Category Archives: Politics

Ira Hansen Becomes a National Embarrassment

Ira Hansen

Oh my, merely a few hours after his selection as the Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly Ira Hansen (R-NVA32) made national headlines – mostly for all those “interesting”  columns he wrote between 1994 and 2010. [Wonkette]  Mr. Hansen has gathered attention to himself from Think Progress, and The Huffington Post, and the Atlantic, and Talking Points Memo, and Media-ite.   Mr. Hansen, who won his Assembly seat with  71.96% of the vote in the 2014 election, [NVSoS] offered a formulaic apology:

“I am deeply sorry that comments I have made in the past have offended many Nevadans. It is unfortunate that these comments, made almost 20 years ago as a newspaper columnist and talk radio host, have been taken out of context and are being portrayed as intentionally hurtful and disrespectful. These comments were meant to be purposely provocative in various political, cultural and religious views. I have the utmost respect for all people without regard to race, gender, religious or political beliefs.” [RGJ]

This statement is almost pure Limbaugh.  “I’m sorry IF you were offended.” Of course people were offended – his comments were intrinsically, blatantly, offensive.

The comments were made long ago,”  And, what have you said or done since, say,  last Wednesday to demonstrate you’ve cleaned up your act since?

And, “they were taken out of context…” In what context would these have been appropriate comments in the 21st century – or the 19th for that matter? Doesn’t that “taken out of context” refrain ever get old and hirsute?

And, “the comments were purposefully provocative,” PLEASE! Of course, and Limbaugh was only kidding?  Just trying to get a rise out of your audience?  Those right wing hate speech, hate radio, pack of bigots, racists, and fringe wingers, who call in to shows that re-enforce their own bigotry, racism, and homophobia?

And, Mr. Hansen, if you’d had any respect for non-white people, members of the LBGT community, members of the Hispanic/Latino community, you’d not have made the comments in the first place.

And, he ends his non-apology apology on the common hackneyed note:

“I am committed to showing that actions are much louder than words and my office will always have an open door to all backgrounds and political viewpoints. This will not distract us from finding solutions to building a brighter and more prosperous Nevada.” [RGJ]

Right,  the door’s open.  We’re supposed to believe that the Tea Party Darling who bested a Party Regular (no raving moderate himself, Pat Hickey) for the Speakership doesn’t believe in the privatization of any public activity in which someone can make a buck, and maintains overtly racist, bigoted, beliefs, is going to lead us to the Promised Land of whatever…

However, this isn’t Grandpa’s Republican Party anymore.  This is the Party of Cliven Bundy, [Reuters] of Jim “I’d vote for slavery if my constituents wanted it” Wheeler, [LVSun] of Cresent “The BLM doesn’t have the right to enforce federal laws on federal land” Hardy. [LVRJ]  This is the Republican Party in Nevada which adopted a Tea Party Platform at its 2014 convention. [RenoNewsR

There’s one Nevada Republican who’s embarrassed – our Striving For A Centrist Image Senator Dean Heller:

“Assemblyman Hansen’s past comments and positions on race, religion, and gender that have recently been reported give me great concern. These comments were insensitive, wrong, and extremely offensive and insulting. Statements like these do not have a place in public discourse.” [EDFP]

Yes, Senator Heller is concerned – however, where was Senator Heller’s concern when his state party adopted the Tea Party platform, promoted the election of Wheeler, and the election of Hardy?  The “moderates” were noticeably silent before the 2014 elections, and before the selection of the Assembly Speaker – and now that the cat has slipped the bag they are “concerned,” nay “greatly concerned.”

In the immortal words of Meryl Streep’s character in the 1992 comedy “Death Becomes Her,” “Now a Warning?”

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In time for Thanksgiving: 20 Bible Verses Right Wing Opponents of Immigration Reform Would Like To Forget

Bible immigrants

These are 20 Bible verses concerning the treatment of “strangers” from the Old and New Testaments which right wing extremist opponents of immigration policy reform would not like to be reminded of over Thanksgiving Dinner.   Enjoy.

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The Economic Elite Agenda

Economic Elite

How does 0.5% of the population manage to control the political discussion about the economic realities of the remaining members of the citizenry?  If everything is a commodity, then everything can be bought and sold – including information.  There are repercussions related to this. For themselves and others.

