No posts today in solidarity with the effort to make legislators understand how we feel about SOPA:
Get the facts:
Someone posted this nice clip from 1959 of Bertrand Russell discussing his atheism on Facebook today.
His succinct answers track closely with how I feel about God and the supernatural.
This is in no way meant to offend people of any faiths, but it is how I see the world.
To be clear, I strongly support the right of people to believe as they will and to practice whatever form of religion they wish to.
However, that support ends when religion is used to endanger others or violate anyone’s rights.
Science Fiction author David Brin posted Saturday with an insightful piece on several of the problems that are conspiring to actually rob us of liberty.
With an 11% approval rating, you would not be alone, and here are some of the reasons why this may be the case:
The oft-noted phenomenon where Americans hate Congress but love their particular representative is undoubtedly the result of Gerrymandering. The practice leads to homogenization of districts and thus to hyper-partisanship and marginalization of minority (in the sense of political ideas) voices in districts designed to favor candidates of one party or the other.
For balance, this isn’t strictly a partisan issue — Maryland recently went through a bought of the deplorable practice in favor of Democratic candidates. But Gerrymandering is extremely harmful to obtaining consensus and moving forward to solving problems; regardless of who does it.
However, an equally important factor in dividing and immobilizing progress in our political sausage-factory is Republican intransigence and their outright war on facts and science:
I have long pointed out that Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1995 started out with some impressive activity. Part of it was disturbing, like the banishing of all scientific advisory staff from Congress, freeing right-wing members to simply declare any facts they felt like uttering. This action was an early harbinger of what became today’s pyrotechnic, outright and open War on Science.
Republicans moved from being merely disagreeable in the mid-1990’s to claiming their rightful mantle as the party of “NO” after 2000. As an example, Brin notes that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is almost exactly modeled on the Republican’s own counter plan in response to Hillary Clinton‘s health care reform proposal. Only now, the same provisions (including the same “market-based” solutions and individual mandates) are now considered horribly socialist.
He explains, “Republicans under Gingrich, in the 1990s, appeared to (occasionally) want to deliberate, negotiate, dicker, come up with some way to move ahead”.
Now they don’t.
And Brin also offers an important note:
…the GOP-led Congresses from 1996 through 2006 were also the laziest and least effective in 100 years.
I don’t say that from any “liberal” perspective. Rather, I base it on objective and unambiguous standards of hard work, time and productivity. Giving their employers what they pay for. The recent Republican Congresses passed fewer bills, held fewer hearings, issued fewer subpoenas and held fewer days in active session than almost any other since the era of William McKinley. The record is damn near perfect. There are no metrics of legislative or deliberative indolence that weren’t broken by the GOP-led Congresses of the last decade or so.
…The GOP owned Congress and the Courts for ten years, and operated all three branches of government for six of those years, with nothing whatsoever to stop them from passing anything they wanted. Yet, amid a tsunami of complaints, they would not even issue subpoenas or hold investigations to harass their enemies! Nor even show up on days that they were paid to.
Americans are acutely aware that we currently have a “do-nothing Congress” but most, shackled by their party loyalties, fail to examine why this is the case.
It certain appears that there is a clear pattern over several decades of GOP candidates using social “wedge issues” to bait their base into the polling places. However, unless some of the more rabid Tea Party candidates manage to convince the Republican establishment otherwise, that base is likely to have a long wait for their “representatives” to introduce legislation to make good on their promises.
Although Brin only gives a brief mention the impeachment debacle, which I feel was defining moment in the ongoing GOP transformation, he is on point with his main observation — given the power to make good on overturning abortion rights and ending Social Security and Welfare, they did nothing.
On the Democratic side, to be fair, candidates have not delivered on a number of issues important to its base, but for the large part, few if any of the candidates even promise to do so. The once progressive party has shifted to the corporate middle as well, with disastrous consequences.
I and other liberals have been very critical of the Obama administration for such lapses, but for anyone paying attention during the 2008 campaign, Obama never promised anything on the checklist of progressive agenda.
There are a few fighters out there, but they are mostly ignored by the Democratic establishment, busy with deregulating and giving up at the earliest sign of Republican resistance to their most tepid requests for any legislative change designed to aid anyone not in the 1%.
