Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Friday, December 31, 2010

The daily grind

At least 44 million Americans were officially counted by the Census Bureau as living below the poverty line in 2009. What does this mean? Well, the poverty line for an individual was a pretax income of $902.50/month in 2009. If our hypothetical poor person made $902.50, and had no substantial assets like a car or retirement account then she might be awarded as much as $145/month in food stamps (now called SNAP benefits). So, after at least $92 is taken out in payroll taxes, our friend is left with $955.50/month to live on. A full $810.50 of that sum can be spent on non-food items. Let's assume that our friend is lucky enough to pay only $650/month in rent and utilities (an impossibly low number in some metropolitan areas). That leaves a whopping $305.50/month to indulge oneself in luxuries like bus fare, food, clothing and entertainment. This situation doesn't only arise with people working sporadic hours cleaning houses or the like. It is also the reality for many who work for big-box retailers and other employers who pay low wages, and keep most of their workers at 30 hours/week or less to avoid paying benefits. These same employers make it very difficult for their workers to take another job by insisting on availability at all times, with no fixed schedule from one week to the next. Bottom line? Millions of Americans are getting by on $10/day or less. They are black and white, thin and fat, young and old. Their harsh experience is a national disgrace. There is only one solution to this problem. Plentiful jobs at living wages. This shouldn't be controversial. Sadly, too many of our politicians seem not to care about the dignity of human life after birth.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Julius Caesar, to Lorenzo de' Medici, to Boss Tweed to Tom Delay

Speaking of corruption in politics, it is nothing new. Ancient Roman elections were rigged to favor a handful of powerful families. "New men", like Cicero, who managed to achieve wealth and prominence still required the support of more powerful patrons. In the fifteenth century Republic of Florence an attempt was made to limit the potential for abuse by filling most of the magistracies by sortition rather than election. Names of citizens were drawn from different bags for lesser and higher offices. This somewhat random process was supposed to ensure that people could do their civic duty without fear or favor, not having made any promises to win their elections. Yet the Medici family and its supporters learned how to game the system. During a year in which the Medici faction dominated the highest council, they created a quasi-official group of "bag-holders" that were given the honor of maintaining the integrity of the bags. These "bag-holders" were not paid any government salary or given any authority beyond the selection of government officials. For half a century these "bag-holders" did what the Medici faction required. For many of the lesser magistracies, no tampering was needed. Men from small-time merchant or artisan families were thrilled at the chance to help regulate the scales at the fish market. They didn't make waves. For more important posts, the "bag-holders" would rig the bags so that opposition leaders could not control a particular council. So, for example, the pro-Medici folks might dominate a council 11 to 9. They would be careful to give their most prominent opponents a chance to express their opposition, without being able to make meaningful policy changes. This charade was finally ended by the expulsion of Piero de' Medici from Florence in 1494. By 1512, however, the Medici were back with a vengeance, and ultimately established themselves as the hereditary ruling family of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, marrying into the highest royal houses of Europe. Of course, like all good plutocrats the Medici weren't content to become mere royalty. Three different Medici popes (Leo X, Clement VI, and Leo XI) helped to further the family fortunes in heaven and earth.

[The above picture is of Lorenzo "il Magnifico' de' Medici-- it was his princely attitude, while ostensibly just another citizen, that led to the uprising that pushed the Medici out of Florence in 1494, just two years after his death.]

Casino Jack

Here's a new movie about Jack Abramoff, Casino Jack, that I would gladly skip lunch to see:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Criticize with care

Thomas Paine (featured in my recent post) was a major figure in developing American political thought. But of course he and his revolutionary brethren relied on centuries of political ideas developed in Europe. Machiavelli was a founder of modern, secular political thought. Less known today is his equally astute friend, Francesco Guicciardini. Guicciardini actually achieved what eluded Machiavelli, substantial political power. He also achieved distinction as a gifted historian. A collection of his sayings, or ricordi, has survived and is available in a paperback English translation.

Here's one of my favorites:

If either necessity or contempt induces you to speak ill of another, at least be careful to say things that will offend only him. For instance, if you want to insult a particular person, do not speak ill of his country, his family, or his relatives. It is great folly to offend many if you only want to insult one man.

How can this help us in today's world? One mistake that earnest activists on the left and right make every day is to hurl insults at someone that violate Guicciardini's rule. A conservative will needlessly offend millions by pointing out that the object of her wrath is from New York. A liberal will denounce someone as a bible-thumping redneck. We need to make clear that our scorn is directed at one particular loathsome individual, and was triggered by a particular sort of action. By the same token, we should focus on the latest outrage, not rehash old grievances that might make our indignation appear to be merely sour grapes. Of course sometimes people merit contempt mostly because they are part of a larger, contemptible group. In this case it is fine to insult the whole group. I don't care if I offend all white-supremacists, although I wouldn't want to heap scorn on any particular state where they might be found.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Upholding the rule of money

Here's Jamie Raskin, law professor at American University:

In 2000, in Bush v. Gore, the Rehnquist Court, by a 5-4 margin, called off vote-counting by the state of Florida and determined the outcome of a presidential election in favor of one lucky Texan.

In 2010, in Citizens United, the Roberts Court, by a 5-4 margin, declared that private corporations have a First Amendment right to engage in unlimited campaign spending and likely altered, for as long as anyone can see, the outcome of every major contested election in the country in favor of CEOs and Republican consultants who bundle their money.

The Supreme Court stole one election and sold off the rest of them.

This analysis is chillingly accurate. The Supreme Court right now is the plutocrats' ace in the hole. Whenever their paid servants, in the executive or legislative branch, assert some independence and manage to accomplish something that benefits the bottom 99%, the plutocrats turn to the friendly five Justices to put a stop to it. If there was no other reason to prevent, at all costs, a Republican from gaining the White House in 2012, the nomination of new Justices should be enough to make this a priority. "Liberal activist Judges" are actually exceedingly rare. All we need are people willing to decide cases on the merits, without trying to use their considerable power to undo generations of social and political progress. We may get more such nominees from Barack Obama. No Republican President, on the other hand, would resist the pressure from the right-wing to appoint another Alito or Roberts.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deny reality, avoid the real issue

Listen to Bill Kristol defend Republican obstruction of the Dream Act:

Kristol knows he doesn't want to have to argue the merits of the Act, or indeed, even allow a full description of the Act's provisions. So, instead, he tries to make a procedural argument that Republicans weren't given an opportunity in recent months to pick the bill apart and delay it coming to a vote. The truth is that all of the language of the Act grew out of hundreds of hours of hearings and testimony, and extensive debate and amendments since 2001. In fact, the Act is fairly modest precisely because it includes only provisions that have repeatedly drawn bipartisan support over the last nine years. President Obama and Harry Reid have no need to make the GOP look bad in the eyes of Hispanics. The GOP's recent resort to demonizing Hispanics, as a ploy to turn out the bigot voters, was enough to do that by itself.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thomas Paine knew the score in 1796

Here's a comment made by one of the American Revolution's heroes, Thomas Paine, in an essay advocating the imposition of an estate tax in post-Revolutionary France-- to fund substantial benefits to those of modest means:

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

This is putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.


