Category Archives: Economy

Nothing to say but what a day.

Good Morning. Good Morning.

Nothing to say, but what a day
How’s your boy been?

Nothing to do, it’s up to you
I’ve got nothing to say
But it’s O.K.

Good morning, good morning, good morning-a

Written by Lennon-McCartney
From The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” 1967

The song was actually written by John Lennon and inspired by a post-touring lull in suburban London with his wife, Cynthia. At this time, son Julian would have been nearly 4 years old. From all accounts, life with John was not a walk in the park. Like many artists, the gap between the person and the art is wide. We end up enriched by the song and its place in our memories regardless of what John was doing as a husband, father, and bandmate.

For a simple set of lyrics, attributed to inspiration from a Kellogg’s TV commercial, the song was made complex and interesting in the studio. It opens with a rooster crowing, and ends with birds, a cat, a dog, a cow, a horse, a sheep, a lion, an elephant, and then the sounds of a fox hunt. A chicken clucking as the song fades out is replaced by the guitar opening of the reprise of the song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band near the close of the album. The final song is A Day in the Life.

A horn group called Sounds Incorporated play throughout with the sound of the horns made “weird” by the engineers to suit Lennon’s tastes. The song has 7 sections with time signature and beat changes.

Most of the song is 12 or 16 syllable lines evoking a frame of mind, like:

Going to work
Don’t want to go
Feeling lowdown

and

Heading for home
You start to roam
Then you’re in town

Beatles last public performance.

LB_Rule

I’ve taken a break from the Lefty Boomer blog for a while due to T&E shortages. (time and effort) The recent mid-term elections have provoked me sufficiently to return to the fray. I’m opting to not began a long rant on the successes of conservative propaganda and the real dangers of oligarchy in the U.S. But I have a couple of points that may help with context:

Who came out to vote?

Fewer than 37% of eligible voters case their votes in the 2014 midterm elections. This is 4 points down from the 2010 elections. White males and older voters came out disproportionately, and they are both categories that skew Republican (63% Republican to 35% Democrat for white males generally,  56-43% Republican for seniors).

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in a statement, “We should not be satisfied with a ‘democracy’ in which more than 60 percent of our people don’t vote and some 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans fail to vote.”

While unmarried women skew Democratic 61% to 27% that margin is slimmer than it has been in the past. It may be that these voters are above the fray of FoxNews vs. working America and simply see that the economy is not moving fast enough under Democrat’s control. Similarly, voters under age 30 skew Democratic, by 13% but their share of the electorate was down from 19% in 2012 to 13% in 2014.

Historical trend?

Our last four full two-term presidents, Eisenhower to George W. Bush, have concluded their final two years in office without the support of either house of Congress. What is being portrayed as unprecedented and historical is in fact both precedented and non-historical!

Ballot Initiatives Favored Liberal Points of View

Binding initiatives raised the minimum wage in 4 states. Alaskans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from its current $7.75 to $8.75 in 2015 and $9.75 in 2016, and index it to inflation.  Returns indicate the measure was supported by more than 68 percent of voters.  In Arkansas, 65 percent of voters approved a ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $7.50 in 2015, $8.00 in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017.  Nebraskans passed a measure raising the state’s minimum wage to $8.00 in 2015 and to $9.00 in 2016, with 59 percent of voters approving. In South Dakota, 54.9 percent of voters approved a state minimum wage increase to $8.50 per hour, effective January 1, 2015, and index future increases to account for inflation.

Non-binding resolutions in Illinois and Wisconsin also favored raising minimum wage to $10 and $10.10 respectively, in spite of both state’s Republican governor wins.

Republican policy is against a hike in the Federal minimum wage, and Mr. McConnell, our future Senate Majority Leader, has voted against raising the minimum wage 16 times, and has never crafted a jobs bill despite 30 years in Washington.

On the cannabis votes, 3 of the 4 state initiatives to allow recreational use of marijuana passed. Illinois’s non-binding measure regarding the coverage of contraception passed. Stricter gun laws were passed in Washington state. Massachusetts’ measure to require one sick day for each 30 days worked also passed.

It’s difficult to imagine how these outcomes can coexist with the Republican victories except as a marker that the leadership and the populace are out of step with each other. Maybe I’m overly hopeful, but as these synchronization problems play out we may find that the pendulum of political thought is ready to swing back to the left.

Unions – Mixed messages

The longtime meme regarding unions are that we needed them in the bygone days but today, there is little need for them. But the fall of unions correlates to the rise of income going to the top 10% as this video shows.

The Economic Policy Institute writes that “By most estimates, declining unionization accounted for about a third of the increase in inequality in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Why bring it up now? Because for the first time, the Teamsters were able to get a vote for  unionization at one of its locations: FedEx Freight’s East Philadelphia terminal in Croydon, Pennsylvania. Workers in a New Jersey location voted the union down earlier in 2014 but the victory in PA suggests that all workers for FedEx will be seeing some benefits as the company will move to block further encroachment by the Teamsters.

Pew Research Center research found that about half (51%) of Americans said they had favorable opinions of labor unions, versus 42% who said they had unfavorable opinions about them. That was the highest favorability rating since 2007, though still below the 63% who said they were favorably disposed toward unions in 2001. In a separate 2012 survey, 64% of Americans agreed that unions were necessary to protect working people. So the attitudes toward unions are just not as clear as traditional media would have us believe.

Unions also suffered a defeat at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee despite Volkswagen’s tacit approval and Germany’s success working with unions. From http://www.remappingdebate.org/, “In 2010, over 5.5 million cars were produced in Germany, twice the 2.7 million built in the United States. Average compensation (a figure including wages and employer-paid benefits) for autoworkers in Germany was 48.97 Euros per hour ($67.14 US), while compensation for auto work in the United States averaged $33.77 per hour, or about half as much as in Germany, all according to 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Germany-based auto producers, the U.S. is a low-wage country.”

Bruce Rauner, governor-elect of Illinois, offered “right to work” zone as part of his campaign platform. Right to work is, of course, the right to work for less! So anti-union policy (enforced and reinforced by a public relations onslaught regarding global competition) actually promotes the race to the bottom, not the race to the top as Germany’s policies promote.

Union successes are rarely offered as news, like when the Teamsters won bargaining rights for 7600 workers at Continental Airlines and it only rated a small non-bylined story in the Business Section of the New York Times while being ignored by other national media. Yet, if we want to reverse the trend of wealth gravitating to the top, unions may be the fastest and easier route there.

 

 

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And into this life we’re born… baby sometimes we don’t know why

In this edition: Playing musical metaphors with Van Morrison, walking on the bright side, America swings like a pendulum do, Tea Party Troubles, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” — William Gibson

The Bright Side of the Road

Lyrics excerpt:

Little darlin’, come with me
Won’t you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

And into this life we’re born
Baby, sometimes, sometimes we don’t know why
And time seems to go by so fast
In the twinkling of an eye

Let’s enjoy it while we can
Won’t you help me share my love
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

– Written by Van Morrison (1979)

More of the lyrics: Van Morrison – Bright Side Of The Road Lyrics | MetroLyrics

“Bright Side of the Road” is a song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter-troubadour Van Morrison and included on his 1979 album Into the Music. It was also one of the outtakes that made up the 1998 compilation album, The Philosopher’s Stone.

Autobiographical note: I have a fondness for the album The Philosopher’s Stone because it was the a gift from my son and possibly the first time that he thought of giving a gift that was special to me (a Van Morrison fan) and reasonably meaningless to him (probably into Ska music or Metallica at that time). The self-awareness of going outside yourself to please another person is an interesting thing to reflect on, especially in the gift-giving season we’ve just gone through, and some people never learn the art of it.

City-dwellers and commuters understand the concept of the bright side of the road (and the dark side) as we are offered the choice almost daily. The tall buildings leave one side shaded and other side lit. The preferred side probably changes with the temperature but nothing that I can think of beats the ability to be warmed by the sun after a long Chicago winter. Now that the solstice is behind us we can start thinking ahead to the Spring once more (and that’s the only way northern weather can be tolerated!)

But of course, the meaning is in the metaphor. We are often presented with difficulty in life. Where our focus goes determines the way that every day looks and feels to us. Morrison writes, “Won’t you help me share my load, From the dark end of the street, To the bright side of the road.” We don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes we are alone, and the rain just won’t stop falling (another metaphor, of course). The answer for the person on the dark side is probably to reach out to someone to share that load. The rest of us have to be available to listen, sympathize, and help where we can putting blame and regret aside. And as Bob Marley reminded us in “So Much Things to Say”, “when the rain fall, it don’t fall on one man’s housetop,” so we know that one day it might be us walking on that dark, dark side and needing a friend.

But I digress…

Morrison was born Belfast in 1945 and grew up in a musical home. His mother sang at social gatherings, and his father collected classic blues and jazz records. He learned guitar, saxophone, and harmonica while in school, and was playing with blues, jazz, and rock bands by his mid-teens. At 15, he quit school, joined an R&B outfit called the Monarchs, and toured Europe with them as saxophonist. Before he was even 20 he’d started an R&B club at a Belfast hotel and played there in the house band, which became the group Them. Them recorded two songs in 1964, one a local hit and one a U.K. hit “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Delta Blues guitarist and songwriter Big Joe Williams. It would take too much time and space to delve deeply into Van Morrison’s biographical journey, but two things further the thoughts here.

Morrison always fought back against classification as an artist and as a person. While many songs speak of spiritual discovery he will not speak much about it. The common theme seems to be forms of mysticism (the direct experience of the divine or transcendent through prayer or meditation). Around the time “The Bright Side of the Road” was written it seems like the basis was Christian Mysticism and this leads to a third interpretation of the song as the choice we make about spiritual “light” in our lives.

