Saturday, December 20, 2014

GOP's Crippling Anxiety

Race (And Racism) Rebounds As A Serious Issue In U.S.

Only a fool would think this country has no race problems, but in the last few months several other problems have overshadowed race as the most serious problem facing the country. As this chart shows, race has been down between 1% and 3% as the most serious problem in this country, while other problems (unemployment, poor government, the economy, immigration) have been bouncing around in low double-digits. That has now changed.

In the last month or so, thanks to the outrage over the continued killings of unarmed Black men and children (and the media's coverage of it), race has rebounded and is once again considered one of this nation's most serious problems. It went from 1% in November to 13% currently -- more than unemployment or immigration, and tied with the poor economy. Only bad government (at 15%) is considered a more serious problem by Americans.

The chart was made from information provided in recent Gallup Polls -- the latest being done between December 8th and 11th of a random national sample of 805 adults, with a margin of error of 4 points.

Grumpy Fat Cats

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Clinton Leads Possible GOP Candidates In Recent Polls

 (This caricature Of Hillary Clinton is by the inimitable DonkeyHotey.)

One of my favorite websites is that of RealClearPolitics. They keep track of all the most recent polls on a wide variety of political subjects. And recently, they started keeping track of how Hillary Clinton (the most likely Democratic nominee at this time) stacks up against the leading Republican possible presidential nominees.

The charts below show their findings of the most recent polls. The polls are listed from least recent on the left side to most recent on the right side of the chart. Probably the most important figure is on the far right side of the charts. That is the RealClearPolitics average of all the most recent polls -- and in the last couple of elections, that average has turned out to be closer to the actual outcome than any of the individual polls.

It's still a long time before we even know who the party nominees are going to be, but right now Hillary looks pretty good when paired with any of the leading Republican hopefuls.

Scary ?

Political Cartoon is by Daryl Cagle at cagle.com.

Investors Back The GOP - But Do Better Under Democrats

(The image above, from the Huffington Post, is of Wall Street on October 29th of 1929 as it suffered a disastrous crash during the presidency of Republican Herbert Hoover.)

It's no secret that Wall Street investors and bankers love the Republican Party. In 2012, they almost exclusively supported the presidential hopes of Mitt Romney, and in 2014, they gave far more to the campaign coffers of Republican candidates than to Democrats. The general thinking of Wall Streeters is that Republican policies favor them more than Democratic policies.

The reality is different though. Not only have the worst two crashes of the stock market happened under Republican presidents (Hoover in 1929 and Bush in 2007), but history shows us that the stock market has done much better under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents (including right-wing icon Ronald Reagan). It turns out that by voting and supporting Republicans, Wall Street investors are acting against their own interests.

Here is how Democratic consultant puts it in an article he wrote for The Hill on December 16th:

I have no earthly idea why a stock market investor would vote Republican — all you have do is look at the numbers. The numbers are staggering, breathtaking and unimaginable. How anyone with even a penny in the market would vote for their interests and choose a Republican is unexplainable.

Well, let me put this in terms for those savvy stock investors: it is like having a discussion about Apple stock versus Lehman Brothers stock.

Before we begin, I would like to be clear that I am not even going to mention the president who presided over the greatest economic boom since World War II, whose brilliant strategy was a combination of tax increases on the wealthy, family and medical leave for working families, an increase in the minimum wage and adherence to Keynesian policies. While I would love to include my friend and former client Bill Clinton’s record in this piece, it really wouldn’t be fair. I don’t like watching my Louisiana State University Tigers play Sam Houston State and I don’t think you would like to read about such a staggering disparity — it would be a blowout. So, let’s focus on President Obama and former President Reagan.

Since Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, Standard & Poor’s 500 index has gone up approximately 115 percent, the Dow Jones industrial average has experienced a growth rate of 146 percent and, perhaps most impressively, Nasdaq has grown in size by 188 percent. Two thousand days into his presidency, the major stock indexes under Obama have had average gains of 142 percent — compare that to the record under Reagan, who saw gains at 88 percent during that same time period.

