Monday Reads: Democracy VanquishedPosted: January 5, 2015 Filed under: just because, morning reads, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: Dodd Frank, Greta van Susteren, Income Inequality, John Boehner, law enforcement overreach, Louis Gohmert, Mia Love, Sean Hannity, Steve Scalise, Ted Yoho, US House of Representatives, US Senate, wage stagnation 28 Comments
Well, Republicans feel empowered to up the crazy so they are certainly doing it. Boehner will be challenged by two of the more insane teabillies. Insane teabilly number one challenging Boehner for speaker is Texas Republican Louis Gohmert. Florida nutter Ted Yoho has also said he can’t support Boehner.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) on Saturday announced that he would not support Boehner for Speaker.
“This is not a personal attack against Mr. Boehner, however, the people desire and deserve a choice,” Yoho said in a Facebook post. “In November, they resoundingly rejected the status quo.”
“Eventually, the goal is second, third, fourth round, we have enough people that say ‘you know what, it really is time for a change,’ ” Gohmert said Sunday. “’You deceived us when you went to Obama and Pelosi to get your votes for the cromnibus. You said you’d fight amnesty tooth an nail. You didn’t, you funded it.’ ”
Gohmert said, if elected, he would ”fight amnesty tooth and nail. We’ll use the powers of the purse. We’ll have better oversight. We’ll fight to defund ObamaCare.”
“In 2010, Boehner and other leaders said if you put us in the majority, we will have time to read the bills,” Gohmert said. “That hasn’t happened. We saw that with the cromnibus, again.”
“We’ll get back to appropriating and we will go through regular committee process, so every representative from both parties will have a chance to participate in the process and not have a dictator running things,” he added.
“With a growing Republican majority in the House and a historically high number of liberty-voting fiscal conservatives within it, there is an urgent need replace Speaker Boehner with fresh, bold leadership that better represents the views of the whole caucus,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement on Sunday.
“Speaker Boehner has kicked fiscal conservatives off committee positions for voting against his wishes, caved on numerous massive spending bills at the eleventh hour, and abused the legislative process to stomp out opposition by holding surprise votes and giving members little time to actually read the bills before they vote,” Kibbe added.
These are just two of the states that send representative after representative that really wants to destroy the country’s economy, not being satisfied with having their own crazy ass issues in their own crazy ass states. Every time I think Louisiana hits the low in politics, Texas and Florida always step up to take the title of bottom feeders away.
Utah seems out to prove a point these days as a black Republican woman seems to think that everything is just hunky-dory with Steve Scalise chatting up virulently anti-Semitic white supremacists. It is going to be an awful few years.
Incoming Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Sunday said that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) should remain in Republican leadership despite recent reports that he spoke at an event for a white nationalist group in 2002.
“These groups are awful. And the last thing I want to do is give them any sort of publicity or credibility, and I can say, as far as I’m concerned, with Representative Scalise, he has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” Love said on ABC’s “This Week.”
When asked if Scalise should remain as GOP whip, Love indicated that his apology was enough.
“There’s one quality that he has that I think is very important in leadership and that’s humility. And he’s actually shown that in this case. And he’s apologized, and I think that we need to move on and get the work of the American people done,” she said.
As you can see, Love didn’t specify what “people” she and others were going to work for but then we know it’s pretty obviously going to be a few rich white christians who can’t seem to get past the Civil War and modern science and economics.
However, it seems even some folks at Fox News find Scalise’s story and apology to be outrageous. Greta Van Susteran joins Hannity in calling for Scalise’s resignation.
It’s rare for a Fox News employee to openly call out a Republican, but when it happens, it’s epic. And that’s exactly what Greta Van Susteran did on Sunday when she slammed GOP Rep. Steve Scalise.
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Van Susteran called out Scalise for not having the “moral courage” to resign after it was revealed that the Louisiana congressman had been the keynote speaker at a white supremacist convention in 2002. Scalise agreed to be the guest of honor after KKK Grand Wizard David Duke reached out to him through aides.
