Saturday, May 28, 2011

We Could Afford To Be More Scandinavian

Some of our parents think very highly of their Scandinavian ancestors and friends. They go there when they can and like to show us their photos afterwards. They admire all things Norwegian/Danish/Swedish, the neatness of the landscape, how well kept everything looks, the good repair of the infrastructure, the modesty and decorum of the people, also of course the blonde hair and the cheekbones. We sometimes hear them wishing America could be more like the old country.

There are a number of ways we could be more like Scandinavia, and it would make us a better society and a fairer one. Raise taxes on the very rich, for instance. Scandinavia is full of rich people who live very very well, who pay very high taxes on the upper end of their incomes and in this way help the less fortunate, less successful, the less healthy, take care of themselves. These rich Scandinavians haven't moved away in droves. They haven't shut their businesses and moved to Mexico or Malaysia or some other low tax/low wage country. Employment is robust (Norwegian friends of ours have noted that a lot of Swedes now work in Norway where there are more jobs than people), national debt is low compared to the U.S., contentedness is high, the sense of economic freedom is equal to ours.

And the Scandinavian economy has functioned just as well as our own, possibly better during this economic crisis. In Scandinavia the basic security of the population hasn't made them too afraid to buy goods and services they need.

Anyway, an excellent analysis can be found at Lane Kenworthy's blog. Worth reading and sharing with your Scandinophile friends and relatives. Kenworthy did his comparisons with Denmark and Sweden. Norway being a very rich oil exporting nation makes the comparison less apt; oil wealth subsidizes a lot more there. We could learn a lot from Scandinavia. How to be a better and fairer, a more efficient society. It's actually wasteful to throw too much money at people who already have too much.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Deficit Hype is Overblown

The deficit talk is hyped though. In recessions deficits are inevitable. And, anyway, deficits are a corporate norm.

When did the Republicans change from the party that created big deficits to the one that makes them an issue? When they dumped them on the next president. Democrats are always left with the messes Republicans create, and are always cleaning them up. Clinton took Reagan and Bush's enormous deficits and turned them into a surplus. The deficit from Bush Jr. though is much bigger and the financial catastrophe he created much worse.

The fact is America's rich are undertaxed at the national level, and it's worse at the state level.

The threat from the Rich Taxpayers' League is that rich taxpayers would move out of the state if the legislature asked them to pay the same rate as regular people. Thing is, this doesn't tend to happen.

I continue to be surprised that a major party can make rich people its only priority and get away with it. Putting rich people above everyone else seems like bad politics; putting rich people's convenience above the lives of the vulnerable is un-American.

If you haven't read it yet, you should read David Cay Johnston's great piece telling what the rich don't want you to know about taxes. This is the kind of reporting that won him his Pulitzer. Getting the rich to pay the same rate the rest of us do would help close the deficit.

Warren Buffett has said he thinks it's wrong that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And he's right.

Where did the deficit come from? Here's a chart from the Center of Budget & Policy Priorities, with information from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office

Do you ever wonder why the deficit is an issue now? It didn't used to be. The raising of funds to pay for the things only government can do has gotten more difficult because the very rich have switched from helping pay for new roads, new schools and the like with their taxes to loaning the government money instead. Instead of contributing they are profiting.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is a Bad Economy Part of the GOP Plan?

There was an excellent editorial the other day in the Mankato Free Press about how Republican budget cuts and no tax increases on the rich is bad policy. I wonder if anyone has said this. I'll say it:

Bad policy is the Republicans' intention. Pain and general collapse is their objective.

They want to drown government in the bathtub; they've said it often enough. It's their goal. They'd like to be rid of democratic government because it inconveniences them. It regulates them. And, who knows, it might wake up and tax them again at the rates it taxes the rest of us.

("Taxes are for little people" Leona Helmsley)

The Republicans also do NOT want the economy to recover before 2012. An economy that only recovers for the rich has its uses. As long as they are sitting on their cash and the middle and working classes are afraid to spend or don't have jobs, and as long as government, the only entity that can spend in a deep recession, is cutting back, the economy will stall. That has been their goal. They are achieving it.

