Friday, November 30, 2012

Solving the debt problems

For the past 40 years or so there has been a de facto class warfare in this country. While workers' productivity has soared, worker compensation has remained essentially flat. Meanwhile, corporate profits have boomed and the gap between the top 2% of income earners  and the remaining 98% has widened to the largest its been since the gilded Age of the Robber Barons (late 19th century) or the time just preceding the Great Depression.

(There is really no dispute about this; to see some background and charts, here are some from the Economic Policy Institute.  Also check out this discussion of CEO pay increases at the Institute for Policy Studies.)

In spite of this, Republicans and other so-called "conservatives" are suggesting that we somehow must all share equally in reducing the public debt and balancing budgets. What makes this even more outrageous is that they don't even mean equally. What they mean is that the rich should continued to enjoy tax breaks that are unequally in their favor, while Congress must enact spending cuts that hit programs that the wealthy don't need or even like -- e.g. national parks, protective regulation, healthcare and aid to education. Thus, as Weill/Brecht say in Three Penny Opera "The answer to a kick in the pants is just another kick in the pants." Thus, the much-vaunted "Simpson-Bowles" prescription for paying down the debt is yet another kick in the pants for working non-rich Americans.

Yet, we can "fix the deficit" and end class warfare simply by cutting away the nonsense about "job creators" and "balanced approaches" and all the rest of that 2% propaganda that even the Democrats are circulating. Several years ago I suggested an alternative tax and spending program that would have balanced the budget (at that time): You can find it here; it has a link to a NY Times "budget calculator" which, though somewhat outdated, is fun to play with; click here (you can use it to check some of the figures for the suggestions I make below).

Here then is my updated program for tax fairness and spending reform.

1. Tax all income equally. In other words, eliminate a special Capital Gains Tax and tax all income including dividends at the same graduated rates. This will prevent Mitt Romney and Warren Buffet from paying at a lower rate than their secretaries.

2. Put a sales tax on sales and purchases of stocks and bonds. Speculators should pay a tax on their sales and purchases the same as most of us do on school books, garbage cans and refrigerators. I discussed this in a previous blog. This tax would be small (¼% on each sale and each purchase) and would not be burdensome to people who are actually investing as opposed to speculating. It could generate as much as $100 billion a year.

3. Cap total deductions for income tax purposes to something around $50,000. This was, in fact, an idea proposed by Mitt Romney near the end of this year's campaign. I doubt that either he or any Republicans would actually support its implementation since it would do a lot to level the tax playing field.

4. Return the Estate Tax to 1998-2000 levels (around 50% on estates above $3 million -- we could raise that to $5 million even).

5. Sell carbon licenses to industry and allow trading of these licenses. This was also at one time a Republican plan, before the party became opposed to everything except showering money on its wealthy patrons.

6. End the state of perpetual war and cut the military budget  to pre-Cold War levels (as percentage of GNP). Bring all troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Drastically cut troop levels in Europe, Japan and Korea.

7. End the expensive and ineffective War on Marijuana and redirect most of the rest of the ineffective "War on Drugs" toward treatment of addiction. This would save not just on police time but also help to lower the lavish spending on prisons.

8. Cut agricultural subsidies to big agribusiness (especially ethanol subsidies to "Big Corn").

9. Cut oil subsidies to companies like Exxon-Mobil.

10. Save Social Security for a century by eliminating the limit on income subject to the FICA tax. Doing this would make raising the retirement age or adjusting the COLAs unnecessary.

Note that I didn't mention ending the "Bush Tax Cuts." I am assuming that they will disappear on schedule January 1. Reinstituting them for people earning less than a quarter million dollars a year will probably be one of the few things that will happen in a somewhat bipartisan way: the Republicans can't afford not to.

This leaves the last and biggest elephant in the tent: Medicare, Medicaid, and healthcare in general. People far more knowledgeable than I have made many suggestions that might be effective. We know that the problem can be addressed effectively because every other advanced industrialized country (and many others besides) have systems that provide better healthcare results than ours and at half the cost. We should have had "Medicare for All" (the "public option") but that didn't happen because of the power of the insurance industry. Nevertheless, we can start with substituting "outcome-based" compensation for the current "fee for services" contracts. Instead of doctors and hospitals being paid for the number of treatments and tests they provide, they would be paid for keeping certain numbers of people healthy over certain periods of time. This is part of Obamacare, but needs to be the standard "operating procedure" for all of national healthcare.

