Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lincoln Would Be Expelled From Today's GOP

Lapham's Quarterly posted an interesting bit of historical rhetoric. Words from Stephen Douglas when he was debating Abraham Lincoln. Reading them today they seem very much like the modern Republican mindset.

I’ve been saying for a while that the modern Republican Party thinks, acts and moves like the old Confederacy. The resemblance is so remarkable it’s surprising that newspapers and commentators haven’t picked up on it. It’s probably just too insulting and awful to say out loud. It’s considered impolite. Liberals are certainly too tolerant to say such things.

Lincoln was a great president, but by modern standards he’d be called a failure. He was so unpopular when elected that half the country seceded. How would CNN play that? For most of his four and a half years in the White House he was in charge of a war that was costing hundreds of thousands of lives and going very badly. The enemy was running rings around his generals. Lincoln’s emergency security measures were draconian and widely hated. And in the middle of this horrible crisis he decided to champion the rights of millions of another race who were not even voters, not even citizens of the nation he was president of at the time. He was laughed at for his powerlessness, his coolness, his laconic nature, his unfashionable intelligence and his patience. Lincoln was widely joked about until the day he was shot. It’s only in retrospect that we realized what a hero he was.

Lincoln had one significant advantage. Most of his enemies had seceded. Obama’s equally determined and intractable enemies are in control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. Today’s virtual Confederacy also has the full and energetic backing of Wall Street’s trillions. Today’s Republican Party is the old Confederacy in a more muscular and aggressive form, minus the gentility and honor, minus the honesty about its deeply racist motives and objectives.

When Lincoln’s armies defeated the Confederacy the nation bound up its wounds and forgave the treason. The South never forgave the North for recognizing the full humanity of the former slaves and the new Confederacy is itching for revenge on this old score. The current president embodies all that they once felt superior to.

What can we call this old order of things? Was it a feudal system of serfs and masters? Somewhat, but worse. The collaboration with Wall Street gives the new Republicans a more fascist character. Mussolini defined fascism as an alliance between corporations and government that is so close you cannot slip a cigarette paper between them. That is the system the modern Republican Party would like to impose.

They’ve already done so in many ways. Will a war be profitable for their client companies? Then we shall have a war. Do their client companies want a large undocumented workforce who can be forced to work at below legal wages for longer than legal hours in illegal conditions and be immune from Social Security obligations? Then they shall have that work force. Do their client companies want to launder their profits overseas to avoid taxes? They shall be allowed to do so. Would their client corporations like to engage in massive market manipulation and fraud and not be imprisoned for it? Not a problem. Would their client billionaires like to be free to manipulate the public and rig elections and control our political system without any restraint? Fine. The Republican Party and its Supreme Jurists will declare that corporations are people and their billions are protected speech and their income is immune from taxation. It is hard to tell whether the race baiting side of the Republican personality is the dominant half or if it’s just the ugly side that comes out when it’s convenient, like the brownshirts who beat up the Jews on the street but didn’t attend the official parties when polite society was invited. The climate today has more than a passing resemblance to the 1930s in Germany. Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South had more than a family resemblance; they were twins.

But, of course, it is impolite to say this. If it offends anyone to make this comparison, then the comparison had better not be made. It would be like repeating and giving credence to the lies said about President Obama. Saying that he is a Kenyan socialist Muslim is simply code for what the Republican half of the country would like to call him, a term which broadcast codes prohibit. Race hatred is a convenient excuse for enabling fascism. It gets the mob to march for you. Ugly emotions and ancient racial loyalties become handy tools during anxious times. But to point out the way they are being deployed would be hurtful to the ones deploying them. We mustn’t be impolite to brutal people because they might decide to be brutal to us, and they are very powerful. What they say and do is law.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Republicans Resort to Pettifogging to Undo ObamaCare

Nobel prize economist Paul Krugman uses his column to ridicule the latest Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately the Republicans are immune to ridicule. (Also shame, reason and irony.)

There is a rumor circulating around Republican circles that the leadership is considering making a successful completion of the drinking game Cardinal Puff a requirement for all citizens applying for healthcare through any of the ACA’s marketplaces.

