Our Thirty Five Years of Mythological Economics

trickle down economics

The only problem with this cartoon version of  Trickle Down economics is that the bird at the top should be getting larger as the years extend.  Likewise, the birds in the middle range should be getting more stressed as they attempt to stay on their middle income perches.  It’s a nice touch that the background is in blue, suggesting we’re about to be washed up in a tide which only serves those who are perched high enough to avoid drowning.

Meanwhile, the  best response to the sentence “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is “Where Are The Customers’ Yachts?”  For those who have not yet read this 75 year old classic – it’s still available, and still germane to American economics.  It was true then, and true now.  The problem is that the financial sector has hijacked significant portions of our economic thinking, in ways that have left us prone to being bedazzled by BS.   Thus, we’d prefer to rail against the Wall Street Casino rather than believe we’ve been following some very foolish advice offered, in turn, by some very foolish, and very self serving,  people. And, there are people challenging the BS rendition of American capitalism.

Those who missed Mrs. Clinton’s speech at the New School (NYC) on our economic challenges can view the C-SPAN broadcast here. (55 minutes)

The initial response from journalists was “Hillary’s bashing Wall Street.” [Reuters] This makes for a convenient headline – Beltway Shorthand for her support for regulation of Wall Street investment bankers’ transactions – however, it doesn’t come close to adequately summarizing what both candidates Clinton and Sanders have been saying about financialism in American economics. The Beltway Media is missing the point, perhaps because it doesn’t fit neatly into a template predetermined by editorial policy, or a simplistic code for easy lead paragraphs.

The point is that we have had 35 years of what President George H.W. Bush called Voodoo Economics (although bless his heart he promoted it like any good Republican), and it doesn’t work in the real world. Why? Because the mythology violates the simple principles of American capitalism:

”So here’s an idea worth spreading. In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.” [LAT]

With this basis in mind, let’s tackle some of the mythology and deal with a bit more economic reality.  We might as well start with the “job creators” sound bite.

#Job transference is not necessarily job creation.  Yes, Home Depot has about 340,000 employees. [USAT]  However, in order to achieve those numbers, how many local hardware stores went out of business, or had to shave employment numbers, because they were hard pressed to compete with the Big Box Stores?  Of the 340,000 Home Depot employees only 21,000 were salaried, the rest were working on a temporary basis or for hourly wages.  The average hourly wages for employees in the retail sector are $14.36 per hour. [Monster] Further, we know that about 1/3rd of all retail sector employees are working part time. If we take a closer look we find that the median wages for retail employees (full time) in building materials and garden equipment were about $12.21 per hour. [BLS]

So, we have to ask ourselves, if a Big Box Store moves in an puts a local supermarket or hardware store out of business, does that translate into “job creation” or simply the transference of personnel from one job into another – possibly lower paying – job?

#Low wages make stocks attractive and the overall economy weaker.    The largest fast food chain in the U.S. has approximately 440,000 employees. [USAT]  And, what do food service preparation employees earn?  About $19,300 per year, or approximately $9.28 per hour. [BLS]  The average weekly hours for all employees are currently estimated as 25.8 per week, and for nonsupervisory employees at about 24.6 hours per week. [BLS] Significantly, before we fall into the hype-vat argument about the “kid’s first job,” only about 30% of fast food workers are teenagers, another 30% are between the ages of 20 and 24, and the remaining 40% are 25 years of age and older. [CEPR]

From the shareholder perspective it makes perfect sense to keep wages low, employee turnover high, and continue to appeal to those who have a “quarterly value” vision of America.   From the perspective of other business owners in the area, those low wages translate to minimal disposable income, which means fewer customers for their products and services.  In short, the yacht at the top is sailing along while the little boats bounce around the rocks.

#Wealth created from indebtedness doesn’t trickle anywhere.  Median household earnings are slowly, very slowly, emerging from the last Recession.

real median household income If we find more jobs transferred from, say, smaller local firms to larger national ones, or more jobs are being created in sectors like food and beverage service with notoriously low wages, then we might expect to find household incurring debts to maintain a middle income life style.

Consumer indebtedness, which was down to 4.88% of disposable income in the fourth quarter of 2012, is now back up to 5.30%. [Fed]  There are a couple of ways to see this, first as an indication that people are feeling better about assuming credit card or personal debt because their incomes are more stable, or secondly that while they’re feeling a bit better, the credit card has become a way to keep afloat.  However, those debts are the basis for altogether too much of what constitutes Wall Street wealth accumulation.

