domestic thrombosis.

Later, in college, these thoughts would become one strand in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Inspired by the Berrigan brothers, both priests, and the likes of Thomas Merton, also a priest, we took aim at the heart of the radically anti-human activities of our government in its prosecution of the war.

On other fronts Catholic, as well as other Christian-minded activists, also inspired. Caesar Chavez in the farm labor movement, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Tom Cornell, a seminal anti-war activist of the early and mid-1960s.

Day, who died in 1980, was the foremost advocate of her time of the Roman Catholic economic philosophy of Distributism, a system  considered to be a "third way," between rampant plutarchic capitalism and state socialism, then widely interpreted to be either Leninism/Stalinism or Maoism.

When we look at what is wrong with our American economic system at this very moment, we find a deeper appreciation of Distributism. In brief, it is pro-capitalistic but calls for greater participation by all members of society in "ownership" of property and - to use a phrase fraught with negative connotations - the means of production. Even further, it means a more thorough involvement in decision-making processes, such as the ones raging over health care reform, energy and the environment and race relations.

This political-economic philosophy is rooted in Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, a masterwork on economic justice that eschews both Communism and unfettered capitalism, concerning itself with "the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class..."

Other encyclicals by subsequent popes followed and built upon Leo's legacy. In 1931, Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno, (meaning "Forty Years," i.e., after Rerum Novarum), a further discussion on the nature of private property and the intrinsic ethical responsibilities put upon the "haves" of society to the "have nots," or "have-not-enoughs."

We have come exactly to this pass at this moment, these same questions. The pressure on the vast middle class in America is palpable.

There is simply not enough participation by everyday people in their government or in the businesses that they serve, usually dutifully. The country has been run by experts for far too long, and the experts have run the big train into a huge ditch. Now the best they can do is to argue over how to pull the train out and re-start it. Meanwhile the train sits and rusts.

We live in a country with 80 million college-educated people. (Never mind the under-educated and chronically poor and underprivileged for the moment.) Yet, the plutarchy that actually runs things numbers no more than 25,000 individuals. The vast majority are white men. (Although white women as they gain a share of power seem to be acting no more responsibly than their male counterparts.) The majority of the plutarchs are radically conservative. Virtually all are rich.

G.K. Chesterton, perhaps England's greatest under-sung genius of the early 20th century, said, "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists." That sums up Distributism's critique of modern industrial democracy. More people need to acquire a bigger stake in the society.

As we watch the dance between so-called liberals and the radical right in America today with increasing anxiety, we should be reminded of Chesterton's famous observation: "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

Almost every great revolution of history began because the middle class had become disaffected. (The proletarian Chinese Revolution is one notable exception.) The English and French Revolutions, our own American War for Independence, those of South America in the 19th and 20th centuries, even the Russian Revolution, all were fomented by unhappy middle classes. What became of them later is a different question altogether.

We are at a crossroad. The middle way beckons.


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Refudiator

Lost in the mockery generated by the slip o' the Tweet that Sarah Palin made is her core message of racial and religious bigotry. It is this contaminated message we must keep in focus even as we are entertained by her claiming we must "refudiate" the Mosque to be built near Ground Zero.

The hate message goes like this: "Muslims are outsiders and let's be sure to keep them that way."

Too late in New York City. The Muslim population here is roughly 750,000, a little less than 10% of the overall count in the city. We all know that 99.99% of those people are normal, work-a-day, loyal Americans.

Take my friend (and local deli owner) Yahya, who is from Yemen and came to New York on money he had saved for 17 years starting from the time he was 12 years old. 

He aspires for his children, male and female, to attend college. He has resisted pressure from his large extended family back in his homeland to betroth his 10 year old daughter, because, he says, "We are in America now and the traditions here are..." and he hesitates... "Better for everyone." He smiles uncomfortably. I know it pains him to critique his homeland, but he has embraced the American Dream with a bear hug.

Yahya likes the idea that he can attend the mosque he chooses. He likes that he can make his beliefs based on the Koran flexible enough to fit his new life. (He prays three times a day facing Mecca - once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening, at home or at his mosque but never at work.) He says that it is the Catholics who have taught him to love his religion again after 9/11, because they heartily criticize the Church but still love Jesus. Yahya says he loves Jesus, who is a much more sympathetic character than Mohammed. But Allah is Lord and Mohammed is his prophet. Yahya is open but he is bound to his better traditions. We talk about Jesus a lot. Jesus is and always will be mystical to him. Mohammed is a mystic turned pragmatist.