Morrison left Ireland in the early days of “The Troubles,” the name given to 3 decades of violence in Northern Ireland that took place from the late sixties to the end of the nineties. In 1921, Northern Ireland was partitioned from the Republic of Ireland, and many in Northern Ireland were strongly loyal to Great Britain. So while the bulk of Ireland is what we consider to be traditionally Irish, Northern Ireland is a mix of cultures from England and Ireland. The conflict was (and to some degree is) between Protestant supporters of Great Britain and a Catholic minority. Beyond religion, the issue is steeped in ethnic and class issues. Morrison was born into a Protestant family and his mother explored the Jehovah’s Witness faith at one point. Part of his prickly nature (and rejection of traditional religion) may well be based on his experiences in the Nationalist/Loyalist divisions of Northern Ireland.

LB_Rule

For me, and hopefully for the reader, thinking about the culture and politics of the sixties is a way to maintain perspective and to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that the dark side of the street (characterized in this day by real ignorance and hatred of all things Obama) is the way the future plays out. We can easily forget that public opinion is like a pendulum. The swing to the Left that started with Kennedy and lasted 20+ years until Reagan begat the counter swing to the right that now seems to be hitting its peak. (The current degree of ultra-conservatism might be unrivaled in terms of scope. The nearest thing I’ve run across was the race-based conservatism of Southern Democrats as noted in the last piece I wrote. Like the civil rights-opposing Southern Democrats of the past, the worst excesses of the anti-Obama era are Southern and at least partially racist.) Even the long rule of Republicans during the early 1900’s featured some pretty progressive thought including high taxation of the wealthy and tariffs on imports. And Reagan and the conservatives of the time would be characterized as liberal or RINO by today’s GOP extremists.

That the duration of the Reagan conservative period is extended may be due to three aspects. First, flat or declining wages and wealth, amplified by the Great Recession, steals power from the economic majority by shifting the balance toward employers and away from employees. Second, the system has energy being added by the push of conservative money from financial firms, energy companies, and individual billionaire would-be oligarchs.  Finally, that same conservative money supports our entire elections system giving corporations the ability to purchase policy by manipulating support of candidates and by providing the actual legislation through ALEC.

At the heart of the current American power imbalance is the fact that people like the Kochs and Waltons are greedier than the Tolkien dwarves. They can’t do with too much, they need to have way too much. Unless you are quite the pessimist, you believe that the majority of people are fair. You understand that we are all in it together. But in every way the greediest among us overplay their hand and gleefully and publicly poop on the concept of fairness. They work to convince people that climate change is a just theory and that renewable energy is not practical but people are figuring out that we’re living in a period of change and the likely culprit is CO2 from our carbon emissions. They work to keep payrolls down (and profits and dividends up) by attacking collective bargaining and efforts to raise the minimum wage, but then they lose out when the consumer can no longer buy their products. They create and elevate Tea Party candidates to lower their taxes and increase corporate welfare, but then the public sees that the Congress is dysfunctional and that the 113th Congress has been the least productive in post-war history, with the House and Senate passing only 57 substantive bills in the Congress’ first session. In this period, the second lowest productivity was 88 bills in 1995. (That makes sense because that was the year that Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” beta-tested minority rule in the U.S.) In the end, the brand called “Republican” gets smeared, and the brain-damaged zealots unforgivably given access to power are out there describing anyone to the left of Mussolini as Socialist–including Paul Ryan and the Pope.

There’s no reason to believe that we are stupid as a people (regardless of what some in Great Britain or elsewhere might think). There is reason to believe we live in a crazy time of misaligned values. Whether we end up as a divided country facing our own “Troubles” or not is, sadly, a real possibility. I personally believe that the extremes of the pendulum are where the undeniable excess takes place and that this excess is enough to shock the nation back into a realignment of values. Today we face the excesses of Americans blindly believing in jingoism and nostalgia for a simpler world, or those who willfully disregard the founding, enlightenment ideals of the rejection of aristocracy and state-sponsored religion. 30 years ago we faced the excess of liberal social values (yes Virginia, you can have too much “anything goes”) that led to Reagan’s “annointing” as President and the parade of conservative Republican and Democratic presidents that followed.

Is it possible that the relaxation or decriminalization of pot and the widespread acceptance of marriage for same-sex partners represent the first signs of spring in the conservative winter?

LB_Rule

Some chuckling will be found here: https://soundcloud.com/rockymountainmike

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Speak out against the madness, speak your mind if you dare

In this issue: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Taylor, cantankerous but lovable David Crosby, I get to work Castrati into a post, RFK, Jacksonian Democrats begat Southern Democrats who begat today’s GOP with imaginary companion book: The Zealot’s Guide to Misunderstanding History.

Long Time Gone

Lyrics excerpt:

Turn, turn any corner
Hear what the people say
There’s somethin’ goin’ on around here
That surely, surely won’t stand the light of day

Speak out, speak out against the madness
Speak your mind if you dare
Don’t, no don’t try to get yourself elected
And if you do, you better cut your hair

It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone
But you know that the darkest hour
Is always just before the dawn.

–Written by David Crosby, Performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash — Stephen Stills; David Crosby; Graham Nash; Dallas Taylor (drums)

Complete Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

1969’s Crosby, Stills & Nash album features the 3 denim-drenched band-mates sitting on a dilapidated couch in front of a simple home, Stills with guitar in hand. The album was the band’s debut and a breakthrough effort in rock and roll history. The first aspect of the breakthrough was the concept of the supergroup. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash were from successful bands (Blind Faith was formed in England a little after CS&N–arguably a more super supergroup). The second aspect of breakthrough was how it changed the concept of what a rock album could be. For the most part, rock had been focused on blues-based electric guitar or light-hearted, catchy, vocal-harmony-focused bands from across the pond. The album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, was folk-rock but with jazz, Latin, Eastern, American and English traditional folk, and even classical influence–all played with alternate guitar tunings and unique harmonies where each voice had the same dynamics (i.e. loud if loud, soft if soft). The songs feel more about texture than structure expanding the 4/4 beat and verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure of rock. It spawned two hits immediately, “Marrakesh Express” (by Nash) and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (by Stills).

The singing is mostly in high harmonies that led some critics to mention the term castrati in describing the album. Nash’s voice is described as a high tenor, while Stills and Crosby sang a stretched baritone. The harmony is called parallel fifths where the parts aren’t an octave apart but are 5 half-tones apart. G’s are sung with C’s for example. I had no idea before doing my research here of the musical theory around fifths. Interestingly, this work was started by Pythagoras around 2,500 years ago. Pythagoras is known for being a philosopher, mathematician, and founder of a religion. We sometimes lose track of the idea that we haven’t evolved much as a species in 2,500 years so his big brain would be comparable or superior to the big brains of today–even though he never played an MP3 or checked out twerking.

An anecdote about the iconic album cover. When they took the photo they hadn’t settled on a name yet. They are seated as Nash, Stills, and Crosby. The house was an abandoned home they’d run across in West Hollywood. After deciding on the name, just days later, they thought it would make sense to re-shoot in the correct name order. Oops. The house had been demolished.

Crosby had been in the Byrds, but was let go in late 1967 because of his personal use of the stage for political diatribes and general cantankerousness. Stills had been with the group Buffalo Springfield but it was dissolving due to internal differences, the repeated drug arrests of bassist Bruce Palmer, and probably the fact that although they were wildly popular at L.A. clubs they couldn’t come up with a hit to follow “For What It’s Worth.” Stephen Stills met Crosby at a party at the home of Cass Elliot (of The Mamas and the Papas) in California in March 1968, and the two started jamming. They were soon joined by Graham Nash, who had left his commercially successful group The Hollies due to their unwillingness to stray from formula and evolve musically. For example, the song “Marrakesh Express” was written while in The Hollies but rejected by the group as being not commercial enough.

David Crosby has said that “Long Time Gone” was a response to the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The song has an unmistakable blues feel even though it avoids the blues structure. Crosby evidently felt that Kennedy had been an authentic person as a politician, not straying from ideals, not courting those in power, and not selling out to the interests that kept America divided by race, support for Vietnam, and then as now by wealth inequality. The song has bitterness (“speak out against the madness… You got to speak your mind if you dare.”) and the thoughts are incomplete (if it wasn’t common knowledge, the tie to the Kennedy assassination couldn’t be discerned in the song). It toys with defeat (“It’s been a long time coming. It’s going to be a long time gone”) but ends on hope (“But you know that the darkest hour, is always just before the dawn.”)

Did you know? Robert “Bobby” Kennedy’s death has elements of cover up and parallels to the JFK shooting. Was Sirhan Sirhan the only shooter? Evidence seems to contradict this. There’s a conspiracy theory bonanza at this site.

“Long Time Gone” opens the Woodstock film as the concert setup is happening. That band had only recently formed. Later, at the start of their set, Stephen Stills remarks: “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared shitless.” Another interesting note, I haven’t heard the why of it, but the last few seconds dissolve into a short section of cacophony as if the musicians were rehearsing and just abandoned the song. The song just falls apart, and the question is whether that’s symbolic or not.

LB_Rule

Sometimes when I follow what’s happening in this country I’m scared shitless as well AND I wonder if things are falling apart.

I listen to radio program on Saturdays called Back on the Beat hosted by Dick Kay. Kay is an ex-newsman and staunch Democrat. A caller put forth the idea that Democrats were racists because the Democrats were the party of the antebellum South. Like many right-wingers (and, I guess, some left-wingers) it shows the zealot’s interest in seizing on information that supports their point of view instead of understanding things in proper historical and nuanced perspective.

The slave-owning South was indeed ruled by Southern Democrats. Unlike the earlier Jeffersonian Democrats, the Jacksonian Democrats believed in a federal government of limited powers (but with a strong President and weak Congress). Jackson said that he would guard against “all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State sovereignty.” Andrew Jackson was president from 1829 to 1837. The party he led believed in leaving the issue of slavery off the political table.