Russ Britt of MarketWatch notes, “the average stock-market gain under four post-Depression Democrats through each one’s 2,000th day in office has outpaced the average gain of the four Republicans in the era by a factor of nearly 4 to 1. Democratic gains have averaged 133%, while Republican market advances have had a mean of 33%.”

I cannot see how anyone can read these numbers differently.

Political pundits will spend the next few months asking questions about presidential candidates’ qualifications and if they will be able to make tough decisions. The one thing we do know, thanks to history, is that that stock market is likely to do well if Democrats win. If the stock market is among your considerations, I will close with the findings of the two foremost experts on this topic and the larger comparisons of economies under Republican and Democratic presidents, Princeton University professors Mark W. Watson and Alan Blinder:

“The U.S. economy not only grows faster, according to real GDP and other measures, during Democratic versus Republican presidencies, it also produces more jobs, lowers the unemployment rate, generates higher corporate profits and investment, and turns in higher stock market returns. Indeed, it outperforms under almost all standard macroeconomic metrics.”

With such glaring facts and evidence, I ask stock investors to reexamine, reconsider and reinvest their confidence in the Democratic Party. Franklin Roosevelt was famously called by his fellow affluent Americans a “traitor to his class.” Well, if history was any guide, FDR wasn’t a traitor at all. He was the first in a series of Democratic presidents whose policies benefited the same wealthy people who railed against him.

Failed Dream

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.


Friday, December 19, 2014

It's Not A War - It's Freedom

Republican Whining Over Cuba Makes No Sense

(This image of Cuba is from the website cubaninsider.)

As expected, the congressional Republicans have gone ballistic over President Obama's effort to restore normal diplomatic relations with Cuba (and ask for an end to the embargo that has lasted for over 50 years). They have accused the president of everything from surrendering to supporting dictatorships -- and some are even trying to come up with some way to keep the failed American policy in effect.

Some want to vote to keep the embargo in effect (which they could do, since it would take an act of Congress to end it). Others want to refuse to fund the building of a U.S. embassy in Cuba, or block the appointment of an ambassador to that country. But they had better tread carefully on this issue, since polls show most Americans are tired of the failed Cuba policy this country has been following -- and the GOP doesn't need another issue where they are out-of-step with most Americans.

They should consider the following points before doing something really stupid:

* The policy, designed to force the Cuban government to fall, has been an abject failure.

* Most other countries in the world have established normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, and now ignore the U.S. embargo.

* Most nations in the Americas, especially the Latin American nations, no longer want to treat Cuba as a pariah, and this has caused a lack of respect for the U.S. among those countries.

* The United States already has full diplomatic relations (and no embargo) with many other dictatorial countries (Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Uganda, etc.) -- and a lot of those countries have a worse human rights record than Cuba does.

* Restoring diplomatic relations and ending the embargo would benefit both nations economically.

* The U.S. government would not stand for another country interfering in our internal politics, so it is wrong for us to try to do that with Cuba.

* Cuba poses no danger to the United States.

* Most Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba and ending the embargo.

I know it offends the extremist congressional Republicans to agree with the president about anything, but the president has just done what needed to be done a long time ago. They will not win any new political friends by opposing his action.

The Chase Is Over

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Two New Polls Show No Favorite Among GOP For 2016

I bring you the Washington Post / ABC News Poll and the Fox News Poll on presidential preferences for 2016 -- not because they reflect any change, but because I want to keep you abreast of the thinking for 2016. The truth is that the GOP race is still the same muddled mess it has been for months now.

Some may look at the charts above and conclude Mitt Romney has sprang into the lead (even though no one knows whether he would want to run again or not). I disagree. While Romney is slightly ahead of many others (with about 19% or 20% of current voter preference), but that is not a significant lead. That shows that currently about 80% (or four out of five Republicans) do not want Romney -- at least right now. The GOP race is still wide open, and any of the current candidates (or an unknown future candidate) could win the nomination.