Household debt Whatever amounts of these debts are securitized means that they’ve gone into the Wall Street Casino to be used as the basis for hybrid financial products.  So, what’s been happening to the securitization of auto loans?  It’s “coming back strong” but not at “pre-crisis levels.” Translation: It’s not a bubble. [FRB ATL]  It’s lovely to know the Federal Reserve doesn’t consider the securitization of auto loans at the Bubble Level, but it’s also a bit worrisome to note that what is gained from that securitization isn’t trickling down anywhere near the automobile product consumer.

Nor is there much happy news about securitization and the student loan business.  ZeroHedge offers this gloomy prospect:

“So just as we have been warning about for sometime now: an underestimation of the impact of deferral and forbearance and weakness in the job market is likely to trigger defaults on billions in student loans and because these loans comprise the collateral pool backing ABS sold to investors, the ripple effect is magnified and we wonder if the July 2007 moment for the student loan-backed ABS market may come sooner rather than later.”

The ‘wealth’ produced on Wall Street is based on the loan the students took out to pay for educational expenses, securitized, tranched, sliced, diced, and repackaged for the ‘benefit’ of the investors – those who may very well get burned in this round of Securitization Bingo.

Evidently lost on the Sultans of Securitization is the simple fact that an asset based security requires someone to be able to afford the purchase of educational services or automobiles, or the other stuff on the credit card – the original assets.

It’s one thing to announce that “middle class incomes” are back where they were in 1995 – and another thing entirely to notice that the costs of college tuition are up 61% since ‘95; that home prices are up 13%; that the price of gasoline is up 94%; and that Big Mac is up 28%. [moneyCNN] These numbers aren’t the sort to make anyone comfortable who’s taking out the student loan or buying the house. Eventually, even Wall Street may have to take notice of the fact that no matter how much revenue it can generate in terms of ABS and the hybrids related thereto, if American consumers can’t generate sales – and jobs – then investors are caught trying to ride the bubbles.  Bubbles always pop, that’s why they’re bubbles.

The ‘wealth’ from the sales, and hedges, and bets, on asset based securities, again, trickles down nowhere near the average home owner or car buyer.  However, no one is arguing that ABSs don’t have value.  They are a way to spread the risk around, and that’s positive.  They are negative when we see them mask intrinsic cracks in American capitalism, and negative when we see that the revenue generated never quite manages to trickle back down to the local economies perhaps in the form  of better roads, better schools, better parks, better libraries, and better public services like broadband.

Candidates Clinton and Sanders aren’t “bashing Wall Street,” they are simply trying to point out that the lurch from one bubble to the next isn’t a productive way to run an economy, and lunging from one volatile market to the next isn’t the way to insure that the capacity of the average consumer to purchase the assets on which the securities are based remains steady and profitable for everyone.  If Wall Street can’t divest itself of its 35 Year Investment in imaginary economics, and can’t restrain itself from short term financialist thinking, then someone has to be the adult in the room.  The adult is called reasonable regulation, and that’s all they are asking.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation

Venus Rising?

girls soccer One of the ESPN documentaries which deserves another look now is “Venus Vs,” the 2013 film narrating how Venus Williams took on the titans of tennis – the financial titans – and won.  It took until 2007 for women to receive the same prize money at Wimbledon as men, and it required Venus Williams to draw the line at what was acceptable in her Times op-ed.  Now, the parade for the US Women’s National Team is over, and presumably the cake’s been eaten and the ceremonial key to the city handed over. However, when the debris from the parade is cleared the economic prospects for women will be essentially the same as they were before the ride through Manhattan began.  Nor are we close to training and coaching the young people we need to develop the talent required to maintain our rankings.  We could use another Venus rising.

We’re Number One!

The disparity in men’s and women’s financial support in athletic endeavors is in too many ways illustrative of our perspective on sports in general: We expect to win, but we really aren’t all that excited about financially supporting youth development programs.  The parsimonious way in which we support after-school activities in general (for both boys and girls, academic and athletic) contrasts sharply with our expectations of the national teams which later represent us.  Since we’re speaking of soccer, let’s look at those statistics.

In 1974 there were 103,432 youngsters enrolled in youth soccer programs, and as of 1995 there were 2,388,719.  55% of that number were boys, 45% were girls. [usyo]  Somewhere in that 2209% increase in participation were members of the 1999 World Cup winning women’s national soccer team.  Further, if we drill down we find the members of that trailblazing crew came from collegiate programs – including Portland, UMass, Cal, Notre Dame, Central Florida, Stanford, and of course UNC.  Title IX worked.

