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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Gang Rush" to Conclusions Without Context

A table of illegal firearms confiscated in a large weapons bust in East Harlem are on display at a press conference on October 12, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

To anyone ready to jump all over Megan McArdle for suggesting that we teach kids to bum rush shooters:
STOP AND READ HER ENTIRE BLOG POST FIRST, PLEASE!

Caveats: I'm not her fan, friend, follower, or defender.

I just think that it's important that with something as emotionally charged as Newtown and gun violence that we avoid jumping to too many conclusions about what someone else is supposedly suggesting we do about it.

I think that's especially true when all we know about said suggestion is what someone else has decided to dissect and share from it. It's too easy for that someone to then, intentionally or unintentionally, deliver it to us out of context. (Yes, I'm mostly looking at you, Fox News and all the right-wing mouthpieces, but not this time. This time it's Media Matters using this same strategy.)

Without reading the entire post, I think it's impossible to put the presumably worrisome passage into context. I read the entire post. I came away convinced this idea of a "gang rush" was meant to reinforce the message of the rest of her post.

My conclusion is that she's of the opinion that in the America we live in today there is little, if anything, in practical terms that can be done to prevent people from going on shooting sprees short of an outright ban on all guns, and that we all know that that is impossible.

Or, do we?

Links:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/17/there-s-little-we-can-do-to-prevent-another-massacre.html
http://mediamatters.org/blog/2012/12/18/newsweeks-megan-mcardle-calls-for-children-to-b/191889

Friday, December 14, 2012

Right-to-Work and The New Gilded Age

(Credit: AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)
Here's a byproduct of the so called Right-To-Work laws I never knew: besides being a masterful bit of marketing in terms of its labeling, these laws have helped to move jobs from Northern states to Southern states and eventually to cheaper overseas markets.

In fact, the more I learn about them, the more I come to understand that they are anything but a vehicle to ensure anyone's "rights" or that there's work created by them for anyone. At least not work normally associated with what we fancifully recall as a middle class lifestyle.

As the New York Times op-ed piece entitled, "Workers' Paradise Lost" points out, union and non-union workers both benefit when unions are more powerful and influential. Corporations once literally had to compete for labor by offering good wages and benefits.

Anyone happen to notice, recall, or learn in their rapidly-disappearing civics classes about the wealth and prosperity the middle class in America enjoyed after World War II and up to about the late 70s and early 80s? (Bonus points will be awarded for naming the B-movie-actor-turned-president who launched the decline in earnest back then by firing federal union workers and being the willing mouthpiece and marionette at the end of Alan Greenspan's fingertips.)

Here's another new fact I learned from the Times op-ed.

The Taft-Hartley Act was pushed through in 1947 by "pro-business Republicans and Southern Democrats" in the immediate wake of the UAW's rise to prominence. This Act was how states in the South and out West were able to pass right-to-work laws and attract businesses away from their neighbors in northern markets with cheaper labor. I didn't know how it had gotten started and that it went back that far.

And what happened next and when corporations felt that the labor wasn't cheap enough in the South and West? What has been happening since the early 80s and as unions have continued to lose their influence over elected officials, corporations, and thanks to years of vilifying by corporations and the GOP, even the influence unions and their members had with their neighbors? Where did business look for even cheaper labor? It wasn't on these shores. Labor is and was increasingly powerless to fight the flight of manufacturing overseas. It's sad when you consider that they couldn't even get their neighbors to stand with them to defend those jobs, and that those neighbors all too often are still jealous of what they perceive to be the largess of being a union worker.

(To be sure, we as consumers also have ourselves to blame, too, for demanding the Walmartification of America with cheaper and cheaper goods, but that's fodder for its own post.)

All of us owe a debt of gratitude to organized labor for basically forcing corporations to share the wealth. That's not a dirty or even Socialist expression. Labor is what brings into being and delivers to market the creativity and genius of the entrepreneur. One cannot exist without the other. It must be understood, however, that only one side has the "accounts receivables" and, hence, control over how revenues are distributed. CEOs didn't always make hundreds and even thousands of times what they pay their workers, and corporate profits overall in America are at historic highs.

We also owe a debt to unions for things we take for granted today. Things like child labor laws, workplace safety, the 8-hour workday, the 5-day week, and so much more. When examined purely from the economic and business perspective, these changes would probably never have come into being without workers literally dying as part of the labor movement to win them.