Republicans despise government so much they want it NOT to function. If enough people lose confidence in government they will vote to dismantle it, and the vacuum can be filled by corporations and private operators. Unregulated of course. They do have their eye on the ball.

The GOP and their rich clients have been hoarding cash to ride out another recession that they can blame on Obama. The end result will be an economy more like Mexico's, with a very rich and powerful upper class and a vast, poor, obedient, fearful working class that is grateful to work for whatever is offered. Think of the American population as a huge labor pool for hiring off the back of a truck.

This isn't a far fetched scenario. It's radical, but the modern Republican Party is radical. It can't be called conservative because it is systematically attacking the strong institutions and fair practices that worked well for the best fifty years in American history. The engine of the economy during those best fifty years was a prosperous, confident, secure working and middle class.

I might even go further than radical and describe this new Republican Party as vandals. Greater Minnesota needs to recognize what their cynical strategy will do to rural communities.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who is Happy With This Economy?

Do you ever wonder if the Republicans actually want the economy to fail? There's been a lot of conversation about it. The signs are pretty clear. But the media are too polite to bring that discussion into the open. Here are a few links. Not much pops up in newspapers or television news.!5572444/are-republicans-trying-to-ruin-the-economy

When they are honest Republicans actually say it themselves:

Another economic meltdown would do Republicans a lot of good.

An economy that doesn't recover (except for the very very rich) hurts Obama's chances of re-election.

It would spread the blame for the collapse of 2008 and make the Bush administration look less inept.

Republican clients like having an insecure, underpaid workforce that's grateful to work for less.

Republican clients are doing fine. They were bailed out. Their stocks (which many of them scooped up at the bottom of the market) rebounded. They paid themselves bonuses for this. And the less for us, the more for them. What working people don't earn, the rich get to keep. It's called a Plutonomy.

I love how the Wall Street Journal equates lavish personal spending and heavy lifting. (Some of their spending is lavished on shapers of public opinion.)

A weaker economy makes tax revenues drop. Republican clients want lower revenues because a weaker government can't regulate them.

(Just as an aside, here are some suggestions for the anti-government crowd, to help them avoid hypocrisy. A little list of the things they should do without.)

Thing is, the Republicans want government NOT to work. Democracy is a nuisance. They want to get elected to government... so they can make it NOT work.

They (in the famous words of Grover Norquist) want to drown our form of representative government in the bathtub. Goodbye democracy.

To help kill our government they are happy to run up an enormous debt and not pay for it.

And in the interests of putting fewer, richer people in charge, they'd like it if fewer people voted. They'd like a small elite deciding what a vast uninformed and poorly paid population does.

Are you following this so far?

A government that can't function is less popular with average people. This is the Republican goal. When government doesn't have the funds to function properly it makes people mad, not at the Republicans who made it not work, but at government itself, which has always been reliable. It helps to have a public that doesn't pay attention or is easily misled.

Republicans like it when government doesn't work. They've been saying this for decades. They've finally delivered and this is what we are experiencing every time we hit a pothole, every time class sizes increase, every time our tuition rates go up. Wait till our fire departments can't get to us. Wait till the government can't respond to the next flood or the next wave of violent storms. Wait till the government can't shore up the financial system or starts selling the national parks.

This bad economy can't support a decent, functioning government, and that is exactly what the Republicans want.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bradlee Dean Running and Hiding

My letter yesterday was about Bradlee Dean, written and sent before I knew he'd been invited to open the legislature with a prayer. It was a divisive prayer. I'd actually addressed my letter to the local media, who over the past ten years has managed not to cover this hatemongering talk-radio-jock-pastor-rock-drummer or his close ties to the GOP leadership. His "ministry" is called "You Can Run But You Can't Hide."

Running and hiding. This from Politics in Minnesota describes Dean's and the GOP leaders' avoiding the press conference they set up to address the controversy.

The GOP leadership has managed to erase the event from the public record. Can they do that? They did. It never happened. Stop complaining.

Mayor Rybak has a very good response to this eruption of hate politics.

From MNPublius, a good summary of the cozy bed-time Bradlee Dean has spent with Republican leaders over the years.

It made the national and world news too.