There is a simple acid test that can be applied concerning the building of a mosque near, but not at, Ground Zero. The small-minded should ask themselves if a Catholic or Protestant Church, a Hindu Temple, a Jewish Temple, a Buddhist Temple, or an Atheist Temple To Ethical Culture should be built upon the same spot. If the anti-mosque people say "Why sure, that would be all right" then they're biased against Muslims.

When Timothy McVeigh blew apart Oklahoma City, no one argued that all Christians should be held responsible. We know that would be ridiculous. The rational and truly spiritual among us know that all Muslims should not be held responsible for the acts of a handful of psychopaths.

The mosque is a genuine gesture of reconciliation and redemption. That so many Americans are using the politics of divisiveness to try to shout down this community-oriented building tells us that those people need to look more deeply into their (generally and supposedly) Christian consciences.

Palin, as one of their leaders, is not a mere buffoon, but someone who needs to be exposed as the vile person she is. We should stop laughing at this hockey mom on the fame drug because in fact she is trying to cut the heart out of our country. Literally and figuratively.

We have a process for deciding such things in New York; let the vox populi be heard through its elected representatives and not through the mob - most of whose members it seems have no understanding of New York's history, culture, and diversity.

Remember, it was the mob who shouted out "Give us Barabbas!" so its instincts aren't always exactly spot on.

And let The Great Refudiator cleanse her dark heart. Then, as we do with a Joe Biden or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, we might more easily forgive a very entertaining slip of the tongue.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Looking To The 1920s For Insights

We are left with entertaining icons of the 1920's that camouflage the realities that underlay the fascinating decade. Most of all those years appear frantic to us, we who live in a most frantic age.

The flapper, the mobster, the swell, the Babe, Dempsey, Lindbergh, jazz, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the birth of big time Hollywood, the sense of victory in the air, of an America no longer a frisky colt but a thoroughbred upon the world race track.

Underneath that benign anthropology, though, was a dark side of America that has never been fully repressed. The same dark side has surfaced recently under the tutelage of the extreme right wing and its marionettes in the Tea Party.

Notably, these expressions of America's dark side erupt during or immediately after times of severe stress, whether called forth by war or economic dislocation.

While many people, particularly those in big cities and industrial centers, enjoyed the boom, a huge minority were disaffected, angry and anti-everything. Real incomes fell among 70% of all Americans in the so-called Roaring Twenties.

Rural people hated Big Labor. Big Labor despised Big Capital. Big Capital hated regulation. Women were repulsed by drinking men. Protestants hated Catholics and Jews. Old line whites hated southern and eatern European immigrants. The city and country were at loggerheads as farm prices stayed depressed for years. Prices of everything were too high, or prices were too low, depending on whether you were a buyer or a seller.

In the 20's, the Ku-Klux Klan saw its revival blossom not just in the newly assertive South, but in places it is now unimaginable: Oregon, California, parts of the Mid-West, even having mobs in suburban New York and New Jersey.

New York State, which at the time had 6 Socialists in its legislature, tossed them out for being un-American. In fact, most northern and Mid-Western states had socialist members of their legislatures, all of whom were defeated or otherwise deprived of their seats in the 20's.

This was part of the anti-Bolshevik movement that was funded by business interests in order to undermine labor organizing and is commonly called the first "Red Scare." Directly under the outer skin of this conflict lay "buyer's remorse" over the nation's having fought in WWI. Nothing seemed to come of the war and soon enough the Europeans would be at each others' throats once more. So, anti-communism was really about anti-Europeanism to a large extent.

Piled into this swamp was an anti-immigration fervor that makes the goings-on in Arizona look like a cricket match. Responding to the fears of white America, Congress passed two bills in 1924. (Click link for wiki overview of these acts.) The first was the Immigration Act (or Johnson-Reed Bill) part of which was the National Origins Act, and the second, (can you imagine anything more bluntly named?), the Asian Exclusion Act. (Today's border fence, below.)

Finally, the 1920's was a time of enormous technological change, developments rivaling our own era. The automobile became available to the common person; telephone communication was perfected; talkies came into being; the rise of radio began; the phonograph replaced the player piano in homes; and big cities as well as small towns were well-lighted by electric bulbs. While airline companies fledged before WWI, it was in the 1920's that they became fixtures due to a surplus of army aviators and the planes they had flown during the war. Advanced surgery techniques also grew out of the war experience.

These advances unsettled people, especially the older generation and led to a vague anti-technology movement that expressed itself more through skepticism (the Scopes Trial in 1925) tha through direct actions such as sabotage. 
 History rarely provides us with direct, one-to-one comparisons. It does often provide us with parallels and examples.

The feeling of a battle between left and right today is a real feeling.