The economic elite, the financialist allies, and the compliant Republican Party would like very much to remove the fetters on their capacity to accumulate wealth.  Deregulate banking,  cut taxes for the ultra-wealthy and remove the taxation on capital gains, get rid of unions and any other form of organized labor, privatize and monetize as many formerly public services as possible and then they’ll be happy?  Probably not.  They may be “shackled in golden handcuffs,”  or  “addicted to wealth.”  Or, they are simply following the prescribed path to riches, adopt the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything as if it described any economic reality other than their own.

Controlling the Flow

In order to advance the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything it must take precedence over all other topics of conversation.   For example, see the current web page for CNBC, and look at the major topics for today:  Comprehensive Immigration Reform is reduced to a political article about a possible government shutdown.  It’s a relatively shallow piece, speculative in nature, and purely political.  It will not tell you the findings which demonstrate the value of immigrants to this country in economic terms.

“Immigrants are not the cause of unemployment in the United States. Empirical research has demonstrated repeatedly that there is no correlation between immigration and unemployment. In fact, immigrants—including the unauthorized—create jobs through their purchasing power and their entrepreneurship, buying goods and services from U.S. businesses and creating their own businesses, both of which sustain U.S. jobs.”  [AIC]

Interesting, that sounds just like DB’s favorite theme:  Increase the aggregate demand and you will grow the economy.   Nor will a speculative political piece inform us that the top occupations for foreign born workers between the ages of 25 and 64 were construction jobs and extraction related employment. [CBO pdf]   Better still for our economy, immigrants play a large role in our overall economic life:

“Immigrants have an outsized role in U.S. economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages. Indeed, despite being 13 percent of the population, immigrants comprise 16 percent of the labor force. Moreover, many immigrants are business owners. In fact, the share of immigrant workers who own small businesses is slightly higher than the comparable share among U.S.-born workers. (Immigrants comprise 18 percent of small business owners.)”  [EPI]

And here comes the point – if CNBC is trying to grab ratings in order to boost advertising, and thereby increase the value of its shares – then the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything is ultimately determining what kind of “business news” we are getting.  Not information about the economic value of immigrants, or even what portion of our demographics they represent; instead we are fed a pabulum of political speculation. Nothing so enhances the power of the economic elites as the capacity to offer little or no economic information beyond the stock market reports and the endless speculation of analysts.

For information which has not been sifted through the tentacles of the economic elite see: “Facts About Immigration and the U.S. Economy” (EPI) “Immigration / EPI” (EPI) “Value Added Immigration,” (EPI), “Immigration and American Values,” (Our Future),  “Immigration and the Rural Workforce,” (USDA), “The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System,” (WhiteHouse pdf)  Clicking on just a couple of these links will give you 100% more economic information than you would get from the CNBC lead article.

Interestingly enough, considering the ridiculousness of Fox’s reporting on climate related issues, their Big Story of the day is about Toyota’s hydrogen powered car.  Fox is quick to inform its readers that other car manufacturers are ramping up development of more ‘climate friendly’ vehicles – but as for the effect of climate problems on our economy – you’ll have to go elsewhere.   Honda, they note with emphasis, is not keeping up in order to keep costs down – thus complying with the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything.

For information about the relationship of climate change and the economy, there’s the UCS site including  the “Hot Map,”  or the CBO’s “The Economics of Climate Change,” (pdf) “Modeling the Impact of Warming in Climate Change Economics,” (NBER), and “Climate Change: Of Warming and Warnings,” (Economist) Again, reading just a few articles out of many will offer far more knowledge about climate and the economy than most of what appears in the so-called business channels.

Good luck finding any comprehensive information about the American work force, or about the increasing threat of income inequality which could have a profound impact on our consumer based economy, or even about the state of American research and development – these are not topic which grab the viewers and focus attention on the sponsor’s products.  Worse still, information about the economic impact of income inequality or the struggles of middle income Americans in the ‘wrong’ hands could lead to some serious questioning of the motives of the economic elite.

Controlling the Ballot Box

Money is valuable – especially when a bit of it spread about can offer success in the election of those amenable to the interests of the economic elite.  If there’s “runaway spending” in this country it’s NOT coming from the federal government, its sources are corporations – some of which are foreign – pouring vast amounts of the coin of the realm into American politics.  Would it surprise anyone that the debate over the pipeline project is driven by about $60 million in election and lobbying funding? [Common Cause]   We’re talking about “net neutrality,” and others were discussing it as well – to the tune of some $42 million in federal and state lobbying efforts from AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, NCTA, Time Warner Cable, [Common Cause] all of whom oppose neutrality.