On the other hand, this Republican unwillingness to do anything may lead many to question why a group of people so opposed to governing bothers to run for office.
The answer becomes clear when you look at what legislation did pass during those years (admittedly with the help of many Democrats):
One constituency actually got enough attention to get bills passed. Do you remember which? De-regulation of the banking and mortgage and credit industries. Liberation of Wall Street gamblers. Removal of gas mileage standards. Plenty of the sort of thing that sent our economy toward a cliff.
Wall Street and corporations pay the bills and lines the pockets of politicians looking out for their most important constituent; themselves.
Brin also brings in the fact that voting machines are ALL manufactured by the very same far-right company (under several subsidiaries) and that those machines are extremely hackable and insecure — making the result of elections more than a little questionable.
To close out the list he takes a shot at the Citizen’s United ruling that Stephen Colbert has made a mockery of quite effectively:
All of these forces are working to removing the power from the people and concentrate it in the hands of a few very wealthy people. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this arrangement will lead directly to less liberty for the majority of Americans.
The only way to stop this from happening is to get the money out of the system — and no who can make a difference is proposing this at all.
That’s what is missing from the 2012 presidential race and out national conversation.
- David Brin’s Take on Income Inequality (wcward57.wordpress.com)
I’ve heard this meme over the past three decades, and the emptiness of it never diminishes.
Paul Krugman apparently agrees:
If business and the free market really could meet all of our needs, government wouldn’t exist.
It is because government steps in to moderate the excesses of the market and set the rules and create a level playing field that capitalism can thrive.
Unfortunately, the idea that government should be run like a government is part of the conventional wisdom — of people who don’t think too hard about it.
But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.
Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.
In fact, running government as a business has some terrible consequences:
Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line.
But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.
He’s even tried to compare his actions at the now-infamous Bain with Obama’s bailout of the automobile industry.
Like many observers, I was somewhat startled by his latest defense of his record at Bain — namely, that he did the same thing the Obama administration did when it bailed out the auto industry, laying off workers in the process. One might think that Mr. Romney would rather not talk about a highly successful policy that just about everyone in the Republican Party, including him, denounced at the time.
But what really struck me was how Mr. Romney characterized President Obama’s actions: “He did it to try to save the business.” No, he didn’t; he did it to save the industry, and thereby to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost, deepening America’s slump. Does Mr. Romney understand the distinction?
In an era when huge private corporations have led to the largest economic calamity in our lifetime, you would think politicians would be leery of drawing comparisons.
The major problem with this mindset is that it misses the real issue:
We’re in the mess we’re in BECAUSE government got too cosy with business and let corporations remove regulations and determine government policies.
And if we are to learn from the example of Europe, cutting spending and jobs to save “the bottom line” is a self-inflicted wound to our economy and the stability of the nation.
- What Mitt Romney Learned From Killing Jobs (usnews.com)
- Ron Paul supports Romney on ‘vulture’ layoffs. Shame! (thehill.com)
- LAYOFFS WATCH: RBS Plans To Eliminate 3,500 Jobs Globally (businessinsider.com)
Here’s a nice, handy reminder at Visualizing Economics.
Originally published in July of 2009 in the New York Times, the graphic is a great illustration of how laissez-faire and trickle-down economics led to catastrophe yet again.
In summary, for policies alone, and not owing to economic downturns ($770 billion) and not even including Bush on policies he implemented but Obama later supported ($417 billion):
I am not the biggest fan of Barack Obama.
My leanings are more progressive, and his seem to be deeply rooted in the corporate boardroom.
That said, you have to give the man his due when it comes to the stimulus and job creation.
I am convinced by arguments by Paul Krugman and other Keynesians that the stimulus was much too small to have optimal effect, but the small package Obama was able to push through did create jobs.
This is, of course, the reality being mocked by the current meme being rolled out by the pack of jackals running for the presidential nomination on the Republican side.
Both Mitt Romney and Gingrich have calculated the number of jobs lost in the American economy from the date of President Obama’s inauguration and repeating that Obama’s policies have resulted in 1.9 million lost jobs.
In GOP-land, this proves that the stimulus was a complete failure.
Paul Krugman brings the inconvenient facts:
Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?
The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.
