Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The "Pledge to America"

I wonder how many people actually have read all twenty-one pages of the 'Publican party's new "Pledge to America." It's an extraordinary document — not in its ideas, which are just the same old shit, but in its rhetoric. Read just the introduction, and you will hear the 'Publicans yelling, "Hey! Tea Party crazies! Lookie here! The Republican Establishment is on your side!"

"America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed, that each of us is endowed by their [sic] Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves [sic], their [sic] families, and the common good."

Apart from the grammatical errors, it sounds rather like the Declaration of Independence. Hmmm... Did the Declaration of Independence mention "economic liberty?" Well, yes, in a way. There is a strong inference that only an elected government should have the power to tax. Was the current government elected? Uhhh... Hey, can anybody remember back as far as 2008?

"An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people."

The last "unchecked executive" I can recall was the Bush/Cheney administration, which rammed through the totally unnecessary Iraq war by telling not-especially-believable lies to asshole Democratic senators afraid to appear "soft on terrorism." The legislature Obama has had to work with has not been especially compliant, thanks to the "Party of No." As for an overreaching judiciary, well... think "Citizens United."

"Like free peoples of the past, our citizens refuse to accommodate a government that believes it can replace the will of the people with its own. The American people are speaking out, demanding that we realign our country’s compass with its founding principles and apply those principles to solve our common problems for the common good."

Sadly, that's not happening. Democrat or 'Publican, the plutocracy remains firmly in control. As Lefty Frizzel advised us in 1950, "If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time." Well, if I have the time, honey, I'll get on with the money aspects of the "Pledge to America" in a future post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summers's gone!

Larry Summers, Robert Rubin protégé and unrepentant free-marketeer, has announced his resignation from the Obama Administration, effective shortly after the midterm elections.

“I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry’s brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team. Over the past two years, he has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth. And while we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry’s wise counsel," said Our President, fingers crossed behind his back.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Summers is leaving because he is approaching the end of a two-year leave of absence from Harvard, and if he doesn't go back by January he loses his tenure. Maybe they have it right. Given the attitudes of Harvard women, without tenure he just might be be joining the other 14.9 million unemployed Americans.

Also according to WSJ, his most likely replacement will be Anne Mulcahy, the recently retired CEO of Xerox. She is credited with "saving" the corporation by, among other things, cutting 30% of its workforce — but perhaps, as a more "hands on" executive type, she will turn out to be less ideological than her predecessor.

Needless to say, I'm not at all sorry to see Summers go. That leaves Timmy Geithner as the sole survivor of the original Obama economic team, so maybe he'll be "resigning" soon too. How much difference will the changes make? It's hard to say. Elizabeth Warren's appointment offers some room for hope, but I still can't imagine our next Treasury Secretary being Robert (the right Bob) Reich or Joseph Stiglitz. Too bad.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Obama gets it right

I couldn't be more happy. Our President finally has made a concession to the Democratic Party's liberal base, and appointed the woman on whom I have had a long-term crush, Elizabeth Warren, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Obviously, she never could be confirmed in the official position by the Senate — every Republican and, quite probably, a few asshole DINOs would vote NO — but as a "special adviser" to the President, she can do the job for the time it takes to write the regulations that make the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau significant.

In the meanwhile, the Tea Party seems to be making life difficult for the Republicans. Sarah Palin lookalike Christine O'Donnell just might make it easier for the Democrats to hang onto Delaware's Senate seat in November. As for Carl Paladino, who will be running against Andrew Cuomo for governor of New York — well, he probably will do better than Rick Lazio would have, given how much money he has to blow on television ads — but, hell, he's no less an asshole than Lazio. New York, I believe, is ready for another Cuomo. While I'm not at all sure that Andy can live up to Mario's legacy — including, of course, the "Tale of Two Cities" speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention — I'm still convinced that Paladino is an asshole.

One way or the other, it's nice to see Obama paying some attention to the Democratic Base. It's about time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A little income redistribution

I've been thinking about Robert Reich's ideas for pulling out of our economic malaise, and one of them strikes me as especially direct and sensible. At the moment, workers pay 6.2% payroll tax on their first $106,800 of gross income. One of the ideas floating around Washington lately has been a "payroll tax holiday," during which time that payroll tax would not be deducted from workers' paychecks.

As a temporary stimulus, such a tax holiday might do some good — provided workers used the extra money for new consumption rather than paying down debt. Concerns over the financial health of Social Security and Medicare, however, make the idea a political non-starter. A far better stimulus would be direct aid to the states, so they can save state jobs and, perhaps, provide additional help to citizens in severe need.