As of 2014 there were 3,055,148 youngsters participating in youth league soccer, and we’d have to guess the breakdown was close to the 2008 reporting – 52% boys, and 48% girls.  Again, from this group came the ladies who enjoyed the parade in NYC.  School programs, youth/community programs, and collegiate programs contributed to the talent pool from which this team was drawn.

TV commentary made much of the “16 year drought” since the ‘99 World Cup match in women’s soccer, and when the US men’s basketball team placed 3rd in the Seoul Olympics (1988) one might have expected the sky to shatter at any moment – a problem corrected by sending the Dream Team to Barcelona the next round.  When the 3rd place finish repeated in Athens (2004) the response was to send in the Big Guns again in 2008.  We expect the national men’s team to excel, to win, – to crush opponents. We expect the women’s soccer teams to rank in the top five – and we expect to win.

However, we don’t necessarily DO what it takes to expand the talent pool from which we derive these teams.

Penny Wise Pound Foolish

We’ve left some after school programs in general languishing on the vine, both for academic and athletic interests:

“In the Afterschool Alliance’s 2012 survey, although a majority of afterschool program providers revealed that their program’s budget is inadequate to meet the needs of the students and families in their community, this number is even higher among Latino majority programs and African-American majority programs.  Additionally, African-American majority programs and Latino majority programs were more likely to report that their funding is down from three years ago.” [asall]

Not only is funding strained for after school programs but we’re not addressing a crucial factor for African American and Latino youngsters, safe transportation to and from program venues.

“Transportation, safe transport in particular, is a significant hurdle to enrollment in afterschool programs in African-American and Latino communities.  African-American parents and Latino parents were both much more likely to cite that their children did not have a safe way to get to and from afterschool programs as a barrier to enrollment than parents overall.  Additionally, approximately half of African-American and Latino parents of kids not enrolled in an afterschool program indicated that transportation to and from afterschool programs factored into their decision not to enroll their child, compared to less than two-fifths of parents overall.” [asall]

All too often we’re pleased to lecture parents on how their children need more exercise, more academic assistance, more Story Hour, more Anything After School – but we’re obviously not willing to invest in the transportation which would enhance those enrollment figures.   If we drill down to athletic activities, the money issues become ever more evident.  Consider the implications of the following ESPN graphic:

Age entry sports graph The single largest factor in establishing when children start participating in youth activities is whether or not the parents are earning over $100,000 per year.

Here’s another ESPN graphic which sheds a bit more light on the subject.  Whose children are more likely to participate in a variety of after school exercise/athletic activities?

most likely playing on teamsIf you noticed “Suburban/Affluent” across the “most likely groups” and urban/low income across the graphic for “least likely groups,” you’ve gotten the point.

Should we continue to constrict the talent pool to suburban/affluent families, to those families which can afford transportation, to those families which can come up with the cash for equipment and other necessities, then we’ve artificially constrained our own cohort of prospective talent – and yet we still demand that the outcome in world competition be the same – we crush opponents in soccer and basketball.

Was Title IX supposed to fix all this, especially in women’s sports?  The law itself can’t fix the disparity in resources illustrated above.

“Most importantly, Title IX hasn’t managed to extend the enormous social and health benefits of sports to all girls equally. In 2008, a national survey of third- through 12th-graders by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that 75 percent of white girls play sports, compared to less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls, and about half of Asian girls. And while boys from immigrant families are well-represented in youth sports, less than half of girls from those families are playing.*The gender gap is also worse in urban schools and among kids from low-income families.

These disparities in youth sports persist at the collegiate level. African-American women are underrepresented in all sports except Division I basketball and track and field, and Latinas make up just 4 percent of female athletes in the NCAA. As Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field, recently explained to the New York Times, “[I]n the grand scheme of things, Caucasian girls have benefited disproportionately well, especially suburban girls and wealthy Caucasian girls.” [MJ]

The disparities we find in programs for very young children continue through collegiate competition.  And, here we go again – the gap is wider between the affluent suburbs and the urban, less affluent communities of color.

Thank you from a grateful nation….

And here we return to the money question.  If we can expand the talent pools for our national teams, and if we can get more youngsters involved in healthy activities at earlier ages, and if we can get more young girls involved, and if we can get more young girls from less affluent neighborhoods – what happens?