The steps I have suggested above would raise far more money in a far fairer way than anything proposed by either political party. Furthermore, they would help reduce the burden unfairly placed on the working people of this country by 4 decades of class warfare against them.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Parasite Tax (Redux)

(If you want to join the "Fantasy Cabinet" discussion, scroll down a bit, or click HERE; then use the "Comments" section below that blog to make your own comments.)

Below I have reproduced a blog I wrote two years ago -- Nov 20, 2010. With all the talk about generating revenue and shifting the tax burden from the middle class to the wealthy, no one talks about the inequity of sales taxes on everyday items that the middle class purchases such as school supplies and diapers, but no similar tax on financial speculation. This is a little publicized but important example of the class warfare already declared on the 98% by the top 2%.

When I learned about economics in high school, we were told how the stock market works and why it is good. Inventors and entrepreneurs who had good ideas about new and useful products could form companies and issue stock. Investors who thought these ideas or products were promising could take a risk and invest in the stock, thus becoming part "owners" of the company. The money they paid would be used by the company to grow and develop its products. If all went well, the company would thrive and the investors would be rewarded for the risk they took. Sounds wonderful. Like so much of capitalist theory.

But that's not quite the way it works, especially these days. There are still people who buy stocks based on the "fundamentals" of the companies: the management, ideas, and products. These are the true investors. However, most of the trading of securities these days is based on speculation. This is not speculation about the fundamentals of the company, but speculation about how the market and other investors will behave. Probably most stocks (and bonds) are not kept for months and years, but are traded monthly, weekly, daily, and even by the minute and second (see the insider newsletter Zero Hedge for some estimates). Sophisticated computer programs can use statistics and mathematical modeling to estimate small-scale fluctuations in segments of the market and relate that to the second-by-second behavior of particular stocks. Lightning fast buying and selling programs can trade thousands of stocks a second based on these analyses. All this computer power is available to trading companies and their best and wealthiest customers. Often a trading company (Goldman Sachs is a notorious example: see this blog) will pit their best customers against their less-favored customers.

There are tens of thousands of individual "day-traders" who do similar things on their own or are the favored customers of the big brokerage houses.

Make no mistake about it:

These People And Brokers Are Social Parasites.
They serve no useful purpose and do what they do solely out of greed. They are responsible for a lot of the volatility of the market. The tiniest bit of news or financial gossip can set off flurries or cascades of day-trading and computer sales that account for big fluctuations in the daily indices. No wealth or products or innovation or anything of social value is produced. The stock market is already very liquid (i.e. it's easy to pair buyers and sellers), so what these parasites do is create "churning" or "hyperliquidity": meaningless buying and selling that enriches only speculators. Responsible investors such as pension funds, hospitals and schools end up, more often than not, as victims of these irrational market swings.

Now add in derivatives: side bets on the performance of bundles of stocks and bonds; even bets on the financial indices themselves. Sometimes these bundles are only theoretical, as is the case of synthetic CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations) which may not actually contain anything more than a list of securities that one bets on. Or consider the trading of Credit Default Swaps, which are like "insurance policies" on securities. The whole setup has absolutely nothing to do with the fundamentals of capitalism, and everything to do with wild speculation and gambling.

It is universally acknowledged now that this gambling culture on Wall Street is responsible for the recent economic collapse and resulting unemployment. Unlike other ruined gamblers, however, the big players here -- investment banks (Citi e.g.) and insurance companies (AIG e.g.) were bailed out because their excesses threatened our entire economic system. Not only are many of the villains in this debacle now taking home huge annual bonuses -- often more than the average family's life savings -- but the Republicans and the woefully ignorant Tea Screamers think that we need fewer regulations of Wall Street.

(Gambling behavior by banks was forbidden after the Great Depression by the Glass-Steagall Act. This worked to prevent a major market crash for more than 60 years. It was repealed by a Republican Congress helped by then President Bill Clinton. For more, see my blog about it.)

The time has come to make Wall Street start paying. One effective way to do this is to enact recently proposed legislation to tax stock and bond sales. This has just been done in Europe and, in fact, there was such a tax in the U.S. from 1914 to 1966.

Yes, Virginia, it's true that we all pay sales taxes on purchases, except the gunslingers on Wall Street.

