Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kentucky Bridge Collapse - Why Sensible Infrastructure Fixes Collapse in Congress - Esquire

Charles P. Pierce on infrastructure spending.--SS

Kentucky Bridge Collapse - Why Sensible Infrastructure Fixes Collapse in Congress - Esquire:

"Officials in Kentucky now say that the navigation lights should have been sufficient for the ship to notice that it was going under the wrong part of the bridge. But, still, the bridge would have been 80 years old this year. It was scheduled to be replaced anyway, and very preliminary work of a new four-lane bridge over the lake already had begun. You wonder how many patch-and-fill projects there are around the country, how many bridges with balky lighting and obsolete construction. Of all the mysteries of our politics, why this country can't simply fix itself is one of the most enduring. And the mystery is not why sensible proposals die in Congress. They die for the reasons they always die — because, in Congress, sensible proposals end up in the hands of nonsenical people. The mystery is why the American people don't rise up, merely out of raw self-interest, and scream, "Fix the damn bridges. Fix the damn roads. Hell, fix the damn dams." This shouldn't be hard to do. Infrastructure spending creates jobs and it keeps you and your car from falling into a lake. Scoreboard!"

An increasingly unappealing field

Hey, GOP voters! Sit down, shut up, and eat the gruel the party is feeding you.--SS

An increasingly unappealing field:

At this point in the nominating process, it stands to reason that Republican voters would start finding the field of candidates more appealing. The presidential hopefuls have been available for nearly a year; GOP voters have gotten to know them and their agendas pretty well; and the various party constituencies should have settled on a favorite by now.

And yet, as the Pew Research Center found, rank-and-file Republicans are finding themselves less satisfied with their presidential choices, not more. As the Pew report, released yesterday, explained, "In fact, more Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say the GOP field is only fair or poor (52%) than did so in early January (44%)."

Pew Research Center

In other words, this field of candidates isn't just unappealing to the party's own voters; it's increasingly unappealing.

Or as Paul Begala recently put it, "[W]hen I look at the economy, I think Obama can't win, but when I look at the Republicans, I think he can't lose. The economy is starting to get better; the Republicans aren't."

This is usually about the time when some on the right -- see Douthat, Kristol, et al -- begin to argue that there's still an ever-so-small chance that some "white knight" candidate will come rushing in to save the party. In case this isn't already obvious, Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush supporters can forget it: too many filing deadlines have passed, making it "effectively impossible" for a late entrant to have a realistic shot at the nomination.

And what about talk of a brokered/deadlocked Republican convention? That's not going to happen, either.

There are four candidates left -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul -- and one of them will win the 2012 Republican nomination, whether the party's voters like it or not.

Climate change policy: Oil's tipping point has passed

Now why would oil and gas companies lie about their reserves?--SS

Climate change policy: Oil's tipping point has passed:

This is a reprint of a news release written by Sandra Hines and posted on the website of the University of Washington on Jan 26, 2012.

Stop wrangling over global warming and instead reduce fossil-fuel use for the sake of the global economy.

That’s the message from two scientists, one from the University of Washington and one from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who say in the current issue of the journal Nature (Jan. 26) that the economic pain of a flattening oil supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels.

“Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change,” says James W. Murray, UW professor of oceanography, who wrote the Nature commentary with David King, director of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The “tipping point” for oil supply appears to have occurred around 2005, says Murray, who compared world crude oil production with world prices going back to 1998. Before 2005, supply of regular crude oil was elastic and increased in response to price increases. Since then, production appears to have hit a wall at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year.

“As a result, prices swing wildly in response to small changes in demand,” the co-authors wrote. “Others have remarked on this step change in the economies of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy makers.”

Oil Production Graphics

J Murray, U of Washington/D King, U of Oxford/Nature

Source: US Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook 2011

For those who argue that oil reserves have been increasing, that more crude oil will be available in the future, the co-authors wrote: “The true volume of global proved reserves is clouded by secrecy; forecasts by state oil companies are not audited and appear to be exaggerated. More importantly, reserves often take 6 - 10 years to drill and develop before they become part of the supply, by which time older fields have become depleted.” Production at oil fields around the world is declining between 4.5 percent and 6.7 percent per year, they wrote.

“For the economy, it’s production that matters, not how much oil might be in the ground,” Murray says. In the U.S., for example, production as a percentage of total reserves went from 9 percent to 6 percent in the last 30 years.

“We’ve already gotten the easy oil, the oil that can be produced cheaply,” he says. “It used to be we’d drill a well and the oil would flow out, now we have to go through all these complicated and expensive procedures to produce the oil.”

The same is true of alternative sources such as tar sands or “fracking” for shale gas, Murray says, where supplies may be exaggerated and production is expensive. Take the promise of shale gas and oil: A New York Times investigative piece last June reported that “the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.”

Production at shale gas wells can drop 60 to 90 percent in the first year of operation, according to a world expert on shale gas who was one of the sources for the commentary piece. Murray and King built their commentary using data and information from more than 15 international and U.S. government reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, reports from groups such as the National Research Council and Brookings Institution and association findings.

