Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Government is not Bad. Reagan was Wrong!

Paul Krugman (Princeton Prof and Nobel Prize wimnning economist) is so correct in his op-ed column in the New York Times (Aug 24, 2009). The ideas of the Reganites (Government is bad; tax cuts for the rich are good; on and on) are not only wrong and misguided. Those ideas have given us a prosperous country for the few rich, and an uneducated, unaware citizenry lacking good health care, economic security, and mass media we can trust to tell us the truth about these matters. Middle class Americans (median family income is around $50,000 a year) don't seem to know, or don't seem to care, that their wages have stagnated since 1973. Our health care system is not rated anywhere near #1 according to the World Health Organization, but any mention of reform or public option sends right wing nut jobs over the edge at public meetings. Many Reaganites champion "competition" for all the games the rich have rigged, but reject the idea that the insurance companies (20% of what they take in goes to profits) should compete with a system like medicare (4% overhead costs) that would give us real choice in health care. Read on - Rick

All the President’s Zombies
By PAUL KRUGMAN August 24, 2009 Op-Ed Columnist


The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.
Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.

Let’s talk for a moment about why the age of Reagan should be over.

First of all, even before the current crisis Reaganomics had failed to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.

To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years.

Moreover, most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years. President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite president to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains.

And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.

There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple:
politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics.” And last year we learned that lesson all over again.

Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.

The debate over the public option has, as I said, been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr. Nelson has
warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.

But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.

So why won’t these zombie ideas die?

Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.

How will this all work out? I don’t know. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

USA's Economic Myths Bite The Dust

How many in the USA want to face the truth about where we stand economically? The fact that the distortions and sheer lies put out about health care (propaganda promulgated by powerful interests dedicated to destroying the common good) are believed by so many, reveals the truth that too many U.S. citizens have no knowledge or understanding of our economic situation. Read on. - Rick

Published on Friday, August 14, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

US Economic Myths Bite the Dust

by Mark Weisbrot http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/08/14-6

The Great Recession is allowing some widely held beliefs about the US economy – which were the source of much evangelism over the last few decades – to run up against a reality check. This is to be expected, since the United States has been the epicentre of the storm of policy blunders that caused the world recession.

This month my CEPR colleagues John Schmitt and Nathan Lane showed that the United States is not the nation of small businesses that it is regularly dressed up to be for electoral campaign speeches and editorials. If we look at what percentage of our overall labour force is self-employed, or what percentage of manufacturing workers or high-tech workers are employed in small businesses – well, the US ranks at or near the bottom among high-income countries.

As economist Paul Krugman noted after reading the study: "One more American myth bites the dust." Indeed it has. And as both the authors of the paper and Krugman note, there is a plausible explanation for the US's low score in the small business contest: our lack of national health insurance. There are enough risks associated with choosing to start a business over being an employee, but the Europeans don't have to worry that they will go bankrupt for lack of health insurance.

A number of other alleged advantages of America's "economic dynamism" are also mythical. Most people think that there is more economic mobility in America than in Europe. Guess again. We're also near the bottom of rich countries in this category, for example as measured by the percentage of low-income households that escape from this status each year.

The idea that the US is more "internationally competitive" has been without economic foundation for decades, as measured by the most obvious indicator: our trade deficit, which peaked at 6% of GDP in 2006. (It has fallen sharply from its peak during this recession but will rebound strongly when the economy recovers).

And of course the idea that our less regulated, more "market-friendly" financial system was more innovative and efficient – widely held by our leading experts and policy-makers such as Alan Greenspan, until recently – collapsed along with our $8tn housing bubble.

On the other hand, most Americans pay a high price for the institutional arrangements that bring us these mythical successes. We have the dubious honour of being the only "no-vacation nation", ie no legally required paid time off and of course some weeks fewer actual days off per year than our European counterparts enjoy. We have a broken healthcare system that costs about twice as much per capita as that of our peer nations and delivers worse outcomes, as measured by life expectancy and infant mortality. We are near the top in terms of inequality among high-income countries and at the bottom for parental leave policies and paid sick days. The list is a long one.

Yet it was just two years ago that Nicholas Sarkozy successfully won the presidency of France by arguing that the French could not afford their welfare state and had to adopt a series of reforms that would make the French economy more "dynamic" like that of the US. These included tax cuts for the rich and labour law changes that would make it easier for employers to fire people.

Many French are now sorry they voted for this guy and very glad that they have more protection than most Americans have from the ravages of the recession. Of course they could also use a larger economic stimulus, but the fact that they don't have one is due to the neoliberal policies of their own government and those of the European Union, especially the European Central Bank.

There is another area where the comparison between the American and European model has serious implications for the future of the planet: climate change. "Old Europe" uses about half as much energy per capita as the US does. A big part of this difference is because Europeans, in recent decades, have taken much more of their productivity gains in the form of increased leisure time, rather than working the same (or longer) hours in order to consume more.