Mother Jones. Their midweek article anticipated this uproar nicely. I posted it to local media, but I think a lot of them were caught by surprise. "Who is this guy?" They ought to have read about him by now, if not in the local media that had carefully avoided noticing him.

Bradlee Dean shows that he can run and can actually hide too, for the time being. But he'll be on the radio this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon.

1280AM, the "Patriot"

...where the talk is mostly about taking down the government, avoiding taxes and misquoting the Founders.

Although I am hearing rumors that his program has been cancelled. Maybe he's been hustled to a secret location.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Hate Radio Jock Opens Minnesota Legislature for Republicans

Just after I'd sent my Pasquino letter this morning I heard that this same hatemonger, Bradlee Dean had been invited by MN Republicans to open the legislature with a prayer. I've heard it. It wasn't the usual non-denominational, non-partisan stuff. It wasn't a hate-filled screed like his radio show, but it was very very partisan. It drew an appropriate but very measured response from the Democrats. It deserves a much louder and angrier response from the public.

This next clip is especially good. And it isn't new. Dean was a chum of Tom Emmer's last fall. Did it get him noticed by journalists?

Why, if Rachel Maddow was reporting Dean's creepiness and GOP friendliness in 2010, is he unreported enough to be invited to open the Minnesota legislature. I realize the Dump Bachmann website is a tad partisan. But Maddow does her reporting well.

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The Strange BFF of Minnesota Republicans

Maybe you think we shouldn't give Bradlee Dean any more attention, but "no-comment" tends to validate his message.

I often listen on weekends when I'm in the car, and my jaw drops. I can't quite describe the spiel. A cross between Jack Van Impe and Father Coughlin, with Ozzy Osbourne and a little bit of gushing twelve year old valley girl thrown in––lots of "hell-O!" and "Wake up Am-merr-ick-A!". There's also the eager sidekick saying amen to everything. Faux evangelism can be riveting.

Here in town we get a couple of hours twice each weekend full of Obama is a Nazi (and/or a Commie), Come-to-Jesus, Gays are stalking our kids, the country is in danger so grab your guns, heed/ignore the Constitution and take back/take down the government. Two full hours of tinfoil hats and bible verses. I've also heard bits of race baiting and Jew hating slipped in, like the accidental disclosure of KKK robes worn under his radio costume. Muslim hating and gay hating are the main agenda. And hatred of our present elected government and the president, lampooned with the familiar racist schtick.

It would be interesting and helpful to get some intelligent analysis of the spiel, the linguistic or rhetorical trickery of it. Why is it so mesmerizing? Why is it attractive? Who does it fool? How can advertisers be comfortable with it? Who is funding this guy? And how has he evaded criticism, not to mention his taxes.

And why the hell is it on radio every weekend? Possibly because it's hypnotically interesting. Like Glenn Beck done by an adolescent boy. But why no local criticism? When filth like this goes out on the air unchallenged a lot of people assume it's because it's valid and true. But it's a familiar flim-flam. An updating of Lonesome Rhodes and Father Coughlin with a heavy metal guitar haircut.

This from a Presbyterian minister, writing in the Pioneer Press ten years ago. Note that there is no mainstream media reporting on this goon.

The alleged Muslim/sharia/homosexual threat:\

The Bradlee Dean spiel linking Obama-Nazis-Muslims-homosexuality-the Holocaust and (in case that isn't interesting enough) saying the execution of gays is a moral act. As Dean himself would say: "Hell-O!"

It doesn't take long with some of these charismatic rockstar "ministers" before you find the actual reason they became a religion. Tax exempt status. Rock and roll doesn't allow you to not pay taxes.

Some youtube video on Dean and his Republican/right wing friendships

Michele Bachmann praying for Bradlee Dean's "ministry" of hate:

If you would rather learn constitutional law from a former drug addict and rock performer than a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, you can enroll in Bradlee Dean's class for $240:

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Republicans Are Not Their Brothers' Keepers

When a respected insurance man supports Obama's Affordable Care Act it's worth listening. The question he leaves us with is this: Why is the national Chamber of Commerce working so hard to screw over small businesses across the country?