The Fox News Poll also queried its respondents about the Democratic nomination, and there's no surprise there either. In spite of what some progressives want, it still looks like all Hillary Clinton needs to do to get the nomination is to ask for it.

Role Model ?

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Capitalists Are Hogging The Gains From Rising Productivity

The chart above (from the Global Wage Report 2014/2015) shows a stark reality of what is happening to worker wages -- not just in the United States, but in the developed world as a whole. The productivity of American workers continues to rise, but the benefits and gains from that rising productivity are no longer being shared with American workers -- which contributes greatly to the stagnation of worker wages (and actual reduction of wages once inflation is taken into account).

Here is how Professor Richard D. Wolff puts it in an article for Truthout:

In the developed countries, while real wages stagnated throughout the crisis since 2007, the productivity of workers continued to rise. That explains the deepening inequalities of income and wealth in those countries.

Productivity measures the quantity of goods and services that workers' labor provides to their bosses. The chart shows how labor productivity has kept rising (because of computers, more equipment, better training, speed-up of work etc.). The chart also shows how much less wages have risen. Wages are what capitalists pay workers for their labor.

There is thus a growing gap between what workers give capitalists (productivity) and what capitalists give workers (wages). That gap measures profits. They have grown the fastest of all. Major capitalist corporations gather those exploding profits into their hands. They pay their top executives huge salaries and bonuses, pay rich dividends and deliver huge capital gains to their shareholders. Those top executives and major shareholders are most of the super-rich who have taken so much of the nation's wealth.

There is much more in Professor Wolff's article, including at look at how the export of jobs from developed countries to undeveloped countries is seriously hurting worker wages. I urge you to read the entire article.

NOTE -- Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. He also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan.

The Winner

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Biggest Thing Humans Have Done

Obama Shows Political Courage On Cuban Question

President Obama started his presidency looking weak. That is because he is by nature a person who believes in compromise and bipartisan governing. He tried very hard to govern in a bipartisan way, and get the Republicans to compromise for the good of this country. And this effort led to (in my opinion) weaker versions of both Wall Street reform and health care reform than should have been achieved.

But the Republicans were not interested in cooperation or compromise. They made it their goal to destroy his presidency, and have since tried to obstruct everything he has tried to do. And now with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, any remaining faint hope of bipartisanship has disappeared. It has become apparent that, if the final two years of the Obama presidency is to have any meaning, it is up to the president alone to stand fast against the GOP and make his own mark.

And that looks like exactly what he is planning to do. He started with his executive order exempting about 5 millions undocumented immigrants (who have family in this country) from being deported. It was a bold and politically courageous act, necessary because the Republicans refused to even consider immigration reform -- and he has stood fast in that decision in spite of the GOP howls of outrage.

Now he has taken another bold and politically courageous step. He has put this country on the path to normalizing relations with Cuba -- a move that is long overdue. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba for over 50 years, and has maintain an embargo against that tiny island nation for an equal length of time. The purpose of the breaking off of diplomatic relations, and the embargo, was to force Cuba into getting rid of Castro and establishing a government the U.S. approved of -- and those moves have been abysmal failures.

Most other nations have long since realized the folly of this, and they have ceased to cooperate with the embargo and normalized relations with Cuba -- leaving the United States to stand alone with this failed policy. The embargo should have been discontinued long ago, and relations with Cuba normalized -- but no president has had the courage to do that (fearing they would be labeled as a communist sympathizer).

But President Obama has acted. He has ordered that talks with Cuba begin over normalizing relations, and it looks like the two nations will have embassies in each others countries soon. And he has relaxed greatly the embargo, allowing more visits to that nation, more money to be sent there, and more business to be done there by American firms. The president has not gone all the way toward normalization (for instance tourism is still not permitted), but he has taken a bold step that will undoubtably lead to full normalization in the future.

This has led to more howls of outrage from the Republicans, but it seems the president is no longer worried about that. He now knows that bipartisanship and compromise are impossible as long as the Republican extremists control Congress, so he seems to have made up his mind to stand up for what's right in spite of Republican whining -- and to use his executive power to do that.

