Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

One Nation, Divisible

We are a country not just divided, but fragmented along axes of race, age, religion, economic status and geography.  There are now 15 States where citizens have filed petitions to secede from the Union.  “These include Louisiana (which led the charge), the Republic of Texas, Kentucky, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oregon.”  I don’t know which is number 15, but I’m gong to guess Oklahoma. 

I’m not going to get flip about it.  While these petitions have virtually no chance of achieving anything, it’s important to remember two things:

1)  You never hear anything like this when Republicans win.
2)  All but 4 of these states represent the (since 1965) solid Republican South.

Another geographic dimension is urban vs rural.  When I do get flip, I say Obama won everywhere that people outnumber cattle, deer, goats or alligators.  This comes distressingly close to being the truth.  Look at the electoral map of just about any State.  I like to consider Ohio, since it is my home State and in many ways represents the U.S. in miniature.  But pick a State at random [or Texas in particular] and you’ll probably see the same scenario.   The Ohio electoral map shows that Obama carried 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties.  Half of these are strung along the Lake Erie shore, four more are contiguous in the densely populated north-east corner, and the other four contain Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and Athens.

I’m not ambitious enough to undertake the study, but I’ll hypothesize that Obama’s vote percentage in each county is directly proportional to the total population – and this in a State where the counties don’t vary much in physical size.  Consider that Lucas Co. [essentially my home town, Toledo] with 198,000 votes cast went for Obama by 64 to 34%, while Mercer Co. along the IN border with 21,000 votes cast went for Romney by 77 to 22%.  You can find these kinds of results all over the country.

Another divide is along education level.  Among the 15 States with the best public school systems, Obama carried 13, while among the 15 States with the worst public school systems, Romney carried 12.  I see this as a big component in the recent Republican war on education.  One thing you develop as a result of good education is a set of critical thinking skills, which then give you the ability to see through nonsense peddlers like Rush, Trump, and the whole Fox roster.

All of this tends to make me pessimistic about our nations future.  But I see rays of hope amidst the great divide.  Even in Georgia, which went 53 to 45% for Romney, you find Obama winning by huge margins in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, and Albany.

Plus, another thing is happening that you have to see a country-wide county level electoral map to notice.

There is a blue streak that starts along the Mississippi river valley where Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi converge and runs almost continuously through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas to join with the blue States along the coast.

I call it the band of sanity running through the South, and it might just represent an opportunity for progressives to build on going forward.

Tags: , , Comments (40) | |

Explaining Class Warfare

 
Last month one hundred and fourteen thousand unemployed moochers…suddenly yank the government teat out of their mouths, get off the couch for forty hours a week? Why?
 
 
I say follow the money; cause I found out, that right around the time those people got those jobs…they started getting paid!
 
And just where does that money come from? Right out of the pockets of the job creators. How’s that for your socialist redistribution of wealth? Folks, it’s called class warfare.
 
 
Mr Colbert has created a new party that will issue a certificate to sooth the hurt of the job creators. The Certificate of Richness issued by:
Protecting Industry Titans and Yachtsman party. The P.I.T.Y. party.
 
And right on cue:
 
 
If President Obama is re-elected and raises taxes, Westgate Resort’s David Siegel says he will have to lay off workers and downsize his company — or even shut it down.
 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , Comments (10) | |

Strategic Lying as Political Art

If you listen to Randi Rhodes, you know she is still livid over Romney being declared the “winner” in last week’s – we’ll call it a “debate” for the nonce.

Alas, though, the reason he won is that poll numbers have moved in his favor.  Whether that bounce is robust remains to be seen.  But it did gain Romney some sort of advantage, at least in the near term.

Randi’s objection is that Romney lied, repeatedly, and about almost everything.  In the process, he flatly repudiated some of the major planks in his platform – the destruction of Medicare as we know it, the $5 Trillion dollar tax cut, the reduction of tax share paid by high income people, and an insurance plan not covering pre-existing conditions stand out in that regard.   And these are but a few of the 27  debate lies that can easily be recognized and refuted.