It is a sign of how little progress we've really made that now, more than 200 years later, these words of one of our founding fathers still fall on deaf ears. 21st century politicians, who denounce taxes on the wealthy as "confiscatory," or, "punishing success," represent an ancient, greedy point of view. This outlook survived the American, French, and Russian revolutions. Yet the clear logic and good moral sense of Paine's position still retains its power as well.

We must continue to press the case, as Paul Krugman does so well, that trickle-down policies weaken our economy. But we also shouldn't be afraid to follow Paine-- in calling for restoring the principles of justice, gratitude, and civilization that are essential to any decent society. Helping the middle class and poor will not only stimulate demand, it will restore a sense of self-respect in all Americans.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Win some, lose some

The repeal of the military's DADT policy was finally passed in the Senate, with the help of a few GOP senators who followed their consciences. This is by no means the end of homophobic intolerance in our country, but it does mark a real step forward. I always found the very idea of forcing gay and lesbian people to stay in the closet while in military service completely ludicrous. I mean one of the most brilliant military leaders in history, Alexander the Great, would have been kicked out of the U.S. Army! WTF?!?! A more recent illustration of the policy's foolishness was the discharge of several Arabic translators, a move that did real damage to our mission in Iraq. It was refreshing to see our elected representatives in D.C. take a stand on the side of reason and justice today.

The GOP's successful blocking of the DREAM Act today was a major disappointment. Some senators, who opposed it, claimed they would still be open to considering some of its provisions as part of a more comprehensive immigration reform package. Hopefully we'll eventually see such a package. In the mean time, we've lost an opportunity to help good people normalize their status and move towards contributing to our country as full citizens. The bill did not grant "amnesty" to those who chose to come here illegally. Instead it was limited to helping people brought here as children, who had no say in the matter, find a path to citizenship. It also insisted that these young people have clean criminal records, and be pursuing post-secondary education or serving in the military.

So xenophobia proved more powerful than homophobia today on Capitol Hill. While we celebrate today's step forward, progressives are understandably nervous about the increased Republican power coming with the new Congress in January.

Friday, December 17, 2010

President Obama makes his case.

President Obama acknowledges the bill is flawed, but claims its a good deal for all Americans:

President Obama does a great job in making the strongest possible justification for the compromise. Yet his interpretation rests on a false premise. He suggests that Republicans want to strengthen the economy. The Republicans did allow the continuation of some unemployment benefits in a time of high unemployment. While this merely followed the well-established bipartisan practice in place for decades, it will help mitigate some economic pain. There are other modestly stimulative parts of the law. Unfortunately, not much of this small stimulus will continue as long as the massive tax breaks for the wealthy, and for the heirs of the super wealthy. Mitch McConnell has openly proclaimed that the GOP goal in the new Congress will be to make Obama a one term President. This GOP now coming into power doesn't really want to "strengthen our economy." They think outsourcing decent jobs overseas and lowering the minimum wage at home is a good policy. Their greed and corruption has clouded their thinking, to the point where they say with a straight face that helping the super wealthy to an even larger share of the national wealth is "strengthening the economy." I really wish President Obama was right in saying the GOP wants what is good for all Americans. The sad reality is that the only Americans they fight for are those who write the checks to fund their campaigns.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alll the news that's fit to print

Slacktivist provides some thought-provoking words on the failure of much contemporary journalism to stand up for truth and goodness:

One cannot side with the good or the true when one's primary preoccupation is avoiding any "controversy."

The goodness of good news is every bit as verifiable and supportable as any other attempt at accuracy in journalism. But whether we are discussing the good or the true, journalists seem all too willing and eager to surrender their purported commitment to accuracy whenever that commitment would require a vigorous defense -- whenever there is even a hint of "controversy." If a significant number of powerful and/or vocal people want to pick a fight, claiming that falsehoods are true or that goodness is bad, then far too many journalists will simply surrender and retreat rather than defend either one.

You've seen this happen. No matter how true something can be proven to be, once it is disputed journalists will cease to treat it as something that has already been verified as true and verified. They will begin treating it, instead, as something "controversial." And that which is deemed controversial is no longer reported as true -- regardless of the facts and the evidence proving it to be so or the utter lack of facts or evidence suggesting otherwise.

All it takes to move any established fact out of the category of fact and into the quagmire of "controversy" is a sufficiently strident assertion. Those making the assertion declare themselves to be a faction and denounce the journalists for supposed bias against their faction. Even the hint of such a denunciation tends to produce equivocation, retreat and surrender...

Fifteen years ago the crime of torture was not a matter of controversy. When torture occurred it was unfailingly reported as bad news. Anyone admitting to ordering or executing torture was understood to be confessing to a crime. But the subject was politicized, factionalized and rendered into a "controversy." Now the word itself is rarely used, replaced by obfuscatory euphemisms that sidestep the unambiguous legal definitions, and incidents of torture are reported as neither good nor bad. They aren't really reported at all, only hinted at between the lines of competing contradictory statements from those ever-present, never evaluated "advocates" and "opponents."

A similar transformation is under way regarding waste and pollution. The waste of energy and resources was once clearly understood and reported on as bad news. The elimination of waste was reported on as good news. Journalists invariably took sides on the matter -- siding with those who understood the meaning of the word "waste" and against those who did not.

But the wastefulness of waste is now increasingly regarded as a matter of controversy, and thus efforts to reduce waste are no longer reported on as good news. Increasingly, they are not reported on at all -- if by "reported on" we mean truth-telling as opposed to more feckless equivocation in which something like "Advocates say energy-efficient light bulbs can save a family $30 per bulb, while opponents say that 'squiggly pig-tailed' bulbs are un-American and note that Al Gore is fat" is substituted for any responsibility to verify, investigate or otherwise do one's damn job as a reporter.

The inability to report waste as wasteful falls into the same category as the inability to report that a killer on the loose is bad news or the inability to report that the atomic number of beryllium is 4. Don't laugh at that last one. If a sufficiently vocal or powerful lunatic began condemning the use of atomic numbers then journalists would quickly adapt to the manufactured controversy: "Advocates of traditional chemistry say that the atomic number of beryllium is 4, while opponents of the old system say atomic numbers are a socialist device and instead assign each element a corresponding Bible verse. The atomic verse for beryllium is 2 Kings 6:29."

It's disturbing to watch this untethering from reality unfolding before us -- to watch this timid appeasement of the vicious, the mendacious and the confused all in the name of avoiding controversy as though "accurate" and "uncontroversial" were synonyms, as though "undisputed" and "true" were the same thing.

