Thursday, June 30, 2011

Models of Efficiency

A central dogma of conservative ideology is that private corporations and capitalist moguls are the best at what they do. They deserve gargantuan paychecks because they make it rain money for everyone else.

Let's see how that how that plays out for two sports franchises: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Dodgers recently filed for bankruptcy. How did one of the sports' most vaunted teams fall so low? Two words: Frank McCourt.

McCourt bought the team from NewsCorp (Fox) in 2004 for $430 million. McCourt made his wife, Jamie, CEO. The couple separated in 2009, during the playoff season. After the Dodgers were eliminated she was fired as CEO and filed for divorce.

Forbes valued the Dodgers at almost $800 million in 2010, an increase in value obtained largely by jacking up ticket and concession prices year after year. But now McCourt has bankrupted the team in order to pay off his divorce settlement. Another scandal involved the charitable Dodgers Dream Foundation, which was run by Howard Sunkin, one of McCourt's cronies who helped with his divorce. Sunkin's salary was $400K, a quarter of the foundation's entire budget.

McCourt, a prototypical high-flying capitalist Master of the Universe, has driven the Dodgers into the ground. He used the team's TV deal as a private piggy bank to pay $150 million for his wife's divorce settlement. He let his personal problems bankrupt a national icon.

On the other hand, we have the Green Bay Packers. Named the "best sports franchise" by ESPN The Magazine, the Packers have fans all around the country.

The Packers are a non-profit public corporation. Over 100,000 people hold the 4.7 million shares of Packer stock. The president is the only paid executive. The other members of the oversight committee provide their services gratis. In short, the Packers are the closest thing you can get to a government-run pro football team.

Green Bay is not a big town, but it manages to field a team that can win national championships. Cities with 10 times the population are told they're too small a market for professional sports franchises.

The Packers should be the model for all major-league sports franchises. Most every other team in the country has threatened to pick up and go to another city if the city or state doesn't pony up a billion dollars for a stadium. A stadium where there'll only be 13 four-hour home games a year. Given the average life-span of a stadium these days is only 20-30 years, this is not a good deal.

The Vikings are begging for a stadium in Minneapolis. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf claims they need one because the Metrodome is old and doesn't have the right facilities for luxury boxes. I might be inclined to build a stadium for the Vikings if they were organized like the Packers, and were certain to stay in town forever. But why should we pay a billion dollars for a stadium where millionaire CEOs can watch millionaire players toss a ball around for a billionaire owner? To add insult to injury, those luxury boxes are paid for by corporations, which will claim them as expenses and deduct them from their taxes. So I get to pay for the stadium and for the CEOs to watch it in sybaritic comfort.

Worse, if Wilf pulls a McCourt and bankrupts the Vikings, the team could be taken over by the league and sent to another higher-bidding city, leaving us with a billion-dollar white elephant.

I'm sure the Packers have their problems. But private corporations like Frank McCourt's Dodgers by their very nature are rampant with nepotism, cronyism, corruption and backroom deals. The slavish devotion conservatives pay to guys like Frank McCourt, Donald Trump, Donald Keating, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and the like makes no sense if you're interested in efficient, well-run corporations that do well for their shareholders.

Conservatives insist that government is inherently inefficient, wasteful, filled with cronyism and corruption. But as we've seen over and over again, private corporations are just as prone to these ills.

The difference is that with government we choose who's running the show. We have the right to see what's going on. And when we watch the process we see how messy and noisy and annoying it is. Because everyone gets their say, and government officials have to listen. Or we fire them in the next election.

Corporations don't work that way. They can hide all their dirty laundry beneath a veil of secrecy, so we don't see all the ugliness. The CEO dictates his decisions and fires any dissenters. The board of directors -- the only constraining force on the CEO -- is composed of other corporate CEOs who are only too happy to rubber-stamp the CEO's decisions, knowing that he will in turn rubber-stamp their decisions because he serves on their boards.

Only occasionally, as with Frank McCourt, is the veil of secrecy ripped away, when their greed and stupidity outpace their capacity to cover it all up.

So, which is more efficient? Frank McCourt's personal Dodgers fiefdom? Or the Green Bay Packers' non-profit public corporation?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

About Time

Most of the time, I get nauseated when the left bitches about President Obama. They really have no fucking clue what kind of country we live in today. For the most part, this is especially true when they whine about the president not being tough enough.

But today, I have to say, I was very happy to see the president call the right on their bullshit during his press conference today. The position the right has taken on taxes is so ludicrous that it's embarrassing given reality. Thankfully, most Americans are not with them.

Politifact has an iPhone app, b to the w, which is pretty mega and only $1.99.

And check out this poll.

26 percent blame President Bush, 25 percent blame Wall Street, 11 percent blame Congress and just 8 percent blame President Obama. In all honesty, this poll is just about the right distribution for blame. The other 30 percent could probably be a variety of other sources including the American people themselves.

All of this tells me that the doom and gloom about the president and the Democrats losing in 2012 is terribly short sighted. Most Americans aren't buying the narrative that the GOP and other parts of the right are peddling. It doesn't add up. They simply don't have any solutions for our problems and it's very clear that their past efforts have completely failed.

All they really have left is the media which they fake scorn every chance they get. Without them, I doubt anyone would pay attention to what anyone says on the right. They'd have their own little world where they could blow bowels about fake problems and the rest of us can get on with actually making this country a better place.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


There's been a lot to talk lately about how President Obama's economic policies are causing uncertainty. This is the reason conservatives are pointing to when defining our sluggish economy. Stirring up phantom fear is nothing new for them so it's not surprising to me whatsoever. And I still can't figure out how less regulation is going to help our economy to take off after less regulation nearly destroyed it. The facts are there. Some people don't want to listen.

But if you want to talk about the unknown, here is an article for you that I save from late last year. It also explains how less regulation was (and still is) a large part of our problem.

The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.

Really? I wonder why?

Banks’ influence over this market, and over clearinghouses like the one this select group advises, has costly implications for businesses large and small, like Dan Singer’s home heating-oil company in Westchester County, north of New York City.

This fall, many of Mr. Singer’s customers purchased fixed-rate plans to lock in winter heating oil at around $3 a gallon. While that price was above the prevailing $2.80 a gallon then, the contracts will protect homeowners if bitterly cold weather pushes the price higher.

But Mr. Singer wonders if his company, Robison Oil, should be getting a better deal. He uses derivatives like swaps and options to create his fixed plans. But he has no idea how much lower his prices — and his customers’ prices — could be, he says, because banks don’t disclose fees associated with the derivatives.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if I got a fair price, or what they’re charging me,” Mr. Singer said.

But wait...I thought that the free market took care of every one.

The marketplace as it functions now “adds up to higher costs to all Americans,” said Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates most derivatives. More oversight of the banks in this market is needed, he said.

Wait...huh? More regulation? That can't be possible!!! I'm afraid I don't understand.

I thought that in the free market we had a choice about all this stuff and this article not only says that we don't but members of these private banks set the rules and make the choices for us.

Well, at least I can rest comfortably knowing that Dodd Frank is in place and the GOP, ever the supporters of the middle class working man, will make sure that fairness rules the day.

Mr. Gensler wants to lessen banks’ control over these new institutions. But Republican lawmakers, many of whom received large campaign contributions from bankers who want to influence how the derivatives rules are written, say they plan to push back against much of the coming reform.

Or not.

The simple fact that no one knows how far and deep the derivatives market goes is an uncertainty that should be scaring more people. But since there's a lot of money involved and everyone's rich, there's no way it could be their fault if anything goes wrong again.

No fucking way.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Too Fucking Good!

This just popped up in comments down below in my post regarding Clarence Thomas. I decided to bring it out front because it's just that good!