Of course, the concept of net neutrality is at odds with the short term business interests of the corporate giants listed above, and since we remain in the land of the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything this must not be implemented – less the share prices go down during the quarter.

However, there is much more attached to the election of those enamored of the economic elite – there’s deregulation of the banks because they had so much fun, and so much profit, the last time they turned Wall Street into such a casino that there are no more investment banks; there’s the privatization of public services because who can complain about someone’s idea to turn public education into test driven private schooling?  What better opportunity to make a few million than to privatize public water systems? Privatize public library and internet connection services?  We could even privatize our roads, bridges, dams, airports, air traffic control systems? Food inspection? Hospital and clinic inspections?   All in the interest of the economic elite.  But mostly we could insure the continued prosperity of the economic elite by making certain they don’t have to pay taxes.  “Only little people pay taxes.” 

Combining The Queen of Mean with the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything  yields such excesses as the taking of approximately $30 Trillion from financial gains since the recession – almost all of it going to the richest 1% of our nation’s population – and much of it tax free.  The economic elite have framed the system such that you pay less on the income earned from stocks than from the labor of your hands, you can use “carried interest” as an excuse not to pay taxes for hedge fund profits.  Roth IRA’s are a tax loophole for the 20% of Americans who own 95% of our financial wealth, and you can insure that your derivatives are paid off first if the bank collapses.  And, by the way – a business can get out of debt by declaring bankruptcy, but a student can’t. [Salon]

Did you hear any of this from the corporate controlled media?  Probably not.  Put the Queen of Mean with the Shareholder Value Theory of Everything and add a Wealth Addiction and we get a picture of the economic elites:

“Only a wealth addict would feel justified in receiving $14 million in compensation — including an $8.5 million bonus — as the McDonald’s C.E.O., Don Thompson, did in 2012, while his company then published a brochure for its work force on how to survive on their low wages. Only a wealth addict would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge-fund manager, and then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary.”  [NYT]

Ours was supposed to be a republic, founded on the democratic principle of voting by citizens who shared in the future of the nation – it was not intended to be an aristocracy much less a plutocracy.  Nor was it ever meant to be a nation pandering to the addictions of those for whom the love of money became the rationale for their existence.

We can do better.

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The Great Pension Swipe Coming to a State Near You

Burglar

“Elections have consequences” and this time the results may be a disaster for public employee pensions.  The rationale underpinning this contention is simple.  Wall Street is running out of Big Pots of Money.  They’ve already run through the money which flowed in from the earnings of more women in the work force – the Wall Street Casino used up the proceeds from the increasing number of two income families by 2000, when the number of women in the work force increased from 18,389,000 in 1950 to 65,616,000 in 2000.  To add a bit of context here:  In 1950 there were 43,819,000 men in the work force, and 18,389,000 women.  By 2000 there were 75,247,000 men working and 65,616,000 women. [BLS pdf]   Some families were induced to join in the new Money Market Accounts made possible by the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982.  This new form of “savings” account allowed the banks to get and keep the deposits.

“Banks are required to discourage customers from exceeding these limits (on withdrawals), either by imposing high fees on customers who do so, or by closing their accounts. Banks are free to impose additional restrictions (for instance: some banks limit their customers to six total transactions). ATM, teller, and bank-by-mail transactions are not counted towards the total.”  [link]

And so, Wall Street had a big pot of money to play with. But enough is never enough.   Wall Street invented more money pots – using securitized assets. These were non-existent before the 1970s.  For review, a securitized asset is something done to create “debt securities, or bonds, whose payment of principal and interest derive from cash flows generated by separate pools of assets.”  [ HFS pdf 2003]  In plainer English this means that Wall Street can use securitization to immediately (and that’s a key word – immediately) make money on any “cash-producing asset” – like trade receivables, leases, auto loans, credit card lines, and, of course, mortgages.

Now the Money Mad Denizens of Wall Street have run through the addition of women’s earnings, the accumulation of funds in money market accounts created thereby, and they mis-managed their money in securitized assets such that the Housing Bubble of the early 2000’s burst and splattered all over their operations.  But enough is never enough.  One former Wall Street trader described the Wealth Addiction rampant in the firms:

“But in the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth. I was in a meeting with one of them, and a few other traders, and they were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.” [...]