Several Republican states have already been using Cardinal Puff to screen people applying for the right to vote.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Killer Business Model

Excellent article in the Washington Post about how furniture rental companies gouge three times the value of the furniture from people who can't afford to buy. This is called the Genius of Capitalism.

Faced with a need or a shortage, do you set about filling that need, that shortage, or is your first question how to exploit the shortage to the fullest advantage?

Is human vulnerability something to take advantage of?

Is poverty a profit opportunity for your company, the deeper the poverty the greater the profit?

Is someone else's helplessness part of your business model? When you see helplessness do you feel sympathy or greed?

Is helpfulness a naïve and foolish custom? Is it unbusinesslike to include generosity or humane consideration in your business plan?

Let’s imagine you manufacture flotation devices, lifesavers they’re called. It costs money to make them, so you sell them for a price. Naturally.

But here’s a business model: you provide flotation devices to lifeguards. Call these lifeguards sales agents and pay them a small commission. Then when someone is drowning don’t have your agent throw them a buoy free of charge, let the market set a price. Dicker with the floundering. Or rent the device to the person fighting for his life, loan the use of the buoy at so much per second. They’re really eager to rent, so set that rate as high as you can. Plus interest, compounding every second.

This is what’s known as a killer business model.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Fear Card

Freedom of speech now protects the sacred right to yell fire in a crowded theatre as long as it is for political purposes. We’re that crowded theatre.

This is what Republicans and the Republican news network are doing these last few weeks before the election. Ginning up irrational fears that Islamic extremists and ebola are on the verge of killing thousands of Americans. These fears are irrational. The danger is remote. Of course we only have scientists and national security professionals to trust on that. Why believe experts when there are attractive blondes on Fox telling us ebola is just outside the door and Islamic terrorists hiding under the bed? Pretending these threats are imminent here in America is shrewd politics. Never mind the ethics or the dishonesty problem.

“Be afraid. Vote Republican!"

Fear is persuasive and the FoxNews strategy is making us into a nation of cowards. Working towards that goal would once have been called unpatriotic, unAmerican, but we mustn’t speak ill of a major network, particularly one that is so obviously losing its mind. It would be impolite.

Neither problem is made any easier to handle when Republicans slash CDC budgets and the budgets of other key government agencies.

Isis is emboldened by Republicans’ persistent and dangerous efforts to undermine and handicap the president and our federal government at home and abroad.

Fear is the GOP’s stock in trade. They have an entire network devoted to creating fear and suspicion and hatred and anger in American viewers.

News media are so intimidated by Republicans they are afraid to call a lie a lie or an extremist and extremist lest they appear “partisan.” Genuine science is diminished when our public conversation has to give equal respect to irrational, unscientific garbage. Honesty used to be considered the best measure of fairness. But money now does our talking for us.

Money is now speech, as surely as corporations are now people. Which has the effect of diminishing the freedoms of the rest of us who are not corporations and are strapped for money. Love money? Want money? Help sell the right wing agenda; money will pour in. Money is the ultimate validation in the new Republican value system. If you own for a living, you are holy. But if you work for a living, be prepared to show your papers. Be prepared to prove you’re a legitimate member of society.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Control Fraud and the Sexiness of Bribed Executives

I learned a new term today: Control Fraud. (Thomas Frank writes about it at Salon.) It’s where the top executives in a company ignore warnings because heeding them would limit their huge pay packages. It’s why Bank CEOs ignored the flood of liar’s loans that would collapse the bank because they were making huge bonuses based on the volume of loans, and they would keep those bonuses even if the bank failed.

Control fraud has appeared in other key areas of our economy. I’ve been asking for some time why the insurance industry has been so silent about the huge risks of climate change. Their companies would quickly collapse if and when the claims came in on submerged port facilities, flooded coastal cities, croplands flooded or desertified, and the many other catastrophes that climate scientists have warned about. Another kind of control fraud might explain this.

The thing is, during the Reagan era (which we’re still in) insurance companies stopped thinking of themselves as insurers. Such a gloomy, pessimistic role. Not fun at all. Sexier to be in high finance. So they transformed into financial giants. Now they weren’t in the business of insuring things, they were in the business of investing insurance premiums, and one of the best investments of all in recent decades has been fossil fuel companies. They earned bigger returns from fossil fuels and from investments that benefited from plentiful oil and gas than they did from insurance. Because the high finance guys were making the big returns they outshouted the doleful insurance worriers.

