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Topic: Economic Justice
Dissent: Organizing in Red America
6/16/2017 1:11:54 PM
Dissent Magazine has a special issue with a title with an interesting twist, talking about projects in "red" America, the more conservative states. I also like to follow the work of Sherrod Brown, senator from Ohio. There aren't many Lutheran politicians, but Brown is one of them. This issue of Dissent has a focus on him.
The Summer issue of Dissent, themed "Organizing in Red America", features:
• Michael Kazin in conversation with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
• Michelle Chen on Mississippi autoworkers’ struggle for a union
• Kate Aronoff on how rural electric cooperatives could save the planet—and democracy
• Sarah Jaffe's roundtable discussion with Juan Miranda, Sandra Williams, and Eric Robertson about their labor organizing in the South
• Scott Douglas on the battle for a living wage in Birmingham, Alabama
• Julie Greene on Nebraska’s immigrant rights movement
Plus, Daniel Aldana Cohen on the new climate fiction, Annie Hylton’s investigation into the dirty secrets of the laundry industry, Lucas Iberico Lozada on a Philadelphia family’s fight against deportation, Julia Ott on how tax policy created the 1%, fiction by Ru Freeman, and more.
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Trump Over Performed the Most in Counties with the Highest Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Mortality Rates
12/9/2016 5:41:29 PM
James Hohmann at the Washington Post has written up the findings of an extremely interesting study by Shannon M. Monnat at PennState University. It reveals that the people voting for Trump have become so desperate that they would vote for someone who might be able to bring change to their communities, not realizing that the man they voted for had been lying to them again and again.
Folks, what we have to realize is that the form of economic system in the United States, which has grown more powerful and dominate in the last thirty years, has not been performing adequately for the vast majority of people, and especially in rural areas and inner cities. People lack adequate incomes, they lack adequate housing, they lack adequate health care. Theirs lives and families are falling apart, they are turning to drugs and alcohol and killing themselves. It is in those very places where people voted for Trump according to this PennState Study.
This is worth looking at carefully. Trump won the election by lying to people. Never in my life have I seen such outright lies being told by a politician, more so than Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush. It is so terribly sad that the very people who have been most hurt by the failure of both political parties to bring economic fairness and justice to communities of the United States are the ones who have been so seriously duped by a racist and dishonest political figure.
This society will now decline more and more partly because modern media is not able to tell the truth about politics today so people can understand their own interests and vote accordingly. The corporate media is making so much money on Trump that they are willing to publish lies and distractions pushing regular folks more and more into self-destructive behavior.
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Hillary Lost Because of Her Husband's Economic Policies
11/9/2016 7:02:10 PM
Harold Meyerson in an article with the title Catastrophe writes as follows:
It wasn’t James Comey who did her in. It sure wasn’t Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. It was her husband.
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Nebraska Doesn't Believe in the Free Market for Its Electricity
3/29/2015 2:49:48 PM
Republican lawmakers like to claim they are believers in the free market these days; they have become highly ideological in their political rhetoric. But in the state of Nebraska whose government is dominated by Republicans no one in the state receives electricity through any profit-oriented business. Everyone in the state gets their electricity through a publicly-owned grid according to an article in Yes Magazine.
In Nebraska, 121 publicly owned utilities, ten cooperatives, and 30 public power districts provide electricity to a population of around 1.8 million people. Public and cooperative ownership keeps costs low for the state’s consumers. Nebraskans pay one of the lowest rates for electricity in the nation and revenues are reinvested in infrastructure to ensure reliable and cheap service for years to come.
When libertarians claim "government can't create jobs", as they like to say over and over, you might remember this example so you can counter this kind of talk which comes from right wing radio.
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Oxfam Report: How the Wealthy Get Their Money by Not Working or Paying Taxes
1/26/2015 4:25:22 PM
After the recent State of the Union speech I again heard the Republican talking point that the president wants to "take money from one group and give to another." As is repeated constantly every day again and again by conservative talk radio, it is wrong to redistribute wealth from the rich to the middle class and poor. This assumes, of course, that the rich have a right to their wealth and that they obtained it fairly.
I think the conservatives have it exactly wrong. What actually happens is that the wealthy get their wealth by taking it from others, including the poor. And the wealthy are able to control those who make the laws to make sure that laws protect and make possible ill-gotten wealth. They have been so successful at this that now even Republicans are talking about inequality!
Oxfam, an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty, has published a new report which is discussed in the video below:
The following text accompanies the video at TruthDig:
Oxfam reports that just 80 people possess the same quantity of wealth as 3.5 billion others. On RT’s Crosstalk, economist Michael Hudson discusses how this happened with Oxfam official Max Lawson and Richard Wellings at London’s Institute for Economic Affairs.
Hudson begins, “According to every economics textbook and all the Nobel prizes for the last 40 years, this can’t be happening. According to the economics textbooks, the wealthy get rich by adding to production. You earn what you make and they’re wealth creators. But in fact what they’re producing isn’t wealth, it’s poverty. And they do this largely because—I think you can think of them as being creditors. They’re creditors to the bottom 99 percent that are debtors and renters. If you look at these wealthiest families, there are a number of common denominators: They didn’t earn their income, and yet economists only look at how people earn their income. President Obama last week said, “Well, if you have the desire to get rich and you work hard, you can do it.” But that’s not how these families got their wealth.”
Lawson adds, “Our figures show that the top group of people—the 80 people now—and of the billionaires… about a third now inherited their wealth. And that figure’s increasing all the time. And this is the point the French economist Piketty made in his famous book last year, that we’re rapidly returning to an era that we thought had been consigned to the history books, an era that we associate with The Great Gatsby or maybe Victorian times in Britain where wealth is inherited and all of the things that come with that. So it’s not just the capture of political power in this generation, it’s about using your money to shore up the future of your children and your children’s prospects. So it really is a kind of ossification of society, if you like, a stratification, which we think is deeply, deeply harmful, because it’s ultimately bad for the economy, it’s bad for meritocracy. And I agree that it’s a problem in the west, it’s a problem in rich countries, but I lived for many years in the developing world and it’s certainly a problem, for example, in South Africa where I lived, a deep, deep problem of inequality there. It’s such an issue that it’s now attacking the success that we’ve seen in the war on poverty in many of these developing countries, is being threatened by inequality there too. So it’s a problem all over the world. It’s not just in the U.K. and the U.S., it’s a problem as much in South Africa an India as it is here in London.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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Wall Street has Bought Itself a Congress
12/15/2014 6:19:34 PM
President Obama and other Democrats have gone along with a Republican effort to cancel one of the key sections of the Dodd-Frank legislation that prohibited big banks from gambling with bank deposits insured by American taxpayers. Language to that effect was placed in the must-pass budget funding the government for the next year. This avoided a government shut-down again. But leaders of the Republican dominated House used this last minute occasion to do a huge favor to the big banks. It is actually hard to believe they would do this, it is so obvious, but these leaders figure that not enough people will be upset by this, or will not find out about it.
It was Obama who helped John Boehner, the House Speaker, with the votes to pass the budget, because Tea Party Republicans weren't going to vote for it. Obama persuaded enough Democrats to vote in favor so it could pass. The vote was 219-206. Democrats split 57 in favor, 139 against.
Paul Krugman in his column in the New York Times today said that Wall Street has bought itself a Congress. Read his whole column. He is one of the few popular economists telling the truth these days.