Even without the other shenanigans in his home town, the Citizen's United decision and Ginny's organization allow Thomas to collect an unlimited amount of cash from corporations under the guise of his wife's salary and "foundation" income. If it looks like a payoff, and smells like a payoff, it is a payoff.

The guy doesn't say anything during oral arguments, doesn't ask any questions, doesn't have an ear for language, and his clerks seem to write all his opinions for him.

He says he doesn't like the adversarial back and forth of the courtroom, but that's exactly what trials and courts are about. He seems to be deathly afraid of putting his foot is his mouth and seeming like he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. He simply doesn't belong there.

The only reason he's there is that foolish Democratic Senators let the Republicans guilt them into putting an unqualified and incompetent judge on the Supreme Court.


Time to Go Buh Bye

I think it's time for Clarence Thomas to either recuse himself from some cases or step down as a Supreme Court justice. He's not fooling anyone anymore. A recent article in the New York Times illustrates this further.

His involvement with Harlan Crow should be more than enough but what's really insulting to the nation's intelligence is Virginia Thomas-wife of the justice. Ms. Thomas is an unabashed Tea Party activist who regularly raises money for their causes. She founded a group called Liberty Central and on their web site she is described as "a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham and other talk radio hosts. She is intrigued by Glenn Beck and listening carefully."

But hey, Ginny ain't on the SC, her husband there is no way that he's biased, right?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How Would You Choose?

There's a pretty easy way to tell the difference between me and the current incarnation of the conservative movement in this country. If my only two choices were John Huntsman and Dennis Kucinch, I'd vote for the former. This is assuming I must choose. Now, given a choice between Barack Obama and Michele Bachmann, who do you suppose the right would vote for if they had to choose?

If you had to choose, who would YOU pick?

Not only does the answer speak volumes about who is more open minded but it also torpedoes the "both sides" argument.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unions and Corporations: Not So Different

Mark included a comment from Jim in his recent post that got me thinking
"Jim: I agree that a materialistic culture and uninvolved parents are part of the problem, but it's pretty discouraging (although not surprising) to hear a teacher blithely dismiss the massive problems with union cronyism, self-interest, protection of terrible teachers, and total unconcern with educational outcomes."
The attitude Jim ascribes to teachers depicts perfectly the libertarian attitude of business.

(First order of business: you cannot argue that unions are somehow more corrupt than corporations. Enron, Wall Street and the crash of 2008, and hundreds of other examples indicate no sector of human activity is immune to corruption.)

Business is rife with cronyism (CEOs now all sit on each other compensation committees, which is why CEO salaries have skyrocketed faster than their workers' salaries in the last 30 years). Business leaders hire their sons, brothers, wives, pals and cronies all the time. Somehow that's all okay because, well, it's business.

The libertarian ideal is "enlightened self-interest." Self-interest is the lynch-pin of libertarian ideology. Nobody does anything for altruistic reasons in the money-grubbing world of the Rands Ayn and Paul. Why should union worker be any different?

Terrible businesses constantly battle regulations, which is how we protect society from corporations that have unsafe working conditions, release toxins and industrial waste into the environment that affect the health of us and our children, create unsafe products that hurt those that use them, and so on.

And businesses are totally unconcerned with broader societal outcomes resulting from their output: Pepsi and McDonalds create products that actively harm the health of the American people by making us fat, dumb and diabetic. Oil companies and car companies conspire to produce and fuel machines that pollute the air in our cities, killing people with emphysema, heart attacks and asthma. Cigarette companies make products that they know without doubt cause lung cancer. Power companies burn coal containing mercury that gets into our lakes and river, that we know causes irreparable damage to unborn children.

Yet these corporations are held up as noble captains of industry while unions are reviled as scum. Why is it right for corporations to be totally driven by self-interest and profit, and totally wrong for unionized teachers to have those same motivations?

When you come right down to it, unions are basically corporations run by the workers themselves, rather than some wealthy elite. Union workers are selling their labor for maximum profit, exactly the same way that oil companies sell gas.

Why all the hate for unions if they are, at their core, exactly the same as corporations except that they are investing their blood, sweat and tears instead of their capital? Why shouldn't they get as much as they can? That's just business, after all.

I just don't get American workers. So many are deathly opposed to unions, yet unions are really no different from corporations, except that they work to make the workers wealthier instead of the owners. Most American hourly workers suffer under a third-world serfdom, rather than the egalitarian European model.

Are Americans just afraid to buck the companies for fear of retribution? Is all the brave anti-union rhetoric really just them buckling under to corporate overlords who rule by some divine right of kings? People seem to think that hourly workers don't deserve to make a decent living.

It just doesn't make sense. Unions are made up of the workers. They can ultimately control the union, since the union is them. In most corporations the vast majority of hourly workers have no say. Workers don't have a vote in how the company runs at all. The only control they have is to quit. And in this economy, that's no control at all.

Only when hourly workers are united in unions do they have enough power to control their own fates, when they have enough power to make the corporations deal with their concerns. (This is of course different for certain kinds of high-demand, high-skill salaried workers like managers, marketers, and engineers, who often rise through the ranks to eventually run corporations.)

Why are so many Americans satisfied with being wage slaves? Where's their gumption? Where's their enlightened self interest?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Conversation (Part The Third)

Wrapping up my conversation with Jim.

Mark: I took a day or so to think about this thread and re-read the comments as you asked and basically I'm more confused than ever. On the one hand you say that it's OK to disagree with you yet on the other hand you seem very offended if I do so. On the one hand you say " I'm tired of being the target for your bashing of some generic conservative stereotype you've created in your mind" and then bring up Sowell and say "It's helped me understand why liberals think the way they do." That seems contradictory. Thomas Sowell is a monumentally biased source when it comes to examining things of this nature. It would be the same thing if I used Howard Zinn as an example and said it would help you to understand how conservatives think.

I've thought about what you said regarding my arrogance and I think the problem is neither liberal or conservative. It may just be who each of us are as people. I thought of a way to best illustrate a key difference between us.

Ann has shared stories of how much of a handy man you are around the house and in general. I don't have much experience nor expertise in doing things like this and if we were to ever build something together I would not in the least bit be offended if you said things like "Think're not using your spatial intelligence....look at it from this angle...." Or even "you're spouting (the carpentry version of) dogma." You have a greater knowledge and expertise in this area so I think it's fine for you to say them. I, however, have a greater knowledge set and experience in the area of education. So, when I said the things I did I was hoping you would think similarly as I would if we were building something.

I was wrong about this because you were offended and I apologize. I also wrongly assumed that because of our discussion (last October when I was in town) about Juan Williams being fired from NPR that you were weary of people that were offended all the time at everything and that people should just be free to say what's on their mind. Again, my mistake and I apologize for assuming things that I shouldn't have assumed.

Obviously, I still want to be your FB friend and I enjoy your other posts just as much if not more so than the political ones. I still laugh when I see an iPad and think about your women's hygiene joke post. Some of helped me a great deal spiritually and I thank you kindly for them. So, I guess until a I get some clarity and out of respect for your wishes, I will not comment on your political threads so we can hopefully avoid any misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Jim: Mark, thanks for your engagement on this and your desire to not create conflict.

I think this misunderstanding does go to who we are as people -- we see things differently, and come to different conclusions. We have different ideas about human nature, the size and role of government, unions, corporations, individuals, and families; how free or controlled the economy should be; how to balance individual initiative and responsibility with compassion and justice.

Your analogy about carpentry is both helpful and unhelpful. We can't really debate whether an angle is 90 degrees, or whether a certain spacing of joists will carry a given weight load. But we can debate how to best design a deck, what it should look like, what you want it to accomplish, how much it should cost, or even how to build it once you have the plans.

