A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Friday, August 29, 2014

The U.S. Creates Its Own Wars


The U.S. Has Problems Because It's Still Too Segregated


The United States Constitution guarantees equal rights under the law to all American citizens, and anyone with a bit of common sense knows that equal rights cannot exist until equal opportunity also exists. This is so important that the country passed a series of civil rights laws back in the 1960's. They did that because too many states (primarily in the South, where segregation was the law) were ignoring the constitutional guarantees.

Unfortunately, that did not solve the nation's racial problems -- either among people or under the law. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention has to know that Blacks (and other minorities as well) are not treated equally to Whites in this country. The past couple of weeks this has been shown by the actions in Ferguson, Missouri -- where the unequal treatment of Blacks by the police has come to a head. It's not just in Ferguson though. It occurs across the country, and in more aspects of our society than just the police (schools, workplaces, courts, etc.).

Of course this brings up the question -- why is this still true? If we have laws that eliminate discrimination, and most Americans believe people should be treated equally (and I think most Americans do believe that), then why does racism and discrimination continue to exist? Why haven't we put this sickness behind us by now?

A big clue to finding that answer can be seen in the results of a survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute in their American Values Survey. They came up with the chart above from the results of that survey -- and I have to admit the results they show are rather shocking. It seems that will segregation has been outlawed legally, it is still practiced by most Americans.

It shows that, on average, if Whites had 100 friends then 91 of those friends would be other Whites. And remember, this is an average, meaning far too many Whites would have no true friends of any other race or ethnicity (although I suspect many would try to counter this by claiming casual acquaintances as friends). Blacks do a little better, by having 83 of their 100 friends to be other Blacks.

To be blunt -- we still live in a segregated society. It may not be legal segregation, but it is segregation nonetheless -- a segregation of personal choice. And that is just sad. How are we to understand the problems faced by others when we don't socialize with them or spend much time around them? If we don't engage with people of a different racial or ethnic background, it makes it much easier to ignore the problems they face (and assume they have only the same problems we have). In short, it makes it easier for Whites to ignore the continuing realities of racism and bigotry in this country.

This self-imposed segregation is hurting us, both as individuals and as a nation. Our lives are enriched when we embrace people of other races, ethnicities, and cultures. It broadens our views and opens our minds -- and allows us to escape the tiny world we were born into.

This is not something that will be easy to change, since most people tend to hate change of any kind and are loath to try new things. There is hope though. Young people (the millennials) are breaking this pattern -- and because of that, by the time they become seniors the country could be very different. I certainly hope so. Racism and bigotry are evils, and have no place in a democratic society.

The Burden

Political Cartoon is by Barry Deutsch at leftycartoons.com.

The Best Countries For Gays/Lesbians


I thought this was interesting. The Gallup Poll did one of their global surveys, and this time they asked the residents of each country if they thought their country was a good place for gays/lesbians to live -- a country where they could have a good life, free of discrimination. It should be no surprise that the United States did not finish first on this list -- because there is still a lot of ill feeling toward gays/lesbians in this country (mainly from fundamentalists, who use their religion to justify their bigotry). It did finish higher than most other countries though -- coming in 11th in a tie with Denmark.

There are 31 countries on the chart. I picked that number to chart because those were the only countries with at least 50% of their population saying their country was a good place for gays/lesbians to live. All other countries finished below the 50% level (and some countries were down around 1% or 2%).

NOTE -- I believe you can get a larger image by clicking on the chart.

Flame-Broiled

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

America Is Losing It's Prudishness



For much of this country's history, the American public has been very prudish. Nudity was shocking to most, and sex was considered to be something dirty that could not be talked about (especially in a school health class). Most of Europe and much of Asia have been much more open-minded about nudity and sex -- probably because they don't let religion rule their society as much as we do in America.

But that seems to be changing. This YouGov Poll shows that most people in the U.S. think Americans are too easily offended by sex and nudity. This includes Democrats and Independents. Only the Republicans disagree (and think Americans should be prudish when it comes to sex and nudity) -- but that's understandable since that party has most of the nation's right-wing fundamentalists. And it turns out that both genders, all races, and most age groups also think Americans are too prudish -- with only those 65 and older not agreeing (they are split on the question).

I don't know about you, but I think this is a very good thing. It's about time that Americans grew up, and realized that sex (as long as it is consensual) is a natural thing, and so is nudity. I'm not saying we should all go around nude (I doubt many would want me to do that), but it's not the end of the world (or some kind of sin) to see someone nude.

The charts were made from a survey taken on August 2nd and 3rd of a random national sample of 1,000 American adults, with a margin of error of about 4 points.

Climate Change

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The GOP War On The Poor


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time For A Boycott



Black/White Gap Growing On Ferguson Police Actions



I am old enough to remember when segregation of the races was the norm in the South (including my home state of Texas). There were separate restrooms, water fountains, and schools for Blacks and Whites -- and Blacks were not allowed to sit with Whites on transportation vehicles or in restaurants. It was a terrible time, and I never understood why Blacks and Whites weren't treated equally (because, thank goodness, I was not raised by racist parents).

Then we had the turbulent sixties, when Blacks (and some Whites) rose up and demanded change. There were demonstrations throughout the South, and many of those demonstrations turned violent. But Americans in general understood that it was not the demonstrators but the police (spurred on by the White power structure) that was instigating the violence (through arrests of people exercising their constitutional right to assemble, through beatings, and by turning fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful demonstrators).