“This year’s (World Cup) tournament featured a generation of American women who have not lived in a world without Title IX and did their jobs elegantly and professionally: They won the game, defeating a longtime rival in Japan; and as they did during the 2012 London Olympics, they won with high-caliber athleticism, class and sports-womanship along the way.

Yet the total payout for the Women’s World Cup this year will be $15 million, compared with the total for the men’s World Cup last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as much. That also means that the Women’s World Cup payout is less than the reported $24 million to $35 million FIFA spent on its self-aggrandizing fiction film, United Passions.” [Politico]

Yes, and two members of the USWNT were living with Jeff Van Gundy and his family because the salaries paid in the professional leagues make finding accommodations a real problem. [USAT]  The salaries in the US for women players range from a measly $6,000 to $30,000. [STFAnother graph may tell part of the tale:

Air timeAt this juncture we have a Chicken and Egg argument of sorts – do we have to have air time before people get engaged sufficiently to attract more corporate and advertising sponsorship? Or, if we have more corporate and advertising sponsors will the women’s side of the ledger get more public interest? What will crack the egg or chase down the chicken?

“Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sports as dominant, and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society has internalized this falsehood — and let’s face it, it’s a falsehood that’s millennia in the making — it’s not so easy to correct it. Women have been fighting for decades, centuries, to be seen as equals to men both on the playing field and off of it.” [BusInsider]

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.  EA Sports will include women’s soccer in its products, Fox Sports did a good job of broadcasting this latest World Cup tournament and was rewarded with high ratings for the final game, and advertisers dipped their toes in the water – even Clorox got into the act. Nike sold jerseys, and no doubt other firms will find ways to capitalize on the market.  However, it may not be all sexism and short attention span theater issues, there’s also the problem of longevity.

As long as investors in women’s sports leagues continue to demand immediate returns there will be problems – just as there are with short-termism in other markets such as our financial ones.  Even a league as formidable as the NBA has had its problems – remember the original Denver Nuggets? Few do. Or, the end of the ABA in 1976? Or, the much traveled Hawks from Moline, to Milwaukee, to St. Louis to Atlanta?  Or, the struggles and travels of the Philadelphia Warriors and the Syracuse Nationals?  Obviously,  some patience is required.

Now What?

While it would be nice to have some powerful voice like that of Venus Williams championing more compensation for female athletes, we probably can’t afford to wait for that day.  Instead, if we truly want to see continued top level, world class, performances by our players and teams we need to:

  • Invest in after school activities for young people, and not just those in the affluent suburbs, with attention to such quotidian problems as transportation for the children so they can participate safely.
  • Encourage the development of youth programs, both academic and athletic for urban and rural youngsters, and be willing to staff and maintain these efforts.
  • Encourage and invest in programs for youngsters from ethnic minority groups – leave No Child’s Behind Left on the Couch.  To accomplish this we’ll need to invest in creating safe public spaces for kids to play on safe grounds with adequate and up to date equipment.
  • Get over the idea that a game between East Deer Breath State’s men’s team and the Wolverines of Western Boonie U. will automatically be more interesting than a match between the University of Connecticut and the University of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball teams.  Or, South Carolina? Or, Tennessee? Or, Stanford? Or, UCLA? Or LSU?
  • See some heavy-duty marketing campaigns establishing a positive brand for women’s teams in local and regional areas.
  • Develop some patience – no league (or any other enterprise) will yield immediate returns.

Finally, it will be a fine day when we stop perceiving children as an “expense,” and start visualizing them as “investments.” Every after school activity, every sports team, every youth league, every school extracurricular activity, every neighborhood playground, every city park, every local library is an investment in healthier more productive future citizens.  Yes, kids are expensive – but they’re well worth it.  We have proof of that in the eloquent words of one Venus Williams on June 26, 2006:

“I believe that athletes — especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women — should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message: 128 men and 128 women compete in the singles main draw at Wimbledon; the All England Club is saying that the accomplishments of the 128 women are worth less than those of the 128 men. It diminishes the stature and credibility of such a great event in the eyes of all women.” [Williams]

We can add some stature and credibility to our interest in athletics by adding a few more blows to that glass ceiling, and allowing more youngsters to dream of playing at Wimbledon, at Maples Pavilion, at BC Place, or Madison Square Garden….