But you pretty consistently argue as though there is only one right answer -- yours -- on education, the economy, unions, welfare programs, corporations, tax policy, and on and on. And anyone who disagrees with you can only disagree because they're not as educated, informed, or open-minded. What you communicate is that anyone who is intelligent and thoughtful will have to come to the same conclusions you do. You treat every subject as though your opinions and perspectives are obvious, factual, and indisputable -- like whether an angle is 90 degrees. But intelligent, thoughtful, and open-minded people can (and do) disagree widely about education, taxation, government power, social policy, and any number of things.

You need to be able to accept that my disagreement with you cannot simply be chalked up to ignorance, blindness, naivete, or ideological rigidity. I could just as reasonably say the same things about your disagreeing with me. But all that does is reinforce self-perceptions of wisdom and goodness, and let us think that people disagree with me only for bad reasons. That's what I mean when I talk about arrogance. It's arrogant to say "I'm the expert on education; I have the right insights and answers, and anyone who is intelligent will agree with me."

I would bet that I know the Bible better than you and most people. Yet I'm not offended that people disagree with me about it or interpret it differently than I do. Different people see things differently - it's simply a fact of life. What's offensive is when someone tells me that I have no good reason to disagree with their interpretation; that my understanding of Scripture is only based on ignorance, foolishness, or blind partisanship. That's what you consistently do in discussions on any number of issues. There's no room for honest disagreement based on different ways of looking at things.

Which leads me to the Sowell thing. It's frustrating that you have decided without even five minutes of research that because Sowell is a conservative he is incapable of presenting opposing views fairly. You admit you haven't read the book, so you clearly can't know what you're talking about. But once again, you've declared yourself an expert on this, so you don't even need to look at the reviews or a book synopsis. Sowell is simply beneath you. If you could step outside your partisan corner, you'd discover that the book I recommended is a well-regarded, scholarly analysis of the roots of modern political conflict in which Sowell examines source writings from some of the greatest economic and moral philosophers from all over the spectrum. Maybe you've read Sowell's opinions pieces and feel he's too partisan? You do realize it's possible to disagree with someone and still present their ideas fairly? I haven't read much of Sowell's op-ed work, but I am willing to accept that people can write in a differently based on the setting and format.

For someone who claims to be an expert on education and aspires to be an educator, the uninformed dismissal of a work you've prejudged to be unworthy of your consideration is discouraging and a little inexplicable. I regularly read people I know I'm going to disagree with. Isn't that supposed to be part of having an open mind -- of learning?

And the great irony of it is that Sowell does a great job of highlighting those different values, goals and outcomes people work towards in society -- rooted in different ways of looking at life. Sowell is not trying to say one is better than the other. They're just different. But understanding those different ways of looking at society, family, government, community, the economy, education, justice, etc. keeps us from becoming locked into thinking that "my way is best and everyone who is smart and good will agree with me." I suggested the book not to get you to agree with me or to make you read a liberal-bashing screed (why would you think I would, anyway?), but to help you understand why conservatives disagree with you, and why it doesn't mean they're stupid, uninformed, naive, foolish, or close-minded.

In any case, I appreciate your response and your apology, and I'd like to think that we can still be friends -- if there really is a basis of mutual respect to build on.

So, what did I take away from all of this? The first two things are entirely non political.

Whenever I am in a situation where my knowledge is lacking, I defer to the person who knows more about the subject. Jim does indeed know more about handy man work and would have no problem if he called me out on speaking with a misinformed tongue. But that's who I am not who he is. This means that I was really lacking empathy.

And regardless of where you are politically, some people don't like it when someone knows more than they do. I've had the same type of discussions with people on the left. If they quickly realize that I know more about a subject and I point out the deficiencies in their argument, they react as Jim did. I have no problem saying, "I can't speak to that subject because my knowledge is lacking." Others like Jim can get insecure about someone with a greater knowledge base and then become offended quickly. Clearly with Jim, I hit a that he is insecure about. Again, this demonstrates a lack of empathy on my part and I should've realized to massively alter the way I communicate if I want to get my point across.

Odd, of course, because I thought he was tired of everyone being offended by everything. But I still take the blame for that because it's never a good idea to assume especially with subject matter like this.

The very frustrating part of all of this is by blowing a bowel the way he did about my conservative propaganda comment he is absolved from responsibility of saying something short sighted. In the deleted comment, one of the things I said centered around the fact that when you talk about unions, cronyism, and bloated bureaucracy, that's GOP dogma 101. There's no other way to describe it. Sorry, folks, but he has to take ownership of those words and by characterizing me the way he did (as some of you do all the time) it takes advantage of my natural tendencies as a liberal. I'll sit back and think about...wondering..."Hmm, maybe I am that way." If I then admit it, that absolves him of making an asinine statement like that and the problem was really me all along.

Essentially, if I call you on your BS, then you can just say that I am arguing with the voices in my head. It's quite a clever avoidance and denial tactic but it doesn't change the fact that they are your words. With Jim, notice how the conversation quickly became about me personally and the lack of honesty in his statement was long forgotten. This is the game playing that I have grown quite tired of as it wastes time and doesn't solve the problem which, in this case, is very important.

So, it's a fine line that I have to walk. I will try to be empathetic and likely consider alternative ways of communication with those who are like Jim. At the same time, however, I'm not going to ignore blatant propaganda out of fear of being personally attacked. The last time this sort of thing was ignored or treated lightly we ended up...well...where we are now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Conversation (Part The Second)

Continuing the FB discussion with my friend Jim.

Mark: Well, it's your page which means I have no say in what you keep or delete so no offense taken whatsoever. Let's see if we can look at this from another angle. Take a look at this story.

Teacher Blogged About 'Rat-Like' Students

In one posting on her blog she called her students, "out of contol," and "rude, lazy, disengaged whiners."

How exactly do the unions, bureaucracy and political cronyism cause this? What this women describes happens quite often in classrooms. While I find some of the things she said a bit harsh, she's mostly on the mark. This is what teachers have to deal with every day, Jim. Every day. The origin of this problem is a much larger problem with our entire society. It's a failure of parents, community leaders, schools, and peer groups. This is what happens when you allow the mass media to socialize your children.

Go to a school and ask young people to tell you...honestly...if they think they could win American Idol. You will be shocked by the answer. This is what they have been brought up to believe is LIKELY to happen. We have become a quite a bizarre culture when people think that the solution to their problems is winning the lottery.

So, when you characterize the education system in the way you do, you miss key points. Referring me to Sowell is simply further proof that you have embraced an ideology which excuses, encourages and falsely justifies dismissing any liberal point of view. This isn't arrogance on my part but encouragement to continue the work that you are doing in your community.

Essentially, the key problem with education is our overly indulgent society. We don't recognize the importance of education anymore. It's the Michael Jordan Generation. Yesterday, Jim put this video up on his FB wall.

"We want to pay you millions of dollars so we can avoid solving our problems." The last minute and a half or so is the MJG exactly. Until this changes, "failing" schools are going to continue to fail. Of course, he doesn't see this connection.

Jim: Mark, you are again missing the point. The point is not the article about schools, or what's going on in schools. If you'd tried to fairly read what I actually said, you'd see that we share a lot in common. But you are quick to misrepresent and then dismiss any viewpoint with which you disagree. It's lazy, simplistic, dishonest, and arrogant, and it makes discussion impossible.

And now you assert that I've embraced an ideology which dismisses liberal points of view -- because I read a book by Sowell? What is more illiberal than dismissing a book one hasn't read with an easy ad hominem attack? "Oh, it's by Sowell. I already know what it says." Who has the closed mind?