Lincoln was a Republican. So the Civil War cemented the South’s identity with the Democratic party until just around 1964 when Democrat Lyndon Johnson supported and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After signing the bill he famously said “We have lost the South for a generation.” And sure enough the mid-1960s saw the movement of the South from being largely Democratic to being largely Republican as they are today (2 generations and no end in sight). This was probably the concurrence of three elements. First, the sun belt was opening up for cranky, retiring Northerners who were older and more fiscally conservative. Second, the Bible belt was finding its voice as the self-designated national bulwark against the perceived immorality of liberals (a role they still want to play). And finally, the vestiges of the Old South, where people of color would be subservient enough to make even the poorest white feel superior, was resisting the movement into the new age of racial equality (and again, this is a role some still want to play).

So historically the Democrats of the South were “different” then today’s Democrats. Although they had some progressive ideas they believed in laissez-faire economics (hands off like some GOP and Libertarians), they supported states rights over federal power (now a Southern Republican ideal), and they supported the idea of manifest destiny (that the U.S. was destined to take over the continent due to their inherent superiority). That last point is found today in the right-wing concept of American Exceptionalism. This ideal is widely passed out in baloney fests by GOP pols who take any suggestions that the U.S. needs improvement as unpatriotic. (I still chuckle over the GOP “debates” of 2011/2012 where the candidates competed to see who was wrapped the tightest in the American Flag and would eliminate the highest number of federal agencies when they could remember the agency’s names.) While we often think that the South’s politics are strictly based on race and Confederacy revival sentiment, they’ve been steeped in 185 years of Jacksonian Democracy.

Returning to the caller to Back on the Beat, he didn’t understand that the Southern Democrats did not have the same ideals as the Northern Democrats (the way the Blue Dogs vote as if they were Republicans today). The Southern Democrats even did their best to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator led by Richard Russell (D-GA) launched a filibuster to prevent its passage. Russell said at the time: “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.” They obviously are not the same kind of Democrats that elected Barack Obama in November, 2008 and 2012.

LB_Rule

I ran across this investment-focused interview with David Crosby–someone who screwed up and lost around $25 million (and possibly a liver) to lifestyle issues. It made me smile and stimulated warmth for the man. View it here.

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Mold a new reality, closer to the heart.

In this edition: Rush in retrospect, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s on public assistance, the turning points in the journey to oligarch rule, Hobby Lobby says “corporations are people, my friend,” and have religious freedom.

Closer to the Heart

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart

Written by Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Elwood Peart, Peter Talbot
Recorded by Rush, 1977

Read more lyrics: Rush – Closer To The Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics

In “Closer to the Heart,” Rush offers just four stanzas to make their point. The “men who hold high places,” the “blacksmith and the artist,” and the “philosophers and ploughmen” must each work to create this new reality. Then the artist can captain the metaphoric ship to the chart that the everyman creates as the society moves closer to the heart, and by inference, away from the selfish and material in life.

Rush was never a favorite band of mine (sorry guys) because at this point in time I was getting into the British New Wave and the dramatic renderings of the prog-rock groups clashed with the back-to-basics sound of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and a little later Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, Blondie and the Talking Heads. I’m not alone in this, check this article on why Rush is the most hated rock band (including their lack of appeal to female fans, characterized as a “low clitoris count” at concerts). However, in retrospect the band gains appeal for me. The power trio lineup, the intelligent lyrics, and the theme of the plight of the individual against the pressures of conformity have all fermented well in the barrels of time. Now that I’m not hearing “Tom Sawyer” every 15 minutes I can settle back to enjoy them once in a while. Add in Neil Peart’s lyrics involving humanism, the journey of understanding the nature of life, and the metaphysical elements and I’m right there!

The themes Rush developed more than 30 years ago were in response to a world just revealing itself. They could not have envisioned that 6 members of a certain family would have an amount of wealth equal to 40% of the rest of the American population and that the corporation that provides such wealth–the largest employer in the U.S.–would offer its employees tips on subsidized healthcare and housing paid for by taxpayers. (Wal-Mart in case you didn’t pick up on it.) Check out this video of another large (700,000 U.S. employees) low-wage employer’s internal site advising employees to stretch food budgets by breaking food into smaller pieces and selling gifts on eBay for extra cash.

In the last post I wrote on the topic of lost American ideals. Americans seem less inclined to care about the environment, the growing problems wrought by income inequality, and the loss of privacy we face. It is as if we are a defeated people willing to accept numerous indignities as long as we can keep our lives rolling along with moderate success. I think it’s clear how we got here and I think it’s clear how we regain our strength.

These are the “turning points” in my take on things:

1981 – Ronald Reagan convinces everyone “government is the problem.” Before that people operated under the assumption that it was just bloated and corrupt. Reagan Democrats and old farts of all stripes believed his earnest demeanor was authentic and turned against government. The wealthy would-be kings and corporate America seized on the opportunity to start fighting unions, privatizing whatever they could get their hands on, gambling with workers savings and livelihoods, reviving the greed that 65 years earlier had filled factories with child workers and 120 years earlier filled fields with slaves, cutting away at the safety net for the poor, and taking a lot of momentum out of upward mobility.

1994 — Following mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote, and heavily publicized, a “Contract with America” offering many proposals that became law under Democratic President Bill Clinton and a template for today’s GOP Representatives. Gingrich, as Speaker, piloted the House to two government shutdowns (5 full days and 21 full days) and was successful in impeaching Clinton in the House, although it was overturned in the Senate. Under the leadership of Gingrich and the principles of the Contract with America, Capital Gains taxes were reduced, welfare was reduced and even eliminated for mothers 18 years old and younger, prisons were funded as sentences became harsher, payments for UN peacekeeping operations were cut, tort reform benefiting corporations in product liability suits was instituted, and citizen’s protections against illegal search and seizure were weakened. Conflict between the parties on Budget talks was nothing new, animosity toward a president of the opposing party was not new, but Gingrich’s disdain for compromise and disregard for the essential role of Congress, purely on ideological grounds, was new, ugly, and precedent-setting (and is currently being repeated).

1996 — FoxNews channel launches. Funded by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes, a Republican political strategist, the channel promotes extreme conservative thought to the point of skewering mainstream Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie and promoting the wildest extremes of the GOP (e.g. Ann Coulter). Using tools such as repetition and framing, combined with titillating graphics and bootylicious contributors, the channel successfully functions as the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Of course, this was all it was intended to be: an outlet of extreme conservative viewpoints that went well beyond what an already corporatist press was willing to promote. Entire media organizations developed just to identify and document their misrepresentations of Democratic policy and politicians. How did the channel get to the point of being available to 85% of cable and satellite customers? Rupert’s wealth allowed the station to pay cable systems on a per subscriber basis (rather than the opposite) to give the station an audience it would otherwise not have developed so quickly.

2001 – The September 11th attacks leave Americans shaken. Acts of terror, particularly against the World Trade Center, provoked urges for retribution, misdirected hostilities to immigrants in the U.S. and Muslim people everywhere, created strong feelings of jingoism (the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries). We’ve now endured years of war at a great human cost (for all parties) and a great financial cost. We’ve built massive government entities in Homeland Security and the NSA. We have less privacy and less liberty than we did just 12 years ago and it wasn’t taken from us, it was given away. For many, the world was turned upside down and confidence in our safety and security was threatened. Then (in 2003) the Bush administration capitalized on this insecurity–even fearfulness–with the political decision to waste blood and treasure in Iraq in order to secure access to Saddam’s oil fields. Lawmakers understood this to be some sort of retaliation and most went along with the program. Every death in Iraq and Afghanistan produced dozens of enemies of the U.S. And gas prices still went up.

2007 – The Great Recession begins the nation’s descent into the deepest and longest Recession since the Great Depression. Unaddressed real estate bubbles and unregulated risky banking investment combined to bring the economy to the verge of collapse with millions losing their jobs. GW Bush had hoped that he could get out of town before the poop hit the spinning blades but he was splattered enough to initiate a bank bailout of epic proportions and hand his successor an economy hemorrhaging jobs at previously unseen rates (2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008 and by 2010 the total reached 8.8 million jobs lost from the pre-recession peak). If you didn’t lose your job you still felt the insecurity of the economy keenly. After 30 years of stagnant wage growth for most Americans, and an employer’s market for jobs, we quickly learned the advantage of putting up and shutting up.

2010 – FoxNews and conservative talk radio misrepresent the Affordable Care Act and other policies of centrist, corporation-friendly president Barack Obama to the point that a subset of Americans become activated to oppose his policies under the umbrella of the Tea Party. Billions are spent by Rupert Murdoch and David and Charles Koch to organize and promote Tea Party activism and Tea Party candidates. Dick Armey was pegged to run FreedomWorks, launched with $12 million from the Koch’s, to organize Tea Party branches and create the rallies that the press so adored prior to the 2010 midterms. FreedomWorks paid a million to Glenn Beck for his ongoing endorsements, and an undisclosed amount to Rush Limbaugh for the same. Many middle class people were easily led by these professional talkers to direct their anger against government, Obama, or liberals instead of to the group most responsible for their problems: the powerful multinational CEOs and the super-rich who were busy moving the workers share of income into the pockets of CEOs and dividend checks of investors.

Wolves at the door.

Step by step, those who are too greedy and selfish to understand the concept of acting for the greater good, (the enlightened self-interest that de Touqueville found in America in the 1830s), have shaped the country to our detriment (and their benefit). We are rudderless in many ways because we have surrendered national values.