These are all things worth thinking about the next time we're tempted to side with trickle down theorists and defenders of capital - as if they needed us to stick up for them.

Actually and come to think of it, maybe they do.

So long as they - and let's be candid, "they" are big money, corporations, and most assuredly the Republican party - are successful at duping so many of the middle class into believing the "us versus them" of non-union versus union, we're likely to see the scales continue to tip away from the middle class and even more toward the wealthy. It's like something I saw recently on Facebook that said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Don't be jealous of my union benefits. Demand your own." I agree with that sentiment.

The scales of labor-management are out of balance. I think it's important to understand whose thumbs are on it and how the scales continue to tip toward the 1-percenters and big business. If we don't bring the scales back to the middle then my advice is that we might want to start thinking up names for this new Gilded Age.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Right To Work... for Less

For the record, I've spent most of my career in management. I have never belonged to a union.

I have, however, become a stronger and stronger supporter of organized labor the more I read and understand the facts about them and how the once mighty American middle class came into being, grew, and prospered primarily and almost exclusively because of organized labor.

We must be clear on facts.

The rise and prosperity of the American middle class had precisely nothing to do with any generosity or leadership principles of management. Without the labor movement, there would have been no middle class because there would have been nothing in it for management and the shareholders to pay workers decent wages, provide for safe working conditions, and for companies to have to negotiate some portion of the wealth generated to be shared back with the workers that made goods and delivered services.

The worker-management relationship is symbiotic, but the movement in this country was been away from organized labor for decades. Many would trace it back to Reagan and his treatment of the air traffic controllers.

Regardless of when it began, the so-called "righ to work" laws are nothing more than well-crafted marketing by Big Money and their puppets in state legislations. It is designed to dupe Americans into believing that such laws - presumably to give workers the "freedom" or "right to work" without paying union dues in unionized shops - is what's best for both companies and workers.

That's absurd. Why should on employee be allowed to benefit from collective bargaining done by his/her co-workers and yet not have to be required to pay their dues to fund the organization that handles the collective bargaining on behalf of all workers. How is that fair?

Right-to-work laws are terrible for the middle class. The only jobs they are likely to create will be those that are lower paying with fewer hours and fewer benefits. They will not be the kind of middle class jobs on which anyone can live or raise a family.

Ask any Walmart worker.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Note to Christians: Not to Worry, Your Holiday is Safe


Today, December 8, 2012, is Bodhi Day which, according to Wikipedia is, 

"...the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment, also known as bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a peepal tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it."

So to Buddhists everywhere, I'd like to send my best to you this day and everyday.

Ok, I admit it. This post and my well-wishes to Buddhists are the result of sheer happenstance. It all started when I read an email from a Christian relative. They are very concerned about the takeover of Christmas by the politically correct apparatchiks hell-bent on taking Christ out of Christmas. The chain email was meant to be sent to everyone, demanding that we stand up to the rest of society and express proudly to everyone (presumably whether they believe in Christ or not) a Merry Christmas. 

That said, and besides not knowing that today is Bodhi Day, I'm supposed to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Consider this greeting banked for those who believe until December 25th.

What I'm curious about now is how is it possible in the age of smartphones, ubiquitous wi-fi, and the 24-hour news cycle that I didn't know that today is Bodhi Day? (Not to worry. I'll get to Chanukah in a minute.)

How's that possible? How can I miss a religious holiday at this time of year when the volume is turned up to what one of my fellow Coffee Party friends calls "a Spinal Tap 11" over the fears and concerns that America is losing sight of the religious significance of this time of year?

I think I know the answer.

First, it's my fault. I'm an atheist. I don't pay very much attention to religious holidays, and were it not for Facebook I wouldn't know that today is also significant to Jews and the celebration of Chanukah. So, a sincere Happy Chanukah to Jews everywhere!

On top of being an atheist, I was raised by Catholics. These were two of the best and finest people to ever walk the planet, mind you, but they were not of a generation sensitive to multiculturalism. December - and for my father who was raised an Eastern Orthodox Catholic, it was January - meant Christmas and only Christmas. Besides being raised by Catholics, I grew up in an all-white, working class, and, as far as I know to this day, all-Christian enclave in southwestern Pennsylvania.