Yet you've decided that I'm the unthinking doctrinaire. And it's obvious that's what you've thought for a while, given your usual dismissal of anything that doesn't validate your views, and your unwillingness to even try to understand why people think differently from you -- you already know why. They can't have arrived at their beliefs through thoughtful analysis or reason; people who disagree with you are simply unthinking dupes and narrow-minded ideologues.

You don't shout people down with a bullhorn like the street-level illiberal thugs, but the effect is just the same.

Since you really believe that I've embraced an ideology which justifies dismissing liberal views (ironic, given that's what you're doing to me), then there really is no point in further discussion.

I'd like to be your friend, but friendship is based on trust and respect -- neither of which you have for me.

Mark: I don't think that about you at all, Jim. I really don't. You have focused in on the criticisms and ignored the compliments. Please go back and read the positives and weigh them accordingly with the other points. I would also urge you to read these words.

I do agree that there are problems with unions, bureaucracy and cronyism. But that is only a part of a much larger problem. Liberal and progressive points of view do have merit and I think you need to ask yourself if Sowell would accept any of them. Honestly, he wouldn't. I have read him extensively and it's frustrating to me that you would use him as an example for parameters that you are quite clearly beyond.

I can't stress this enough. Without you, a community would be lost. That's how much of an effect that someone like you can have in what ails our society!

Jim: Mark, that is exactly and clearly what you communicate. Go back and re-read your comments. The compliments mean little when what you repeatedly express is arrogant dismissal, scornful disdain, and the most uncharitable reading of what I write. I don't recognize hardly anything I believe in the words you put in my mouth. I'm tired of being the target for your bashing of some generic conservative stereotype you've created in your mind.

I have a hard time thinking of a situation in which you have taken seriously the appeals like this which I've made to you -- appeals to step outside your wordlview and try to fairly understand and interact with others who disagree with you. I've not said liberal points of view are without merit; you are the one who is incapable of granting that conservative views can have any merit. You consistently communicate that conservatives only hold their positions through ignorance, apathy, selfishness, and naivete. You've just told me that in this discussion, in fact.

I'm being defensive, or intemperate? You've told me that if I thought harder and looked more broadly at issues, if I studied as you have, then I could come to the insights you've reached. But since I haven't (which you know, how?), I'm only capable of spouting GOP dogma. Again, your assumption is that any thinking person who looks at an issue will agree with you. It's hard to imagine a more disrespectful, dismissive, arrogant response.

Until you can demonstrate any willingness to understand, fairly articulate, and respectfully interact with opposing viewpoints, I'm not interested in discussion. The door is open anytime you want to walk through it on those terms.

I had one more response after this which he has since responded to and I will put them both up tomorrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Conversation (Part The First)

I have two friends that are evangelical ministers. The first one is my friend from the gym (Edward) and the other is a guy named Jim. Jim is married to my first ever girlfriend and lives in a different state. He and I are Facebook friends and we often have political debates. He is very, VERY conservative and I've noticed our debates usually follow a similar pattern as they do here.

This is a real drag for me because I'm far less obnoxious on FB than I am here and I really like the guy. I have made a concerted effort to be as fair minded as possible but I've sadly come to the conclusion that when someone (liberal or conservative) knows less about a subject AND is very passionate about it, look out! That's when things become seriously FUBAR.

We recently had a debate about education and, as it usually does, I pointed out some of his BS and the conversation degenerated from there. What's even more odd is that he has told me several times (on FB and in person) that he is sick and tired of people being offended by everything. He couldn't stand it, for example, when Juan Williams got fired over his airplane comment. Being PC is not his thing yet he still reacted the way he did when I was critical of him.

The whole conversation was very confusing so I figured I'd share it with all of you and hear your thoughts. The topics in education that are raised are reason enough to copy and paste it. In addition to being a "voice inside of my head," I think it is very illustrative of several things which I will comment on as we go along. Jim's posts are in blue and mine are in red because I'm a communist who wants to pollute children's minds with leftist views and propaganda meant to destroy the very fabric of our culture.

He started with this post followed by a  link.

Jim: As Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the UFT, once pointedly put it, 'When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.'

The Failure of American Schools

The failing schools meme is getting quite tiresome to me. Nearly all of the examples given aren't fully illustrative of the various complexities involved with the challenges in education today. Worse, they ignore the success stories because they don't fit the narrative.

Mark: There's a much larger issue here than just the go to whipping boy of unions. The way our children are being socialized has been over run by the corporate owned mass media. With many parents checked out for a wide variety of reasons (good and bad), educative and community leaders can't compete with the glitter of materialism. As an educator, I know I lose every time against LeBron James and Beyonce. Until parents and community leaders re-assert themselves as the primary agents of socialization, union problems won't matter.
That's why what you do in your community is so important, Jim. You and I are on the front lines. Now we need more people like us to make it better!

Jim: I agree that a materialistic culture and uninvolved parents are part of the problem, but it's pretty discouraging (although not surprising) to hear a teacher blithely dismiss the massive problems with union cronyism, self-interest, protection of terrible teachers, and total unconcern with educational outcomes.

Please also note that charter schools operating with the same demographic mix and social realities of public schools have produced embarrassingly better outcomes.

Mark: Of course they have because the parents are more involved. Parents that send their kids to charter schools are the same ones that put in the effort. That's why I've always been supportive of home schooling because the parents are pro-active. Honestly, we need more of it.

I think your example here is an outlier although there are problems with unions. The biggest one is tenure. I also support the president and Secretary Duncan in their efforts with Race to the Top and CORE. Under performing teachers need to be fired immediately.

In the final analysis, though, it comes down to parent and community involvement. Our children's school works well because people are involved.

Not so bad so far but I could tell from past experience that once I pointed out to him the fact about charter schools, things weren't going to go well. Someone else in the thread also pointed out that fired teachers in public schools sometimes end up in charter schools. Being wrong=big no no!

Now we get to the good stuff.

Jim: And key roadblocks to the parental involvement which contributes to to academic success are intransigent unions, self-serving politicians, and a bloated educational bureaucracy. There will always be a percentage of dysfunctional families or disengaged parents. The current failing system discourages and disenfranchises the parents who could be involved and making a difference in their kids' success. And that failing system is set up to protect the interests of unions, politicians and bureaucrats who rabidly attack any attempt to change the status quo.

Mark: Well, now you are slipping into conservative propaganda and I'm going to have to disagree with you that this is the totality of the problem. Unions discourage parent involvement? That's simply not true. Ask a few teachers if they find themselves doing more parenting these days. Ask them what they think about that

Again, I will agree that unions have problems and tenure needs to go. I will also wholeheartedly agree that more money is not the answer. We need the right people willing to put in the time with the right attitude which is looking at themselves like overpaid missionaries and not underpaid teachers. Have you examined the efforts of the president and the education department?

Jim: Mark, I can't take you seriously when you respond with silly comments like "You're slipping into conservative propaganda." You're hearing what you want to hear and filtering my comments through your own biases.

You say in one breath that unions and politics are part of the problem, but then turn around and say that getting rid of them wouldn't make any difference. That's incoherent. If you really believe that we'd have the same problems in education without self-serving unions, political cronyism, and entrenched bureaucrats, then there's no point in talking.

After this, I left a comment which I regret not cutting, pasting and saving because he deleted it.  The gist of the comment centered around how schools would look without unions, how I was tired of union bashing, and how he should try to not narrow his focus so much and look more at the complexities of the situation. He then sent me a FB message which said this.

Jim: Mark, I deleted your last comment. You clearly communicated that your positions have been arrived at through careful thought, open-minded investigation, and big-picture thinking (like most liberals), while my positions are merely small-minded, single-focus repetitions of "conservative dogma." You've not even attempted to fairly read what I wrote, but simply read it through the filter of your own preconceived biases. This has become par for the course.