And the one Senator who has done the most to make clear what is happening is Elizabeth Warren. Watch her speech on the floor of the Senate:
The Huffington Post has said this may be "The Speech That Could Make Elizabeth Warren the Next President of the United States," (December 13, 2014).
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Nick Hanauer: Beware, Fellow Plutocrats, the Pitchforks are Coming
8/13/2014 3:10:07 PM
In the Ted talk below a Seattle plutocrat, a rich guy, Nick Hanauer, promotes the idea of $15 minimum wage which has been adopted by the city council there. There is a lot of common sense in what he says here, yet neither of the major political parties advocates the kind of economic system Hanauer proposes here. Click on the image to listen to this short talk.
On that page the following describes the talk:
Nick Hanauer is a rich guy, an unrepentant capitalist — and he has something to say to his fellow plutocrats: Wake up! Growing inequality is about to push our societies into conditions resembling pre-revolutionary France. Hear his argument about why a dramatic increase in minimum wage could grow the middle class, deliver economic prosperity ... and prevent a revolution.I myself do not believe that the leadership groups of American society will be able to take inequality seriously enough to do something about it. They will not give up their wealth and their superior position in society, even though it is not really satisfying for them. Inequality will get worse and worse until something breaks and there will be widespread and terrible suffering. I hope I am wrong about that, for the sake of my grandchildren. In the meantime I think all of us have responsibility to try to change both the politics and economics of the country.
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Karl Polanyi and the Stark Utopianism of Market Fundamentalism
7/1/2014 2:26:46 PM
For some years now I have thought that the central idea of capitalism, that a market free of governmental regulation can adequately result in what is best for society, is a wildly utopian idea. It assumes human beings don't need any constraining force of government to do that which is best for the larger community. Those "conservatives" who believe in market fundamentalism like to think it is the "liberals" who are the utopians. But for some time now I have thought it really is utopian to believe government isn't needed. In fact, it's the hope of teenagers: no rules are necessary.
But I had forgotten where I got that idea. In an article in the new issue of Dissent Magazine Margaret Somers and Fred Block discuss the work of Karl Polanyi, especially his important book The Great Transformation: The Social and Political Origins of Our Time published in 1944. I read that book many years ago.
Somers and Block talk about Polanyi in the context of two economic thinkers who have become so important to today's conservatives:
Karl Polanyi’s ideas took form in Vienna in the 1920s in direct opposition to the free-market orthodoxy of Ludwig von Mises, the contemporaneous avatar of market fundamentalism. Both thinkers were deeply influenced by the “Vienna experiment,” the post–First World War period of democratic, worker-led municipal socialism. While Polanyi saw in the experiment the very best that socialism had to offer, it motivated von Mises’s lifelong effort to prove that socialism and “planning” were economically disastrous and morally corrupt.Note that what Polanyi calls "liberalism" is what is called conservatism today.
This article is quite helpful in providing some history for understanding how the economic views of conservatives today really are more like religious beliefs, belief in a kind of religious economic utopia. Those who control the wealth of the country want everyone to believe this, of course, so that the people through democratic governance will not be able to put limits on what they do.
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Brookings Report on Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives
4/25/2014 2:12:03 PM
A major report has been produced at the Brookings Institution on the future of the religious left. Here are two video presentations on the introductory event on this report.
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Why Obamacare is a Political Con Job
10/30/2013 5:50:52 PM
Right now again the media is filled with great controversies over Obamacare. People started signing up October 1, 2013, and the website broke down, so Republicans are carrying out vicious attacks on Obama most of which are ridiculous when you actually think about them. And that follows the willingness of Republican House members going right to the brink of both closing down the government and defaulting on the country's bills. It took the votes of Democrats to keep that from happening, at the last minute. But it's the Republicans who win anyway by keeping their issues at the center of attention. Republicans have really learned how to dominate the news cycle so they can send out their fund-raising letters again and again. And media "professionals" keep playing their game by a focus on who is winning the big fights.
Politics today is like a football game. Most of us are only spectators but we love to cheer for our team, and the only teams on the field are Republicans and Democrats. I would like to say, my team is not even on the field.
Just look at how much time Texas senator Ted Cruz is getting in the media. He doesn't have to do much of anything to get into the national news show. All he has to do is talk tough. He is calling Obamacare "socialism" these days, "government-run healthcare" even though it is nothing of the sort. It is a Republican approach to health care sold to the country by a Democratic president. See the article I just put up on this website called Obamacare: The Biggest Insurance Scam in History. It documents how the health insurance industry is the big winner in Obamacare which forces people to buy private health insurance. So here you have Democrats passing a bill that uses the force of government to buy a product from private companies, a product that turns out to be not very good at all, especially what could happen if you took the middle-men health insurance companies entirely out of the equation.
It is the fact that health care is controlled by private health insurance companies that makes health care so unaffordable these days - these middlemen make all the money and contribute nothing to the actual provision of health care. This is done on the basis of the false idea that they provide "competition" in the marketplace, prices will go down if companies have to compete. But we are talking about insurance companies here and they have long since learned how to package inferior products in attractive ways, until you really get sick.
The Democratic congress would not even discuss the option I wanted, what is known as single-payer, where there is one provider of the funds for health care, the government, with direct payments to medical providers. In this system there is no private health insurers, removing a vast layer of bureaucracy out of the system. This is the way government already works, providing direct financing of over half of the health care delivered in the country, through Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans benefits.
The only reason the federal website isn't working well is that Obamacare is so extremely complex, having to take into account multiple plans from multiple companies in multiple states and then, on top of that, it has to try to establish what subsidies people may have in different categories of income. What a total complex mess, and imagine all the people who have to be paid to try to manage and untangle the specifics for each individual.
We have this mess only because Republics demand that the system be "private", that tax money be used to pay private companies (what is known as neoliberalism), rather than provide services directly through government agencies. The anti-government rhetoric results in more government!!! And bad government!!!
And the Democratic Party has been going along with all this since Jimmy Carter. We haven't had an actual New Deal Democratic in the White House since Walter Mondale, Carter's vice president. The most a Democratic president has been able to do is to adopt Republican-type programs. That's why I say, my own team is not even on the field.
And even when Democrats install Republican programs the Republicans have to go even further over into the extreme right wing, attacking everything under the sun and feeling like they are an aggrieved minority. They have been winning the public relations battles for the last many decades!!! It is impossible to even begin talking about real stuff that would help the country.
Like fast trains. Like public provision of Internet access. Like making a job available for everyone who wants one.
Here's the health care system I want most of all: a free local clinic in every rural town and urban neighborhood, just like the post office. If you are sick you just go the nearest clinic. No questions asked. That's what they have in England. And it is so popular no conservative politician would begin to question it.
Remember Jesus healed everyone who came to him, free. To be healthy meant to be free to participate in the life of the community. It makes me wonder why some are so hostile to the sick.
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Hunger Games: The Divide and Conquer Marketing Strategy of Fox News
8/7/2013 5:44:41 PM
Just a few weeks ago two of my grandsons, ages 13 and 11, were visiting a couple days. My wife happened to have ordered the movie "Hunger Games" for us to view that week-end. I wondered if we should do so because I had months earlier heard from my daughter, the mother of my grandsons, that the book on which the movie is based is about young people killing one another. Something had changed in the meantime. When I expressed my concern I learned that my grandsons had not only seen the movie they had, both of them, read all three novels associated with the movie.