While this untethering from reality is indeed quite frustrating, some journalists manage to promote truth and goodness on the sly. For example, I've seen more than one mainstream article that, on the surface, presents the nonsensical "birther" questioning of President Obama's citizenship as an actual "controversy." Words like "nonsense" and "deranged" aren't used to characterize the birther "position." Yet the article is carefully constructed to expose the ridiculous nature of their assertions, matching directly some crazy birther's false statements with easily verifiable evidence that demonstrate their falsity. In fact, the careful avoidance of explicit judgement in such a piece makes the evidence all the more powerful (except of course to those who are already batshit insane).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"This is how you make a banana republic"

Nice job putting things in perspective:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nobody here but us hippies!

Well, I just returned from an exciting planning meeting of the Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America. The turnout was phenomenal, a standing room only crowd. It was interesting to see how many older folks turned out. The discontent with today's political establishment was intense. At the same time, many admitted that we're fairly lucky here in lil' Rhody to have pretty decent representation in D.C. A lot of attendees expressed a desire to push back against the plutocratic power grab, and to fight against the misinformation put out by the right. If we do even a fraction of what we talked about we should help move things in a better direction. One of our members was especially keen on promoting progressive voices on radio. He made a great point, that conservative talk radio is so dominant partly because no one has worked hard enough to provide an alternative. All in all the meeting filled me with hope, and determination to keep our positive energy going forward.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Disproportionate distress

Princeton sociologist Devah Pager shares the disturbing results of her recent investigation:

In these experiments, which took place in Milwaukee and New York City, I hired young men to pose as job applicants, assigning them resumes with equal levels of education and experience, and sending them to apply for real entry-level job openings all over the city.

Team members also alternated presenting information about a fictitious criminal record (a drug felony), which they “fessed up to” on the application form. During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of employers, applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.

The results of these studies were startling. Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.

Racial disparities have been documented in many contexts, but here, comparing the two job applicants side by side, we are confronted with a troubling reality: Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.

The young black men posing as job applicants in this study were bright college kids, models of discipline and hard work; and yet, even in this best case scenario, these applicants were routinely overlooked simply on the basis of the color of their skin. The results of this study suggest that black men must work at least twice as hard as equally qualified whites simply to overcome the stigma of their skin color.

This study was conducted just before the great financial meltdown of 2008. I highly doubt that the situation has improved in this time of very high unemployment. I can remember my disgust as a young man when I saw overt displays of racism. In the following decades we have made some progress, yet there is still so much to do. I'm sure a lot of these hiring managers don't think of themselves as racist. They would be quick to denounce the KKK or other hate groups. Yet the impact of their prejudice is as harmful as shouting vulgar epithets. Many African Americans have overcome great obstacles to finding employment and to advancing in their careers. It is horribly unfair that anyone should have to start out with such an oppressive disadvantage.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The electorate is ill-served by the "infotainment" it consumes.

I had a conversation today with a guy I've known for many years. We got to talking politics, and he asked me why most Democrats insist on calling tax-break extensions for those making over $250,000/year "tax-cuts for the wealthy." He pointed out that his neighbor's house is assessed at $270,000, but his neighbor isn't really a rich man. I had to explain that Democrats didn't propose to deny tax-break extensions to people with a net worth of over $250,000. Instead they proposed to continue the breaks for everybody on their first $250,000 of annual taxable income, allowing the rates to go back up on annual income over that. He was amazed. Why did he have it so wrong?

My friend relies on T.V. news for most of his information on politics and national policy. Most of the mainstream media have done a great job in preventing accurate and coherent accounts of what is really going on in Washington D.C. from leaking out to the masses. I wasn't really that surprised to discover that my friend was completely unaware of Bernie Sanders' historic day-long speech. He had heard all about Bill Clinton's impromptu talk to reporters in favor of the GOP/White House deal. Since the Senator from Vermont thoroughly demolished the nonsensical arguments put forth by plutocrat-enablers, he was thoroughly ignored by the mainstream media. The tiny minority of cable-T.V. watchers who tune into C-Span were the only folks allowed to appreciate the heroic oration of Bernie Sanders.

So what can we do to make up for the lack of reliable news in the national media? I would suggest that concerned Americans create opportunities to tell their stories to local papers, radio, and T.V. stations. Nearly all significant national policy debates have local angles. The refusal to authorize significant infrastructure spending, for example, will likely mean that local bridges and rail facilities will go unrepaired. Local news folks, especially outside of major metropolitan areas, are not quite as slavishly attuned to the wishes of the plutocrats as the national media. It takes a lot of creative energy, but it is still possible to give people the truth.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bernie's big day

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke on the floor yesterday for more than 8 hours, making fact-based arguments at a common-sense level. Here's a small snippet from his great oration:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Social Security is not welfare

Princeton history professor Julian Zelizer points out that the superficially attractive payroll "tax holiday," touted as a concession won from the GOP to help workers, may in fact be a dangerous paradigm shift that puts Social Security at risk.

The Social Security tax served two main political functions. The first has been to create strong ongoing support for the program from those who pay the taxes and those who receive the benefits. Social Security's contributory tax system creates perceptions of earned rights and helps distinguish the program from welfare. The tax has also made Social Security an inherently conservative program, at least from a fiscal standpoint, which has traditionally allowed many budget hawks -- like Wilbur Mills, the old Ways and Means chairman -- to support it. Unlike almost any other program, policymakers have been forced to adjust taxes to pay for the short-term obligations of government and to plan for future costs. The contrast with almost any other form of government spending, such as defense and agricultural subsidies, is striking. The design forced Congress to take the unpopular step of raising taxes and cutting benefits in 1977 and 1983 when the system faced insolvency...

By insulating the payroll tax from the perennial debates in Washington over cutting taxes to stimulate demand and investment, politicians have protected the program from short-term economic and partisan pressures.

But this time the situation appears to be different. President Obama and the congressional Republicans agreed to break with this precedent. In the future, proposals to further cut Social Security taxes -- including to do so on a permanent basis -- will certainly be on the table. Once politicians have tasted the political sweetness of tax cuts, they always come back for more. If they succeed, it will worsen the long-term budgetary challenges facing Social Security and create more room for opponents to attack. Indeed, simply by entering into a bipartisan agreement to change the way that Social Security taxes are discussed, the odds improve that one day, some politician might very well be able to scrap FDR's program.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back?

My first reaction to the proposed deal, on tax-cuts and UI benefit extensions, between President Obama and the GOP was to shake my head at how badly our side got rolled. President Obama was like a guy who walks into a used car lot, intent on buying a red Chevy. He tells the dealer: "I don't think I should pay more than $7,000 for that red Chevy. Of course, you should also know I have $10,000 in my wallet. Anyways, that looks like a nice stereo in there... too bad listening to music makes it hard for me to drive. O.K., if it helps you sell me this car I guess you could pull out the sound system. By the way, my cousin is a mechanic so I won't be needing that 60 day warranty..." It's hard to imagine less skillful negotiating than the embarrassing performance we've just witnessed. Yet Kevin Drum makes a strong case that even a master deal-maker would have a hard time in this environment:

I think there's a big problem with this framing. It assumes that our weakness is mostly with negotiating tactics: Democrats need to demonstrate that they're willing to accept a whole lot of wreckage if they don't get their way, and once they've done that Republicans will realize that they have to start compromising.