Will this refreshing display of political courage from the president continue? I believe it will, but we won't know for sure until we see if he is willing to use his veto power against the series of very bad bills the GOP Congress is sure to send him. So far, I'm liking this new strong President Obama.

The Hypocrite

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Congressional Approval Remains Incredibly Low

The Gallup Poll  has released its latest survey on public approval for Congress -- and it is a dismal one. The survey was done between December 8th and 11th of a random national sample of 805 adults, and has a margin of error of 4 points. It shows the congressional numbers are still in the toilet -- with only 15% of the public approving of Congress.

Why does such a low percentage of the public like Congress? A look at a different survey can answer that. It is the Rasmussen Poll (shown below) -- done on December 15th and 16th of a random national sample of 1,000 likely voters, with a 3 point margin of error. The American people are tired of the ideological games Congress has been playing.

A whopping 82% says they want their elected officials to compromise for the good of the country -- and that's certainly not what they've been getting from Congress (especially the Republicans, who've obstructed everything the president has tried to do -- even though he's repeatedly tried to get them on board for bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems).

I fully expect the congressional approval to remain low for the next couple of years. That's because the Republicans have already made it clear they have no more intention of compromising in the 114th Congress than they did in the 113th Congress. They seem to think the voters gave them a mandate to continue their ideological game-playing. I think they are in for a rude surprise in 2016 if they continue that.

If Torture Is OK . . .

Political Cartoon is by Jen Sorensen at jensorensen.com.

Since The GOP Likes A Sales Tax So Much . . .

The Republicans have made it very clear that they hate the income tax -- especially a progressive income tax that taxes the rich at a larger percentage than those who make less in income. While the progressive income tax (the idea that those who make the most from our society should owe the most in taxes back to that society) has always made sense to most people, but not to Republicans. They much prefer other kinds of taxes, more regressive taxes like the sales tax (which makes the poor, the working class, and the middle class pay a much larger percentage of their income in taxes than the rich).

Even now, the Republicans want to revise the tax code to allow the rich (who already pay less due to a lower capital gains tax rate) and the corporations to pay less in income taxes. They want to do this in spite of the fact that it is obvious that our government needs more revenue -- not less (and the rich and the corporations are already paying less in income taxes than at any time since World War II).

Personally, I think the opposite should be done. I think the rich should pay a small increase in tax percentage, and the corporations should lose the loopholes and subsidies that allow them to pay little or no income taxes. But that won't happen since the GOP controls Congress. So I suggest another idea -- one which should appeal to the GOP since they like sales taxes so much. We need to institute a new sales tax on the national level.

It is an idea that has been gaining popularity in the last few years. It is a sales tax of 0.5% on all stock transactions on Wall Street (commonly called a Robin Hood Tax). The tax would be tiny enough that it would have no effect on Wall Street and the business it does, but it would pour billions of dollars (maybe hundreds of billions) in badly needed new revenue for the government.

This seems fair to me. If the Republicans like a sales tax so much they are willing to impose it unfairly on the poor, working, and middle classes, then it should also be imposed on the purchases the rich hold so dear -- the stock trades that allow them to pay a smaller capital gains tax rate on income.

I doubt the GOP Congress will do this. It taxes the rich, and that's the group they are dedicated to save from having to pay taxes. The GOP doesn't mind taxes -- as long as the rich and corporations don't have to pay them. But it is still a good idea, and we should be pushing the idea so it can be accomplished as soon as Democrats regain power.

GOP Santa

Political Cartoon is by Tom Toles in the Washington Post.

Not Everyone Should Have A Gun

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Point Of Slogans

Two New Polls Have Hillary Clinton Looking Good

The charts above are from a new Monmouth University Poll done between December 10th and 14th of a random national sample of 1,008 adults. It has a margin of error of 5 points for Democrats and 4.9 points for Republicans.

I especially like this survey because the respondents were not given a choice between a list of candidates, but were just asked who their preference was for the 2016 nomination. That makes it a bit more likely that the person they named is actually their real preference.