They can trade a hundred million shares in a day and not pay a dime in sales tax, while you and I fork over 5% or 6% or even more on back-to-school supplies and lawnmowers.

The idea of a Speculation Tax is simple and fair and necessary. Each time a stock is traded, the buyer and seller each pay a small tax -- about 1/4% in some plans. This is a tiny amount: $25 on $10,000 worth of stock, or about what you'd pay in sales tax on a $500 stove. It is absolutely no burden whatever on a long-term investor or conservative pension fund, or hospital or university. It does amount to a burden -- and rightfully so -- on people who make massive and frequent computer trades to take advantage of tiny point fluctuations in securities. It could also be called a Parasite Tax. Conservative estimates say it would bring in at least $100 billion a year in tax revenue (e.g. see Robert Kuttner's article). This revenue could be used constructively to undo some of the bad things that Wall Street has done to us.

Here is a fairly extensive article on the Parasite Tax (a.k.a. the Financial Transactions Tax or Tobin Tax) from SourceWatch and some other articles from the AFL-CIO and The Hill. Google it yourself to find out more.

Another important thing we can do is to make stock and bond traders' profits subject to regular income tax, not just the capital gains tax. But that will be the subject of another blog.

The important thing is: Make Wall Street Pay.

Write your rep about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fantasy Cabinet Game

In today NYTimes, columnist Joe Nocera discusses his choices for Obama's new cabinet. Below is a summary of his choices for some of these posts:

TREASURY:     Tim Geitner → Sheila Bair
STATE:              Hillary Clinton → Bill Clinton
ATTY.GEN:       Eric Holder → Ken Feinberg
DEFENSE:        Leon Panetta → David Petraeus
ENERGY:         Steven Chu → Fred Krupp
EDUCATION:  Arne Duncan → Randi Weingarten (AFT) 
S.E.C.:              Mary Schapiro/Elisse B. Walter → Sean Berkowitz

For the record, here are the remaining ones: AGRI, COMMERCE, HLTH&HUM. SERV., HOMELAND SEC., H.U.D., INTERIOR, LABOR, TRANSP., VETERANS SERV.

I am in favor of Sheila Bair for Treasury.  She is a Republican who is a firm believer in controls over Wall St and who just finished a 5-year term as chair of the F.D.I.C. to which she was appointed by George Bush. Since Elizabeth Warren is currently occupied as Senator from Massachusetts, Bair is my first choice.

Bill Clinton as Secretary of State is not a great idea. It is unclear how interested he would be in the day-to-day functioning of the office, or how closely he could work with Obama. I think he might be better as special envoy to the Middle East. At the moment Susan Rice seems to be Obama's choice for State, and I don't see anything objectionable in her filling the role; also, Republican opposition to her seems to be moderating.

I am not that happy with Eric Holder who seems to embrace the disastrous "War on Drugs" (but then, so does the President). He also didn't go out of his way to prosecute central figures in the 2008 economic collapse. Ken Feinberg is really a cipher on issues other than disbursing money to victims of 9-11 and the BP oil spill. I have no special knowledge of other deserving nominees.

David Petraeus for Defense seems quixotic. (If we were going to install well-known philanderers in the cabinet, I would have proposed Eliot Spitzer for Attorney General -- but see below.) In any case, it is my understanding that someone who served so recently in the military is ineligible to be Secretary of Defense. Also, Panetta seems to have done a decent job so far.

I for one think that Steven Chu has done a fine job in Energy, so unless he wants out I think he should continue. It never hurts to have someone who actually knows some science in this position. Fred Krupp, as head of the Environmental Defense Fund has some enviro-cred, but he is also a big proponent of fracking, a technology whose dangers have not been investigated nearly enough.

For Education I think that the president of the American Federation of Teachers is too provocative, even if she is a very good person (which she seems to be): I doubt that she could be confirmed. Fortunately, Obama could put forward Diane Ravitch who has been a very pointed and knowledgeable critic of just about everyone and everything in the field. For a long time she was just about the only really thoughtful voice on the right in matters educational. Recently she has changed her mind about many things and has become a very progressive voice. I have read a lot of her essays and found them quite impressive.

For S.E.C. I think that Eliot Spitzer would probably be the best choice if he can overcome the fallout of his sex scandal. Sean Berkowitz, though, is not a bad choice: he was one of the major prosecutors in the Enron case, who helped to nail Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay. He could arguably be better as AG than Ken Feinberg.