“From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes. I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses.” [NYT]

What might threaten those bonuses? Not having Big Pots of Money to play with.   There are some money pots out there – and more and more of them are being “touched” by the Wall Street bankers who see them as ways to enhance those precious bonuses.  Pension funds.

How to unlock that next Big Money Pot for the Wealth Addicts of Wall Street?  The strategy has been alarmingly simple.

First, bash public employee unions – the organizations which negotiated defined benefit plans for retiring public employees.  Union bashing has been a staple of Republican politics since time out of mind, so it makes perfect sense to incorporate it into the strategy for raiding public pension funds. Public employees are no longer to be seen as the helpful librarian, or the firefighter who saves the kittens, or the police officer who donates time to direct traffic at the high school football game.  He or she is no longer the person willing to work in frigid temperatures clearing snow from highways at 3:00 A.M. Nor is the public employee to be thought of as the bookkeeper who diligently keeps track of taxes paid, fees assessed, or paper-work properly filled out to prevent fraud.  No! These people are to be seen as “greedy teachers” who think only of job security, “lazy” bureaucrats who create paperwork, and “leagues of over-paid shovel leaners” who don’t care about the snow on the roads…. The cynicism of this is excruciating.  The result is little else than a contemptuous, divisive, misanthropic perspective which divides private sector employees earning $45,000 per year from public sector employees earning $45,000 per year.

Secondly, once the bashing begins the misanthropes add in a measure of jealousy.   Publish the retirement incomes of Everyone, because surely someone is making more money in retirement income than the targeted population of disaffected voters.  Cover this in the banner of Right to Know. “You,” meaning the disenchanted audience, have a “right” to know what “each and every public employee is making” because, “you know” they have been “feeding at the public trough.”  The argument is predicated on the jealousy factor – who else would care what a firefighter, police officer, highway department employee, teacher, librarian, public health nurse, etc. would receive in a year?

That the release of this information would allow personal identity thieves to thrive is of little consequence to the advocates of total transparency – so much transparency that the former public employees have no right to any financial privacy whatsoever.

Third, flat out lie about the sustainability of defined benefits pension plans.  There are three major advantages of a defined benefit plan.  It provides security.  The person who has paid into the plan knows exactly want the financial benefits will be and can do some financial planning accordingly. The person also know exactly how long he or she has to work to be eligible for the benefits.  And, finally, the person knows that the pension is covered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

We know that some public employee pension plans are better administered than others, but the opponents of defined benefit plans are eager, enthusiastic even, about publicizing the problems of some as the characteristics of all.  This is evident in the ALEC assault on public pension funds, all 45 pages of it which blatantly calls for defined benefit plans to be morphed  into “properly defined alternatives, such as defined contribution, cash balance, and hybrid plans.”  Read: The Next Big Money Pot for Wall Street.

Creeping Financialism

The ALEC advocates and associates are only too pleased to discuss the delights of the defined contribution plans.  Most often they are couched in friendly wording such as “you can manage your own plan,” which sounds like “freedom.”  It also sounds like a 401(k).   What they aren’t anxious to publicize is that 401(k) plans have been a bust.

“The 401(k) plan was never meant to be a mainstream pension plan and is a poor substitute for one. It’s a voluntary program that was intended to supplement retirement savings –  one of those quirky little options in the byzantine tax code that employers seized upon as a way to save money while pretending that they were doing the right thing by their employees.” [Forbes]

That’s putting it about as bluntly as possible.  Oops! The 401(k) was never intended to be the main source of retirement funds, and it’s a poor substitute for a defined benefit plan.

“Authors like Helaine Olen have been right on the mark in saying that the financial services industry and employers are all too eager to tell us how little we’re saving, yet don’t serve as honest brokers in maximizing our retirement savings. That would require cutting fees, eliminating middlemen, increasing employer contributions and getting rid of the fee structure that is based on assets under management. And above all, the most dangerous part of this equation: Educating employees on how to invest cost- and risk effectively.”  [Forbes]

And for all this – while the fund administrators collect the fees, hire middlemen, and thrive under the fee structure – the public employee is asked to give up any and all financial privacy, learn to be a financial manager, and forget about the security a defined benefits plan offers. All this so that Wall Street will secure the next Big Money Pot.  And it’s already started.

