Absolute Must-Watch: Moyers And Henry Giroux

Zombie Politics: Scholar Henry Giroux says America’s current political system is leading to a culture where people are so focused on surviving, they become like ‘the walking dead.’

From Moyers’ site:

In his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, author and scholar Henry Giroux connects the dots to prove his theory that our current system is informed by a “machinery of social and civil death” that chills “any vestige of a robust democracy.”

This week on Moyers & Company, Giroux explains that such a machine turns “people who are basically so caught up with surviving that they become like the walking dead – they lose their sense of agency, they lose their homes, they lose their jobs.”

What’s more, Giroux points out, the system that creates this vacuum has little to do with expanding the meaning and the substance of democracy itself. Under “casino capitalism,” the goal is to get a quick return, taking advantage of a kind of logic in which the only thing that drives us is to put as much money as we can into a slot machine and hope we walk out with our wallets overflowing.

A cultural and social critic of tireless energy and vast interests, Giroux holds the Global TV Network Chair in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University and is a distinguished visiting professor at Reyerson University, both schools in Canada.

Imagine Democracy

“We the People.” How many of us have really thought through the implications of these three words? Can people today even imagine a government that is on the side of We the People, instead of being rigged to benefit the already-wealthy and crush the hopes and efforts of the rest of us?

Since the early 1970s corporate/conservative-funded interests have pounded the public 24/7/365 with unceasing propaganda promoting the idea that government can’t do anything right, business always does everything better and more “efficiently,” market solutions (one-dollar-one-vote) are better than public (one-person-one-vote) solutions, and so on.

Meanwhile democracy does not have a marketing budget, and for so long now so many people have not even heard that there can be another side, another approach to solving our problems and making our lives better. People just hear over and over that “government is bad, efforts to do things for each other are bad, but private business for profit is good.”

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Economic Sabotage: Republicans Obstruct Infrastructure Work

There is consensus across the (sane) spectrum that the country absolutely needs to repair and modernize our infrastructure. There is widespread agreement this will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. But Republicans in Congress refuse to allow infrastructure projects to proceed. Why? Because doing so will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. Republicans in Congress are committing economic sabotage, and they know it.

Consensus

There is a bipartisan consensus — it even includes the Chamber of Commerce! — that the country has fallen behind and must maintain and modernize our infrastructure for the good of our economy.

President Obama talked about infrastructure in Jacksonville in July, saying,

We know strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to a thriving economy. That’s how the United States became the best place in the world to do business.

On the other end of things the Chamber of Commerce’s “Jobs & Growth Agenda” includes a section on “Reliable and Secure Infrastructure.” The Chamber says,

The U.S. Chamber is leading the charge to improve the quality of America’s infrastructure—whether it’s transportation, energy, or water networks—all of which directly impact our ability to compete in the global economy.

By modernizing our national infrastructure, we can improve commercial efficiency, increase U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and create much-needed jobs in the near term.

Here are just a few of the other voices supporting a boost in infrastructure spending:

USA Today, USA’s creaking infrastructure holds back economy

Fareed Zakaria, Fixing infrastructure would help fix economy

Alliance for American Manufacturing, How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth

Business Insider, STUDY: Every $1 Of Infrastructure Spending Boosts The Economy By $2

Consensus vs. Obstruction

The Chamber of Commerce might say they are “leading the charge” but the Republicans in the Congress are obstructing the troops.

After the President asked for just a bit more infrastructure work, please, the Senate Republican leader responded, “No!” The House Republican leader has said that fixing the infrastructure is “more stimulus spending doomed to fail.”

The kook right (perhaps that should read “Koch right”) that really “leads the charge” for Republicans these days says Infrastructure Spending Is Not the Federal Government’s Business or that infrastructure spending is just more “big government.” Heritage Foundation claims here that government spending on infrastructure “takes money out of the economy”. Some of the (Koch-funded) kooks even actually claim that investing in infrastructure hurts the economy.

Obstruction Agenda Is Sabotage, Not Ideology

Look at this chart from the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville, The collapse of US infrastructure spending, charted:

This looks like lots of other recent charts, like the ones that show consumer confidence plunging in the face of Republican obstruction of everything (and especially their repeated hostage-taking over the debt-ceiling and their shutting down the government.) It is clear all of these things hurt the economy, and they continue to do them.

Maintaining the infrastructure is not about ideology. Even the conservative Chamber of Commerce understands that you have to maintain the roads and bridges, etc., and that it damages the economy if you don’t. And yet we don’t, and the obstruction continues.

So this is about a different agenda. Paul Krugman says it best at his blog,

This kind of behavior — ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) — is a “tell”. It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.

It is past time to argue that the Republican obstruction is hurting the economy, because it just is, and they know it. It is also past time to argue that they are doing this for some kind of ideological reason. Investing in infrastructure is not about ideology. Austerity is not about ideology.