Indeed, the one rare moment of lucid candor came when he eagerly, gleefully announced that he would send Big Bird to the unemployment line in order to avoid borrowing money from China.  Big NPR whoop!  To put this in perspective, for CY 2012, the Federal Government, via the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, is contributing $26.65 million in support of PBS, or 0.0007% of total Federal expenditures ($3.77 Trillion) for 2012.    In fact, the entire Federal contribution to CPB is $445.2 million, or 0.0118% of total expenditures. That’s sure going to help balance $5 Trillion in tax cuts over ten years. (CPB data from Wikipedia, current expenditure data from the St. Louis Fed.)   Romney isn’t lying about our creditor position with China, but he was certainly misleading.  According to Fox News (!) “China, it turns out, holds less than 8 percent of the money our government has borrowed over the years.”

OK, I get where Randi is coming from – to have a totally unprincipled opportunist in charge of running the world’s greatest super power is not a recipe for any kind of enduring success, either for the U.S.A. specifically, or for the world at large.  There are many historical examples one could cite, but we really needn’t go back any further than the “compassionate conservatism” of unprosecuted war criminal and would-be social security privatizer George W. Bush to make the point.

But what Randi refuses to acknowledge is that what we witnessed last week was not a debate, by any recognizable definition of the term.  Lying will get you disqualified in a real debate – right?  This was political theater – and what is theater but staged fiction? 

And there is nothing unusual here.  I’ve been saying for years that all Republicans do is lie, and then lie about their lies. (I might have gotten that phrase from Randi – the memory is foggy.)  Here is a four-year-old exposé of some of Romney’s shape shifting.  (H/T to Dave Brockington at LGM.)

A more insidious kind of lie is simply denying reality, as characterized by birtherism, New Deal and global warming denialism, and Friday’s epidemic of conspiracy theories surrounding the latest favorable jobs report.   But I digress.

Here is my point.  Brad Delong points us to a 1984 Fay Joyce article in the N. Y. Times uncovered by Michael Moore.  It turns out that lying during a debate is a time honored Republican strategy.  Even 28 years ago, when there was some chance of the main stream media doing actual journalism, they were confident in their lying strategy.

The Republicans are unabashed in their discussion of their ability to use the television medium. “You can say anything you want during a debate and 80 million people hear it,” observed Peter Teeley, press secretary to Vice President Bush. If reporters then document that a candidate spoke untruthfully, ”so what?”

”Maybe 200 people read it or 2,000 or 20,000,” he said.

Now, they have honed it into an art form.  And it’s worth remembering the one reason that always accounts for every person’s lie: their agenda is not compatible with the truth.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (11) | |

Ok class, let’s review before the exam (election)

I’m sure you are all feeling kind of blah. You have this final exam for this session and I can tell by your performances on the quizzes that you are still confused. The problem solving portions of the quizzes have been very telling. So lets review.
 
You’re taxes are not too high. It’s your income that is too low! Remember this and you will be able to solve enough of the problems to obtain a passing grade and graduate. And class, no one running today for president gets this. It is why President Obama looked like such a dufus in the debate. Romney took a step to his left… right into Obama’s policy space. Where does one go to gain more space when they have walled up the door to the left of them as President Obama has?
 
Let’s get something real clear from the beginning. Unless you are acquiring the majority of your money from money YOU ARE NOT A CAPITALIST 
 
 
Second: A MARKET IS NOT AN ECONOMY.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , Comments (23) | |

More on Michigan Voting

The U.S. Election Atlas shows the Michigan county by county results for the general election in 2008.  Note that they have inexplicably reversed the normal Red-Blue color coding.   Contrast those results with the 2012 Republican primary results.

In the Lower Peninsula, the counties that went for Romney in a big way generally went for Obama in a big way in 2008.  Wealthy, densely populated Oakland county went for Obama by 56% to 42% (660,000 total votes.)  Romney crushed Santorum there by 50% to 29%. (116,000 total votes.) Romney tended to win the counties that were close between Obama and McCain four years ago.   Along the west coast, though, many counties that were solidly in Obama’s camp in 2008 went overwhelmingly for Santorum in the Republican primary.  But these counties had big margins on Tuesday with small turnouts.

Commenter CSH at Johnathon Bernstein’s blog remarked, “I can’t recall seeing the rich-poor, East-West gap in that state as strongly represented as last night.”  CSH also pointed out that Romney won the State by 32,000 votes.  Coincidentally, he won Oakland County by 32,000 votes.  The rest of the State was a wash.