Obama's healthcare reform would help small businesses keep their employees healthy at an affordable cost. It would also help the people who they do business with, the people who buy their goods. Their average customer would have fewer financial worries, fewer health worries, and would be a better consumer with more dollars to spend. Why do Republicans oppose something that would boost the Main Street economy?

There's a moral dimension to this too. Society is responsible for its most vulnerable members. It isn't an optional responsibility, but the Republican position gives the richest Minnesotans an opt-out clause. They pay lower tax rates than the rest of us now. Rather than put their taxes back where they were under former Republican governors, the Republicans in the legislator would rather cut the poor and the sick off entirely. An extreme position opposed by most Minnesotans, and rightly so. But they are standing firm on it. Better to lose thousands of poor people than inconvenience the wealthiest members of our society.

I'm reminded of a famous quote: "Let them die then and reduce the surplus population." It was Scrooge who said that, but it might just as well be a modern Republican.

These new Republicans (so different from the old moderate Republicans) manage to put a smile on their faces and dress nicely, so the unsuspecting, inattentive voters don't imagine what their policies really mean. They go to church on Sunday and worship Jesus, but the rest of the week they forget the Sermon on the Mount and their Christian responsibility to the poor.

What's more sacred is their solemn promise to very very rich people to keep their tax rates lower than everybody else's, even yours and mine. How is this good politics? How is it good business? How is it consistent with Minnesota values?

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Debunking the Enemies of Healthcare Reform

Watch and wince.

Rand Paul, a physician, and now a U.S. senator, compares universal healthcare to slavery––enslaving doctors, that is. He says patients who feel entitled to care will have the police break down down his door and haul him away to help them.

It's ludicrous. A lot more seriously ill Americans have their own doors broken down when their homes are repossessed after ruinous medical expenses.

Here's one retired insurance executive you can believe.

You won't find a policy wonk who knows his stuff better than Al Franken. Here he is questioning someone from the conservative Hudson Institute, who said that Obama's healthcare reform law would cause more bankruptcies (a ludicrous notion). Almost a million Americans declare bankruptcy every year because of healthcare costs. How many people go bankrupt in England for this reason? Zero. France? Zero. Germany? Zero. Canada? Zero.

Here's some supporting material that backs him up.

And what about the complaint of rising costs under "Obama-Care"? Whose costs? Under the healthcare reform act money will actually be saved and people will get their care. But the healthcare industry won't be able to dodge costs and lay them off on the you and me. Insurance will go back to doing what it was designed to do, help share burdens and spread risks rather than avoiding them. The facts are here.

Some practical rules for controlling healthcare costs from Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.

The spokesperson for the Republican attack on the reform of last year was Sen. Ron Johnson (R, Wisconsin). His charges are debunked point by point below. Unfortunately, even bad information gains broad acceptance when pushed by Talk Radio, FoxNews and the Wall Street Journal.

The Republican goal is to take health coverage away from the sick and the poor and the unemployed and restore enormous profits to health insurance companies. To take healthcare decisions away from patients and doctors, giving power instead to insurance company accountants. Their ultimate goal is to privatize Medicare by bankrupting that very efficient program. (If you'll notice, the savings they've already extorted from popular programs have mostly been given away to the richest Americans in the form of even more tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts they already got.)

Here are some other reliable sources on the subject. It isn't just the moral issues; basic practicality is on Obama's side too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ronald Reagan and Zombies

I think it was Yogi Berra who said "You see interesting things by looking."

Imagine Ronald Reagan and Zombies.

Nick Coleman had something relevant to say. When doesn't he have something relevant to say? I guess that's why the Strib let him go.

For the deciders of the Republican party it's about making rich people richer and tax-free.

They get there by serving up hatreds and worries to their hysterical, gullible base.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Free Trade Ain't Always Free

I hear a lot about all the good NAFTA has done for us. Problem is the good it's done has been narrowly concentrated in parts of Greenwich, Connecticut and a few other very wealthy enclaves. The rest of us have been harmed, mostly. Is cheaper lettuce worth lost jobs and lower wages?