Anyway, I'd like to invite readers of this blog to make a case for their favorites for any of these cabinet positions (and SEC). Please use the "Comments" section directly below. I'll collect those that seem most convincing and devote at least one blog to them.

As we "go to press": Sarah B. reminds us not to forget former senator Russ Feingold (AG?) and former Sec. of Labor Robert Reich (Council of Economic Advisors?). SB has named this the "The Fantasy Cabinet Game".

Which reminds me of the other "good" Bob: Bob Kuttner (and not the "bad" Bob: Rubin). He should also be on the Council of Economic Advisers.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Eric Severehead from Philip Roth's "Our Gang"

When it comes to putting folks out to pasture (see previous blog on John McCain), let's not forget Bob Schieffer. If you watched the third presidential debate you know how ineffectual he was. His analysis on various news shows was also pompous and superficial. On one he described Obama's campaign as a purely "tactical" one, as if running on universal health care and shifting the tax burden to the rich from the middle class were some sort of minor "gimmicks". Given his past history, I can't believe that Schieffer himself believed this nonsense.

Some journalists get more perceptive and cogent as they grow older. Others become more pompous. As another example of the latter, Schieffer is following in the footsteps of his generational predecessor Eric Sevareid, a protege of Edward R. Murrow. Sevareid, in his youth, was one of the best buckers of TV network conservatism, but in his later years became verbose and fuzzy. He couldn't seem to see the Vietnam war through clear eyes until the Nixon era.

As a public service,  I dug up two hilarious satirical "quotes" of the older Eric Sevareid (renamed "Erect Severehead"); they are from Philip Roth's "Our Gang", an outrageous spoof of the Nixon years.

“—and so in they continue to come [Do I detect a whiff of pre-Yoda here?]. And now they have told us why. They come not as they came to Washington to mourn the death of President Charisma. Nor do they come as came they did to Atlanta, to follow behind the bier of the slain Martin Luther King. Nor come do they as to the railroad tracks they did, to wave farewell as the tragic train that bore the body of the murdered Robert Charisma carried to its final resting place, him. No, the crowd that cometh to Washington tonighteth, cometh not in innocence and bewilderment, like little children berefteth of a father. Rather, cometh they in guilt, cometh they to confesseth, cometh they to say, ‘I too am guilty,’ to the police and the FBI. It is a sight, moving and profound, and furnishes evidence surely, if evidence there need surely be, of a nation that has cometh of age. For what is maturity, in men or in nations, but the willingness to bear the burden — and the dignity — of responsibility? And surely responsible it is, mature it is, when in its darkest hour, a nation can look deep within its troubled and anguished blah blah blah blah blah blah blah the guilt of all. Of course, those there are who will seek a scapegoat, as those there will always be, human nature being what it is instead of what it should be. Those there are who will self-righteously stand up and shout, ‘Not me, not me.’ For they are not guilty, they are never guilty. It is always the other guy who is guilty: Bundy and Kissinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Calley and Capone, Manson and McNamara — yes, the list is endless of those whom they would make responsible for their own crimes. And that is what makes this demonstration here in Washington of collective guilt so blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. The blah blah of the spirit and the blah blah blah blah blah blah for which our sons have died blah blah blah blah blah blah reason and dignity blah blah blah blah blah dignity and reason. No, blame not those who gather here in Washington to confess to the murder of the President. Ratber, praise them for their courage, their blah blah blah, their blah and their blah blah blah, for blah blah blah blah as are you and I. We are all guilty. And only at the risk of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah forget. This is Erect Severehead from the nation’s blah.”

“Good evening. This is Erect Severehead with a cogent news analysis from the nation’s capital… A hushed hush pervades the corridors of power. Great men whisper whispers while a stunned capital awaits. Even the cherry blossoms along the Potomac seem to sense the magnitude. And magnitude there is. Yet magnitude there has been before, and the nation has survived. A mood of cautious optimism surged forward just at dusk. Then set the age-old sun behind these edifices of reason, and gloom once more descended. Yet gloom there has been, and in the end the nation has survived. For the principles are everlasting, though the men be mortal. And it is that very mortality that the men in the corridors of power demonstrate. For no one dares to play politics with the momentousness of a tragedy of such scope, or the scope of a tragedy of such momentousness. If tragedy it be. Yet tragedies there have been, and the nation founded upon hope and trust in man and the deity, has continued to survive. Still, in this worried capital tonight, men watch and men wait. So too do women and children in this worried capital tonight watch and wait. This is Erect Severehead From Washington, D.C.”