Creepy Financialists

The unease felt by public employees about their future financial security isn’t merely the result of escalating fiscal paranoia; it’s very real. The Rhode Island Case describes what happens when crony capitalism merges with Wall Street wealth addiction when state treasurer Gina Raimondo issued forth :

“Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo’s strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina’s Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 “Urban Innovator” of the year.

The state’s workers, in other words, were being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement, coughing up at least $200 million to members of a group that had supported anti-labor laws.” [Rolling Stone]

Worse still, the states that were supposed to be making defined contributions didn’t seem to be taking the process very seriously.

Chris Tobe, a former trustee of the Kentucky Retirement Systems who blew the whistle to the SEC on public-fund improprieties in his state and wrote a book called Kentucky Fried Pensions, did a careful study of states and their ARCs. While some states pay 100 percent (or even more) of their required bills, Tobe concluded that in just the past decade, at least 14 states have regularly failed to make their Annual Required Contributions. In 2011, an industry website called 24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the 10 brokest, most busted public pensions in America. “Eight of those 10 were on my list,” says Tobe.

Among the worst of these offenders are Massachusetts (made just 27 percent of its payments), New Jersey (33 percent, with the teachers’ pension getting just 10 percent of required payments) and Illinois (68 percent). In Kentucky, the state pension fund, the Kentucky Employee Retirement System (KERS), has paid less than 50 percent of its ARCs over the past 10 years, and is now basically butt-broke – the fund is 27 percent funded, which makes bankrupt Detroit, whose city pension is 77 percent full, look like the sultanate of Brunei by comparison.” [Rolling Stone]

However, nothing stops the administrators of the Annual Required Contribution plans from drawing their salaries. Nothing stops the hedge fund managers and wealth managers from earning their money, and nothing stops the hedge funds, wealth funds, and bankers from getting nice bonuses from playing with these new Big Money Pots.

2013 also brought the disclosure of other pension swindles.  A report on North Carolina’s pension plan yielded the most opaque atmosphere surrounding a supposedly transparent pension system, with the Wall Street characters benefiting from the opacity:

“Today, TSERS assets are directly invested in approximately 300 funds and indirectly in hundreds more underlying funds, the names, investment practices, portfolio holdings, investment performances, fees, expenses, regulation, trading and custodian banking arrangements of which are largely unknown to stakeholders, the State Auditor and, indeed, to even the (State) Treasurer and her staff,” he reports. “As a result of the lack of transparency and accountability at TSERS, it is virtually impossible for stakeholders to know the answers to questions as fundamental as who is managing the money, what is it invested in and where is it?” [Salon]

How are the investors in the system (the state, the locality, the employees) supposed to act as “free” administrators of their own pension plans when they can’t discover who is managing the money, what investments have been made, and where the money is?  Much less ask what fees are being paid to the money managers of the new Big Pot?  In the initial example above, Rhode Island, state treasurer Raimondo couldn’t answer the question about the amount paid in fees.

President George W. Bush famously tread on the third rail of American politics, privatizing Social Security in 2005, and just as famously backed away from the precipice.  It seems that Americans have not forgotten what is supposed to be a “mainstream pension plan.”   If continued symbolic acts continue to be promoted by the Cato Institute and if there continue to be the likes of Iowa senator-elect Ernst who call for a hybrid plan in which younger workers are allowed to put a portion of their Social Security into a Retirement Savings Account (read: Wall Street Money Pot) we can’t declare the nation free of schemes to privatize Social Security.  If a state treasurer in Rhode Island who promoted the defined contribution plan in her jurisdiction can’t find out how much is being raked in by money managers, then how do we expect our average “younger worker” to effectively track his or her retirement account.

Thus we can look forward to more proposals for Hybrid Plans – which augment the Big Money Pot, and Defined Contribution Plans – which can’t be tracked and make a mockery of the entire concept of transparency, and more assaults on public employees who might be victims of the latest Great Burglary of their pension systems.  Elections do have consequences, and the last mid term election put more than $100 billion in public pension funds in the hands of financialists turned politicians.