The Upper Peninsula as always, has its own different story.  Santorum carried all but two counties, and generally by large margins, while the the ’08 vote was split among counties between Obama and McCain.  The primary was closest in the eastern section of the U.P., which McCain carried in ’08.  But vote counts in the U.P. on Tuesday were very sparse – in the range of a few hundred to about 3,000 total, per county. 

It’s far from one-to-one, but Romney’s results vs Santorum more or less parallel Obama’s results vs. McCain four years ago.  Romney’s best showings were in places where he has virtually no chance in the general election.  Santorum’s best showings were in less populated areas that are likely to vote Republican, regardless.

The other significant factor is voter turnout.  Romney and Santorum together collected 787,420 votes, Statewide.  In 2008, McCain got over 20 2 million votes in Michigan, and lost the State by 16%.

Despite the hype, the stark differences between the two front runners, and Romney’s alleged home field advantage, the total turnout was less than half of McCain’s votes in ’08 this looks like a lot of less Republican apathy than I first thought, but still a significant lack of interest.  Can that bode well for their prospects in November?  (Corrections made in last 2 paragraphs.)

Tags: , Comments (11) | |

Michigan Primary Results

Mitt Romney won the Michigan Republican primary yesterday by a margin of 41.1% to 37.9%, the remainder going to the rest of the overpopulated field – Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and others were on the ballot. Romney and Santorum each gained 11 delegates.

This Huffpo article has an interactive map showing results by county.

The spread in the results is interesting. Along the west coast of the Lower Peninsula is Michigan’s bible belt. Santorum carried most of those counties by Margins of 10 to 20%. Kent county, which contains the city of Grand Rapids, it the exception. Santorum won that county by only 42.4% to 40.3%. This illustrates the other part of the Michigan dynamic. Romney did better in urban areas, while Santorum did better in places where cows or deer outnumber the people. Santorum won many more counties, but lost the total vote count.

This population effect shows up in the victory margins of the counties that Romney won. In the 5 by 2 band of counties that Romney won in the southern part of the state, Romney’s take generally decreases while Santorum’s generally increases as you move west. Then, when you reach the bible belt, it flips to Santorum. Along the Ohio border is a band of sparsely populated counties that Santorum swept. Monroe, Lenawee and Branch counties have towns of significant size in them, and in those counties Romney did better by a couple of percentage points.

Ron Paul got between 10 and 12% of the vote almost everywhere. This illustrates something about the modern Republican party. It is an unholy alliance of far-right Christian fundamentalists, pro-business (pseudo-fiscal) conservatives and libertarians – and the cracks are starting to show. If nothing else, the endless campaign of Republican debates has cast these differences into bold relief.

Logically, the fundamentalists and libertarians should hold each other in contempt. The libertarians and the pro-business faction can agree on many things, but not isolationism and the gold standard. To the business crowd, the fundamentalists are prey.

For decades, the Republicans have drawn the religious right into their fold with emotional hot button issues that have very little actual relevance, like abortion and gay marriage. The recent campaign against birth control has been an over-reach that is finally causing a back-lash.

 In my dreams, the Republican party tears itself apart, and becomes a marginalized political minority. The Michigan results give me hope that this dream might become reality.

H/T to my lovely wife.

Cross posted at Retirement Blues.

Tags: , Comments (21) | |

Ron Paul Challenges Liberals – or Maybe Not

Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute has a couple of very interesting articles posted at Naked Capitalism,  Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals, and the follow-up, Naked Capitalism, “A Home for All Sorts of Bircher Nonsense”

These are thought-provoking, in many ways insightful, and strike me as required reading, for a variety of reasons, including some valuable historical insights.  However, one thought they provoke from me is that the main thesis is spectacularly wrong-headed.  Stollar talks about what a great ally Paul’s staff was, when working on certain issues.  I should say, “when working against certain issues” or things, like war and the unfettered evil workings of the Federal Reserve.  The correct vocabulary is worth emphasizing.  Liberals and Libertarians may find common ground in what they are against, but it is quite unlikely that they will ever find anything substantial that they both are for.

