Tuesday Reads: Two Business Models and Their Effects on Workers, Customers, and Corporate Profits

woman-reading-porch

 

Good Morning!!

I love this painting by American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam. Just looking at it relaxes me. The colors are gorgeous and somehow surprising. I wouldn’t normally expect orange to have a calming effect, but it does for me in this work. It’s interesting that Childe Hassam used the color orange quite a bit in his paintings. The subject of this painting is a startling contrast to what’s happening in the world right now, and that’s why I decided to use it and others by Childe Hassam today as a reminder that there is still beauty in the world despite the ugliness of world events.

I’m going to focus on a local Massachusetts story today, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts on it; but please feel free to discuss any topics you wish in the comment thread. I’m going to be focusing on working people and working conditions, so I’m going to begin with this great piece by Robert Reich at Truthdig, The Disconnect Between Workers’ Pay and Social Worth.

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year….

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

Read the rest at the link. Robert Reich is a treasure, isn’t he? He never gives up.

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Now to the local story, which I see as related. I have posted links recently in morning posts and comments about a work stoppage that has been going on here in Massachusetts and that has implications for retail and other low-wage workers around the country. I posted this article from Esquire last week, but I’m going to link to it again: The Last Stand for the Middle Class is Taking Place in a Parking Lot in Massachusetts, by Chris Farone.

Americans have grown to accept that corporations will invariably take advantage of their low wage workers, and executives have done nothing recently to pretend like this isn’t the case. When asked if his multinational beast would fight a federal hike in employee compensation, Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon told reporters in May, “We are not opposed to a minimum wage increase, unless it’s directed exclusively at us.” Compassionate stuff.

It’s a dangerously low bar set by the nation’s largest retailer — don’t expect your bosses to support an acceptable living wage for workers, let alone bonuses or a 401k, or even respect.

But at one of the most popular grocery store chains in New England–Market Basket–there is a struggle going on that could be turning point similar to the fight by fast food workers for better pay and benefits. Farone writes:

Here’s the most unusual part: Protesting employees are demanding the return of their beloved CEO, ousted by a board focused solely on the bottom line. After store workers were fired for skipping shifts to rally outside Market Basket headquarters last week, their then-chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas, said in a statement, “This is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it.”

Demoulas was ousted by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, who had managed to take over control of the company’s board of directors and whom workers suspect want to take the company in a different (anti-worker) direction. The reason Arthur T. is beloved is that he paid his workers a living wage, provided them with outstanding benefits, all the while attracting customers with quality local produce and low prices–underselling every other grocery chain in New England, including Walmart–all this while making handsome profits.

Market Basket’s formula proves that executives and managers and cashiers can all profit, together. Employees get the benefits of a 15 percent profit sharing plan provided by Market Basket, while the groceries the store sells are less expensive, on average, than Walmart’s. As for the register: Market Basket rang in $4.6 billion in revenue last year, and is the 127th biggest privately owned company in America.

And it proves that none of this matters in the American economy if those at the top aren’t getting more than enough. Executive pay is the only beast America’s brand of the free market is designed to feed in 2014. CEOs made 331 times what an average worker made in 2013, and it’s clear that there will be no exceptions.

The American economy no longer exists to support a thriving middle class, or to help the weakest among us attain a livable wage for an honest day’s work. It is solely in existence to add to the pile of wealth for the unchecked at the top.

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

You can see how the Market Basket formula threatens other corporate bosses. Because it’s successful.

As it turns out, the Market Basket formula does work. In a recent study of Massachusetts grocery store chains, the nonprofit Washington DC-based Center for the Study of Services found “DeMoulas Market Basket’s prices averaged about 22 percent lower than the average prices at the Shaw’s stores [they] checked and 10 to 21 percent lower than the prices at the Stop & Shop stores.” Despite paying starting full-timers $12 an hour and having many career employees on the payroll who make six figures, the survey found that Market Basket had, on average, lower prices than all of their competitors — including Walmart.

Despite such presumably tight profit margins, Market Basket pays its roughly 19,000 workers yearly bonuses that often equal up to several months worth of salary, plus invests the equivalent of 15 percent of every paycheck into a retirement plan. At the same time, the company is impressively profitable. Shareholders have pocketed in excess of $1 billion since 2000, while the business is currently the 127th biggest privately owned American company according to Forbes. In 2013, Market Basket reportedly rang in $4.6 billion in revenue.

Demoulas workers began protesting in store parking lots, store shelves are empty because the workers who deliver goods and stock the shelves aren’t doing so, and loyal customers are refusing to shop at Market Basket until Arthur T. is back in charge. And please note these are non-union workers.

Last week, Arthur T. offered to buy out Arthur S’s share in the company. That offer is still on the table. But over the weekend, the board announced that workers who had been protesting would be fired if they didn’t come to work yesterday. They also announced a job fair to attract replacement workers. The protesting workers announced they would continue to protest. So how did the job fair work out?

From the Boston Globe: Few Show Up for Market Basket Job Fair as Protests Enter Third Week.

Day one of Market Basket’s job fair did not seem to turn out many current employees looking to change positions within the company. Dozens of protesters marched back and forth across the entrance to the company’s Andover facility, continuing the remarkable worker and customer protest into its third week. At one point a shuttle bus brought in fresh protesters, who took a shift on the picket line as grateful protesters handed off signs and pictures to them.

Few vehicles took the left turn into the facility’s parking lot. Those that did were met with leers and jeers from the crowd, which quickly followed police orders whenever a car did come through.

“I don’t think anyone will show up,” said Mike, a North Andover Market basket employee who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution from the company. “Most of us believe this is a scare tactic to get us back to work.”

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

After the failure of the job fair, executives announced that people could apply for Market Basket jobs secretly by e-mail.

AP, via ABC News: Market Basket Workers Plan Huge Rally for Ex-CEO.

Employees who have organized massive protests over the past two weeks say they are expecting up to 15,000 employees, customers and supporters to attend a rally Tuesday outside a Market Basket store in Tewksbury.

The family-owned chain has been in turmoil since June, when a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas fired his cousin, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers who support Arthur T. Demoulas have refused to deliver food to the chain’s 71 stores, leaving store shelves severely depleted and prompting customers to defect to other supermarkets.

Workers are hoping Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family will accept an offer from his cousin to buy the company, which is known for its low prices.

As for the firings that took place yesterday, Mass, NH Attorneys General warn Market Basket.