Reich suggests a permanent exclusion of the payroll tax on the first $20,000 of a worker's income, and an imposition of payroll tax on further earnings beyond $250,000. I'll go him one better — exclude the first $20,000, and remove the upper cap entirely. If that rule were in place for this year, earners of up to $126,799 of gross income would see a reduction in their tax liability. Those who earn more would end up paying more, but still no more than the 6.2% paid by the lowest income earners today. Let's look at some figures:

What currently is a regressive tax becomes a progressive tax. The poor, who spend more than they save, have more to spend. The rich, who save more than they spend, have no significant change in lifestyle — just a bit less wealth. Those in the middle — even those in the well-above-median $125,000 to $150,000 earnings bracket — see little or no change in their family finances.

Would the change bring in enough new revenues to "save" Social Security and Medicare? I'll let the actuaries work that out. One thing is sure, though: anybody earning over a million dollars a year can afford to pay $61,000 in payroll taxes!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Terminology: the "Democrat Party"

One of the simplest ways to distinguish a rational conservative from a doctrinaire, rabidly politicized right winger is by the way they refer to the "enemy." Reasonable and respectful conservatives (who value good manners) refer to their adversaries as the "Democratic Party." For the others, the locution, inevitably, is the "Democrat Party." Since the 1940s, the noun to adjective transformation has been regarded as less-than-subtle-but-still-deniable slur by most observers — although when used by George W. Bush, it was widely regarded as an indication of semi-literacy. Much the same can be said for its use by Sarah Palin — but when used by John Boehner and Charles Grassley, idiocy is not a sufficiently viable excuse.

Far be it from me to maintain that the Democratic Party — much less the Republican Party — might in any way be truly small-d "democratic." They both could change their names to "the Plutocrat Party," thereby clearing up any remaining confusion and better satisfying truth-in-advertising regulations. Nevertheless, I have a suggestion for such Democrats who have adopted the term "Teabaggers," as well as others who still refrain from references to gay sexual tomfoolery in their policy statements.

I suggest the term, 'Publicans. I doubt that most rank-and-file right-wingers will associate the word with the owners and hosts of British taverns, since few are familiar with British English (and even some of their leaders continue to struggle with American English.) On the other hand, a great many social conservatives, at least, will know the word from their Bibles — where "publicans" refers to private contractors employed by the Roman Empire "who erected or maintained public buildings, supplied armies overseas, or collected certain taxes, particularly those supplying fluctuating amounts of revenue to the state." (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2008)

It fits. Dick Cheney and his sock puppet W went a long way towards the further privatization of war, not content with the vast size of the military-industrial complex they inherited from earlier administrations. Think of Xe (Blackwater). Think of Halliburton. Think of the privatized toll roads in states like Texas and Indiana. Think of the proposals to privatize Social Security.

Rome, you may recall, came to depend on an outsourced military — while entertaining the plebeian population with gladiatorial combat and FOX news — only to fall into chaos.

Okay, they didn't have FOX news, but I think you get the idea. Rome — replete with corruption, greed, and extreme sports — inevitably fell.

(Well, at least Rome provided bread along with the circuses. The 'Publicans think that's just a waste of good privatized wealth.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Like Reich

In his op-ed piece in today's New York Times, Robert Reich did something that always makes me happy — he agreed with me. Look back one posting to this blog and you will observe that I attributed our current economic woes to "the gap between the rich and the rest of us." Reich goes into the subject in depth, tracks the history of the gap, and offers some very constructive ideas for reducing its size. I consider Reich's article required reading for anybody who really wants to understand what happened to our economy and what should be done to repair it.

As I have observed in the past, Obama picked the "wrong Bob" to form his economic policy team — Rubin rather than Reich. Both served in the Clinton administration, although Rubin was far more influential even back then. Back in April, I referred to Rubin acolytes Geithner and Summers as "zombie slaves of the financial industry." Both seem to have been gnawing a very little bit at their marionette strings (please excuse my mixed metaphors) but, sadly, cognitive dissonance makes it impossible for either one to abandon faith in the infallibility of markets and embrace genuine change.

Minority leader John Boehner says Obama should fire Geithner and Summers. I agree, but feel quite confident we would disagree on the matter of potential replacements. I like Reich.

Our President, adhering to the Bill Clinton school of politics (possibly including loss of Congress at the midterm), persists in striving for "moderation," and continues to make me feel ill. He seems to have made Peter Orszag and Christina Romer feel ill as well, by ignoring their advice and sticking with Summers (read Rubin.) While I would love to have Elizabeth Warren as head of the new consumer protection agency, if she even is nominated to the position by Obama, I promise to risk lower back injury by posting a picture of myself with my foot in my mouth. Our President is far too cowardly to endorse any policy radical enough to make a real difference, so nothing much is likely to happen until 2012.

Anyway, read Reich's analysis, and think about his proposals. The man makes a hell of a lot of sense.