Oh, and here's an actual quote from Sevareid himself, from 1972. By this time the full terror of our war on Vietnam was pretty obvious to nearly everyone. Sevareid goes on:

If we have reached the dreadful point where the honor of the state and the conscience of the people collide, then what does honor mean, anymore? We are asked to believe it is dishonorable to depart and risk the safety of Vietnamese political and military leaders, but honorable to go on contributing to the certain death and misery of the wholly innocent. We are asked to believe that better relations with Russia are worth the loss of our own sense of moral identity. There does come a time when the heart must rule the head. That time is when the heart is about to break.

Has he made this perfectly clear?

Time to put McCain out to pasture

John McCain (R-Ariz) has been acting erratically for years now, but things are getting worse. With all the problems confronting the U.S., he has made Susan Rice, current ambassador to the U.N. and possible Obama nominee for Secretary of State, the focus of his increasingly irrational annoyance. He seems to think that she should have substituted her own analysis of the attack in Benghazi Libya for the official CIA briefing.  What her own analysis could have been is entirely unclear, nor is it her job description to have one, much less substitute it for official intelligence reports.  It is really unclear why he is so obsessively negative toward her.

This is the same John McCain who thought that Condoleeza Rice was just fine, even after she missed all the intelligence warnings preceding 9-11 and was part of the whole Bush Iraq deception. But this didn't stop McCain from further adventures on his new rocking horse. First he announced his implacable opposition to a possible Susan Rice nomination, making vague threats to filibuster it -- in spite of the fact that he knew nothing at that time about the nature of the intelligence briefing she and the administration had been given. Next, he called for a "Watergate"-type investigation of the whole affair -- a request quite properly shot down by Harry Reid as "partisan" posturing. Finally, when the administration offered a two hour press conference last Wednesday on the Benghazi attack, McCain blew it off and instead scheduled a press conference of his own at the same time -- a press conference at which he had nothing to say. CNN published the following account of a follow up on this nonsense:

When CNN approached McCain in a Capitol hallway Thursday morning, the senator refused to comment about why he missed the briefing, which was conducted by top diplomatic, military and counter-terrorism officials. Instead, McCain got testy when pressed to say why he wasn’t there.
“I have no comment about my schedule and I’m not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media,” McCain said.

Asked why he wouldn’t comment, McCain grew agitated: “Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?”

When CNN noted that McCain had missed a key meeting on a subject the senator has been intensely upset about, McCain said, “I’m upset that you keep badgering me.”

Am I the only one who wonders how John McCain got his reputation for being an expert in military matters? He certainly was a bomber pilot who was shot down over Hanoi and was a POW in N. Vietnam for 6 years. By accounts I have read he acted courageously and honorably during his captivity, but I could find no further special training or education about military matters  or foreign affairs in his bio. Shortly after he retired from the military (in 1981) he entered politics. He did serve on various military-oriented committees as a representative and later senator; one could argue that these assignments were the result of his military sacrifices more than any particular expertise. For a conservative he was not unreasonable in his suspicion of military projects, and he did work for normalization of relations with Vietnam. He also took relatively enlightened positions on non-military issues such a campaign reform, energy (cap and trade), climate change, and immigration -- often breaking with his party to do so.

Nevertheless, through it all McCain has been an unrelenting hawk. He, along with lots of others (e.g. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton,  Joe Biden, and nearly all Republicans) supported Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He predicted that the latter would be quickly successful -- a totally wrong prediction he no doubt would have sneered at had it been made by Susan Rice.

Since his unsuccessful presidential race against Obama in 2008, McCain has been increasingly conservative and dyspeptic. Whatever flashes he may have exhibited in the past of a "maverick" nature have largely disappeared, and he now seems old, tired, irrational and bitter: long past the time to call it a career.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

He truly IS defective

So Mitt himself is telling us that the "47%" remarks he made were not taken out of context, but in fact represent how he feels. Please read or reread my blog A Defective Human Being and you'll see that it represents his character quite accurately and fairly. Not only is Romney beneath contempt, he is now even unacceptable to his own largely beneath-contempt party. Just today Bobby Jindal (R. Governor of Louisiana) and Kelly Ayotte (R. Sen. NH) publicly dissed Romney's latest assertion that Obama won because he promised "things" (like helping students with their college loans and health care, helping women get contraception, and maybe not throwing lots of Hispanics out of the US) to non-rich people. Of course, it's still OK to promise wealthy folks tax cuts.