The Attorneys General in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have sent the Market Basket CEOs a warning saying if anyone is fired they better get the wages they are owed.

“Even though they may have the right to terminate employees we want to make sure the company knows that for payment, wages, for benefits may have accrued over a time period, those are due on the day of termination,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

And there will be lawsuits, Fired Market Basket Supervisors Plan To Sue. So, to sum up, the board of directors of Market Basket seems willing to bring down the company to support one side of a family dispute over contrasting business models–on the one hand, a focus on the bottom line and making profits for the fat cats; on the other, a focus on sharing profits with workers, making customers happy,  and in the process making plenty of money for all concerned. Who will win? I don’t know, but, IMHO, this is an important struggle.

What do you think?

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

More Headlines:

The Guardian: US fast-food workers fight McDonald’s as battle for better wages heads to court.

Bloomberg: Israel Pulls All Troops From Gaza as New Cease-Fire Holds.

New York Times: Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary, by Atef Abu Saif.

AP on a crazy scheme to bring down the Cuban government–why do we keep doing stupid stuff like this? US Sent Latin Youth Undercover in Anti-Cuba Ploy.

New York Times: Behind Toledo’s Water Crisis, a Long-Troubled Lake Erie.

The Guardian: The case of baby Gammy shows surrogacy for the repulsive trade it is, by Suzanne Moore.

The Hill: US won’t turn back flights over Ebola.

Politico: Congress approval hits new low (poll).

The Daily Beast Exclusive: ‘Pro-Troop’ Charity Pays Off Tea Party Cronies Instead.

What else is happening?


Monday Reads

black eyed susansGood Morning!

You probably should start today’s reading with the New York Magazine interview with Hillary Clinton.

There’s a weightlessness about Hillary Clinton these days. She’s in midair, launched from the State Department toward … what? For the first time since 1992, unencumbered by the demands of a national political campaign or public office, she is saddled only with expectations about what she’s going to do next. And she is clearly enjoying it.

“It feels great,” she says, “because I have been on this high wire for twenty years, and I was really yearning to just have more control over my time and my life, spend a lot of that time with my family and my friends, do things that I find relaxing and enjoyable, and return to the work that I had done for most of my life.”

Relaxing, for a Clinton, especially one who, should she decide to run, is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2016, does not seem exactly restful. The day before we speak, she was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia—presented by Jeb Bush, another politician weighted with dynastic expectations and family intrigue, who took the opportunity to jest that both he and Clinton cared deeply about Americans—especially those in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Afterward, Clinton stepped backstage, a red-white-and-blue ribbon around her neck pulled taut by a saucer-size gold medal. “It is really heavy,” she said, with that plain-home midwestern tone she deploys when she wants to not appear the heavy herself. In the room with her were some of her close advisers—Nick Merrill, a communications staffer and acolyte of Hillary’s suffering top aide, Huma Abedin; and Dan Schwerin, the 31-year-old speechwriter who wrote all the words she had spoken moments ago. Local policemen with whom Clinton had posed for photos milled about behind her.

Outside was the usual chorus accompanying a Clinton appearance, befitting her status as the most popular Democrat in America: news helicopters buzzing overhead and protesters amassed across the street who raised signs that read benghazi in bloodred paint and chanted antiwar slogans directly at her as she spoke at the outdoor lectern.

You may also want to check out this blog radio cast of an interview with digby and Susie Madrak on Virtually Speaking Sundays,  You’ll recognize many of the VS panel names too.

Political & social commentators digby and Susie Madrak, offer a counter point to the Sunday morning talk shows. They compare notes from their observations, investigations and considerations of the past week. Culture of Truth satirizes the Sunday Morning talk shows. Sherry Reson moderates.

Chuck Todd - the relationship between gov’t, citizens and media

Grand bargain rising: Defunding Food stamp, Obamacare

Debt Ceiling Trainwreck

Guns as Acts of God

Robert Reich is out giving us a taste of the movie ‘Inequality for All”. 

As the above chart suggests, the U.S. enjoyed a Golden Age from 1945 to roughly 1975 when the economy was growing strongly (as measured pansiesin Gross Domestic Product and stock market prices) while at the same time, inequality fell steadily. Some of this prosperity was sheer luck: the U.S., thanks to being separated by two oceans from the battlegrounds of World War II, had the only industrial capacity in the world that hadn’t been bombed into smoking ruins.

But, Reich points out, inequality fell as productivity rose for several reasons: Workers had strong negotiating power through unions. Globalization had yet to pit U.S. workers against low-cost foreign labor. Higher education (the key to economic advancement) was very affordable. And taxes at the top brackets were high: as much as a 70 percent marginal rate for much of this period.

But starting around 1980, much of this changed. Globalization and anti-union legislation drove down wages. College costs rose much faster than inflation. Marginal income tax rates at the top came down fast. Meanwhile, the taxes that mostly fall on the middle class (such as sales taxes and payroll taxes) went up.

As a result, all but the highest earners saw a decrease in inflation-adjusted take-home pay:

 Here’s the movie trailer:

Robert Reich ‏@RBReich21 Sep
Most Americans now agree that poor aren’t lazy; they work for a living, and are poor because their wages are lousy.

Here’s a recent study showing the impact of growing inequality and our billionaire bail-out mentality on this country.

Growing Inequalities and their Impacts in the United States, by Lane Kenworthy Timothy Smeeding, Country Report for the United States: …

We conclude that living standards in the middle of the distribution were and are falling during the Great Recession . Moreover, with faint prospects of a rapid recovery, the losses of the Great Recession increasingly mount. The forecast is that unemployment will not return to 6.5 percent levels for another three years or longer. While the trend in inequality i n the United States has been ever upward, we believe that i t will be politically and socially difficult for U.S. inequality to continue to grow at the top at the expense of the collapsing middle class, the majority of whom believe , perhaps rightly so, that their children will be worse off economically than they are. If so, we might expect some moderation in the growth of United States inequality in the next decade.

Go read the executive summary. It’s really talks about how wages have been falling steeply while all gains in productivity have gone to capital while showing the actual numbers.

Sounds like Senator Ted Cruz is making a rather bad impression on his Republican colleagues in the beltway.  Look at this headline from Mediate:  “Fox’s Wallace Stunned: GOP Leaders Sent Me Opposition Research on Ted Cruz.  Ouch!

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said Sunday morning that he’d received opposition research from other Republicans about SenatorTed Cruz (R-TX) in advance of Cruz’s appearance this morning, a serious indication of how upset the GOP is with the Senator leading the risky charge to defund ObamaCare.