Stollar goes on to point out what he calls “a big problem” with liberalism.  This is the mixture of two elements, support for federal power and the anti-war sentiment that arose with Viet Nam and has continued though today.  In the same paragraph, Stollar says, “Liberalism doesn’t really exist much within the Democratic Party so much anymore.”  This is an important thought, but he doesn’t pursue it, and as he goes on seems to conflate Democrats with Liberals, as suits his convenience.  In the final paragraph of the first post he refers to: “a completely hollow liberal intellectual apparatus arguing for increasing the power of corporations through the Federal government to enact their agenda.”  Seriously, WTF?  I have absolutely no idea what the hell that is supposed to mean.

The second article is especially weak, and essentially devoid of any intellectual content.  Stollar decides to “highlight a few of the reactions here without much of a rebuttal.”  Why would anyone do that?  Does he believe the reactions are self-refuting?   Is he too lazy to rebut, or does he simply not have a good rebuttal?

At least he clearly sets forth the thesis of the first article:  “that the same financing structures that are used to finance mass industrial warfare were used to create a liberal national economy and social safety.”   Here is the source of Stollar’s alleged intra-liberal conflict, that Paul is somehow supposed to illuminate and inform.  Though Stollar says: “I’ll be describing in much more detail the shifting of the social contract underlying this failure, which has nothing to do with Ron Paul and would exist with or without him.”  So referencing Paul in the first place was a bit of a red herring.

He then goes on to provide extended quotes from posts by David Atkins, who he describes as “wrestling with what liberalism is” and Digby, who he simply rejects out of hand, though with a lot of words that don’t quite reach the level of snark

What Stollar describes as “contradictions within modern liberalism”  boils down to liberalism needing big government to be interventionist, as Atkins demonstrates, but not imperialistic.  But this is a totally coherent position. The problem lies not with progressive liberalism, but with the practical realities of managing a power system – which is what governemnt is – in a way that advances the common good, while holding the drive for imperialistic and domestic domination in check.  This is going to be a central practical problem with any governing system or political philosophy – at least for one that takes seriously the idea of advancing the common good.  To say it is the problem of liberalism is to ignore human nature, political reality, and the entirety of history.

Thus, a liberal can hold the positions that American involvement in WW II was necessary, but that our involvement in Viet Nam was not.  Ditto Kosovo, vis-a-vis Iraq.   One can also recognize that the only entity with enough heft to balance the power of trans-national mega-corporations is government, but Stollar does not choose to give that any consideration.

Stollar concludes: “As the New Deal era model sheds the last trappings of anything resembling social justice or equity for what used to be called the middle class (a process which Tom Ferguson has been relentlessly documenting since the early 1980s), the breakdown will become impossible to ignore.  You can already see how flimsy the arguments are, from the partisans.

I don’t know how one gets from the systematic dismantling of the New Deal by successive Republican administrations (and you can include both Clinton and Obama in this list) to the New Deal model shedding anything at all.  And, no, I can’t see how flimsy liberal partisan arguments have anything to do with an assault on the middle class that has taken place from the right.

Stollar has constructed a straw man problem.  Which is a shame, since there are real problems to be dealt with.  One is the growth of right wing populism, as exemplified by the Tea Party – at least to the extent that is is real, and not a Fox News fabrication.  Another is to harness the energy of the Occupy Movements, which provide some evidence that there is progressive populism that could be a source of real political strength.  Most critically, though, as things stand now, there is no political left in this country with any actual power. 

Corey Robin describes the central problem of American liberalism in the 21st Century, and closes the loop back to Stollar’s Ron Paul idea like this.

Our problem—and again by “our” I mean a left that’s social democratic (or welfare state liberal or economically progressive or whatever the hell you want to call it) and anti-imperial—is that we don’t really have a vigorous national spokesperson for the issues of war and peace, an end to empire, a challenge to Israel, and so forth, that Paul has in fact been articulating.  The source of Paul’s positions on these issues are not the same as ours (again more reason not to give him our support).  But he is talking about these issues, often in surprisingly blunt and challenging terms. Would that we had someone on our side who could make the case against an American empire, or American supremacy, in such a pungent way.

Digging a level deeper, the reason we don’t have such a spokesperson is that our political system is essentially owned by corporate interests, which is why we get alleged liberals like Clinton and Obama in Democratic leadership, while genuine progressives like Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, and even Alan Grayson are marginalized.  On top of this, the right has a vigorous and powerful propaganda machine – hence the Tea Party; and the small number of progressive voices in broadcast media is nowhere close to providing a balance.