So we watched the movie. Then afterwards we had the best discussion on any substantive topic I had ever had with my grandsons. They knew these novels through and through, they knew the major themes, they could articulate the issues. The one thing they did not grasp was the central role of the audience in the movie. The whole movie is set in the context of a television audience watching the process of a most real "game" of young people actually killing one another until there was one winner standing. Young people were being sacrificed for the blood-lust of the audience.
The central power is called "Capitol" which has created thirteen separate "districts" in competition with one another. Each district sends its best youth to fight in the Hunger Games. The winner's district will receive benefits over the other districts. The heroin in the novel tries to get the districts to cooperate with one another over-against the power of Capitol (which I want to say is really "capital", money). So there appears to be here a kind of emancipatory politics being practiced here, at least in the novel. The movie places more focus on the blood-lust of the audience.
This I later learned is a major theme of many horror films about and for young people, to which they themselves flock. Jon Pahl in Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence says that such films essentially prepare the youth of the country to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the supposedly greater good of the country. If this is true then my grandsons by watching Hunger Games may unconsciously be taking on habits of thought which will at some point allow them to put themselves forward as a blood sacrifice. A terrible thought.
But during my conversation with them I came to be amazed at how much they were provided from the novels with categories in their minds by which to understand basic political realities, even if they did not, of course, have knowledge of current politics to apply these categories. One such category of political manipulation is the use of "divide and conquer." In this idea, to maintain power over people it is necessary to divide those people from one another in various groups based on abstractions. It is easier to control people if they are not united by common beliefs or loyalties. The application of that idea can be seen clearly in the movie, and my grandsons could articulate it, even if they could not see, until I talked to them about it, that blood-lust was what was a "uniting" factor for the audience in the background.
So let's apply this way of thinking to current media and politics. We might ask, what is the cause of the current and massive polarization of our politics? The answer is that it is good for business. Think of all the media companies and personalities, political consultants, parties, and candidates who thrive, who make their living from, political conflict. The more conflict the better, the more blood spilled the better. "If it bleeds it leads" is the jounalist's motto. And behind it all is a blood-lusting audience, you and me. We love to see a good fight, and something in us even desires to see even death and destruction, and we want to feel like we are the winners and "they" are the losers.
Marketing strategies of media companies are based on just this sort of thing. But some companies do it more than others. Let's talk about Fox News and the right wing talk show hosts.
I have wondered over the years how it has been possible for the Republican Party to convince many uneducated Americans to vote for their candidates when those candidates propose policies against the actual interests of those Americans. Rural Americans will vote for libertarian politicians, for example, who want to close those terribly expensive government post offices which, however, often happen to be a very important fixture in most rural communities. Why would a local hard hat guy vote for someone opposed to unions and the minimum wage? How has it been possible to convince uneducated Americans that their enemy is good public schools, universities, and professionals who serve them such matters as health care? What methods of divide and conquer have been used here?
Well, for Fox News this is their marketing strategy. The audience Rupert Murdock is going for, both in England and the United States, is regular folks, blue collar, gun lovers, working folks, and in general the "uneducated," those without a college education. The marketing strategy of Fox news to create polarization among the people and the central way of doing so is to set up the "educated elite" as opposed to the desires and interests of regular folks. It is a diabolical strategy but it has been working for them. One of the main divisions in political polling of opinion is between the educated and uneducated.
Much the same can be said about all those "libertarian" radio talk show hosts. Being libertarian is easy, you just have to hate everything government is doing. The government is your enemy, not the large corporation, even if it is the latter that actually controls the most important matters for the livelihood of most people.
If you doubt what I am saying consider this comment from Major Garrett, formerly of Fox News, in 2010: "For a certain amount of marketing points of view, Fox actually wants to keep that polarization and say, look, we’re different. We’re dramatically different; you can see how we’re different. And if you like that difference, you better come over here and you better stay here. That is an embedded part of the marketing that surrounded what happens at the news division at Fox that’s been incredibly successful.”
Fox News is successful, the country is not. Because of Fox News and its friends the political process in this country is so broken it can't begin to address the huge problems the country faces. The strategy of divide and conquer makes a lot of money for lots of people at the expense what is best for everyone, including for sure all those who themselves are watching Fox News and listening to talk radio.
This should not be allowed in a democratic society which depends on at least some degree of rational discourse. Unless large numbers of Americans decide to refuse to participate in the blood-lust audience, we may all, including my grandsons, be forced to live forever in the world of Hunger Games.
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Health Care Hogs Drive Up Costs
3/27/2013 3:15:32 PM
The central issue in current debates over budgets and deficits has to do with the increasing costs of health care. Projections of future health care costs are based on how health care is currently being paid for, through insurance payments to health providers. But these "providers" are private businesses, or non-profit agencies run like a business, and they have been charging more and more for health care, partially to pay off huge executive salaries. And costs go up because of increasing fees from businesses that make the drugs and equipment for providers. To get control of health care costs it is necessary to find ways to limit the huge payments being made to sustain the profit system, the extra money going to business that does no one any good except to inflate the earnings of business.
The truth of this has been presented again in a summary in twenty-one graphs produced by the International Federation of Health Plans for the year 2012. These graphs show what is paid for various procedures in other countries compared to this country.
Robert Borosage writes the following about this:
We don’t get more health care; we just pay more — much more.
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Wealth Inequality is Much Worse than Most People Believe
3/11/2013 8:26:13 PM
Last week a whole lot of folks were looking at the video shown below. It had "gone viral" as they say. And that's good. It is important to create in the public consciousness more truth about the obscene degree of inequality which has been generated since the 1980s when President Reagan and his party began to reset the rules for who would be rewarded what benefits from work.
If you are at all concerned about the issue of wealth inequality I encourage you to go to the website of the Too Much newsletter. Sign up to receive it every week. You will soon have a treasure store of stories and examples to use in conversation or sermons.
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Fairness Now Means to Tax the Rich More
12/10/2012 4:50:56 PM
One of the facts not well enough known in current debate over the "fiscal cliff" is that the Bush tax cuts were designed to benefit wealthier Americans much more than others. This means that for over a decade these wealthier folks have gotten immensely more wealthy, even while the poor have become even more poor and middle class families have lost ground.
A brief history of tax policy in the last years and the financial crash is presented in the cartoon video below narrated by Ed Asner. Notice that the video stresses that rich people try in many ways to convince the rest of us that we should think in ways beneficial to themselves, that is, to the rich, rather than to think in ways beneficial to the poor and middle class.
Enjoy the video, think about its message, and share it with friends.
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A Victory for Life
11/7/2012 3:34:20 PM
Mitt Romney made repeal of Obamacare a central theme of his campaign for president. As I watched his stump speech on C-Span several times I saw Romney emphasize his opposition to the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that it was similar to a plan Romney had promoted in Massachusetts. So, health care was a very big part of what this presidential campaign was about.
Now Romney has lost. One of the central meanings of the victory of Barack Obama is that national health care will be further institutionalized within American society. This literally means "life" for millions of Americans who have not had adequate access to the benefits of modern medicine.