If the Mormon church has any real charitable feelings, beyond those that are reserved for either proselytizing or for helping other Mormons, it will denounce Romney for what he now has clarified as his very uncharitable beliefs.

He is truly a defective human being.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Population chart

Reader (and friend) M.E. sent me the chart below, which is a map of the U.S. with red and blue states colored in. In this map the states are distorted so that their areas are proportional to their populations. Thus, you can see that although the number of red states exceeds the number of blue states, the latter contain quite a few more people.

(There are similar maps showing countries of the world "distorted" by population or energy consumption etc.)

Opportunities to move forward on taxes

Although it is a minor part of the necessary progress needed to shore up our economy, raising taxes on the wealthy while preserving current rates for the remaining 98 - 99% is at least important symbolically. And, it looks like this will happen.

The reason is that the election has enabled Obama and the Democrats to box in the PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly the GOP). As Obama has put it:

"Now we need a majority in Congress to listen – and they should start by making sure taxes don’t go up on the 98% of Americans making under $250,000 a year starting January 1st. This is something we all agree on [my italics]. Even as we negotiate a broader deficit reduction package, Congress should extend middle-class tax cuts right now. It’s a step that would give millions of families and 97% of small businesses the peace of mind that will lead to new jobs and faster growth. There’s no reason to wait."

As he said, his pen is ready to sign the bill.

I can't see how the Republicans can hold out for helping million/billion-aires. True, these folks contributed mightily to the party and its PACs, but the money led to electoral losses, not gains. It may be safe to say that this "investment" by the rich in the PTR was a losing one, and that the PTR must be worrying that such large-scale financial help will not materialize so easily in future elections. So what motivation do they have for strapping themselves to this albatross again? I doubt that there are many in the middle class who really believe their tax rates should be bound with those who are much wealthier. The argument that we need big tax cuts for the already rich because they are the "job creators" didn't seem to gain much traction. And who could fail to notice that the "official" definition of "Small Business" applied to Donald Trump's  empire as well as to Bain Capital -- and who but the lame-brained could wonder about such a "definition"?

As people digest this more and more, I believe that they will turn up their noses at the PTR position of absolute support for preserving all the Bush Tax cuts. Nothing is certain, but if the President and his party stand firm and are willing to continue boxing in the Republicans on this issue, I predict that Obama will get his chance to use his pen on a bill to his liking.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

If Einstein were here today...

(You can make your own Einstein messages HERE.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Election: Part II

In yesterday's post I discussed the changing demographics and the Republican party's inability to adjust -- or, at times, even acknowledge -- to them.

Why this election was Important

There are may signs that the American economy is improving -- albeit slowly and fitfully. Many things can go wrong, including serious and expensive consequences of climate change and serious and expensive consequences of Congress's inability to come to terms on financial policy in the face of the vast tax increases and spending cuts due at the end of the year. I think that some sort of compromise will probably be made, though it will likely be distasteful. In any case, in several years it is likely that unemployment will be down and GDP and the stock market will be much higher.

Had Obama lost this election, the credit for whatever upturn may occur would have gone to
Romney, the Republicans, and their crazy theory of trickle-down (ugh!) economics. This would enable the Party for The Rich (PTR, formerly GOP) to claim credit, as so often happens, for policy decisions made previously by others (e.g. Obama's "stimulus" package and the withdrawal from two wars). This in turn could easily have led to 8 or more years of conservative policies under several Republican administrations -- postponing the politically progressive effects of the changing demographics for perhaps another generation.

In addition, there is a real chance that Obama has learned enough about the PTR to understand that "bipartisanship" is a meaningless term these days, and compromise by Democrats has meant, too often, capitulation to off-the-wall Republican reactionaries. We have paid a price for Obama's on-the-job training, and it would have been a pity to lose that investment.

Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I like to picture Obama proposing serious recovery programs -- including transfer of federal funds from the military into "clean energy" and infrastructure. I'd like to imagine him accompanying each of these proposals with news conferences and public addresses explaining and advocating for them (something he barely did for health care), while asking people to pay attention to the responses they get from the Republicans. Wouldn't it be wonderful if each time the PTR tries to sabotage his program he calls them out loudly and publicly on it? That's what a real activist President -- like FDR -- would do.

Obama strikes back: Remember when Mitch McConnell said that the priority of the Republican party would be to ensure that Obama is a one term President? (If you don't, here is the video.) I hope Obama can skillfully rub his nose in that; also, dump on the cowardly John Boehner and the vile Eric Cantor. These three guys need to be surgically neutralized and ridiculed. Maybe Obama and the Democrats can get some of their "Hollywood friends" to write the lines: subtle, humerous, devastating. Oh, and while we're at it, what about some further examination of the record of that hood Darrell Issa? For more details, see the New Yorker article on Issa.

And then there's the Supreme Court: need I say more?

Finally, for today: Can we at last put Sheldon Adelson behind bars? He spent maybe $100 million supporting various Republican candidates for President -- first Gingrich, then Santorum, and finally Romney -- in the hope that electing one of them would save him and his casinos from further investigation into violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- see this Times piece for more info -- or Google it.

Whew: nice that the right person won the Presidential election a few days ago!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Election: Part I

Well, my computer has been repaired, so I'm back blogging.

It's been an exciting election. It probably would have been more relaxing if I had just believed everything Nate Silver has been saying all along. Then I would have "known" that Obama would win (at) least 303 electoral votes, and that the Democrats would increase their Senate majority to 53+ seats (and probably 55 with independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders). Ah well, nothing like extra excitement.

Anyway, here is the first of several thoughts inspired by this election.

Demographics and the Republicans

The change in the makeup of the American electorate has been noted by many different observers for some time now. By midcentury Whites will be a minority group, with Hispanics, Blacks and Asians adding up to more than 50% of the voting population. Given that these last groups tend to vote Democratic, and that Whites are fairly split by party, this, together with the emerging "gender gap", suggests a real strengthening of progressive forces -- all other things remaining equal. The Democrats have realized this for decades. In 1968 a commission chaired by (the recently deceased) senator George McGovern started work on a set of rules for assuring that women and minorities would be assured fair representation in the party. The commission's rules were adopted just in time for McGovern's disastrous loss to Nixon in 1972. However, these rules and subsequent additions have enabled the Democrats to take advantage of the demographic changes that have now become quite apparent.

I think it is fair to say that the Democratic Party's concern about women and minorities had more to do with the party's interest in fairness than its interest in winning elections. Whatever else liberals may be, they are certainly idealistic.

On the other hand, the PTR (Party of The Rich, formerly the GOP) has never claimed the mantle of idealism. After the "Dixiecrat" split during the 1948 election, the southern segregationist faction of the Democratic party was wooed by the Republicans. This became a more formal policy with Nixon's "Southern Strategy", and the pursuit of the White, southern voter has become a hallmark of the PTR. Even a cursory glance at the electoral map shows where most of the "red" states lie: outside the north central and northern coasts. Confederate flag country is PTR country. For an update on the "Southern Strategy, click HERE and also look at Tom Edsall's Times Op-Ed on Romney's version. (Note also the gradual increase in political influence of Hispanics in southwestern states such a Nevada, Arizona and even Texas.)

So, the post-election journalists are now crawling all over themselves speculating on how or when the Republicans will adapt to the changing electoral dynamics. It's an odd question. The Republicans have created a party based on the White Male Viewpoint. Even a cursory look at Republican conventions shows hardly a non-White complexion or viewpoint. By creating this sort of party, and forcing out "deviants", the Republicans have made it nearly impossible for own their party to change: there simply are almost no "changers" left. By purging the PTR of dissenting voices they have purged the sort of leaders that might move the party to a more realistic view of the world.

I, for one, think this is fine. There is very little that the Republican party has to offer of value that isn't already represented in the various factions of the Democratic party. Furthermore, most of what the Republicans stand for is simply wrong: unfettered capitalism, undermining government, tax breaks for the wealthy and other elements of "trickle-down" economics, climate-change denial and other anti-science attitudes, fundamentalism and religiosity, and militarism and American "exceptionalism".  My great hope is that they never realize the error of their ways but, rather, become over the years a shrinking and increasingly marginalized living fossil. Couldn't happen to a nicer party...