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Let’s Save Capitalism

Adam Smith If we want to do something big why not craft a nationwide campaign to save capitalism?  Basic, dictionary definition capitalism:

“ (noun) an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.” [Dict.com]

Let’s declare, right out front, that capitalism is NOT a political system.  It does, however, require a political apparatus and infrastructure to maintain our economic institutions.   Let’s assume that Adam Smith was correct, that monarchical controlled monopolies and charters were counter-productive.  Indeed, Adam Smith was quite vehement on the subject of monopolies. He was particularly opposed to those guild members, shop keepers, and manufacturers who conspired to operate in the Wretched Spirit of Monopoly.”  [Kurz pdf]  He’d seen the results of  conglomerates such as the East India companies of Great Britain and the Netherlands – and he disapproved.   That critique hasn’t prevented the monopolists from mangling the message by adding a bit of  Mandeville here, adding a touch of Samuelson there; marinated in the toxic and sophomoric economics of Rand,  and devising a philosophy to justify unadulterated greed.

The problem for the Justification of Greed crowd is that at some point in the economic process someone has to buy something.  At least in the real world, someone must manufacture a product using primary products (minerals, timber, etc.) and then must transport the products to distributors (secondary) markets, so that ultimately a consumer will purchase the product at a price determined by the balance of supply and demand.  This, at its simplest, is pure capitalism.  We need more of it.

In America’s bifurcated economic system the financial sector, which once primarily facilitated the investment in the manufacturing, distribution, and selling of goods and services, has taken it upon itself to function for its own benefit – one all too often at odds with the Main Street economy it was meant to serve.

The financialists [Forbes]  discovered the gold to be mined from mountains of debt, and sought profit from the debt, the service of the debts, the trading of debt, the manufacturing of securitized assets based on debts, and they turned Adam Smith on his head:

“Adam Smith never espoused the beliefs that control our capitalist system today, that the only purpose of a business is to create shareholder value and that the unfettered market will effectively regulate itself. These two views have been widely adopted, without empirical foundation, by many influential financial and political policy-makers. They have been used to justify systemic deregulation and a maniacal focus on generating short-term earnings that are not necessarily real economic earnings.” [Forbes]

And, they’ve held sway for almost the last three decades:

“Over the last 25 years American capitalism has become financialism, which is primarily transactional, unrestrained greed. Financialism embraces the view that the only purpose of business is to create shareholder value, measured primarily by short-term results. The dominance of short-termism is evidenced by the magnitude of institutional stock “renting” for terms of 12 months or less, the volume of high-speed, high-frequency algorithmic short-term trading, the short average tenures of chief executive officers and the dominance of executive compensation tied solely to short-term results.” [Forbes]

In short, ‘faster and more volatile’ has replaced ‘visionary and more rational’ in our economic system.  And the politicians in place are either wedded to this financialism and actively abetting it, or they are such close allies that the differentiation is difficult to discern. Or to put it in harsher terms: The politicians are selling out the long term benefits of American capitalism for the benefit of short-term financialism.  What’s been the result?

“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first,” said Piketty, “capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.” [Piketty, Farrell]

We might simplify this statement by saying: When the financialists take over the field from the capitalists the economic inequalities they create unleash havoc on our real economy and our national values.  Who warned us about this?  None other than the patron saint of financialists – Adam Smith:

“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.” [Piketty, Farrell

Smith wasn’t quite finished with the Greedy:

“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires.” [Smith; Theory of Moral Sentiments]

So, what have we done for the past 25 years?  We de-regulated the avaricious, we praised the vain-glorious, and we rewarded those harboring these “extravagant passions” with riches beyond their dreams.  Then we declared it “good,” and “American” and the culmination of “Free Enterprise,” when in fact the effect was to “disturb the peace of society,”  and create such income inequality that it is difficult to sustain the basic capitalism we say we admire.

Politicians need to make their positions clear: Do you support American capitalism or do you support Financialism?  If the former, you are deserving of our praise and votes. If the latter, you need to be out of any office of influence until you understand that you are destroying the very system you purport to value above all else.

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Want Something To Be Afraid Of? Here are a few really scary things

Something Afraid Of

Remember the time honored line from childhood, “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about?”  Combine that with the line from the Republicans – We can’t spend any money – Federal Spending is Out of Control—Think of the Children!  Okay, let’s think about the children and what we’re leaving them. That’s scary.

What’s NOT Scary?