In response, Scalise feigned ignorance, claiming that he had no idea to whom he was speaking to at the event even though the convention was widely covered by local media because it was so controversial. Many Republicans, including Steve King and John Boehner, stood by Scalise. So far, he has refused to resign his post as House Majority Whip, and will be the third most powerful Republican in the House when the new Congress convenes this month. And this might make the KKK very happy.
But Van Susteran completely disagreed with the way Scalise and the Republican Party handled the damning revelations and not only skewered Scalise for being a coward, she also blasted the GOP for dropping the ball in their effort to appeal to minority voters ahead of 2016.
What’s amazing to me is that Democrats captured 20 million more votes in the 2014 election and still lost. What kind of democracy causes that? Why are Republican votes more valuable?
This one was shocking. It does not matter how one cuts it. The United States constitution is severely flawed when more often than not in the last few elections the majority of people voting for a particular party did not receive their relative representation. Democrats received 20 million more votes in the Senate than Republicans in 2014, yet Republicans won big.
The same occurred in the House of Representatives in 2012.
House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.
There is nothing illegal here. There is simply a very designed undemocratic flaw in the US Constitution that must be fixed lest the legislative branch of the American government will continue to be disassociated from the real wants of society.
Fairvote.org reported the following relative to the 2014 Senate race.
As a body designed to represent states rather than citizens, the Senate’s partisan makeup tends to bear a fairly loose relationship to the raw numbers of votes that were cast to elect its members. With the final election results in hand, let’s take a look at how votes cast for Senate candidates translate to seats in the world’s greatest deliberative body.
In all, Americans cast 202.5 million votes to elect the current Senate, spread across three election cycles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Of these, 49% were cast for Democratic candidates and 46.6% for Republicans. …
In the aggregate, Democratic voters are underrepresented in the Senate and Republican voters are overrepresented compared to their respective strengths in the electorate, although Democrats outperformed their raw vote totals in two of the past four individual elections.
As for the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.
It’s going to be hard for Democrats to regain the Senate even though far more people vote for Democratic Senators than Republicans. That’s because Republicans still get two senators from states that have less people than any of the country’slargest cities.
On Tuesday, 33 US senators elected in November will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden — including 12 who are new to the chamber. The class includes 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats, a big reason why the GOP has a 54-46 majority in the Senate overall.
But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”
There is something definitely wrong with the outcomes in governance, given that our ruling class appears to be severely crazy and greedy. For one, they make everyone believe that our money is spent on public welfare when it’s definitely corporate welfare that steals tax dollars. Robert Reich explains their priorities very well.
Some believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.
It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.
The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.
For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.
Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.
But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.
The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.
It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.
Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.
In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.
Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.
Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.
In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.
In a critique of Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty First Century” at Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz explains how are productive capital gets sucked into speculative, financial capital and asset bubbles. This is something I’ve been writing about for years here. This section of his critique is particularly compelling.
Piketty also sheds new light on the “reforms” sold by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s as growth enhancers from which all would benefit. Their reforms were followed by slower growth and heightened global instability, and what growth did occur benefited mostly those at the top.
But Piketty’s work raises fundamental issues concerning both economic theory and the future of capitalism. He documents large increases in the wealth/output ratio. In standard theory, such increases would be associated with a fall in the return to capital and an increase in wages. But today the return to capital does not seem to have diminished, though wages have. (In the US, for example, average wages have stagnated over the past four decades.)
The most obvious explanation is that the increase in measured wealth does not correspond to an increase in productive capital – and the data seem consistent with this interpretation. Much of the increase in wealth stemmed from an increase in the value of real estate. Before the 2008 financial crisis, a real-estate bubble was evident in many countries; even now, there may not have been a full “correction.” The rise in value also can represent competition among the rich for “positional” goods – a house on the beach or an apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
Sometimes an increase in measured financial wealth corresponds to little more than a shift from “unmeasured” wealth to measured wealth – shifts that can actually reflect deterioration in overall economic performance. If monopoly power increases, or firms (like banks) develop better methods of exploiting ordinary consumers, it will show up as higher profits and, when capitalized, as an increase in financial wealth.
