Archive for the ‘Economics’ category

12.10.10 Evil & Betrayal

December 10, 2010

I’m examining my overwhelming feeling of rage against President Obama and the Democrats.

After all, it isn’t they who came up with the idea of putting the country in hock and stealing from the poor so that the ultra-wealthy could be even wealthier.  That idea is inherently evil, made more so by the lack of even theoretical claims (however misguided) that this radical redistribution might provide some benefit to the overall economy.  (In case you haven’t been following the analysis, giving more money to the ultra-wealthy doesn’t produce any stimulative effect on the economy, because the ultra-wealthy already have all the cash they need and won’t spend any extra influx, like the poor and middle class would.  And it is spending – not saving – that will create jobs and stabilize the economy.)

The full-time commitment to serve the wealthy and only the wealthy — as the highest priority in the land — was invented by the GOP and is nearly wholly owned by them (with some so-called “moderate” Dems joining in).  The GOP is evil from top to bottom and in between.

So why is my anger at the Dems often so much more palpable to me?

It’s like my feelings about Israel.  It would be very had to make an objective case that Israel ranks at the top of countries in terms of mistreatment of minorities, human rights abuses, and illegal hegemonistic agression towards its neighbors.  But my outrage about Israel is so much more present in my consciousness than is my anger at China or Russia (for example).  Partly, of course, this is because my tax dollars are paying for Israeli crimes.

But there’s something else at play here:  I expect Israel — supposed democracy, home to “my” people — to be better than that.  I’m also so overwhelmed by the magnitude of evil perpetrated by China and Russia — and by the shear size of those countries — that I can’t grasp it in my little brain.  My utter helplessness and hopelessness in the face of big evil makes me shove it out of my consciousness.

Back to US politics.  I expect — I need better from the Democrats.  It is a simple, immutable, HUGE fact of life that Republicans are evil.  It is Democrats who are supposed to stop them.

I’m realizing as I type this: betrayal is what sets off my very present, very conscious fury.  And I am furious with Obama and the Democrats again.  As usual.   These fucking idiots – these weak, cowardly, incompetent Democrats – consistently hand the rope to hang us to those who certainly will.  Giving away the store before negotiations have begun.  Failing to make clear convincing arguments to the American people.  Infighting.  Self-hatred.  Fearing shadows.

How bad is it?  Bad enough that Commander-in-Sellout, Barack Obama – the man who can speechify when it comes to campaigning but can’t say a coherent, persuasive, progressive word in office – has turned on us.  This utter failure as president has the gall to call progressives “sanctimonius”?!  With friends like this . . .

But, of course, Obama isn’t our friend.  Neither was Bill Clinton, whose own failures and flaws led to the GOP wave of 2004 and then spent the rest of his term pitching right-wing ideas and just plain enjoying the company of reactionaries better than that of liberals.

Of course, the reality is that Democratic betrayal is as expected and immutable as GOP evil.  Maybe I’d be better off trying to shove the Dems out of my consciousness.  But, then where would I turn?

Answer: nowhere.  Hanging on to the constant betrayers is all I have in this godforsaken political system.  It’s just extremely hard to hold on to any hope at all when betrayal is the best one can hope for.

©2010 Keith Berner

10.11.10 For Want of Wisdom

October 11, 2010

Last week, fellow local blogger Dan Malouff bemoaned the turning of the United States from a “can-do to can’t” nation.  In the piece, he asks, “Are we really so poor that we can’t afford to pass along to our children a working infrastructure?”

The next day, Dinesh D’Souza – president of King’s College in New York City – opined in the Washington Post that President Obama “flays the rich.” D’Souza denounced Obama’s (in my view rather weak) attempts to get the rich to shoulder more of the burdens of society as “anti-colonialism” (as if that were a bad thing).

And the day after that, Ezra Klein – a Post economics columnist – started out writing about Facebook, but ended up painting a compelling picture of how innovation relies much more on societal infrastructure than on individual brilliance.  No surpirse to find him dismayed that our country is investing less and less in education and other prerequisites to progress.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party thunders its opposition to government and taxation. Though aspects of the movement (e.g, the sheer idiocy of some of its candidates) are troubling the GOP, it represents in fact the utter embodiment of the GOP’s world view for decades: starve government and transfer wealth to the wealthy.  Right here in Maryland, former governor Robert Ehrlich campaigns on tax cuts, without any specific mention of budget cuts or other costs, continuing the long ironic switch from the GOP to the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility.