“This has been one of the strangest weeks I’ve ever had in Washington,” Wallace said. “As soon as we listed Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and questions, not from Democrats but from top Republicans, to hammer Cruz.”

“This was a strategy laid out by Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz without any consultation with their colleagues,” said Karl Rove. “With all due respect to my junior Senator from Texas, I suspect this is the first time that the end game was described to any Republican Senator. They had to tune in to listen to you to find out what Ted’s next step was in the strategy.”

old-antique-victorian-print-B3141890232I’m not sure if you’ve been following the mall take over and shootings in Kenya.  Some of the information coming out of thereis very disturbing including a link to citizens of Canada, the US, and the UK.

Late Sunday, the Kenyan military announced that it had retaken “most” of the Westgate mall — the attackers had been confined to the third floor since their initial assault on Saturday — and freed more hostages, though details could not be confirmed. Helicopters circled the mall building through the night, and occasional explosions and bursts of gunfire were heard above a rainstorm in the area.

“This will end tonight — our forces will prevail,” the police command center said in a Twitter post. “Kenyans are standing firm against aggression, and we will win.”

The Shabab, a militant group mostly based in neighboring Somalia, answered with messages of their own, including warning that “Kenyan forces who’ve just attempted a roof landing must know that they are jeopardizing the lives of all the hostages at #Westgate.”

Later, officials said that at least four members of the security forces had been wounded. But there were no other details about additional casualties on either side.

The attack on the mall deeply distressed Kenya, a nation that has grown in stature as a force against terrorism in East Africa. As the toll mounted — at least 68 were reported dead by late Sunday, with several people still unaccounted for — the potential for even greater loss of life seemed tangible.

So, that’s my suggested reads this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads

snappy storiesGood Morning!

One of the things that really amazes me when I talk to folks on either ends of the political spectrum is that both think that our republic is falling prey to self-dealing politicians and corporations that exist only to take from tax payers.  The themes are somewhat different when it comes to the associated concerns but the overall  vision of a country and great democracy in decline appears shared.  I often wonder why very few of either see the real dangers but focus more on the silly stuff.  We have had some pretty astounding portends of our Huxleyian future.  It seems we have met the enemy and he is indeed us to borrow from that old Pogo cartoon.

I read this astounding take on the collapse of the building in Philadelphia by William Bunch at his blog at The Inquirer. It is called “When Things Fall Apart”.  It’s an apt lede for nearly everything these days from our infrastructure to our national security policy.

To be clear. the collapse here in Philadelphia of the four-story building was no metaphor — it was a senseless, heartbreaking tragedy that was all too real for people who were shopping for bargains in a Salvation Army thrift store one minute and trapped in a mountain of rubble the next. But the building collapse did seem to be the the epitome, at least here in Philadelphia, of a week that had the feel from start to finish of things falling apart, of the old foundations collapsing and no one sure exactly which of the many suspects is to blame — or what, if anything, will replace them.

Much like the Santa Monica shooting, the news locally that some 3,700 Philadelphia school employees are getting pink slips, the first step in transforming the remaining schools from places of learning to oversized child warehouses, floated away into the weekend ether, In the past, such a move would be seen as a mere bargaining ploy, but in 2013 the sense is growing that no one can stop this tragedy, that Philadelphians have become powerless bystanders watching our schools fall down in slow motion — very much like the citizens who called help lines and begged for someone to stop the shoddy demolition at 22nd and Market.

Nationally, the news was dominated by a serious of revelations — initiated, we now know, by a courageous whistleblower named Edward Snowden — that the U.S. government’s scooping up of data about its everyday citizens — who we’re calling on the telephone, now long we talked for, and possibly whom we’re talking to overseas on the Internet via sites like Facebook or Google — is much more extensive than all but the most cynical among us expected, or feared.

Nothing about the deadly demolition of a blighted four-story building at the edge of downtown looked right. That’s what the people who had watched it in the days and weeks before the collapse told me.

In fact, everyone I spoke with said something seemed off – way off.

Everyone, apparently, except the city that issued a demolition permit for a building owned by infamous king of porn and serial slumlord Richard Basciano. The permit was issued to Philadelphia architect Plato Marinakos for Griffin Campbell Construction – led by a demolition boss who in addition to a criminal record, also has a history of violations on other properties he’s worked on.

Despite obvious red flags, the city is claiming everything was on the up and up, the demolition company had proper permits, the workers were certified, blah, blah, blah.

But I wonder how workers can be vetted when permits are issued through a middleman? And I wonder what, if any, oversight the project had? And I wonder if anyone from L&I ever inspected the site?

If anyone was monitoring the site, neighbors and construction workers said they missed some obvious signs of trouble.

Workers weren’t wearing hard hats.

They were trying to tear down the building in the dark with sledgehammers and flashlights.

And union carpenters working nearby said the wall that eventually collapsed wasn’t braced properly.

The demo was so screwed up, they said, they were literally waiting for the building to collapse.

And it did, apparently killing six people and hurting 13 others who had to be rescued from the rubble.

Yup. We see it all coming and then we watch as it keeps happening.  Joan Walsh believes we Americans are a passive lot these days.05-Atelier-Levitt-Him--Skamander-Magazine-cover--1937_900

On Thursday night the National Journal released a poll showing that 85 percent of those surveyed believed it was “likely” that their “communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use,” was “available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access without your consent.” The steady drip, drip, drip of detail about our ever-expanding national security state has led all of us to protect ourselves a little with a kind of tired cynicism about it.

And I think there’s more to the indifference, even by a lot of liberals, to this latest news than just “it’s OK when our guy does it.” Partly, we blame ourselves. Probably every one of us has thought from time to time about how exposed we all are, from our cellphones to email to the Internet “cloud” to all of social media — and then we go about our business using all of it because it’s all so damn awesome. And so, on some level, we feel partly culpable. We always knew, or suspected, all of this was possible — and went on doing it anyway.

We know our cellphone signal lets us be tracked, which sometimes seems creepy, but seems excellent when you can activate “Find My Phone” to locate your iPhone in the cab where you dropped it last night, or find the best Japanese restaurant near your current location on Yelp. We all scream when Facebook changes its privacy settings without notice – but very few of us close our accounts in protest. We are tweeting our outrage from our Sprint smartphones, Googling to find out whether Sen. Obama really flip-flopped and voted to authorize the way the Bush administration was using FISA in 2008 (he did), then G-chatting with our editors about when we’re filing our stories on all of it.