Stagnant oil supplies and volatile prices take a toll on the world economy. Of the 11 recessions in the U.S. since World War II, ten were preceded by a spike in oil prices, the commentary noted.

Photo of James Murray

“Historically, there has been a tight link between oil production and global economic growth,” the co-authors wrote. “If oil production can’t grow, the implication is that the economy can’t grow either.”

Calculations from the International Monetary Fund, for example, say that to achieve a 4 percent growth in the global economy in the next five years, oil production must increase about 3 percent a year.

“Yet to achieve that will require either an heroic increase in oil production, ... increased efficiency of oil use, more energy-efficient growth or rapid substitution of other fuel sources,” according to the commentary.

“Economists and politicians continually debate policies that will lead to a return to economic growth. But because they have failed to recognize that the high price of energy is a central problem, they haven’t identified the necessary solutions: weaning society off fossil fuel.”

The commentary concludes: “This will be a decades-long transformation and we need to start immediately. Emphasizing the short-term economic imperative from oil prices must be enough to push governments into action now.”


Nature Commentary: “Climate policy: Oil's tipping point has passed”, James Murray1 & David King

Nature, Volume 481, Pages: 433–435, 26 January 2012, doi:10.1038/481433a

Monday, January 30, 2012

Romney Can't Quote Bean Bag

Romney is an awful campaigner.--SS

Romney Can't Quote Bean Bag: Dan Amira notes Mitt Romney has spent much of the presidential campaign butchering one of the great political phrases of all time: "Politics ain't bean bag."

"As far as we can tell, Romney has not accurately recited the aphorism a single time during this entire campaign. Nitpicking? Sure. Romney is usually only off by one letter. Still, 'politics ain't bean bag' has been repeated for over 115 years now. It's four words long. It shouldn't be too difficult to master."

It was first uttered by Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne in an 1895 newspaper column. The full quote: “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”


Looks like TNC's final piece on Ron Paul's neo-confederatism, and it is certainly worth reading the whole series.--SS



IV. Morality

One rather unfortunate argument made to me, over the past few weeks, grudgingly acknowledges Ron Paul's willingness to cover up his profligate race-baiting, as well as the foolishness of his claim that rich planters should have been financially compensated for trafficking children. The argument then pivots to note that such issues are ancient history and of little importance when weighed against the great present evil of our time--the drug war.

I confess that I too get that old feeling in my leg when I hear Paul denounce both wars abroad and at home. Moreover, Paul does so with a kind of forthrightness and directness that you don't really see among national politicians. The appeal is strong, invigorating, and should be acknowledged. I am not sure whether it is the shame of our politics, or the shame of our electorate, that such topics seem so off-limits and so off-stage.But the selective abandonment of uncomfortable history is neither a viable option for my tribe, nor is it particularly wise for the greater tribe which\believes our criminal justice system to be a great failure.

It is often said that Americans aren't interested in history, but I think it's more accurate to say that people--in general--aren't interested in history that makes them feel bad. We surely are interested in those points of history from which we are able to extract an easy national glory--our achievement of independence from the British, the battle of Gettysburg, our fight against Hitler, and even the campaign of nonviolence waged by Martin Luther King. For different reasons, each of these episodes can be fitted for digestibility. More importantly that can be easily deployed in service our various national uses. Thus it is not so much that we are against history, as we are in favor of a selective history. The fact is that Martin Luther King is useful to us, in a way that Bayard Rustin is not (yet.)

Likewise, Ron Paul, and his followers are not against deploying history, so much as they are for deploying history in ways which advantages their candidate. When Paul invokes his own history of service to attack our wars abroad, no one says "That's all ancient history." The connection is obvious and advantageous. Paul's own service gives his claims a kind of moral weight, that Newt Gingrich's lack. Moreover, it buttresses Paul's credibility in an effort to sway those who remain undecided. Of course a necessary truth, follows this line of reasoning: As sure as Paul's service in the military lends respectability to the critique of our international wars, his service in the aims of white supremacy detract respectability from the critique of our national wars.

Indeed, one of the quicker ways to delegitimize the critique of the War on Drugs, in the eyes of black people, would be making Ron Paul the prominent face of the movement. That black people even need to be swayed doesn't seem to occur to Paul's supporters who, admittedly, are unoriginal in viewing African-Americans as the slick paint-job on a pre-fab argument. But the fact is that black people are far from united in their feelings about the criminal justice system in general, and drug crimes in particular.

A look at California, and the effort to legalize marijuana, is instructive. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the 25 counties of that state, blacks are arrested at "double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites" for marijuana possession. Blacks make up less than 10 percent of L.A. county's population, but they account for 30 percent of its marijuana arrests.It is unlikely that this arrest rate reflects usage, as government data has consistently found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks.

The effects are considerable:

They go before a judge who tells them they have been charged with a misdemeanor, and that if they plead guilty they will be fined up to $100. The judges routinely recommend defendants waive their right to a trial. Most people, wanting to get released and put this experience behind them, accept this recommendation and plead guilty.