That police violence played a big part in turning many Americans (including most Whites) against segregation, and everyone but the racists understood the need for the civil rights laws -- and were happy to see them passed. Unfortunately, too many Whites in America thought that had solved the nation's racial problems. It didn't solve those problems (although it did help some), but it allowed White Americans to once again put the nation's racial problems on the back burner.

But for Black Americans, many racial problems persisted -- especially in how they are treated by the police and in the justice system. And the statistics are there for anyone who wants to see. Blacks are stopped, harassed, beaten, and even killed by the police far more than Whites. And Blacks are sent to prison in far greater numbers than Whites -- even when convicted of the same crimes. But while Blacks must live with these racial problems, Whites don't (and that makes it easy to deny that the problems exist).

Then we had the shooting of an unarmed Black youth in Ferguson by the police -- shot six times while trying to surrender with his arms in the air. That was just one time too many, and the Black community reacted by holding demonstrations. And they were met with a militarized police force (with military uniforms, assault rifles, tear gas, and military vehicles) that treated them as an enemy, rather than American citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble and ask the government for a redress of their grievances. And the police provoked violence -- reminding me of the bad old days when Southern police turned on peaceful demonstrators with violence.

Sadly, the reaction to this police violence was different than it had been back in the sixties. The public (especially Whites) wants now to blame the demonstrators, instead of the police provoking the violence. Note in the charts above that 34% of Whites thought the police violence was reasonable, while only 32% said it was unreasonable -- far different from the 16% of Blacks saying it was reasonable to 48% saying it was unreasonable.

That was bad enough, but in the few days since that first survey the gap between the views on Whites and Blacks has grown wider. Now 45% of Whites see the Ferguson police actions as reasonable to only 14% of Blacks -- and 63% of Blacks see those actions as unreasonable to only 27% of Whites (a whopping 36 point gap).

This leads me to the conclusion that today many Whites don't see (or don't want to see) the racial problems that persist in this country -- and that means those problems will just continue. Problems don't heal themselves in this world -- they just grow worse by being ignored.

NOTE -- The charts above were made from information in surveys taken by the YouGov Poll. The surveys were taken August 14-17 and August 20-21 of a random national sample of 1,000 adults, with a margin of error of about 4 points.

The Funeral

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

U.S. Senate Race In Iowa Is Currently A Dead Heat


The chart above was made from information in a new Public Policy Polling survey. They surveyed 915 likely Iowa voters between August 22nd and 24th, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.2 points.

The senate race in Iowa is going to be very important this year. If the Republicans want to take over the majority in that legislative body, they will need to win this seat. But that is turning out to be tougher than expected. Right now the race is a dead heat between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst (41% to 40%). There are three Independent candidates and a Libertarian in the race, but the combined support for all four is only about 5% -- not enough to have much effect on the race.

Looking at the demographics of the chart above, a couple of interesting things are apparent. First, women support the male Democratic candidate by the same margin that men support the female Republican candidate -- about 9 points. This would tend to give the Democrat a slight advantage, since women tend to vote in larger numbers than men.

Second, there is still a significant number of voters who say they are undecided -- about 14%. I believe the Republican candidate must take a majority of these undecided voters to win in November. Can she do that? No one knows. That makes this a very interesting race to watch as election day draws near.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Green Party Links Police Militarization To Federal Policies


The Green Party abhors the militarization of police in the United States, but doesn't think that will change until federal policies change -- policies that militarize everything the federal government does, from the budget to foreign policy. I think they have a good point. The following article was written by Green Party Shadow Cabinet member David Swanson (pictured) on August 14th:

Groups on the ground in St. Louis are calling for nationwide solidarity actions in support of Justice for Mike Brown and the end of police and extrajudicial killings everywhere.”
As they should. And we should all join in.
But “nationwide” and “everywhere” are odd terms to equate when discussing police militarization. Are we against extrajudicial killings (otherwise known as murder) by U.S. government employees and U.S. weapons in Pakistan? Yemen? Iraq? Gaza? And literally everywhere they occur? The militarization of local police in the United States is related to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which has now reached the point that bombing and “doing nothing” are generally conceived as the only two choices available. Local police are being militarized as a result of these factors:
  • A culture glorifying militarization and justifying it as global policing.
  • A federal government that directs roughly $1 trillion every year into the U.S. military, depriving virtually everything else of needed resources.
  • A federal government that still manages to find resources to offer free military weapons to local police in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Weapons profiteers that eat up local subsidies as well as federal contracts while funding election campaigns, threatening job elimination in Congressional districts, and pushing for the unloading of weapons by the U.S. military on local police as one means of creating the demand for more.
  • The use of permanent wartime fears to justify the removal of citizens’ rights, gradually allowing local police to begin viewing the people they were supposed to protect as low-level threats, potential terrorists, and enemies of law and order in particular when they exercise their former rights to speech and assembly. Police “excesses” like war “excesses” are not apologized for, as one does not apologize to an enemy.
  • The further funding of abusive policing through asset forfeitures and SWAT raids.
  • The further conflation of military and police through the militarization of borders, especially the Mexican border, the combined efforts of federal and local forces in fusion centers, the military’s engagement in “exercises” in the U.S., and the growth of the drone industry with the military, among others, flying drones in U.S. skies and piloting drones abroad from U.S. land.
  • The growth of the profit-driven prison industry and mass incarceration, which dehumanize people in the minds of participants just as boot camp and the nightly news do to war targets.
  • Economically driven disproportionate participation in, and therefore identification with, the military by the very communities most suffering from its destruction of resources, rights, and lives.
But policing is not the only thing militarized by what President Eisenhower called the “total influence — economic, political, even spiritual” of the military industrial complex. Our morality is militarized, our entertainment is militarized, our natural world is militarized, and our education system is militarized. “Unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” is not easily opposed while maintaining the military industrial complex. When Congress Members lend their support to a new war in Iraq while proposing that the U.S. Post Office and a dozen other decent things not be defunded, they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. The United States cannot live like other wealthy nations while dumping $1 trillion a year into a killing machine.
The way out of this cycle of madness in which we spend more just on recruiting someone into the military or on locking them up behind bars than we spend on educating them is to confront in a unified and coherent manner what Martin Luther King Jr. called the evils of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the local police. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to weapons testing sites. Not racism, extreme materialism, and what the military does to the people of Honduras causing them to flee to a land that then welcomes them with an attitude of militarism. Not any of these partial steps alone, but the whole package of interlocking evils of attitude and mindset.
There is a no-fly-zone over Ferguson, Missouri, because people in the U.S. government view the people of the United States increasingly as they view the people of other countries: as best controlled from the air. Notes the War Resister League,
“Vigils and protests in Ferguson – a community facing persistent racist profiling and police brutality – have been attacked by tear gas, rubber bullets, police in fully-armored SWAT gear, and tank-like personnel carriers. This underscores not only the dangers of being young, Black, and male in the US, but also the fear of mobilization and rebellion from within racialized communities facing the violence of austerity and criminalization.
“The parallels between the Israeli Defense Forces in Palestine, the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro, the Indian police in Kashmir, the array of oppressive armed forces in Iraq, and the LAPD in Skid Row could not be any clearer. . . .
“This is not happening by accident. What is growing the capacity of local police agencies to exercise this force are police militarization programs explicitly designed to do so. As St. Louis writer Jamala Rogers wrote in an article on the militarization of St. Louis Police this past April, ‘It became clear that SWAT was designed as a response to the social unrest of the 1960s, particularly the anti-war and black liberation movements.’ Federal programs such as DoD 1033 and 1122, and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), in which St. Louis Police are active participants, provide weapons and training to police departments across the country, directly from the Pentagon. Commenting on the ominous growth of the phenomenon, Rogers continues: ‘and now, Police Chief [of St. Louis Police] Sam Dotson wants to add drones to his arsenal.’
“The events in Ferguson over these last few days demonstrate that the violence of policing and militarism are inextricably bound. To realize justice and freedom as a condition for peace, we must work together to end police militarization and violence.”
The War Resisters League is organizing against Urban Shield, an expo of military weapons for police and training event planned for Oakland, Calif., this September 4-8. The Week of Education and Action will take place in Oakland from August 30-September 5. Read all about it here.

Logical ?

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

True


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Moral Crisis


Gallup Poll Indicates An Elevated Turnout For 2014 Election


The chart above was made from information contained in a recent Gallup Poll. The latest survey was done between August 7th and 10th of a random national sample of 1,032 adults, with a margin of error of 4 points. This latest survey is compared to Gallup Poll results in previous off-year elections, along with the actual voter turnout in those elections.

Democrats have been hoping for a larger than normal turnout for the 2014 election. That is because large turnouts usually favor Democratic candidates. And the results shown by Gallup for the past few off-year elections should give Democrats hope for this year's election.

Note that in the last five off-year elections the voter turnout was above 40% when congressional approval was low (26% or lower) -- and when congressional approval was not so low, the voter turnout dropped below 40%. This indicates that more voters turn out to vote in an off-year election when congressional approval is low. And congressional approval has never been as low as it currently is -- about 13% (8 points below the previous low in 2010).

Now you may be thinking to yourself that the last time congressional approval was low (21%) in 2010, the vote was very good for the Republicans and allowed them to flip control of the House of Representatives. But there were two aspects in 2010 that are not true for 2014 -- the House was controlled by Democrats, and most of the people disapproving of Congress were Republicans and GOP-leaning Independents.

In 2014 the Republicans control the House, and all segments of the public are angry with Congress (Republicans, Independents, and Democrats). While voter anger drove Republicans to the polls in large numbers in 2010, it will likely drive all three political elements to the polls in large numbers in 2014 -- and that favors the party not in control, the Democrats.

I know the political pundits are still predicting the Republicans will hang on to their House majority in this election (thanks to some effective gerrymandering) -- but I still believe there is a good chance that control of the House can flip to the Democrats. And a larger than normal turnout, combined with a definite anti-incumbent feeling among voters, can only increase Democratic chances.

Frequent Flier

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

Marijuana Not Only Has Medicinal Value - It Saves Lives

(The cartoon image above was found in The Oklahoma Observer.)

Ever since the federal government made marijuana illegal to possess in the 1930's, they have been claiming that marijuana has no medical value -- and because of that claim, they made it a Schedule I drug (like heroin) and came down hard on those who would use it. Of course that was a lie.

People have known for many centuries that the gentle herb known as cannabis (marijuana) has many medicinal uses. But the government couldn't admit that -- because if they did, then the public would never have allowed it to be made illegal. The truth is that marijuana is not dangerous (probably the least dangerous drug known to mankind), and has many medicinal uses.

Marijuana was not made illegal because it had no medicinal use, or because it is a dangerous drug (because neither of those claims is true). It was made illegal so it could be used as a social weapon against minorities (and after the 1960's) against young people -- the groups that might challenge the policies of the White power structure. It was a tool to quash social unrest.