I'm not offended that you disagree with me; it's that your disagreement is consistently unlined with an arrogance which says I would agree with you if only I thought a little harder and expanded my vision. There's no ground for friendship or even working together from that starting point. You tell me you respect me and what I do, but you consistently interact with me as though I'm an ignorant fool who can't have arrived at his positions through thoughtful reflection.

I'm telling you this because I like you and seem in many ways like a genuinely good guy. But your intellectual arrogance, uncharitable reading of what I post, and cavalier dismissal of differing viewpoints are rude and offensive. It makes it hard to have any kind of relationship other than that of a sparring partner, which I'm not looking for.

We're coming at issues from different starting points. I suggest you read Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions" if you haven't already. It's helped me understand why liberals think the way they do. It would help you understand how conservatives think, so you might be less likely to dismiss, disdain, and scorn their viewpoints because they're different from yours.

Ah, Sowell. He had to come up, didn't he? I also knew that things were going to get worse when I started talking about the corporate owned mass media. I'll never for the life of me understand how people have mixed capitalism and Christianity. Any sort of attack on corporations is considered heresy. It's fucking nauseating.

I'll have the rest of the conversation up tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Blessings

I wanted Georgia to be known as a state that was friendly and welcoming to people. And while I absolutely believe in the rule of law and that people should be here legally, I think we should be hospitable and kind and compassionate. There’s a real legitimate worker shortage where there is a real fear and perception that Georgia is probably not a state to be seen in if you’re of a different color. And I don’t think that’s what Georgia wants to be known as.

---Former Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue,Republican

Between now and the next year, as we go to solve this problem, everybody knows there’s going to have to be a compromise on some sort of revenue increases. Grover’s old news. It doesn’t matter what he says, it doesn’t matter what he wants.

---Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, Republican

Praise Jesus, they are out there after all. I am happy to be wrong and if this sentiment continues it may be more often...which means I might not have much to bitch about, right? Hope springs eternal!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three Dogmas that Don't Hunt

Trickle-down economics. The war on drugs. Private health insurance. These three staples of conservative dogma have been tested for decades and have all failed to deliver on their promises.

Trickle-down economics is the theory that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will create jobs. It didn't work in the 80s when Reagan introduced it (and George H. W. Bush dubbed it "voodoo economics"), and it didn't work in the 2000s when George Bush introduced his tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, some of the most prosperous times we had were in the 50s and 90s, when tax rates were higher than they are now.

The reason tax cuts don't create jobs is that corporations don't create jobs just to be nice. They do it to make money. And for the last 30 years it has been cheaper to create jobs in China, Singapore, Malaysia and Viet Nam. The only way jobs will be created in the US is to even the playing field, by raising the standard of living (and wages) in Asia, or by wage and benefit laws (as Europe does), or by restricting free markets in some way (which China and other Asian economies do), or by lowering the standard of living (and wages) in the United States.

The Republicans have been working to drive US wages down for years, and their efforts are now bearing fruit.

Employers constantly complain that immigration desperately needs reform because they can't find employees to do grunt work for slave wages, or high-skill labor for slave wages.

They have pretty much destroyed most private sector unions, and now they're working on public employee unions. They're hard at work destroying unions in the last sector of manufacturing where the US actually has a healthy export market -- aircraft -- with this Boeing flap.

Driving down wages in the US is ultimately foolish. This is the most desirable market in the world because we're so consumer driven. But if our workers aren't making any money, they can't consume. That's why Henry Ford starting paying his workers fair wages -- he realized that people had to make enough money to buy his cars.

Most of the people running American corporations today aren't like Henry Ford. Most of them didn't actually start their businesses. They either inherited the wealth (like the Koch brothers and Donald Trump), or they're just hired gun CEOs. The Fords of today are guys like Bill Gates, who happens to think that rich people don't pay enough taxes.

The war on drugs is another failed boondoggle. Declared by Richard Nixon in 1971, it involved military action in foreign countries where drugs are produced, drastically increasing prison sentences for drug offenses in the US, and even confiscating assets of people merely suspected of (not convicted of) drug crimes.

It has been an absolute failure. Our prisons are full. Mexico is practically a failed state because the criminals smuggling drugs into the US run rampant there. And drug use is unabated. We learned the lesson with Prohibition, why are we so dim-witted on drugs?

Lastly there's health care. The United States almost had socialized medicine in the 1950s. But many corporations at that time decided to provide health care as a fringe benefit, a cheap (at the time) recruiting tool. Since then, health care costs have been rising much faster than the general rate of inflation.

Countries like Sweden, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand spend much less than the United States on health care. They all have socialized medicine, and all have higher life expectancy rates. Some claim that this is due to more homogeneous populations and cultures, but that's wrong: Canada, Australia and New Zealand are immigrant nations like the United States, with a majority European ancestry, plus small indigenous populations and a wide variety of other ethnicities.

Some people blame rising health care costs on expensive new technologies. The odd thing is, similar technologies have increased productivity and reduced costs in all other industries in the United States. You would think that better imaging would drastically increase diagnostic accuracy and efficiency. New non-invasive arthroscopic surgical techniques have revolutionized orthopedic medicine: patients who underwent procedures that put them in the hospital for weeks 20 years ago now walk out the same day.

With all those advances, how can modern medicine be so much more expensive (in real terms and in terms of percentage of GDP) than it used to be?

The two big reasons are the health insurance model, and the health insurance companies themselves.

Insurance is just the wrong idea. Health care isn't like getting hit by a hurricane -- everyone will use health care, no matter how healthy they are. We all need immunizations and regular medical checkups, we all come down with colds, we all sprain our ankles, we all have children (or were once children). We all face the same dangers from epidemics like swine flu or E. coli outbreaks. The vast majority of us will have some kind of disease or require some kind of treatment for a non-trivial ailment, and the sooner we discover our problems the cheaper they are to deal with. And we all get old.

It behooves us all for everyone to be healthy -- sick coworkers cause us more work and cause employers to lose money. So it just makes sense to pool our resources to fund our common health care, the same way we pool our resources to fund fire and police departments. Certain individuals use the police and fire departments more than others, but we all contribute the same (unless we abuse those services).

But health insurance is a big business, and a very profitable one. These companies suck up a third of all our medical expenditures, and they're pure overhead. A bunch of useless corporate fat-cat bureaucrats, they decide who lives and who dies. And, like any big business, the only consideration is how much money they'll make. If denying coverage to those who need it most means a 20% boost in profits, that's what's gonna happen.

So, why do these three ideas retain so much currency among conservatives even though they haven't worked in 30 or 40 or 50 years? To quote Deep Throat from the Nixon era: follow the money.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Uh Oh

Tom Donohue may want to consider offering a more thorough explanation for this recent comment-a message for Tea Party folks who may vote against raising the debt ceiling.

We'll get rid of you.

Spokesman for Donohue say it was meant as a joke but it doesn't sound very funny ha ha to me. More importantly, this illustrates a very large crack that may be expanding between the business community and the Tea Party.

I've always said that one thing I share in common with some Tea Partiers is their disdain for big business and bail outs. If they played up this angle more instead of the otherism and paranoia about government, they might have me in their camp a little more.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out with the vote on the debt ceiling this summer and then with the election next year. If the business community does spend money to "get rid of these people" I think we'll see a fine example of who really runs this country.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Pieces

I've been struck by two pieces of writing lately. The first is a local fave of mine named Myles Spicer. On the whole, he and I are pretty well aligned when it comes to seeing clearly what so many miss.

The mantra of Republicans and conservatives has always been to bless the private sector and urge government to "get out of the way, and let capitalism work." Great! Then where are the jobs?