Can we ask the questions that matter? What happens to the unskilled or lower skilled workers when the factories close? Should we retrain them, can we retrain them? What happens to the children of poor parents who have no early childhood support (educational, ethical, nutritional, emotional)? Can we expect them to find the way out of poverty? Is it good for the economy to see dividends going up while real wages are going down? Should the gap between CEO wages and average workers salaries be widening or closing? What happens when the seas rise, the desert overtakes productive land, and we find ourselves rebuilding again and again after violent storms? What happens when the temperature’s slow rise changes regional ecology, or deadens the oceans, or makes the air unbreathable? Should we sit and watch nature die because we didn’t want to put a price on carbon emissions?

LB_Rule

I think I could have added Citizens United to the list above, but I had the sense that it was only extending the problem of “bought” politicians, not the primary cause of it. Last week the Supreme Court agreed to take up Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and many see this as part 2 of Citizens United. In that case, the Supreme Court said that corporations were people and money was speech, and therefore corporations could not be limited in political donations under free speech principles. The Hobby Lobby case, rather innocuous when viewed as the fight of a corporation against mandates to provide coverage of contraceptives, extends Citizens United to say that corporations have religious freedom as well. The owners of Hobby Lobby use the protections afforded by incorporating, but then balk at the responsibility to follow federal law with the premise that the corporation should be afforded freedom of religion protection under the Constitution. Not only that, but the exception is not based on religious beliefs generally, but their own zealot belief that Plan B One-Step prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb and is tantamount to an abortion. In the fashion of zealots, they misunderstand the functions of this pill as it does nothing to stop a fertilized egg from implanting. If Hobby Lobby was pacifist and wanted to avoid paying the share of taxes that finance the war in Afghanistan, how would that go over?

LB_Rule

Well, I just remembered the promise (to myself) to end on a relatively positive note. So here I go. The good news, on a topic where good news has been hard to find, is on Obamacare. According to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the growth in health care spending (since Obamacare was passed in 2010) has slowed to the lowest rate on record for any three-year period since 1965. “If half the recent slowdown in spending can be sustained,” the report says, “health care spending a decade from now will be about $1,400 per person lower than if growth returned to its 2000-2007 trend.” Additionally, health care price inflation is at its lowest rate in 50 years.

The ACA also had many measures to curb spending on Medicare (which is 16% of the federal budget). Benefits were not reduced (they improved in fact) but spending was reduced through various measures to tighten up payments and experiment with alternatives to the pay-for-procedure model that creates incentives for healthcare organizations to perform more procedures and tests to make more money.

Projections suggest we will save $147 billion on Medicare and Medicaid over the next 6 years. These changes will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion from 2013 to 2022.

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Every road is a lonely street, I cry like a baby.

In this edition: Blue-eyed soul. Black hearts. Tracking the descent of American ideals. Best politicians money can buy. To-do list: avoid copyright infringement and finish on a positive note.

Cry Like a Baby

As I look back on a love so sweet
I cry like a baby
Every road is a lonely street
I cry like a baby

1968 —  Written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, and performed by The Box Tops

 Cry Like A Baby Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Memphis producer/songwriter Dan Penn contacted Spooner Oldham to write a song that would follow-up The Box Top’s success with “The Letter.” Oldham was a session organist and songwriter. Sitting in a diner, frustrated by a lack of ideas, Oldham told Penn that he could “cry like a baby” and Penn got inspired. The first verse came together as they walked to the studio, and the duo birthed a demo that night. The next day Box Tops’ singer Alex Chilton heard the demo and smiled. It soon reached #2 on the charts.

The Box Tops were a “blue-eyed soul” group from Memphis. A white group with a black sound. Singer/guitarist Chilton was just 17 in 1968. Like many young bands of the time they were mistreated by managers and road promoters and this led to their disbanding in 1970. The management company continued to release material recorded by the band, and when that ran out they created a new studio band to record using the name Box Tops. In their quest for fame and fortune, the band had ceded all control to the management and record companies. Their dream was derailed by the greed of the people they felt were going to help them.

And in case you were wondering, the strangely buzzing plucked string sound is from a sitar.

Several things came up in the past week or so that has me ready to cry like a baby. Healthcare.gov’s issues are touted by everyone (Left and Right) as “Obama’s Katrina.” The only truth in the analogy is that it is very effective in reinforcing the perception that government can’t get things right–a great boost to people who want to make government small enough to drown in the tub (see Grover Norquist). SNAP benefits (food stamps) were cut in November and nobody seems to care that benefits are reduced for 22 million children and 9 million people who are elderly or disabled. The super-typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippine province of Leyte. As many as 10,000 may be dead and over 600,000 people have been displaced. At the same time, the Warsaw Climate Change Conference is barely reported. Thirty members of Greenpeace are being held in a Russian jail because they climbed an offshore drilling rig in the arctic with banners and ropes. The Executive Branch and State Department remain silent on the topic (and this reeks of cowardice). The troubling thing is that the issue of the worsening climate doesn’t make a blip on the mental radar screens of a seemingly hypnotized American people who can’t seem to get it into their heads that 150 years of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels has consequences. Media has something to do with this as instead of paying people for investigation the news is simply reported as “this side says this and that side says that” and false equivalency abounds.

Those skeptical of climate change believe that there is no problem–it’s just natural cycles or manipulation by those that would benefit from a carbon market. What they don’t realize is that the energy companies employ between 3 and 8 lobbyists per member of Congress. The oil and gas industry spends $150 million per year lobbying politicians. They have spent $260 million in campaign contributions since 2000. While 75% of that goes to Republicans the industry was also a huge contributor to the Obama campaigns. By purchasing these politicians they may well be exchanging their profits today for a livable world tomorrow. What do the oil and gas companies get for their money? Freedom from pesky regulation, $4 billion in annual tax breaks, and continued profits–about a trillion dollars over the past decade for the top companies. And they don’t even thank us while they pick our pockets. (Perhaps a sexually oriented metaphor would be more appropriate?) The tens of millions the American Petroleum Institute spends on PR provides quite a return. It makes you wonder if the truly soulless can enjoy their ill-gotten gains? Of course they can. Lie about climate science by day, count your 30 pieces of silver at night.

While the Right likes to claim that the Koch Brothers are simply baseless scapegoats of the Left (they know that Al Gore and George Soros are the REAL threats LOL) yet we find Koch Industries at the top of the lobbying lists. The Kochs spent $122 million of their oil billions on Americans for Prosperity, a tax-exempt conservative political organization JUST IN 2012. They are focused on funding more local races to put Tea Party conservatives in charge of towns and counties across the country. Their money is important to Republicans generally–they either receive it or a candidate “primaries them” bankrolled by these anti-democratic maniacs. Their money funds much anti-Obamacare advertising through support of extreme right-wing groups.

I would say that 40 years ago most Americans understood that we needed to control the pollution of air, food, and water. Now, we’ve somehow been led to the place where we will no longer fight for controls against these terrible attacks on the environment. We not only lay down for polluters but we mindlessly believe that globalization is necessary, Medicare and Social Security are unsustainable for the U.S., the military can do no wrong, and that we can trust the efforts of private sector corporations over public sector civil servants.

How did we get here? I believe that it started out with Ronald Reagan duping socially conservative Democrats and business owning Republicans into trusting his ideology that what was good for business was good for everyone. Before that, Americans had more skepticism about where to place their trust. They understood that labor and management had a pact that neither would be sacrificed for the benefit of the other. Moreover, they understood (as Henry Ford did when he doubled the wages of his employees in 1918) that the success of the worker was a way to maintain the economic ecosystem. Communities need the consumption and civic participation of workers as much as the oceans need plankton.  Companies need a stable motivated workforce or they squander energy on training and recruitment. Post-Reagan we raced to the place where in the name of globalism we have sent tens of millions of jobs overseas. Since labor is a market, we now have more workers than jobs to employ them (and few opportunities for low-skilled workers) and the result is that pay is flat or declining. High supply means low prices.

Low wages results in an elevated demand for cheap goods. Like from Wal-Mart. Except that Wal-Mart finds its low prices by forcing companies with American factories (like Rubbermaid, Levis, and Master Lock) to close their U.S. facilities and send those jobs to Asia to provide items for cheaper than the price we would be willing to pay for them. So the whole thing is a vicious, community-destroying cycle. But if you keep the masses occupied worrying that they might slip into poverty then they are unwilling to risk anything that threatens their shitty jobs and 2% raises. A debased and defeated work force is the easiest to take advantage of.

So depressing. Let’s get over it together. Have you seen this quote?

“Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

Hear more below.

From a Bill Moyer’s interview of Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo , “If there’s injustice in the world, those of us that have the ability to witness it and to record it, document it and tell the world what is happening have a moral responsibility to do that. Then, of course, it’s left up to those that are receiving that knowledge to make the moral choice about whether they want to stand up against the injustice or observe it.”

https://soundcloud.com/smileyandwestshow/kumi-naidoo-from-greenpeace

Knowing that such sentiments exist and that they have meaning to a large number of people is a comforting thing. Like tomato soup in Chicago in November.

More on the steps that led us into this descent next post. I will now be quoting only a verse of the songs that launch my blog posts. I wanted to collect a few things together (e-book style) and then I realized that in order to fit a fair use standard for copyrights I would have to restrict the lyrics to the relevant part. Luckily other sites have no qualms and I will link to their content as I did above.

Take care and do right.

Lefty

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Filed under Economy, History, Politics, Social Issues

No matter what you do, you’ll never run away from you

In this edition: Get your kicks while losing your pride, a snapshot of success and dysfunction. Sticking to the wrong principles. The TP rejoices, “we stopped Obamacare!”(and then they woke up). War, huh, what is it good for and how GWB lucked out by failing to do a thing to prevent the Great Recession.