One cannot read about Jesus in the bible without coming to the conclusion that he was concerned for the health and welfare of all persons. Throughout its existence the church at its best moments has followed Jesus in promoting healing ministries. Protestants have led in this country in creating hospitals open to those who are sick no matter their ability to pay. The Republican idea that health care should only be available to those with the ability to pay has been rejected. I have been amazed at the hostility conservatives have expressed over the idea of health care for all, especially religious conservatives who otherwise express a concern for "life".
The presidential election of 2012 may well become known over time as the one in which "health care for all" was established in the public policy of this country. It is something Obama himself consistently supported even when it seemed difficult to achieve. If Romney had been elected it would have been rolled back. Now, it will be fully implemented in a second Obama administration. It is a victory for life.
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It's Not Theology that is Utopian Today, It's the Market Fundamentalists Like Romney
10/17/2012 4:07:17 PM
In the early 1980s I was pastor at Salem Lutheran Church on the southside of Chicago not far from the Hyde Park area where the University of Chicago is located along with the Lutheran School of Theology. Robert Benne taught social ethics at the seminary and had been influenced by economists known as the Chicago School. So since I was living so close to these famous economists I thought I would sit down and read some of their books.
One thing I found was that they liked to use the term "theology" for whatever economic thinking they rejected, as if any belief in theology is based on pure faith not fact. These supply side economists thought they had a realistic grasp of reality. But as I read them I came to the strong conclusion that it was these economists who had a idealist view of the world, that they had a terribly distorted view of human nature, and that they promoted a very magical view of the power of the market as if the market was a kind of divine ordering process that human beings should not interfere with.
It was those years, of course, when Ronald Reagan was beginning to implement his notions of small government, to get government "off the backs" of business. We have been living now some thirty years with this type of economic thinking which had influenced Jimmy Carter as well, and was adopted by Bill Clinton too. Democrats have not themselves articulated clear options to this market fundamentalism. Even in the second presidential debate last night Barack Obama would not be very clear about exactly how he expects goverment to be involved in rebuilding the economy.
The religious right has adopted the Republican views of the so-called free market as described in an article I just placed on this website. It is as if the market is guided by "God" for these folks, a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the historic doctrine of providence. The association of the magical thinking of the religious right with the utopian notions of the Chicago School of economists helps us understand why both politics and economy are in such bad shape today.
Romney's wild faith in market fundamentalism expressed in the debate is simply amazing. He promised that he knows what to do so that millions of jobs will be produced, salaries will go up, unemployment will go down, everyone will be able to receive a college education, health care will be there for all, all this without raising taxes and still bringing down the deficit. If you watched the debate just try to imagine how he is going to do all that. But wait, he isn't going to do it, he is just going to get government out of the way so that the magical market can accomplish all this.
This is not facing reality. This is wild, utopian faith at odds with the sober facts of history. A theology which still recognizes original sin is much more realistic than utopian economics.
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Compared to Other Nations, America is Under-Taxed and More Unequal
8/31/2012 1:55:55 PM
Andrea Louise Campbell, Professor of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks about taxes and income inequality in this C-Span program on August 20, 2012. If you want the truth about taxes watch this outstanding half-hour program. After a hostile question from a Republican from Tennessee, Campbell introduces herself as the granddaughter of Swedish immigrants from northern Minnesota. The incredible hostility of a couple other Republicans is also exposed in this piece. I am simply amazed at the degree to which Republican public expression these days is so angry and trivial and fundamentally nasty. They have been urged on with this tone by their leaders. But the composure and analytic clarity of Professor Campbell is outstanding.
An article on this topic by Campbell will soon be published piece in Foreign Affairs magazine
I ran into this article at a new network of scholars writing on public policy called the Scholars Strategy Network which I very highly recommend as a reliable source for information on public issues.
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Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All
8/3/2012 4:54:33 PM
An outstanding new report by Jacob S. Hacker and Nate Loewentheil has the potential of providing a common understanding of what is wrong with the current economy and concrete proposals of what to do about it. It is called Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All. It does not attack government. It does not attack business. It is not extreme on either side of the current ideological divides. It is a very common-sense description of recent economic history, including clear comments about "austerity economics."
The authors note the importance of groups such as churches in civil society if there is to be a new economic discussion on a higher level than has been occuring in recent decades. "The reforms we have discussed throughout this document will not be easily achieved. They will require substantial political mobilization outside government--from organizations operating in our broader civil society and within the market."
I do a lot of reading. I am tracking all the time various proposals coming from many different sources. I highly recommend that readers download this report, print it out, and share it with others. It can provide the basis for new and helpful conversations about how to work for economic justice in our time.
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The Trees are Falling
7/14/2012 1:49:46 PM
Outside the building in which I live in downtown Portland are what are called the "Park blocks" filled with many trees block after block. I am able to sit on park benches under these trees enjoying the summer weather. Except, right now I have to worry just a bit because the trees have been falling. A few weeks ago one large tree fell over and landed on St. James Lutheran Church breaking a few stained glass windows and damaging the church tower. A couple other trees have fallen since.
It turns out the trees are rotting from the inside out. And when they are really rotten it does not take much wind and rain to cause them to crash down.
It's not a bad analogy for the economic system of the country. Those running the system have become so corrupt that one can only call them rotten. So the housing and financial system literally crashed in 2008, and little has been done to keep the system from crashing again.
Now we hear about the corruption of the Libor rate, the London based index that provides the basis for interest charges across the world. The big banks setting this rate have been gaming the system. As more and more people lose confidence in those running these systems the economy as a whole becomes more unstable. Watch Mat Taibi interviewed by Eliot Richardson below:
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President's Social Darwinism Comment Stirs Up Business Elite
4/16/2012 4:48:20 PM
In a recent speech President Obama referred to the Paul Ryan Republican budget proposal as thinly veiled "social darwinism". The response in the conservative media was outrage, how dare the president say such a thing. I have a friend who recently sent me an email announcing he was going to vote for Mitt Romney. When I asked him to send me more details for why he was doing so he wrote back with several standard talking points of the corporate elite (with which he identifies himself, more on this in later items here) and finished by saying that he supposed I would acuse him of social darwinism. Apparently everyone accepts that social darwinism is not a good thing, but the president was not wrong in making that comment. Social darwinism has been and continues to be a major justification for what can be called savage capitalism, the strong and wealthy taking advantage of the weak and poor. The Paul Ryan budget does exactly that.
One of the advantages of having been a pastor in several local congregations is that I have a very broad experience for how regular people converse and see the world. I have heard many times explicit references to social darwinism as a way to view the world and justify behavior. I especially remember one conversation with a woman who attended worship regularly. But I noticed she was missing for a couple Sundays so I went to visit her to see if everything was all right. We were sitting at her dining room table when her husband came in to join us. He proceded to tell me why he didn't attend church, he didn't believe in the love that was talked about there. He owned a small business, well-digging, and said it was a dog eat dog world out there, no love to be found, you have to compete to survive. As he spoke it was interesting to me to view the loving but anguished look on the man's wife. The husband did not believe in the love that was being demonstrated right there at the table, the love of his wife.
This man had mentally screened out of existence anything other than his competitive view of the world. He didn't even realize the degree to which successful business itself relies upon cooperative behavior among business persons and within business organizations. Everything was the survival of the fittest, the strong survive and the weak die. It is especially an appealing justification for behavior because it provides an excuse for the strong to continue to dominate and take advantage of the weak. It is a kind of argument from nature itself, that's just the way the world is and always has been, Darwin proved it.