The Economist points out that even if you used the Romney-Gingrich metric, if the economy continues to grow at the current pace (and the jobs report was actually better than expected at the time of this response) the argument will be weak by the time election day rolls around:
A lot can happen over the next year, but for the moment the current recovery looks likely to continue. On Friday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics will report the latest employment data, for the month of December. The consensus forecast is for a gain of 170,000 private-sector jobs and a loss of 20,000 public-sector jobs, for a net gain of 150,000. (In the year to November, the economy added an average of 133,000 net jobs and 157,000 private-sector jobs per month, so this would represent a slight acceleration.) If we extrapolate those changes out through the election, then Mr Obama’s opponent will only be able to claim net job losses during the Obama presidency of just 55,000. What’s more, the net figure will entail government job losses of 833,000 combined with net private-sector job creation of 788,000. Given steady improvement in state and local finances, continued loss of 20,000 government jobs per month seems too high, so there is a decent chance that the Republican nominee will be unable to claim any net job loss during the Obama presidency at the time voters go to the polls.
This is what is on offer from the modern right-wing — solutions to problems that don’t exist and a willful ignorance of real problems and what can fix them.
Unfortunately, the person likely to receive the GOP nod is a serial liar who has spent a career destroying jobs for profit.
The point is that Mr. Romney’s claims about being a job creator would be nonsense even if he were being honest about the numbers, which he isn’t.
At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn’t equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn’t that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.
When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn’t destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.
And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.
We are living in scary times, where it is obvious that the real lessons of the utter and absolute failure of trickle-down economics that are plain to most literate people will never be recognized by a sizeable portion of the American populace.
So you get candidates like Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum who willfully lie and distort readily-available facts on a level and scale so blatant and egregious that it beggars the imagination.
And on the other side, we have Obama.
- A message with a shelf life (economist.com)
- ‘Job Killer’: President Obama Guilty, or Innocent? (abcnews.go.com)
- GOP candidates give Obama little credit for improving jobs numbers (thehill.com)
The relentless march of technology is leaving a lot of wreckage in its path.
First CD sales evaporated (along with record stores).
Next, DVD sales and rental outlets boarded up their doors.
Bookstores look like the next victim of consumer demand for instant gratification.
Roger Ebert has posted a list of reasons why movie ticket sales are slumping, and internet streaming is one of the culprits. He notes that 2011 was the lowest year for ticket sales since 1995.
His list, in summary:
1. The absence of a must-see mass-market movies (blockbusters like Dark Knight, and Avatar put butts in seats).
2. Ticket prices are too high. The 3D surcharge and daunting prospect of paying $50 (before refreshments) for a family of four keeps parents away.
3. The theater experience. Cell-phone users and noisy patrons aren’t being policed by most theaters. Why pay $13.50 for a movie that is constantly interrupted by texting and conversations?.
4. Refreshment prices. Where theaters make the bulk of their money. Cheap syrup and popcorn at premium prices.
5. Competition from other forms of delivery. Huge HD television screens are getting cheaper, and aforementioned internet streaming services are relatively inexpensive.
6. Lack of choice. The same movies playing on several screens, and none of the smaller movies many adults want to see.
Box-office tracking shows that the bright spot in 2011 was the performance of indie, foreign or documentary films. On many weekends, one or more of those titles captures first-place in per-screen average receipts. Yet most moviegoers outside large urban centers can’t find those titles in their local gigantiplex. Instead, all the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few overhyped disappointments. Those films open with big ad campaigns, play a couple of weeks, and disappear.
The myth that small-town moviegoers don’t like “art movies” is undercut by Netflix’s viewing results; the third most popular movie on Dec. 28 on Netflix was “Certified Copy,” by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. You’ve heard of him? In fourth place–French director Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime.” In fifth, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”–but the subtitled Swedish version.
The critic concludes that Americans love movies more than ever — it’s just the theaters that put them off.
There is at least one small chain of movie theaters that is doing it right; creating a movie-going experience that is enjoyable and relatively inexpensive:
Alamo, based in Austin, Texas has set the standard for excellence in programming, projection, sound and they are fantastic at enforcing rules to keep patrons from using cellphones or talking.
Here’s one of the PSAs they run before their screenings, in which Patton Oswalt reads verbatim an actual voicemail call from a patron who was kicked out of Alamo for using her cellphone:
They also serve decent food and beer that make movie-going an event.