First, let’s take on the Republican mantra about spending our grandchildren’s money – it’s hokum, and always has been.  The GOP had, as we remember, no problems conducting the war in Iraq on the national credit card, nor did they have any problems when they put the Medicare Part D into effect without any funding.  Hypocrisy aside,  there are these  inconvenient facts for the GOP:

“Federal outlays over the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953-56, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Expenditures as a share of the economy sank last year to 22.8 percent, their lowest level since 2008, according to Congressional Budget Office data. That’s down from 24.1 percent in 2011 and a 64-year high of 25.2 percent in 2009, when Obama pushed through an $831 billion stimulus package.” [BloombergNews]

And then there’s this:

“The deficit probably will fall to $500 billion, or just below 3 percent of GDP, by 2015, as businesses and consumers step up their spending after bringing their own debts down, said Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The improving economy will increase tax receipts while lowering government expenditures for benefits including food stamps and unemployment compensation.” [BloombergNews]

So, thus much for the GOP and Faux News talking point, endlessly repeated for effect if not edification.

What IS Scary?

The Infrastructure Nightmare. We are leaving our children and grandchildren one horrific bill for the maintenance and improvement of our national infrastructure.  We keep getting report cards from the ASCE and we keep ignoring them.

“Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.”  [ASCE]

We’re currently spending only a bit more than half of what we need to spend to eliminate the backlog – note that’s not speaking to NEW construction.  Congratulations kids! We’re saving you from the practically non-existent “National Debt” problem – while we are leaving you with the bill for a deteriorating bridge system.  You know, those bridges that are used by commuters, travelers, and truckers…. What could possibly go wrong? Can anyone say I-35 Minneapolis bridge collapse?  Bridges are scary… so are airports:

“Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial enplanements were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. If current federal funding levels are maintained, the FAA anticipates that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040.”  [ASCE]

That’s right kids, while we’re saving you from that horrible nasty national debt that is neither horrible, nor nasty, we are leaving you holding the tab for an airline transportation system the cost of which will balloon up to $63 billion, billion with a big B, by 2040.   But, but, but, we’ve saved your “inheritance?” What inheritance? You’ll be spending your tax dollars on things we should have taken care of 25 years earlier.

In case this is giving our children and grandchildren headaches – there’s the problem of real headaches and other medical issues.

The Medical Research Issue.    The Republicans were only too pleased to launch one of their patented panic attacks about the Ebola infections, but that subsided with the election, and we still don’t have a Surgeon General, nor do we have any significant increases in funding for medical research. Remember kids – we’re saving your “inheritance.” Research America tracks funding for medical and pharmaceutical research and reports:

“Federal spending also contributed to the overall increase in the R&D spending reported for FY12, but the apparent increase in this category is misleading. The increase is largely due to changes in the classification of existing spending within the National Science Foundation and the Food and Drug Administration ($315 million at NSF and $152 million at FDA) rather than to an actual increase in dollars.”

So, while we’re skimping on funding medical research in this country, we still have mortality rates which differentiate by ethnicity – the average life expectancy of a white male is 76.5 years, a black male 71.8 years, and a Hispanic male 78.7 years.   While the elders march along, on different paths, we could spend a few moments thinking about those infants who are going to be footing our bills.  We have NOT succeeded in bringing down the number of fetal deaths since 2005, and those fetal mortality rates are higher for African American, Native American, and Alaskan Native women than they are for non-Hispanic white women. [CDC]  If the infant makes it into the world there are still problems, for every 1,000 infants born in this country 6 of them will die during their first year of life from a serious birth defect, or being low birth weight, or from being a victim of Sudden Infant Death syndrome, or from the effects of maternal complications of surgery. [CDC]

We do have a Healthy Start program, launched in 2007, to address some of these issues, and then we cut the funding!  So, we still have differentiated life expectancies, a serious problem with fetal mortality among ethnic minorities, a continuing problem with sustaining infants beyond their first year – and we cut the funding – Dear Grandchild, if you are fortunate enough to be alive to read this, please know we love you and hope you don’t mind that we “saved” you from the Nasty National Debt…. You can pay for the research to keep your own children alive, we could have helped but you know how it is.

Oh, and that Ebola thing?  We’d have made more progress on the vaccine but we didn’t want to spend “your inheritance.” [Time] And, the nasal version of the vaccine – that might not happen either because of funding cuts. [Pharma]  Even better – there is a proposal from the Republican to cut funding for the CDC budget – the one that in conjunction with the NIH will be working on drug resistant virus strains.  If the kids want more research on new bacterial and virus related illnesses, they can pay for it themselves?