Most people find the money to pay the fine and court costs and give it little thought until they apply for a job, apartment, student loan or school, and are turned down because a criminal background check reveals that they have been convicted of a "drug crime."

Twenty years ago, misdemeanor arrest and conviction records were papers kept in court storerooms and warehouses, often impossible to locate. Ten years ago they were computerized. Now they are instantly searchable on the Internet for $20 to $40 through commercial criminal-record database services. Employers, landlords, credit agencies, licensing boards for nurses and beauticians, schools, and banks now routinely search these databases for background checks on applicants. The stigma of criminal records can create barriers to employment and education for anyone, including whites and middle class people. Criminal drug arrest and conviction records can severely limit the life chances of the poor, the young, and especially young African Americans and Latinos.

And yet, with this backdrop, efforts to decriminalize marijuana have only limited support in the black community. Last year, when activists in California attempted to legalize marijuana through Proposition 19, only 47 percent of the black community supported the measure. I find that unsurprising. Unfortunately, black people have disproportionate contact with crime and criminals. That contact often doesn't breed sympathy, but severity. And as Adam Serwer once noted, it isn't just true of marijuana:

The fact was that crack panic had gripped many black leaders as firmly as everyone else, and the belief that it was some kind of nigh-supernatural demon drug lead the Congressional Black Caucus to support the bill, unaware of the real nature of crack or the harm the law would ultimately do. It was precisely because crack seemed to be so prevalent in black communities that black legislators supported the tougher penalties.

Those of us who are invested in the effort to roll back the drug war, take the support of the black community for granted at our peril. These are my people. And I have always known them to reflect many of the characteristics of any other group of Americans who are disproportionately less wealthy, less educated, more religious, and more Southern. Black America, like the rest of America, will have to be convinced. I would submit that, in that fight, invoking the dude who attacks Lincoln with the Confederate flag as a backdrop, who inveighs against the Civil Rights act, and once ran a white supremacist racket may be something less than a trump card.

I would also submit that it is worth exploring the uncomfortable origins of the greater fight. Our criminal justice system is a moral, and practical, catastrophe. Once again:

The United States has 756 people in jail per 100,000 people. No other country has more than 700, and only two are over 600 Russia (629) and Rwanda (604).

Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males. African-Americans--males and females--make up .6 percent of the entire world's population, but African-American males--alone--make up 8 percent of the entire world's prison population. I know there are people who think some kind of demon culture could create a world where a group that makes up roughly one in 200 citizens of the world, comprises one in 12 of its prisoners. But I kind of doubt it.

Some thought should be given to how we came to tolerate such large numbers of African-American removed from society and remanded to the soothing hands of the state. I don't think it's too much to say that were the rest of country imprisoned at the same rate as black men, our criminal justice policy would look different.

So what are the origins of that discrepant attitude? Are they wholly unconnected with a general animus visited upon blacks, in this country, since the mid-17th century? Are they unconnected to the willingness to protect an older system of torture and coercive violence which blots the origin myth of our country? Does that feeling share any relation to the sense that the violent end of that system was, somehow, a greater tragedy than the system itself?

And what does it mean for a man, in this day and age, to go before his country and claim that a group, even today viewed through the lenses of stock price...

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

...should have always been viewed as such? Nothing says privilege like watching a presidential candidate argue that slaveholders should be compensated, in a world where compensation for slaves, and the descendants of slaves, has never enjoyed a scintilla of respectability.

In the present business, there are those of us who are not so recent to inveighing against the evils of mass incarceration. We spent the 90s watching the prisons bulge with our brothers. Where was Ron Paul? Did he then voice his concerns about the impact of a "racist drug war" in his periodicals? Or was he off cashing in on that old American hatred that give that has always given our drug wars their animating force?

It would be so much easier if the racism in Ron Paul's newsletters. his flirtation with the Confederacy, his opposition to civil rights legislation, his denunciations of Lincoln had no connection to our incarcerated present. But our histories don't exist to make our world easier. We are forced to grapple with them. Morality compels us.

More: You can view the other portions of this series here, here, here and here. I'm pretty sure this is the last one.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

More on Corporations as Slaves

More on Corporations as Slaves: Following my previous post on why for-profit corporations cannot be persons for purposes of the Thirteenth Amendment, Sandy Levinson reminded me of another important fact. Not only can people buy and sell for-profit corporations like slaves, but they can also liquidate them. In the (in)famous 1830 case of State v. Mann, the North Carolina Supreme Court, in an opinion by Judge Ruffin, held that the owner of a slave had complete authority to use violence against a slave, even to take the slave's life. On the other hand, people who were not owners (or in the position of an owner, as Mann was in the case) could be sued for injuring or killing a slave.

In the same way, the owners of a for-profit corporation can liquidate or dissolve the corporation whenever it is convenient (subject always, of course, to various the regulatory requirements of state corporate law). Like slavemasters, they have the power of life or death over their corporations. On the other hand, the owners can sue other people who attempt to injure the corporation, and of course, the owners can take various steps to avoid hostile takeovers.