But there are two problems with this. First, there's a real asymmetry between liberal and conservative goals. Liberals want active change. This means they can't just obstruct. They have to figure out a way to build a supermajority coalition for complicated legislation, and that means compromise. And everyone knows this. So compromise is baked into the cake. But conservatives, to a much larger extent, are often OK with simply preventing things from changing, either as their first best or second best position. For that, all you have to do is maintain a very simple position among a minority caucus. No real coalition building or compromise is necessary.

Second, political coalitions are simply too public to sustain an artificial bargaining posture. The problem with the Democratic caucus isn't that they negotiate badly, it's that the Democratic caucus is genuinely fractured. And again, everyone knows it. You can't pretend you're willing to go to the mat against high-end tax cuts when there are half a dozen Democratic senators who support high-end tax cuts and Republicans know there are half a dozen Democratic senators who support high-end tax cuts. To fix this, you need more liberal Democrats, not tougher leadership.

The problem with trying to make deals and collaborate with big-money backed politicians is that they think they can buy enough votes to stay in power, no matter how irresponsible their behavior. Bribing and appeasing them only makes our party seem equally corrupt in the eyes of many voters. Standing up to them, even when it provokes tantrums from the right, is the only thing that will motivate voters to turn out for Democrats in 2012. Drum is right that the Democratic caucus isn't united on every issue. Yet there are indeed clear differences between the parties. Only Republicans insisted that budget-busting tax-cuts be handed out on income over a million dollars per year. While some Republican voters applaud this, a majority of Republicans do not. Of course, how to cut through the Faux News noise to inform average Americans of what their Republican representatives are actually doing in Washington? The only person with a "bully pulpit" from which to proclaim the truth and be heard is President Obama himself. If he's simply unwilling to engage in fierce partisan debate, then he will have to live with disappointing results.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The wealthiest nation on earth

You know my heart just bleeds for those millionaires and billionaires who might see their taxes go back up to Clinton-era rates. The rest of us out here can't imagine how they suffer!

Invisible City Winter | Nashville, TN | January 2010 from Russel Albert Daniels on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making a good deal, or getting the shaft?

Here's an observation from Paul Krugman:

A further thought on the tax deal: didn’t the administration repeat exactly the same mistake it made on the original stimulus? The stimulus was too small; but it also too short-lived, with the maximum impact on growth coming in the winter of 2009-2010, then turning negative just in time for the midterm election.

Now we have unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts for 2011, going away in 2012 — just in time to put the administration in big trouble as the election looms.

This only makes sense if you believe we’ll be in a self-sustaining, strong recovery by late 2011. Stranger things have happened, but …

And remember, mistaken forecasts of self-sustaining recovery taking hold were a big part of the original stimulus mistake

The stimulative aspects of this deal only partially compensate for the reckless, massive giveaway to the wealthy, one that several millionaires and billionaires took pains to say they didn't want. And, as Paul Krugman notes, these positive benefits are only short term. It seems as if this lame-duck deal is little better than what we could have done after the Republicans take over the House in January. After all, the top 2% tax-cuts are not going to become more popular, no amount of GOP doublespeak would be able to change the perception, shared even by a majority of Republican voters, that these cuts do no one but the rich any good. The evidence is mounting that President Obama is listening to advice from D.C. operatives, who are clueless as to what ordinary folks outside of the Beltway are thinking.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Green Mountain Rebel?

It looks like Senator Bernie Sanders isn't any happier about this than I am:

Crumbs from the table?

Brian Beutler has this at Talking Points Memo:

Senior White House officials tonight put a positive spin on the tax cut framework President Obama has agreed to with the GOP, while insisting, repeatedly, that they oppose -- and will only reluctantly swallow a two year extension of the Bush tax cuts. But the tentative deal is now subject to the consideration of Congressional Democrats who have already telegraphed serious concerns with the plan.

On a conference call with reporters, administration officials boasted of securing nearly $200 billion in new stimulus measures -- a one-year, two-percent payroll tax cut, and a year-long extension of unemployment insurance -- in exchange for giving the wealthiest Americans two further years of tax cuts. But though this framework will punt the tax cut fight into the 2012 elections, frightening a number of Congressional Democrats, the officials insist that they will not shy away from the fight as election season heats up..

So President Obama blinked first. While some might see this as a satisfactory compromise, I can't help but feel we've been badly let down. There is no reason that the GOP couldn't have been forced to beg much longer for their tax cuts for the rich. They should have been forced to take several more votes against middle-class tax cuts and UI benefits extensions. Or better still, simply refuse to play ball and come back fighting in January. Now people see the plutocrats grabbing theirs, and then (if they bargained in good faith) tossing a bone to the rest of us.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pat Buchanan defends the indefensible

Pat Buchanan repeats a line that unfortunately is sometimes still taken seriously by people in America. "I've never been given a job by a poor person." This is meant to imply that cutting taxes on wealthy folks will somehow stimulate job creation. Yet, for this to make sense the line should be: "I've never been given a job by a poor person, or a wealthy person paying a higher tax rate than those in effect after the Bush cuts of 2001-2003." Really Pat? You spent most of your life in an economy with much higher tax rates and more robust job creation than under Bush. There's a hidden threat in this line as well-- better give us what we want or we won't hire anybody. Many Americans have begun to discount this threat as they realize that giving the rich whatever they wanted didn't stop them from outsourcing millions of jobs.

What's the difference?

In case you want a little reminder of what they're fighting about:

from http://dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com/dont_mess_with_taxes/2010/08/democrat-vs-republican-tax-cut-graphics.html

Who wants to give tax-cuts to millionaires?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, December 3, 2010

Department of Labor

Here's some news from James Parks in Albany:

Workers in New York State soon will be protected against wage theft by a new law. The State Assembly yesterday passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act, which will increase penalties significantly and improve enforcement of state laws on wage theft. The State Senate passed the bill in June and Gov. David Paterson (D) has vowed to sign it into law. Wage theft is a national epidemic that robs millions of workers of billions of dollars they’ve worked for but never see, says Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), which coordinated the National Day of Action Against Wage Theft last month.

In New York State, unscrupulous employers steal more than $18.4 million a week, almost $1 billion each year, from their workers by cheating them out of minimum wages and overtime pay, according to a recent study. The study by the National Employment Law Center (NELP) found that low-wage workers in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles are routinely denied proper overtime pay and often are paid less than the minimum wage.

In July, Illinois enacted a law against wage theft. The New York and Illinois laws are part of a growing national focus on stemming the epidemic of wage theft. Earlier this year, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved a country-wide wage theft ordinance. Several states, including Washington State, Massachusetts and New Mexico, have toughened penalties for employers who steal workers’ wages, according to IWJ Public Policy Director Ted Smukler said. In April, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis unveiled a new campaign to inform workers about their pay rights and to put a stop to wage theft.

The New York law will increase penalties, increase protection for workers who speak out about wage theft and add tools the state Department of Labor and courts can use to investigate cases and actually collect the money owed to workers.