There’s a strong Calvinist impulse in the American psyche: So often, Americans blame themselves for their troubles. If I worked harder, maybe I wouldn’t have lost my job. I should have stayed in school. If I hadn’t gotten so drunk, I wouldn’t have been date-raped. If I wasn’t strutting all over social media like a strumpet, and so tied to my iPhone, addicted to my email, they wouldn’t have so much data on me. We shouldn’t have walked down that dark data alley; it’s not like we weren’t warned.

G6dDtAgain, it’s like people have the sense of something going all wrong but have their focus on the wrong thing.  Walsh talks about the blinders of partisan democrats above.  Republicans have a brand that denies more of reality.  Lloyd Green–at the Daily Beast–calls it a “Modernity Gap”.

… a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.

Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term.

Exhibit No. 2: Erik Erickson, the founder of RedState, mansplained to Fox News’ incredulous Megyn Kelly this week that “when you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.”

Exhibit No. 3: Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s first-term governor, blamed working mothers for American illiteracy.

Exhibit No. 4, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss attributed rape in the armed forces to hormones.”

The real problem, though, is not stray and scatterred comments. Rather it is that such comments speak to the party’s discomfort with modernity.

Notice how much of these examples are aimed at women and have a distinct religious fanaticism about them. I wanted to actually not make this a depressing post, but I find myself ending with more than a bit of a nihilistic headline from Noam Chomsky who asks: “Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?” However, his post looks at places where people are doing something.

In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars.  In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences.  In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand.  The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil.  He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting.  Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer.  Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product.  In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use.  That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer.  You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background.  Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

Perhaps it is time we here in the US took similar action.  Rather than accepting this march to the destruction of our privacy, our identities and our freedoms, we should do what we can where we are.   Here are the things we need to change via Robert Reich.  Most are the result of the Reagan mindset that our government is the problem.  However, his list shows that the red states are getting worse while the blue states are showing signs of moving the other direction.  Is geography destiny in this country once again?

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.
Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.
A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

Just some things to think about.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

It’s really hard for me to focus on much other than the bombing that’s going on between Gaza and Israel at the moment.  The carnage is getting to me.

An Israeli bomb pummeled a home deep into the ground here Sunday afternoon, killing 11 people, including nine in three generations of a single family, in the deadliest single strike since the cross-border conflict between Israel and the militant faction Hamas escalated on Wednesday.

The airstrike, along with several others that killed civilians across this coastal territory and hit two media offices here — one of them used by Western TV networks — further indicated that Israel was striking a wider range of targets.

Gaza health officials reported that the number of people injured here had nearly doubled to 600 by day’s end; the Palestinian death toll climbed to 70, including 20 children. Three Israelis have been killed and at least 79 wounded by continued rocket fire into southern Israel and as far north as Tel Aviv, as Israeli cities were paralyzed by an onslaught of relentless rocket fire out of Gaza for the fifth straight day.

In the Israeli strike on Sunday morning, it took emergency workers and a Caterpillar digger more than an hour to reveal the extent of the devastation under the two-story home of Jamal Dalu, a shop owner. Mr. Dalu was at a neighbor’s when the blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother.

Reporters without Borders have condemned Israeli air strikes on members of the press located in a building in Gaza.  The building houses members of the international press.

At around 2 a.m. today, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles at the Al-Shawa Wa Hassri Tower, a building in the Gaza City neighborhood of Rimal that houses local and international media organizations. Around 15 reporters and photographers wearing vests with the word “TV Press” were on the building’s roof at the time, covering the Israeli air strikes.

Five missiles destroyed the 11th-floor offices used by Al-Quds TV. The station said six journalists were injured, four of them Al-Quds employees – Darwish Bulbul, Khadar Al-Zahar, Muhammad al-Akhras and Hazem al-Da’our. The other two were identified as Hussein Al-Madhoun, a freelance photographer working for the Ma’an news agency, and Ibrahim Labed, a reporter for the Palestinian news agency SAFA. Zahar’s condition was described as critical after one of his legs had to be amputated.

At around 7 a.m., three Al-Aqsa TV employees were seriously injured when two missiles were fired at the Al-Shourouk building, also known as the “journalists’ building.” A spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces said on the @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account that the air strike had targeted a Hamas communication centre.

Among the local and international media whose offices were damaged by Israeli missiles were Sky News Arabia, the German TV station ARD, the Arab TV stations MBC and Abu Dhabi TV, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, Russia Today and the Ma’an news agency.

Information was also one of the victims of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 (read the RWB report). At the time, Reporters Without Borders condemned Israel’s decision to declare the Gaza Strip a “closed military zone” and deny access to journalists working for international media. The IDF also targeted pro-Hamas media during Operation Cast Lead.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu Says Israel Is ‘Prepared for a Significant Expansion’ of Conflict in Gaza.

On Sunday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated that he intended to take on additional targets. “We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organizations and the Israel Defense Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation,” he said, referring to the 75,000 reservists who have been put on call for what many believe is a planned ground invasion. Meanwhile, Israel’s Iron Dome defense system successfully deflected another Hamas rocket aimed at Tel Aviv.

The UN Secretary General is calling for a cease-fire.  Ban Ki Moon is headed for Cairo.  Glenn Greenwald–writing for the UK Guardian–has written that the US cannot pretend it’s being neutral.

Obama continues to defend Israel’s free hand in Gaza, causing commentators like Jeffrey Goldberg  to gloat , not inaccurately: ” Barack Obama  hasn’t turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years” (indeed, there are few more compelling signs of how dumb and misleading US elections are than the fact that the only criticism of Obama on Israel heard over the last year in the two-party debate was the grievance that Obama evinces insufficient fealty – rather than excessive fealty – to the Israeli government). That the Netanyahu government knows that any attempt to condemn Israel at the UN would be instantly blocked by the US is a major factor enabling them to continue however they wish. And, of course, the bombs, planes and tanks they are using are subsidized, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer.

If one wants to defend US support for Israel on the merits – on the ground that this escalating Israeli aggression against  a helpless population  is just and warranted – then one should do so. As I  wrote on Thursday , it’s very difficult to see how those who have cheered for Obama’s foreign policy could do anything but cheer for Israeli militarism, as they are grounded in the same premises.

I agree with Robert Reich who says we should stop obsessing over the Federal Budget Deficit.