Kicks

Girl, you thought you found the answer on that magic carpet ride last night
But when you wake up in the mornin’ the world still gets you uptight
Well, there’s nothin’ that you ain’t tried, to fill the emptiness inside
But when you come back down, girl, still ain’t feelin’ right

Chorus:
(And don’t it seem like)
Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
Before you find out it’s too late, girl
You better get straight

Well you think you’re gonna find yourself a little piece of paradise
But it ain’t happened yet, so girl, you better think twice
Don’t you see no matter what you do, you’ll never run away from you
And if you keep on runnin’
You’ll have to pay the price

[repeat chorus]

Bridge:

No, you don’t need kicks
To help you face the world each day
That road goes nowhere
I’m gonna help you find yourself another way

Chorus:
(And don’t it seem like)
Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
(Oh, you don’t need kicks, girl)
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
(You just need help, girl)
Before you find out it’s too late, girl
You better get straight

–Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders (1966)

Learning more about this song was like peeling back the layers of an onion. Who knew? (Does anybody know where “who knew” and “ya think” originated? Two phrases used… excessively, that are now somehow central to American speech.) I digress.

We can start with producer Terry Melcher asking the songwriting duo of Mann and Weil  for a song like The Animals “We Got to Get Out of this Place.”  They came up with “Kicks,” and the inspiration was a friend who needed help with drugs (probably fellow song-writer and Carole King’s husband at the time, Gerry Goffin). Mann and Weil had written the song for The Animals, but lead singer Eric Burdon rejected it. Melcher brought it to Paul Revere & the Raiders.

Terry Melcher’s story: Melcher was the son of singer-actress Doris Day and trombonist Al Jorden. Day was planning to leave the abusive, violent Jorden when she found herself pregnant. Outraged,  Jorden demanded that Day get an abortion. Instead, she gave birth to son Terrance Jorden and filed for divorce. After the divorce, with maternal instincts more suited to Hollywood than Cincinnati, Day left the boy with her mother in Ohio, and went back to touring with big band leader Les Brown. Birth daddy Al Jorden visited his son infrequently and had little presence in his life. After divorcing her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler, Day married Martin Melcher, who would become her manager and produce many of her films. Melcher adopted Terry, giving the child his surname. Happy ending? Well… after Martin Melcher’s death in 1968, Day discovered that he and a partner had mismanaged or embezzled $20 million of her money. And that was ALL her money. According to an inflation calculator (inquiring minds wanted to know) that would be the same as around $135 million in 2013 dollars.

Terry Melcher recorded and wrote music himself, but ended up working for Capital Records. He produced the Byrds albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn! He worked with groups like The Mamas and the Papas and Paul Revere & the Raiders. He was also friends with the Beach Boys and even sang backup on their album Pet Sounds.

Beach Boy Dennis Wilson introduced Melcher to Charles Manson (to myself: WHAT?!?!?). The Beach Boys had recorded a Manson written song calling it “Never Learn Not To Love” (a double negative but better than Manson’s title “Cease to Exist”) with credits going to Dennis Wilson. Melcher wanted to do a movie about Manson and the hippie commune thing he had going, but later distanced himself after seeing some Manson craziness. Melcher had been living with girlfriend Candace Bergen in the same house on Cielo Drive that was later leased to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and became the site of the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate (8 months pregnant), coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairdresser Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent.

Melcher went on to produce music, television, and the Monterey Pop Festival. He cowrote the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. Melcher passed on in 2004.

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s story: In the early Sixties, Mann and Weil settled into their writing partnership and married life. They worked in the Brill Building at Aldon Music alongside Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector. They were craftsmen songwriters, sitting in a cubicle with a piano and working all day to come up with lyrics and melodies. These writers would create songs that were offered to the bands and singers of the day. Some might go to Elvis, The Monkees, Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, or the Byrds, or in the case of “Kicks” to Paul Revere’s band through producer Terry Melcher. Mann and Weil wrote “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” with Phil Spector and “On Broadway” recorded by The Drifters with Leiber and Stoller.

Paul Revere’s Story: The band Paul Revere and the Raiders has substantial U.S. mainstream success in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. The early incarnation was a Boise, Idaho band having regional success. They fell under the guidance of Melcher, moving to L.A. in 1965.  Like many bands of the era, they copied the sounds and mod styles of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, and The Animals while adding a little American R&B feel.

The band appeared regularly on national television and especially on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, Happening ’68, and It’s Happening, the latter two of which were co-hosted by Revere and singer Mark Lindsay. Boomer’s found them on TV when they returned home from school, playing some songs with comedic interludes. Playing on Revere’s name, the group wore American Revolutionary War soldier uniforms, and performed slapstick comedy and synchronized dance steps while Mark Lindsay, cute and pony-tailed, lip-synced their music. The very thing that made them popular, their goofy wholesomeness, was the most detrimental thing they could choose to make a long-lasting mark in the world of Rock.

The Raiders were endorsed by the company Vox  (Revere used their Vox Continental combo organ, while bassist Phil “Fang” Volk was seen on television playing a Phantom IV bass —with “FANG” in masking tape letters on the back.

Imagine you are a music loving rock and roller and you get your Big Chance. But instead of living your dream–writing and performing music–you sell yourself out to image makers and profit takers. You clown for adolescents, lip-sync the songs, and don’t even get to play the instruments on your own albums. Instead of developing a unique sound you co-opt other people’s inventions. A manager tells you what songs you will play from the song factory. Instead of being an artist, you are scripted entertainer. I really don’t have a clue what all that meant to Paul Revere or Mark Lindsay but I know how I would feel. It had to be like heaven appeared to be within reach but with one step you’d know the clouds were cotton batting and the harps were made of tinfoil, cardboard tubes, and loosely tied string.

Looking back, I would have thought that the druggies didn’t really need to get off “kicks” until a decade later when Quaaludes and Coke were taking their toll. Still, Mann and Weill ran in circles where a stern anti-drug warning was required and Melcher was no innocent. The band’s lineup became fluid as the Raiders chafed against the manufactured media image that lavished juvenile attention on Lindsay while ignoring the music. To the band, I’d guess sounding more like The Animals and less like Herman’s Hermits would have been a welcome relief if they’d had a chance to be true to themselves.

Paul Revere has kept a Raiders band together with an evolving lineup since those early days. He recently admitted to an undisclosed health problem that prompted him to report that he got his “butt kicked but good.”

LB_Rule

Over the days that I spent on this post, the debt crisis in Washington DC was forestalled. The Republican Party is taking a beating in the press and polls. If you asked the core Tea Party Congresspeople about why they took the full faith and credit of the United States hostage they would maintain that it was because, unlike Paul Revere & the Raiders, they had to stick to their principles. They ran against Obamacare (or at least what FoxNews and conservative talk radio was telling fact-starved voters Obamacare was) and they dreamed that this was a battle they could win. They needed a little perspective. They are politicians, Obama is a politician. They should be able to put themselves in his shoes. Would he sign a bill that repealed The Affordable Care Act? That is the president’s landmark legislation. His place in the history books. He ran for reelection on it, with an opponent running on repeal, and he won by 5 million votes!

Grumpy realist Senator John McCain  (R-Ariz.) wondered what they were thinking. “We started this on a fool’s errand, convincing so many millions of Americans and our supporters that we could defund Obamacare. [That] obviously wouldn’t happen until we had 67 Republican senators to override a presidential veto.”

michael-dukakis-tankSo, they actually moved themselves away from hopes of getting 67 Republican senators anytime in the near future. And they’ll have to pick a stronger candidate than Gov. Mitt Romney to put one of their’s in the White House in 2016 (that is unless Hillary doesn’t run and the Democratic party pick is a misfire along the lines of Kerry or Dukakis–perfectly fine gentlemen but not strong candidates for the highest office in the land).

Someone who has something to say about economic matters is Jim Hines, Democratic Congressman from Connecticut. As he has put it so eloquently, “People need to understand that: It’s their 401Ks, their IRAs, interest rates which they pay on their mortgages or their credit card bills, all of that depends on the assumption that the United States Treasury is risk-free. If the Republican majority in Congress forces a default, all of the sudden, it’s not risk-free anymore.”

A recent Gallup poll reported:  “With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.”

LB_Rule

I saw this sign in a “quaint shopping village” in my area. Back in the days when people weren’t getting squeezed by the migration of wealth to top managers and investors, they would get plenty of folks walking around buying crafty doo-dads or dusty silk floral arrangements. Today, stores are closing and the average visitor keeps his or her wallet firmly enpocketed.

customers wantedLB_RuleI sometimes debate some right-wing maniacs in my suburban newspaper online comments section. Their belief, and probably many people’s belief, is that the bombing of Baghdad was done with surgical precision and low collateral loss of life. Well, when the media is casually regurgitating the public relations output of the state such misunderstandings can easily be made. Every bombing target had some amount of civilian loss of life, and 20 targets were identified as high collateral damage bombings and undertaken anyway. 10,000 of the bombs dropped by American and British planes were not precision guided at all. Recently, Wikileaks documents wrote of the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilian deaths that hadn’t been publicly disclosed previously. A new investigation into Iraq deaths over the last 10 years puts the total figure at nearly 500,000–2/3 from violence and 1/3 from breakdowns in health services and other factors.

The Iraqi loss of life, along with the loss of their health and economic opportunity, did not win us an ally in the region–just the opposite. Have you been paying attention to the DU (depleted uranium) issue in Iraq? Worse than Syria’s chemical weapons, the U.S. and allies used DU weapons that resulted in Fallujah experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia, and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945. Learn more here.

The Great Recession seems to have one positive effect for George W. Bush. It put Americans into such a state of worry and financial concern that they didn’t have energy to evaluate the effects of the Iraq War and place blame where it should be placed, on the heads of Bush and Cheney who squandered American taxpayer’s hard-earned money in an illegal and immoral war that benefited only international oil companies, Cheney’s Halliburton buds, and munitions manufacturers.