I once worked in a public planning agency so had occasion for social contacts with business leaders of the city. During a coffee break at one meeting the president of a major accounting company was telling a joke. He said the world is made up of two kinds of people, the "takers" and the "takees." Everyone chuckled a bit nervously and the man continued, "it's the takers who survive." Now, in this little joke the world-view of this accounting executive is exposed and it is a kind of social darwinism which serves the function of justifying the behavior of the "takers". That's just the way the world is.
Notice the word I am using here, justification. In the field of ethics, the study of morality, what behavior is right and what is wrong, the word justification means the background basis, the philosophical or theological arguments, for such determinations. Such arguments are often based on an appeal to nature, to understandings of how the world of nature works. Social darwinism has provided a view of nature which is extremely appealing to those seeking to explain why the rich are so rich and the poor are so poor. It's just the way things are, the big and powerful are only doing what comes naturally. By so doing they are arguing that they have a "right" to being powerful and rich, a kind of natural right, and it is "wrong" to accuse them of dominating the poor for example. So it is entirely natural for the Paul Ryan budget to provide even more tax cuts for the wealthy and cut the programs that serve the less well off, the vulnerable of society. The latter deserve their position, it is the way of nature.
Now, as soon as one writes these sorts of words it becomes obvious that this kind of thinking is not credible and so social darwinism as a philosophy is no longer as popular as it once was in the 19th century. But I believe it still strongly operates in the minds of the business elite in this country, it has become part of the cultural consciousness of the business elite even though they know they cannot use it in serious public dialog. That's why they felt abused for President Obama to use this phrase. But how else can one justify the increasingly massive inequality of rewards from work in this country, do the rich really deserve to be able to accumulate ever greater concentrations of income in their own hands over against the needs of society as a whole? Should a democratic society be completely dominated by the few persons who have been able to accumulate billions? Obviously not, but that's the direction things are going unless people decide to vote for a president who doesn't believe in social darwinism.
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Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It
2/13/2012 2:56:18 PM
An outstanding article with the above title written by Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff appeared in the New York Times yesterday. It is based on in depth interviews with citizens of Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis in Minnesota, a county which in the 2010 elections ousted a long-serving congressman, James Oberstar, for a Tea Party candidate who got the idea to run from a right wing radio talk show.
Right wing radio loves to rail against "taking money from one group and giving it to another" and the implicit reference is to taking money from deserving wealthy whites and giving it to undeserving poor blacks. Even Mitt Romney, who hasn't wanted to repeat Tea Party rhetoric, has started to use this phrase.
But this article demonstrates the degree to which the regular folks of Chisago County receive federal assistance, Social Security for older folks and those on disability, Medicare, and other programs. The article includes video of interviews as residents try to justify to themselves that they receive more federal assistance than they have paid for over the years. In this county, as across the nation, for every $4 in regular income people receive $1 in federal benefits. Take this money away and not only would many people simply die, the county would be completely destitute.
The article mentions the work of Dean P. Lacey who teaches political science at Dartmouth College. Lacey finds that the more dependent on federal money an area is the more it supports Republican candidates running on platforms to cut federal programs.
Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates. Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.The people of rural America and states that are "welfare states" (they receive more federal benefits than they pay in federal taxes, such as many midwestern states like North Dakota and southern states) are listening to right wing radio, feeling guilty about receiving all those benefits, and voting to cut their own throats.
There is no doubt that changes are needed in people's expectations, especially about Medicare, but when reasonable discussion about this is proposed then Republican legislators holler and scream about "death panels" in order to get elected on the basis of fear among the very same people who are receiving the most benefits.
It seems to me that pastors and church leaders should know the truth about these matters and help people understand what is at stake and what the credible options are ahead of us. This New York Times article is a terrfic place to begin.
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David Stockman on Crony Capitalism, A Very Helpful Discussion
1/26/2012 3:27:46 PM
It is very fascinating to see Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney actually debating in the Republican primary over what is meant by capitalism and free enterprise. These terms refer to highly abstract concepts which have little relation to how the world actually works through really-existing corporate and governmental institutions. Political candidates confess their faith in "free enterprise" as a kind of religious creed, using a set of words, with little concern about what the words actually mean or what they refer to in the real world. This means the political discourse spins away by itself in abstractions disconnected from the real lives of human beings, and such discourse, of course, cannot then succeed in electing leaders whose policies can make a different in the real world. And this has been happening for many decades in this country, which is why the economy in general is in such terrible shape these days. Nobody is telling the truth. Even Barack Obama says one thing and then does another as when he appointed economic advisors who themselves were responsible for promoting the very policies which led to the financial crisis.
We do not have true capitalism in this country. We have a system of what David Stockman calls "crony capitalism". Stockman was the budget director for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s who helped articulate the now discredited supply side economics (lower taxes and government revenue will increase). Bill Moyers interviews him in the new Moyers program at PBS.
I encourage readers to view this entire segment, it is extremely helpful in explaining how banks and corporate leaders have come to rely on government to save them from their own excesses. These corporate leaders do not want "free enterprise" because then they would be responsible for their mistakes and bad choices. So when Mitt Romney says he "believes" in "capitalism" ask yourself what type of capitalism he is talking about. And when Barack Obama says government should be involved in the economy ask yourself whether you want the government to be bailing out big banks supposedly too big to fail.
Here is the link to the PBS page which includes a transcript of the session.
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Wall Street to be Investigated
One of the most important items in the State of the Union speech of President Obama last night was this:
"I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans."
No real real effort like this has ever been done despite the devastation of the financial and housing crisis for so many millions of Americans. What is necessary now is to watch whether this is a serious investigation. So stay tuned as this process unfolds...
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Obama Tells Truth about Economy
12/7/2011 2:41:10 PM
Yesterday President Obama spoke at the small town of Osawatomie in Kansas. Teddy Roosevelt, 101 years ago, gave a speech there proposing a "New Nationalism" defined as greater economic justice within the American economy. Obama in his speech reviewed the recent past and said clearly that the nation has already tried the trickle down economic theories of Republicans which have only led to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
This is just to say that I have read many, many books on economic theory and history over these years and in my estimation the basic outline of Obama's views are correct in this speech. It is furthermore true that his own views are entirely within the context of mainstream economic thought in this country and it is ridiculous, as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich and commentators on Fox News claim, that Obama is a socialist. I think it was a good move on his part to go to Kansas and identify himself with a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who fought against the concentration of wealth in his time.
I also believe this speech demonstrates that the Occupy movement has already had a very significant impact on the political culture and consciousness of the country. Obama is actually now able to make economic equality, rather than deficits, a central factor in the public discourse.
I am making it easy to listen to this speech by providing code from the White House below:
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Chris Hedges: People Have Finally Woken Up
10/8/2011 10:13:48 PM
Watch this video of journalist Chris Hedges discussing the possibilities for the Occupy Wall Stteet movement. Hedges is one of the best writers telling truth today. He is theologically trained and worked for the New York Times for years.
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A New Economic Strategy for Wall Street Protests
10/5/2011 1:07:59 PM
The Wall Street protests are now growing. Thousands of people led by the young and the unemployed are demonsrating against corporate greed. They are acting on behalf of the "99%" of the American people against the 1% wealthy who own nearly as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the country. Neither of the major parties have addressed the real reasons for the housing and financial crash, neither of them has addressed the real problem of vast economic inequality in this country as the result of forty years of political dominance by an ideology of radical conservatism. So now a new movement has grown up to challenge the power of the corporate elite who have been exercising inordinate power over the political system.