A question I recently asked and got rigid ideology for an answer. I'm still asking. We had tax cuts and no regulation. Look what happened.

Conservatives claim that government interference, especially taxation, is impeding our recovery; they just have no basis in fact. There is nothing at all that is preventing, obstructing, retarding or impeding American business from creating jobs ... except American business itself.

And why would they? They have a ton of money and are doing well without hiring. The best part, though, is that they can blame the government which results in a continued shift to privatize everything. I can't believe they say this with a straight face when 375, 000 public sector jobs have been lost since 2008 and hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs have been added since that time.

Spicer's best lines though, are about the "uncertainty" canard.

If you think today's environment is "uncertain," you did not live in the Depression. You missed World War II. You forgot about the times when mortgage rates got up to 20 percent. You skipped the turmoil and discontent of the Vietnam War. In fact, in the context of history, today's times are more tranquil and predictable than most. "Uncertainty" is a cop-out.

Actually, it's more than a cop out. It's part of the overall (and total) bullshit narrative that the invisible hand will take care of all of us. I'm wondering if Adam Smith would still offer the same views he does if he had to deal with the derivative, CDO, or credit default swap.

David Brooks sums it up quite nicely in his latest column.

The Republican growth agenda — tax cuts and nothing else — is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible. Gigantic tax cuts — if they were affordable — might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis.

Republican politicians don’t design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices — as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox and rigidly loyal. Republicans have taken a pragmatic policy proposal from 1980 and sanctified it as their core purity test for 2012.

A perfect summation. It is continually amazing to me that these middle class voters fall for their garbage when they make policies that adversely affect them.

Brooks and I part ways, however, when he lists four things we need to do to get this country moving again. It's not that I don't agree with them. In fact, I think they are all excellent ideas and I would support them wholeheartedly. Clearly, his bias prevents him from seeing that there is someone who is attempting to pull from all four of those baskets: President Obama.

The president has reformed health care and embraced the recommendation of Bowles Simpson regarding entitlement. He fervently supports ECFE and many other education initiatives. He passed a financial regulation package that is trying to break the unholy alliance between business and the financial sector. And he wants to overhaul immigration so it supports bringing in high quality human capital. So, I guess Brooks is an Obama supporter? He doesn't really sound like it most of the time.

Brooks is right when he says we all know what needs to be done. We aren't getting there because the central tenet of one side's ideology is to NOT think outside of the box. Until they can get past that, is there any point in even trying to find consensus?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Frustrating Example

This is how it always goes.

A conservative friend of mine, in this case one of the two evangelical ministers I know, will send me a link like this one. With the headline being "The Pre-Partisan Caucus" one would at least be intrigued, right?

Further reading shows some very agreeable things.

If you are a thinking person interested in

1. Honest ground rules, for

2. Vital political debate, in service to

3. Unalienable rights given by the Creator for all people equally

Good so far. And I honestly don't mind that he calls himself a pro-life libertarian. Pro life people are fighting for what they believe is murder. Since no one knows for sure exactly when life begins, they might be right. They might also be wrong but let's not get off on the wrong foot.

He goes on with this one.

Part of the genius of the Declaration's appeal was that there was no denominational religion in view when making reference to the Creator. In the same wisdom, Article 6 of the Constitution abolished any religious test for political office.

Yep. So far, he has me interested. He then goes on to detail his six pillars of honest politics.
  • The power to give affirms that the unalienable rights given by the Creator belong to all people equally, and leaders in human government should serve such a gift.
  • The power to live in the light means leaders in human government at every level should be as fully transparent as possible.
  • The power of informed choice is rooted in an honest definition of terms in political debate, providing a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, apart from which political freedom is not possible.
  • The power to love hard questions is in place when political leaders honor and answer those who pose them the toughest questions.
  • The power to love enemies recognizes that even the harshest of political opponents share a common humanity and are to be treated with respect.
  • The power to forgive recognizes the need to address our individual and societal transgressions against one another, and to work toward justice and reconciliation.
Again, all fantastic. At this point, I'm thinking that this guy's ideas have some real merit. In the interest of being agreeable, I'll forgive his Occam's Razor idiocy and simply move along.

Now, pay close attention to the parts I bolded as we take a look at some of the links in the rest of his site.

Under the "Education and Race" link, we see this:

The “public” schools today are no longer truly public or common, rather they are “government” schools where many educational elitists work out their self-serving theories on our children.

Ah, well, so much for sharing a common humanity and working towards reconciliation. I don't like it therefore it must be wrong/bad. He then goes on to talk about how schools should all be Christian themed and yet still be public. I'm wondering if he has been in a public school recently. Instructors don't have the time to work out self serving theories.

And what exactly are education elitists? Oh, yeah. The commies that have taken over our nation's schools (see: Bircher insanity).

Under the "Marriage and Pansexuality link, we see this:

It is the relentless agenda of a small core of homosexual-rights activists that will outlast the core of politically defined pro-family activists, unless biblical theology gains ascendancy.

Look out! Here comes the gay mafia!

Namely, they elevated same-sex marriage to the status of a “fundamental” or “basic civil right,” indeed, equal to that of an unalienable right. This reality almost never gains comment, but is the deepest substance of the decision, and its greatest threat to civil life.

And so much for unalienable rights given to all people. Can someone please tell me how gay marriage threatens civil life when the divorce rate for heterosexual marriage is over 50 percent?

I offer this site as an example of how I am not the problem. Guys like John C. Rankin are the problem because they pretend to be agreeable but they really aren't. Then, when people like me call them on their bullshit, they paint the people that disagree with them as being the real problem and very cleverly avoid their own mea culpa (see also: responsibility). It reminds me of one of my children saying," It was ____. They made me do it! It's really _____" Tsk, tsk...again with the childish dishonesty and a most excellent example of how frustrating all of this is.

If Rankin is serious about his six pillars of honest politics, that means he's going to have to (gasp!) change. Until people like him and many others on the right admit that their ideas aren't perfect and they are wrong sometimes, there is not going to be any pre-partisanship...unless of course it's defined as "my way or the highway"...which isn't really libertarian when you think about it, right?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

All of Them?

Here's a little ditty that I saved from April.

The Architect Of Reaganomics Calls For The Bush Tax Cuts To End

Greenspan said, “I think this crisis is so imminent and so difficult that I think we have to allow the so-called Bush tax cuts all to expire. That is a very big number. But having put the rates back to where they were in the Clinton administration, I would argue that everything else should be either cutting spending or taking out the subsidies which are in the tax expenditures.”

Wow. There have been a lot of folks from the Reagan era (Bartlett, Stockman) that have all been c coming out against the policies that they used to support. I think that represents some serious reflection and critical thinking at a time when our country needs it.

However, he's one of the morons that got us into this mess and now he's suddenly "seen the light?" Yeah, maybe listening to him might not be a good idea either. There's no fucking way I'd support repealing ALL of the Bush tax cuts. All of them? Really? No way.

More and more every day I am convinced we need some constructivist thinking. I hear "we have a spending problem" and that makes me throw up. We can't repeal the Bush tax cuts for everyone in this sluggish economy. Returning the rates to the Clinton levels on the upper folks is a start but it's clear it won't be enough.

We need to think out of the box and be as non partisan as we possibly can on this one and that means everyone. Any ideas?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How Sarah Could Win

I haven't really talked about Sarah Palin in awhile as I have refused to be a part of the bizarre relationship she and the media have with one another. She pretends to hate them but needs them desperately...doing an excellent job of playing them any chance she gets. In return, most of the media talk about how stupid she is yet they still fall all over each other to cover her.

Honestly, it's pathetic. She's at the point right now where she can say whatever she wants and get away with it. The Paul Revere thing is an example. She says something factually wrong, the media go ape shit, her supporters foam at the mouth and accuse the media of asking her gotcha questions, and she becomes the headline.