We could put this all behind us, but then we’d never learn the lessons we need to learn.

1. War is brutal and inhumane, and unfitting for civilized nations unless under direct attack.

2. Those in the war business, like those that knowingly produce products that poison us, give us cancer, or give others the power of life and death over us, are sociopaths who put the acquisition of wealth over human life–even the lives of children and babies.

3. When terrible things happen, like 9/11 in our collective lives or tragedy in our personal lives, our decision-making abilities can be weakened by emotional confusion, and we’re best off taking things a day at a time and acting in manners that leave us no regrets.

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Filed under Complaining, Economy, History, Politics, Social Issues

Practiced at the Art of Deception

In this edition: That’s right, you can’t always get what you want, but… The beat of another drummer. We’re Number 1! (number one jailer in the world). Obama nearly reaching the status of Bill Clinton (with regards to impeachment). Hijinks and Highlights.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”

[Chorus]

I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was “dead”
I said to him

[Chorus]

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands

[Chorus repeating]

– Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Recorded by the Rolling Stones (1969)

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is from the Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed. The London Bach Choir opens the song, highlights passages throughout, and brings it to its conclusion. Al Kooper plays piano and organ, as well as the French horn intro. Stones drummer Charlie Watts wasn’t on the recording. For some reason, he was having trouble getting the part and when Jimmy Miller, the producer, offered to show him he suggested Miller just do the drumming on that song. There’s some contention about whether that was done in a snit or not.

Jagger had developed the song on acoustic guitar, referring to it as “one of those bedroom songs.”  (If you didn’t know, all guitarists sit alone in the bedroom noodling on a guitar.) Mick thought a gospel choir would be a nice touch, but they didn’t find one. When someone suggested the London Bach Choir I think they shrugged and said “Wtf, mates, why not?”

In 1969 the world was awash in protest, the sentiment of brotherly love, and casual drug use. The song covers those topics, but in the fashion of the Stones love wasn’t about dreamy hippie generalized love, but more about the love of some bad girl practiced in the art of deception and with metaphoric blood-stained hands at the reception. In a way, it is a more down-to-earth view that points to the following decade’s creation of new sexual ethics.  The protest they attend features frustration and abuse. Finally, the drug use isn’t characterized in 1969 terms of stoned goofing or trippy psychedelia–we’re talking about people looking ill who say one word and that is “dead.”

Just as some wrongly heard song lyrics make their way into wide acceptance (like Creedence Clearwaters’ “There’s a bathroom on the right” or Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”) I seem to make the wrong connections with a lot of the classic rock music I am acquainted with. I’ve always connected the Chelsea Drugstore reference to the British National Health Service’s policy of allowing heroin by prescription. This practice peaked in the late sixties and declined with the rise of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Many people go through methadone treatment without success, and in these cases it is still possible in the UK to get heroin by prescription in doses that avoid withdrawal symptoms but don’t give a strong buzz. There may be a lesson here for the U.S. as addicts create an underground market for the drug that spills over into the general population in varying and unpredictable strengths and purity.

The_Chelsea_Drugstore

The Chelsea Drugstore

Instead of a gathering place for addicts the Chelsea Drugstore was, in fact, more of a symbol of Swinging London (See YouTube below). The store was a modern building in West London where customers would find bars, a pharmacy, newsstands, record stores, and other concessions. They were also infamous for the “flying squad” delivery option. Those who used this service would have their purchases delivered by hand by young ladies adorned in purple catsuits arriving on flashy motorcycles. CVS and Walgreens take note.

Back-up singer Doris Troy is also featured on the song. She’d had an early sixties hit with “Just One Look” and was sought after as a back-up singer for British rockers of the time. She also sang on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, but was not the powerhouse singer who nailed the wordless melody in the song “The Great Gig in the Sky”. (That was Clare Torey.)

There’s an apocryphal story that Mr. Jimmy was actually a resident of Excelsior, Minnesota where the Stones had played to a small, unenthusiastic crowd. Mr. Jimmy was a kind of street person who knew everyone in town. I didn’t find much to sell this story, but you can Google Mr. Jimmy and Excelsior if you have the inclination. In a trip to St. Paul in the mid-eighties I had seen a man in a pyramid hat visiting bars and restaurants to universal welcome so I was open to the theme of Minnesota eccentrics. But I still don’t think that was in Mick’s head at the time. More about Minnesota eccentrics here.

In the end, the song is about the end of a period in London history, when the city was awash in top stars in music, film, and fashion. Mitigating the song’s gloominess is the chorus’ suggestion that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

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On August 12, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will no longer charge nonviolent drug offenders with serious crimes that subject them to long, mandatory minimum sentences in the federal prison system. The speech serves to provide new guidelines for federal prosecutors. He’s also called for the expanded use of prison alternatives, such as probation or house arrest, for nonviolent offenders and for lower sentences for elderly inmates.

One big reason for the new guidelines is seen in this graphic.

federal-prison1The most significant factor in increasing prison populations in the 12 years portrayed is imprisoned drug offenders, followed by weapons and immigration issues. Nearly 50% of federal inmates are in for drug offenses. The U.S. houses a total of 220,000 federal inmates.  At the same time, the national budget for drug control has been on the rise, from $10.8 billion in 2002 to $15.5 billion in 2011. If it’s working then the problems are greater than we think!

Holder said, “We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken… And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”

The federal prison population doesn’t tell the whole story. The states are housing about 1.4 million prisoners. While only about 20% of those prisoners are there on drug charges, the segment has grown by a factor of 20 between 1986 and 2004. And while the states are much more likely to imprison offenders on violent crimes, drugs still are common as secondary charges. Costs for these prisons and inmate care are in the neighborhood of $74 billion per year. Ten states now spend more on imprisonment than they do on higher education—six times more, in the case of California.

The average length of a prison stay is going up, too. From 1990 to 2009, the average length of stay for prisoners increased by 2.9 years. As a result of this progression, the prison population is not only growing, but also aging,  and due to costs of healthcare, prisoners over the age of 50 are twice as expensive to house on average. One in every 34 U.S. adults was under some sort of correctional supervision in 2011 – whether it be in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, according to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents a slight decline from the previous decade’s numbers but is an incredible figure nonetheless.

To a relatively small subset of people, that $74 billion represents not an egregious line item on the state and federal budgets but an opportunity.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are the nation’s first- and second-largest operators of for-profit prisons. These corporations are solidly optimistic about the future of imprisoning Americans. The GEO Senior Vice President John Hurley assured investors recently:

“We have a longstanding partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshal Service and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. … We continue to see meaningful opportunities for us to partner with all three of these federal agencies. The federal bureau of prisons continues to face capacity constraints coupled with a growing offender population.”

The first quarter of 2013 represented a 56% spike in profits for GEO. This was partially driven from a tax break they and CCA received by successfully arguing to the IRS that they were not prison companies but were instead real estate companies with prisoners analogous to “renters.” As Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) they are subject to tax breaks as the intention of IRS rules was to modulate the taxes of passive real estate owning companies. Prison companies are not the only ones screwing the U.S. taxpayer by dodging their fair share, casinos and document storage companies are pursuing the same strategy.

When an ex-convict leaves prison, he or she has a 40% chance of returning within three years. One big driver is that it’s very difficult, especially in this economy where low-skilled workers have few opportunities, to enter the work force. There are both social and security stigmas that affect felons. Another key factor is that the drug use that led to imprisonment picks back up again. 65% of American inmates are clinically addicted to drugs, only 11% receive any form of treatment.

What many in the U.S. fail to appreciate is that the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness creates downstream costs to the society that are increasingly difficult to maintain. As a nation we seem unable to create the kind of bold strategies that actually alleviate problems as our politicians quibble over ideological trivialities. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of future do we want for this country?” Do we stick with the “I got mine” mentality that has driven us since the Reagan years or do we look at the stats, consider the causes, and drive improvement in the way that corporate America succeeds by driving process improvement throughout organizations?

Many statistics came from this Harvard Political Review article and this article at Think Progress.

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Hijinks and Highlights!

Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage landed in the national spotlight following an August fundraiser. According to two unnamed state lawmakers, LePage told a group of conservatives at a GOP fundraiser last week that President Obama “hates white people.” LePage denies it but the denial carries little weight.

Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz is the junior U.S. Senator for the state of Texas and the future target of a Democratic-led birther movement. Well, maybe not. It’s come out that Cruz, a GOP presidential hopeful, was born in Calgary, Canada and holds dual citizenship (he plans on renouncing that). His “supposed” claim to U.S. citizenship is that his mother was American (which although it sounds more like the proof you need to be Jewish should work). His father, like Obama’s, was a foreign citizen. Cuba not Kenya. However, since Obama was born to a Kansan citizen but is still under a cloud of suspicion about Kenyan roots then should the Left be willing to give Cruz a break? I think not, friends! Cruz’ politics are all about de-funding Obamacare, denying a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, spending more on walls and militarization of the Mexican border, raising the age for Medicare eligibility, denying reasonable gun restrictions, and restricting unemployment benefits that “exacerbate joblessness.” And did I mention de-funding Obamacare?

Whackjob “news” site WND.COM (World News Daily) is spearheading an “Impeach Obama” campaign. They support 12 reasons offered by the Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment group, and if you have the stomach for it, they are found here. Portraying the Overpasses as a booming grassroots group they miss the salient point that 40,000 purported members represents just 1/100th of 1% of the population. No mandates there!

Tom Coburn, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, warns us that Obama is “getting perilously close” to the standard for impeachment (in Coburn’s head). Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) suggested that he’d like to impeach President Obama, telling a disappointed constituent that he would file such a bill if he could find the “evidence” to make it stick. Bentivolio said “You know, if I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true.” He needs more useful dreams for his constituents. Bentivolio is a former Santa Claus impersonator and reindeer farmer (no joke!) And in the same week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) answered questions from a fervent anti-Obama constituent at a town hall, (telling the woman that he would take a closer look at her birther conspiracy document)  suggesting that House Republicans had enough votes to impeach the president. (Btw, the House begins impeachment but the Senate tries the matter.)