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Filed under basketball, football, media, sexism, Title IX, Women's Issues, youth

Department of No Surprises: From Charleston to Murrieta to Washington, D.C.

 

Murrieta protest 2

In July, 2014 protesters gathered to block DHS busses carrying Central American women and children in Murrieta, CA.  It was ugly, and unnecessary, and gave the town a dismal national reputation. [HuffPo]  Murrieta is in the 42nd Congressional District, with a 46.6% white population, 36.2% Hispanic,  5.1% African American, and 8.8% Asian American. The district has been consistently Republican since 2003.  So, why review this information today?  Because the Representative from this California district, Ken Calvert, has raised the bloody flag in the halls of Congress.

“The amendment to the House’s Interior and Environment spending bill would allow for the display of Confederate flags at national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service (NPS) even though members voted to ban the practice earlier this week. It would counteract another amendment to the same bill blocking the service from selling Confederate flag memorabilia in gift shops in the future. 

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) offered the amendment in the closing minutes of floor debate on the spending bill Wednesday night. He made only a token statement in support of the amendment before setting up a roll call vote on it for Thursday.” [The Hill

Even though Representative Calvert’s amendment hit the floor during the waning hours of the Congressional day, it drew fire overnight when House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) commented:

Hoyer called the amendment, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) Wednesday night on a spending bill, “appalling.” He challenged House Republicans to vote against it and preserve amendments banning Confederate flag sales at national parks and displays at national cemeteries.

“That racist, divisive flag of slavery, segregation, and secession is not an appropriate symbol to sell or fly in our national parks and cemeteries run by the National Park Service,” Hoyer said in a statement early Thursday. [The Hill]

Representative Hoyer wasn’t the only member of Congress appalled by the  Calvert amendment.  Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum retorted: “After the murder of nine black parishioners, I never thought that the U.S. House of Representatives would join those who would want to see this flag flown by passing an amendment to ensure” the continued flying of the Confederate flag, McCollum said.” [Roll Call]

Thus evaporated any remaining Democratic support for an otherwise unlikeable Department of Interior appropriations bill.  Representative McCollum wasn’t alone; several other Democratic party Representatives took to the floor to lambaste the idea of voting on the Calvert amendment today, July 9, 2015. [The Hill]

Representative Calvert offered an explanation for his amendment, saying he had been asked by Representatives from southern states to introduce it, and there were Republican members of the House who would not support the Interior Department’s appropriation bill be cause of earlier language banning the CSA battle flag in grounds under DoI administration. [The Hill]

And now we come to the totally predictable part of the story – encapsulated by the remarks of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH):

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters the spending bill had been pulled to avoid the issue from becoming a “political football.” “That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution,” he said.” [The Hill]

This, from the Speaker who said only days ago in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston Church massacre, that Congress would be “the adults in the room.”

So, we have yet another major piece of legislation sitting “in abeyance” while the House Republicans engage in their internecine battles over whether or not to allow the pennon of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and racism to flap on federal grounds.  Additionally, it truly is remarkable that yet again House Republicans have slipped their own poison pill into what was one of their own bills.

This seems less like gridlock between two adversarial parties, and more like what happens when a single party with a majority in Congress cannot control its own caucus.  The Democrats should be perfectly pleased that an appropriations bill which stripped the EPA of essential authority to regulate clean air and clean water is “in abeyance.”  Republicans who wanted to dismantle the EPA’s authority to control pollution may be wondering how and why a California Representative could so easily thwart their plans with a truly insensitive and racially charged amendment on behalf of his southern brethren.

We may have to look no further than the angry faces of the anti-immigrant protesters in his district – Welcome Back to Murrieta?

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Filed under anti-immigration, Appropriations, conservatism, ecology, House of Representatives, Immigration, Interior Department, pollution, racism, Republicans

Vacation Again

DB is working on taking enough vacation days to rival the total of our 15% approval rate Congress. However, my limited capacity to endure boredom and GOP ridiculousness will cause more posting soon!  While DB gets the house, pets, and projects sorted please visit places like Let’s Talk Nevada, and other grand sites in the sidebar.  See you soon! :-)

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Filed under Politics

Something to Celebrate July 4th: Young People, Old People, and the CNN Poll

Fail News Channel

In perhaps haste to show “relevant” news concerning the battle flag issue, CNN concentrated on a poll question about whether the CSA battle flag was a symbol of pride or a symbol of racism.