All of which suggests an interesting perspective on the First Amendment rights of for-profit corporations. Traditionally, slaves in the antebellum South lacked independent rights of their own, although their masters had rights against third parties who harmed them. That is, in most cases, legal protection of slaves was actually the protection of the property rights of their masters. Ordinarily slaves would not have had free speech rights of any kind; indeed, they would have been incompetent to testify in court.

If for-profit corporations have free speech rights, it is not because corporations are persons. It is because it makes sense to give the people that control them (who are not necessarily their owners) the power to use the corporate form to amplify their voices. Conversely, to the extent that it makes sense to limit the speech of for-profit corporations, it is not because constitutional rights of corporations are violated; it is because the rights of the people who control the corporations should not extend so far.

Post Uses News Section to Push Its Editorial Line on Austerity, Again

More from Fox on 15th St.-SS

Post Uses News Section to Push Its Editorial Line on Austerity, Again:

The Washington Post reminded readers why it is known as Fox on 15th Street when it referred to an agreement among European leaders that it said would "limit the perennial budget deficits that are the root of the crisis."

Both parts of this statement are demonstrably false. Of the five countries now facing an imminent debt crisis, only Greece and Portugal had consistent deficit problems prior to the economic collapse in 2008. Italy had a declining ratio of debt to GDP and Spain and Ireland were running budget surpluses.

The root of the crisis was a speculative bubble in the real estate markets in Spain, Ireland and much of the rest of Europe. With few exceptions, the people who profited from this bubble and the people in policy positions who let it go unchecked are still in the same positions as they were before the crisis. Like the Post, many of them are trying to shift blame to profligate government spending.

The Post Gives Another Defense of the One Percent, Mobility

Pravda on the Potomac is at it again.--SS

The Post Gives Another Defense of the One Percent, Mobility:

There is a big market in defending the One Percent these days and the Post is rising to the challenge. It presented a front page Outlook piece by James Q. Wilson that tells readers that inequality is not a really big deal because of the all the mobility in U.S. society. Furthermore, it tries to tell us we would be worse off with less inequality because inequality fell in Greece over the last three decades.

Wilson's main source for his claims about mobility is a study from the St. Louis Fed which in turn relies on data from a study from President Bush's Treasury Department. Wilson tells us that less than half of the people in the top one percent were still there 10 years later. This reflects the findings of the study. However 75 percent of the top one percent were still in the top 5 percent 10 years later and almost 83 percent were in the top ten percent.

Much of the mobility found in this study was likely simply the result of life-cycle effects. Earnings peak between ages 45 and 65. If we assume that people in these age groups are twice as likely to be in the top one percent as people who are younger or older, then we would expect 25 percent of the people in the top one percent to fall to a lower income category over a 10 year period simply because they have aged out of their peak earnings years.

Unlike most other studies of income mobility, the Treasury study did not restrict itself to prime earners (ages 25-55 at the start of the 10-year period). This would lead it to find greater mobility than other studies. Also, since this study is based on tax filing, some of the mobility may reflect the ability of individuals to game the tax system so that they show very low income in either the first or last year.

Wilson's claim about Greece as an example of a country that has not seen an increase in inequality is the sort of argument by anecdote that people make when the data will not support their case. There were other countries, such as France, which have not seen an increase in inequality without obvious negative economic impacts. In fact, the rise in inequality across most European countries has been quite modest over the last three decades.

In addition, the most obvious factor that undermined Greece's economy seems to have been its decision to join the euro. This prevented it from allowing its currency to devalue in order to remain competitive. It is difficult to see how greater inequality would have improved its situation. Furthermore, since one of the country's main problems is a huge amount of tax evasion, data on income inequality is probably not very reliable.

It is also worth noting that this piece exclusively discusses the loser liberalism approach of taxing the income of the top 1 percent to redistribute income to the rest of the population. It does not address an agenda of reversing the policies that lead to the enormous upward redistribution of the last three decades. The Post appears to have a ban of any discussion of this approach.

That Uncertainty Word—I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means

Any time Republicans say regulations are why we're not getting more jobs, they're lying.--SS

In numerous posts, I’ve argued that the evidence doesn’t come close to supporting the conservative talking point that what’s holding back hiring is Obama-driven regulatory uncertainty.

Well, here’s another data nugget: the share of layoffs, job losses, and UI claims that employers report are due to government regulations or interventions. They are tiny—expect in one case in the table, never more than half of one percent. And in the most recent quarter, they were all about zero (technically, the number reported was too small to meet BLS sampling criteria).

Source: BLS, Table 2

My point is not simply to dispense with an erroneous talking point, but to try to stop the key-dangling-look-over-here-not-over-there routine re the major economic problem we still face: inadequate demand.

Moreover, the policy implications of getting the diagnosis wrong are steep. The regulatory diagnosis points toward dismantling stuff like financial and health care reform—particularly nuts, btw, since neither has really been implemented yet. The insufficient demand diagnosis points toward stimulus.

And if we can’t read the right signs, we’re going to stay lost.