Hurting the economy is not about ideology. There is a different agenda at work here. This is not an argument between differing visions of how best to help our economy. When this much is being done, hurting the economy again and again, and when the results of these actions are clearly that we are all being harmed, and yet it continues, this is not an accident. It is an agenda.

Economic Sabotage — Why?

So it is past time to argue if they are hurting the economy – that is settled. It is economic sabotage. There is no longer any question.

Now it is time to talk about why they are doing this.

Is it to damage Democratic election prospects? Are they betting that by making everyone feel enough pain, and blaming Democrats and President Obama, they can make people forget who got us into this mess? Do they think that economic sabotage will get them votes? That is the most charitable theory. Considering that much of the funding of the apparatus of the right that is behind this is secret, there are worse conclusions that could understandably be reached.

Democrats: The Filibusters Aren’t Stopping — What Are You Going To Do About It?

Senate Democrats, there have been over 400 filibusters. What are you going to do about it? We the People want to know. We thought we had elections. We thought things were decided and the country could finally move forward.

Are We the People the boss here, or are the billionaires and giant corporations behind this obstruction in charge?

Obstruction Of The People’s Will

Everything that We the People want to get done is being obstructed. In the Senate there is what the corporate media call “a requirement to get 60 votes for anything to pass” and in the House there is the “Hastert Rule” that prevents legislation from getting a vote if a majority that would pass it includes Democrats.

The country is being held back by an intentional strategy to block economic recovery and obstruct change that the public wants, so that Republicans can campaign for office saying the economy is bad so vote for us, and then mocking democracy saying, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”

Are you going to do something about it? Are you going to deliver for We the People? We elected you to use the power of your office to deliver for us.

They sure are delivering for the billionaires and giant corporations who are paying them to do this.

Senate Democrats: What are you going to do about it? Who is the boss, We the People or the billionaires and giant corporations paying for the obstruction?

Here is Rachel Maddow interviewing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week:

Please visit Fix the Senate Now.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

How To Dismantle A Country

Let’s say it’s the 1970s and you’re a foreign power of one sort or another – Soviet Union, China, Arab oil interests, secret cabal of billionaires, whatever – and you want to dominate the world. But the US is in your way…
Let’s say you do a comprehensive analysis of all the things that make the US a world power (for better or worse). Let’s say you develop a plan to infiltrate, undermine, weaken, fracture and ultimately dismantle each the institutions that made America so strong.

Looking back today, can anyone offer anything that could have been more effective at accomplishing this plan than funding America’s conservative movement?

They’re STILL Saying Taxes And Spending Hurt The Economy

Serious People were saying that budget deficits hurt the economy. Then we increased taxes on the rich so now deficits are wayyyyy down. So Serious People are saying that taxes hurt the economy. Or is it spending on schools and infrastructure that is going to kill the economy. Wait, it’s the new health care law — millions of people getting coverage is going to kill the economy. How come Serious People never complain that cutting schools, infrastructure maintenance, Social Security, scientific research (and other things We the People spend money on to make our lives better) really, actually does hurt the economy?

The Record On Taxes And Economic Growth

Last year the Congressional Research Service (CRS) took a look at the actual record of taxes and economic growth and issued a report, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. The report reported,

Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%. There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. The share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. The evidence does not suggest necessarily a relationship between tax policy with regard to the top tax rates and the size of the economic pie, but there may be a relationship to how the economic pie is sliced.

Translation from government to English: The top tax rate used to be over 90% and capital gains taxes used to be much higher. At that time economic growth was much higher. Then they dramatically lowered tax rates for the rich and economic growth went waaaaay down. (However, they can’t say for sure that cutting taxes on the rich caused the huge drop in economic growth.) Also the tax cuts didn’t boost saving, investment or productivity growth. BUT the rate-lowering appears to have caused incomes to concentrate at the top, which has screwed and squeezed the rest of us.

And, by the way, the tax cut did cause massive deficits and we stopped maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure, cut back on education, universtities, scientific research, space exploration, medical research and so many other things that We, the People do to make our lives better.

You might not have heard about this study. Senate Republicans made the CRS withdraw the report.

Here is a chart I made some time ago, for the post, Conservative Tax Tricks – Did Tax Cuts Grow The Economy?

Trend line of growth, with top tax rates:

Top Tax Rate vs GDP

And as long as we’re looking at that post, this was also in there, top tax rates and national debt:

Top Rate vs Debt

Similar Claims, Same Results

Republican claims that taxes hurt the economy go hand-in-hand with similar Republican anti-government claims. The claims usually amount to “government is in the way,” “government hurts the economy,” “government spending is bad,” etc. A Google search of “government is in the way” finds many, many examples, including:

Government the Job Killer – John Stossel. In this one Stossel claims that building infrastructure is bad for the economy. “Building giant government projects is no way to create jobs. When government spends on infrastructure, it takes money away from projects that consumers might think are more important.” He actually claims that building the transcontinental railroad was a bad deal for the country.