Money owns politics, and corporate interests, along with a small entrenched elite, own the vast majority of the money.  The key to achieving progressive solutions is to get the money out of politics.  But in the wake of Citizens United, that prospect is a forlorn hope.  That is my “coherent structural critique of the American political order” in one short paragraph.

Cross posted at Retirement Blues

Tags: , , , Comments (50) | |

Graph That Explains Everything About Amity Shlaes

by Mike Kimel

Thanks to Linda Beale, I headed over here:

The George W. Bush Institute announced today that Amity Shlaes has been named director of the 4% Growth Project, a key part of the Institute’s focus on economic growth. Miss Shlaes will open the project’s office in New York. The aim of the project is to illuminate ideas and reforms that can yield faster, higher quality growth in the United States, and to underscore the importance of growth in America’s future. Part of that work involves finding ways to make growth and economics generally accessible to more Americans, especially younger Americans. The program will conduct and sponsor research on all aspects of economic growth, host conferences, as well as partner with other institutions in such endeavors.

The following graph, I think, illustrates you need to know about Amity Shlaes:

OK. I lied. The graph is actually missing something. See, we only have official data going back to 1929. And the Great Depression began very, very early in Hoover’s term. And Hoover had been a cabinet secretary under Coolidge, and ran for office under a platform which essentially called for continuing Coolidge’s policies. And Shlaes’ forthcoming book is in praise of Calvin Coolidge. It should be noted that the economy was in recession during over 38% of the months in which Coolidge took office, which makes much of the Coolidge era a dry run (so to speak) for the monster that would come in 1929.

Put another way… Shlaes is part of a movement to praise policies responsible for a lousy economy culminating in the Great Depression (i.e., those of Coolidge and Hoover). Shlaes is also part of a movement to praise the policies responsible for a lousy economy culminating in the start of the Great Recession and the mess we’re in today. (Yes, the Great Recession started in 2007, and no, Obama hasn’t made any substantial changes on taxes or regulation from the way GW Bush ran the country.) Conversely, Shlaes is a well-known critic of the policies that produced the fastest period of peace time economic growth this country has seen.

To me this feature of economics is kind of odd. For some reason, policies that have failed spectacularly over and over continue to have adherents. Policies that have worked spectacularly have critics. Debating the merits of a cavalry charge into the teeth of an armored column was barely excusable in August of 1939, but at least that debate was put to a rest by the German blitzkrieg. Its been generations since anyone argued that horsemen can go toe to toe with tanks.

Which leads me to a hypothetical. Say we lived in a parallel universe where Shlaes was a quisling, a real villain whose goal was to harm this country as much as she could by convincing the nation to commit economic suicide. How would the graph above and the two paragraphs that followed it look any different?

Tags: , , , Comments (35) | |

Why Are You Out There?

When someone attempts to impede democracy actions are good things:

Writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau was once locked up for refusing to pay a poll tax. He opposed the tax on moral grounds – in a democracy, he argued, a man shouldn’t have to pay to vote….

That night, so the story goes, Thoreau looked up from his jail cell to see Ralph Waldo Emerson…standing outside. Emerson looked at him and asked, “Henry, why are you in there?” Thoreau fired right back: “Ralph, why are you out there?”…

The man outside the bars may be every bit as much a prisoner as the one inside. Or even more so, if his so-called freedom is built on a foundation of denial and lies.

Now, Thoreau was anything but a Christian. That particular idea, though, was downright Biblical. It’s more or less what Jesus is getting at [in John 8:31-47]. Jesus is comparing two kinds of freedom: the outward kind, built on a foundation of happy lies and outright denial, which in the end turns out to be just another kind of slavery; and the inward kind, which comes from a clean conscience before God, and can never be taken away.

Far be it for me to cite The Sequel; I’ll take Bentleyville’s current Presbyterian minister* at his word. And tell anyone who happens to be in the area of One Liberty Plaza this afternoon to say “hello.”

*Full disclosure: one of the previous Ministers is an ex-roommate of mine. That said, the above was found from a Google search, purely a fortuitous coincidence. At least as far as I know.

Tags: , , , , Comments (5) | |