But when this happens, of course, societal wellbeing and economic efficiency fall, even as officially measured wealth rises. We simply do not take into account the corresponding diminution of the value of human capital – the wealth of workers.
Moreover, if banks succeed in using their political influence to socialize losses and retain more and more of their ill-gotten gains, the measured wealth in the financial sector increases. We do not measure the corresponding diminution of taxpayers’ wealth. Likewise, if corporations convince the government to overpay for their products (as the major drug companies have succeeded in doing), or are given access to public resources at below-market prices (as mining companies have succeeded in doing), reported financial wealth increases, though the wealth of ordinary citizens does not.
What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else.
Markets, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. High levels of economic inequality in countries like the US and, increasingly, those that have followed its economic model, lead to political inequality. In such a system, opportunities for economic advancement become unequal as well, reinforcing low levels of social mobility.
There are more warnings each year that we’ve traded our democracy for a plutocracy and that many of the folks that fall for these mistaken memes are the worst hurt by the changes. I’m never sure what we should do about it, but at least on social media there are many of us who can realize what’s going on and share our observations and discontent.
So this is the situation, we’re being ruled by a minority, extremist party that has managed to gerrymander its way into to controlling Congress and can have over-representation in the Senate by its very design. Since the Reagan years, they have managed to coalesce into a party of business interests, neoconfederates, and religious extremists. As a result, we have laws and programs that enrich the wealthiest at the cost of the rest of us. We have institutions where racism and sexism have been allowed to fester and where Supreme Court justices have allowed their ideology to trump the constitution and previous law to further the oppression of minorities–with the exception of the LGBT community, where some strides have been made. Undoubtedly, this has happened because some of the biggest business interests want it, not from any desire to do the right thing by the people. We’ve used a fake war to extend a police state where we’re all subjected to law enforcement officers that are out of control and institutionally encouraged to be so.
I have to say the challenges are huge. I’m just hoping that the dog and pony show that will start with this new Congress will scare the shit out of people. Given, some of this background information however, I doubt there’s much we can do about it short of a major increase in voter participation or a revolution. The fact that so many really poorly governed states have re-elected their Republicans and continue to suffer shows me that it’s not going to be over anytime soon.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Lazy Saturday Reads: “Shelter in Plates” — WTF? — And Other NewsPosted: April 26, 2014 Filed under: Barack Obama, morning reads, Republican politics | Tags: Abraham Miller-Rushing, Chantal Zakari, Climate change, crime, Edward Deveau, Henry David Thoreau, law enforcement overreach, Maren Sanchez, Mike Mandela, military-style policing, Richard Primack, Robert Stavins, Sarah McKinnon, Shelter in Plates, Southern whites, UN Climate Change Report, Walden Pond, Watertown manhunt 26 Comments
The image to the right shows a commemorative plate from the “Shelter in Plates” project created by Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandela, a married couple who live in Watertown, MA, to mark the day when their town was locked down while hundreds (thousands?) of law enforcement officers swarmed their neighborhood in search of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the accused Boston Marathon bombers.
When I first saw these plates, I laughed out loud. The image of someone collecting these plates and displaying them in your home just struck me as ridiculous and incongruous. Every time I looked at them, I laughed out loud and couldn’t stop laughing. “Just the thing to add to a collection of Princess Diana and Elvis plates!”
I too was shocked to see multiple swat teams confronting innocent people in their homes and military equipment in the streets of a residential neighborhood. IMO the response to the killing of an MIT police officer and a carjacking was way over the top. It’s amazing that no one was killed by one of the hundreds of stray bullets that penetrated the walls of people’s houses. And the conduct of the manhunt the next day was even worse. In the end Tsarnaev was discovered, not by law enforcement but by a homeowner who went into his backyard to check on his boat and found the fugitive inside. I guess it’s just the notion of memorializing the events with plates that struck me funny.
But there is also serious side to this story. Last year, the Chief of Police of Watertown contacted couple’s employer at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. From PBS station WGBH:
“We created the website on a Saturday or Sunday, and four days later I got a call from my employer saying that Chief (Ed) Deveau had called and wanted my employer to pull funding out of the project, because if this project went to the press it would be bad publicity for the institution,” Zakari said.