So the Tea Party spirit of Townhalls in 2009-2010 is revived with encouragement from the anti-American wings of the Senate and House of Representatives. When you disagree with a president’s policies you 1.) Cease the consideration of all normal legislation to assure said president’s “failure” and 2.) try to impeach the president rather than win a war of ideas.

That first tactic started on the night of Obama’s first inauguration, when a group of around 15 Republican Representatives and Senators (brought together by Frank Luntz) met for a boozy dinner in the Caucus Room, a “high-end D.C. establishment,” to discuss methods to “win back political power” and to “put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” Those attending the meeting included Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Pete Sessions as the House Representatives and Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, and Jon Kyl from the Senate. Newt Gingrich also spoke there. There’s something very disgusting about planning a president’s failure at the height of an economic downturn in order to be complicit in causing his failure to enact legislation to improve the lives of suffering citizens.

Cat_scratch_fever_coverBut I digress. On the topic of impeachment, the most eloquent voice remains with the wild-eyed legendary superstar Ted Nugent, who tells us there’s “no question” Obama should be impeached (in his head), blasting “the criminality of this government, the unprecedented abuse of power, corruption, fraud and deceit by the Chicago gangster-scammer-ACORN-in-chief.”

“It’s so diabolical,” he adds.

I think I’ll start an Overpasses Against Ted Nugent movement. Too bad, I still love “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold.”LB_Rule

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Filed under Complaining, Economy, Politics, Social Issues, U.S. Prisons

Ease the Day that Brings Me Pain

In this edition: Berserkers and other Norwegians, 2 sides to the Youngbloods, Chicago gun violence, the Chicago Public School system, and if that weren’t enough… Medicare for All!

Darkness, Darkness

Darkness, Darkness
Be my pillow
Take my hand, and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

Darkness, Darkness
Hide my yearning, for the things I cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning
Toward the things I cannot see now
Things I cannot see now

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome, ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night,
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now,
Emptiness of right now, now, now  [Repeat verses 1 and 4]

Oh yeah, Oh yeah
Emptiness, emptiness
Oh yeah

Written by Jesse Colin Young (1969)
Performed by The Youngbloods, Jesse Colin Young

I have two versions of “Darkness, Darkness” on my iPod (the first from The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain album and the second a Jesse Colin Young re-do from The Very Best of Jesse Colin Young released, I believe, in 2005. That “Very Best” album remasters many original Youngbloods songs and re-interprets “Darkness, Darkness” with a harder edge and scorching guitar work from Larry Mitchell.

Young was one of the early 1960’s folk artists working at New York City Greenwich Village clubs (like Dylan, Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary).  The period is explored on this YouTube channel. The next step in his career was the jug band style of the folk music revival along the lines of John Sebastian who went on to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s and Joe McDonald who went on to Country Joe and the Fish. Finally, evolution moved all these bands to the folk rock scene and a few survived the sixties British Invasion including Jesse Colin Young.Young released a couple of folk albums and then joined with Jerry Corbitt, Lowell “Banana” Levinger, and drummer Joe Bauer to form The Youngbloods.

“Darkness, Darkness” was featured on the 1969 album and was produced by Charles E. Daniels. Charles E. (you may know him as Charley) Daniels contributed the violin part. It’s pretty interesting to contrast the 1969 release with the same violin part remastered and used on the 2005 version. You can hear the tone of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on that second version including one bridging riff that is reproduced exactly on the Charlie Daniels’s song.

The Youngbloods’ bigger hit had been “Get Together” with the refrain “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody come together, try to love one another right now.”  That song was written by Dino Valenti (a.k.a. Chet Powers) whose story could be a movie about the California folk rock scene in the sixties. Check his Wiki page.

The contrast between that dreamy epic of fraternal love and the invitation for Darkness to be a pillow or blanket is pretty astounding. It is likely a reference to emotional depression, but it was associated with the darkness of jungle warfare in the Vietnam period and the darkness veterans survived after coming home to a world that no longer could relate to them or their experiences.

Young currently lives on his own coffee plantation in Hawaii and CDs and coffee are available at http://www.jessecolinyoung.com.

And now the segue…

One of the arguments about gun control is that no amount of control will stop the handgun killings in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods. (Of course, that’s not exactly true because if dealers weren’t selling guns in bulk in Virginia and other states to gang members or gang vendors to drive to Chicago then the supply would dry up.) But I’m not sure that knives or worse wouldn’t take the gun’s place. It is a valid point that the problem is the culture of violence not the method of violence. I came to this conclusion, believe it or not, reading a book about the Vikings.

I enjoyed the History Channel series about The Vikings and have always held a little affinity for them (although not a lot of real knowledge). The affinity is based on an e-mail I got 2 decades ago via AOL from someone researching their genealogy. My fraternal grandfather (who hadn’t stuck around–a sperm donor in my father’s words)  was from England. So I attributed that to 25% English ancestry. But apparently the name is originally Norwegian and comes from a specific fjord-littered area in Norway. But the Scandinavians settled in various parts of England and that may explain it. And that’s what put Vikings into my consciousness to this day.

Here’s a quote about violence from the book:

“At any moment, say the sagas, the daily round of farming, herding, and fishing might be torn asunder. A single spark of violence might set off an endless success of duels, ambushes, pitched battles, murders, maimings, and burnings. These blood feuds were pursued with deadly intensity as each fresh killing stoked the hatred.”

The Vikings of the times (around 800 to 1000 AD)  lived in loosely connected enclaves of farms and villages and the first loyalty was to their immediate family.

I find two connections to the killing in Chicago and other cities. First, it reminds us that the behavior is not inhuman in any way, humans have always done this type of thing. Not civilized, maybe, but that’s a different concept and we would find such uncivilized behavior in any state at war. The second, is that disconnection to a larger group interest leads to action that always pivots on personal exchanges. Each local group then controls their own justice. I would suggest that the failures of connection to immediate family, with families in sub-optimal configurations, leads to adoption of gangs as families and that a lack of connection to the mainstream leads to lack of consideration for institutions. Sub-optimal would mean many fathers, no fathers, teen mothers, and households out of control due to drugs, alcohol, or other failures to make it to the mainstream.

If we were smart enough and had sufficient enlightened self-interest, we would be attacking the problem of violence in our cities from a completely different angle, probably with education and opportunity because it is ignorance and lack of opportunity that creates the chasm between life on gang-controlled streets and life for those who are participating members of the U.S. economy. Those of us who live in relative security and even abundance, as well as institutions like government, social welfare, or religion could partner on this.

In addition to the normal fierceness of the Vikings, whose gods mimicked their penchant for feasting and destruction, a sub-group of warriors existed called berserkr, from which our word berserk originates. These fighters wore no armor, just skins or bare skin, and would roll their eyes and bite the edge of their shields as they charged adversaries with no fear for their own lives. While not related to the lines I drew between Viking behavior and the gang-controlled streets of Chicago, it reminds us that extreme behavior is part of our human makeup (as evolution isn’t a thousand-year proposition) and that in war or under stress some people will have the capacity to react with abandon against their enemies.

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I don’t like Michael Gerson’s editorial work too much but I think he is a smart guy and thoughtful about his conservative point of view. In a Washington Post article this week, he argues that the right’s perpetual efforts to derail Obamacare is being fought “in a particularly counterproductive way, which discredits responsible opposition and makes a Democratic takeover of the House more likely.” He thinks the Tea Party House members may save Obamacare by marginalizing the GOP as voters come to understand that 40 attempts to derail the healthcare bill is idiocy, not governing. He argues that it will take the same configuration to kill the bill as it took to make the bill, Democratic President, Senate, and House.

He likens Ted Cruz (R-Tx), Marco Rubio (R-Fla), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) as fighters most like General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Tea Party and their supporters may be intoxicated by a certain romance in the notion of the fight against overwhelming odds, but the outcome won’t be the one they are looking for.

In the most recent four Congresses, Democrats controlled the first two House of Representatives and Republicans the second two. The Tea Party ascendance resulted in a loss of 63 seats for Democrats in 2010 (after gaining nearly that many in the last Congress under GW Bush and the first under Obama). Democrats will need to gain 34 seats in 2014 to reach the majority.

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From Pope Francis’ speech in a Rio de Janeiro slum, “Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world…”

Now that’s good Pope-ing.
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Highly recommended is the Dick Kay show on the radio at Chicago’s WCPT and online from the same place. Dick Kay and his helpers are generous enough to podcast the shows, and last Saturday’s with Carol Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was eye-opening for me. How much of the city’s budgeting woes are related to killing unions and appeasing the interests that absorb our tax dollars in charter schools? Do we really need to pull schools out of neighborhoods and generally make children’s lives less enriched by killing music and other programs? Look for the July 27th, 2013 MP3 here: http://doogiesplace.com/podcast.html. Lewis is a formidable opponent of those who want to commercialize the schools in Chicago.

The Teacher’s Union Website lays it out this way, “While the policy of neighborhood school closings and charter openings has not moved education in Chicago forward in any significant way, the benefits to charter school operators, private testing companies, real estate interests, and wealthy bankers are growing.”

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Lastly, I want to make sure that readers have H.R. 676 on their radar. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is promoting his bill, H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Care Act,” or “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All.” When the ACA health care bill was being debated, part of the discussion was on the idea of opening up Medicare to more people. This would benefit the income and actuarial sides of the equation making Medicare more affordable to the nation.