“The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education.” [CNN]

And just as certainly, the views were divided along ethnic/racial lines:

“Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.” [CNN]

Thank you CNN for once again concentrating on the perfectly obvious and missing the much more interesting.

For example the poll also presented results by age.  A point not emphasized in the coverage, and those results were interesting in themselves.  One of the questions asked was if the crime in Charleston should be considered terrorism. The results by age:

CNN poll terror q 47% of individuals 18-34 saw the act as one of terrorism, compared to only 37% in the 35-49 cohort, 39% in the 50-64 group, and 37% of those over 65 years of age.   Since the CNN results and reportage invite speculation, let’s engage in some.

Most children by age four are aware of major national events, if not entirely capable of explaining them.  By seven the gears are clicking such that the young person can at least form an emotional reaction to the events, situations, and ideas being presented to them; ideas which are more fully informed when they reach eleven years of age.  In simpler terms, what happens before a person is about 10 is history and what happens afterwards is current events – none of us willing to perceive ourselves as museum relics.

Thus a person who is 34 years old now was 12 years old when the first attack was made on the World Trade Center in New York City (1993) and saw “terrorism” on the television set.  A 34 year old person was 14 years old when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, 1995.   For an individual born in 1985, that domestic terrorism bombing happened just as they were capable of a better understanding of the event.  That person is 30 years old this year.

Perhaps terrorism has a broader definition for those who are old enough to remember the Khobar Towers (1996), the African embassy bombings in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole (2000), the WTC/Pentagon Attack (2001), the Madrid train bombing (2004), and the attack on the London underground rail system (2005).  We might contend with some rationality that for those under 34, if an attack of any sort includes multiple victims, in significant places, for particular ideological reasons then it’s terrorism.  That the Charleston attack is not perceived as “terrorism” by more than half the respondents may be a function of the media’s tendency to attach “Muslim” to any and all assaults, hence it’s not terrorism if it isn’t associated with the followers of Islam.

The hate crime question seemed a bit less divided.  CNN asked if the attack on the Charleston church was a hate crime:

CNN poll terror 2 Every age group overwhelmingly categorized the act as a hate crime. What’s intriguing in this question is the 5% difference between the younger group, who were more likely to classify the act as terrorism, and the over 65 group 90% of whom categorized it as a hate crime.

A person now 65 years of age (born 1950), one now 70 (born 1945) will more likely have a frame of reference tilted toward classification of attacks as hate crimes because they witnessed these during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  A person born in 1945 would have been aware of the murder of Emmett Till (1955), Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, and the iconic image of the carnage, the Birmingham Church Bombing took place in September 1963.  A person now 65 was 13 years old when that happened, and one 70 was 18 at the time.  The bombing of the Church and the murders of Civil Rights Movement advocates are within the ‘current events’ time line of those over 65.  Little wonder they would slot the Charleston Church attack into the hate crime category.

It would be interesting to see the results of an academic study that tests how individuals categorize insidious attacks perpetrated for ideological reasons, and if the nature of the reporting and publicity given to the event at the time informs their classifications as they age.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, media, racism

Happy Fourth of July: A More Perfect Union

Flag July 4th

It’s a good 4th of July weekend.  The benefits of citizenship have been affirmed for members of the LGBT community, but as the founders told us we’re on a path to create “a more perfect union.”  Therefore, there’s more work to be done to insure that housing, employment, and other areas of American life aren’t stumbling blocks of discrimination. We will have to keep up efforts toward building that “more perfect” union.

Ravenal Bridge

There may be some dead-enders, some battle flag flying remnants of blatant racism, but no matter how hard the Klan and their allies try, their proposed demonstration will be nothing compared to the thousands who walked along the Ravenal Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina.  We’re closer to being a nation of people who are taking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message to heart:

“When evil men plot, good men must plan.  When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind.  When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. “

At least two churches in the south have been the target of recent arson attacks, so in order to form that more perfect union it’s time for people of good will to build and bind.   It’s been a long walk from the bridge in Selma to the bridge in Charleston, but we’re getting there.  We still have to acknowledge the often painful accuracy of Winston Churchill’s backhanded compliment, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”  

In a more perfect union, we’d not have maps showing that a person earning minimum wages cannot achieve a point at which only 30% of his income can pay for a one bedroom apartment.