As for my public school education, and to the best of my recollection, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever in the curriculum of any other holiday being celebrated in December besides Christmas. To their credit, we didn't have Nativity displays at school, but I also don't recall any lessons about other world cultures and their holidays. (Happily, educators are paying more attention to this issue nowadays. See "The December Dilemma: Acknowledging Religious Holidays in the Classroom")

What else is going on in December and all year and with other religions, you might be asking? 

Lots.

One look at this Huffington Post piece on religious holidays for 2012 shows just how much religious celebrating is going on throughout the year for nine of the world's major world religions: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Paganism, Shinto and Sikhism. (What no Flying Spaghetti Monster?!?) 

One of the takeaways for me was how many Christian religious holidays there are. They beat their next closest competitor, the Hindus, by more than 2 to 1. Who knew?

Besides winning the race to rack up the most religious holidays, Christians are also unmistakably among the largest religions by membership in the world and in America

Given these facts, why do we seem to get treated each year around this same time to so much concern from Christians about their religion and their holiday coming under attack? For me to go merrily along with the chain email and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas may be the statistically correct greeting, but it still might not be right and it does nothing to account for the fact that not everyone is a Christian.

My advice to Christians is to relax. For now, you are the dominant religion in America. Even Gallup says we're telling them we're still a religious people and that we're primarily a Christian nation. Please, stop with all the hand-wringing, wailing, gnashing of teeth and chain emails already. You're the majority, no one is attacking you, and pretty much everyone still calls Christmas Christmas. 

You shouldn't think of "Happy Holidays" as an insult or an attack. I can't for the life of me see how it diminishes or detracts one bit from your holiday. Is it so hard to accept that I simply don't believe as you do and yet still want to wish you and everyone around me happiness? Is that so terrible, and why are you put off by the fact that I want to be as universal in my well-wishing as possible? 

Ask yourself how you would feel as a Christian if I said Happy Chanukah or Merry Yuletide or Kung Hei Fat Choi. If I know you celebrate Christmas, I'm just as likely to say, "Merry Christmas!" If, however, I choose instead to say, "Happy Holidays," it's not a metaphorical slap in the face (although your prophet would tell you to turn the other cheek). 

What's the problem with Happy Holidays? For me, Happy Holidays takes all the risk out possibly insulting or offending the statistically less likely (and seemingly less emotionally troubled) encounters with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even the rare Zoroastrianist. You don't hear them complaining.

Please. Christians. I'm begging you. Take a break this year. At least take a breath. The rest of us in all the minorities who don't believe as you do and who may or may not also be celebrating this time of year are not out to get you or to keep you from celebrating Christmas. All we want to do is wish you happiness.

Besides, all this complaining from the religion that holds the majority in population and in holidays is really tiresome, tedious, disingenuous, and is flat out spoiling the fun in the holidays - whatever holiday we choose to celebrate - for the rest of us.

Happy Holidays, One and ALL!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Class Warfare and John Galt; Both are Fiction


A recent Facebook post by The Christian Left (image courtesy of that post), sparked some interesting discussion. Some people apparently saw this as a metaphor for Obama acting as a messiah while simultaneously dividing the country with his "class warfare" against the rich.


This whole idea of "class warfare" strikes me as being mostly an issue for wealthy conservatives. Even more curious is that it's become a rallying cry for middle class conservatives who feel compelled to rise to the defense of the wealthy and the threat they face from onerous government intervention and taxation.

Why is that?

Well, it seems to me that there's no denying that conservative (and GOP) media spokespersons like O'Reilly, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, and that whole crowd are intent on convincing us of the evils of government. Their rhetoric seems focused on protecting their benefactors while simultaneously serving their own greedy self interests by attracting as many eyeballs (and devotees) as possible. Nothing seems to work like some good old hyperbole (devoid to the degree possible of any facts) for riling up the uninformed and for driving wedges between all kinds of people. If it's not the fake (and worn out) War on Christmas, it's the new (and just as fake) Battle Royale between Takers and Makers.

(And before conservatives accuse me of bias, let me at least come clean and admit to mine. I am proud to call myself a progressive and a liberal. Yes, similar accusations can be made about the hyperbole from left wing personalities, too. However, and to my experience, at least they seem to be defending us little guys with their rhetoric. They don't try to scare us into siding with the wealthy in the hopes that someday the wealthy will shower us with generosity in the form of....what?....jobs at Walmart? Oh, and the so-called "liberal media" actually seem to care about and cite real science and actual facts. Bonus points in my book for that sort of behavior.)