Sarah McKinnon is the dean of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. That is Zakari and Mandel’s place of employment. She remembered the call from Chief Deveau.
“Back in December, I had a phone call from Chief Deveau from Watertown police to talk to me a little bit about it,” McKinnon stated. “He said, ‘Were you aware that the SMFA was mentioned on the website?’ and I said, ‘No, I wasn’t.’ So I took a closer look and indeed saw that SMFA was mentioned on the website itself. SMFA had supported the project by virtue of a faculty enrichment grant.”
The article doesn’t say this specifically, but it appears that McKinnon did ask Zakari and Mandel to remove the school’s name from their website, but the funding for the project was not withdrawn.
McKinnon says that the SMFA respects academic freedom and there was no attempt to rescind the faculty enrichment grant that had actually been dispensed a year ago, despite her misgivings.
“My concern is, I just didn’t want the school seen in a negative light. My concern was not with the particulars of the project, which I didn’t know about, but we didn’t want to be taking advantage of anyone else’s suffering. If this was a project that would put us in a bad light, that was of concern to me,” McKinnon said.
But Mandel argued that Chief Deveau was attempting to intimidate the artists.
“For the chief of police —in his official capacity—to call our employer and make his accusations was an act of intimidation,” Mandel said. “It was an act of harassment and he should desist, and in addition he should apologize.”
I absolutely agree with him, despite the fact that I loathe commemorative plates generally, and think the ones Madel and Zakari designed are ludicrous. The couple’s attorney sent a letter to Deveau demanding that he cease and desist from further harassment. The letter is posted on and their website. You can watch the WGBH interview with Zakari and Mandel on YouTube.
What do you think?
In other news . . .
Following on massive publicity about Cliven Bundy over the past week, the New York Times published a fascinating article about changing demographics in the U.S.: Southern Whites’ Loyalty to G.O.P. Nearing That of Blacks to Democrats.
President Obama’s landslide victory in 2008 was supposed to herald the beginning of a new Democratic era. And yet, six years later, there is not even a clear Democratic majority in the country, let alone one poised for 30 years of dominance….
From the high plains of West Texas to the Atlantic Coast of Georgia, white voters opposed Mr. Obama’s re-election in overwhelming numbers. In many counties 90 percent of white voters chose Mitt Romney, nearly the reversal of the margin by which black voters supported Mr. Obama.
While white Southerners have been voting Republican for decades, the hugeness of the gap was new. Mr. Obama often lost more than 40 percent of Al Gore’s support among white voters south of the historically significant line of the Missouri Compromise. Two centuries later, Southern politics are deeply polarized along racial lines. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in these states the Democrats have become the party of African Americans and that the Republicans are the party of whites.
I hope you’ll read the whole thing if you haven’t already. Particularly interesting is this map of counties (in yellow) where Obama received less than 20% of the white vote in the last election (census data was not available for Alaska).
This pattern represents a reversal of a trend that suggested “the South’s assimilation into the American political and cultural mainstream.” Some southern and western areas of the U.S. are regressing to the point that it’s as if the Civil War never happened. How would these areas respond to a woman President?
Milford, CT high school stabbing
Early yesterday morning, 16-year-old Maren Sanchez was murdered by male classmate who reportedly had asked her to go to the junior prom with him and was angry at being turned down. From the Hartford Courant:
MILFORD, Conn. — A 16-year-old Connecticut high school student was stabbed to death Friday morning, and police are investigating whether the 16-year-old male who is suspected of killing her had wanted to take her to the junior prom, which was scheduled for Friday night.
Jonathan Law High School junior Maren Sanchez was killed in a hallway at the school.
The suspect, also a junior at the school in Milford, was charged as a juvenile offender with murder. His name is being withheld because he is a minor, police said….
Milford Police Chief Keith Mello said that the assault happened about 7:15 a.m. in a hallway inside Jonathan Law High School. A staff member witnessed part of the assault, he said, and tried to help. Others joined the effort, and EMS personnel soon arrived to take Sanchez to Bridgeport Hospital. She was pronounced dead at 7:43 a.m., Mello said….