The sense of dislocation from what many people feel is fruitless war conflicts with our natural patriotism.

The decline of real income in the last decade among the lower middle, middle and even upper middle class is a fact. Until 2009, the United States had been in stasis regarding job creation since the year 2000.

The ridiculous bandying about of the term "Socialist" in critiques of the President recalls other Red Scares. (Although it hasn't and won't work this time.)

The anti-immigrant Dengue Fever gripping parts of the country now also has its clear antecedents as described above.

We know that we are in the midst of enormous technological change when we see technocrats like Steve Jobs discussing the up and downsides of the iPhone4 on the front page of the paper or as the third lead story of the evening news.

That big business sees all the disruption and dislocation as a good opportunity for them is also quite clear. Exxon Mobile and the Koch family (owners of the world's largest privately held energy company) fund right wing non-profits who in turn fund the Tea Parties. (See: The Price of Tea, NY Liberal State of Mind, Feb. 12, 2010 by clicking here.)

Business always funds anti-union, anti-environment and anti-people initiatives. Why should it be any different in 2010 than it was in the 1920's?

Income inequality is at its worst since the 1920's. And the rich still don't want to pay their fair share of taxes. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why Obama Should Embrace Teddy Roosevelt - Substance and Style

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a letter today criticizing President Obama as being "anti-business." This to a president who rescued the auto and finance industries and set in motion an unprecedentedly enormous stimulus package for the overall economy. Unreason has knows no bounds.

Obama has much of the blame on his shoulders for not striking back at the fiendish money hounds who want George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich to be extended at the end of the year and want a rollback on crucial legislation such as health care reform, and a dead stop put on emissions restrictions. The President seems to have mislaid his trump card, his inspiring oratory,

If the status quo were so wonderful, why do we find ourselves in such a huge, seemingly unsolvable mess?

Just before the Panic of 1907, another point in our history when capital had been hyper-concentrated in the hands of a few, in a speech in Indianapolis on Memorial Day, Teddy Roosevelt skewered the "predatory man of wealth" who was increasingly using his power to manipulate labor, prices, and liquidity. (J. P. Morgan was the archetypal "man of wealth," but he was only one among the oligarchy, the cabal.)

Roosevelt said in full:

One great problem that we have before us is to preserve the rights of property, and these can only be preserved if we remember that they are in less jeopardy from the Socialist and the Anarchist than from the predatory man of wealth. There can be no halt in the course we have deliberately elected to pursue, that policy of asserting the right of the nation, so far as it has the power, to supervise and control the business use of wealth, especially in the corporate form.

Paralleling the unwarranted attacks in the business press on Obama, the Commercial and Financial Chronicle (click) began to refer to T.R. as "the irritant." (Fittingly, the monthly Chronicle, founded in 1839, went out of business immediately after the stock market crash of 1987.)

Roosevelt was anything but anti-business. Nor is Obama, of course. Both have a reasoned approach to regulation and taxation. What the big business community wants ultimately is to have all fetters removed so that they are free to prey on the stupidly greedy (as during the housing bubble), the sick, the poor, and the working classes. Today, most likely the term "working classes" includes you. 

We need look no farther than the tempest over health care reform, the vulturous behavior of the financial sector, the outlandish prices for pharmaceuticals, the cost of our wars, and the wanton destruction caused by BP in the Gulf to see where the Republicans and corporatism have gotten us.

The Chamber of Commerce in its role as attack dog for corporations, wants deficits to be rolled back precipitously. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, "U.S. businesses are holding onto some $1.8 trillion in cash." So, if business won't spend, and government is basically out of cash or should not take on new debt, what exactly is the prescription for economic recovery?

When the Republicans were in charge of the country through the better part of the first decade of this century, real income for the average American declined over $2,000. George Bush's administration created exactly zero net private sector jobs. 

The right wing agenda is no less frightening as the midterm elections approach. The mainstream Republican wants to do away with Medicare; privatize Social Security while raising the retirement age to 70; they are against extending unemployment benefits; against legislation that would forbid another Wall Street bailout; against the inevitable green economy; and for a return to offshore drilling at it was before the Gulf catastrophe. And that's the mainstream right!

Teddy Roosevelt called the unholy amalgam of purely self-interested corporations of his era the "malefactors of great wealth." 

Right now, the top 1% of people in the United States own over 30% of the wealth in the country. The bottom 50% owns less than 20%. 

The Republicans speak for the top 1% (and more). 

Obama and the Democrats need to step up and start speaking for the rest of us. And hey, Mr. President, start shaking your fist and crying out for justice all around.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Death By 3,000 Gallons (Per Day). And (Shockingly) A Tip Of The Hat To Fox News!