But now at least half of all Americans have tried marijuana (and probably even more than that, since many people won't admit to breaking a law -- even in the past). And these people know they have been lied to about marijuana. They realize that it is not a dangerous drug, and they are starting to understand it has many medicinal uses. That's why a growing number of states are starting to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Now we learn, through a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that in the states with legal medical marijuana, that marijuana use as an analgesic may actually be saving thousands of lives. Those states offer marijuana as an alternative to other painkillers -- painkillers that can not only have serious side effects, but can easily be overdosed (causing death). Marijuana cannot be overdosed and has no side effects (other than a gentle euphoria).

The study was done between 1999 and 2010, and it showed the states which had medical marijuana (13 states during that time period) had a lower percentage of overdose deaths among those trying to treat their pain. Dr. Marcus Bachhuber (the study's lead author) said, "We found there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law."

The study found that those 13 states have about 1,700 fewer overdose deaths than would have been expected without the medical marijuana laws (using statistics from before those laws were passed). That's an average reduction in overdose deaths of 131 for each of those 13 states. Just imagine. If all 50 states had a medical marijuana law during that period, more than 6,500 deaths could have been prevented.

This means our ridiculous prohibition of marijuana is not only making criminals of otherwise honest and hard-working citizens, and costing our governments huge sums of money -- it is actually costing thousands of lives. I personally believe marijuana should be legal for use by adults and taxed -- but at the very least, it should be made legal for medicinal purposes in all 50 states as soon as possible. All people trying to control serious pain (from a variety of sources) should have the option of using this far safer drug.

Florida Political Animals

Political Cartoon is by Bill Day at cagle.com.

Texas Supreme Court Says Workers Don't Have Rights

(The cartoon image above is from cartoonaday.com.)

If you are a rich person or own a corporation then you'll probably like Texas. You'll pay a far smaller portion of your income in taxes than other Texans, and you'll have more rights than other Texans -- at least a lot more than Texans who have to work for others to scratch out a living.

It's not the same for workers. Texas has the largest number of workers making at or below the federal minimum wage, and a larger percentage of minimum wage workers than any other state -- and most of those workers don't have any health insurance to go with their poverty wage (with more than a quarter of Texas workers not being covered with insurance). And Texas is an employment "at will" state -- meaning that your boss can fire you at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. Neither loyalty, doing a good job, working hard, not punctuality and excellent attendance will protect a worker if a boss decides to get rid of him/her.

Texas is not the only "at will" state. But most other "at will" states have some exceptions to the rule. Exceptions like "good faith" and "fair dealing" -- which means the company must treat a worker fairly and deal with them in good faith (i.e., truthfully). But that is not the case in Texas, and the Texas Supreme Court recently made it clear that workers have no rights -- not even when the company deals unfairly with them, and in fact, outright lies to them.

Here is how mainstreet.com  reports on a recent case decided by the Texas Supreme Court regarding workers' rights (with Chief Justice Nathan Hecht writing the decision):

In 2002 E.I. du Pont de Nemours announced plans to turn some of its operations into a separate subsidiary. Most of the affected employees were under a union agreement that gave them the right to transfer within DuPont if they preferred, a decision which would have cost the company an enormous amount of money to retrain the transfers and hire their replacements.

The employees were worried that if DuPont sold the new subsidiary it would hurt both their pay and retirement funds. To convince them to work in the subsidiary instead of transferring within the company, DuPont assured its employees that it had absolutely no plans to sell the spin-off. Based on this promise almost everyone moved to the subsidiary, which a few weeks later DuPont sold to Koch Industries. Koch cut both salaries and retirement packages. DuPont had, as it turns out, been negotiating this deal the entire time.

The Texas Supreme Court sees no problem with any of this.

Writing for the court, Hecht noted that at-will employment in the state of Texas means that aworker can be fired "for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all.". . .

No fraud exception exists to at-will employment in Texas, Hecht ruled, meaning that DuPont was free to sell its subsidiary and effectively fire the entire staff without fear of consequence. The court also noted that fraud requires an element of reasonable reliance, which doesn't exist in at-will employment.Workers can't rely on any promise that involves them keeping their jobs because the employer is free to just fire them for something else instead. . .

The Texas Supreme Court held, essentially, that fraudulent inducement is immaterial in at-will employment, because either way you're out thedoor. The employer could have gotten rid of you with or without the lie, so you can't claim fraud, because the deception was irrelevant.

This shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with Texas. The Texas Supreme Court is made up entirely of Republicans, and they have a reputation of deciding cases for corporations and against workers (or consumers). This is in line with all elected Republican officials -- because the only constituencies they care about are the rich and the corporations (the ones who make the donations that keep them in office).

This is a big reason why we need to elect Democrats to state-wide office. It's time for workers to get a fair deal (and a fair wage) -- and that's just not going to happen as long as the Republicans control state government and state courts.

If Cops Treated Bankers Like Blacks

Political Cartoon is by Jen Sorensen at jensorensen.com.

Republicans



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mom's Heal


It's Women's Equality Day !


Today is Women's Equality Day in the United States. Back in 1971, the United States Congress passed a resolution making every August 26th Women's Equality Day. Here is what that resolution said:

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and


WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and

WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.

I have a couple of questions. If Congress realized back in 1971 that women should be equal to men, and that would be good not only for women but for the country, then why are we still debating this issue in the Twenty-First Century -- more than 40 years later? How is it that women still do not have equal pay for equal work, and still don't have full control over all their health decisions and their own bodies?

It is outrageous that the United States, a country that celebrates its belief in freedom and equality, still treats women as second-class citizens. It's time for women, and the men who love them, to take some advice offered by the courageous women in the picture above -- don't support any political party that doesn't support full equality for women (and we all know which political party that is).


The images in this post are from calendar-printable.com.