I’m guessing cheap gas was the bribe the giant food companies were taking. Food supplies are the most at risk from climate change. If the climate moves away from your thousands of grain farms or from your elaborate grid of grain depots and rail lines, you are out of business. (Business always matters more than famine.)

But it was only in the past year that Lloyds of London and a few other insurance giants began pushing warnings and insurance rates based on climate science warnings that have been growing louder for the past two decades. General Mills finally made a clear statement warning about climate change.

Why this long delay? Why do huge companies run by intelligent men and women choose to ignore the best information? Why do they ignore science? Because the money they get now is more persuasive than the ruin they might experience later. And it will kill a lot of other people before it hurts them.

In the area of financial collapse the warnings were muted because our financial intelligence is corrupted by this same Control Fraud. Economists are paid by the financial giants. They are flattered by the friendship of the top people taking these Control Fraud bonuses (or should we call them bribes?). University economists and professors are sitting in chairs endowed by the same finance CEOS who sit the top of the corruption. Financial writers are their priesthood, they worship these big shots.

Why doesn’t President Obama’s Justice Department go after these people? He is. But the cases are brought slowly and in parts. Complex cases are more often settled and the settlements are growing larger. The larger the target the harder the prosecution. I hope I am seeing the unfolding of a longer game.

Still, there ought to be long term criminal jeopardy for Control Frauds of this kind. No statute of limitations. If there's no end to college debt collection, there should be no limit to this kind of prosecution and recovery. These cases should also be very class actionable––lots of victims, and those victims have descendants. This legal reach would also need to be global, because these billionaires keep their fortunes overseas. The irony is that trillions of their ill-gotten gains are held in banks on islands that will be underwater when the oceans rise.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

How The Confederacy Hopes to Win the Civil War. Finally.

In this taped speech Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell outlines how it will unfold if they win in November. How he will shut down the government, something Obama has been able to prevent them from doing thus far. EPA, gone. Affordable Care Act, gone. SEC? Gone. All regulations of corporations and banks and industries and trade fairness? Gone. Workers' rights? Gone. Consumer protections? Gone. Wind the clock back to 1860, to that halcyon period before working people had weekends off and paid vacations and health insurance and retirement, back to a time when children worked six or seven days a week.

Think of it this way…

Lincoln faced a determined, well armed, intractable enemy who wanted to bring down our national government once and for all. The government shaped by the U. S. Constitution. This enemy was called The Confederacy.

Today that Confederacy controls one house of Congress and the Supreme Court.

If they win in November they will control both houses of Congress and the Confederacy will finally have won the Civil War.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How We Think About The Dead

The New York Times described Michael Brown as “no angel.” An unfortunate choice of words on the day of his funeral. Especially if you consider (as Vox does here) the carefully worded descriptions they had published about some well-known mass killers. Timothy McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, the Columbine shooter, and others were described as "just like you and me." Was Michael Brown unlike you and me?

There is a very subtle mechanism we all insert into our judgments, to rationalize what has happened, to explain why it happened, to excuse it, to justify it. In the case of the white murderers it was a “who could have known?” rationalization. In the case of the young black man wrongly killed a week away from freshman year in college it is a reassurance that “Hell, he wasn’t really innocent at all.” A mechanism to help us not feel so bad about it, or at least not guilty ourselves.

Vox's Matthew Yglesias turns this on its head and asks the necessary question: what might happen to any of us in our own youthful brushes with the law if we were the color of Michael Brown?

We have a long and persistent habit of racism in this country. As William Faulkner said “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In his poem Let America Be America Again, Langston Hughes describes how different our inheritance of liberty and freedom and opportunity is depending on our skin color. It resonates especially loudly this month in Ferguson, Missouri.


Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

American newspaper archives are full of photographs from the last century and before of happy laughing crowds of white people gathered around the tortured, burned, disfigured, hung corpses of black men. The atmosphere is that of a town picnic. Who are those people? They are our ancestors. How should they be described in the New York Times? We know how the men they murdered were described.

A bit of history. A lynching in Omaha in 1919. Our ancestors were there and took part. We can't rationalize that away.

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