The best way to generate jobs and growth is for the government to spend more, not less. And for taxes to stay low – or become even lower – on the middle class.

(Higher taxes on the rich won’t slow the economy because the rich will keep spending anyway. After all, being rich means spending whatever you want to spend. By the same token, higher taxes won’t reduce their incentive to save and invest because they’re already doing as much saving and investing as they want. Remember: they’re taking home a near record share of the nation’s total income and have a record share of total wealth.)

Why don’t our politicians and media get this? Because an entire deficit-cutting political industry has grown up in recent years – starting with Ross Perot’s third party in the 1992 election, extending through Peter Petersen’s Institute and other think-tanks funded by Wall Street and big business, embracing the eat-your-spinach deficit hawk crowd in the Democratic Party, and culminating in the Simpson-Bowles Commission that President Obama created in order to appease the hawks but which only legitimized them further.

Myanmar (Burma) has had some terrible human rights violations in its recent past.  President Obama is visiting the tiny Southeastern Asian nation and will be urging the country’s power brokers to change their ways.

“You gave us hope,” Obama will say in a speech in Myanmar, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House during his visit to Bangkok, Thailand, the first stop on a three-day trip to the region. “And we bore witness to your courage.”

In a daytime stop expected to last only six hours, Obama is set to meet with President Thein Sein in the former capital of Yangon. He’ll also visit opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most popular political figure, at her lakeside home where she spent more than 15 years confined under house arrest.

Obama eased sanctions on Myanmar this year after Thein Sein engaged with his political opponents and eased media restrictions since his party won a 2010 election that ended five decades of direct military rule in the country, formerly known as Burma. The visit also reflects a legacy-building goal for a president about to enter a second term, whose early efforts at engagement and democratization have yielded mixed results.

Obama will visit Nobel Peace Prize Winner Daw Aung Suu Kyi during his visit.

He made a point of not only scheduling a meeting at the government headquarters with President Thein Sein but also a personal pilgrimage to the home of the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, where she was confined under house arrest for most of two decades before her release two years ago. Amid the manicured lawn and well-tended garden outside the elegant two-story lakeside house, the president and the Nobel-winning dissident planned to stand side by side celebrating change that once seemed unimaginable.

While local leaders attribute the changes so far to internal factors and decisions, Mr. Obama was eager to claim a measure of credit. He has played nursemaid to the opening of Myanmar, formerly and still known by many as Burma, by sending the first American ambassador in 22 years, easing sanctions and meeting with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Washington.

Later Monday he was to announce the return of the United States Agency for International Development along with $170 million for projects over the next two years, noting that in his inaugural address he had vowed to reach out to those “willing to unclench your fist.”

“So today, I have come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship,” read the text of prepared remarks to be delivered at the University of Yangon. He promised to “help rebuild an economy” and develop new institutions that can be sustained. “The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished — they must become a shining north star for all this nation’s people.”

So, this was a bit of a headline dump this morning, but I have to admit that my eyes have been fixed on what’s going on in the world right now.  Hopefully, we can all stay up to date on these important headlines.  I’m going to go light some candles and burn some incense and think peace.  Hopefully, if enough of us do that, some of those world leaders will get the message.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

The news has gone to the dogs and the dogs don’t want it!  I’d suggest Ed Gillespie retire.  This has to be the most stupid talking point that I’ve ever heard.  Twitter was abuzz with #retroactive all day yesterday.  How will Romney get away with all these dives, dodges, and distractions?  Show us your taxes Mitt Shady!!!!

Democrats have raised questions about when exactly Romney left Bain. Romney has said he left in 1999 to oversee preparations for the Salt Lake City Olympics, but SEC documents show him listed as Bain’s CEO beyond that time.

Gillespie on Sunday sought to clarify the matter, saying that Romney initially thought he would be leaving Bain on a temporary basis, but the challenges of the Olympics led him to “retire retroactively.”

“There may have been a thought at the time that it could be part time, but it was not part time,” Gillespie said.

“He took a leave of absence and in fact he ended up not going back at all, and retired retroactively to 1999 as a result,” he added. “He left a life he loved to go to Salt Lake City and help a country he loves more, and somehow Chicago… is trying to make it something sinister.”

Even pundit/right wing wanker Bill Kristol thinks Romney is ‘crazy’ not to release the taxes.

Bill Kristol and the Obama campaign agree on something: Mitt Romney should immediately release his tax returns.

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”

The conservative commentator said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee then should give a speech on Thursday calling for a “serious” debate with President Barack Obama on capitalism, allowing the campaign to turn the page and put the focus back on the president’s record.

Andrew Sullivan calls it Romney’s Deeper and Deeper Hole.

So either Ed Gillespie and Romney are lying now, or Romney and his lawyer were lying then. Which is it? They were and are obviously trying to have it every which way to suit whatever purpose at the moment. But legally, CEOs are responsible for their companies, whether they are managing them full time, part time or even retroactively retiring while managing them. Period. The buck stops with the CEO, just as much as it stops with a president. As a Bain partner at the time said today:

“Mitt’s names were on the documents as the chief executive and sole owner of the company,” Ed Conard, who served as a partner at Bain Capital from 1993 to 2007, said in an exclusive interview with Up w/ Chris Hayes. Asked again if Romney was chief executive officer of Bain Capital from 1999 to 2002, Conard said, “Legally, on documents, I suppose, yes.”

Despite Romney’s statements that he left in 1999, Conard’s new remarks suggest that, in fact, Romney’s continued ownership of the firm enabled him to negotiate a better exit deal. “We had to negotiate with Mitt because he was an owner of the firm,” Conard said.

Romney, in other words, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He has been running a campaign against the “Obama economy” insisting that the president own every single month he has been in office in order to condemn his economic management all the more – despite at least a first year in which Obama cannot really be held responsible for the fallout of an economic collapse he inherited. So Romney insists on maximal responsibility for Obama and the economy.

But responsibility for Bain? Think about it.

Okay … sit down and drink plenty of coffee before you read this one.  Dubya is releasing a book on what to do to improve the economy.  For humanity’s sake, hasn’t the man done enough damage??

For the first time since leaving office three and a half years ago, Mr. Bush is advancing a variety of ideas about how to jump-start economic growth by restructuring taxes, expanding trade, encouraging innovation, fixing immigration and overhauling Social Security. He wrote the foreword for the book, a collection of essays from an array of economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, and he proposes a national goal of expanding the economy by 4 percent a year on a sustained basis.