Maher had an interesting take last night on how Sarah Palin could win the 2012 election. First, we have 40 percent of the country who would never vote for the president even if he personally saved them from drowning. One can see the validity of this statement by reading my comments section. Second, people tend to vote for who they dislike the least not who the like the best. In looking at Sarah's negatives, it would seem that people dislike her more. But figure in the economic situation coupled with the fact that she is hot and it could turn out to be her that they dislike the least. Finally, it sucks that is has come to this but anyone could get elected in this dumb fucking country.

That last one is a frustration but it really is true. If Sarah Palin were 300 pounds, had short hair, and was missing teeth, would she still be as popular? Would anyone even be listening? No, they wouldn't. We not dumb because we lack intelligence, although that is part of it. We are dumb because looks matter more than skill. Appearance and what is cool is more important than competence. That's the Michael Jordan Generation, though.

We don't give a shit about the steak. All we care about is the sizzle.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Explaining the Drop

Many people are scratching their heads at the latest violent crime figures. 2010 saw a 5.5 percent drop in violent crime and a 2.8 percent drop in property crimes. Most of the experts are puzzled as nearly all of them predicted that crime levels would go up due to tough economic times. But they didn't.

So why is crime down? I suppose gun rights folks will say it's because of the loosened gun laws around the country. And so many since Barack Obama has become president. I wonder how those people who ran out to buy guns after Election Day 2008 feel now. Are they still worried that he is going to take away their guns?

Others say the crime drop is related to increased enforcement of current laws as well as local police simply doing a better job. I think it is for another reason. This is purely opinion and based on no hard evidence whatsoever but I think it's because people in this country are just too fucking lazy to commit crimes. It's as simple as apathy.

After all, Americans have their X Box and Wii. Who wants to put the effort into a crime and lose valuable Facebook time? With literally millions of texts flying back and forth between our nation's young people, perpetrating a crime would cut in to their LOLs and OMGs. Besides, they won't need the money once they get their long term record deal or NBA contract, right? Once they win American Idol, The Voice, or get that winning lottery ticket, their financial future will be set. So why risk it all and break the law?

America's soft power doesn't simply work on an international scale. Domestically, it has made us soft as well. I've talked about the downside of this with the MJG. This the upside.

People can't be bothered to put down their remote and get off the couch to do...well...anything.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

T-Paw's Plan

GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty has released his plan for saving the economy and, quite predictably, it adheres to conservative fiscal dogma. Let's take a look at a few of the points.

Eliminate capital gains tax, interest income tax, dividends tax and the estate tax.

We already have a problem with the cap gains tax and now he wants to eliminate it? Great. The wealthier people in this country already claim more of their income in cap gains since the rate is only 15 percent. This would shift even more of it under that protective umbrella and we'd lose even more revenue.

Cut business tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.

Well, as Notes From The Front has shown recently, they already pay less than zero so what does it really matter?

Privatize the Postal Service, Amtrak, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I'd actually go further on Fannie and about eliminating them entirely? I suppose privatizing them would accomplish the same goal. But privatizing Amtrak and the Post Office are not good ideas. With the former, one need only look to the deregulation of the airline industry to see how well privatization has gone. Find a pilot and ask them about the differences between today and when the government used to set the price. It's also amusing that the PO is now the right's favorite whipping boy. UPS and FedEx are both private companies and have the same crappy service issues that the post office has today.

Individual rates would be whittled to two tiers: 10 percent on income up to $50,000 ($100,000 for married couples), and 25 percent for "everything above that."

Well, you can forget about that 25 percent as most people in this tier will just put all their earnings in the newly minted 0 percent taxes on cap gains. But he does get closer to an idea that hasn't been floated out there in a while and that's the flat tax.

Suppose everyone was taxed at the same rate. For purposes of this demonstration, let's say 25 percent. And let's say that all the loopholes were removed so no matter what, 25 percent was what everyone paid. A person making 50K a year would pay $12, 500 dollars a year on federal income taxes. A person making 100K a year would pay $25,000 a year. Seems like everyone is paying their fair share, right? That's why it will never happen. We don't hear anything about the flat tax anymore from the right because they know they can game the system so they will always pay less.

So, how is Pawlenty selling all of this?

"If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it."

Huh. Well, I can find web sites that show me how to make explosives. Does that mean the army should stop making them? I can also find web sites that can teach me how to hack into other countries' computers that control their weapons and power systems. Or teach me how to spy on people. Should our government stop providing those services as well? Well, probably not since that falls under the "protecting us from bad guys" umbrella.

Once again, the overly simplistic approach to solving problem is laid bare. Personally, I'd rather have a president who understands the complexities of the world as opposed to someone who speaks awshucksian.

The real head scratcher to all of this is Pawlenty would roll back ALL federal regulation renewed by Congress. How he gets to this point after seeing the very clear causes of the collapse of 2008 is completely puzzling. Like many of my readers here, he must be cloaked in his Randian shield-impervious to the mere suggestion that governments can, in fact, sometimes improve market outcomes.

Like the socialist utopia, his eyes are filled with fantasies of a libertarian paradise where the people at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo would (gasp) never consider behaving like money grubbing whores. Even if they did, the magical power of the market would always allocate its resources efficiently, right? None of them would ever put the entire financial system at risk simply due to ambitious greed.

Geez, something like that has NEVER happened!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Most Excellent Quote

From the same source as below...

"The fascists of the future will be called the "anti fascists" - - Winston G Churchill

Out of the mouths of babes...!

Paging Jonah Goldberg:)

A Most Excellent List

Apparently, we have Christian teenagers reading Notes From the Front. Should I be worried? Ah, maybe not.

One of them sent me an email with a link which contained this wonderful list.

102 Things NOT To Do If You Hate Taxes.

Nikto was recently taken to the mat for saying this:

It is a staple of conservative dogma that government can do no right.

Well, take at look at the list of 102 things and count how many you think are legitimate functions of government and are worthy of your tax dollars. I could only find two items on the list that should not be government funded (#74 and #75). Because of my bias against fish (the smell is simply disgusting) and animals (giant pain in the ass) I have to recuse myself from being able to think rationally about either of those expenditures. I'm completely fine with all the rest.

I'd say if you disagree with a majority of them, you pretty much fall in line with Nikto's statement.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wiener's Weener

I wasn't going to let the whole Wiener storyline go without a remark but I saw an opportunity to use it as a teachable moment.

NOTE TO THE MEDIA: There people in this country living in tents and/or without health care. Do we really give a rat's ass about someone sending sexy photos of themselves over the internet?

The media has once again proven themselves to stare and drool at the bright shiny object-in this case Wiener's weener. Recall that the mass media is one of the five primary agencies of socialization and the one, I believe, has overrun the other four (family, school, peer group, community). Somehow, the union of puritanical hysteria and the corporate owned media have created a bastard of a child that feeds on insanity like this. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Chris Lee resigned after a shirtless photo of him came out. So fucking what??!!??

Can we please get over this ridiculous rigidity about sex? All it produces is a preponderance of attention paid to a whole bunch of shit that doesn't matter one wit. We have serious problems in this country and this is a serious fucking waste of time, people.

What do we have to do to stop giving a shit about this garbage? I submit that we stop watching, reading, or listening to it and let the sponsors of any media who report this shit that WE DON'T CARE.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Go Forth and Worship Thy Derivative

One of the notions that always perplexed me is the worship of wealthy people in this country. I really don't get how business leaders and Jesus are somehow cut from the same cloth. Considering what Christ said about rich people in the Bible, it makes no sense.