What are the common threads of these columns and campaigns?  Selfishness and greed. Deception and gullibility. Theft from the future in thrall to the present, not to mention from the poor and middle class in subservience to the rich.

It seems remarkable how right wingers have successfully spun a populist tale such that seniors scream for the government to keep its hands off their Medicare and working-class families vote for policies that reward almost entirely the smallest sliver of wealthiest Americans.  It seems equally remarkable that this tiny sliver is so enamored of today’s tax breaks that it has lost touch with tomorrow’s bridge collapses (due to deferred maintenance) or costs to our collective wealth when inventions get developed in far-away lands.

This is all not really so remarkable, though.  After all it’s the ultra-rich who are underwriting the campaigns that result in education cuts.  They are the ones controlling almost all of the media that almost all Americans consume – a mainstream media that chooses to put their stories and idologies on the front page, while marginalizing other views.  The result is a populace less able to analyze truth and fiction, more susceptible to empty rhetoric, more ready to believe that the entire cake can be eaten and preserved at the same time, without cost to anyone.

As for the the wealthy’s inability to see beyond today, I can only guess that they are so captivated by their own deceptions that they have become true believers. The system they have created (Wall Street!) rewards this quarter’s results and neglects next year’s.  The participants get so fabulously, stinking rich that their seventh house and third yacht seem to be free.  Damn the torpedoes!  Damn tomorrow!

No, Mr. Malouff, this country is not too poor — in cash — to invest in its future.  We remain the wealthiest country on the planet by almost any measure.  Where we are desperately impoverished is in attention span and social conscience. And we have become that way, because that is the path the utlra wealthy have chosen for us.

When D’Souza and his ilk reinvent “anti-colonialism” as a pejorative, when thousands of teachers lose jobs as Wall Streeters regain their obscene bonuses, when GOP leaders fight to stop a $20-billion jobs program at the same time they toil tirelessly to preserve $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, it is no accident.  It is all according to plan.

I loathe this selfishness and shortsightedness.  If that amounts to anti-colonialism and class warfare, bring me more.  Yes, I say, tax the rich: disable the pernicious influence their greed has on society by taking away at least some of their means to purchase that influence. Yes, I say, build more and better schools, enact laws that break up media dynasties, invest in clean energy and rebuild dams, and, yes — use money from the ultra wealthy to bring this about.  Do this because progress is not measured or produced by today’s stock market close or the number of houses owned by members of the Senate. Rather, it is measured and produced by wisdom.  And that is our greatest lack.

©2010 Keith Berner

09.12.10 Chris Van Hollen Backs Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich

September 12, 2010

Bloomberg News is reporting that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MoCo/PG) is open to a deal with the GOP that would extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.  Not only are these giveaways to the rich horrific in terms of economic justice, they are also terrible economic policy: they worsen the deficit without providing any economic stimulous.  This is because the wealthy are much less likely to spend the extra money than the poor or middle class would be.

I urge all Van Hollen constituents to contact the congressman and express outrage over his comments.

Given this news, which came out yesterday, I am withdrawing my endorsement of Van Hollen and encouraging a write-in vote for Mickey Mouse instead.  See my updated voter guide.

©2010 Keith Berner

05.16.10 Poor Little Rich Folks

May 16, 2010

A couple of recent posts on Good.is (a truly fabulous blog, worth checking out!) reminded me of just how awful wealthy right-wingers have it in the newly Socialist States of America. Or, rather, just how bad they think they have it and remind us they have it every single day.

You see, that’s what this whole Tea Party phenomenon is about.  Thanks to brilliant polling and analysis by the New York Times, we learned last month that only a small portion of the movement consists of crazy-as-a-loon conspiracy theorists howling at the moon and rabid theocrats outraged at the thought that somebody, somewhere might be thinking for themselves.  Nope — the movement is dominated by well educated, well heeled cynics who are out to make sure that no portion of their wealth goes to anyone but themselves.  Their rage, their outrage comes from their feeling of great injustice that they can’t buy a yacht or a second house or a third SUV.

And that’s the difference between so-called “conservatives” in this country (I hate the term, because “conservative” implies prudence and rationality) and the rest of us.  They — the Right-Wing Whiners — wake up every day with an ax to grind about the terrible hand they’ve been dealt.  The rest of us wake up fully aware of how lucky we are, how unlucky others are, and how little it costs us to help the unlucky be a little luckier.

And that brings us to Good’s posts:

The first one asks “How Rich Are You?” and points to a lovely little site, globatlrichlist.com.  Once there, chose your currency, input your annual income, and see where you rank among the world’s elite.  My individual, not-extraordinary (by US standards) personal income puts me in the top 0.91% of the world’s population.  Of course, the tool doesn’t compare me to the billions of human beings who have ever lived, nor does it take into account the amount of wealth I already have.  How high would I rank then?