But the results are not really that different from what numerous other polls have shown. Hillary Clinton is far ahead of any other possible Democratic candidate. And there is no real favorite among the numerous Republican possibilities (with no GOP candidate getting even 10% support.

The charts below were from another new presidential preference poll -- the McClatchy-Marist Poll that was done between December 3rd and 9th of a random national sample of 1,140 adults. The margin of error is 5.2 points for Republicans and 4.7 points for Democrats. In this survey, the respondents were asked to choose from a list of candidates, and that is probably why the numbers are a little bit larger.

But the results show the same thing. Hillary Clinton has a very large lead among Democrats, and there is still no real favorite among Republicans (with no one even getting to the 20% mark).

They also asked poll respondents to choose their preference between Clinton and some of the leading GOP candidates -- and Clinton lead them all by double-digits. It's still a long way until the primaries are held and/or the general election, but right now Hillary Clinton is looking golden.

Big Banks

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Is An Apology Needed? - Absolutely Not!

Many people have been demonstrating against the police killings of far too many unarmed Black men (and children), and the police aren't happy about that (even though they know there is nothing they can do about it). But they are even more upset when it is a celebrity making the same statement as the demonstrators. Why? Because they think that celebrities (like star athletes) taking a stand on something can influence a lot of other people to do the same -- and they are probably right about that.

That's why the St. Louis Police Officer's Association (SLPOA) hit the roof when some St. Louis Rams players entered the stadium before a recent game with their arms up (imitating the pose of those demonstrating against the shooting of Michael Brown). The SLPOA demanded an apology from those players and the team. And they went even further by demanding the players be punished.

It's also why the union for Cleveland police officers is demanding an apology from Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins entered the stadium wearing a t-shirt demanding justice for 12 year-old Tamir Rice and John Crawford, both of whom were killed by police -- Rice because he was holding a toy gun in a public park.

Do the St. Louis and Cleveland police officers deserve an apology from these celebrities (i.e., NFL players)? In a word, NO! And both of these police organizations should be deeply ashamed of themselves for even asking for an apology.

They seem to have forgotten that they represent government employees, and any citizen has the right to criticize his/her government if he/she feels they are not living up to the hig standards they have sworn to uphold (and are indeed paid to uphold). In fact, this right is so important that our Founding Fathers wrote it into the Constitution (in the First Amendment). If any of these officers can't stand to be criticized when some of their fellow officers fail to uphold those high standards, then they should find another line of work outside of government service.

If an apology is needed, it is not from either the demonstrators or the celebrities offering their opinion. It should come from the police, who sprang to the defense of those killing unarmed Blacks and refuse to institute policies that would prevent those incidents from happening in the future.

Cruz Control

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Columbus Dispatch.

Must We be The "Big Boss" For The Entire World ?

I made the chart above from a recent Rasmussen Poll -- taken on December 11th and 12th of a random national sample of 1,000 likely voters, with a margin of error of 3 points.

It's interesting because it shows that nearly half (48%) of the U.S. population believes the United States will no longer be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of this century, and another quarter of the population aren't sure. Only 27% believe this country will maintain its current powerful position by then.

I got the impression, perhaps mistakenly, that poll respondents (and the pollster) thought this would be a bad thing. And I guess for those who believe there must always be a most powerful nation -- a nation that bullies the rest of the world into going along with its wishes and policies -- it would be a bad thing. But does it have to be that way. Must the world always have a bully?

Why can't mankind progress to a point where all nations respect each other, and don't try to force other nations into complying with their own wishes? Wasn't that the dream that created the United Nations (before they screwed it up by giving veto power to the most powerful nations)? Civilization has progressed a lot since the invention of nations. Why can't we progress even further and create a world without nation bullies?

I guess you could call me an optimist, maybe even a dreamer, but I like to think that is possible.

Newest Bank Branch

Political Cartoon is by Matt Wuerker at Politico.com.

Secrecy Kills Freedom