Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Bullshit

Obama got off to a good populist start last night when he suggested taking away the tax giveaways to the carbon companies and using the money for alternative energy development. It went downhill from there.

If I hear any more blather about "competitiveness" I'm likely to go out of my mind. I can't see any way we're in direct competition with China, India, Europe, Russia, Brazil, or any other country. We can't compete against China, our current boogeyman, in any sort of labor intensive manufacturing sector, and they can't compete with us when it comes to our most important industry, finance. Speaking of labor intensive pursuits, I heard the President mention that the United States has the most productive work force of any country in the world. A little later, he went on to say how we had to become even more productive.

Hmm... How did we get so productive? Easy. Our captains of industry just lay off workers, don't replace them, and insist the remaining workers pick up the slack for fear of losing their jobs too. It's getting to look more and more like the age of sweatshops in the American workplace, but calling for even more productivity will not do much for our unemployment crisis.

High speed rail won't happen unless major Republican contributors can be assured of getting all the contracts. The President's other big priority, more money "invested" in his Race to the Top education "reform," won't happen either. Personally, I'm happy about that. Race to the Top forces states to compete against each other for a few extra federal bucks, with most of them (and their unionized teachers) coming up losers. With Democrats like Obama, who needs Republicans?

Paul Ryan's response for the Republicans was described by the pundits as "measured," mostly because he didn't sound nearly as crazy as Michelle Bachman, who also delivered a speech last night. It was carried only by CNN — even Fox wouldn't touch it — so it follows that almost nobody saw it. I watched it, though!

Bachman gave what I guess is her standard Tea Party stump speech. Her delivery reminded me of the teacher's pet running for class president, and her remarks were addressed to a space somewhere above the viewer's head and off to the left. Dick Armey, whose group arranged her appearance, should have hired technicians who know where to place the teleprompter.

Frankly, it all makes me sick. There is nobody speaking for the poor, the unemployed, the exploited, the underwater, or the foreclosed. Anybody too young to remember Lyndon Johnson has no experience of liberal government, and so what passes for liberalism today is anything that wouldn't have qualified as fascism in the 1960s.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I'm starting to feel more and more sympathy for the Tea Partiers. They're totally ignorant and working against their own self-interest, but they've got good reasons to be angry — even if they're entirely ignorant of what those good reasons are.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Obama on regulation

In an editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the President announced an executive order calling on administrative agencies to work towards "more affordable, less intrusive" government regulation of business. The business world emitted welcoming, albeit distrustful, purrs of approval; consumer and environmental groups, to continue the cat analogy, got their backs up and their fur in a fluff, anticipating another presidential sell-out.

The general consensus, though, is that not much is likely to happen either way. Indeed, it seems most likely that the executive order is nothing but a bit more triangulation, aimed to appeal to "moderates." (Who are those legendary moderates? In my experience, "moderate" is a self-description by those who don't know enough to have an opinion.)

Anyway, if every agency begins the presidentially mandated review of all its regulations tomorrow, scarcely any changes are likely before the 2012 election. Rule changes require hearings, hearings, and more hearings, and every lobbyist and his pet iguana will line up to testify. I figure I'll just ignore the whole thing for now.


Note: Don't miss David Leonhardt's column in today's Times, which discusses reasons the U.S. unemployment rate is so much higher than unemployment rates in other parts of the world, including most of Europe, Japan, China, and Russia.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Shared Sacrifice"

I am so sick of hearing about "shared sacrifice," possibly the most egregious example of newspeak for the past two years and still growing in popularity, especially among the nation's governors. Just who is "sharing" the sacrifice? Let's see.

The states are cutting education budgets, so children get to share the sacrifice. They are cutting contributions to Medicare and Medicaid, so the elderly and the poor are sharing the sacrifice. They are cutting funding for community development and social service programs, including those helping the homeless, battered women, children with special needs, unemployed teens and excessed workers who need job training — yes, the poor again.

