Archive for the ‘politics’ Tag

Faith in Politics

No this is not a post on the role of religion in US politics. My faith has diminished over the years as candidates who represent a liberal consensus dominate the Democrats and the Republicans are beyond the pale when it comes to paying a fair percentage of ones incomes to help the greater society. They watch as roads buckle, bridges crumble and seem to rejoice over money exploding in bombs all around the world.

The Democrats consensus centers on accepting globalization’s cost in terms of jobs, wages and people’s psyches. They are linked to the financial interests and seem to believe that that industry should be a big driver of the economy. They use the term middle class and help the poor, but seem incapable of effectively articulating the many significant reasons why these groups of people need a fair income, let alone devise a strong program that would help accomplish the goal of putting more money in these peoples’ pockets.

Much to my surprise yesterday, the Washington Post ran an article on a possible campaign by former Senator Jim Webb. When I read this paragraph in a recent speech that he gave, I felt a glimmer of real hope.

“It’s rare when the economy crashes at the same time we are at war,” he said. “The centrifugal forces of social cohesion are spinning so out of control that the people at the very top exist in a distant outer orbit, completely separated in their homes, schools and associations from those of us who are even in the middle.”

What I’d ask of Webb is to lay out the consequences of having a situation that he describes where the wealthy are in another orbit. I’d argue among the results are domination of the political players which has led to a stagnant political environment, ability to frame arguments such as corporations should exist to benefit their share holders, which translates to the wealthy few accumulate great gains while monies that used to be allocated to research and development, the creation of new products and jobs goes by the wayside. All that made worse by trade policies that benefit the wealthy and the corporations and hurt the workers as they cut jobs and wages.

Another article makes some of the realities of the economic recovery clear:

Part of this mystery isn’t one at all: the economy simply isn’t as healthy as the headline numbers suggest. Unemployment has fallen, in part, because so many people have given up looking for work rather than finding it, and there are still millions of part-timers who want full-time jobs.

But then there are deeper factors at work. The economy has gotten bigger, but much of that growth hasn’t reached the middle class. Indeed, the top 1 percent grabbed 95 percent of all the gains during the recovery’s first three years. And that’s not even the most depressing part. Even adjusted for household size, real median incomes haven’t increased at all since 1999. That’s right: the middle class hasn’t gotten a raise in 15 years.

But one of the biggest, and least appreciated reasons Democrats might be struggling, is that the middle class is poorer, too. Median net worth is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1989. Even worse, it’s kept falling during the recovery.

Yes, even after the economy started to grow again, and the stock market started to boom, and housing prices began to bounce back, the median net worth of the average American household continued to decline.

I’m interested in seeing what is to come.

Sex, Politics and Sports

Busboys and Poets in the District featured a discussion with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation, magazine and the first open trans NCAA athlete last night.  Kye Allums played basketball at George Washington University.

alums

In November 2010, he announced his trans status. A very animated speaker, Allums said he took the step because other players on the team would not come out about their relationships. He had enough of that so he decided to make it easier on the other players by starting the coming out process.

Zirin and Allums discussed LGBTQ issues in sports and Zirin’s newest book, Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down. Zirin has written about politics and sport team owners, noting the tax breaks and subsidies that they receive for new stadiums from the public treasuries. He has also documented the political stances many of team owners have taken, ranging from George Steinbrenner and his contribution excesses to the Christian conservative values of the owners of the Colorado Rockies of Major League Baseball and the Orlando Magic of the NBA.

Last night, Zirin offered a good summary of the connections between masculinity, heterosexuality and being proficient in sports. Starting with Muscular Christianity and eugenics in the late 19th century, through the arguments against lesbians coming out in college basketball, American culture has promoted the social good of the supposed connections between gender norms, sexual norms, and playing, or in women’s case, not playing sports.

Hello Dolly

Went to Fords Theater to see a production of this old war horse or classic musical by Jerry Herman. It came out in the 1960s and ran for six years, the longest running musical of its day.

Set in the 1890s, it hints at the Gilded Age and its disproportionate sharing of the wealth. The barber of the mean, wealthy man Hoarce Vandergelder, tells him, “You’ll have to sit still, Mr Vandergelder. If I cut your throat it’ll be practically unintentional.” As a musical the piece does not going into any detail about the country’s problems.

but as I watched this period piece, I heard one line that resonated with me today and would mean something to the Occupy Movement, among the other 99%. Dolly says, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

Parade Magazine and ts What Do People Earn: What People Think?

Parade Magazine every once in awhile shows all the readers of its Sunday magazine how much a variety of Americans earn in the US. You can deduce from that information, which Americans have the best chance of having the wealth in the country: owning stocks and bonds, real estate, etc.