“The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs,” to be unveiled by the former president in Dallas on Tuesday and published by Crown Business, is neither campaign template nor partisan screed. It is a wonky paean to free enterprise.

It is also the next step in a gradual return to the public stage by a president who has largely remained out of the limelight since turning over the White House to President Obama.

Robert Reich continues his roll.  He believes we’ve got the perfect storm and that our democracy is being sold. I love the title of his new book:  “Beyond Outrage”.

It’s a perfect storm:

The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century — courtesy “trickle-down” economics, Reagan and Bush tax cuts, and the demise of organized labor.

Combined with…

Unlimited political contributions — courtesy of Republican-appointed Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy, in one of the dumbest decisions in Supreme Court history, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” along with lower-court rulings that have expanded it.

Combined with…

Complete secrecy about who’s contributing how much to whom — courtesy of a loophole in the tax laws that allows so-called non-profit “social welfare” organizations to accept the unlimited contributions for hard-hitting political ads.

Put them all together and our democracy is being sold down the drain.

Want some alternative Journalism?  Here’s a conversation with Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks on Journeyman TV on the Arab Spring.

Then, you can listen to AlterNetRadio:  The GOP’s Slow-Motion Coup; America’s Workplace Bondage; Did Mitt Bait NAACP?

First up is The Atlantic‘s James Fallows, who tells Joshua Holland that even when they stick to the rules, Republicans pay no heed to the long-standing norms that once made the institutions of our democracy function. The veteran reporter also takes political reporters to task for obscuring this reality by writing generically about Washington’s “dysfunction.”

Then AlterNet’s own Lynn Parramore joins us to discuss her recent piece, “Fifty Shades of Capitalism: Pain and Bondage in the American Workplace.” It’s a provocative discussion.

Finally, did you hear about Mitt Romney going to the NAACP convention this week? It didn’t go well! Imani Gandy, better known as the Angry Black Lady, surveys the wreckage.

Back to  Mitt Shady; here’s some more interesting tidbits from his former partner at Bain.

Yet because he retained technical control of Bain Capital’s management and because his wealth remained heavily tied up with the firm, Mr. Romney’s name or signature appears on dozens of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission between February 1999 and August 2001, when he finalized a retirement deal with the active Bain partners and transferred to them his shares of Bain’s management entity.

“Mitt’s name were on the documents as the chief executive and sole owner of the company,” Edward W. Conard, a Bain partner at the time, said during an appearance on MSNBC on Sunday. “And it took several years for us to sort out how to put the management team in place.”

All told, Mr. Romney’s name appears on at least 142 such forms, some of which have been the subject of news coverage in recent days, fueling questions about whether Mr. Romney ever really left. One such form, posted last week by Talking Points Memo, lists Mr. Romney’s “principal occupation” as “managing director” of Bain Capital Investors VI Inc., a private equity fund.

 Yes.  He can run.  But, he cannot hide.  Show us your taxes Mitt Shady!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Monday Reads: Can we get back to real Economics now?

Good Morning!

It certainly has been a tough few years for reasonable people. We’ve had to endure a repeat of the same old things that didn’t end the Great Depression the first time remixed and put into failed policies in both Europe and the U.S.

The very act of believing something doesn’t make it real or true.  Yet, a group of so-called conservatives have been recently led by blind faith in tropes and canards.  They followed all the failed policies instead of  what we’ve learned that works when dealing with market economies and their cycles over the last 100 years.

It seems voters in a lot of countries are waking up and voting out all those second comings of Herbert Hoover.  Austerity economics hasn’t worked for the majority of us.

Paul Krugman has been outspoken about the wrong thinking that’s contaminated the political class here and Europe.  There appears to be a group of people out there determined to un-write the history of the 1920s and 1930s. His new book tries to outline what we’ve known since the Roosevelt years and why the plans foisted on us by so-called conservatives were bound to fail.  I have no idea why discredited economic thoughts were brought back into vogue by the banking classes, the investment classes, and pushers of bad pulp fiction narratives like Paul Ryan and his slavish Randian/Austrian ideology. Why do modern politicians pick up the economic version of flat-earth geology and then expect the economic equivalent of a successful launch of a rocket to Mars?

The Austerian desire to slash government spending and reduce deficits even in the face of a depressed economy may be wrongheaded; indeed, my view is that it’s deeply destructive. Still, it’s not too hard to understand, since sustained deficits can be a real problem. The urge to raise interest rates is harder to understand. In fact, I was quite shocked when the OECD called for rate hikes in May 2010, and it still seems to me to be a remarkable and strange call.
Why raise rates when the economy is deeply depressed and there seems to be little risk of inflation? The explanations keep shifting.

Back in 2010, when the OECD called for big rate increases, it did an odd thing: it contradicted its own economic forecast. That forecast, based on its models, showed low inflation and high unemployment for years to come. But financial markets, which were more optimistic at the time (they changed their mind later), were implicitly predicting some rise in inflation. The predicted inflation rates were still low by historical standards, but the OECD seized on the rise in predicted inflation to justify a call for tighter money.

By spring 2011, a spike in commodity prices had led to a rise in actual inflation, and the European Central Bank cited that rise as a reason to raise interest rates. That may sound reasonable, except for two things. First, it was quite obvious in the data that this was a temporary event driven by events outside of Europe, that there had been little change in underlying inflation, and that the rise in headline inflation was likely to reverse itself in the near future, as indeed it did. Second, the ECB famously overreacted to a temporary, commodity-driven bump in inflation back in 2008, raising interest rates just as the world economy was plunging into recession. Surely it wouldn’t make exactly the same mistake just a few years later? But it did.

Why did the ECB act with such wrongheaded determination? The answer, I suspect, is that in the world of finance there was a general dislike of low interest rates that had nothing to do with inflation fears; inflation fears were invoked largely to support this preexisting desire to see interest rates rise.

The Europeans have had it with the nonsense.  They’ve watched their economies and jobs be drained by bankers drunk on casino style betting in financial markets that pass their chits to taxpayers.  The first major European leader–Nicholas Sarkozy–has been replaced. Will the French be able to put the out-of-control financial sector back into its proper place?

Mr Hollande – the first Socialist to win the French presidency since Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s – gave his victory speech in his stronghold of Tulle in central France.

He said was “proud to have been capable of giving people hope again”.

He said he would push ahead with his pledge to refocus EU fiscal efforts from austerity to “growth”.

“Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option,” he said.

After his speech in Tulle, Mr Hollande headed to Brive airport on his way to Paris to address supporters at Place de la Bastille. His voice hoarse, he spoke of his pride at taking over the mantle of the presidency 31 years almost to the day since Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand was elected.

“I am the president of the youth of France,” he told the assembled crowd of tens of thousands of supporters, emphasising his “pride at being president of all the republic’s citizens”. “You are a movement that is rising up throughout Europe,” he said.

Mr Hollande has called for a renegotiation of a hard-won European treaty on budget discipline championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Sarkozy.

Robert Reich writes that this is a chance to reform capitalism.  It is highly unlikely that France will move to make public any private assets.  What it will do is turn its economic future to what works for growth for a country and not the enrichment of the wealthy and powerful few.  Financial Markets should not be turned into gambling casinos via government engineering.

During the Depression decade of the 1930s, the nation reorganized itself so that the gains from growth were far more broadly distributed. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 recognized unions’ rights to collectively bargain, and imposed a duty on employers to bargain in good faith. By the 1950s, a third of all workers in the United States were unionized, giving them the power to demand some of the gains from growth. Meanwhile, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation spread a broad safety net. The forty-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for overtime also helped share the work and spread the gains, as did a minimum wage. In 1965, Medicare and Medicaid broadened access to health care. And a progressive income tax, reaching well over 70 percent on the highest incomes, also helped ensure that the gains were spread fairly.

This time, though, the nation has taken no similar steps. Quite the contrary: A resurgent right insists on even more tax breaks for corporations and the rich, massive cuts in public spending that will destroy what’s left of our safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, fewer rights for organized labor, more deregulation of labor markets, and a lower (or no) minimum wage.

This is, quite simply, nuts.

Krugman reminds us that Spain was a prudent and financially responsible government prior to the speculative mortgage bubble brought on by banks.  It did them no good in their current downturn.

For this is really, really not about fiscal irresponsibility. Just as a reminder, on the eve of the crisis Spain seemed to be a fiscal paragon:

What happened to Spain was a housing bubble — fueled, to an important degree, by lending from German banks — that burst, taking the economy down with it. Now the country has 23.6 percent unemployment, 50.5 percent among the young.

And the policy response is supposed to be even more austerity, with the European Central Bank, natch, obsessing over inflation — and officials claiming that the incredibly foolish rate hike last year was actually something to be proud of.

Greece too has voted against the Austerity Agenda.

Alexis Tsipras became the surprise package of the Greek election by telling Angela Merkel to get lost.
“The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism,” Tsipras, 37, said on state-run NET TV late yesterday after his Syriza party unexpectedly came second in the country’s election. “European leaders, and especially Ms. Merkel, should realize that her policies have undergone a crushing defeat.”

Tsipras’s calls to tax the rich, delay debt repayments and cut defense spending struck a chord with voters angry at austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for bailouts. As far as euro membership is concerned, Tsipras told voters that a Greek exit would put the currency itself in jeopardy and they shouldn’t feel “blackmailed” into more austerity.

The result put Syriza ahead of the Socialist Pasok party, potentially derailing efforts to implement the terms of the country’s financial lifeline. Syriza, which means Coalition of the Radical Left, won 16 percent of the vote, projections showed. That exceeded the 13 percent won by Pasok, one of the two pillars of the political establishment since 1974. New Democracy, led by Antonis Samaras, topped the poll with 20 percent.

Rachel Maddow borrows some analysis from Ezra Klein to show how the UK has been tanking its own economy with its austerity agenda and how closely our own problems resemble the UK government induced recession.

Once President Obama took office and the Recovery Act/stimulus began putting capital back into the economy, the U.S. economy began growing again. In the U.K., the economy started to improve, right up until British officials began implementing an austerity agenda — at which point the national economy stagnated and slipped back into a recession.

Obama rejected austerity, and as a result, American growth, while fragile and insufficient, is easily outpacing Europe’s and UK’s, where austerity measures have ruled the day.

Americans should care about this, if for no other reason because of interconnectivity of the modern global economy. But there’s also a purely political perspective to keep in mind: namely, the problem of Republican predictions.

In short, American conservatives got everything backwards. When Obama’s policies began, Republicans said they wouldn’t generate economic growth, but GOP officials got it backwards. When David Cameron’s austerity policies began, Republicans were not only certain they would work, they pleaded with American policymakers to follow the Tories’ lead.

And we now know GOP officials had this backwards, too.

The remarkable thing is, Republicans aren’t the least bit chastened by their track record of failure.

They said Clinton’s economic policies would fail miserably, but that’s not what happened. They said Bush’s economic policies would produce extraordinary prosperity, but that’s not what happened. They said Obama’s economic policies would make the Great Recession worse, but that’s not what happened. They said Cameron’s economic policies in the U.K. would work brilliantly, but that’s not what happened.

And now these same Republicans are saying they deserve Americans’ votes in 2012 because they have credibility on the economy.

Here’s one  last Krugman analysis of what the austerity agenda has done in the U.S.  Private employment has recovered to pre-recession levels. That’s not true for public employment.

Here’s a comparison of changes in government employment (federal, state, and local) during the first four years of three presidents who came to office amid a troubled economy:

That spike early on is Census hiring; once that was past, the Obama years shaped up as an era of huge cuts in public employment compared with previous experience. If public employment had grown the way it did under Bush, we’d have 1.3 million more government workers, and probably an unemployment rate of 7 percent or less.

Here’s evidence that Obama is not growing the public sector as Mittens claims. These numbers represent thousands of teachers, health workers, scientists, highway workers. and public safety officials.

Here’s one last thought from the Economist: “The election will determine whether a nasty dose of austerity can be avoided.”

AMERICANS have watched austerity sweep Europe with a certain Schadenfreude. But eight months from now they may get a dose of the same medicine. The political compromises that have produced much of America’s deficit of 8% of GDP are programmed to go into reverse at the end of the year, two months after the election. A stimulus package consisting of a payroll-tax cut, investment tax credit and enhanced unemployment insurance expires then, as do George W. Bush’s tax cuts (which have already been extended by two years from their original end-date of 2010). At the same time an automatic, across-the-board cut in domestic and defence spending, called a “sequester”, takes effect, cutting about $100 billion from government spending next year.