Unfortunately, Alamo only has theaters in a small handful of cities, including Austin, TX, San Antonio, TX, Houston, TX, Denver, CO and Winchester, VA.
If I had enough money, I’d invest in a franchise in the Washington, DC area.
Movie theaters will have to be more responsible to the movie-going marketplace in order to survive the convenience of internet streaming.
As a movie lover, and someone who has cut back seeing movies in recent years, I would love to see a local theater that shows first-run foreign films and curtails the excesses of other patrons.
- In a competitive market, why is movie theater popcorn expensive? (economics.stackexchange.com)
- Alamo Drafthouse Expansion Begins in Littleton, Colorado Late 2012 (slashfilm.com)
- Yet another reason to silence your cellphone . . . (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Down In Front! Where Do You Sit In Movie Theaters? (entertainment.time.com)
The promotional notes on the Barnes & Noble website gives a preview of the narrative thrust of the book:
Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it’s supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession’s victims and that society’s traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. Republicans in Congress embarked on a bold strategy of total opposition to the liberal state. And TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics.
In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.
Salon has posted a fascinating interview with Frank, who argues that by 2008, the elite liberals in Washington had lost touch with their populist base across America. Following on the train-wreck that should have thoroughly discredited “free market economics” liberal leaders made little attempt to harness the outrage of the citizens bearing the brunt of the failure of utopian right-wing economic policies. This vacuum allowed the right to create a “Utopian Market Populism” to rally the disaffected Tea Party crowd:
I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.
Later in the interview, Frank notes that the lessons of the extremely successful New Deal (and properly managed Keynesian stimulus) were completely forgotten, as was the understanding that this unprecedented mobilization came out of FDR’s successful run against Hoovers’ top-down government bailouts to banks – capturing populist anger and channeling it into building lasting change.
Now we are left with our discourse being hijacked by the Randian idea that the unfettered free market will cure every ill – when our historic experience provides ample evidence that it does no such thing.
In the interview, Frank notes one of the themes that has concerned me for some time — epistemic closure. He terms it “a cognitive withdrawal from the shared world” and shows that this is the model used by Rupert Murdoch:
This is the genius of Fox News. It is fun to watch, and if you agree with them, it’s very gratifying to watch — and on a level deeper than most TV entertainment. The message is “You’ve worked really hard. You played by the rules and now they’re disrespecting you. They won’t let you say the word ‘Christmas.’”
In the end of the interview, Frank holds out the hope that the Occupy movement will channel populist rage and restore order to the destructive chaos that our national affairs have become.
If you haven’t read any of Frank’s work, I suggest you get your hands on What’s the Matter With Kansas and The Wrecking Crew immediately. They are essential to understanding what happened to this country.
Yeah, it sounds like conspiracy ranting.
Stephen Marche lays it out without flinching:
There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here’s one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you’re gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you’re gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can’t bear to tell themselves isn’t real. It’s the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.
Income inequality is alarmingly real, and the eradication of any opportunity in this country is something to scream about:
The Occupiers blame the financial industry. Both are really mourning the arrival of a new social order, one not defined by opportunity but by preexisting structures of wealth. At least the ranters are mourning. Those who are not screaming or in drum circles mostly pretend that the change isn’t happening.
For my part, I blame the collusion between corporations and government.
However, the effect of a stagnant class system is clear. There can be no effective democracy.
Read Marche’s piece, it’s a furious call to recognize reality.
Marche ends with a bleak assessment:
…it is hard to imagine even any temporary regression back to the days of the swelling American middle class. The forces of inequality are simply too powerful and the forces against inequality too weak. But at least we can end the hypocrisy. In ten years, the next generation will no longer have the faintest illusion that the United States is a country with equality of opportunity. The least they’re entitled to is some honesty about why.
I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he isn’t.
- Something Cool We Saw Online: “Our” New Shirt (esquire.com)
- David Brin’s Take on Income Inequality (wcward57.wordpress.com)
- Santorum: ‘I’m For Income Inequality’ (thinkprogress.org)
- OECD Countries With The Widest Gap Between Rich And Poor (huffingtonpost.com)
- Another Solution To Income Inequality? The Progressive Consumption Tax (huffingtonpost.com)
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