But, surprise, most people in the U.S. don’t know how much wealth others have.  This chart is from a paper called “Building a Better America One Wealth Quintile at a Time” by Dan Ariely and Michael I. Norton. The first line shows the actual distribution of wealth in the US. The tops 20% hold over 85% of the land, assets, etc. Yet, folks perceptions are way off. Find your estimated income and then look at the chart to see how close your income group comes to knowing how the money is spread in the US.

Best of all, look at how the various income groups and voters think that the income ought to be distributed in the US. It is so different from the way it is, that the disconnect is not funny but pathetic.

post_full_1285695177Realvs.ImaginedWealthDistributionintheU

Show Me The Money?

Remember the slogan from the movie Jerry McGuire: Cuba Gooding’s character, a wide receiver on a championship football team, had played well so he expected to get his just due of a fair salary. Don’t we all deserve that after doing good work?

Well, this has not been the case in the United States since the 1970s. The top 1% of the country’s grabbed the lion’s share of the wealth over the 1979-2007 period. What did that mean to the rest of us? Middle-income households lost $13,042 in 2007 alone. Families in the bottom fifth lost $6,010.

Things have only gotten worse since the recession with the top 1% grabbing 125% of all growth in the last few years, leaving the rest of us with scraps that amount to much less than before.

Here’s a chart showing where the wealth is in the U.S.

financial_wealth_pie_chart

Compassion for Others?

With all the talk in Washington and in Wall Street about the need to cut Medicare, Medicare and Social Security, one has to wonder where is the concern fora nyone other than theirselves? The economic gains made during the last few years have gone disproportionately to these same people who want to cut the government’s benefits to others. The wealthiest 1% of Americans gained 125% of the growth. Which means the rest of the 99% got only 75% of that growth.

This is bad policy in an American economy that gets 70% of its growth from consumer spending. How do you spend when you’re unemployed, underemployed, or getting less even if you have a significant job! But ultimately, the key question to ask the one percent is: Where is the concern for others in general?

As many people know, the old days, (the 1950s through 1970s) when the company provided a pension for an employee are long gone. That was a big portion of the retirement nest egg and it was taken away from employees by companies that wanted to maximize profits so that their stock prices would go up. The stockholders would get wealthier on the back of the companies retired employees.

Columnist Harold Meyerson illuminates this point in the editorial below:

To the let’s-cut-entitlements crowd, what’s wrong with America is that seniors are living too high off the hog. With the cost of medical care still rising (though not as fast as it used to), the government is shelling out many more dollars per geezer (DPG) than it is per youngster (DPY). The solution, we’re told, is to bring down DPG so we can boost DPY.

We do indeed need to boost DPY. And we need to rein in medical costs by shifting away from the fee-for-service model of billing and paying. But as for changing the way we calculate cost-of-living adjustments for seniors to keep us from overpaying them — an idea beloved of Bowles, Simpson, Republicans and, apparently, the White House — this may not be such a hot idea, for one simple reason: An increasing number of seniors can’t afford to retire.

Nearly one in five Americans age 65 and over — 18.5 percent — were working in 2012, and that percentage has been rising steadily for nearly 30 years. In 1985, only 10.8 percent of Americans 65 and older were still on the job, and in 1995, that figure was 12.1 percent.

Both good news and bad news have contributed to this increase. The good news is that more seniors both can and want to work than in years past, as health care and medical science have extended their capabilities, and as the share of Americans in desk jobs has increased while the number on the factory floor has shrunk. A 2011 survey by the Society of Actuaries reported that 55 percent of working seniors said they had stayed employed because they wanted to stay active and involved. But the same survey showed that 51 percent were working because they needed the money.

What advocates for reducing Social Security adjustments fail to consider is that corporate America’s shift away from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution 401(k) plans — or to no retirement plans at all — has diminished seniors’ non-Social Security income and made the very idea of retirement a far more risky prospect. Today, more than half of U.S. workers have no workplace retirement plan. Of those who do, just 35 percent still have defined-benefit pensions. In 1975, 88 percent of workers with workplace retirement plans had defined-benefit pensions.

The shift from traditional pensions to 401(k)s is one of the main reasons most seniors aren’t able to set aside enough income to guarantee a secure retirement. A 2010 survey by the Federal Reserve found that the median amount saved through 401(k)s by households approaching retirement was $100,000 — not nearly enough to support those households through retirement years, as seniors’ life expectancy increases. And as most Americans’ wages continue to stagnate or decline, their ability to direct more of their income to 401(k)s diminishes even more.

With the eclipse of the defined-benefit pension, Social Security assumes an even greater role in the well-being of American seniors. But advocates of entitlement cuts don’t even discuss the waning of other forms of retirement security: Listening to Alan Simpson, you’d never know that America’s elderly aren’t getting the monthly pension checks their parents got.

And it’s not as if those employers are suffering. Just as U.S. businesses have been able to raise the share of corporate profits to a half-century high by reducing the share of their workers’ wages to a half-century low, so, too, their ability to reduce pension payments has contributed not just to their profits but also to the $1.7 trillion in cash on which they are currently sitting.