Data Note: A layoff is an event involving the filing of 50 or more initial UI claims by an employer during a 5-week period, with at least 50 workers separated from a job for more than 30 days. Separations include job losses from such an event, whether or not the worker claimed UI.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fighting the Bullshit

Must. Fight. Bullshit.--SS

Fighting the Bullshit:

Karl Smith says lefty intellectuals have a problem dealing with bullshit. Case in point: Mark Zandi spending several hundred words this week demonstrating, yet again, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weren't responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown:

Mark, Mark. Clonazepam. It’s a beautiful thing. Let go.

I am betting that maybe five people in the US actually believe Fannie and Freddie caused the housing bubble. Maybe half a dozen more are actively lying about it.

The rest are just Bullshitting. That is, they don’t really care what the truth is one way or the other. This is just a way to gesture in the general direction of the federal government and say Urrhh!!!

Ah, but what's the proper response to bullshit? Karl is almost certainly right that among actual conservative economists, only a few actually believe that Fannie and Freddie played a big role in the financial collapse. But those few true believers have a significant effect on:

  • Other conservative thought leaders, who don't know anything themselves but are happy to parrot congenial talking points.

  • Conservative legislators, who need intellectual justification for their speeches on the House floor.

  • The media, which is willing to continue suggesting that this is a genuine controversy as long as conservative thought leaders and conservative legislators keep pushing it.

  • Millions of rank-and-file conservatives, who listen to Fox News and read the Wall Street Journal editorial page and honestly believe this stuff because they're getting it from people they trust.

Does Mark Zandi know this? Of course he does. He's not an idiot. But what's the proper response? If you ignore the bullshitters, then the anti-GSE narrative gets set in stone whether or not it's bullshit. If you fight it, at least it remains fluid for a while — possibly long enough for things to settle down.

So sure, it's kabuki. All of us who write about politics for a living understand that 90% (at least) of what we do is just shadow boxing. Controversies are invented, then debunked, then invented all over again, and debunked. Sometimes the inventors know perfectly well what they're doing, while other times they've talked themselves into actually believing their own nonsense. In either case, these things are mostly just proxies for the issues that really matter.

But so what? The Reichstag fire was wholly invented too, and look what happened after that. As demeaning as it is, fighting back against bullshit is every bit as important as fighting back against the real stuff.

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Who in Hell is Saul Alinsky?

I never heard this one about Alinsky: "Alinsky once threatened to stage a “fart in” to disrupt the sensibilities of the city’s establishment at a Rochester Philharmonic concert."--SS

Who in Hell is Saul Alinsky?:

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

I’d actually halfway finished a blog on a different subject today, when I was spun in a different direction. Thursday night I had done something I never do and watched the Republican Debate in Florida. It was frighteningly enlightening to say the least, but what stood out for me was Newt commenting that our President was a disciple of Saul Alinsky. I thought then “How many people today know who Saul Alinsky was and what he represented?” On last nights Bill Maher’s show, Bill asked the question “Who was Saul Alinsky?” as part of his New Rules segment. This morning in HuffPost, Frank Mankiewicz addressed a variant of the same question: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-mankiewicz/america-meet-saul-alinsky_b_1238953.html

The idea of following heroes to me has always seemed silly, yet there are people whose lives and work I deeply admire and to some sense try to emulate. My first was Clarence Darrow and it is therefore no coincidence that I am a denizen of this blog. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Darrow . Clarence Darrow’s picture is used above because it is in the public realm, while mysteriously Saul Alinsky’s isn’t. Obviously, Saul Alinsky is another person whose life I admire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Alinsky Alinsky was a radical in his methods, but one who eschewed the doctrinaire self assurance of an ideologue. When asked if he ever considered joining the Communist Party he famously replied”

“Not at any time. I’ve never joined any organization—not even the ones I’ve organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it’s Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as ‘that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you’re right.’ If you don’t have that, if you think you’ve got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide.”

His was a belief that has resonated with me since those radical days in the 60’s, with the Movement, when I was surrounded by and courted by various ideologies, mostly Marxist whose rigidity of thought and party line belief, actually disgusted me. Yet there was Alinsky, the man who literally wrote the book on community organizing, who felt similarly towards ideological rigidity. He was truly an America Patriot, whose guiding idea was to assist downtrodden people to gain power over their lives and give them a chance to decide their fates. Alinsky was a man who achieved great success, if you define success as achieving ones goals. The disdain and demonization again being heaped upon him today comes from the very real threat his methodology has towards the 1% elite and curiously that aim of his was the reinstatement of “The American Dream” of freedom, equality and social justice.

The current conservative obsession with Alinsky comes from the fact that Barack Obama was supposedly an Alinsky disciple because of his community organizing work in Chicago:

“Biographer Sanford Horwitt has claimed that U.S. President Barack Obama was influenced by Alinsky and followed in his footsteps as a Chicago-based community organizer. Horwitt furthermore has asserted that Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was influenced by Alinsky’s teachings.