The economic impact of this fiscal cliff is a matter of some debate. The Congressional Budget Office reckons that the combined effects of the sequester and the expiring tax cuts would add up to 3.6% of GDP in fiscal 2013. But David Greenlaw of Morgan Stanley, which puts the total effect at almost $700 billion at an annual rate, argues that the calendar-year impact is much larger, at around 5%. Others think the effect would be smaller, noting that some people will not experience the full tax hit until they file their returns in 2014.

Even the lower estimates could easily be enough to tip the economy back into recession.

These tax cuts have not been as successful as other forms of fiscal policy might have been.  However, austerity measures taken in many states has been somewhat offset by these Federal Policies.  It will be interesting to see how long the economy will hold out under current conditions if and when these things expire. It’s simply been a mind boggling process to watch so many countries unleash unregulated financial innovations and low interests rates then bail out for the financial sector after its bets went bad.  It’s been even worse to watch the victims of this excess be forced to pay for the results of government supported speculative bubbles.  I’m wondering exactly what the results of these elections will bring to Europe and how our own electorate will act in the fall.

So, I depressed you with a lot of dismal science stuff today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! Let’s see what’s in the news today.

Mitt Romney has been whining about the “liberal media” giving him a hard time, but a new Pew survey has found that the “liberal media” are friendlier to Mitt Romney than President Obama. Adam Serwer at Mother Jones:

The Liberal Media has consistently given more positive coverage to likely Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared to President Barack Obama, according to a new survey of media coverage from the Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project.

During the early weeks of 2012, Romney’s media coverage was slightly negative—between January 2 and February 26, 33 percent of the stories about the ex-Massachusetts governor were positive and 37 percent were negative, according to Pew’s analysis. But Romney has received mostly positive coverage since then (47 percent positive to 24 percent negative). By contrast, according to the report, President Barack Obama “did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage.”

Check out the full report at the Pew link.

Florida Rep. Allen West was booted from an NAACP fund-raiser because of his claim that around 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives are card-carrying members of the Communist Party.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) was supposed to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for his district chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) this past Saturday. But days before the event, the group canceled the gathering and asked West not to come back when they rescheduled. Why?

“There’s a certain statement he made about Communists,” Jerry Gore, president of the Martin County NAACP, told Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. “That statement alone … we do not represent that type of atmosphere.”

But that didn’t keep West from making more ludicrous remarks. Yesterday, he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is “being allowed to influence strategy.”

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) criticized the FBI on Monday for removing nearly 900 pages of training material it deemed to be offensive, saying it showed extremist Muslim groups were influencing national strategy.

The FBI made the move after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) complained about some passages, including one that advised agents to “never attempt to shake hands with an Asian” and another that said agents should expect “outbursts” from Arab minds.

West said that by removing such passages, the FBI was committing “cultural suicide” and allowing groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to influence U.S. policy.

“We have to understand that when tolerance becomes a one-way street it leads to cultural suicide,” West told “Fox and Friends” on Monday. “We should not allow the Muslim Brotherhood or associated groups to be influencing our national strategy.”

When asked if he believed those groups were influencing U.S. strategy, West responded, “Oh, absolutely,” and cited the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting report that didn’t mention the suspect’s Muslim faith as a potential motive for the killings.

In another throwback to the McCarthy era, a few days ago Bill O’Reilly accused Robert Reich of being a communist.

Yesterday, Reich responded: Communist Accusations Matter.

For the record, I’m not a communist and I don’t secretly adore Karl Marx.

Ordinarily I don’t bother repeating anything Bill O’Reilly says. But this particular whopper is significant because it represents what O’Reilly and Fox News, among others, are doing to the national dialogue….

O’Reilly based his claim on an interview I did last week with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, in which I argued that because America’s big corporations were now global we could no longer rely on them to make necessary investments in human capital or to lobby for public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D. So, logically, government has to step in.

Since when does an argument for public investment in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D make someone a communist or a secret adorer of Karl Marx?

Since the Tea Party crazies crawled out from under their rocks and took over the Republican Party, I guess. I sure wish they’d crawl back where they came from.

Now this is refreshing. Sen. Tom Harken defended Social Security in the Huffington Post yesterday, and proposed some solutions to future problems:

To strengthen America’s retirement system, my proposal would increase Social Security benefits and greatly improve the financial stability of the program. It does so by:

• Increasing the amount of earnings covered by higher replacement rates in order to increase benefits by approximately $60-70 per month
• Changing the way the COLA is calculated so that it better corresponds to the typical expenses of seniors
• Removing the cap, currently $110,100, that unfairly protects the highest earning Americans from paying into Social Security like the majority of hardworking Americans.

All told, according to the Social Security Actuary, this proposal would extend the life of the Social Security Trust Fund to 2052 while cutting the long term funding deficit in half.

I’m sure Mitt Romney will explain to Senator Harkin why it would be wrong to try to raise payroll taxes on high income “job creators.”

Speaking of Willard, the LA Times had an interesting story on Romney’s health care plan–they call it “revolutionary,” and not in a good way.

In public, Romney has only sketched the outlines of a plan, and aides have declined to answer questions about the details. But his public statements and interviews with advisors make clear that Romney has embraced a strategy that in crucial ways is more revolutionary — and potentially more disruptive — than the law Obama signed two years ago.

The centerpiece of Romney’s plan would overhaul the way most Americans get their health coverage: at work. He would do so by giving Americans a tax break to buy their own health plans. That would give consumers more choices, but also more risk.

Critics and independent analysts say the impact would probably leave a larger number of Americans without insurance.

In addition,

While offering consumers more choices, Romney’s plan would give companies strong incentives to stop providing insurance to workers. It also would overhaul the 46-year-old Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

The plan could swell the federal deficit; a similar plan backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 presidential campaign would have cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, on par with the price tag for the Obama healthcare law.

Romney keeps claiming he’s going to cut the deficit. Somehow I don’t think privatizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will do that. Maybe he thinks he can end those programs completely.

Democracy Now has been running a series on NSA spying. A good starting point is this article at Alternet: Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying — The U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails

National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney reveals he believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion “transactions” — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States.

While you’re at Alternet, here’s another article you should read: How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian’s Nightmare

When Barack Obama took office, he was the civil liberties communities’ great hope. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, pledged to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and run a transparent and open government. But he has become a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies, lending bipartisan support for a more intrusive and authoritarian federal government.

Please go read the whole thing and then check out Glenn Greenwald’s take on the story.

As I’m sure everyone here knows, we don’t live in a democracy anymore.

So what are you reading and blogging about today?