Here's one area where workers actually have seen an improvement in the past couple of years. States like New York, and Massachusetts, now have a strong ally in U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis when they attempt to enforce labor laws. Under the Bush Regime, dishonest employers could count on a nod and a wink from the Feds. Even the most appalling and clear-cut cases were allowed to slide. Now if only we could only create a whole lot of new jobs where Americans can enjoy their rights!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Senator Sanders of Vermont

Too bad that more Democratic Senators aren't getting as passionate as their Independent colleague from Vermont!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bottom of the ninth, two men out

President Obama has reached a pivotal moment in his presidency. He has a chance to build overwhelming popular support to help rebuild this country. Or, he can persist in trusting that the essential human decency of his Republican opponents will someday emerge. He cannot do both. The Republicans have refused the hand of friendship and spat in his face. The belief that they will start to act in the best interests of the country is nothing short of delusional. Even some who stayed home, or voted Republican, on November 2 are starting to recognize this fact. The Republicans insist that we must spend hundreds of billions on tax-cuts for the wealthy. At the same moment, they claim we're too broke to help keep millions of jobless off the streets. This hypocrisy exposes the GOP as a mere political arm of the most heartless plutocrats. Even the billionaire Warren Buffet is offended by these corrupt charlatans. Yet, over the last couple of weeks President Obama has gone the extra mile to give the Republicans, and their big-money sponsors, another chance to start behaving in a responsible fashion. At this point the President needs to put his foot down hard. He can no longer afford to listen to those who tell him that the plutocrats need to be part of the process. His only chance to regain some public trust, and political power, is to show Americans that he knows that trickle-down economics doesn't work. He needs to point out that it's wrong for a handful of Americans to profit from outsourcing jobs and foreclosing on homes. He needs to start demanding, without apology, that those who wrecked our economy with their reckless greed play a role in helping start to make it whole.

I don't think President Obama likes to confront his political enemies. He had dearly hoped that he could be a leader who inspired everyone to do the right thing, irregardless of race, class, or political party. Yet appealing to our better natures will not always work. President Obama must simply accept that some will defend to the death their profits and privilege. Others have been brainwashed by Faux News to robotically follow the Republican talking points of the day, even if they're in direct contradiction to the Republican talking points of yesterday. The other two-thirds of the country is ready to believe that Republicans aren't working for them. It's President Obama's job to convince them they are actually represented by Democrats. The only way to credibly make that case is to begin standing up to the plutocrats, at least on some issues.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time for action on jobs

Alana Semuels, of the L.A. Times, provides us this sobering report:

In May, a record 46% of all jobless Americans had been out of work for more than six months. That's the highest level since the government started keeping track in 1948, and it's about double the percentage of long-term unemployed seen during the brutal recession of the early 1980s.

Jobless Americans such as Mignon Veasley-Fields of Los Angeles don't need government data to tell them that something has changed. A former administrative assistant at an L.A. charter school, she has searched fruitlessly for employment for more than two years. She's losing hope of ever working again.

"If I were 18, I'd say, 'I can bounce back.' But I'm 61," said Veasley-Fields, a dignified woman with graying, close-cropped hair. "It's really scary. It's like someone just put a pillow over your head and smothered you."

Laid off in June 2008 from her $45,000-a-year post, Veasley-Fields at first wasn't overly concerned. A college graduate, she had always enjoyed steady employment, including a long stint as a research manager at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. She crafted a crisp resume, networked through job clubs and navigated online employment sites like the seasoned researcher that she is.

But weeks stretched into months, with hundreds of unanswered job applications. California's jobless rate in July stood at 12.3%, the third-highest in the nation, behind Nevada and Michigan. Veasley-Fields' unemployment benefits have run out, her credit cards are maxed. She fears losing the tidy mid-Wilshire District bungalow where she and her 77-year-old husband are raising two granddaughters. Above all, she's stunned that a middle-class life that took decades to build could unravel so quickly. She recently visited a food bank to secure enough staples to feed the girls.

"I'm just hanging on a thread," she said.

Veasley-Fields suspects her age isn't doing her any favors. Indeed, 50.9% of unemployed workers 55 to 64 have been out of work at least 27 weeks. That's the highest percentage of long-term unemployment for any age group.

But young workers are suffering too. In August, the unemployment rate for workers 16 to 24 was 18.1%.

Research has shown that economic downturns can stunt the prospects of these new entrants to the job market for a decade or longer. Some college graduates unable to find jobs in their chosen fields are forced to trade down to lower-skilled, often temporary work. That translates into puny wages, missed opportunities and a slower climb up the career ladder.

Our elected leaders need to be told loudly and clearly, that we need jobs right now. Rebuilding infrastructure would be a great way to put many to work. Yet why stop there? The WPA hired actors, writers, photographers. A lot of public high schools would really benefit from someone coming in to teach computer graphic design, or book-keeping. In fact, the government should be motivated to directly hire people for any kind of work that can be thought of. Freezing the pay of those already in the public sector won't do much to solve our nation's economic woes. We should demand that putting millions of Americans back to work take precedence over redistributing even more wealth upwards to those few who already control most of our nation's riches. We should also work towards establishing a better work environment for all, through rebuilding unions into a force that can once again improve the lot of all working Americans. We are proud of our patience and self-reliance. Now is the time to admit that our patience is exhausted. We must also recognize we need to start working together. Imagine if all the exploited "independent" truckers chose a day to stop driving, refusing to budge until the bosses were on the phone with the Teamsters? What if that same day all the underpaid call-center folks (there's still some left in the U.S.!) were to develop laryngitis? Or all the good public-sector people who just had their pay frozen. Can't come to work today, frostbite don't you know? There's no reason legions of unemployed folks should be lonely at home. Why not join with thousands of others on the State House steps? In short, let's get real people!

Monday, November 29, 2010

This is why we are so lucky in Rhode Island to have Senator Sheldon Whitehouse working in D.C. on our behalf:

The good Senator calmly takes the side of average citizens against huge banks, pointing out that even the banks sometimes benefit if they work in good faith to resolve a mortgage default situation. He is absolutely right that the current foreclosure mess is made worse by the failure of the banks to work in a meaningful way with homeowners. It's not asking too much that a bank send a live person with authority to meet with people before throwing them out on the street.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

School Days

Well our Thanksgiving break is over. Those who work to educate our youth return to school tomorrow, refreshed and eager to teach their brilliant pupils. That is, unless they happen to read this piece from the Onion:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive, nationwide evaluation of American schools Monday indicating that attempts to teach absolutely anything to these little shits is just a huge waste of everybody's time.

"We remain committed to providing every student in the country with access to a high-quality education," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adding that good schools are a key component to the success of American democracy. "But to be honest, none of that matters. We're not talking about promising young scholars here—we're talking about a bunch of fucking animals."

"We've basically flushed $11,000 down the toilet for every single one of these little bastards," Duncan continued. "Not to mention 18 years of my life."