Adding to their “Alinsky disdain” is that:

Hillary Clinton‘s senior honors thesis on Saul Alinsky, written at Wellesley College, noted that Alinsky’s personal efforts were a large part of his method.”

Thus we see two villains of the extreme Right Wing of the Republican Party, being linked somewhat to Alinsky, makes bringing him back into play as a “bogeyman” fitting. In truth one of the things that swayed me to support Obama in the first place were his ties to Alinsky, via his community organizing work in Chicago. For these extremists, however, the fact that Alinsky died when Obama was ten years old, is irrelevant. The President and Hilary, to their minds, have been polluted by Alinsky’s teachings. Why one would ask are the teachings of someone who was not a Marxist, not specifically anti-capitalist and believed that people should have the freedom to make up their own minds politically, be so damned threatening to the Extreme Right?

My take on the “why” is twofold. The first is that Alinsky believed in “empowerment” of those like Blacks, Stockyard workers and the poor in general. His methods, though non-violent, were disruptive of the status quo. He became so effective in organizing protests that sometimes just the threat of a protest led to negotiation with “the powers that were”. Take a look at this particular tactic and smile:

“After organizing FIGHT (an acronym for Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today) in Rochester, New York, Alinsky once threatened to stage a “fart in” to disrupt the sensibilities of the city’s establishment at a Rochester Philharmonic concert. FIGHT members were to consume large quantities of baked beans after which, according to author Nicholas von Hoffman, “FIGHT’s increasingly gaseous music-loving members would hie themselves to the concert hall where they would sit expelling gaseous vapors with such noisy velocity as to compete with the woodwinds.”[9] Satisfied with the reaction to his threat, Alinsky would later threaten a “piss in” at Chicago O’Hare Airport. Alinsky planned to arrange for large numbers of well dressed African Americans to occupy the urinals and toilets at O’Hare for as long as it took to bring the city to the bargaining table. According to Alinsky, the threat alone was sufficient to produce results.[9]

The elite of his time were infuriated that he had the temerity to disrupt their privileged existence. They insisted that by his not working through the “system” he was destroying our ordered way of life. The fact for instance that Blacks in the South had no system to work through, was irrelevant to those conservative forces reaping the “systems” benefits.

“In Alinsky’s opinion, new voices and new values were being heard in the U.S., and “people began citing John Donne‘s ‘No man is an island,’” he said. He observed that the hardship affecting all classes of the population was causing them to start “banding together to improve their lives,” and discovering how much in common they really had with their fellow man.[4] He stated during an interview a few of the causes for his active organizing in black communities:

“Negroes were being lynched regularly in the South as the first stirrings of black opposition began to be felt, and many of the white civil rights organizers and labor agitators who had started to work with them were tarred and feathered, castrated—or killed. Most Southern Democrat politicians were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had no compunction about boasting of it.”[4]

The second reason Alinsky is anathetimized is because his tactics work so damn well that people actually gain empowerment from them. This works in tandem with the fact that it is non-ideological, so it works to blur divisions between class, race and religion. The American Elite has always made its’ mark by sowing division among the 99%. This is in fact the entire operating structure that has kept the power structure in place. It to me it is little coincidence that the real opposition to MLK outside the South, came at a point when his organizational effort went beyond Black Civil Rights and began to display opposition to poverty and the Viet Nam War. In the South post-bellum, the average White, while still suffering under the economic oppression of the South’s Elite, under a deeply unfair economic system, nevertheless could be comforted in their poverty by the fact that their status was higher than Blacks.

What is too madly ironic to be funny is that we see today the Ultra Conservatives utilizing Alinsky’s techniques to further their ends:

“Adam Brandon, a spokesman for the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks, which is one of several groups involved in organizing Tea Party protests, says the group gives Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to its top leadership members. A shortened guide called Rules for Patriots is distributed to its entire network. In a January 2012 story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, citing the organization’s tactic of sending activists to town-hall meetings, Brandon explained, “his tactics when it comes to grass-roots organizing are incredibly effective.” Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives copies of Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals to Tea Party leaders.[19]

Below you will find a link to an illuminating debate between Alinsky and William F. Buckley. There are only five minutes video to be seen of this hour long “Firing Line” episode, but it is highly instructive. From this link you can also obtain a PDF link to a transcript of the entire debate. In both the Buckley salvos and the Alinsky responses you can see the essece of the men. Buckley, limited in tangible argument turning again and again to his huge vocabulary to throw up the smokescreen that he is actually making telling points. Alinsky, surprisingly (for political debate), honestly exposing himself as a human being, while demolishing Buckley’s false charges that would make Alinsky a threat to American Democracy. http://hoohila.stanford.edu/firingline/programView2.php?programID=99

Looking at the Occupy Wall Street Movement I have no proof, but little doubt, that its organizers have been highly influenced by Saul Alinsky. In my opinion we all need to brush up on the Alinsky methodology today as our only way out of the dawning of an age of Corporatist Fuedalism. Voting can only be used to stave off the potential disasters that await the 99%, if the direction of this country doesn’t change. So in answer to my posed question: “Who in Hell is Saul Alinsky”, he is one of the great minds of the Twentieth Century, when it comes to finding non-violent means of developing a more humane society. I believe that putting his concepts into use by those who truly love this country can finally bring about the changes that will save America from becoming just another Third World Nation under the rule of a monied elite.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

Think Again: "As Ronald Reagan Said... Oh Never Mind"

Republicans never let facts get in the way of good bullshit.--SS

Think Again: "As Ronald Reagan Said... Oh Never Mind":

Conservative media outlets are falling all over themselves looking for the “true” heir to Ronald Reagan. (For a telling example see here.) But one area in which pretty much all conservatives today are completely off base when it comes to Reaganism is capital-gains taxation.