We estimated that the US would consume about 20% less energy if it had the work hours of the EU-15. This would have a significant impact on world carbon emissions. Furthermore, when the world economy recovers, there are a number of middle-income countries that will approach high-income status in the not-too-distant future (South Korea and Taiwan are already there). Whether they choose the American or the European model will have an even bigger impact on global climate change.

The major media in both Europe and the United States have played an important role, for decades, in helping politicians capitalise on economic mythology to push policy in economic and socially destructive directions on both sides of the Atlantic. It remains to be seen how much the Great Recession will influence the thinking and reporting of these influential institutions.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Real Men Don't Hurt Women

Women at Risk

By BOB HERBERT August 8, 2009. Op-Ed Columnist

[ We should pay attention to, and act on, what Bob Herbert is saying. He's been way out in front on this issue for a long time. When will we see real men stand up and start defending the dignity and honor of women? - Rick ]


“I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me,” wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week’s shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.
Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

What was unusual about Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”

I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.

Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. “What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.

A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.

There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.

We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

CEOs are Sociopaths - Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann nails this one. CEO's taking in hundreds of millions while millions are unemplyed are simply sociopathic. Read if you are willing to rethink the cultural assumptions of our corporate capitalism run amok. - Rick


Profiling CEOs and Their Sociopathic Paychecks

by Thom Hartmann

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that "Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the US... Highly paid employees received nearly $2.1 trillion of the $6.4 trillion in total US pay in 2007, the latest figures available."

One of the questions often asked when the subject of CEO pay comes up is, "What could a person such as William McGuire or Lee Raymond (the former CEOs of UnitedHealth and ExxonMobil, respectively) possibly do to justify a $1.7 billion paycheck or a $400 million retirement bonus?"

It's an interesting question. If there is a "free market" of labor for CEOs, then you'd think there would be a lot of competition for the jobs. And a lot of people competing for the positions would drive down the pay. All UnitedHealth's stockholders would have to do to avoid paying more than $1 billion to McGuire is find somebody to do the same CEO job for half a billion. And all they'd have to do to save even more is find somebody to do the job for a mere $100 million. Or maybe even somebody who'd work the necessary sixty-hour weeks for only $1 million.

So why is executive pay so high?

I've examined this with both my psychotherapist hat on and my amateur economist hat on, and only one rational answer presents itself: CEOs in America make as much money as they do because there really is a shortage of people with their skill set. And it's such a serious shortage that some companies have to pay as much as $1 million a day to have somebody successfully do the job.

But what part of being a CEO could be so difficult-so impossible for mere mortals-that it would mean that there are only a few hundred individuals in the United States capable of performing it?

In my humble opinion, it's the sociopath part.

CEOs of community-based businesses are typically responsive to their communities and decent people. But the CEOs of most of the world's largest corporations daily make decisions that destroy the lives of many other human beings.

Only about 1 to 3 percent of us are sociopaths-people who don't have normal human feelings and can easily go to sleep at night after having done horrific things. And of that 1 percent of sociopaths, there's probably only a fraction of a percent with a college education. And of that tiny fraction, there's an even tinier fraction that understands how business works, particularly within any specific industry.

Thus there is such a shortage of people who can run modern monopolistic, destructive corporations that stockholders have to pay millions to get them to work. And being sociopaths, they gladly take the money without any thought to its social consequences.

Today's modern transnational corporate CEOs-who live in a private-jet-and-limousine world entirely apart from the rest of us-are remnants from the times of kings, queens, and lords. They reflect the dysfunctional cultural (and Calvinist/Darwinian) belief that wealth is proof of goodness, and that that goodness then justifies taking more of the wealth.

Democracy in the workplace is known as a union. The most democratic workplaces are the least exploitative, because labor has a power to balance capital and management. And looking around the world, we can clearly see that those cultures that most embrace the largest number of their people in an egalitarian and democratic way (in and out of the workplace) are the ones that have the highest quality of life. Those that are the most despotic, from the workplace to the government, are those with the poorest quality of life.

Over time, balance and democratic oversight will always produce the best results. An "unregulated" marketplace is like an "unregulated" football game - chaos. And chaos is a state perfectly exploited by sociopaths, be they serial killers, warlords, or CEOs.

By changing the rules of the game of business so that sociopathic business behavior is no longer rewarded (and, indeed, is punished - as Teddy Roosevelt famously did as the "trustbuster" and FDR did when he threatened to send "war profiteers" to jail), we can create a less dysfunctional and more egalitarian society. And that's an important first step back from the thresholds to environmental and economic disaster we're now facing.

This article is largely excerpted from Thom Hartmann's new book "Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture."

Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program The Thom Hartmann Show. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." His newest book is Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture

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