Hypocrisy

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

Are Democrats Passing Up A "Golden Opportunity" ?

(This caricature of the Democrat's donkey symbol is by the inimitable DonkeyHotey.)

John Avlon in The Daily Beast made a statement yesterday that bothers me. He said, "America seems resigned to a Seinfeld election in 2014 -- a campaign about nothing." His point is that neither party is running on national issues, and both parties seem content to let each candidate try to frame issues on the local level.

Now I can understand why this is happening with Republicans. Poll after poll has shown they are on the wrong side of most national issues -- and while they are wrong on most issues, they are not stupid. They know their best chance is to keep these issues out of the campaign this year.

But I am mystified as to why the Democrats would take this path -- and yet that is the path they are trodding. Here is what Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told a breakfast gathering last Thursday:

“A midterm is a much more localized election. You are going to have issues that they'll focus on in Arkansas that will be different from what they focus on in California. [Republicans] want to nationalize the agenda… They oppose all the things we should be doing that we should be doing to move the economy forward.” 

I think this is a serious mistake. First, she is wrong about the Republicans. They have been struggling to find a national issue that works for them, and so far they have failed. They thought Obamacare would be that issue -- but record numbers of people signed up for insurance under that program, and multiple polls have shown that although Americans are not real happy with it, they don't want it repealed. They tried to scare people with the national debt, only to find out Americans are much more worried about unemployment and the faltering economy (both caused by GOP policies). Now they are trying to scare people about immigration. That's not going to work either, since most people are in favor of real immigration reform -- not just the closing of the border (which is all the GOP wants).

On the other hand, the Democrats are on the right side of most national issues -- issues that poll after poll has shown is supported by a significant majority of the American public. If the Democrats were smart, they would be trying to nationalize this election (and not localize it as Wasserman-Schultz seems to think is proper). How could they do this? I believe they should get together and sign a new "Contract for America" (much like the Republicans did back in 1992) -- and then run hard supporting that contract. Here are some of the things I think should be in that new "Contract for America":

1. Protect Social Security by fully funding it far into the future (by raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax), and by promising no cuts to benefits.

2. Protect Medicare by promising to defeat any attempt to privatize or abolish it (and promise to fight attempts to weaken it by cutting payments to doctors and hospitals).

3. Raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour (and tie future raises to the rate of inflation).

4. Eliminate the tax break that corporations get for shipping American jobs overseas.

5. Eliminate unnecessary subsidies for corporations, so that corporations making millions or billions in profits actually pay a fair income tax.

6. Eliminate the special capital gains tax that allows the rich to pay less than many in the middle class, and tax all income the same (as earned income).

7. Support equal pay for women.

8. Eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

I could have added some more things, like closing the loopholes in background checks for gun buyers (which is supported by a huge majority of the public). But some cowardly "blue dogs" would not sign if that was included, and I was trying to come up with a contract that all Democrats could sign on to -- and I think any Democrat should be able to agree with the 8 points above.

The beauty of this is that all of the above points are not just supported by a majority of Americans, but a huge majority of Americans -- and that is even true in the red states. And the Republicans are on the wrong side of all of those issues (and would have trouble defending their opposition to such a "contract").

Are the Democrats passing up a "golden opportunity" by localizing the 2014 election? Absolutely! Nationalizing the election with a contract like this would drive home to the voters just how out of touch and extremist the Republican Party really is.

DWI's

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Green Party Warns Of A New Global Recession


The corporations (and the rich) have bounced back nicely from the recession of 2007-2008, but they did it on the backs of everyone else -- by hogging all of the small increase in productivity that has happened since the "recovery". Most people are still suffering the effects of that recession, and the economy has been faltering -- not only in the United States, but also in other countries.

Green Party Shadow Cabinet member Dr. Jack Rasmus (pictured) believes we are in danger of sliding into a new global recession -- one that will be even more serious than the last, since the world is still struggling to recover from the last one. Dr. Rasmus (who teaches politics and economics at St. Mary's College in California) wrote the following post on August 21st. It is scary, and well worth reading.