The study, which analyzed the effectiveness of both public and private schools, found that efforts to enlighten these terrors on the subjects of math, history, grammar, and science are as productive as slamming your head into a goddamn brick wall. The research also confirmed that the unbearable shits, who take everything for granted, consistently piss away each learning opportunity they're given.

"When I first started teaching, I would see the smiling faces in my classroom and get excited about nurturing their young minds," said Melanie Whitman, 35, a first-grade teacher quoted in the report. "Now I can't look up from my desk without wanting to puke at the sight of all those little psychopaths."

Secretary Duncan said the study is the first to provide detailed evidence in support of the theory that third-grader Scott Kriesel is a complete fuck-up and perhaps even the living incarnation of Satan.

According to the report, billions of dollars in federal resources have been spent to modernize classrooms and improve teacher training, even though the little brats spend their entire days carving profanities into desks, shouting at whoever's in charge, and refusing to sit down, shut up, and actually learn something for once.

In addition, research suggests that school boards across the nation have grown tired of fighting to obtain funding for brand-new textbooks only to have the miserable fucks just deface them all with ejaculating penis drawings on the first day of class.

When asked if charter schools might help solve some of the problems faced by public education, Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W. Miller told reporters the data indicated any difference they made would amount to jack shit.

"Some charter schools perform better than their public counterparts, some don't," Miller said. "You can't change the fact that any school, no matter how it's funded, is ultimately just another type of building to contain these goddamn monsters for seven hours a day."

Miller added that more involvement from home was not the answer, either, as the little shits tend to have shithead parents who just make everything worse. The only findings from the study that provide a glimmer of hope, he said, are student absenteeism and dropout rates, which continue to increase.

"Christ, I dedicated my career to my students, actually thinking I could make a difference in their lives," middle-school teacher Joan Kubickers said Monday. "If I'd gone into public relations, I'd be making six figures by now. And at a PR firm, I bet I wouldn't have to worry about my tires getting slashed in the parking lot."

"Well, I have to go," she added. "The fucking hyenas in my third-period class await."

The Department of Education study comes on the heels of a survey last month that found 90 percent of all elementary school students resent being taught by pathetic losers who couldn't get a decent job in the real world.

I, for one. am glad they included the elementary kids' survey results at the end. They help prevent the article from overly romanticizing what goes on in our schools!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Loaves and fishes

Yesterday in Toronto, Tony Blair (former British P.M. and a recent convert to Catholicism) and Christopher Hitchens (noted author and atheist), debated whether religion has been a net force for good or evil in the world. This is a fascinating subject that we shall examine when the full videotape of the debate becomes available for analysis. Looking at U.S. history it is clear that some deeply religious people, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for example, have done tremendous good. Jerry Falwell? Not so much.

Is Christianity to blame for the hateful and anti-progressive attitudes of so many who profess to follow the cross? I would argue that at this moment in America we are not so much endangered by Christianity as we are by certain perversions of Christianity. Of course,"Christian" bigotry and violence are severe threats. In this piece by Mike Luz, however, the emphasis is more on how "conservative Christians" have radically distorted the fundamental Christian teachings of compassion and fairness.

Conservative Christians' primary argument regarding Jesus and politics is that all he cared about was spiritual matters and an individual's relationship with God. As a result, they say, all those references from Jesus about helping the poor relate only to private charity, not to society as a whole. Their belief is that Jesus, and the New Testament in general, is focused on one thing and one thing only: how do people get into heaven.

The Jesus of the New Testament was of course extremely concerned with spiritual matters: there is no doubt whatsoever about his role or interest in the issues of the day, that the spiritual well-being of his followers was a major interest of his. How much he was involved with or interested in the political situation of the day is a matter of much debate and interpretation. Some say it was a lot and others that it was pretty limited or, as conservatives would say, not at all. However, much of a priority or focus it was, though, if you actually read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus' main concern in terms of the people whose fates he cared about was for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast. Comment after comment and story after story in the Gospels about Jesus relates to the treatment of the poor, generosity to those in need, mercy to the outcast, and scorn for the wealthy and powerful. And his philosophy is embedded with the central importance of taking care of others, loving others, treating others as you would want to be treated. There is no virtue of selfishness here, there is no "greed is good," there is no invisible hand of the market or looking out for Number One first. There is nothing about poor people being lazy, nothing about the undeserving poor being leeches on society, nothing about how I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps so everyone else should, too. There is nothing about how in nature, "the lions eat the weak," and therefore we shouldn't help the poor because it weakens them. There is nothing about charity or welfare corrupting a person's spirit.

What there is: quote after quote about compassion for the poor. In Jesus' very first sermon of his ministry, the place where he launched his public career, he stated the reason he had come: to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to help the oppressed go free, and that he was here to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord -- which in Jewish tradition meant the year that poor debtors were forgiven their debts to bankers and the wealthy. In Luke 6, Jesus says the poor and hungry will be blessed, and the rich will be cursed. He urges his followers to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. The one time he really focuses on God's judgment and who goes to heaven is in Matthew 25, where he says those who go to heaven will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison, gave shelter to the hungry, and welcomed the stranger -- and those who don't make it were the ones who refused to help the poor and oppressed.

And he was a really serious class warrior, too -- he wasn't just into helping the poor; he didn't seem to like rich folks very much. In Matthew 6, he focuses on the love of money as a major problem. In Luke 11, he berates a wealthy lawyer for burdening the poor. In Luke 12, he says that the wealthy who store up treasure are cursed by God. In Luke 14, he says if we throw a party, we should invite all poor people and no rich people, and suggests that the wealthy already turned down their invitation to God's feast, and that it is the poor who will get into heaven (a theme repeated multiple times). He says that the rich people will have a harder time getting to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. He chases the wealthy bankers and merchants from the Temple.

I have never heard a conservative Christian quote any of these verses -- not once, and I have been in a lot of discussions with Christian conservatives, and heard a lot of their speeches and sermons. The one verse they always quote (and I mean always -- I have never talked to a conservative Christian about economics and not heard them quote this verse) is the one time in which Jesus says that "the poor will always be with us." The reason they love this quote so much is that they interpret that line to mean that in spite of everything else Jesus said about the poor, that since the poor will always be with us, we don't need to worry about trying to help them. Apparently since the poor will always be with us, we can go ahead and screw them. But Jesus making a prediction that there will always be oppressive societies doesn't mean he wanted us to join the oppressors. By clinging desperately to that one verse in the Bible, and ignoring all the others about the poor and the rich, Christian conservatives show themselves to be hypocrites, plain and simple.

While this is certainly not a new tactic, I wish more progressive critics of conservative politicians would point out how various schemes are not only foolish, bad policy, but also in violation of the core "Christian values" the right-wingers profess to uphold.

Friday, November 26, 2010

North Spokane a beacon of light

This story helped to prolong my giving of thanks for another day. Craig Phillips could have simply seen the unused space he had to keep heating as a nuisance. Instead, he saw an opportunity to provide some help to those who need it most. Kudos for a job well done!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope with all my heart and soul that people are able to enjoy a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving. My family, friends and I are very blessed, and give each other support and love throughout the year. Remember challenges and disappointments may slow us, but they don't have to stop us. Live in peace, Ulysses.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Europe veering to the right?