I heard Congressman Conyers speaking of the various wasted spending and bureaucracy associated with our current system (1/3 of healthcare dollars spent on supporting staff and computers to manage the bills to insurance companies, $350 billion spent on administrative costs, waste, and profits to insurers) and I was impressed.  If the costs of healthcare are making single-payer the only viable solution, this type of thinking gives a shortcut from the “lemon-dropping” and “cherry-picking” of commercial insurers (whose profitability is not driven by efficiency or quality, merely by restricting membership to the healthy) to a system where all Americans could enjoy low-cost treatments, medicines, and even dental work.

Lyndon Johnson, “We can say this of Medicare: By honoring the fundamental humanity, which is the spirit of democracy, it is a triumph of rightness in America.”

All comments other than SPAM are gratefully welcomed.

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Filed under Economy, Education, Healthcare, History, Politics, Social Issues

What it is ain’t exactly clear

In this edition: Okay, Buffalo Springfield, NOW I get it. Poor makers and rich takers. If we can’t pull them from their expensive cars and torch the cars while cheering in an unruly mob can we at least tax them appropriately?

For What It’s Worth

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Tellin’ me, I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down

— Written by Stephen Stills, Recorded by Buffalo Springfield (1967)

Okay, so that song is about Vietnam war protests, right? Err… sorry, no. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

Though often mistaken for an anti-war song, it was the first of the Sunset Strip Riots which inspired Stephen Stills to write For What It’s Worth. Sunset Strip Riots? From 1966 through the early 1970s a series of protests occurred in Hollywood. Music clubs like Pandora’s Box and Whiskey A Go-Go were drawing thousands–mostly students, many under 18. The resulting noise and traffic issues caused police to enforce a 10:00 curfew for teens under 18. The law had been on the books but was not usually enforced. The rock and rollers considered this an affront to civil liberties and gathered for a protest that got out of hand, resulting in arrests and property damage.

Now I have a better understanding of the second verse’s “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” and the third verse’s “mostly say hooray for our side.” I always wondered why the commitment was so diluted and that explains it, the cause was not as righteous as others of the time. This was about young rockers facing a curfew not civil rights or the Vietnam war.

In 1966 James Meredith, the first black to attend the University of Mississippi was shot while on a march through that State. Congress defeated the 1966 Civil Rights Bill that would have ended discrimination in home sales and rentals. It had only been two years since 3 civil rights workers had been lynched in Mississippi. In Vietnam, troop strength had escalated to 360,000 soldiers. More than 5,500 Americans were killed that year. In antiwar protests, 20,000 to 25,000 marched in New York, and demonstrations took place in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oklahoma City and in other countries, Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, and Tokyo. Hollywood youths being told to go home early, not so compelling.

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Media Matters sent me email with this striking quote:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

I found it was from FDR’s Second Inaugural Address  made on January 20, 1937.

So obviously this demonstrates Roosevelt’s Socialist leanings. At least, that’s the way conservatives read the statement. (I think we need a little more perspective than that.) First, look at the times he witnessed. Second, consider his own story. While growing up, Roosevelt was surrounded by privilege and the associated sense of self-importance. He was educated by tutors and governesses until age 14, and the entire household revolved around him as an only child. He went to the University, married, had children. Then, he was stricken with polio at the age of 39. This affected him to his core. Through great effort he rehabilitated himself to get some use of his legs. So I’m suggesting that this thought of being concerned with those who have too little is really simple empathy (or even Christian values) but applied to the domain of government. The empathy was surely part of his nature (seems unlikely that it suddenly appeared) but his own struggle and the extent of the hardships he witnessed in the Depression certainly contributed to his contempt for the bankers and barons who had put their personal quest for wealth ahead of the country’s economy and even survival.

This issue, government as the solver of social problems, lies at the heart of the conflict between social conservatism and social liberalism. Social conservatives simply do not believe that it is the role of government to assume responsibility for services provided through churches and other charities. Social liberalism believes in the government’s role is to solve big problems including those of citizens in hunger and poverty (justified by the phrase “promote the general Welfare” from the U.S. Constitution’s preamble.).

More recently, social conservatives have moved into the realm of religion (here and in northern Africa and the Middle East) and adopted the issue of abortion as a critical political concern. The ability of conservatives to simultaneously over-interpret the second amendment’s juncture that the militia could be armed to mean concealed carry without restriction while ignoring the first amendment’s demand to keep religious views out of governance is a little mind-boggling. The Constitution taken á la carte.

Roosevelt went on to say, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

And this leads to:

Lefty Boomers Unified Theory of Politics and the Economy.

Point of View #1. The masses, their low success proving their lack of effort and ability, want free stuff. So they elect politicians that will give them free stuff. The free stuff must be paid for and the masses have little, so the industrious “makers” are robbed by the needs of the slothful “takers.” Obama won the election by promising Medicaid healthcare to low-income people, relaxed immigration policy for Latinos, free contraceptives for women, Food Stamps for millions, etc. This is the thrust of much of the conversation from the right after the 2012 elections–including defeated and humiliated but not humbled candidate, Romney.

Point of View #2. If you have wealth, you have the ability to begin to reform the law to give you more advantages. You can change tax laws, banking restrictions, anti-trust laws, avoid responsibility to keep air and water clean or externalize those costs to communities, and find various ways to poison Americans at profit. You can forge a Supreme Court that will say that corporations are people and money is speech so that the ability of money to influence politics becomes integral to the process.

So… one of these seems true, and one is not supported by fact.

Every single person in America gets benefits from the U.S. government. We get defended from invasion, we get roads to drive on, we get reasonably clean air to breathe, we get parks and schools and more. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out that many, including those the conservatives might deem morally worthy, get plenty of stuff from the government. So that’s the first point–everybody gets something–perceived makers and takers alike.

Who gets more the wealthy or the poor? Consider this:  General Electric spends between $20 million and $40 million each year on lobbying. They lobby for changes to tax laws, win, and profit from it. In 2010, billions in profits, zero tax liability, and tax credits for things like wind turbines. We continue to hear that corporate taxes hurt American business at 35%. But few companies pay that rate. The GAO reports that the actual corporate tax rate overall is 12.6%. The next time somebody throws the 35% corporate tax rate at you, respond with oh no buddy, they actually only pay 12.6%.

Republicans passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 under GW Bush. It contained more than $13 billion a year in tax breaks for corporations, many very beneficial to G.E. Some provisions seemed tailored for the company, and according to its 2007 regulatory filing, the company saved more than $1 billion in American taxes because of that law in the three years after it was enacted. The Congressman on the House Ways and Means Committee that introduced the House version of the Bill was Bill Thomas, who the year before had an adulterous affair with a female lobbyist, she became a VP of Eli Lilly corporation, which steered huge amounts of money back to Thomas’ campaign fund. That year, pharmaceutical companies were blessed with  Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which gave prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients but prohibited the government’s ability to set the prices for those drugs (the way they do for hospitalizations and physician visits). She rewarded Thomas (in more ways than one), he rewarded Pharma, they rewarded her.

But moving away from the corporate benefits, wealthy individuals also do well. Warren Buffett famously pointed out that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Carried interest is the skim that fund managers take from clients, and it’s taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 15%, a 24.9% savings from the top rate. So Romney’s income of $22 million in 2010 would have paid another $5 million in taxes if the income was treated as ordinary income instead of sweetheart-deal-for-millionaire-hedge-fund-managers income.

Romney pockets $5 million, complains about those in the 47% who get a maximum of $2400 per year (individual maximum) for food from the SNAP.

Walmart is actively anti-union, wage suppressing, and supportive of conservative causes. They benefit to the tune of $500 million  SNAP dollars each year through payments for groceries. At the same time, because of Walmart’s low wages and benefits many of its employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released Congressional Democrats. So the recession took away the low- and moderately-skilled worker’s ability to get a decent paying job and many were forced to work at Walmart. Their wages qualify them for food assistance, utility assistance, and possibly Medicaid. At the same time the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons have a combined income equal to the total wealth of the entire bottom 30% of wage earners.

Is Medicare morally superior to unemployment? Why would it be? They are both programs that you pay into and benefit from when need arises. But conservatives tip-toe around Medicare (because their constituency is largely older and white–the Medicare demographic) but attack unemployment mercilessly. The mortgage interest deduction isn’t morally superior to food stamps, even though conservatives like one but not the other. One subsidizes food and one subsidizes housing. It’s good to provide incentives for home purchasing, but it’s better for the lenders as a quick check of a mortgage payment times the months in the term attest.

The entitlements to the poor don’t compare to the entitlements of the wealthy (while those in the middle get little and complain little). Meanwhile, the conservatives send enough money to Karl Rove to solve any number of social problems in order to keep someone they perceived as sympathetic to the poor out of office.

So how do we know who is the taker in this modern world? Well, maybe the 20% annual growth rate in food assistance proves that the lower end of the wage scale is growing while more wealth is held at the top that than at any time since the late 1800’s Gilded Age. The number taking SNAP isn’t the issue, it’s the number NEEDING SNAP! The privileges of wealth have never been greater. Their taxes have never been lower. Thanks to Citizens United they are now free to use money to make and break candidates while suggesting the way their employees should vote. While wealth and income gravitate to the top the share of company’s income that goes to labor has dropped 4.5% in the past 20 years.

If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8% of total income while today they receive 18%. Middle class income, adjusted for inflation, fell 7% in the past decade. The need for greed destroys our free market system because the workers can’t be good partners in the consumer sector.

The true takers are those that have the economic power to modify the system to benefit them. They cry about pennies to the poor while they push millions of dollars’ responsibility for operating the government onto the backs of their fellows. Enough never seems to be enough. Reiterating FDR’s point, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

LB_Rule

More on this topic at Mother Jones’ 12 Charts to make your blood boil.

Okay rude cellphone user, we surrender. Read about the customer holding up the line who when confronted had the nerve to say, “Er, excuse me? I’m on the PHONE?”

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