Take David Frum, who has developed a reputation of late as being among the most thoughtful of prominent conservative commentators. He has twice recently made the conservative case for minimal capital-gains taxation here and here. In doing so, he defends a position held by virtually every conservative (and would-be Reaganite) in America.

Thing is, Ronald Reagan actually raised capital-gains taxes.

As The New York Times’s Floyd Norris notes,

For most of the history of income taxes in America, long-term capital gains—defined at different times as investments held for minimum periods of as little as six months and as long as 10 years—have been taxed at substantially lower rates than top ordinary income tax rates. But there was, in fact, only one time that capital gains were taxed at the same rates that were paid by people who earned their money by working. That was during the years 1988 to 1990, as a result of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — a law championed by President Ronald Reagan.

This constituted a 30-percent increase in their tax rate at the time. There were good reasons for this, though one is hard-pressed to argue that Reagan knew what they were at the time. For instance, as Greg Anrig notes (care of a recent column by Paul Krugman):

The tax-favored treatment of capital gains is a notorious source of complexity in the tax code, diverting the energies of highly paid accountants and lawyers into wasteful efforts to shelter the incomes of wealthy clients from taxes. The elaborate tax forms known as Schedule D (“Capital Gains and Losses”) and Form 8949 (“Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets”) provide a superficial glimpse at how the differential tax treatment of capital gains can suck up enormous quantities of time and money for the well-heeled and their tax pros. But much more costly and wasteful than the tedious forms are the strategic energies engaged in manipulating income flowing to the wealthy in ways that minimize tax liabilities.

Anrig cites a study by the Internal Revenue Service that finds “the primary source of capital gains income has shifted from stocks to ‘pass-through’ entities (gains on assets sold by partnerships, S-corporations, and estates and trusts),” a development that significantly benefits money managers who oversee private-equity partnerships. But while these efforts have demanded “an enormous investment of brainpower, administrative work, and other energy that has profited individuals engaged in those activities,” there has been no “discernable payoff to the rest of society. Little of that unproductive work would continue if capital gains were taxed at the same rates as earnings from work.”

One undeniable effect of the low rate for capital gains has been a vast acceleration of the “Hood Robin” legislative process, whereby lobbyists compel Congress to take from the poor and the middle class and give to the rich. “Wall Street loves the preferential capital gains rate. All of America’s 20- or 30 million wealthy small investors love capital gains rates,” economist Marty Sullivan explained to two Washington Post writers. “It’s just a tremendously popular item with political contributors. It’s something that directly impacts every wealthy household in America.”

Far from benefitting most citizens, Jacob Hacker, political science professor at Yale University and co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics, notes that “Capital gains taxes [are] actually pretty foreign to the experience of most voters.” He added, “These are things that are only a concern for those who itemize [their tax returns], which most Americans don’t,” but “members of Congress themselves, particularly senators, are well off and they’re more likely to be sympathetic to the argument for low capital gains.”

And as Forbes editor Robert Lenzner writes, the richest 0.1 percent of Americans earn half of all capital gains:

Income and wealth disparities become even more absurd if we look at the top 0.1 percent of the nation’s earners– rather than the more common 1 percent. The top 0.1 percent—about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million—are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after one year; and these capital gains make up 60 percent of the income made by the Forbes 400.

Now one might argue that all of this could somehow be justified if a lower capital gains rate lifted all boats. After all, many, if not most, Americans are OK with the rich getting richer—as long as the rest of us do too. Perhaps some conservatives will argue that “history shows” this, but they wouldn’t be talking about U.S. history. Again, Greg Anrig writes:

Advocates of the capital gains tax break have claimed for decades that the exclusion benefits the economy and all workers by encouraging higher levels of investment and savings, which in turn promote growth and prosperity. But researchers have never been able to demonstrate that such connections actually exist. Capital gains tax rates have gone up and down over the years with little apparent relation to economic performance, aside from fleeting effects on realization of capital gains when rates change.

Warren Buffett concurs, explaining from personal experience that he has “worked with investors for 60 years and [has] yet to see anyone —not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77—shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off.”

Furthermore, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein notes that a study by Troy Kravitz and Len Burman of the Urban Institute finds that over the previous half century there has been zero “correlation between the top capital gains tax rate and U.S. economic growth —even if you allow for a lag of up to five years.”