Rent map

The darker the blue the worse the problem.  We’ll have a more perfect union when we address the complications of living on inadequate wages.  It does no good to march behind banners proclaiming that hard working Americans should “save for the future,” – when simply meeting basic needs for food, housing, and adequate clothing consume all the family’s income. It takes us no closer to a more perfect union to proclaim, “if the poor would just work harder they’d get ahead,” when elements of our judicial system, parts of our educational system, and the myopia of commerce combine to force workers into multiple jobs at minimal wages.  We are no closer to forming a more perfect union when we reward those who prosper at the expense of those who produce.

Unassisted graph

In a more perfect union this graph would be significantly lower.  How do we care for the least able among us? The learning disabled young man with nerve damage, but not quite enough to meet disability standards?  Unmarried, with no dependent children, unemployed except for odd jobs paying about $10 per hour?  A victim of child abuse, and now a victim of a system in which he doesn’t qualify for benefits because he’s never been able to find employment which sustains them. [Reuters]

We’ll be a more perfect union when we are more aware that the able-bodied are not necessarily able to fully function in our modern economy.  In a more perfect union there is more educational, job, housing, and food support for those who live on the margins of despair.

I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.” Thomas Jefferson to Cornelius Blatchly, October 1822

And yet:

“About seven in 10 (69%) college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt. These borrowers owed an average of $28,400, up two percent compared to $27,850 for public and nonprofit graduates in 2012.   About one-fifth (19%) of the  Class of 2013’s debt was comprised of private loans, which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.”  [TICAS]

In a more perfect union, education advances the “happiness of man,” not merely the bottom line of banking institutions, and certainly not the unrestrained avarice of some for-profit operations who once having the federal funds in hand look to more recruitment without much concern for those already recruited.

And, then – predictably – there’s the Wall Street Casino, which has created SLABS (Student Loan Asset Based Securities).  While certainly not in the mortgage meltdown class, these are problematic because:

“What I find most disturbing about SLABS is that they create a system where an increase in tuition (and the debt-burden on the borrower) equals an increased profit for the investor. When you consider the role that unscrupulous speculators played in the mortgage crisis, one can’t help but wonder if a similar over-valuation of college tuition is taking place for the benefit of SLABS investors. With the cost of attending college increasing nearly 80% between 2003-2013 while wages have decreased, it’s no wonder that so many people are having difficulty paying off their student loans.” [MDA]

This situation is NOT the way to “diffuse light and education.”

There are countless other topics and issues on which we might dwell, assistance for the elderly, transportation, trade, economic security, police and community relations, infrastructure issues, voting rights,  domestic terrorism, domestic violence, gun violence, climate change … the list is  as long as the population rolls, as we try to create that more perfect union of imperfect human beings.

What we need is Churchill’s optimism – that eventually, after avoiding problems, exacerbating problems, tinkering with problems – we’ll do the right thing.

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Filed under banking, civil liberties, education, financial regulation, Global warming, homelessness, income inequality, Minimum Wage, poverty, racism

Cliven Bundy: How Can We Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Bundy Riders

Let’s Talk Nevada covered the adventures of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in Mesquite, NV complete with pictures, and an interesting exchange:

“Cliven Bundy’s son, Ryan, stated there is no place in the U.S. Constitution that allows the federal government to hold land and he asked Paul what he would do to correct that problem. Paul agreed that public land should belong to the states and local governments, but that private ownership is best.”

Tricky Answer: The notion that the federal government may not own land, (pretty well covered by Article IV, section 3, clause 2 if we want to get specific about it, put to one side for the moment) – Notice that Senator Paul really didn’t answer the question.  What Bundy 2.0 wanted was reassurance that his outlandish right wing theory was correct, but what he got was pure corporate libertarian-speak. The candidate didn’t say he would actually do anything about the reversion of public domain lands, to the state, to the locality, or to any other public entity. He merely recited the corporate mantra that private ownership is always best.  If Bundy 2.0 was listening carefully, the response could easily mean that corporate interests would be able to purchase land and then charge users (ranchers) for the use of the property.   If for-profit entities were in charge, does Bundy 2.0 believe they would be under any compulsion to perform  land management activities other than that which would enhance the corporate bottom line?  Re-seeding? Noxious weed control? Grazing management? Would Bundy be able to evade paying for land use under corporate control, as his father has tried to avoid paying grazing fees?  And, if a higher bidder came along – would Bundy be looking for grazing property elsewhere?