Funds for hospitals, police, sanitation, public transportation, and infrastructure are being slashed, so the struggling remnants of the middle class also get to "share" in the sacrifice. Public employees and, especially, their pensions are under attack, affecting another segment of the middle and working classes. States with new Republican majorities are moving toward enacting "right to work" laws, to further weaken labor unions, pushing middle class workers into the ranks of the working poor, and the working poor into indigence.

Corporate taxes are being cut, so corporations too must share...

Uh, well... the governors explain that lower corporate tax rates will attract more investment and jobs to their states. Where will the jobs come from?

Not from India or China. If they come at all, they'll come from other states, accelerating the internal "race to the bottom" that has characterized the United States for decades. In the meanwhile, corporate profits are soaring, executives are collecting record bonuses, and those earning $20 million a year still pay at the same tax rate as those earning $200 thousand.

As usual, the "sacrifice" is shared by the poor and the middle classes, while the transfer of wealth to the super-rich — with their private schools, jets, hospitals, police forces, and more — continues apace. Ninety-nine per cent of us are "sharing the sacrifice." One percent of them are sucking our blood: to wit, business as usual.

With the single, shining exception of the state of Illinois, taxes will not be increasing. (The people and the corporations of Illinois will be "sharing the sacrifice" needed to get that state out of the hole its politicians have dug for it over the years.) State spending cuts can only exacerbate economic weakness, but regardless of political affiliation, the nation's governors will be participating in the "starve the beast" agenda that began in the Reagan administration.

I'm not sure who first said, "Bipartisan means everybody gets screwed," but that old bit of political wisdom needs a slight amendment. "Bipartisan" means almost everybody gets screwed. The oligarchs, as usual, are immune.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Arizona Shooter

I'm sure there is some code in the DSM-IV that fits Jared Loughner, but for those of us less concerned with the niceties of psychological evaluations, the term "nut job" should do well enough. Judging by descriptions of young Jared by some who knew him at his community college in Tuscon, he was erratic, disruptive, and — especially when trying to express his most deeply held beliefs — completely incomprehensible.

I find it unlikely that the wack-a-doodle right wing populists of talk radio and TV had any influence on him at all — they are generally far too conventional, doctrinaire, and focused to have had all that much impact. Perhaps he culled a bit here and there from the darker recesses of the internet, but I think it most likely he concocted his own, personal set of paranoid delusions — "motives" that he might not be able to explain comprehensibly even if given the chance.

There will be plenty who will want him sentenced to death, and when I see photos of that dear little girl he murdered, I am not entirely unsympathetic to their point of view. In the meanwhile, though, we'll have to wait for the experts to decide whether he is lucid enough to participate meaningfully in his own defense.

I wonder if young Jared's parents, with whom he lived, ever noticed his deteriorating emotional condition, and if they ever considered finding him professional health. I wonder if the Tuscon Parks Department provides Mrs. Loughner with family health coverage, and if that coverage includes psychological benefits.

I wonder if it might be arranged for Jared Loughner to be cellmates with Theodore Kaczynski. Ah, what fascinating philosophical discourse might ensue!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Army of World Capitalism

Since Robert Gates recently called for reductions in defense spending, an interesting and, to many, surprising statistic has been in the press — the fact that the United States military is larger than all the other armies in the world, combined. Some even are daring to ask why. Why is our Department of Defense so large, what is it defending, and what is it defending against?

Thirty years ago, we could be told it was defending us from "the Communist threat." These days, it's hard to justify such a force to "protect" us from Cuba, North Korea and (maybe) Vietnam. China's system, over the years, has "developed" into fascism, and they're hardly likely to try to destroy us while we owe them so much money.