And, before we feel noble and self-sacrificing regarding our southern neighbors, I think you'll find their economies haven't entirely benefited either. In many cases the Latin American workers are worse off than before, more disrupted, more abused. Efforts to organize labor on both sides of our southern border would lift all economies. Prosperous workers are the engine of a strong economy.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Billions With the Push of a Button

I read an interesting article about the machinery the wizards of Wall Street use to make their money. There is no heavy lifting involved, but a lot of advantages in liquidity and access are leveraged to the limit. These tricks aren't something you and I can benefit from. The other question is, are these systems being used to secure markets or game them? To safeguard stability or exploit instability? I don't need to tell you which impulse I think is dominant.

It augments the argument I've already put to you that there is a Rule of Accumulated Advantage* by which each advantage leverages other advantages, and by which all advantages accrue upward unless balanced by a different power (government) operating for the broader good, the public good.

Playing fields in America have never been so tilted.

*I'd love to collect more informed and expert opinion about this Rule of Accumulated Advantage. I'd be interested in your thoughts. It's something I've been writing and thinking about for some time, but it's difficult to gain expert insight on it. Partly because insight and expertise in these matters are proprietary, even to the extent of academics belonging to sponsoring corporations. Most economists who understand this arcane field belong to the corporations who pay them. But I also have the distinct disadvantage of not being an economist myself. I'm a writer and illustrator of complex ideas.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Think We Don't Need To Worry About Climate Change?

Wrong. We need to worry. The vast majority of scientists and the vast majority of good science confirms what NASA and other bodies have been telling us. Here's a good article from Scientific American. Read it. Share it. Climate change is already hitting us where we live.

And if you heard a local TV weatherman saying an inch or two more of sea level won't harm us, read this. He's wrong. It won't be inches; it'll be feet. That and more and stronger storm systems like those that submerged New Orleans a few years ago and flattened large areas of the American south this month.

Get used to the idea of Miami, London, Baltimore, Copenhagen and other cities under water. Not to mention whole countries. Bangladesh. The Netherlands. With once-a-century floods every year or so and more frequent and more powerful storms like the one that hit the American South two weeks ago, picture whole areas in a state of permanent wreckage. Climate change does more than make the flowers bloom a week earlier, it sometimes makes them bloom later. It unhinges the steady climate that civilizations rely on. Babylon fell because the climate changed. So can we.

Meanwhile Americans flock to exhibits in our national museum (funded by the Koch Brothers) telling us climate change isn't happening.

And if it is happening it's not a bad thing.

And if it's a bad thing, there's nothing we can do about it.

And if there were something we could do about it it's too late now.

And anyway the Koch brothers (who paid for the exhibit) are in no way responsible. And who cares––all the fossil fuel giants are raking in billions more every year. It's especially nice when there are tax breaks on top of the profits.

Maybe the next exhibit at the Koch-Smithsonian will tell us about Jesus's pet dinosaur, or how the sun revolves around the earth.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This Lousy Economy, brought to you by Friedman, Greenspan and Reagan

For those of you standing outside the pay window like hungry people outside a Parisian restaurant, here's Krugman's report card on the geniuses and "visionaries" of the Milton Friedman/Alan Greenspan crowd. He gives them an F. So why are we still doing what they tell us?

Read Krugman.

Do everybody a favor and post this to Facebook. Krugman didn't get a Nobel Prize for nothing. He's the most rational and important voice on economic issues today, and he happens to be right. The problem is the guys who screwed the economy still own the microphones.

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What's Happening In Wisconsin?

I've been following this story in The Nation, but also in Forbes, which isn't exactly a leftist Maoist Commie rag.

If you remember the 80,000 African American voters Kathleen Harris conveniently removed from the Florida voter rolls in 2000, helping deliver the White House to George W. Bush... it's happening again. This time it's Wisconsin. It's all part of the long term Republican plan to cut non Republicans, young people, old people, working people, brown people, new citizens and others out of elections.

They've already figured out how to hide vote tallies on personal laptops for easier manipulation.

And it's in the works in Florida, Ohio, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Louisiana and elsewhere. First they make democratic government not work, then they kill it.

When a highly respected historian and UW professor got wind of their tactics and their aims, they came down on him hard. It's easier to do that if most people are too afraid or distracted to complain about what is happening. So complain. Worry. Send letters. Protest. Educate your friends.

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