So here’s a modest plan to enable seniors to retire when they wish, rather than having to work into their 70s and even beyond: Require employers to put a small percentage of their revenue, and a small percentage of their workers’ wages, into a private, portable, defined-benefit pension plan. To offset the increased costs, transfer the costs of paying for workers’ health care from employers and employees to the government, and pay for the increased costs to the government with the kind of value-added tax that most European nations levy. (The tax burden is higher in Europe, but because the level of benefits is higher as well, the tax has wide public support.)

The odds of such a plan being enacted today, of course, are nil. (Then again, the odds of any bill getting through Congress these days are close to nil.) But until we compensate for, or reverse, the abdication of corporate America from any major role in providing its workers with retirement security, we should lay off monkeying with Social Security to reduce the program’s future payments. As for all those cash-drenched chief executives who proclaim that we must cut entitlements, how about they make up the difference by restoring the pensions their companies slashed?

Progressive Politics

Rocky Anderson ran for President in 2012. Didn’t hear of him. Think he’s a loony or nut job? No, he’s one of the most progressive political figures out there in the US today.

Drones: creating more enemies for the US than they are killing.

Wall Street: How come no bankers have been brought to trial.

Raising the minimum wage: How about putting $30 billion more dollars in the hands of the country’s vast majority of working people. Do that and you’re consumer economy will grow and create some new jobs.

Here he is on one of my favorite tv shows, The Young Turks

 

Election 2012: Clash Style

Rock and Roll Perspective: Speaking Out for The People

White Man in Hammersmith Palais by The Clash

Be realistic about revolt: Cause it won’t get you anywhere fooling with your guns. The army is waiting out there and it weighs 1500 tons.

This country can’t decide to tax peoples’ earnings at a level that would provide for more equitable contributions to the federal government or to pare down the debt.

White Youth/Black Youth better find another solution: Why not phone up Robin Hood and ask him for some wealth distribution.

The inevitable commercialization of peoples’ rebellion whether in punk music or rap music:

The new groups are not concerned with what there is to be learned. They got Burton suits, huh you think its funny, turning rebellion into money.

The sameness of the major political parties, and thee issue of a plutocracy:

All over people are changing their votes, along with their overcoats. If Adolph Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway.

Paul Ryan: Reformist Conservative ?

Editorial writer Michael Gerson argues that Paul Ryan is not a Tea partyer. He is not like the Libertarians who want to remove all federal government. No, he is a Reformist Conservative.

What a load that is! He wants to reform like someone wielding an ax wants to do a surgical operation. Ryan’s proposal is to cut all non-entitlement spending (not Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) to 3.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The federal government in order to run all these other operations spends 12.5% of the GDP.

So what happens when you cut 9% of the federal spending on defense, law enforcement, national parks, intelligence operations, archives, and protecting the environment. Common sense tells one that none of these activities can be run anywhere close to effectively without the money. Therefore, endangered species do not receive protection. Strip mining operations can not be watched for illegal labor practices. Museums, archives and national parks can not stay open. Lawyers prosecuting cases, and police gathering evidence comes to a screeching halt.

The argument that the Republicans will make is that they are getting rid of government activities to remove the deficit problem. Half of the current deficit goes to health care, pensions, and paying interest on our debt. These are the areas where the budget is going to grow because of payments due to the increasing number of retirees.

 

 

That only leaves 44% of the budget to cut. Romney promises increased military spending so that takes that 24% off the cutting board. What’s left is 20% of the budget which would make only a small dent in the debt and not address the areas where government expenses are rising.

Instead, that 20% pays for many agencies and thousands of programs. This gets to the heart of the plan. Eliminate those agencies and their programs, regardless of how important federal expenditures in these areas are to maintaining state and local governments in education and social services. Get rid of those programs and you remove the regulations that keep companies and rich people from exploiting workers, ruining the environment, and providing opportunities for kids to receive strong education regardless of their economic class.

Politics and Boxing Not NCAAs

Went to see the play Sucker Punch at the Studio Theater last night instead of watching round one of the NCAAs.

The sports on display is the story of boxing and how it gives underprivileged people the change at making it big. The setting is the politics of Margaret Thatcher in 1980s England. This is the turbulent race riots in cities as the kids of first generation immigrants from over the globe realize they don’t have many opportunities in England. (Not the politics on display in Meryl Streep’s Iron Lady movie).

The audience definitely roots for Leon, one of the lead characters as he begins to box his way out of his circumstances. He seems to be one of two characters capable of empathy. Most of the others believe in offering ultimatums as they struggle controlling lives that have not gone or aren’t going the way they would like. Despite disappointment with the ending, the audience gave the performer Sheldon Best a standing ovation, which he graciously accepted.

The boxing scenes were quite believable, except in the last instance where I wonder if the two guys would be in the same weight class.

Most of the performances were outstanding.

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