Some have questioned whether this movement has clear enough goals. I think the movement organizers have been wise to keep their goals broad to encourage wide participation. Goals will become more clear as the movement progresses and will be determined by the people who become involved.
One of the people who has been offering new thinking about economic strategies is Gar Alperovitz. I attended in the late 1970s a conference on economic justice at which he gave a speech and have been following his work since then, including reading his book America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy. He has just published an article in Dissent Magazine which summarizes his ideas and specific proposals for a new institutional strategy for economic development, not focused on making a few people very rich but on making lots of jobs for lots of people. Furthermore, the article gives many, many examples of local community enterprises, municipal utilities, employee-owned corporations, housing cooperatives, and business networks organized to support such initiatives. There is a great need for the "construction of new institutions" to provide for the material needs of human beings, new ways to provide food and clothing, housing and entertainment. Alperovitz talks about whole new efforts in central cities which even now are helping to rebuild cities, the cities corporate America has left behind to fend for themselves.
Many local congregations have been involved in housing cooperatives over the past years. But maybe now the time has come for pastors and congregations to help organize with others in the community new economic institutions, food cooperatives, employee-owned manufacturing, green energy networks, building job-creating institutions based on service, equality, and the flourishing of human life, rather than greed and the accumulation of more and more money in the hands of the few.
Government can help make this turn toward human-based economics, but government today is controlled by the Wall Street bankers and wealthy inviduals able to spend millions on media advertising. The Wall Street protests can help shift the political culture of the country to support a new economic strategy. My wife and I will be joining the protests tomorrow here in Portland, Oregon. Those who have decided to "occupy" public spaces until there is real change will need the support of all of us, food, medical help, demonstrating our solidarity with them, encouraging them in this important work of political change.
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Wall Street Hates the Tea Party
8/4/2011 3:54:38 PM
Today, a few days after the debt ceiling deal, the stock market took a plunge of four percent. The New York Times says its because investors are worried the debt deal will help trigger a double dip recession, which is what happened in 1937 when federal spending was curtailed. There is also a global worry, markets are down all over the world. Banks in Europe are beginning to teeter, people are concerned about the ability of the United States to adequately manage its economy.
So the "markets" don't agree with the Tea Party folks who don't believe in government and have made deficits the most important political issue right now. What governments do in relation to the economy makes all the difference in the world. Without adequate stimulation from government in a time when business is failing to invest in new products and services means that things are going down, down, down. Without positive, engaged government action the markets lose that most necssary factor for robust growth, faith and trust in the future. If people don't have money in their pockets there can be no demand for the products produced by business, and people's incomes have been going down over the past years as the rewards for work are distributed toward the people at the top of the economic system. The rich are taking much, much more out of the system than they deserve or can justify. Now they themselves, when they look at reality, are concluding that it is a bad time to invest when government is scaling back.
President Obama is saying jobs are the big issue now. But he is providing no big ideas. This is a very big country. To move things, it takes very big actions. Think of the economy as a huge container ship, you won't move it by sticking a paddle over the side. With fourteen million unemployed people we need a giant federal jobs program, we need a big nationwide project building fast trains, we need massive new investment in a multitude of arts programs unleashing the creativity of the American people. Private companies putting paddles in the water can't do these sort of big things. People know this, even when their conscious political philosophy tells them otherwise. Even the Tea Party activist legislator, when he or she goes home and asks the local market owner about cutbacks on Social Security, that owner is likely to scream about loss of business (if his mind is not contorted by Tea Party rhetoric).
I am hoping that real people have learned through this debt crisis debate that the federal government is actually doing some very big things that are important for the economy. Failing to send out Social Security checks, holding the country hostage to one's own small-minded poltical rhetoric, these are serious matters for a big country. It should be noted that only 22 billion of budget cuts will occur in 2012 under this debt deal, and an election will take place that year. That is an opportunity for the American people to reject those who preach the Tea Party lies.
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Punish the Poor
4/9/2011 3:03:42 PM
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released his budget plan the same week as the big debate over the shutdown of the government. The fact that Obama and the Democrats gave in to the demands to harshly cut government programs for community development, transportation, and other items portends even greater willingness to do what Tea Party Republicans want in changing the whole role and shape of the federal government as defined in the Ryan budget plan.
The major media have pretty much adopted the talking points of Republicans, that it is necessary to cut federal spending to reduce giant deficits. But examination of the Ryan plan by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reveals that the plan does actually very little to reduce the deficit over the next ten years. To claim that this plan reduces the deficit is thus actually a big lie.
So what does the plan do? Well, first, it punishes the poor. Two-thirds of the spending cuts in the Ryan budget are aimed at reducing programs which help low income people, Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants for college, low-income housing etc.
And that's just what conservatives want to do. For decades there has been a drumbeat of conservative talk radio attacking those terrible poor people and the working poor. No conservative can get elected without voicing the same kind of hatred. "Punish the poor" say the Tea Party leaders over and over. This attitude especially comes out of the South where states have low taxes to make sure that poor black people don't benefit from anything government does. The Tea Party and right wing religion are the ways Southern culture has come to dominate the public consciousness of the whole country. In Wisconsin a Baptist governor wants to literally destroy the public school system in the state, making Wisconsin more like the Southern states with much higher rates of social problems than other regions of the country, until now. Ever since the 1960s when the federal government forced the South to change its ways of segregation, Southern political leaders have been leading the charge against the federal government.
But the second thing the Ryan budget especially does is to lower taxes for the wealthy. Again, Republicans want to lower taxes for the rich, and these reductions are so much that there is even less revenue for the government to close the deficits. So for anyone to say that this budget plan must be passed in order to lower the deficit is to engage in an massive act of public lying of an extraordinary scale. It is so outrageous that many good people will not believe that Republican leaders would be so corrupt as to do such a thing. But that's what Republican politics has become in our time, absolutely corrupt. Ordinary Republicans need to wake up and realize how far current leaders are from the pincipled traditions of the Republican Party in the past.
Finally, the Ryan budget plan stands as a symbol of the desire of the capitalist corporate class to declare themselves completely triumphant in the debates over economic theory and practice. They want to dominate the whole society, they want to make government into a servant for what is good for the corporation. They are already well down that road. They have convinced Americans, through a media owned by the corporations, that it is impossible to even talk about raising taxes so that what is best for everyone can occur. It is Republicans who created the deficits through gross tax cuts and putting wars on the credit card, now they are using the deficits to punish the poor and also the middle class. They want to destroy the primary institutional means that working people have had to influence politics, the labor unions.
It is very important to realize the degree to which debate over the role of the federal government has become a function of extremist ideology. People such as Glenn Beck like to claim Obama is a socialist and a Communist when he is nothing of the sort. But Paul Ryan is truly a philosophical extremist. According to a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal Paul Ryan:
brings a deep philosophical attachment to market capitalism and "supply-side" economics - a world view shaped by such icons of individualism and free enterprise as Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.Ayn Rand was an atheist, preached against government, but in the last years of her life lived off Social Security. Libertarianism as currently espoused is an extremist ideology that if actually implemented will destroy society as we know it.