Conservative spokespeople from Boehner and McConnell on down through Faux (sorry, Fox) News, The Drudge Report, and tea partiers everywhere would have us all believe that if we don't stop hating the wealthy and don't start supporting even more and more concessions - Boehner is actually proposing lowering the tax rates?!? - we're doomed. They seem to actually think - or more likely, want us to believe - that we in the middle class will actually witness a physical manifestation of the disappearance of "job creators" a la John Galt if the middle class comes out on top in this so-called war of the classes.

In other words, if the middle class triumphs and taxes go up on the wealthy, the wealthy will retreat to points unknown while the rest of us are left standing around wondering from where our next hand out will appear.

For the record, just because I favor raising taxes on all corporate profits, closing all corporate tax loopholes (especially of the offshore variety), and doing away with subsidies to last century's industries like oil, coal, and natural gas doesn't mean I hate the wealthy. Oh, and I'm not a socialist. (Ok, I admit it. I am a little on issues such as universal health care and higher education, but that's for another post.)

And, just because I think the Bush Tax cuts for individuals earning over $250K ought to expire and, frankly, those rates ought to go up a little more, also doesn't mean that I hate the wealthy. Hell, I've spent my entire adult life working pretty hard and taking risks with start-ups - including my own; twice! - to try to be among them. Never once has my tax rate come into the thought process that went into those decisions. Never once have I met a true entrepreneur who said that taxes - especially of the personal income variety - were part of their decision making process for starting a business.

There is no class warfare. It's imaginary, just like that fictional character in that novel written by a Russian atheist who didn't know you-know-what from Shinola when it came to economics. There's nothing to be afraid about. The wealthy are not going to take their marbles and go home if their taxes go up. They aren't going to curl into fetal positions on beach chairs somewhere and wallow in their hatred of government. They'll do what they do best; find ways to create more wealth for themselves.

As for those CEOs and business owners who want to make a statement by laying people off or closing up operations because their taxes are too high, I say this. Either they aren't very bright, they aren't really entrepreneurs, or they are liars. Only a foolish business person would take such actions if the business was doing well. Business people don't just walk away from their business. At the very least, they sell it so they can go someplace sunny the rest of their lives and enjoy their prosperity. I hope to join them one day, so long as it's not as the old guy bringing them fresh towels and cold drinks.

It takes a thriving and prospering middle class to be a thriving and prosperous economy. This is why I'm so absolutely astounded by anyone who isn't making $250K or more who identifies themselves with the GOP and supports the likes of Boehner, Ryan, Cantor, McConnell and that crowd. Here's why I say that.

Businesses cannot survive and thrive without customers. Without a strong and consuming middle class, there is no market, businesses won't prosper, and business people can't make as much money. Smart politicians and business people understand this, and history has proven that the middle class needs more than some "trickle" coming down from on high in order to grow. Ask the medieval kings how that whole serfdom thing worked for them.

Today, it's not class warfare. It's not warfare of any kind. It's ethics and arithmetic. The wealthy are not paying their fair share. That's the arithmetic. More than that are the ethics. The wealthy are not paying enough back to society. It's our society and how economics within it operates, after all, that gives them the environment in which to create, function, and prosper. (No, conservatives, business did not build that.) The wealthy owe a debt back to our society paid in the form of taxes in order to keep our society functioning for this generation of all people and for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I think that it's childish, silly, and dangerous for us to believe that Big Money isn't pulling the strings in DC. Let's not kid ourselves about which strings they have more of and pull more often. It's the self-appointed defenders of business. It's the GOP.

That said, this "war" being waged over taxes on the wealthy and the possibility that they will therefore refuse to magically create jobs if their taxes go up is even sillier and more dangerous. We need to be more mature in our thinking when it comes to politics, policies, regulations, laws, and tax codes that are more progressive and which move to ensure the majority of Americans are not back in the conditions that most average people endured in the Gilded Age.

My grandparents came to America in the great immigration of the early 20th century. My parents were born in America in 1915 and 1925. They told vivid and disturbing stories of what it was like to live under the boot heal of unregulated, under taxed, and wildly powerful Big Money corporations back then. Why today's middle class thinks we need to return to tax policies and regulatory environments that even come close to those days is beyond my comprehension.

So, I wonder what it will take to get the dwindling middle class in the GOP to stop voting against their own economic self interest?

I wonder if the GOP will ever stop trying to sell us on the fallacy of trickle down economics, and I wonder how many more times we will need to see that economic theory proven wrong before we shunt politicians who espouse it to the sidelines where they belong?