A post at Noahpinion has been circulating around the economics blogs, Conservative economic arguments since the crisis: A review. The post looks at a number of Republican economic arguments of late, finding them all to be either mostly or completely … well … rubbish. Examples include “Fannie, Freddie, and possibly the CRA caused the crisis.” and “Welfare is the main force prolonging the recession, by discouraging people from working.”

And of course never forget, “Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” – Tom DeLay, House Republican leader, 2003.

Why do we listen to these clowns at all? (Because they are backed by the big, big money people who get all the money that come from these Republican schemes.) Why don’t we just create millions of jobs by investing in infrastructure and similar projects? Why don’t we just restore a top tax rate of 90% and a top corporate tax rate of 50%? Why don’t we boost capital gains taxes? Does it have something to do with the influence of money over politics?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Free Trade?

I just want to be sure everyone sees this, The Free-Trade Blues, by Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The key parts, to me:

The specific estimates of economic losses lend support to critics of free trade. Unfortunately, their political impact may be diminished by sheer faith that such losses will be countervailed by benefits like lower prices or higher income growth in less developed countries.

Trade theory emphasizes that those who benefit from free trade should be able to compensate those who suffer, making everyone better off. What trade theory doesn’t explain is why the beneficiaries would offer such compensation unless they are forced to do so.

And this:

The winners in the last round of trade agreements can invest their profits in campaign contributions and political lobbying strategies to ensure their victory in the next round. In other words, winner takes all.

That next round is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which so far looks to be a corporate end-run around our democracy.

Middle Class Squeezed – I Mean Literally Squished

Two stories in the news today illustrate what is happening to the middle class. One story is about numbers showing how the middle is being squeezed. The other is about how people are literally being squished. “The new business model, apparently, is to shrink the seats, charge extra for everything and offer nothing for free that might be construed as an amenity.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Behind the Middle-Class Funk tells the numbers story,

Many economists define the middle class as those adults whose annual household income is between two-thirds and twice the national median—today, that means roughly $40,000 to $120,000. By this standard, according to the Pew Research Center, the middle class is significantly smaller than it once was. In 1971, it accounted for fully 61% of adults, compared with 14% for the upper class and 25% for the lower class.

Four decades later, the middle class share had declined by 10 percentage points to just 51%, while the upper class share increased by six points and the lower class by four. The U.S. income distribution is still a bell curve, but the left and right tails are fatter and the hump in the middle is lower.

[ . . . ] Between 1979 and 2007, on average, annual hours worked by middle-income households rose from 3,007 to 3,335—fully 10%, a larger increase than for any other income group. Some of the additional work reflects expanding opportunities for women. But much of it came in response to economic pressure and represents time that men as well as women reluctantly diverted from their children—hardly an unambiguous improvement in family well-being.

The middle class shrank by 10% and people in the middle have to work longer to get by…

Harold Meyerson illustrates this squeeze by showing how the non-corporate-rich are being literally squished. In A hard landing for the middle class, Meyerson writes about what is happening to airline passengers,

…Airline seating may be the best concrete expression of what’s happened to the economy in recent decades.

Airlines are sparing no expense these days to enlarge, upgrade and increase the price of their first-class and business-class seating. As the space and dollars devoted to the front of the planes increase, something else has to be diminished, and, as multitudes of travelers can attest, it’s the experience of flying coach. The joys of air travel — once common to all who flew — have been redistributed upward and are now reserved for the well-heeled few.

Meyerson describes the elevated luxury — and prices — for business and first-class passengers, while coach sections and seats get smaller. “The new business model, apparently, is to shrink the seats, charge extra for everything and offer nothing for free that might be construed as an amenity.”

Welcome to the new economy: More for the well-to-do, less for everyone else, and those without enough money literally are not on board.

Meyerson explains how this reflects what is happening to the whole economy,

The upgrading of business and the downgrading of coach present a fairly faithful mirror of what’s happening in the larger economy: the disappearance of the middle class. As University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented, between 2009 and 2011, the incomes of the wealthiest 1 percent of American families grew by 11.2 percent while those of the remaining 99 percent shrunk by 0.4 percent. Median household income has declined every year since 2008. Profits, meanwhile, have risen to their highest share of the nation’s economy since World War II, while wages have sunk to their lowest share.

As more and more of the gains from our economy go to a few at the top the rest of us get squeezed — literally.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Compare Detroit And Wall Street

Compare the Detroit bankruptcy with the Wall Street bailout. The banks got trillions for bailouts. The bankers even got huge bonuse out of that bailout money

But in Detroit old people will lose pensions.

It’s about priorities.

Compare how the different situations were handled, who was helped, who paid. Detroit will have to “restructure” and sell off public property. Which banks were restructured, had to change the way they did business, give their property to the government, etc?

Will people in Detroit get bonuses like the bankers got?