Disgusted with Faux News, the new Tea partiers in Congress, and Rush Limbaugh? Wouldn't it be nice to pack up and move to Europe, that reliable bastion of social democratic sanity? Well, you might want to hold off on buying that one way ticket to Geneva. From Ian Traynor's piece in The Guardian:

The centre-left is losing support across Europe to the extreme right. Recent gains for the extremists have been at the expense of Sweden's and Austria's social democratic parties and the Dutch Labour party, with the far right prospering in cities with significant immigrant populations that traditionally voted for the left.

The anti-immigrant policy gains made in recent months look likely to continue. In Switzerland, polls show majority support for a referendum this month demanding summary deportation of foreigners sentenced for petty crimes, not just for more serious crimes as up till now. The plebiscite is being organised by the rightwing Swiss People's party, which a year ago won another referendum banning minarets.

In France there are growing calls within President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party for a merger with Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front. A poll last month showed one-third of UMP voters backed joint electoral pacts with the National Front. In Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi is in coalition with the far-right Northern League, the interior minister has announced a new crackdown on expelling EU citizens who cannot support themselves, a policy aimed at east European Roma and aping Sarkozy's summer expulsions in France.

When I lived in Italy the Roma (or "Gyspies") were certainly marginalized, but the government mostly tried to protect them from violence and harassment. Now it seems the Italians might follow the French lead and allow old prejudices to dictate current policy. The Swiss have never had much tolerance for non-wealthy foreigners, perhaps a new sort of xenophobia will prove a costly mistake. It could make them lose out on the benefits of having oil-rich Arabs spend money in their expensive shops and restaurants. In any case, if we could convince some of our Islamophobic nutcases to leave America and join their racist brethren, in the old country, we might catch a break. Who knows, they might even change their minds about "socialized medicine!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mobilizing Money

Here's a report by Michael Luo in today's New York Times:

In what may prove a significant development for the 2012 elections, David Brock, a prominent Democratic political operative, says he has amassed $4 million in pledges over the last few weeks and is moving quickly to hire a staff to set up what he hopes will become a permanent liberal counterweight over the airwaves to the Republican-leaning outside groups that spent so heavily on this year’s midterm elections. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former Maryland lieutenant governor and the eldest of Robert F. Kennedy's 11 children, has agreed to serve as the chairwoman of the group, which will be called American Bridge, lending to the still extremely nascent undertaking the weight of what remains one of the most significant families in Democratic politics.

Leading Democratic donors who have already pledged money to the group include Rob McKay, heir to the Taco Bell fortune and chairman of the Democracy Alliance, a partnership of wealthy liberal donors; Robert Dyson, who heads Dyson-Kissner-Moran, a takeover and acquisitions firm in New York City; and Marcia L. Carsey, a television producer who gave $1 million to Democratic outside groups in 2004.

Mr. Brock said in an interview that he planned to formally file papers with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to set up American Bridge as what is known as an independent-expenditure-only political action committee, meaning it will be able to take in contributions of unlimited size from individuals and corporations but must regularly disclose its donors.

This story should give me hope, but it actually makes me sad. I know first hand, from my recent experience working for David Cicilline's congressional campaign, that it is literally impossible to compete in American politics without some money. What makes me sad is that it takes so much money. I can't help wishing that some underfunded, populist David would soundly trounce the corporate-friendly Goliath and encourage other brave souls with limited resources to enter the fray. Voters often mistake the anti-intellectualism of conservatives for genuine anti-elitism. By railing against Paul Krugman, they can pretend to be attacking the establishment. Yet the truth is not many liberals of modest means get involved in national politics. If you're going to confront the power of the plutocrats it helps to have access to cash of your own. What I'd love to see is somebody who could mount a genuine grassroots campaign, without the need to bow and scrape before wealthy donors to stay in the game. We can only dream!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Donald gets an earful of Glenn Beck

It's truly amazing how this was put together so well by the creative genius at http://www.rebelliouspixels.com Enjoy!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fastening our own chains?

An alert reader clued me in to an interesting study that has yet to make a big splash in the media. The study, conducted by Cornell's Peter Enns and University of Tennessee's Nathan Kelly, compared attitudes towards progressive taxation and welfare spending in times of higher and lower income inequality.

New research findings add complexity to the basic assumption that humans act in their own economic self-interest. By analyzing hundreds of survey questions from 1952 to 2006, Peter Enns, assistant professor of government, and Nathan Kelly of the University of Tennessee found that as inequality rises, low income individuals' attitudes toward redistribution become more conservative. Their paper appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

"It's a bit of a conundrum," Enns admits.

The researchers also examined public opinion data on the question: Should government increase spending on welfare, keep it the same or decrease it? "As inequality rose, the high- and low-income respondents on average become less supportive of spending on welfare," Enns said. "And this is not because low-income people are unaware of inequality; our results show they are more aware of it than most people."

The researchers found that higher levels of household income inequality in the United States generate more conservative public opinion. "We broke down pubic opinion by income group and found the high- and low-income groups responding in a similar way, both becoming more conservative when inequality rises," Enns said. "We were very surprised to observe that the self-reinforcing aspect of inequality holds for high- and low-income groups, and how they move together in parallel over time."

Previous economic models predicted that low-income individuals will consistently support government redistribution. "If anything, when inequality rises, low-income people should become more supportive, and that's not what we observe in the data," said Enns, a member of the Institute for Social Sciences theme project on Judgment, Decision Making, and Social Behavior and faculty director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.

Conversely, when inequality declines, the public becomes more liberal. The public works projects and other social programs following the Great Depression helped promote decades of declining inequality into the 1960s, Enns said. "And then there's a shift," he said. "Once inequality starts going back up, it appears to be perpetuated by public opinion. If inequality declined in the United States, our results suggest that then the public would become more supportive of government redistribution."

Nevertheless, people in the lowest income group favor more redistribution than those in the highest income group.

How can we explain this? Part of it may be simply a reflection of greater conservative domination of media after Reagan's first election. Yet I have another theory. People tend to approach the world with a rational or magical bias. When the reality you observe seems to follow reasonable rules, then it makes sense to apply rational solutions to problems. When the world is way out of balance, then praying for miracles seems the best approach. When your uncle goes to college on the G.I. bill, prospers, and builds a house, then you might feel part of an economic and political system that can work for all. When the Reagan government starts saying that ketchup is a vegetable, and raises payroll taxes while cutting income taxes on the wealthy, then alienation begins. When CEOs, who used to make about 40 times what their workers made, start making more than 400 times an average worker's salary, then lower-income folks see they no longer live in the bosses' world. Capitalism is now obviously an obscure and impenetrable system, lavishing huge rewards on an ever smaller ruling class, while leaving most working folks to fall behind. The mythology of stardom replaces the belief in the Great Society. Rap stars from the projects, country music stars from the farm, these become heroic figures, while making good money as a union shop steward recedes as an impossible dream. Better to buy lottery scratch tickets than study engineering. Who can trust government to do the right thing with our tax dollars? Better to imagine the possibility of sudden, improbable success. In this magical world, the rich will someday take care of the poor without a government middleman, and we'll all live happily ever after. The sad truth is, without any faith that the system cares, then transferring some money from the rich to the government seems futile. Only those of us who still feel connected to the system might worry about making it work better. Sadly, many of the rich and powerful, who could do something about it, seem content to see income inequality get even worse.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Where are the jobs??!?