My advice is simple. Let's do the math, do what's right, and put ourselves back on a track toward recovery for the vast majority, not the privileged few. Let's stop pretending that there's a war between the classes, and let's stop believing in fiction as a basis for an economy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Invisible Hand Wants More Hand Outs


The New York Times published an article on December 1 titled As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price.

It ought to disturb everyone who isn't in the 1%. To begin with, it should have been "Citizens" instead of "Government" as we're the ones who pay the price.

We should all be disturbed by the amount of public money being extorted by companies from all levels of government. They can do this, in my opinion, because we let them.

How do we let them? I think it begins with the fact that too many of our fellow citizens are quaffing copious amounts the Randian Kool-Aid-turned-Tea-Party-tea that's being served up so generously by the high priests and priestesses who worship The Invisible Hand from inside the GOP, from within their broadcasting company, Fox, their newspaper publisher, The Wall Street Journal, and from all the their faithful followers.

It seems clear to me that big money, politics, and business have combined into a force the likes of which none of us has seen in our lifetimes. The level of concentrated wealth and power is all but incomprehensible (who among us really understands what a trillion dollars is?), and we and our progeny will be the ones who pay the tab when The Invisible Hand brings it to our table for all the blind, willful, and excessive drinking we're doing now.

I do believe there's something we can do about it.

I think it starts by voting for progressive people who will truly represent ordinary citizens and then demanding real representation and leadership from those elected officials; from city councils on up through the president.

I also think we citizens need to present calm, rational, and most of all, vocal objection about the imbalance, inequity, and unfairness to each other and to our elected officials. They do, after all, work for us. It's incumbent on us as citizens to hold them accountable. They need to know that we're not going to tolerate - or vote for them - if they continue to offer sweetheart deals to so-called "job creators" who don't create jobs and who, in the end, only bankrupt us and our governments.

Could it be that part of the reason governments at all levels can't balance budgets includes expenditures like the $80 billion (yes, billion with a 'b', as in bull****) a year that's being given away in incentives? If these incentives are so effective, shouldn't we be asking corporations (and mostly the big ones) where are the jobs?

(Let me hasten to say at this point that I have nothing against corporations, profits, or wealth. I don't begrudge anyone their hard-earned and honestly-achieved wealth. I'm not a socialist (ok, maybe I am just a little), and I'm certainly not a fascist or a communist. I'm registered non-partisan, have never held elected office, and have never been in a union. As of today, I'm an unemployed sales and marketing executive who wants to work and who cares enough about how this impacts his family, his neighbors, our society to take time from job searching to post this.)

Make no mistake. Politicians are just as culpable as corporations in this mess.

As this NYT article points out, politicians tend to be weak negotiators who have the unenviable task of having to convince us in the simplest terms and most expeditious way possible every few years to reelect them back into their jobs. Some (and for the more jaded among us, maybe most) politicians seem to behave in such a way most of the time as to convince us that they'll say and do just about anything to win their jobs back.

Is it any wonder that they will do a deal - even bad deals - with a corporation just to stake the claim to have brought jobs to their constituents? It is worth wondering about only if we don't pay attention to the deals they're cutting and then don't hold them accountable to what we value in addition to a job.

And therein rest their defense for their actions. We don't pay attention, we stay silent, and we seem willing to accept any condition so long as there's the promise of employment.

Politicians know that we seem, on the whole, to not pay very much attention. They know lots of us can be pretty easily duped into believing almost anything. What other explanation is there for the viewership of Fox News and movements like the Tea Party, birtherism, and climate science deniers?

Politicians can remain confident that we'll be too distracted by The Walking Dead, Dancing With The Stars, and the latest South Korean music video on YouTube to pay attention to what they're doing. They know most of us will keep getting our information from the talking heads screeching the loudest at us from inside our self-imposed information bubbles. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Fox News viewers.)

Most of us can be counted on to look at the so-called collaboration between government and corporations through a short-term lens, and to then heap praise (and votes) upon our elected officials for ostensibly working in partnership with the private sector to create new jobs.

The irony is this.