Conservatives used to argue for the value of hard work above all. But The New York Times’ Norris reminds us that what we now call “capital gains” and “carried interest” used to be more accurately termed “unearned income.” He adds, “It does seem odd that those who work for their money generally pay higher tax rates than those who simply collect investment income.”

Odd indeed, but no odder, one supposes, than allowing our political system to be, as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz argues, “Of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, [and] for the 1 percent.” After all, as any good conservative, even Ronald Reagan, could have told you: In politics, as in life, you get what you pay for.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a columnist for The Nation, The Forward, and The Daily Beast. His newest book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary.

Stanley Fish Gets It Wrong Big-Time on Inequality

Dean Baker on the market distortions from copyright law.--SS

In a NYT column on inequality and fairness, Stanley Fish told readers:

"Americans don’t mind if income is redistributed as long as it is done by market forces and not the government. Income equality is fine if it is 'naturally' achieved, but if it is socially engineered it can be perceived as class warfare, a plot against the well-to-do."

Three paragraphs later he poses the rhetorical question:

"Is it fair that Internet pirates in China can appropriate without paying for it the intellectual property of Americans who rely for their income on ideas they have copyrighted?"

The problem here is that copyright is social engineering. It is a government policy that redistributes money from the rest of us to the likes of Time-Warner, Disney, and Lady Gaga. The overwhelming majority of revenue raised through the copyright system goes to the entertainment corporations and a very small number of individuals. The vast majority of creative workers make little or nothing through the copyright system.

It is necessary to finance creative work, but copyright is an extremely inefficient tool for this purpose. (Here's one alternative.) It creates an enormous gap between the price and marginal cost of a product. Economists usually get upset when a tariff or other trade barrier raises the gap between price and marginal cost by 10-20 percent. In this case, items that would be free without a copyright monopoly, instead can be quite costly. This implies enormous economic losses.

In addition the enforcement of copyright is extremely expensive, especially in the Internet Age. The difficulties of enforcing this archaic system is the motive behind bills like SOPA, which would have imposed enormous costs on intermediaries to ensure that they were not being used to transfer unauthorized copies of copyrighted material.

It is also striking that Fish makes the reference to copyright specifically in regard to China's respect for U.S. copyrights. This is noteworthy because the demand for China to respect U.S. intellectual property comes to some extent as a trade-off for raising the value of its currency against the dollar.

China clearly will not give the United States everything that may be on its wish list when they negotiate. This means that the more concessions it gets in an area like respecting intellectual property, the less it will get in other areas, like raising the value of the yuan against the dollar. This is directly related to inequality, since a sharp rise in the value of the yuan would lead to many more manufacturing jobs in the United States, which in turn would increase employment opportunities and wage growth for non-college educated workers.

In short, the example that Fish wants to give as a case of fairness -- China should respect U.S. intellectual property claims -- is actually the opposite on closer inspection. It is one of the ways in which government policy is social engineering designed to redistribute income upward.

[Thanks to Keane Bhatt for this one.]

Romney Converted His Father-in-Law After He Died

What kind of sick fucks do this to their dead loved ones? Mormons, that's who.--SS

Romney Converted His Father-in-Law After He Died: Gawker:

"Two readers have sent us confirmation that Edward Davies, Mitt Romney's militantly atheist father-in-law, was indeed posthumously converted to Mormonism by his family, despite the fact that when he was alive he regarded all religions as 'hogwash.'"

Verizon workers are still fighting for middle-class jobs. Help make tax-dodging Verizon take notice.

It's bad enough that Verizon sucked up money from the taxpayers (negative tax rate). But when they try to suck money out of the pockets of their own workers, it makes you wonder if they're a telephone company, or something Mitt Romney 's vulture capital buddies "created."--SS

Verizon workers are still fighting for middle-class jobs. Help make tax-dodging Verizon take notice.:

It's been five months since striking Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members went back to work at Verizon, and they're still waiting and fighting for Verizon to agree to a fair contract that protects middle-class jobs. Instead of bargaining in good faith, though, Verizon has focused on things like sending workers a condescending video calling on them to give in.

Here's a company that paid a negative federal income tax rate from 2008 to 2010, dodged state taxes, raked in enormous state and local subsidies, paid its top executives more than a quarter of a billion dollars over four years, cut jobs and is engaged in a long battle with its union workers over Verizon's demands for things like eliminating their job security and disability benefits, freezing their pensions and downgrading their health insurance.

Verizon has repeatedly made it clear that they agree with the union members that this is a battle over middle-class jobs. Specifically, Verizon thinks middle-class jobs shouldn't be good jobs, that lousy health care and benefits and no job security are good enough for people in the middle class and that working people shouldn't fight for better—job security and good health care should be the province of the 1 percent.

"We need to get their attention," one of the workers in the video above says. "There are 45,000 of us waiting for a fair contract, and they're not listening." Another adds: "We need all of you to be out there and fighting with us. It's not the next guy's job to go out there and he'll cover it."

Help get Verizon's attention. Tell them to stop trying to destroy middle class jobs and stop using corporate tax loopholes and dodges to avoid paying a fair share. Sign the petition.