Here's a comment from Kat Posing, a Huffpost reader, responding to an article on age discrimination and other problems in the U.S. job market

I'm 45, work in IT and I'm scared to death of what will happen when I turn 50. I had the hardest time getting this job - I've got almost 20 years of experience, have managed large IT teams both local and overseas, but Im overqualified for a mid range or even some senior positions. Their afraid I'll ask for too much money or will leave when I find a better position. They can hire cheaper college grads (with no experience) or a visa holder or just plain outsource the job if they can.

It's funny, I've got a college degree in computer science, started working on an MBA, but I had someone from the Unemployment office ask me if I would be willing to take a 50% cut in pay to do the same job. Mortgage and car payments, child care, general cost of living don't just get cut in half overnight. Then they asked me if I would consider moving into another field. Every job I've got experience in - clerical, computer programming , business analyst, project manager, database analyst, even general middle management - has been decimated over the last 10 years. You are supposedly training people to do the type of work I do from previous manufacturing jobs.

My question is what job do I go to from here?

Oh yeah. Walmart greeter or a cashier at McDonalds

Fellow Huffpost reader, Jane Joad, has this response to the same piece:

Well I'm glad the nightmare we've (me and the old man) been living for almost two years has come to light. WE'RE TOO OLD ALREADY, he's 53, I'm 58 and even though we don't look like our parents, we look like SOMEBODY'S parents, and I think that the people doing the hiring, unless they are our peers, DON'T want us around.

Whether they feel threatened by our experience, or we just look too damn much like Mom and Dad, I don't know. Either way it's DISCRIMINATION.

They don't want to pay us what we deserve for the knowledge WE possess, yet they can't figure out why their business is doing bad and they lost so many customers. It's because that
kid you've got working for you, that you pay the minimum, is RUDE, incompetent and doesn't give a damn about your business.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. That used to mean something. Now we pay overseas workers less and CEO'S more for the INFERIOR products that flood our markets. I hope
this does some good. It should be the headline EVERYDAY until people our age are back to work.

BTW, Republicans ALREADY KNEW older workers were shut out. WHY do you think they want to raise the retirement age? Talk about death panels, these guys are making a CONCERTED EFFORT to PENURE a particular class of people.

I didn't work all my life and pay taxes since I was 16 to lose EVERYTHING NOW. But I AM.

The anguish of those who can't find work is heartbreaking, but the anxiety of even those who have a job is also palpable. I know there's no easy solution, but we can all pressure business and government leaders to make jobs a higher priority. As consumers we can try to buy union-made products, and avoid giving our hard-earned dollars to companies that aggressively exploit cheap labor. Those who try to help their short-term political interests by deliberately blocking useful, and job creating, public works (like Gov. Christie of N.J.) should be vilified-- and far more harshly than by the mild rebukes of a gentleman like Paul Krugman.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Patriotic Rich People Deserve Credit

Here is the text of an open letter that a group of millionaires is sending to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President

We are writing to urge you to stand firm against those who would put politics ahead of their country.

For the fiscal health of our nation and the well-being of our fellow citizens, we ask that you allow tax cuts on incomes over $1,000,000 to expire at the end of this year as scheduled.

We make this request as loyal citizens who now or in the past earned an income of $1,000,000 per year or more.

We have done very well over the last several years. Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share. We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers. The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.

Letting tax cuts for incomes over $1,000,000 expire, is an important step in that direction.

So far, millionaires from all over the country have joined in this patriotic gesture. They have even set up a website that makes it easy for millionaires to add their name to the letter. If you happen to be a millionaire reading this blog you must do two things right away: 1)click on the paypal "donate" button towards the top right of my blog, and 2) visit the "Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength" website and sign this letter!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A tough winter ahead

House Democrats, under an arrangement that requires a two-thirds majority for passage, were unable to extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans. As Arthur Delaney reports:

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted down a measure that would have reauthorized extended unemployment insurance for another three months, leaving no clear path forward to prevent the benefits from lapsing as scheduled on Nov. 30.

Without a reauthorization, the Labor Department estimates that two million long-term unemployed will prematurely stop receiving benefits before the end of the year.

"I think it's a sad moment," said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) after the vote. "It appalls me that the Republicans keep pitching and pitching and pitching the tax cuts for the rich and won't join in a bill to help people keep their homes and not have to live in their cars."

The bill was brought to the floor under a "suspension of the rules," meaning it required approval from two-thirds of the House. It failed 258 to 154, with mostly Democratic support. Twenty-one Republicans voted in favor and 11 Democrats voted nay.

I guess it shouldn't be any surprise that Heath Shuler was one of the 11 so-called "Democrats" who voted against continuing to help millions of jobless Americans survive. Nancy Pelosi should tell all of the families in his district, that will be hurt, to set up a "tent city" in Rep. Shuler's fancy neighborhood.

Alan Grayson gets real

It is a real shame we're losing Alan Grayson in Congress:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An easy choice

Robert Reich points out how sound economic policy and basic decency both demand the same response:

Republicans are still spouting nutty Social Darwinism. Cutting taxes on the rich is better than helping the unemployed, they say, because the rich will create jobs with their extra money while giving money to the unemployed reduces their desire to look for work.

Rubbish. The Bush tax cuts on the top never trickled down. Between 2002 and 2007 the median wage dropped, adjusted for inflation. And job growth was pathetic.

Jobless benefits don’t deter the unemployed from finding work. In most states, unemployment benefits are a fraction of former wages. And as long as unemployment remains sky-high, there are no jobs to be had anyway.

Besides, the economic downturn was hardly their fault. If anyone is to blame it’s the high-flyers on Wall Street who gambled away other people’s money, and the rich denizens of corporate executive suites who have sliced payrolls in order to show higher profits (and get more money from their stock options).

So why reward the people at the top with an extension of the Bush tax cut that will blow a hole in the budget deficit? And why fail to extend jobless benefits to hardworking Americans who got the boot?

Quick action is needed. Jobless benefits begin to lapse in just two weeks. Two million unemployed workers will be affected. If Congress fails to act, another 1.2 million will stop receiving benefits by the end of December. Most of the rest of those who now receive federal emergency extended benefits will gradually lose them.

Don’t extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. Give unemployment benefits to people who need them.

Secretary Reich was always my favorite face in the Clinton administration. He has an admirably direct and forceful style, while at the same time possessing a healthy respect for reality. I can't help wondering if President Obama might have had better economic success if he had chosen to heed Robert Reich's words more often.