The Invisible Hand of the free market isn't concerned with real partnership. It's about winners and losers. That cannot be what's best in these "partnerships" between private companies and the public sector. Just consider these factors:
1. There are no contractual and legally binding obligations on the part of the corporation, and there's no recourse to recover our "investments" should the venture fail
2. There's no assurance as to if and when those jobs will actually materialize
3. There are no promises that any job will actually pay a living wage or how long it will last
4. There appears to be little scrutiny of the corporation's past behaviors or results in these matters
5. No one seems to be examining or considering if the facts and evidence show whether or not those jobs would have been created without the incentive

And, since when did The Invisible Hand need incentives from government?

To compound the challenges and as the New York Times article points out, elected officials are ill-equipped to negotiate. They are basically held hostage by corporations. We go on about our lives oblivious to the tabs our politicians are running up for us and what could have been done with those corporate welfare funds.

               "The practical consequences can be easily seen. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative group, found that the amount New York spends on film credits every year equals the cost of hiring 5,000 public-school teachers."


I understand and, yes, even appreciate and applaud the basic tenants of capitalism. I understand that corporations have an obligation to shareholders first and foremost. I don't deny nor argue that they ought not to consider and pursue the deals that are best for them and their shareholders. The problem I have is when those decisions about how best to maximize profit are made without concern for the moral, ethical, and economic consequences to us as citizens and to society at large. Profit cannot and should not be the only consideration by people who run companies. We're all in this together.

Again, it's not only corporations at fault. They have a duplicitous partner in this dance.

Ill-equipped and out-matched government officials not only are manipulated by corporations they are actually competing with one another to see who can give away the most money to attract the corporations.

Think about that. Our elected officials are negotiating against each other to see who can "win the business" with corporations by giving away the most money - our money - while they get nothing that's legally binding in return.

               A group of taxpayers in Michigan and Ohio went as far as suing DaimlerChrysler after Ohio and the City of Toledo awarded the automaker $280 million in the late 1990s. The suit argued that it was unfair for one taxpayer to be given a break at the expense of all others.


              The suit made its way to the Supreme Court, and G.M. and Ford signed on to briefs supporting Daimler, as did local governments. The National Governors Association warned the court that prohibiting incentives could lead to jobs moving overseas. “This is the economic reality,” the association said in a brief.

              The governors offered no hard evidence of the effectiveness of tax credits, but the Supreme Court did not consider whether they worked anyway. In 2006, the court concluded that the taxpayers did not have the legal standing to challenge Ohio’s tax actions in federal court.


         
There's only one way this can go under current circumstances. Unchecked and unchanged, the bidding will be won by whatever community is willing to give away the most with almost nothing assured in return. And, whose money is it? Yours and mine.

I don't claim to understand every detail and all the nuance. What I clearly don't understand is all the anger and rancor coming from anyone outside the 1% in America about the role of government. They seem intent on allowing themselves to be guided by what they perceive to be the benefits of The Invisible Hand and all that will trickle down to them. Is there another explanation for why some of us appear to have elevated corporations to some pretty lofty status while simultaneously vilifying government at all levels?

It makes wonder how it is that so many people who claim to want smaller government and cuts to social programs seem to be the very same people who....

...Rail against today's tax rates - which are at historic lows - but don't complain about their tax dollars subsidizing corporations

...Complain about their tax dollars being spent on social programs that benefit the so-called "takers" at a time when unemployment is still too high, the wealth gap is at levels not seen since the Gilded Age of the robber barons, corporations are enjoying record profits while they get more and more government handouts, and yet those magnanimous "job creators" don't seem to be creating many jobs

...Despite corporate welfare, believe that government interferes too much with business despite the fact that regulatory bogeymen like the SEC and EPA have been progressively stripped of their oversight authority


Why isn't there more outrage about corporate welfare from the people who so strongly believe in free market forces and less government?

And, why aren't all citizens demanding that our elected officials work on and pass legislation to simplify THOSE tax codes first so that corporations pay their fair share like the rest of us?

After all, aren't corporations and the people who work for them part of the society in which we all live?

Don't employees, managers, stakeholders, customers, and suppliers all benefit from a government that educates our children, is responsible for public safety, infrastructure, and the like?

(And by the way, no, you corporations did NOT build public education, infrastructure, police forces, fire stations, etc. Good thing, too.)

So, the over-arching question I'm asking is this. What's with all this requirement (extortion, really) for tax breaks and incentives to be given to corporations in order for them to compete?