Sadly, by now, we are accustomed, if not inured, to the scenes of ecological disaster from the BP blow out in the Gulf. As we speed by the 85-day mark, we are stunned, depressed, and feel helpless.

But potentially worse, AP has reported that there may be as many as 27,000 abandoned wells, drill sites, and test holes in the Gulf alone. 

Not all of them ever showed signs of black gold a-bubblin' up from the ground, but there are approximately 3,500 of these capped off wells that once produced oil, plus 11,000 more that may have produced. No one seems to have kept track of any of this including the federal and appropriate state governments. If the oil companies and their associates in drilling and transport have kept track, you can be sure they ain't tellin'. Environmental groups' estimates hover around an additional 3,500 that fall in the category for concern. 

Needless to say, these holes and caps are not regularly or properly inspected.

Some of these wells date back to the 1940s and 50s, but most seem (again, records are so spotty no one actually knows) to date from the late 70s into the 80s and 90s. This all means that roughly 7,000 wells once were active enough to warrant capping. Further simplistic explanation: it means that there was not enough oil coming out of a given hole to militate further exploitation, but there was enough that the damned thing had to have a big metal sock put in it.

Let's be conservative and say that the average age of these 7,000 abandoned holes is 25 years old. And let's say slightly fewer than half of them - 3,000 - are leaking oil at the tiny rate of a gallon per day. Now the fun basic math part begins. 3,000 gallons x 365 days x 25 years / 55gallons (one barrel) = 497,727 barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf since 1985. Shrimp gumbo anyone?

This doesn't take into account leaks from ongoing operating rigs, spills during transfer while transporting the stuff, or natural leaks from fissures and openings in the sea bed. All told, we are talking about millions of barrels of oil that have been spilled into the Gulf in the last quarter century.

On to Fox News. I shudder to even have to say this, but the best article I have read was published on Fox's website, which summarized and expanded AP's investigation.  Read their coverage by clicking here. Have to give the devil his due.

It says among other things:
Companies may be tempted to skimp on sealing jobs, which are expensive and slow offshore. It would cost the industry at least $3 billion to permanently plug the 10,500 now-active wells and the 3,500 temporarily abandoned ones in the Gulf, according to an AP analysis of MMS data. Many such jobs take more than $200,000 and 10 days. Difficult jobs in deep water can cost several million dollars, and some companies own hundreds of wells.

Fox can't start sandbagging me like this. My old liberal heart just can't take it. I do believe in spooks. I do believe in spooks...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Actvisit Right Wing Court: Welcome Home, Girlfriend. You're Dead.

 In 2000, for every one time a woman used a handgun to kill a stranger in self-defense, 222 women were murdered in handgun homicides.
                           - Violence Policy Center.Org (click here for link)

Republican rightists are obsessed when it comes to labeling liberal justices "activists" while they dance about like sugarplum fairies on Xtasy when portraying right wing radical judges as "originalists," or "strict constructionists."

The radical originalists, really fundamentalists with serious deficiencies in common sense, have come down firmly on the side of the gun-peddling death merchants and their acolytes in Congress. (As for intelligence, I, for one, am tired of reading and hearing about the brilliance of Scalia's and Alito's opinions, both of whom hide behind needlessly complicated, dissembling, Jesuitical, sophomoric analysis of law better suited to dorm rooms than the halls of the highest court in the land. They may be bright boys, but boys nonetheless. Bachelors as Mr. Bumble said in Oliver Twist. See the closing of this post below.)

The gun nuts (and their marionettes on the Court) believe that keeping a loaded piece in the house protects them from gun violence. How much more wrong could they be?

Women, in particular, are subject to enormously high rates of gun violence in the home, exactly where the right wing court's recent ruling is aimed. 

From 2000 to 2007, nearly approximately half of female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner and of those, 3/4ths of those female victims of intimate partner homicide were killed with a gun. As an abused spouses advocate said to me, "You can at least run from a fist or a knife, but you can't outrun a bullet."

A 1997 study found that having one or more guns in the home made a woman 3.4 times more likely to be the victim of homicide perpetrated by anyone (stranger or acquaintance). 

Additionally, when looking at whether a woman would be killed at the hands of a spouse, intimate acquaintance, or close relative, the authors found that having one or more guns in the home made a woman 7.2 times more likely to be the victim of such a homicide. 

In March, NY Liberal State of Mind expressed fear about the impending ruling in a posting entitled "Guns and Judges." (click)

The post closed with a quote by Oliver Twist's Mr. Bumble that bears endless repeating:

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”