Police said that Sanchez suffered multiple cuts to her neck, chest and face. Investigators recovered a knife at the scene.
The prom was cancelled. Milford is about a half-hour’s drive from Newtown, CT. Read more and see photos at The New York Daily News, which also learned the name of the alleged murderer.
Jonathan Law High School students should have been going to their junior prom Friday night. Instead, the teens went to a seaside vigil for their murdered classmate.
About 200 community members and students, some wearing their prom dresses and tuxedos, gathered Friday evening at Walnut Beach in Milford, Conn., to remember 16-year-old Maren Sanchez, a junior who was murdered earlier in the day at the school after rejecting a classmate’s invitation to the dance….
Anguished classmates funneled down to Walnut Beach around 6 p.m. — just one hour before the school’s junior prom was scheduled to start at a nearby banquet hall. The annual dance was postponed after the tragedy.
Wearing their formal wear, students cried and prayed at the local beach, the Hartford Courant reported. Friends shouted out memories of their slain classmate as they released purple balloons into the sky and yelled “Love you, Maren,” the newspaper reported.
Earlier, students covered a rock outside the school with purple spray paint and wrote the teen’s name and birthday, Aug. 26, 1997, alongside a white heart.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond, and Climate Change
Yesterday, NPR’s Science Friday had a report on Henry David Thoreau’s careful 160-year-old observations of plants in the Walden Pond area of Concord, MA and how they are being used by climate scientists today. The guest was Richard Primack, Professor of Biology at Boston University and author of the book, Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods.
From The Guardian, Scientists use Thoreau’s journal notes to track climate change.
Fittingly for a man seen as the first environmentalist, Henry David Thoreau, who described his isolated life in 1840s Massachusetts in the classic of American literature Walden, is now helping scientists pin down the impacts of climate change.
The American author, who died in 1862, is best known for his account of the two years he spent living in a one-room wooden cabin near Walden Pond “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”. Packed with descriptions of the natural world he loved, Walden is partly autobiographical, partly a manifesto for Thoreau’s belief in the rightness of living close to nature. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he writes. “Simplify, simplify.”
But Thoreau was also a naturalist, and he meticulously observed the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord, Massachusetts, between 1851 and 1858, recording them in a set of tables. When Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing discovered Thoreau’s unpublished records, they immediately realised how useful they would be for pinning down the impact of the changing climate over the last century and a half. The timing of seasonal events such as flowering dates is known as phenology, and the phenologies of plants in a temperate climate such as that of Massachusetts are very sensitive to temperature, say the scientists. Studying phenology is therefore a good indicator of ecological responses to climate change.
“We had been searching for historical records for about six months when we learned about Thoreau’s plant observations. We knew right away that they would be incredibly useful for climate change research because they were from 150 years ago, there were so many species included, and they were gathered by Thoreau, who is so famous in the United States for his book Walden,” said Primack. “The records were surprisingly easy to locate once we were aware of them. A copy was given to us by an independent research scholar, who knew that they would be valuable for climate change research.”
For a more in-depth report of the research project, check out this long-form article at Smithsonian Magazine.
In the real world, where we’re definitely not doing much to address climate change, The Financial Times reports that, a “senior scientist” has charged that the “Climate Change Report was Watered Down.”
A politically sensitive part of the latest report by the world’s leading authority on climate change was gutted at the insistence of government officials, one of the study’s authors has revealed.
Nearly 75 per cent of a section on the impact of international climate negotiations was deleted at a meeting in Berlin two weeks ago, said one of the authors responsible for that part of the report, Harvard University’s Professor Robert Stavins.
The Berlin meeting was held so representatives of the world’s governments could approve a summary of a massive report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on how to tackle climate change which took hundreds of authors from around the world nearly five years to compile.
The report was the third of a trilogy of studies the IPCC has released since September in its fifth major assessment of the latest state of knowledge about climate change.
Prof Stavins, a leading expert on climate negotiations at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote to the organisers of the Berlin meeting last week to express his “disappointment and frustration” at the outcome.
Read the rest at the Financial Times link.