Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scrooge Lives

From Forbes, a very good examination of the argument over our serious long-term unemployment problem. (Which, by the way, has been deepened and lengthened because minority Republicans in the Congress don't want the economy to improve. You can see why: a better economy improves Obama's chances of being re-elected. Economic pain is a theoretical abstraction to the Republicans, and a very useful one.)

Republicans say people who are out of work are either lazy or picky or on drugs and need a good kick in the pants. They say the unemployed deserve to be unemployed, which by extension means their children deserve to be hungry and homeless.

Scrooge lives.

Here's another good short analysis of the Republican strategy, from the New Republic.

The Republican Party (which just shut the door on the millions of Americans worst hit by the recession Bush left us with) seems to have re-engineered itself as the party of the selfish, the greedy, "the haves and the have-mores" (the folks Bush jokingly referred to as his base). They've devised a cruel mythology to support their argument and have a large well-funded apparatus to push it. Lots of air time at FoxNews, lots of microphones, lots of radio listeners who swallow it whole.

This kind of thinking, this brutal meanness, isn't new to America, but it's never dominated a major party before. That it's also wedded to the loudest Christian groups is more than ironic, but these people are immune to irony. Super-Christianity was also allied with Franco, Mussolini and Hitler in a time that seems increasingly similar to ours.

Something to think about as we watch A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life. Merry Christmas indeed.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Too Big To Arrest?

From the Atlantic comes a timely discussion of the stupid rule that reads (I'm paraphrasing) "if you steal billions of dollars in a complicated way without getting sweaty it's not a crime". Why do really big thieves always get away with it? Answer? Magic. What a victim doesn't understand can't be a crime. Amounts so big a policeman, a hundred policemen, can't count them can be stolen with impunity.

And from Business Insider, this list of the most egregious severance packages. CEOs who screw up aren't fired exactly. They are given so much money they have to leave their jobs to count it. Ordinary employees are lucky to leave fully clothed.

If a they can hire an 8 year-old cheaper your employer will fire you, but they will let a CEO lose them billions and keep him around. If they don't keep him around they will pay him millions to ease his embarrassment and theirs. Why is it if you protest without a permit you are beaten up, if you steal $100 you end up in prison, but if you steal a billion you are rewarded? There is very little proportionate justice. Very little justice at all. Nobody gets what they deserve especially those con artists who steal billions. It makes you want to punch someone or sue someone or see someone perp walked but the ones you want to see perp walked are immune. You've heard of Too Big to Fail. They're also Too Big to Arrest. So the victims are left to take out their frustrations on each other.

As J. D. Hackensacker III said “That's one of the tragedies of this life: that the men most in need of a beating are always enormous.”

(Those of you who don't know who J. D. Hackensacker III was should get acquainted with the films of Preston Sturges.)

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Rich People Are Not Job Creators Sez Business Week

Taxes on the rich stimulate economies. If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe a non-communist billionaire entrepreneur who's started several successful companies, writing in the certifiably non-socialist magazine Bloomberg Business Week.

Hanauer has this to say: "I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.

"That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be."

Not only is the term Job Creators a lie, it is a lie that kills jobs. It protects and rewards the idleness of capital and impoverishes the average consumers who actually do create jobs in their millions by buying stuff and paying for services. Impoverish the average consumer and you put capital to sleep in the pockets and closets and jewelry drawers of the very rich. By lowering the taxes on the rich, especially the rich heirs who've never worked or created a job in their lives, and you incentivize the idleness of wealth and penalize the hiring and paying of workers.

Henry Blodget does a great job of explaining the dynamics of what Hanauer is talking about on the website Business Insider, another non-anarchistic non-socialist business publication.

Blodget: "For a specific example, Hanauer points out that his family owns 3 cars, not the 3,000 that might be bought if his $9+ million were taken home by a few thousand families.

"If that $9+ million had gone to 9,000 families instead of Hanauer, it would almost certainly have been pumped right back into the economy via consumption (i.e., demand). And, in so doing, it would have created more jobs.

"Hanauer estimates that, if most American families were taking home the same share of the national income that they were taking home 30 years ago, every family would have another $10,000 of disposable income to spend.

"That, Hanauer points out, would have a huge impact on demand — and, thereby job creation."

As I've pointed out before a multi-millionaire CEO who justifies his raises by lowering his employees' pay and benefits doesn't take his five million or hundred million dollar paycheck and buy a thousand refrigerators or a hundred cars as his employees would do. He buys another company and makes it leaner and meaner, or he buys his wife or mistress a $50,000 tennis bracelet. Tax cuts to rich people do not create jobs because lower taxes disincentivizes investment in the factory or the employees. Rewarding up and taxing down kills economies. It rewards rich people pocketing their gains, what I prefer to call hoarding. It certainly ain't job creating.

If you prefer, I first heard Hanauer's story on NPR. Consider this, if taxes are lowered on rich people they have less incentive to give money to public radio.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

The Gingrich World of Aristocrats and Serfs

There's a very cynical calculation that goes through every Republican mind, a dollar calculation. If you're a rich Republican it's how long and hard you can get people to work for how little and how little you can get away with paying in Lincoln's hated income taxes on the earnings your underlings are sweating out for you. If you're a poor Republican you obviously can't do calculations.

John Nichols of The Nation magazine converted Gingrich's calculation about poor children and "overpaid" school janitors to a simple equation using Gingrich's income as a metric. What it boils down to is plain fat ugly rich man's greed and prejudice.