Isn't The Invisible Hand enough.....or can't they make it without hand outs?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Republican Party's Brand Appeal, or Lack Thereof




"Just think if those Frosted Flakes brand gurus felt that the problem with selling their cereal to diabetics was one of semantics, not sugar, or that customers' inability to afford boxes of the stuff was simply the free market in action. What if the company did things to limit who could hope to buy its products, or found ways to punish customers who didn't. How about if it envisioned a radically new idea of what breakfast meant entirely, including where, when and by whom it would be eaten (and claimed it was the only way breakfast could survive as an institution), only there were other solutions to changing breakfast, and everybody knew about them." - Jonathan Salem Baskin, AdAge



As the paragraph in the AdAge article which precedes the above excerpt points out, "selling products instead of meeting consumer needs" is a predictable path to failure. It’s true for cereal and for politicians.

Republicans in this cycle clearly chose a losing branding and marketing strategy. They branded themselves and their solutions to appeal only to those who were already sold on their ideas. To compound their problems, they then made no attempts to do anything but alienate anyone who wasn’t already sold. How in the world is that supposed to attract new “customers” to their party?

It now seems pretty clear that, along with a deficient "product" in terms of policy positions, the other really big failure came from the decision about whom they chose as their core target market - the ultra-conservative, neo-libertarian, and mostly low-information white male voter. I’m not trying to be unkind with the “low-information” description. I’m simply basing that on the amount of shock and surprise that seems to have overwhelmed all the GOP-supporting media outlets like Fox, AM talk radio, and even the so-called strategists like Mr. Rove. As for the “white male” component, those numbers are easily confirmed at sources like CNN.

Assuming that their core target market is the non-Hispanic white (and more male than female) voter, their core target market is also too narrowly defined, too small in shear numbers, and insufficiently interested in and motivated by their product to have won big in this election. By all accounts with which I’m familiar, and if the trends hold true into the future, the non-Hispanic white market is also going to be a shrinking market. This gives the current GOP strategy even greater appearance as being on the path toward even greater losses in the future.

       “The non-Hispanic white population will increase more slowly than other racial and ethnic groups; whites will become a minority (47%) by 2050.” (Pew Research Center, U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050, February 11, 2008

It will be interesting to watch what evidence there will be about precisely what the GOP leadership has learned from this election. I’m pretty skeptical about what that will be. McConnell already sounds as intransigent as ever, and I have almost no expectation that Boehner actually has the courage to distance himself and the rest of the House from the tea party caucus.

To be sure, the post-election landscape is only beginning to take shape. Still, I wonder who the more rational heads are within the GOP?

Yes, Huntsman gets some well-deserved attention as a likely candidate to help lead the GOP back toward a more reasonably-defined center, but he’s currently unemployed, as it were. He also doesn’t seem to me to fit the current mold of a party that inexplicably is willing to give their stage over to the likes of Cain, Bachmann, and Perry as presidential candidates. (Side note: Kudos to the GOP for having the good sense to ostracize Palin and recognize George W. Bush as a marketing liability.)

Without some dramatic and immediate changes, I suspect that the GOP - with the help of Fox, talk radio, and the Sheldon Adelsons of the world - will continue to pursue a strategy based more on spin and deception than on facts and reality. All that said and as much rancor and entrenchment as there seems to be these days, I'm cautiously optimistic.

I’m optimistic that concerned citizens like those involved with the Coffee Party (http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/) will keep taking the time to separate fact from fiction. I’m optimistic that they’ll take the time to try to influence the public discussion about the real problems and challenges facing our society and the world at large, as well as what the options are for addressing them in everyone’s best interest.

I'm even more optimistic about the generation of 20-somethings coming up behind us. Speaking from first-hand experience as the proud father of two 20-somethings, they aren't nearly so gullible and easily duped as our generation (or at least a significant portion of us) seems to be. I only hope we don’t end up leaving messes so big even they can’t clean them up.

It’s important for all of us to take the time to inform ourselves, to ask those to whom we listen or elect to back up their statements and positions with facts, and to be willing to compromise but only to the degree that such a compromise will serve the greatest good.

As for the Republican party, my advice is the same that Hal Ziegler offered just before his passing: real leaders within the GOP better start rising up to loudly and proudly call their colleagues out when they are being ideologues, especially when that ideology isn’t rational, truthful, or anything except obstructionist. And, they better hurry. Their party, to borrow a word from Mr. Rove’s fundraising efforts, really seems to be at a crossroads.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Voter ID Laws Are Unwarranted


Our polling place here "in the sticks" requires me to sign a book next to my name and all the signatures I've made over the years ostensibly so that a poll worker can confirm it. Not sure how long that system has been the norm, but it's basically all I've ever known. 