The Eurozone’s 3rd Recession?
Last week, initial government released data for the 2nd Quarter 2014 showed the Eurozone economy coming to a complete halt. Germany’s economy—which represents a third of the Eurozone’s total GDP—declined by 0.2%, the first such contraction since 2012. So did Italy’s, while France recorded no growth at all for a second consecutive quarter.
The zero growth for the combined 17 Eurozone economies follows a near stagnation 0.2% growth in January-March. The January-June trend therefore strongly suggests a recession is now emerging in the core European economies—the third such in the past five years.
Europe’s first recession occurred in 2008-09 as it collapsed with the rest of the global economy. It then experienced a historically weak 0.5% economic recovery in 2009-10, only to fall back into another second recession in the subsequent 18 months that wiped out the prior meager 0.5% gains. 2013-14 thereafter saw an even weaker recovery of only 0.2%, and for an even shorter period, which is now being reversed once again.
The Eurozone arguably has never really recovered from the recession of 2008-09. The short, shallow recoveries of 0.5% and 0.2%, which have become progressively shorter and weaker, do not represent a true recovery. Europe has simply been "bouncing along the bottom" economically now for five years—stagnant at best and slipping in and out of recession.
An important new trend in the Eurozone’s now emerging 3rd recession is that the economic contraction is driven by the Eurozone’s key economic engines—Germany, France, and Italy—and not just its weaker economies on its southern and eastern periphery, as was the case in Europe’s second recession of 2010-12. 
Together the three economies—Germany, France, Japan—represent approximately $8.8 trillion in GDP terms. That’s at least the size of China’s economy and much bigger than Japan’s. The three core economies of the Eurozone are thus key to growth and recovery of the global economy in general, as well as to emerging markets in particular since 56% of Germany’s nearly $4 trillion economy is derived from exports.  So go German exports, goes Germany; and so goes Germany, goes the Eurozone and, in turn, many of its emerging market trading partners. And Germany’s export driven economy is facing significant further headwinds in the near term.
The USA engineered coup in the Ukraine earlier this past February, and the subsequent USA driven sanctions on Russia ever since, have already begun to have a significant additional impact on Germany’s exports, as well as other Eurozone and EU economies like Italy, Finland, Austria, and East Europe.
With little to lose economically itself from imposing more severe sanctions on Russia, in contrast the Eurozone and EU economies which have much to lose, the USA has continued to push hard for more Russia sanctions from Europe, the effects of which are now beginning to take a toll on the already weak Eurozone economy. The impact of those sanctions on the Eurozone, and Germany-Italy in particular, will no doubt continue to grow in the coming months, thus further ensuring that Europe slides into its 3rd recession.
The impact of sanctions on the Eurozone economy is measurable not just in terms of quantifiable goods (exports-imports) and money capital flows between Europe and Russia, but also in the more  difficult to quantify psychological effects on investment as a result of the continuing crisis in the Ukraine and sanctions. Political crises have economic effects, even though difficult to trace directly to GDP and economic growth. But psychological forces in business and consumer confidence trends are a factor nonetheless, and are now also playing a role pushing the Eurozone into recession.
Apart from the trade and psychological effects of sanctions, demands on Europe in the near future to provide further bailouts for the Ukraine’s now collapsing economy will contribute still further to the recessionary slide of the big three Eurozone economies.
The Ukraine’s currency has fallen 60% in 2014 and much of the IMF and EU $18 billion deal last May has already been earmarked for $6 billion payments to Euro banks for previous bailouts. More of that $18 billion will be used by Ukraine’s central bank to finance exports and to offset its currency decline. Little therefore remains of the IMF’s initial $18 billion bailout package to stimulate Ukraine’s real economy. As this writer predicted last March, the Ukraine economy will contract 10-15% in 2014 and will need an eventual $50 billion in bailout funding from the west.  But with the IMF not likely to provide a further bailout anytime soon, and the USA providing only token financial assistance, the Europeans will be faced with providing further Ukraine bailouts.  The continuing Ukraine crisis and the burden of providing still more bailout will further depress economic sentiment in the Eurozone’s core economies.
In addition to the preceding negative forces, there’s the Eurozone’s own more fundamental problems which are deep and remain still unresolved: i.e. little or no improvement in the region’s record level of unemployment; the lack of real wage growth to stimulate consumption; private banks continuing to hoard money and not lend; and business investment and confidence drying up.
On the policy front the Eurozone still appears committed, nevertheless, to a monetary policy that has not only failed in Europe, but in the USA and Japan as well:  i.e. still more liquidity injections by the European Central Bank (ECB) into the private banking system, accompanied by a policy of austerity on the fiscal side that has been modified only slightly less severe in recent years. 
The ECB’s monetary policy to date has been to inject more than $1.5 trillion of liquidity into Euro banks, primarily by means of its LTRO program—a program in some ways similar to quantitative easing (QE) by central banks in the UK, USA, and Japan. This primary reliance on monetary policy as the road to recovery thus echoes the USA Federal Reserve, Bank of England, and Bank of Japan’s similar policies since 2009. All the central banks of the advanced economies (AEs) have introduced near zero interest rates, while implementing additional ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) direct central bank purchases of investors’ bad assets at subsidized prices.
But in all cases, none of the AE central bank monetary injections have had much positive effect on AE real economies. The banks have mostly hoarded the injections, not lent investment capital in any substantial amounts to businesses that would produce jobs, and instead have redirected the liquidity to financial speculation that has fed new financial asset bubbles worldwide.  In other words, whether QE-LTRO or zero rates, the effect has been the same: financial asset inflation on the one hand, and, on the other, tepid or stagnant real growth, a drift toward deflation in real goods and services, little or no job creation, and repeated bouts of real economic stagnation and/or recessions .
More liquidity injections by the ECB in whatever form, including a Euro-QE, will therefore not halt the Eurozone’s slide toward its third recession, nor its steady drift toward price deflation in the real economy. At the same time, the real and psychological effects of sanctions and the Ukraine crisis, the problems in bank lending, weak job creation and wage growth, and flattening business and consumer confidence, will continue to deepen the Eurozone’s economic contraction and drift toward deflation in 2014.