Right now we have roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan "defending" us from a few hundred "terrorists," most of whom are in Pakistan. There are close to another 50,000 still in Iraq — but they're not (ahem!) "combat" troops. We have troops deployed in over 150 countries around the world, and some questions are in order:
  • Why are there as many troops in Germany as in Iraq? Are the Nazis making a comeback?
  • Why almost 10,000 troops in the UK? Are we expecting another blitz?
  • Why do we need another 10,000 in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar if Iraq is "at peace?"
  • From what threat are nearly 33,000 US troops defending Japan?
  • With all those troops in Japan, what's the need for another 28,000 in South Korea? Foot soldiers would not be especially effective against North Korean nukes.
Let's not forget the Navy, which has ships sailing around every body of water in the world big enough to hold them. In brief, why does the United States need a worldwide military presence?

To me, the answer if fairly obvious. Multinational corporations have a worldwide presence, and the United States seems to be stuck with the task of defending them (and their profitability) worldwide. Which leads to another question: why us? There are plenty of European and Asian and Middle Eastern plutocrats profiting from World Capitalism, and even some Latin Americans and Africans getting into the mix. Upholding the world plutocracy is expensive! Why can't some of those other countries pick up some of the expense?

Notice that I'm not calling for the plutocrats to pay for their own protection from popular uprisings, sticky fingered premiers and prime ministers with a penchant for nationalization, and those who want to replace the current monopolists with new monopolists. I know that's impossible.

The plutocrats don't pay — they just take. It follows that I'm not expecting anybody in the US government to make a serious effort to block raising the debt ceiling. Where would their corporate patrons go for their "defense?"

Friday, January 7, 2011

War on Workers

Republicans have taken control of state governments in more states than I like to think about. Since this is a census year, they will get to gerrymander with impunity. Idiot working class voters who supported them will get it up the ass. Probably, they deserve it for being so stupid, but you really can't blame people for being so stupid when government has taken so many actions to keep them stupid for so many years.

Those Republican state victories, however, are likely to do more damage to working people than most of us "liberals" are likely to consider. As many as ten previously Democratic or divided states, now controlled by Republicans, are enthusiastically embracing "right to work" laws.

"Right to work" may have been the first seizure of terminology by Republicans that made Democrats look like they were the enemies of workers. Completing the phrase brings us to "right to work with full union benefits without paying union dues." Democrats ought to call them "free rider" laws — but they don't.

Right now, only about seven percent of private sector employees are union members. For the public sector, the percentage is somewhere in the thirties. The targets of the new "free rider" laws, needless to say, are the unions that still have some power — the state and local employees who still earn decent incomes while workers in the private sector continue to fall behind.

If the oligarchy is to continue leaching wealth from the middle class, the only place from which to suck it is the public sector. While the public sector unions might do more to contain the oligarchy, they are not looking ahead in any significant way. Most of them are entangled with the Obama-Clintonista crew, who continue to bend over and offer their well-used rosebuds to Wall Street and the megacorps.

Nobody is on our side. Nobody at all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Rules

The House of Representatives has adopted a new set of rules that require any spending increases to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. Tax cuts, on the other hand, need not be offset by tax increases elsewhere.

After thirty years of trying, one would think even the dullest witted Republican would have figured out that tax cuts do not increase government revenues. Even Arthur Laffer, creator of the famed Laffer curve that was used to justify Reaganomics, has come to that conclusion. Frankly, I don't believe even Reagan believed in the magical efficacy of tax cuts for raising revenues — he and his crew were more interested in the "starve the beast" school of reducing the size of government, especially those programs introduced as part of Roosevelt's New Deal.

That leaves Democrats, both in the Senate and the White House, in an uncomfortable position. If they are in any way serious about deficit reduction, they will have to reject every tax cut the House sends their way — and since the Republican answer to every problem is a tax cut, you can be sure the House will be sending them. Naturally, that would allow the Republicans to accuse Democrats of sabotaging economic recovery by stifling economic growth.

Actually, given the small Democratic majority in the Senate, including the remnants of the Blue Dog caucus and some who will do just about anything to keep their seats in the 2012 election, it may actually be necessary for other Democrats to filibuster tax cut bills to keep them from being enacted — or just pass them along to the President for a veto.

Does Obama have the balls to do that? Not from any of the evidence we've seen to date.