I think it is vitally important today for Protestant churches and pastors to provide every means possible to raise these issues for debate, for example, in church basements all around the country. We are at a critical moment in history, there are very few places where alternative views can be honestly discussed. It is possible to raise taxes to support a caring society, as demonstrated in this report:
Unnecessary Austerity, Unnecessary Shutdown
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Patriotic Millionaires Support Increase in Their OwnTaxes
12/10/2010 1:54:36 PM
As the debate over the extension of the Bush tax cuts proceeds, I have been adding several articles to this website documenting how business corporations and the wealthy have been able to dominate the political process over the past several decades. I have spoken about the "rich" and the "wealthy" in highly negative terms. But as with all categories of thought there are always exceptions.
I have run into an organization of millionaires who are opposed to extending the tax cuts for themselves. These Patriotic Millionaires have very good reasons for taking their stand. They quote Warren Buffet: "There's class warfare all right. But it's my class - the rich class - that's making war, and we are winning. I am a conscientious objector."
These millionaires are supported by a group of Faithful Americans for Fiscal Strength, a long list of religious leaders. You can sign a letter at their website to offer your own support.
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Obama Agrees to Increase Obscene Levels of Inequality
12/9/2010 12:55:01 PM
President Obama negotiated by himself with Republican leaders of Congress an extension of what are called the "Bush Tax Cuts", the very cuts which reduced federal revenues to the degree that they have been a major factor in creating the deficits that Republicans themselves are now attacking. They want to reduce "social programs", the safety net for workers in a capitalist economy, to decrease the deficit. They refuse to consider tax increases for the wealthy, the folks who have benefitted most from the Bush tax cuts. Obama has given in to what he himself calls a hostage demand, holding the unemployed hostage to the demand to maintain ridiculously low taxes on the wealthy.
In his deal with Republicans the estate tax rates are also reduced from previous levels, another sell-out to Republican demands. The situation is absolutely outrageous for anyone who is concerned with a rational consideration of what makes for economic justice.
To hear someone tell the truth about all this watch this video of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders:
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The Unemployed are Actual, Real People
12/3/2010 1:15:28 PM
Right now, December 2010, in the lame duck session of Congress, Republican senators are holding hostage the extension of unemployment insurance to a couple million unemployed people unless the Democrats agree to the extension of the Bush tax cuts to those who make over $250,000 a year at a cost of $700 billion over ten years. In the right wing media the unemployed are portrayed as welfare chislers wanting to live on the money of others. These senators are able to disregard the lives of millions of unemployed people because they are demonized by this right wing media.
But think about this. The capitalist economy is promoted on the basis that it provides what is best for the whole community, it is efficient and supposedly increases the wealth of all. But if an economic system is not able to result in adequate jobs and income for all then it is not doing what it promised, it is failing, business is failing, those who own and operate the resources of the community are failing. If people cannot find work it is not very logical to blame them for their problems. Yet that is what is done all the time in the right wing media and Republican senators are listening.
The first unemployment insurance programs were established in Germany in the late 19th century by Otto von Bismarck, a devout Lutheran. It wasn't his faith that was the reason for doing so, however. Germany was industrializing, peasants and farmers were moving to the cities where the jobs were. But if they lost their jobs they couldn't eat or survive as they could on the farm. So workers organized to demand income support during periods when the economy was not producing enough jobs. Bismark finally was forced to create a number of programs associated with the term "social welfare" in Germany, then later in other European and Nordic countries, as well as the United States. These programs help stabilize society during rough economic times.
It is obvious to anyone who thinks just a little bit that the unemployed themselves are not the ones who cause a troubled economy. They should not be blamed for hard times. Watch the video below to get a sense of some of the actual, real persons who are unemployed.
Read Paul Krugman's opposition to extending tax cuts.
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Should the Rich Rule?
11/3/2010 3:41:44 PM
At the presidential news conference today, the day after Democrats lost the House in the 2010 vote, not one news reporter asked Barack Obama whether he was concerned about the amount of money that was spent by the wealthy in these campaigns for the House and Senate, much of it by undisclosed corporate donors. The reporters all assumed that the "people have spoken" to reject Obama policies. But did the people speak, or was it wealthy donors using the media networks, especially Fox News, who were able to manipulate the consciousness of voters with simplistic messages against big government and bailouts? The very people who were responsible for the financial collapse have been able to fund political campaigns of politicians willing to allow the big banks and corporations to do whatever they want.
Robert Scheer writing over at TruthDigabout the election says something especially important to realize. After Bill Clinton lost the congressional elections in 1994 he began to triangulate with Republicans including passing the legislation that allowed the formation of a whole new institutional level of financial dealings which led to financial collapse. He encourages Obama not to do the same thing. Obama has to remember he was elected by the people, not the rich.
The degree to which the wealthy class has been able to take over the powers of the government over the past thirty years is the single most important fact of this period of history. The result has been ever greater degrees of inequality as salaries are lowered and families struggle and the wealthy control ever more of the resources of the country. If the rich are allowed to rule they will set the laws which allow them to become more rich over against others; not until large enough numbers of people understand that will there be real political change in this country. Such understanding may be able to come only with much greater economic dislocation and social instability. This will happen as the rich continue to rule to benefit only themselves. The future does not look good for America.
(See interview of Lawrence Goodwyn for the way corporations have deceived the American people)
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It's Not Socialism, It's Insanity
5/20/2009 4:28:21 PM
It is necessary now for pastors and other religious leaders to think much more seriously about economics. With the current economic meltdown things have really gotten crazy. That is, we actually have the government now bailing out major financial institutions which have become "too big to fail" which means that taxpayers have to subsidize the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. In a recent interview Naomi Klein says that this is not socialism, it is insanity.
Republicans want to call Obama a socialist, but socialism means careful government planning and regulation of the economic system. What is happening now is that government is being called upon to prop up the so-called private financial system which was built to profit those within it. The deregulation since the Reagan years has created the conditions for the few running the financial system to profit immensely at the expense of the many. Klein calls that what it is, "crony capitalism."
If you want to read a systematic presentation about all this go to this article by Simon Johnson in the current issue of the Atlantic. He worked for the International Monetary Fund and evaluates what is happening in the United States in the context of problems experienced by emerging economies. He says:
Looking just at the financial crisis (and leaving aside some problems of the larger economy), we face at least two major, interrelated problems. The first is a desperately ill banking sector that threatens to choke off any incipient recovery that the fiscal stimulus might generate. The second is a political balance of power that gives the financial sector a veto over public policy, even as that sector loses popular support.Notice what Johnson is saying here. The financial sector has a "veto" over what government can do. So, our elected officials cannot do what they deem to be wise and best for the American people, they must do what those in positions of power in the financial sector want them to do. To see the degree to which this is true read the whole article. It is the best description of the causes for the mess we are now in.
The only way this is going to change is if the American people wake up to what is going on, to the degree to which a robbery is taking place, as Naomi Klein says, a robbery by the wealthy of the people. It is crazy and it would not be happening if we had a media that told the truth. But then, the media itself is run by corporations.
That's why it's so important for pastors and other religious leaders to begin to be clear with members of their churches about what is going on.
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Without Trust, No Economy
3/19/2009 10:14:01 PM
Michael Maccoby wrote a book years ago called The Gamesman which was the result of character studies of business leaders in the data industry. I remember it because it seemed just somewhat odd that the best metaphor these adult males could come up with for their work was a game. That is, it seemed odd because, after all, the economy is finally the source of that which is needed for the very life of ourselves as human beings. Strange to think of it merely as a game.