But the Eurozone is not the only serious trouble spot emerging in the global economy today.
Japan’s 4th Recession?
Japan’s economic and policy trajectory since the economic crash of 2008-09 has been similar to the Eurozone’s, prompting commentaries in the global business press about the growing similarities between the European and Japanese economies in recent years. Both Europe and Japan have experienced repeated short and shallow recoveries since 2009, followed by similar repeated descents into recessions as well.  With the latest bout of Eurozone decline, some commentators have begun to ask if Europe is succumbing to the "Japanese malaise" of repeated recessions and weak, halting recoveries. 
But Japan’s economic performance since 2009 has been worse than even Europe’s and its second quarter 2014 collapse much worse than the Eurozone’s. 
Like the Eurozone, data last week suggest Japan may have also entered another recession in the 2nd quarter 2014. Last week economic data revealed Japan’s roughly $6 trillion annual GDP  contracted by a huge -6.8% in the 2nd quarter 2014.  Should Japan also now slip into recession, it would represent its 4th such economic contraction since 2008.  After collapsing by more than 15% in 2008-09, Japan experienced a second recession in 2010-11, followed by a third in 2012. 2014-15 may represent its fourth.
Like Europe, Japan has attempted to recover from its three prior recessions since 2008 by means of a massive money injection by its central bank, the Bank of Japan.  In early 2013 its central bank began injecting $530 billion a year into its private banking system—a policy nearly identical to that followed by the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, which since 2009 has provided more than $4 trillion of QE and another $10 trillion in near zero rate loans to US banks and shadow banks.  Also like the US Federal Reserve, Japan’s massive money injection has also been driven primarily by a direct bond buying QE program.
Today a year after introducing its version of QE, the economic effects have been no different from similar monetary policies followed by the European Central Bank’s $1.5 trillion LTRO and the US Federal Reserve’s $4 trillion QE:  Japan’s QE has stimulated financial asset markets but has done little for the real economy.  Japan’s real economy is about the same size today as it was a year ago, when the Bank of Japan’s money injection began to hit the economy. On the other hand, its QE led money injection has resulted in a nearly 100% rise in Japan’s stock markets and a consequent escalation of corporate profits and investor incomes—just as had US central bank policies since 2009 and just as will a Eurozone QE when it most likely comes later this year or in early 2015. 
The massive money injection by Japan’s central bank has produced the same effect as the massive liquidity injections by the US, UK and ECB central banks: despite the central bank money, Japan’s private banks in 2013 continued to lend only to large Japanese transnational companies, mostly for investment offshore, and not to the general economy. As a result, Japan’s level of domestic investment, wages, and consumer spending have not recovered despite the Bank of Japan’s policy.  In the 2nd quarter consumer spending fell off a cliff, declining by an unprecedented nearly 20%.
Japan’s longer term consumption slowdown can be traced—as a similar consumption slowdown can be in the USA and in Europe—to a continuing decline in Japanese workers’ real wages and earnings over the last decade. Japan workers’ wages have declined every year except one since 2004. And that decline has accelerated every year since 2010, falling 3% in 2013 and a projected more than 4% further fall for 2014.
While some argue Japan’s second quarter 2014 GDP decline of -6.8% was due to a 3% increase in sales taxes introduced in the quarter, Japan’s household consumption rates were already declining to nearly zero by end of year 2013.  The April sales tax hike just pushed consumption spending over the cliff. A similar scenario has occurred with Japan’s domestic business investment, with business inventories actually contracting in 2013 despite the massive money injection. 
Both the core economies of the Eurozone and Japan’s economy are therefore poised on the precipice of a potential major contraction. Together that’s $15 to $20 trillion of global GDP that may potentially contract even further than 2nd quarter data already indicate. 
That kind of magnitude and contraction cannot but significantly impact the rest of the global economy in a serious way. Most affected will no doubt be other emerging markets, already slowing in many cases to less than 1% GDP growth rates, that are dependent on money capital flows from Europe and Japan and on exports sales to those economies. Nor will the other two major nodes of the global economy—China and the USA—remain unaffected.
China’s 3rd Stimulus & USA’s 3rd Relapse
Somewhat similar to Europe and Japan, the USA economy has experienced three less severe economic ‘relapses’ in the form of brief, single quarter GDP declines to zero or negative growth since the 2008-09 global economic collapse. These occurred in early 2011, late 2012 and a more recent significant -2.9% decline in the first quarter of 2014. Although declining less severely in GDP terms than Europe and Japan, the USA economy has also been ‘bouncing along the bottom’ like Europe and Japan.  Its stagnation has been more muted, with growth rates around 1.8% a year, about half that of normal. This muted stagnation has been due to the USA’s privileged position in the global economy, due to its dominant currency, its massive military spending, and its central bank’s ability to influence money capital inflows from the rest of the world back to the USA when necessary.
China has experienced slowing rates of growth, from what was once double digits, that have stabilized around 7-7.5%. But that has been due to China’s massive fiscal stimulus of 15% of GDP in 2008-09 and because it has introduced two further rounds of fiscal stimulus in the past two years and is about to introduce yet a third in order to prevent a further decline in GDP. China has thus differed fundamentally from the AE capitalist economies in its fiscal policy, and its central bank monetary policies have ensured its significant money injection since 2009 has remained in China. However, since 2010 it has also been experiencing a growing problem with shadow banks and global speculators that have been slowly destabilizing its financial markets.
The global capitalist economy today has clearly entered a transitional stage.  A further contraction in Europe and Japan, which is quite possible in months to come, may prove sufficient to drag a number of emerging economies with it. That in turn would slow growth in both the USA and China economies.
The consequent further ratcheting down of global growth would also raise the risk of creating a new round of global banking and financial instability, signs of which are also emerging today in the Eurozone, China, in select emerging economies, and elsewhere in global capital markets for stocks, junk bonds, leveraged loans, and other financial instruments.  Should another financial instability event occur, it would take place on the base of an already much weaker real global economy compared to that of 2007-08.  The consequences for the real global economy would prove even more serious than in 2008. But that’s another story, yet to be told.