Nichols summation of Gingrich Mathematics is worth posting wherever you post things: "Even in a party where cruelty is now considered a political virtue, there is something unsettling about a man who collected $30,000 each month to offer an hour of historical counsel to Freddie Mac administrators attacking elementary and secondary school janitors who, according to fresh Bureau of Labor Statistics data, earn a mean wage of $13.74 an hour, or $28,570 per year."

So Newt, who earns $30,000 an hour to "advise" bankers and financiers about history thinks school janitors are overpaid. In the old way of things Newt imagines he would have been one of the overseers on a horse watching his peasants till his land, and his peasants' children too, preferably peasants of a different color and owned instead of paid.

In Gingrich's world of aristocrats and serfs with government regulations and taxes happily out of the way, we get back to the world that our Founding Fathers fought the revolution to overturn. The nasty brutish world of European aristocracies and poor people who fled in ships to these savage shores. This country wasn't founded to evade taxes or to "liberate" the rich. Those who think taxes are evil actually think society is evil, or are rich enough to think society is unnecessary. George Washington thought otherwise when he mounted an army to collect taxes from recalcitrant citizens in western Pennsylvania. Education? Jefferson left his presidency off his tombstone but included his founding of the University of Virginia. (He had no grand plans for making poor students work as janitors.)

Thomas Paine had this to say about citizens' obligations to the public good. He took a dim view of the very rich, of people like Gingrich and his clientele:

"All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came."

Lizz Winstead (the creator of the Daily Show, who by the way grew up in my neighborhood) takes a shot at laughing Gingrich out of the race. Which may be unwise. He's such a monster we could do worse than keeping him around.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

6 WalMart heirs worth as much as 30% of all Americans

From Salon comes this news: six wealthy WalMart heirs aren't just "rich" they are worth as much as the bottom 30% of the American population combined.

I will pause to let your head get around that obscene statistic. Six people who don't need to work for a living are worth more than 90 million working class people combined.

Why are rich people a protected species?

What's worse is that poorest 30% of Americans are forced by circumstances to shop at WalMart. Sadly the poor don't see ironies and the rich find them amusing.

A friend just sent me this piece from The Nation, detailing how uncharitable old Mr. Walton was, and how his heirs, while philanthropic, tend to be generous towards PACs and front groups who do what the Walton family wants, to help make the Walton family even richer. Even self-serving "generosity" is tax deductible, so in a sense we are all doing the Waltons' bidding. Concentrated wealth is a positive evil.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Vast Income Inequality Has Its Fans

When each new economics report comes out telling us that the extremely rich have again taken more of the pie and more of the people who do the work are falling into poverty, Wall Street's paid apologists go on TV and lend pithy quotes to columns for the Wall Street Journal.

These apologists are wrong but they manage to hide behind a lot of manipulated data. It isn't unfair to compare their song and dance to one of those three card monte tricksters on street corners, the guys who always win your money. The very rich always win because they use the same kinds of tricks. The money gets manipulated out of working people's pockets into the pockets of the people who win the game. Is it still theft when it's billions of dollars instead of tens and twenties? Let's just say it's complicated enough that it's harder to prosecute. The New Republic's Timothy Noah and Jonathan Chait and economist Brad Delong explain it much better than I do.

MarketWatch: The rich continue to get much richer while everyone else is poorer.

Business Insider: The middle class was losing ground even when the economy was good.

Business Week: the social contract is unraveling in developed countries because of extreme income inequality.

From the Guardian: looking at the data. It isn't pretty, unless you are one of the handful of lucky winners. Imagine a lottery that rewarded winners with money stolen from you...

Think conservatives are pro family? This Guardian writer says "think again".

If you think poverty is all right as long as you have your health, consider that the poorer you are the shorter your lifespan. This BBC report shows this is even true in the UK where access to healthcare isn't restricted to people of means as it is in the US. Is this pro-life? No, it's only pro-life for the wealthy.

The Atlantic has the charts and graphs. Having had personal experience with their rigorous fact checking department I know they are reliable.

Want to see where the big money is? Look here, at the website of the Paris School of Economics.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

They know when you're sleeping and they know when you're awake

Big Brother is already here. He's very tech savvy, very control-minded, very cynical and (no surprise) very right wing. Is there any wonder the 1% knows how to game the financial system?

First, from the Daily Beast: is your IPhone app secretly working for the pro-life movement? It sure appears that way.

Here's a similar story from Alternet about how the Wisconsin Governor's right wing is gaming the internet and social media to shut down the effort to recall him. Are Go-Daddy and Facebook in league with national Republican operatives?

It's all pretty chilling. Media dominance and concentrated money go hand in glove. Look at how cynically the Republican Party uses FoxNews to dominate the political argument, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 50 states. And their viewers are less informed and more misinformed than people who don't follow the news at all. They want Americans dumb, lost and clueless.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Martha Stewart Died For Our Sins

Jon Stewart does a quick explanation of how insiders helped insiders to trillions of taxpayer dollars. The enablers of the collapse helping out the perpetrators of the collapse. To do what? Well, to give themselves enormous bonuses for one thing. It's nice to be a financial insider.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News tells us, Bush's Treasury Secretary was giving a very special group of close personal friends a heads up on what was going down so they could invest their billions appropriately and get extra special rewards. And Congress wasn't even told about all of this. Bush, Paulson, Hedge Funds, the Inner Circle, but not American taxpayers or Congress. Hm...

Will someone explain to me why Martha Stewart went to jail?

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