But it even takes some trust to enter into a game. And it takes a willingness to play by some rules. The financial speculators in the casino capitalism that was created by Republican politicians over the past couple decades did not even want to play by any rules and it was hardly a game, it was a fight in which only the "fit" survive, as they conceived it, and in such a world there is no room for trust and the sense of responsibility that makes for trust in relationships. Now that the whole thing has crashed it is going to be a very long time coming back.
Nouriel Roubini is an economist who predicted the crisis and whose prognostications are widely followed. He asks in an email today that: "Despite Interventions Global Outlook Deteriorates: A Global Growth Contraction in 2009?"
And then he says from the IMF: "Global economic activity is projected to contract by 0.5% to 1% in 2009 on an annual average basis—the first such fall in 60 years before growing 1.5-2.5% in 2010. The U.S. is expected to contract by 2.6%, the Euro area by 3.2% and Japan by 5.8% with advanced economies as a whole contracting by as much as 3.5% and emerging and developing economies likely to grow only 1.5-2.5%. The contraction in the U.S. is expected to push the output gap to levels not seen since the early 1980s. In the Euro area, the impact of falling external demand has been larger and policy stimulus more moderate than in the U.S., though automatic stabilizers are somewhat larger in the Euro area." You can read more from him at the RGE Monitor.
So it seems it will take a long time to rebuild trust. And that is going to be hard to do as long as those in business and who run businesses and the politicians who think they represent business keep thinking in the ways they have been thinking. It is bad thinking that leads to a bad economy in which there is lacking the one thing needed for any human activity of any kind, trust.
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Exposing the Dual Structure of American Governance
3/19/2009 4:59:17 PM
The current outrage over the bonuses to the very people who caused the financial crisis of the American International Group (AIG) exposes the degree to which what happens inside the modern corporation is hidden from the American public. The media tends to focus on government, and attack the missteps of governmental leaders. It provides much, much less coverage on a regular basis to the decisions inside the big business institutions which are, indeed, the other important "governing structure" of society today.
The idea is that large business is considered to be "private" and makes its decisions behind a veil called the "free market" outside of the interference of anyone and most especially the government. This is what political debates are all about. Giant abstract concepts such as "capitalism" and "socialism" are debated in earnest as if they really mean something. But what they really mean is who gets to govern the world. The free market is no longer an economic concept, it has become something akin to religious dogma and functions as an ideological means to justify the power of one institutional structure over another. The fact is that there are actually-existing institutions out there which make big decisions affecting who gets to eat, who gets what rewards from work, who gets extra benefits, and who gets what honor and glory within the community. So if you vote for someone who says he or she believes in the free market you are voting for someone who wants the power of the so-called private business enterprise to be increased in society, even when a few companies already completely dominate economic infrastructures, such as in food production and distribution. Republican politicians have been able to win elections by appeal to the free market despite the fact that it is plain to see that the market is not free, it is dominated by relatively few giant corporations.
The upshot is that now we are all coming to see that the increasing power which has been given to the private corporation has been so severely abused that the whole economy is coming crashing down. For the financial speculators and bankers operated as if they had no responsibility to anyone except to themselves and their own profits. The more they had the more they wanted.
That is now being revealed and the media is forced to cover the story. I hope we will see much more reporting of how decisions were made within these corporations and how they have benefitted at the expense of the American people. An unaccountable corporate structure can destroy this democracy where government is supposed to serve all the people.
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3/16/2009 11:10:45 AM
Over these several decades now as I have been reading about economic theory and practice one of the terms which is used again and again to justify capitalism is "creative destruction." The phrase comes from the economic historian Joseph A. Schumpeter who claimed that capitalism is always destroying itself from within. He used biological metaphors in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in 1942 and people have taken this to mean that it is in the "nature" of how the world works. It is a powerful idea in the belief system which is economics.
So when the cities of this country have been left behind to rot away in the last decades many people say it is merely creative destruction. Perhaps. It may also have to do with the racism that led whites to flee the city and a governmental philosophy which says that capitalism should be allowed to destroy the communities that make life meaningful to people.
These thoughts were generated when I viewed some photos at Time Magazine on the "Beautiful, Horrible Decline" of Detroit, Michigan. I do have to wonder about the values of human beings who have been in the positions of power to make the decisions which have led to the nearly systematic destruction of the creative work of previous generations in cities across this country. Real values don't matter, just the bottom line as narrowly construed.
It is time to ask whether the form of capitalism practiced in the United States has not become the enemy of a good and decent society, whether it is a belief system, not unlike aspects of religious faith, which has separated itself from reality, that is doing more destruction than positive creation. Modern folks like to blame God when bad things happen, when destruction occurs, but it is not belief in God that is powerful in the world today, it is belief in a particular form of cowboy capitalism where moral sense and community values are no longer important.
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Some Truth about Income Tax Rates
3/13/2009 3:43:12 PM
The MoveOn folks sent an item which contained a helpful chart on income tax rates. This is the sort of visual aid which tells some facts quickly. Right now there is lots of debate media debate about "rolling back" the Bush tax cuts. Television news shows allow Republicans to get bny with using these sorts of words, "rollback" as if its a massive thing. They allow Republicans to say that Obama is really a socialist and engaging in "class warfare" and hates rich people.
But the income tax rate under the Obama plan is very, very modest. The wealthiest Americans would move from a 35% rate to an 39.6% rate. Is this a rollback? At the end of Reagan's term the top rate was 50%. Under Richard Nixon? 70%. Under Dwight Eisenhower? 91%!
"And for all the whining about rolling back Bush's irresponsible tax cuts, the truth is that Obama's plan cuts taxes for 95% of working Americans. Further, it closes huge tax loopholes for oil companies, hedge funds and corporations that ship jobs overseas so that we can invest in the priorities that will get our economy back on track."
Here is the chart which originally appeared in an article in the Washington Monthly:
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CNBC: Mouthpiece for Business Ideology
3/11/2009 7:41:07 PM
Isaiah J. Poole reveals how the reporting on CNBC is not real journalism, does not provide anything close to objectivity in looking at market activity, but is a mouthpiece of business, directly. For the reporters there the prime issue is access, access to business leaders. If you report something that those leaders do not like you lose access, they won't talk to you. So then you can't tell the audience what business leaders think.
The end result is that business leaders get their views across with their ideological slant, but the audience doesn't get from the reporter even the reporter's independent perspective.
And this means that investors considering an investment in a business do not hear on CNBC the truth about the condition or worthiness of a business. These reporters do not want to report bad news on a particular business because then they lose access. So CNBC which is supposed to report business news does nothing of the sort. They report what business leaders want them to report.
But, of course, CNBC claims independence, that it is part of a "free press." The problem is that it is bought and paid for by business itself, which means it is not free at all. Free people cannot rely upon it. This is just another example of the corruption of the basic values of this country by a business class that rejects any responsibility for anyone other than themselves and their profits.
No wonder, then, that CNBC did not even begin to report on the signs of the fundamental breakdown of the economy that has now taken place. The feedback loops by which information flows from to another, which determine one's ability to see and know what is going on, are seriously broken when reporters don't report the whole truth. This further means bad decisions will be made for lack of true information, damaging everyone. But you don't want to make that chief executive mad, then he or she won't talk to you.
The Poole piece is at Campaign for America's Future.
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