But even if you are part of the non religious right, the leaders of the private sector are to be revered in a god like way. Somehow, if someone is wealthy, they: a) are successful in business so b) they would be a great president.

Take Mitt Romney, for example. He is viewed as a success in business simply because he has always been rich. He is rich because of his father and his time in the business community was largely spent gutting companies and reselling them for profit. I've held George Romney up many times as an example of what success used to mean (eg refusing a bloated salary, more thought towards the workers) but that doesn't make his son someone who can turn the economy around...especially since his perception of success is based on what is systemically wrong with our country as a whole.

Donald Trump is another example. He is viewed as a success. He inherited money from his dad and then proceeded to lose it all...get it back again...lose it all...get it back again...does anyone know how much he is really worth?

The point of all of this (as Maher details quite eloquently in the final new rule below) is that being a businessman doesn't mean you will be a good president. The government is not "for profit"...especially the United States government. Kindly leave your foot licking of corporate leaders at the door and remember whose feet were being licked in September of 2008 after these "titans" nearly destroyed the world economy.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Yet Another One

Hmmm...I must be imagining must be...a voice inside my head.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Adult Supervision Required

It is a staple of conservative dogma that government can do no right. Many conservatives denounced President Obama's decision to prevent GM and Chrysler from going bust and folding. Now both companies are on the mend and the US government is set to sell its stake in Chrysler to Fiat. Obama's decision saved thousands of American jobs, and was undeniably the right thing to do.

I have to admit that I, too, would have liked to stick it to Detroit for making giant gas guzzlers. They did so because such cars were immensely more profitable than fuel-efficient smaller cars. But the truth is, they were just making the kind of cars that Americans wanted, even though it was stupid and ultimately self-defeating.

A lot of the guys who were responsible for Detroit's problems were given the ax when the government bailed them out, unlike the bankers whose greed engineered the crash of 2008. And that's part of the problem: the banks still have had very little government oversight since the bailout. Notably, one of the first things many bankers did was give themselves huge bonuses.

The irony of the whole "government involvement in business is bad" mantra is that best economy in the world right now is China's. It's run by the Communist Party. If guys in private industry screw up bad enough (like the ones who put melamine in infant formula) the Chinese government will kill them. I'm sure some of us would like to see the heads of the bankers responsible for the crash of 2008 on pikes, but I'd be satisfied to see them in jail alongside Bernie Madoff. And that requires better laws and more vigorous regulation.

The problem is that the financial industry and Republicans in Congress are still doing everything they can to sabotage the relatively weak legislation that Obama did manage to get passed to take some control of the banks that screwed us over. If this sabotage succeeds, another crash will be soon in coming.

The last 10 years have shown us what a disaster lax government oversight of markets, energy production and food and product safety can mean. But the resurrections of GM and Chrysler have shown that government can do things right, when the right people make the right decisions.

The energy companies, Detroit and Wall Street have been acting like kids running loose in a candy store. The only problem is that when they gorge themselves on greed, the whole country winds up with a tummy ache.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Random Economic Thoughts For Friday

Economic bad news from a number of quarters today starting with the unemployment number going up to 9.1 percent. As expected, President Obama is getting all the blame for it. GOP front runner Mitt Romney says that the president is destroying our country and "we are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy." Here's why that is a load of shit. 

What I find amusing about all of this is these same people that are doing the blaming seem to forget that if he did more than he is doing then we would be slipping into a more centrally planned economy. There's not anything he can do about high gas prices or the tsunami in Japan, the two main reasons the job market is so weak, so why put the blame on him?

Simply put, people aren't spending money. Whether it's individuals or governments, no one is spending which means businesses aren't making money which means they aren't hiring. Public sector job losses are seeing the biggest hit with 28,000 job losses last month, the most since November of 2010. 18,000 of those jobs are in education.

The only good news out of all of this is that most economists think these are temporary setbacks. And I tend to look at reports like this with a grain of salt. These days, economic reports have the emotional balance of a 14 year old girl. One day, everything is amazing. The next, all is lost and we are drowning in a boiling pit of sewage.

Through all of this, we have the debt ceiling dithering. At this point, anything coming out of the mouths of the GOP is silly when you consider these 10 points.

1. Republican Leaders Agree U.S. Default Would Be a "Financial Disaster"
2. Ronald Reagan Tripled the National Debt
3. George W. Bush Doubled the National Debt
4. Republicans Voted Seven Times to Raise Debt Ceiling for President Bush
5. Federal Taxes Are Now at a 60 Year Low
6. Bush Tax Cuts Didn't Pay for Themselves or Spur "Job Creators"
7. Ryan Budget Delivers Another Tax Cut Windfall for Wealthy
8. Ryan Budget Will Require Raising Debt Ceiling - Repeatedly
9. Tax Cuts Drive the Next Decade of Debt
10. $3 Trillion Tab for Unfunded Wars Remains Unpaid

What about #5? Taxes are low and people still aren't spending their money. So the argument that taxes need to be cut more makes no sense. Corporate Taxes, as I demonstrated the other day, are in the negative in some cases. Yet they are still holding on to their cash. Why? Because of the evil gubmint? That makes no sense either. They have everything they want and no taxes.

Honestly, I'm not sure I have the answer. Part of it does have to do with the plutonomy we created but are people really that stupid to hoard cash when they know it will ultimately bring down the system they need to remain wealthy?

None of this makes any sense.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Sobering Statistics

"40 percent of the people in this country doesn't even pay taxes!!!!"

We here that quite a bit from people that regularly go into anaphylactic shock regarding taxes. I wonder if they know about this..

How Our Largest Corporations Made $170 Billion During Great Recession And Paid No Taxes

Twelve of the nations largest Fortune 500 companies, while making $170 billion in profits during the period of The Great Recession, paid an effective tax rate of negative 1.5%.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not only have these twelve companies paid zero in taxes for the years 2008-2010, they actually received tax subsidies that added $62.4 billion to their bottom lines.

Perhaps I need to revise my view on corporate taxes.

The fact that our economy isn't really recovering make more sense now. It's not just the banks that are hoarding money and lending out very little. It's corporations like Exxon, Verizon, and Honeywell. And we wonder why our debt and deficit are so high. Anyone who has any significant amount of money isn't paying taxes.

Moreover, these numbers prove that the idea that companies will just "go offshore if we raise taxes" is sub moronic. They are paying no taxes and still going off shore.

I take comfort in the fact that Ungar is a kindred spirit.

Seriously, people, do we need an anvil to fall on our heads before we get it?

Even that won't work, Rick.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Big Lie Crumbling?

The subject of the comparison regarding the right and Nazis has come up again in comments. How serendipitous then is this opinion piece from Walter Rodgers.

Let’s recall the herculean tasks Obama has already accomplished:
  • He stabilized the worst economy since the Great Depression. Though unemployment remains stubborn, the stock market is basically back to where it was before the global economic meltdown. His stimulus bill kept America humming and saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, while his rescue of General Motors saved an industrial icon.
  • His administration kept thousands of over-extended Americans from losing their homes by laboring mightily to forestall foreclosures.
  • In spite of ferocious opposition, he passed long-overdue reforms of our health-care system that had eluded the reach of many past presidents.
  • He signed into law a bold package of regulations to boost consumer protection and restrain Wall Street’s greed.
  • He negotiated a historic nuclear-arms reduction treaty with Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev.
Forgetting these and other accomplishments, the public has regrettably bought into the corrosive and dishonest campaign to degrade Obama. Goebbels-style nihilism that rejects anything Obama does as odious remains a powerful narrative.

Add in killing bin Laden, repealing DADT, increased gun rights, increased security at the border, increased immigration arrests as well as a whole host of other things and any rational person would say he was a good president.

Sadly, we are not dealing with rational people.