Even that bastion of liberal journalism, the WSJ, published the same data I've read in other places. 10 cases of voter impersonation since 2000. Ten. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443864204577621732936167586.html

Were there more? Undoubtedly. In a perfect world, we'd have zero impersonation but we don't live in a perfect world. 10 cases in 12 years sounds to me to be statistically zero. I think we have bigger problems to solve than this one. After all, the evidence points to a reasonable conclusion that we seem to have been collectively behaving ourselves in the voting booths. 

Voter ID laws strike me as one of those "intrusions into our lives and a waste of taxpayer dollars" that is always part of the rallying call from conservatives. It strikes me as completely antithetical to the principles of smaller government and less waste. 

Anyway, this all got started when I decided to try and figure out what I would have to do if I didn't have a driver's license. First obstacle: what if I was poor(er), didn't have Internet access, or lived way out in the country? Not sure how I would go about even finding out what to do. I guess I'd start with the mayor's office to see if they could point me to the local elections officials. Make a bunch of phone calls. Leave messages. Hope to get a call back. Find someone to give me a ride, etc. etc. 

The simplest of the possibilities I looked at was what if I had had a driver's license that expired more than 1 year ago but after 1990. In that case, and if I could find a way to get to a PennDOT office, I could get a free photo ID without any other documentation. (That seems to be the simplest possibility, but does nothing for someone who has never had a license.) I still have to find a way to get there. We all know they aren't located on every corner or open outside the normal work day. So, now I have to locate the nearest office, check bus schedules or find a ride, take time off work, maybe ask someone else to take time off their job......I could go on and on, but this is way too long already. Not very simple.

IMHO, it's a solution looking for a problem. All I think that it will accomplish is to deter certain voters who, as the data shows, are not breaking any laws today by impersonating others on election day. 

Fox reports that nearly 759,000 PA voters don't have the required ID. Barely 1% have so far received the free ID. (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/13/pennsylvania-supreme-court-hears-arguments-on-voter-id-law/) Why is that? Could it be that it's because it's not so simple? That's the conclusion I've come to after looking at the state's own web site.

I'm convinced that this whole effort is meant to disenfranchise certain voters. Plain and simple. Mathematically and legally, there is no problem here that needs solving. Voter impersonation simply does not exist. Putting that aside (although I don't know why we should) what the "Postpone" post (http://signon.org/sign/postpone-pa-voter-id.fb23?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=48422is saying is let's postpone the voter ID law until after the election. 

If we're going to put this law into place while the data proves there is no problem, can't it wait so that 759,000 voters in PA who aren't breaking any laws today can still vote this year without the photo ID they've never had to have before? 

Don't we owe it to all the people who aren't  breaking any laws to be able to exercise their most valuable freedom and civic responsibility? Why would we want to make that harder when there is no impersonation? 

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? 

My personal opinion is that this a law that is completely unwarranted, totally motivated by partisan politics, and never should have been passed. It spends money we don't have in the state coffers, is an onerous and burdensome intrusion into innocent lives, is meant to solve a problem that simply doesn't exist, and is completely contrary to some principles of conservatism as far as I understand them.

Then again, maybe it's a good thing. It starts to look like a government jobs program. Someone has to take all those new pictures!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What is Romney Hiding?


http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/18/opinion/kleinbard-canellos-romney-tax/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

I don't understand why he's refusing to release more tax returns unless what they reveal is worse than the price he's paying and will keep paying for his reluctance to do what every other candidate has done starting with his own father.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Romney's Impossible Tax Promise (via FactCheck.org)

"Tax experts - including one who supports Romney's plan - say the Republican presidential candidate's promise to cut individual income tax rates without either favoring the wealthy or losing revenue isn't mathematically possible."

http://factcheck.org/2012/08/romneys-impossible-tax-promise/

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Fox Effect by Media Matters for America, David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt (Excerpt)

Based on the meticulous research of the news watchdog organization Media Matters for America, David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt show how Fox News, under its president Roger Ailes, changed from a right-leaning news network into a partisan advocate for the Republican Party

http://www.scribd.com/doc/81739775/The-Fox-Effect-by-Media-Matters-for-America-David-Brock-and-Ari-Rabin-Havt-Excerpt