PiƱata

Political Cartoon is by Clay Jones at claytoonz.com.

Political Science 101


Monday, August 25, 2014

Corporate Taxes


Senate Races Close In Kansas, North Carolina, & Kentucky




Public Policy Polling has released new polls on the senate races in three states -- Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. They surveyed 903 likely voters in Kansas between August 14th and 17th, with a margin of error of 3.3 points -- 856 likely voters in North Carolina between August 14th and 17th, with a 3.4 point margin of error -- and 991 likely voters in Kentucky between August 7th and 10th, with a margin of error of 3.1 points.

A year ago, the Republicans were thinking they could flip the Senate, and a big part of that was their thinking they could easily hold on to Kansas and Kentucky and then take North Carolina from the Democrats. But it isn't working out that way. The senate races in all three of these races have turned out to be real dogfights.

In Kansas, the unpopularity of the incumbent Republican senator (Pat Roberts) and a popular Independent candidate (Greg Orman) has caused that race to be a three-way split between the candidates (with the third candidate being Democrat Chad Taylor). I still expect the Republican incumbent to eke out a win in Kansas, but the truth is that anything could happen there -- including the election of another Independent to the Senate (joining Independent Senators King of Maine and Sanders of Vermont).

North Carolina has proved to be tougher for the Republicans to flip than they had expected. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan still hangs on to a four point lead, and I think she'll probably survive in November. The Republicans may have killed this excellent chance by nominating an extremist teabagger candidate (Thom Tillis).

But Kentucky remains the most interesting of these three states. The lead has flipped back and forth between the incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and his Democratic opponent Alison Grimes. Right now McConnell has a four point lead according to the PPP survey, but that is far from a safe lead. There are still 9% of the voters that are undecided, and those undecideds give McConnell a 10% favorable to a 66% disapproval rating. This one is just too close to call.

The Republicans had thought these three states were theirs -- but it now looks like they could easily lose one, and maybe two, of them.

A Lesson Not Learned

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

Warren Is NOT Running For President - Accept It!

(This photo image of Senator Elizabeth Warren was found at Politico.com.)

I think a few months ago, when progressives first started urging Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president, she probably took it as a compliment. But she understood that 2016 was not her time, and she politely told people that she was not a candidate -- and had no desire to be a candidate for the presidency in 2016.

But people persisted in the delusion of drafting Warren to be a candidate, and even when she appeared at the Netroots convention, she was met with cheers urging her to run. Once again she made it clear she was not a candidate, and was not going to be a candidate for president, telling a Boston Globe reporter:

 “I’m going to give you the same answer I have given you many times. There is no wiggle room. I am not running for president. No means no.”

But some people are hard-headed. Either that or they think the candidate they want is a liar and will break her word if they just push her hard enough. Now some of those people have gone out and created a super-PAC called "Ready for Warren" -- which is dedicated solely to the task of raising money for a Warren run for the presidency.

And what was once a compliment for the Massachusetts senator has now become an irritant -- so much so that she has instructed her attorneys to write a letter to the FEC (shown below) informing  them that she is in no way connected to this super-PAC, and she does not approve of its formation. She thinks the money is raises is wasted, and could be used much better to help the Democrats maintain their senate majority in the coming election.

While this letter is addressed to the FEC, it is clearly aimed at the people who refuse to stop their campaign to draft her for the presidential nomination in 2016. It is one more effort of Senator Warren's to get through to these people, and make them understand that she is not running and does not want the presidential nomination in 2016.

Personally, I think this whole effort to draft Warren in spite of her repeated wishes is now bordering on the ridiculous. Accept it! She is NOT running! If you cannot support Hillary Clinton (or some other Democrat), then slide over and support the Green Party. But stop this outrageous effort to force Senator Warren to do what she has clearly and repeatedly said she does not want to do.


Empty Heads

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Columbus Dispatch.

Racism Continues Because Whites Let It Continue

(The cartoon image above is by Jack Ohman in the Sacramento Bee.)

In the mid-sixties, the United States government passed a series of civil rights laws. Those laws forbid the segregation in public facilities and businesses catering to the public, made discrimination in housing illegal, and protected the right of minorities to vote in this country. That didn't solve the problem of racism in America, but a lot of Whites want to believe that it did -- especially since the election of an African-American president. They delude themselves into thinking we now live in a post-racial country.

That's why many of them won't even engage in a discourse on racism these days -- and are quick to accuse someone of playing the "race card" when they try to bring the subject up. Some of them will never admit this country still has racial problems -- because they are the racists causing those problems. But most just don't see the problem because it doesn't affect them in their lives. The power structure in the U.S., from the federal government down to the community governments (and agencies like the police departments), are still mostly controlled by Whites -- which means most Whites don't see the racism that still exists, and a problem that doesn't affect them and is not seen is very easy to ignore.

Blacks have a very different reality. They live with the racism every day of their lives -- in schools, at workplaces, and in dealing with the police and justice system. They know their schools receive less money and attention, they are less likely to get an open job, they are far more likely to be sent to prison, and they are far more likely to be profiled, harassed, beaten, or even murdered by police.

Our Constitution promises equal treatment under the law, and the American Dream professes that American have equal opportunity -- but neither has ever been a reality in the United States. It should be, but it isn't. And as much as Whites don't want to admit it, it is largely their fault. They act like rights and equality are a zero-sum game, and that if minorities are given more rights and opportunities then Whites will have less of both. It's a ridiculous idea, but it seems to persist.

We need to recognize that reality is different for Whites and Blacks in America -- and then we need to engage in an honest and open dialogue on how to fix that. It won't be easy, and there will be things said that many don't want to hear -- but until it happens, our racial problems will not be solved.

The charts below were made from information in a new CBS News / New York Times Poll -- conducted on August 19th and 20th of a random national sample of 1,025 adults. It has a margin of error of 5 points for Whites and 8 points for Blacks. I offer them here because they clearly show how Whites and Blacks see things differently -- something that would not be true if racism did not exist (and we could all just view each other as Americans).