But wait, there’s more:  There was more than a question from the audience.  Politico reports:

“The encounter came after Bundy attended an event for the Kentucky senator’s presidential campaign at the Eureka Casino in Mesquite, Nevada. When the larger group dispersed, Bundy said, he was escorted by Paul’s aides to a back room where he and the Republican 2016 contender spoke for approximately 45 minutes. (“There were no scheduled meetings at Senator Paul’s stop in Mesquite. He spoke to many people who came to this public event, none for 45 minutes and none planned,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said.)”

Cliven Bundy seems to have picked up the point about state ownership, “The state already owns the land…”

“The Nevada rancher said that he had expected only to have an opportunity to shake hands with Paul and make small-talk. He was surprised when campaign aides found a private room and allowed Bundy, his wife and son to speak with the candidate for the better part of an hour.

According to Bundy, the two mainly discussed federal land oversight and states’ rights, in addition to education policy — a theme Paul brought up in his speech.

“I don’t think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States,” Bundy said. “I was happy to be able to sort of teach him.” [Politico]

How nice of Mr. Bundy to be so “educational?”  He doesn’t claim ownership, he claims “rights.”  Bundy 1.0 apparently understands that private ownership means private responsibilities – for fire prevention and fighting, grazing management, re-seeding, and maintenance – and he doesn’t want to pay for these.  He’d like the state to do it and let him put his livestock on the ground for free. Because? Freedom. Freedom as in Free loader.

Reprise:  Little wonder the Rand Campaign staff was anxious to tell us that the session between the Bundys and the candidate wasn’t “scheduled.” The candidate has already had to back away from Mr. Bundy once before:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy told supporters shortly after the standoff, according to video footage captured by an onlooker. He recounted a time he drove past public-housing in Las Vegas “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom.” [Politico]

Thus much for any outreach to African American voters? So, are the Bundys “in tune with” the Paul Campaign? [MSNBC]

And even more:  Last June two Las Vegas Police officers were gunned down by anti-government extremists.  Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were assassinated and the motivation was reasonably clear:

“…a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a Nazi swastika the couple placed on one of the police officers they ambushed Sunday at a pizza restaurant. They pinned onto the other officer’s body a note saying something to the effect of “this is the beginning of the revolution,” Second Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill told reporters.” [CNN]

Later reports said the Millers were too much even for the Bundyland bunch, not necessarily because of their views, but because of Jerad Miller’s criminal past.

“Jerad Miller was eager to support Bundy, who was confronted by federal officials after years of refusing to pay grazing fees. On April 9, he wrote on Facebook:

“I will be supporting Clive Bundy and his family from Federal Government slaughter. This is the next Waco! His ranch is under seige right now! The federal gov is stealing his cattle! Arresting his family and beating on them! We must do something. I will be doing something.”

I was out there but they told me and my wife to leave because I am a felon. They don’t seem to understand that they are all felons now for intimidating law enforcement with deadly weapons. So don’t tell you that they need people. We sold everything we had to buy supplies and quit our jobs to be there 24/7. How dare you ask for help and shun us dedicated patriots.” [MJ]

And here comes another Rand Paul connection:

“Jerad Miller’s Facebook “likes” include the NRA, American Patriot Media Network, Support the 2nd Amendment, The Patriot Party, Rand Paul 2016, Ron Paul, the Washington Examiner, Legalize Weed, Draft Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, American Crossroads, and Allen West.” [MJ]

Granted, any campaign gets its share of whackies. However, the Millers were making connections which the Paul campaign isn’t avoiding: Guns + Ultra Libertarianism + Candidates who espouse the connections between guns and ultra-libertarian views.  And, if one Paul campaign in Nevada could create chaos, there were some people imagining what a second one could do to the state’s clout in national elections.  (AB 302, SB 421, 2015)

The Ron Paul Campaign, which made the 2008 Republican state caucus such an interesting debacle for all to watch unfold, could be the prologue to a 2016 version of chaos created by Rand Paul’s version?  Efforts to convert Nevada’s caucuses into primary elections failed in the latest session of the Legislature. [Ralston]

In Nevada it’s hard to find room to wield a fly swatter without slapping at least one Tea Party enthusiast.  However, with that enthusiasm comes some perilous ground:  Association with dead beat rancher and resident racist Cliven Bundy; Association with the circumstances that left two police officers murdered in a Las Vegas pizza parlor; and, Association with one of the most controversial (but entertaining for Democrats) presidential season caucuses the Republicans have ever convened.  However, there are 496 days until the next presidential election so the GOP could find ways to skirt the impact of the Paul campaign in the Silver State.

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