There’s not a Right-Wing Whiner out there who would be willing to or interested in taking this test.

The second post reports on a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing that the US tax “burden” is at its lowest level in 60 years: 9.2% of of all personal income. This comes as a surprise to anyone who gets news from the mainstream media, with its commitment to serving the horribly disenfranchised wealthy.

Of course, the right wing won’t be mollified by these statistics, because as long as there is a dime they don’t get to keep — as long as there is a single government program they don’t personally benefit from — the Great Whining Campaign must go on.

It is indeed an awful cross to bear to feel so unfortunate all the time.

03.21.09 Do I Really Have to Write About Those AIG Bonuses?

March 21, 2009

I’m so sickened by and sick of the whole thing that I’m much rather talk about something else.  But how could I call myself a political blogger and not deal with this?

My general philosophy about the ultra rich is “off with their heads.”  If it were up to me, I would institute confiscatory wealth taxes and marginal rates on income that would make any centrist’s head spin.  Morally, I think wealth belongs more to society than to individuals.

So, you can guess my default reaction upon learning of the AIG bonuses: Publish their names and home phone numbers!  Force them to hand the money back in public!  Tax them, tax them, tax them!  Fire them all!

I have also been very angry about Tim Geithner’s role in all this and the general flat-footedness of the Obama administration.

I still feel that way. 

Yet, I’m also unsettled by the populist reaction on Capitol Hill.  I take my cue from Nobel laureate, liberal economist, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who writes, “It’s not the way you should make policy — it’s clumsy, and it will punish some innocent parties while letting the most guilty off scot-free.”

He and some other thoughtful liberals are right to point out that good policy is not made by a mob.  They are also right to point out that, as outrageous as these bonuses are, they are hardly the main issue of the day.  The entire world economy is melting down; wealth is far too concentrated than simply $165m going to 73 people; even beyond the economy, there are just a few other urgent issues to tackle (health care or global warming, anyone?) 

Another New York Times columnist, David Brooks, shares at least part of this view: “As a tiger sinks its teeth into the world’s neck, we focus on the dust bunnies under the bed.”  (Ok, Brooks is no liberal.  But he is serious and thoughtful, so I’m allowed to quote him favorably from time to time.)

And about Geithner.  Yeah, he should never agreed to let the bonuses through last fall when, as NY Fed chair, he was in the lead putting together the first AIG bailout.  But, let’s not forget that an $80-billion package was being crafted in about two days, with a gun to everyone’s heads.  No wonder $165 million in horrific bonuses got missed.

Neither should he have gotten the issue totally wrong since he’s been reporting to Obama.  But let’s also not forget that he has been working almost by himself (hardly any of Treasury has been staffed yet in this young administration) and the number of we’re-gonna-die-any-moment issues and the magnitude of the dollar amounts involved is growing by the day.  Again, it is no surprise that the bonuses weren’t at the top of the man’s radar screen.

(This does not mean I’m happy with Geithner.  It is his job to get this stuff right.  This is just about adding some perspective.)

On the other hand (there are so many hands in this ugly mess, that the creature cannot be human):

Cries from the right that 95% taxes on ill-deserved bonuses will end the world as we know it are utter bullshit.  They are claiming that no rich people will continue working – and contributing their awesome talent to finding solutions to the crises – if they can’t trust the government not to take away their seventh house or first Lear jet.  Yeah, right.  I certainly don’t see anyone – in the midst of this depression (yes, I used the D-word) – clamoring to hire these folks.  They wanna leave AIG for greener pastures?  What greener pastures?! 

Then there’s the claim (true on its face) that bonus taxes will simply incent companies to shift bonus compensation to regular salaries so that they can continue pouring obscene wealth on folks who don’t need it and don’t deserve it.  But this disregards the tax advantages these companies get by doing it the way they have been.

So, where does this leave me?  Pretty much where Krugman is:

·      Disgusted with the Obama administration for “creat[ing] the impression that it’s owned by the wheeler-dealers” and, thereby, distracting from the real agenda, not to mention giving a platform to pseudo-populists from both parties.  (Where I differ from Krugman is that I think it’s more than an impression: the Obama economic team are the wheeler-dealers.)

·      In favor of taking away those fucking bonuses from those 73 AIG scoundrels and the other TARP recipients’ executives.

Now, can we move on?  Please?

© 2009 Keith Berner