Gun Violence.  While we were busy protecting your right to bear arms, and we clung to the notion that having a gun in the home will make those little future taxpayers safer.  We did all this while still knowing that a gun in the home makes it 22 times more likely to kill or injure someone (maybe you) in the house than that it will ever be used for self defense.  And, we knew that 60% of all children (0-9) killed  by guns occurred in an apartment or single family dwelling.  We also knew that two-thirds of all school shootings were done with a gun acquired in the home. [Brady]  What did we do about this?

We made it impossible for a gun manufacturer or dealer to be sued for negligence or malfeasance. We refused to enact legislation to require background checks on gun buyers.  We refused to even take an official count of gun deaths and would not allow pediatricians to ask if firearms were in the house.   Because? Maybe you’ll want a gun… if you can still afford one… and you too can be at greater risk for a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting. Oh, and by the way, we’re leaving the increasing costs of medical care, emergency room treatment, rehabilitation treatment, lost productivity, and judicial proceedings to you.  Because you’re “free.”

So, if you want some things to truly be afraid of these are just three areas in which we have decided that our children and grandchildren can shoulder the bills because we were too deluded, too ideological, or perhaps too ignorant to do so ourselves.

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Filed under Infrastructure, national debt, Politics

News and Notes

Jig Saw Puzzle It’s been some time since there’s been a good old fashioned aggregation post and today seems as good a time as any.  So, here goes –

In the MUST Read Department, there’s “Nevada’s Bundy Caucus” over at Crooks and Liars.  Nothing so brightens a Wednesday morning like being reminded that a soul-mate of the nefarious Cliven Bundy has been elected to the Congress of the United States.  Whack-a-doodle Doo!  To make life even more interesting – Bundy-Lovin’ Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, the Gun Totin’ Moll of the Tea Party, wants to be the Majority Leader, according to the very credible Jon Ralston.

Also in the MUST Department, The Center for American Progress has an excellent statistical piece about Veterans in America.  Did you know that there are 22 million veterans in America, and that 2.6 million are from the post 9/11 Era?  Or, that 49,933 of them are homeless?  Read On! There’s more from the Ramirez Group on homeless veterans.  One out of every three homeless men is a Vet. Unconscionable.

Take a look at Steve Sebelius’s Fun with Numbers, concerning the 2014 election in Nevada.   Notice: Nevada Progressive is shutting shop and moving to Let’s Talk Nevada. There’s a very informative post about the campaigns and elections therein.  NRDC posts an article from Common Dreams concerning the interesting voting pattern in which progressive initiatives tended to pass while progressive/Democratic candidates tended to fail.

If you’re following the debate on comprehensive immigration reform legislation, then “GOP already in lame excuse mode,” is highly recommended reading.  Wondering what happened to the bill from the Senate?  AZCentral provides a timeline, including the fact that the Senate passed the bill on June 27, 2013 – and Speaker John Boehner has not brought the bill, or any House version thereof, to the floor since.

Even if the Republicans won’t admit it, gun violence in this country is a public health issue.   However, that doesn’t mean that the GOP will stop blocking the nomination for Surgeon General, a man who believes that bullets do serious damage to human bodies – after all the Ebola ‘crisis’ was over as soon as the election returns came in from Hawaii on November 4th. If we could see the violence issue in public health terms we’d remember that on average 32 people are killed by guns every day, and another 140 are treated in the ER for gunshot wounds.  So, if the averages hold,  approximately 1,376 people have died from gunshots since October 1, 2014. From Ebola infections? 1.

Yes, the Supreme Court will take up a conservative challenge to the Affordable Care Act.  Think Progress provides a succinct summation of the challenge.   There’s obviously some more work to be done to convince the public that (1) Obamacare isn’t a Thing, it’s a collection of reforms to the way health insurance corporations do business, and (2) repealing it means serious hardships to middle income Americans, the elderly, and continued struggles of 215,000 veterans who would be greatly assisted by the expansion of Medicaid.  Someone really should pose the question to the newly elected Congressional Representatives: Do you support the troops or the health insurance corporations?  The second question ought to be: Do you want to cost those corporations all the new customers they got under the ACA provisions?

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics