Monday, July 29, 2013

Good wages, good jobs, require power....

First, if you haven't read Justin Fox's article The Case for Paying People More over at the Harvard Business Review you need to go do that.

Second, Demos' Vice President of Policy and Outreach Heather McGhee nailed the crux of the issue of low wage workers on a  Melissa Harris Perry panel the other day:
It's a question of power at the workplace. We think about the middle class jobs that helped build this country. They weren't born good jobs. They were actually terrible jobs. They were jobs that didn't require a lot of education, that were dangerous, that were hard, that were back-breaking. But they weremade into good jobs because workers had bargaining power.
How much people get paid has a whole lot to do with not their productivity, not their value added to the economy, but the power they hold.

If we as a nation choose to make McDonalds jobs middle class jobs we can do so.  This isn't rocket science.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

We in America love Big Government...

We in America love Big Government.

But only to help rich people, not poor people.  We are clever and do it via the submerged state so we can lecture poor people about not leeching off the state.

Suzanne Mettler has more The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy:
Obama, given his policy agenda, had steered directly into the looming precipice of the submerged state: existing policies that lay beneath the surface of U.S. market institutions and within the federal tax system. Contrary to opponents’ charges that his agenda involved the encroachment of the federal government into private matters, Obama was actually attempting to restructure a dense thicket of long-established public policies, but ones that are largely invisible to most Americans—and that are extremely resistant to change. Efforts to transform these policies, which have become entrenched fixtures of modern governance, generate a deeply conflictual politics that routinely alienates the public, hindering chances of success or sustainability of the reforms. 
The “submerged state” includes a conglomeration of federal policies that function by providing incentives, subsidies, or payments to private organizations or households to encourage or reimburse them for conducting activities deemed to serve a public purpose. Over the past thirty years, American political discourse has been dominated by a conservative public philosophy, one that espouses the virtues of small government. Its values have been pursued in part through efforts to scale back traditional forms of social provision, meaning visible benefits administered fairly directly by government. In the case of some programs geared to the young or working-age people, the value of average benefits has withered and coverage has grown more restrictive.14 Ironically, however, the more dramatic change over this period has been the flourishing of the policies of the submerged state, which operate through indirect means such as tax breaks to households or payments to private actors who provide services. Since 1980 these policies have proliferated in number, and the average size of their benefits has expanded dramatically. 
Most of these ascendant policies function in a way that directly contradicts Americans’expectations of social welfare policies: they shower their largest benefits on the most affluent Americans. Take the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID), for example, which is currently the nation’s most expensive social tax break aside from the tax-free status of employer-provided health coverage. Let us assume that a family buys a median-value home and to finance it borrows $230,000 at an interest rate of 6.25 percent for thirty years. The richer the household, the larger the benefit: in the first year, the average family, with an income between $16,751 and $68,000, would owe around $3,619 less in taxes; those in the next income group, with earnings up to $137,300, would reap an extra $5,146; and so forth, on up to the wealthiest 2 percent of families, with incomes over $373,650, who would enjoy a savings of $6,673. Of course, in reality, these differences are likely to be much greater. Low- to moderate-income Americans usually do not have enough deductions to itemize, so they would forgo this benefit and receive instead only the standard deduction. Meanwhile, the most affluent are likely to purchase far more expensive homes; if a family in the top income category opts for a more upscale home and borrows $500,000 for a mortgage, it will reap a benefit of $14,506 from the HMID; if this family purchases a truly exclusive property and borrows $1 million for a mortgage, it will qualify to keep a whopping $29,012!15 This pattern of upward redistribution is repeated in numerous other policies of the submerged state: federal largesse is allocated disproportionately to the nation’s most well-off households. Such policies consume a sizable portion of revenues and leave scarce resources available for programs that genuinely aid low- and middle-income Americans. 
Yet despite their growing size, scope, and tendency to channel government benefits toward the wealthy, the policies of the submerged state remain largely invisible to ordinary Americans: indeed, their hallmark is the way they obscure government’s role from the view of the general public, including those who number among their beneficiaries. Even when people stare directly at these policies, many perceive only a freely functioning market system at work. They understand neither what is at stake in reform efforts nor the significance of their success. As a result, the charge leveled by opponents of reforms—that they amount to “government takeovers”—though blatantly inaccurate, makes many Americans at least uncomfortable with policy changes, if not openly hostile toward them. 
Exacerbating these challenges, at the same time as the submerged state renders the electorate oblivious and passive, it actually promotes vested interests, and it has done so especially over the past two decades. The finance, real estate, and insurance industries all thrived until the recent recession, and in turn they invested heavily in strengthening their political capacity, making them better poised to protect the policies that have favored them. As a result, reform has required public officials to engage in outright combat or deal making with powerful organizations. Such politics disgust most Americans and hardly epitomize the kind of change Obama’s supporters expected when he won office.
Mettler, Suzanne (2011-08-31).The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy (Chicago Studies in American Politics) (Kindle Locations 114-152). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Marketplace interview with Dexter Holland of The Offspring.

So the Marketplace interview with Dexter Holland made my day yesterday: AIDS research, punk rock and hot sauce on the side

I always forget that while Rancid's Out Come the Wolves is probably the more appropriate album to label Jim's first I'm a punk rocker album, it was the summer of '94 when Offspring's Smash and Green Day's Dookie were the only things I listening on constant rotation to as I hung out at my Grandmother's house all summer by the pool.

The punk rock scowls you are giving me now speak to the fact that you forget I was 14.  It was a quintessential moment of puberty and pop culture merging which has been happening all across suburban America for decades now--just check out Tumblr.

Smash still holds up to me in the "Teenage Angst"--suburban American decline kinda way--because it is embedded in so much of a very pivotal transition in my own life as I started to see the bigger picture.

The Bankruptcy of America’s Social Contract

Robert Reich:
The geo-political divide has become so palpable that being wealthy in America today means not having to come across anyone who isn’t. 

Remember when America had a middle class
And an upper class, that was way before the exodus
That was the America that we thought was number one,
Thought would overcome, thought would never die
That was just our pride and faith, two shitty deadly sins
I know faith isn't one of 'em but it should have been
Cuz when things were crumbling, we had no camaraderie
Just a faith someone would save us from despondence

We called it America

If you need some music to party to the decline....

If you need some reading material to know what we might do to fight it....

We have a jobs crisis...

Employment levels are far below what they should be in a healthy economy.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has more:
The Share of the Population with a Job Fell to Levels Not Seen Since the Mid-1980s
The sharp rise in the unemployment rate and the increasingly discouraging prospect of finding a job caused a decline in the percentage of the population in the labor force (those either working or looking for work).  As a result of rising unemployment and declining labor force participation, the percentage of the population with a job fell sharply in the recession and has remained depressed in the recovery.  The labor force participation rate in June 2013 remained near the lowest level it has been at any time since 1978 and the percentage of the population with a job has been stuck near levels last seen in the early 1980s.
Employment Population Ratio

The middle class may very well be a thing of the past...

Across industrialized nations, income inequality is growing.  Economic mobility in America is dead.

Climate change... the fun is just starting.

Climate change is going to disrupt energy and food supplies--not to mention say goodbye to Miami.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Frederick Douglass, Lucretius, and the import of death.

What you can't tell very well from this photo is the majesty of the mountains in the background. You only see the foreground. But the real view outside my door is complex and fabulous. --Nick Nichols 

My Dad died a year ago last Saturday.  The day has kind of lingered in my mind in the day's preceding and I hesitated to look back to see which day it was exactly.

It was only this morning after reading a wonderful new Paris Dispatch from Ta-Nehisi Coates that I dared to troll through my gmail archives to recover the specific day he died.

It was Friday July 20th at 11:45 that my step-mom had emailed from the Philippines that Dad was gone.  She had emailed me when he went into cardiac arrest, then emailed to ask what she should do--in terms of keeping him on life support or not.  To which I told her to let his body be at peace. The day before when we was coming in and out of consciousness on the ventilator I'm told he kept writing, "let me go", "let me go"; my stepmom was interpreting that as in go home from the hospital.  I've always taken his word to mean from the realm of the living.  That this too shall pass.

Technically that final email she sent that night read simply: Dad id gone.

I really have no clue why Ta-Nehisi's post got me thinking of Dad and gave me the nerve to reach back to figure out exactly when he died.  Maybe it was just the fact that Ta-Nehisi's post reminded me of how my Dad was one of those people "who burned to know" as Coates calls it.  Dad passed much of that along to me and Ta-Nehisi's post was one of those gems I would send via tweet or email to Dad--which was what most of our dialogue the last few years of his life was built off of--an engagement with ideas, and appreciation at others who grasped the wonderment of it all.

A wonderment which Coates describes to a T here as he describes his own struggles to learn French in Paris:
I can't call it. But I think about Frederick Douglass a lot these days. And I think that as much as he understood the import of justice, he must have also understood the import of death. Once you get the great effort it takes to go from "knowing" to "understanding" you get how little you will ever truly apprehend. Whole lives surround you. Whole ways are distant from you. Entire streets, ancient cultures , beautiful people are all shooting by. And there is sadness in this because truly we know that there is life in outer space, that there is life in the Parisian streets, that there is life in those West Baltimore streets, that there is life in these worlds around me, life in these blue worlds so close, though light years away.

In many ways this paragraph captured the essence of my Dad.  Dad was a technocrat by trade, an Electrical Engineer, yet he still had at his core the passion and wonderment for the life of knowledge--a life spent in great effort to go from "knowing" to "understanding".  Dad grasped how little we truly do apprehend, and I was always getting tweets and emails (and before social networking... actual letters) with "Dad's little gems" as he once coined them.  Dad embedded that passion in me; both in my genetic code I'm sure, but also environmentally in the cultural surroundings he sought to nurture and surround me in--the books, art, poetry, and life experiences.

Whole lives do surround us.  Beautiful people are shooting by you all the time.  And Ta-Nehisi is right, there truly is a sadness that encroaches on you when you take the time to appreciate the experience of recognizing this.  Dad recognized this imperfect state--of dare I call it gratitude?--which surrounds a person when they struggle to go from "knowing" to "understanding".

A few weeks before Dad died, sitting in his hospital bed unable to walk but working away on his computer on some of his projects for work my stepmom snapped a photo of him and his Facebook post read:
My new Quezon City office. 279 E. Rodriguez Sr. Boulevard.   This also home of the GMA-style back brace. If I could run, I would. But I can't seem to walk at the moment.

To which I commented: "Life is one long struggle in the dark." --Lucretius
And Dad responded:  That Lucretius. Such a comedian.

Dad's last message to me a week or so later was short and simple. It was a Happy Birthday wish on July 12th (the 13th Philippine time).  Within a day or so after that the Fungal infection in his lung, which appeared after his spinal surgery, had taken him from working away to on a breathing machine.

And like a flash, Dad was gone.

I'm 33 now, if Dad's lifespan is a metric for distance I'm over halfway--which scares me and saddens me a bit.  The void where my Dad once was is still present, as I hope it always will be.  It inspires me onwards, to run, because I can.

Not just figuratively, I mean that quite literally.  I run more often now a days; in fact I finally signed up for my first marathon.  For me, to run gives me space to think, but also to embrace a physical body that my Dad reminded me will at some point let me down, crumble, and finally stop.

I run because I can, I run because it strangely brings me closer to my Dad. It gives me space and time to think through and struggle with many of my own challenges of seeking to move from knowing to understanding.  It also gives me space to simply be.  If you made it this far in the post, I thank you.  I'm not quite sure how or what inspired me to write it, or how or what inspired you to read to the end.  But thank you.  And with that I'm headed out the door to go run...

That Lucretius, such a comedian indeed.
“Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude.” 
― Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

He didn't see the crash coming. He shouldn't get rewarded.

Sign the petition over at Daily Kos to say no to Larry Summers who is the frontrunner for chair of the Federal Reserve.

Larry Summer's career is a life lesson on the fact that being smart and cultivating people with real power can take you places.  Making Obama feel warm and fuzzy should not be a job requirement of Fed Chair.

Patricia Churchland interview: Our self is our brain.

Neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland interviewed on her new book.    h/t Brian Leiter.

Here is her new book:Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain

Obama pivots back to jobs... GOP agrees: Jobs!!!

To all those who, like me, have graduated in the midst of the ongoing Great Recession (the new normal sucks) one can only ask: ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

Monday, July 22, 2013

We only have a "jobs crisis" if you care about human beings...

We face an economic crisis.  There are not enough jobs.  Lives are being destroyed.  

Why is this so hard for the political elites to respond to?  The reason is that for the 1% things are back to normal.  Massive numbers of unemployed and underemployed workers keeps people desperate, keeps downward pressure on wages, keeps people trapped in cages of monotony which can be easily controlled and managed.

Things are going according to plan... onwards Brothers...

If you aren't happy with the status quo you just aren't the target audience.  You don't matter. 

Cornel West on Obama,Trayvon Martin, and the "New Jim Crow"

If you haven't read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, you really should.

Also check out some older links...

Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander’s ‘New Jim Crow’ Raises Drug Law Debates - 
Thirty-Year Forecast Shows Deepening Racial Inequalities | United for a Fair Economy

Austrian Economics vs. Modern Monetary Theory on getting the economy going again...

The Institute for New Economic Thinking posts up a debate on their blog

Detroit vs Goldman Sachs in the Makers and Takers game...

There is way more money in being a government subsidized too big to fail bank than in being a declining industrial city.

Dean Baker has a rundown:
If people didn't realize that their tax dollars were going to boost the profits and pay at Goldman that's probably because it is not an explicit line in the budget. The way the government supports Goldman in its various activities (it was in the news yesterday forjacking up aluminum prices through market manipulations) is by providing it implicit insurance. 
This insurance takes the form of the famous "too big to fail" guarantee. There is a widely held belief among investors that if Goldman's deals threatened to put the bank into bankruptcy, as happened in 2008, the government would step in to bail them out, as it did in 2008. As a result, investors are willing to lend banks like Goldman Sachs money at below market interest rates. 
Bloomberg News estimated the size of this subsidy to the banks at $83 billion a year. This money translates into higher profits for banks like Goldman Sachs and higher pay for its top executives. 
This sets up an interesting comparison, the subsidized pay of top executives at Goldman Sachs with the pensions of Detroit public employees. The graph shows the hourly wage of Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, based on his reported 2012 compensation of $13.3 million. (It was $16.2 million in 2011.) Assuming a 40 hour workweek (I know that Mr. Blankfein must work more than this), his compensation comes to $6,650 an hour. This means that in three hours he will earn more than a typical Detroit retiree gets in a year.
Book1 20240 image001We can also make the comparison of Detroit pensions to Goldman Sachs more generally. Goldman Sachs profits in the last quarter were $1.93 billion. This means that if the bank sustains this rate of profitability its profits over two quarters would exceed the $3.5 billion unfunded liability of the Detroit pension system.

Just another money-grubbing, pleonectic , predatory blogger....

So FYI... Richard Dawkins  The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is on sale for 2.99 on kindle.

I just bought it.  Buy it via my link and I get a small sliver % to help pay off my student loans.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Karen Handel to America: Prepare for another decade of decline.

Here in Georgia we have politicians skipping over policy challenges facing us as a society--such as how do we improve the labor market?--and shifting to blame and finger pointing.  Campaign 2014 looks to be stacking up as a loud and proud declaration by GOP politicians that we should prepare for another decade of economic decline here in America.

Republicans seem intent on putting a downward pressure on the wages of hard working Americans in order to motivate lazy people to get off their butts; as Karen Handel, a GOP candidate for US Senate  inferred recently...

For Karen Handel, and the GOP broadly here in Georgia, people are choosing to live off the sparse social safety net rather than venture in to the labor market to utilize their resources and capacities.

Accept their position at face value for a moment. This speaks to a labor market that lacks quality jobs; not an epidemic of laziness and cultural decline.  A strong labor market of rising wages and quality jobs would have people rushing into the labor market, it would have business increasing wages to steal the best workers from their competitors--instead we face a nation of unemployed workers who are giving up the job search all together.

Think about it for a second.  The context of Handel's statement has to be taken in to account--she is saying this in the midst of a stagnant labor market, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression--we need to further erode wages and force American workers who are already stretched to the point of breaking to work more hours for less money!!!

Lets say we all agree on the challenge--too many people on food stamps and Medicaid.  So once we agree that our goal should be to reduce these numbers, we have to think through the way to answer this challenge.

The answer isn't to point blame at those caught up in the policy decisions of a few generations of politicians--who created a low wage, no benefit, part-time economy of record corporate profits and record food stamp recipients.  Too many people on food stamps?--Reduce the safety-net!!!--cry Republicans like Karen Handel.

But that's the wrong answer and shows a serious detachment to the very real challenges workers are facing.

The answer should be sought with an eye to market outcomes and how the price system can be used to influence individual behaviors.  The answer should be sought via ways to improve the labor market.

Finger pointing at those with the least power or ability to influence and impact how we structure our markets speaks to a political class that either a) wants to put downward pressure on wages and is using moralism as a stealth way to to do so (aka lying) b) a political class of clueless and dimwitted.

The better question to ask is--how can we work to drive up wages so that we can utilize the price-system and motivate people into working more so that they no longer require a safetynet to just get by?

Until Republican begin to run candidates who fight to improve the labor market we will face major challenges of Governance.

The efforts of the GOP to block everything Democrats propose--aside from handouts to corporations--means we will just continue the downward spiral of lower wages and lower  quality of life for American workers.  Here in Georgia the GOP control the State Legislature so an improvement in the quality of candidates they run is not likely on the horizon.

We face an economic decline which has come via a course set by both Republican and Democratic policy makers over the past 3 decades.  Democrats have started to change course, but they are going to need the help of Republicans to make it happen.

From the looks of the campaigns people like Karen Handel are running here in Georgia prepare for another decade of decline.  Republicans seem unwilling to rebuild the American economy and the quality of life for all of us will suffer as a consequence.

Whats worse, they seem quite proud of this.

Ralph Nader on the decline of the Civic Personality

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sometimes positive things do happen in a bipartisan manner in Washington DC

Bipartisan Backlash Grows Against Domestic Surveillance.

I'm just glad these disclosures happened under a Democratic President; as all of this GOP opposition would have been silent--except for one or two Ron Paul libertarian type outliers.

The power of the executive branch has to be brought in to check if we are to ever retain any form of democracy in this nation.  Far too many Democrats I know are busy defending team Obama like this is a tribalistic fight against the GOP at home and radical Islam abroad.  Far too many people I know are okay with the idea that as an Empire the rules don't apply to us.

We must retain checks and balances on power, and we must retain the ethical norms which we would expect a civilized nation being watched by other civilized nations could account for no matter how horrid and monstrous the enemy we are fighting this week is in the minds of our citizens.

Where is the check on the actions of these economic hitmen?

So I'm reading the article in today's New York Times about one of the Security and Exchange Commission's own witnesses turning on them on the stand in a case against Fabrice Tourre, a former Goldman Sachs trader charged with defrauding investors in complex mortgage securities.

One,  Paolo Pellegrini.  It appears he was someone who called the crash of the housing bubble early on and helped create the hedge that was probably one of the most profitable market wagers in history for Goldman Sachs (which gets me thinking what is the most profitable hedge in history? but I digress...).

Anyways, maybe its Craig and de la Merced's writing which paints this guy as a complete asshat; but he seems like a real number.

Wall Street hotshots like this guy literally made a killing--just look at the increase in suicides, heart attacks, instances of child abuse in America post recession--and they hold no remorse.

Financial actors used to fear having their heads chopped off by angry mobs.  The lack of repercussions for actions which devastate the lives of millions is a major problem on our hands; yet Republicans want to hand the reins back to Wall Street and most Democrats don't seem to want to touch the topic publicly (sure they talk tough at townhalls full of Democrats but thats a lot of hot air).

The Daily Show ripping into the George Zimmerman verdict.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Has the philosophy of personal responsibility ruined criminal justice and economic policy?

Boston Review has a Forum up right now you need to check out--Beyond Blame: Would we better off in a world without blame?

Barbara H. Fried opens the debate staking the claim that the philosophy of personal responsibility has ruined criminal justice and economic policy.  That it's time to move past blame.  I'm inclined broadly to agree with her.

The Forum includes some good follow ups from others which I am reading my way through now.

Do check it out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice...

If you only read one thing on Trayvon Martin, read Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

Also worth a gander is How Laissez-Faire Racism Explains The Trayvon Martin Case by John Halpin over at ThinkProgress.

If you are looking for a book dealing with some of the systemic issues I think this case has brought to the surface check out The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

An overreliance on military preponderance is badly misguided...

Daniel Drezner discusses his article “Military Primacy Doesn’t Pay (Nearly As Much As You Think)”

Reality based community 1 -- Flat Earth Economy Spinmasters-- 0

Josh Marshall: Better CNBC Anchors Might Be Required
If you're an Elizabeth Warren fan or really if you're just into facts, you gotta watch this. It's Elizabeth Warren going on CNBC's Squawk Box, defending her plan to bring back a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act. It's maybe the best example of the sort of matter-anti-matter reaction that happens when someone who actually knows some history and policy makes first contact with a gaggle of ignorant CNBC yakkers
Wall Street is already going in to overdrive to kill off the bill.  Elizabeth Warren won one skirmish in what will likely be a bloody battle.

Go do some homework as you will likely be needed to help kill off Flat Earth Economy Spinmasters puppeting these CNBC anchors around dinner tables and water coolers over the next few months.

Simon Johnson: Five Facts about New Glass-Steagall:
The biggest U.S. banks have become too big to manage, too big to regulate, and too big to jail. At a stroke, the proposed law would force global megabanks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America to become smaller and much simpler -- divorcing high risk activities from plain-vanilla traditional banking. Their failures would no longer threaten to bring down the economy.
Naturally, Wall Street will respond with a huge disinformation campaign, saying that the bill would cause the sky to fall. As the debate intensifies, keep in mind the following five points. 
1) The bill would actually help small banks, because it would force the taxpayer-subsidized megabanks and related financial companies to break up. Anything that tilts the playing field back toward smaller financial institutions is good for the small business sector. 
2) The simplifying intent of the 21st century Glass-Steagall Act is complementary to other serious reform efforts underway, including plans for the “resolution,” or managed liquidation, of any financial firm that fails. The main problem for resolution is that the largest firms are incredibly complex, and the impact of any failure could reach far and wide in unpredictable way. Making the biggest financial firms simpler would also dovetail nicely with the legislation proposed earlier this year, by Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, and Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, that would significantly increase capital requirements for the very largest banks. 
3) Proponents of big banks will claim that the breakdown of the original Glass-Steagall Act (which separated commercial and investment banking) did not contribute to the crisis of 2007-08. That view is so wrong that James Kwak and I wrote an entire book debunking it. More important, what did or did not happen in the run-up to 2007 is largely irrelevant. The doctrine of “too big to fail” has been with us for some time, but it was fully established by the policy response that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. 
4) As the preamble to the 21st century Glass-Steagall Act points out, it represents a convergence with European reform thinking, as seen in the Vickers Report (for the U.K.) and the Liikanen Report (for Europe more broadly). We need structural change in banking in all major financial centers if large-scale cross-border banking is to become safer and better run.
5) The Treasury Department is not going to welcome the legislation -- in fact, it may assist in mobilizing opposition. At this stage, this is an advantage, not a problem. Treasury has a severe case of reform fatigue. It’s time for someone else to carry the ball.
We can also expect Wall Street to claim that that the bill is all the work of people with “pitchforks” -– meaning populists who do not understand economics. On the contrary, the 21st century Glass-Steagall Act is very smart economics, based on a deep understanding of the politics that produce financial instability. It draws broadly on bipartisan and technocratic thinking, led by people such as Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, Sheila Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Tom Hoenig, the current vice-chairman of the F.D.I.C. 
In claiming that federal action is going to bring down the markets, today's anti-reformers are simply repeating what their counterparts said before and just after the first Glass-Steagall Act was passed in the 1930s. What we got instead was more than 50 years of financial stability and a rising middle class.

As a side note, I'm really glad to see some rumblings from those not ready to hand the keys back to the Wall Street Fan Club. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Where are the pitchforks?--Bill Moyers edition

Yves Smith comments:
Bill Moyers interviewed Marty Kaplan who heads the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California on how the choice of media stories helps keep Americans politically somnambulant. While the role of propaganda and the shaping of mass culture clearly plays a big factor in Americans’ learned helplessness, it’s important also to recognize that there are other factors at play. 
The first obstacle is that mass protests don’t have strong roots here. They are the province of the disenfranchised and/or the young, and the current generation of young has been bred to be conformist (a generation plus of overly attentive parenting being the norm) plus the one-two punch of a lousy job market plus debt slavery (even the kids who have gumption know how much an arrest will hurt their job prospects). But the second is the way Americans have had the right to assembly neutralized. Look at the way peaceful protestors are routinely roughed up and jailed. And large scale demonstrations are simply stymied. More than a decade ago, on the eve of the Gulf War (and in freezing weather) hundreds of thousands attempted to join protests in NYC at UN Plaza. But the police had cordoned off Manhattan at Second Avenue and used men, dogs, and horses to shunt demonstrators up to Harlem. So the crowd that actually was able to get to the official location was deceptively small-looking, suiting the official narrative that not many people in the US were opposed to an invasion.

Join me in one small step forward.

Read Dani Rodrik, you should.

The Right Green Industrial Policy:
Although full pricing of carbon would be a far better way to address climate change, most governments apparently prefer to rely on subsidies and regulations that increase the profitability of investments in renewable energy. Often, the authorities' motive seems to be to give domestic industries a leg up in global competition.
Intelligent industrial policy should recognize errors and revise strategies accordingly.
Normally, we would consider these competitive motives to be beggar-thy-neighbor in nature. Market-share considerations are zero-sum from a global standpoint in traditional industries, and any resources invested in generating national gains come at the cost of global losses.
But in the context of green growth, national efforts to boost domestic green industries can be globally desirable, even if the motives are parochial and commercial. When cross-border spillovers militate against taxing carbon and subsidizing technological development in clean industries, boosting green industries for competitive reasons is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Opponents of industrial policy rely on two arguments. The first is that governments do not have the information needed to make the right choices about which firms or industries to support. The second is that once governments are in the business of supporting a particular industry, they become vulnerable to rent-seeking and political manipulation by well-connected firms and lobbyists. In the United States, the 2011 bankruptcy of Solyndra—a solar cell manufacturer that folded after having received more than a half-billion dollars in government loan guarantees—seems to illustrate both failures.
In reality, the first of these arguments—lack of omniscience—is largely irrelevant, while the rent-seeking problem can be overcome with appropriate institutional design. Good industrial policy does not rely on governments' omniscience and ability to pick winners; indeed, failures are an inevitable and necessary part of a well-designed program.
While it is too early to reach a conclusive verdict on the U.S. loan-guarantee program, it is clear that the Solyndra case cannot be properly evaluated without taking into account the many successes that the program has spawned. Tesla Motors, which received a $465 million loan guarantee in 2009, has seen its shares soar and has repaid its loan early. An evaluation of U.S. Department of Energy efficiency programs found that the net benefits amounted to $30 billion—an excellent return for an investment of roughly $7 billion over 22 years (in 1999 dollars). Interestingly, much of the positive impact resulted from three relatively modest projects in the building sector.
Efforts to boost domestic industries can be globally desirable in terms of green growth.
Intelligent industrial policy requires mechanisms that recognize errors and revise strategies accordingly. Clear objectives, measurable targets, close monitoring, proper evaluation, well-designed rules, and professionalism provide useful institutional safeguards. As challenging as applying them may be, they constitute a much less formidable requirement than that of picking winners. Moreover, an explicit industrial policy—conducted self-consciously and designed with pitfalls in mind—is more likely to overcome the typical informational and political barriers than one that is implemented surreptitiously, as is too often the case.
Green industrial policy can be damaging when national strategies take the form not of subsidizing domestic industries but of taxing foreign green industries or restricting their market access. The case of solar panels provides a cautionary tale. Trade disputes between China, on the one hand, and the United States and Europe, on the other, have attracted much attention. Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule for green industrial policy. Trade restrictions have so far played a small role relative to subsidies to domestic industries.
In practice, we are unlikely to get purely green industrial policy, which would focus solely on the development and diffusion of green technologies while excluding considerations of competitiveness, commercial gain, and employment growth. Indirect but politically salient objectives such as "green jobs" will most likely continue to present a more attractive platform for promoting industrial policy than alternative energy or clean technologies.
From a global standpoint, it would be far better if concerns about national competitiveness were to lead to a subsidy war, which expands the global supply of clean technologies, rather than a tariff war, which restricts it. So far, we have been getting the former, though there is no way to determine whether, or for how long, this trend will continue.

One thing we can learn from life...

Never underestimate the power of overcoming.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Its time to aspire for the possible.

Something awesome happened yesterday in Atlanta.

A temporary alliance of Tea Party activists, environmentalists, and the solar industry convinced the Public Service Commission of something which at its core was a question about how we structure our markets and if it matters. These activists joined together and made the case that yes it does.

The PSC agreed and voted to expand the production of solar energy in this state.

It was a small victory--525 megawatts of new solar is a modest increase (1%) in Georgia Power's energy mix--in a long hard struggle to build a Green economy.

But the decision will move our state into the forefront of solar energy, helping to create more jobs, increase economic investment in rural Georgia, and help lower electric bills for years to come.  It was an investment in our future.  But more than that, it was a group of people joining together to ask our elected officials to aspire for the possible--because its within our grasp.

The PSC responded back...  Yes we can.

Brilliantly coined as a "Green Tea" alliance, it reminded me of two things.  First, the question of how Government structures the market matters.  We can build winning coalitions, to undermine the power of the 1% to gridlock the political process, around this question.

Secondly, it was a reminder of the potential we all have when we aspire for the possible.

The GOP has spent the past 5 years blocking everything that  Barack Obama and the Democrats have proposed----even the ideas they came up with!

It has taken its toll on all of us--myself included.

I think the battle wounds have crept in to our souls a little bit.

Katrina vanden Heuvel had asked the other day if we have the will to fight for the jobless.  She reminded me that we have a lot of really smart people in DC fighting the good fight.  But she wondered about the will to create the energy needed to force through those changes.

In savoring my Green Tea from yesterday I can answer with great confidence--I think we do.

Go watch the video a few more times if need be to remember.

I think there is a perfect issue that has a broad based coalition staring us in the face.  One which answers Heuvel's concern for the jobless and taps in to overcoming the lack of mobilization. An issue that can help the jobless and help reaffirm our commitment to our seniors, one that is fundamental to the Democratic Party platform, one which will inspire the activists and unite across generations--expand Social Security.

Many Americans don't realize it but we have dangers on the horizon when it comes to retirement security.  Our ability as a society to follow through on these commitments to one another is at risk if we don't come up with a solution.  The experts are already doing so.

The economic crisis brought the retirement security question to the forefront for millions. Hard working Americans watched their life savings wiped out by the actions of bankers, and the failure of policymakers and regulators. But the consequence of their failures of judgement, and outright greed, is trickling down on all of us--harming the quality of life, stunting the future potential of millions.  Its an issue that has mass movement potential if we try to make it happen.

Pew did a study a little bit ago and found that 55% of Americans have experienced some work-related hardship because of the Great Recession.  Be it unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours, or an involuntary move to part-time work.  Remember we didn't crash the economy--a small sector of elites did.

The report notes:
While nearly all Americans have been hurt in one way or another, some groups have suffered more than others. Blacks and Hispanics have borne a disproportionate share of both the job losses and the housing foreclosures. Young adults have taken the biggest losses on the job front. Middle-aged adults have gotten the worst of the downturn in house values, household finances and retirement accounts. Men have lost many more jobs than women. And across most indicators, those with a high school diploma or less education have been hit harder than those with a college degree or more.
The wealth that was destroyed as the housing bubble came back down to earth is keeping hard working Americans in jobs longer than they expected. They are afraid their Social Security benefits will not be enough to survive on.  We can fix that and help improve the job situation at the same time.

The destruction of wealth was of a magnitude most couldn't have imagined or prepared for as the Pew Study notes:
 This recession has eroded more household wealth than any other episode in the post-World War II era—not surprising in that it was triggered by the bursting of bubbles in both the housing and stock markets, the two principal sources of household wealth. According to the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID), median household wealth decreased by an estimated 19% from 2007 to 2009. On a percentage basis, this loss of wealth was greater among middle-income households than among those in either the lower or upper income tiers. Similarly, it took a much bigger percentage bite out of the (relatively modest) wealth of black and Hispanic households than of white households
Those hit hardest were hard working Americans, the people who didn't get a bail out, who probably weren't forced or able to to utilize the expansion of food stamps or long term unemployment.  But they were some of the hardest hit in terms of loss of wealth. Many of the those most hardest hit were pivotal in the election and re-election of Obama; but also those most resistent to the Democratic Party message on many other issues.

Now fear of the unknown is locking them in to jobs, jobs that would have been filled by a new generation rising up through the labor market.  But these people can't retire, out of feat--that might help explain some of the populist rage on the right about food stamps and unemployment benefits.

Together we can change that.  

Those on the top and those at the very bottom saw Government help during this economic crisis.   But those in the middle are being forced to stick around in jobs they thought they'd be retiring from. Pew found that among adults 62 and older who are still working
35% say they’ve already delayed retirement because of the recession. Among adults ages 50 to 61 who are currently employed, six-in-ten say they may have to delay retirement because of the recession.
This fear of the unknown is locking up the labor market--having a negative impact across every age group, every family situation.  60% of Americans delaying retirement is not a solution any of us can afford.

In a nation with massive unemployment, where people who should be teaching Math and Science to high school kids, people who should be inventing the next generations of green technologies, people who should be building the future America as they build their careers are instead serving you coffee, cleaning your toilets, and loading your trucks.

We can join together and do something to change this.

I had been meaning to try out Democracy for America's new activist tool YouPower so it gave me a good excuse to give it a run and see what, with a little work, we might be able to change together, through collective action.  Won't you join me?

Join me in aspiring to reaffirm a social commitment to one another which  FDR signed in to law many years ago.  One which might possibly mobilize the kind of Green Tea coalition we saw here in Georgia yesterday.

Lets not play defense against the Republicans, lets get on offense. I think I know a great leader who can help lead the charge navigating the many hurdles and right wing attacks to come. He might even take us up on it if enough of us ask...

Its time to aspire for the possible---because we can.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Georgia GOP Culture War Watch: Its about Power.

So I just caught some comments from Ta-Nehisi Coates in response to the  DOMA ruling that I had to share:
 It must never be forgotten that in America, the right to marry is the right to protect one's family. Certainly the pictures of same-sex couples embracing and hugging warm the heart and are a powerful weapon in country that prides itself on fairness. But, if I may be so bold as to heterosplain, there is a danger here cousin to the one we see in people who think segregation was a matter of Colored Only water fountains. I think the case at the center of the DOMA suit, explained here by The New York Times, is telling:
The case on the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, concerned two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her property. The 1996 law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of about $360,000 that a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage would not have had to pay. Ms. Windsor sued, and last year the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, struck down the 1996 law.
The state repossessing a couple's wealth because it finds them icky is wholly unjust. It recalls a particularly horrible aspect of slavery -- the assault on the families of people deemed to be outside the law. There is a particular war here, which better people than me can speak to. But power is at the core of the long war which began sometime in the mid-17th century with the passage of the first slave codes. The prohibitions against same-sex marriage are not simply about withholding the right to be pretty in a dress or dashing in a tux (though I would deny no one their day). It is about ensuring that only certain kinds of people, and certain kinds of families, are able to amass power, and, with that power, influence over the direction of our society. 
It is wrong to strip people of wealth because you are bigot. It is wrong to strip people of the right to name their caretakers because you are afraid. It is wrong to make war on people because you can not get over yourself. And though today we may say that we have advanced, through much of this country, the wrong continues unabated.
This puts into better conext Phil Kent's call for a culture war here in Georgia in response to the DOMA ruling   

Its not about traditional values.  Its about power... and using religion as a way to mask a power grab that is quintessentially southern.  But sorry boys you've done lost that war.  

It also a reminder of why so many Christians do support the right to marry--they are more concerned with love and compassion, not power and exploitation.

Robert Kuttner wants to know: where are the pitchforks?

Robert Kuttner wants to know where are the pitchforks?  He points out this geneartion is getting screwed. Seriously people.

"The Greatest Generation" had massive government intervention in the economy--basically creating the middle class with a hodge podge of Government spending and expenditures.

Then the Babyboomers then went on a cocaine and tax cut binge during the 80's and 90's crashing the economy around late '06-07.
Now we arrive with degree in hand only to find the new normal sucks.

The 1% is making a killing by killing off your prosperity. Where are the pitchforks?

Room for hope and hopelessness--3 key challenges we face....

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 
                   ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So I've been a bit hopeful of late (see moral monday's) and also hopeless (see about everything else) on the political front.

I've caught some good links today to check out
Teamster Nation: How about restoring taxpayer control over public assets?
 Now We Are Way Too Excited About Campaign Finance Skepticism | Next New Deal 
Economic Policy Institute: Government–Not Business–Has Been the Source of Breakthrough Innovation  
Secret government: America against democracy | The Economist  
 Memories of Stasi color Germans’ view of U.S. surveillance programs 
Todd Gitlin, Are "Intelligence" and Instigation Running Riot? | TomDispatch 
 A Very Brief History Of The American Left  
From massive unemployment, to the national security state effort to spy on US citizens; the fact that people don't have their pitchforks out speaks to the massive political demobilization of working people in this country.

The number of Obama supporters who aren't batting an eye at something that would likely have them up in arms if Bush had gotten got in Snowdens snares disappoints me, scares me in fact as it speaks to an inability within the political party that I more often than not dwell to understand that those with power need to have checks and balances on their power.  I tend to believe one shouldn't need reminding of this fact.  But far too many are okay with exploitation of power and usage of imperialism and Empire when "the right team" is in charge.

But I want to go back to basics of the challenge in front of us rather than dwell in apathy and thunderous fist tweeting.

What are some of the key challenges I see in front of us?

1.  Most people are not well versed in the issues facing us 
2.  The ability of individuals to act collectively to influence power has vanished
3.  Failure to hold policymakers accountable for the economic despair facing most of America
Recognition that the economic and social challenges we face before us were not inevitable, they were not due to immutable acts of nature, but came about through policy choices (3) is the one that sticks with me right now.  

The fact that we have people who made bad choices means that we have political leaders with whom one can point at and hold accountable.  But this holding to account that should be taking place is not taking place.

I think the elect Hilary Clinton movement is a perfect example of this.  The Clinton team have their fingerprints all over the economic decline--the policies which handed the keys to Wall Street and corporate America.  They also have their fingerprints all over the war in Iraq (the run up to the war under President Clinton where Iraq was made a hobgoblin and further isolated from the world; the unquestioning/failure to check the power and reach of the Bush administration via oversight under Clinton herself in the Senate).
This brings us back full circle to my (1)first point; according to the Facebook posts and conversations I have with friends (a very nonscientific dataset to be sure), people do not spend a lot of time learning about the background and history of the issues facing us--they simply have the talking heads and political leaders they trust, whom they eat and spit back out unquestioned the bullet point arguments provided to them via cable news and email.

I'm going to try to do some more blogging--which I've always thought of as "thinking outloud"--to unravel both my own disappointments, as well as confusions, and figure out stronger ways forward.  

Only by way of thinking outloud---making mistakes of logic, figuring out confusions of fact, fuming the pathologies of human frustrations; and then realizing one is wrong, misguided, or merely being childish--can I hopefully find more coherent positions and build a stronger foundation for understanding the world.  But not just should we be working to understand the world but work to build a better future via acting collectively with others within the social networks we dwell in.

If you've made it this far in my ramble you might as well watch Chris Hedges talk on Sheldon Wolin....

"The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T S Eliot

Prufrock and Other Observations.  1920.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hannah Arendt had the bad taste to put truth above tribe

Thomas S. Harrington in response to Margarethe Von Trotta’s new film reflects on what Hannah Arednt can teach us...
At Nuremberg, the victors of a terrible war decided that the best response to evil was to reinforce their belief in the rule of law, and in the broader sense, putatively universal  principles  of justice.
The Eichmann Trial, which was set in motion by an illegal kidnapping (or rendition, as we’d call it today), represents a very different impulse: the desire of the aggrieved to localize, personalize, and in the end, tribalize the problem of evil that in our midst.
Whereas the Nuremberg trials called on the world to remember and punish, but to also direct the gaze of the human beings–all human beings–toward what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature”, the trial of Eichmann was about circumscribing the limits of suffering on one hand, and inhumanity on the other, making each, if not the exclusive property of a particular group, certainly the de facto possession or marker of one particular group above all others.
Like all spectacles designed primarily to elicit or stoke strong emotional reactions, and from there, enhance the attractiveness of nationalist projects, this one used heavy doses of theatricality (like having Eichmann speak from a glass cage while flanked by armed guards) to achieve its desired effects, techniques have been seamlessly adopted adopted by the stage managers of today’s similarly Manichaean and simplistic “War on Terror”.
Did the Israeli court really believe the unarmed middle-aged German, like the heavily shackled and guarded “defendants” in the kangaroo tribunals of today’s Guantanamo, posed a physical threat to anyone in the room?
Of course they didn’t.
But by putting up the glass barrier—a sort of moral cordon sanitaire—and flanking him with uniformed guards, they were graphically conveying exactly what they wanted to convey: the idea of evil as a sort of virus that provokes epidemics of cruelty in certain morally defective national groups  in certain moments of history
As a universalist, Arendt could not fully accept the underlying premises of the morality play being staged by the state claiming to speak for the ethnic group of her birth. In Eichmann, she saw a man who, like so many others in an age of totalitarianism, had simply lost what she viewed as essential: the ongoing moral dialogue with the self.
You know, someone just like the drone pilot who sits at a console at Creech Air Force Base and “eliminates” or “wastes” several human beings during the course of a day and then goes home and eats Chinese take-out and watches ESPN.
For Arendt, the problem of Eichmann was not primarily about Jews and Germans, but rather mechanistic modernity’s ability to blunt the basic moral impulses of large swathes of mankind.
She also made the “mistake”, which one can never make if one wants to retain a respectable place in a collective defined—as is reflected quite clearly in Israeli law– more by notions of kinship than by voluntaristic concepts of social cohesion, of muddying the distinction between the supposedly ever-righteous “in-group” and the supposedly ever-evil “out group” by pointing out what appears to be quite true: that certain leaders of the Jewish community facilitated the demise of their own people through their active cooperation with Eichmann and the Nazis.
In short, Hannah had the bad taste to put truth above tribe.
Which gets us to an interesting question.
As it is becoming increasingly clear, even to the most willfully obdurate observers, that the US, far from being the force for good in the world they told you it was in school, regularly subjects whomever it wants whenever it chooses to espionage, torture, kidnapping, blackmail and assassination, what do you put first? ….The truth or the tribe?
How we respond individually and collectively to that question will go a long way to determining not only what kind of lives our children will have, but also quite possibly the fate of the world as we know it.