Archive for the ‘DOMESTIC POLITICS’ Category


Shouldn’t we all be Republican!  Yes, I know, such a statement is probably surprising coming from the Abyss.  Well, the Abyss is now a Republican, and I’ll tell you why.  This nation can no longer afford to suck the poor and middle class dry in order to spew ever more wealth into the bank accounts of the greedy rich.  Whenever there is a hint of a popular push back against reactionary interests, the lackeys of these interests raise the specter of “class war.”  Yesterday, lacky/entertainer  Bill O’Reilly groaned about outside agitators (i.e. agents provocateurs) going to Wisconsin to stir up trouble between the public employees and the Republican run State government.  Big whoop, I say!   Where was Bill when outside handlers orchestrated the participation of a bused-in, terrorist mobs at town hall meetings?.  And why it didn’t concern him that the insurrectionists shouted down anyone who expressed a view different their own?

Let’s face it, there really is a class warfare going on, but don’t be deceived; the notion that the poor are provoking it is wrong.  It is a ploy thaqt has been effectively used by the real culprits.  If there is any confusion about who they are, check out “Are the Rich Getting Richer?” (Nov. 11, 2009) on this blog.   The poor have gotten  zip financially since way back in 1973 while the wealthy have made out like exactly what they are – bandits.

It’s time for the poor and the middle class to stand up to the moneyed interests, their Republican henchmen, and their horde of Propagandists.  It’s time the poor and the middle class to take back their futures and their country.  That’s why I became a Republican –   I want to present an alternative point of view to the garbage and misinformation slung out by the suicide fringe that has taken over the Republican Party.  If we were all Republicans?…why we could even nominate candidates and promote the policies of our choosing.  There is another thing I’ve done recently that is a lot of fun.  I’ve signed on to a number of ultra-right blogs.  They never fail to amuse, self-promotional (a la – dark times are ahead – send money), and so over the top that it is difficult to understand how anyone could place iny credence in them.  However. once in a while I send a response “interpreting” their messages in such a way that’s opposite to what’s intended.  Just today, I read something about the impending financial doom coming to America and how one could invest in the “pundit’s” investment firm to prepare for it.  I thanked him, told him he had really opened my eyes, and went on to promise that I would surely contact Obama and Congressional leaders to tax the rich in order to stave off the coming catastrophe.  For starters try Newsmax; the rest will find you.

At any rate,  you don’t have to vote Republican – but please become one.  It’s fun!

From the Abyss,

Jim

The excruciating struggle to pass health care legislation has Republicans licking their lips.  They’d manuveured the Democrats into a no-win situation – failure to pass the controversial legislation would confirm the notion that  the  Democrats are indecisive and weak – passing it would turn the population against them.   The theory was that this assured the GOP a near effortless return to power in 2010 and 2012.  It was a no-brainer – after stone-walling the process for the last year, all that was now necessary was to campaign like hell whatever way the process unfolded.   That was (and is) the theory, but does that theory make sense?  Maybe not; here’s why:

A.  Health care reform:  Sure, the legislation was unpopular, but remember, the disatisfaction is with the specifics of what was passed more than notion of reform itself.  Prior to the last year’s emotive, vitriolic, mis-information funfest about 75% of Americans favored health care reform, and most were disatisfied with their plan.  The majority of those who are unhappy with this year’s legislation are unhappy because it doesn’t go far enough.  Can you imagine this horde of citizens pulling the level for a party dedicated to repealing the little that has been accomplished.  No, it’s not going to happen. 

The same is true for disatisfaction with the President.  His approval ratings have plunged, but they’ve plunged primarily among the Democratic base – a base largely to the left of Obama.  Again, disapproval does not necessarily translate into votes for the GOP.

There is another health care reform issue that favors the Democrats.  Now that the legislative battle is “over,” the histronics have moved on to other matters (wall street reform).  Even though the reform bill is far from perfect, it does provide some benefits to a group much larger than the currently uninsured.  In all, this includes the elderly, children, small business, the currently uninsurable to name a few.  No, the deal is not done, it is not a given that the legislation will be unpopular come November.  The GOP cannot maintain its edge on the reform issue through minimal attention. 

B.  The “conjonification” of the Democrats:  It is not secret that the Democrats regularly self-distruct, but the reason for these habitual, suicidal marches to defeat  is not the party’s policies, its because it rarely follows through – it is a party of ideas without action.  The efforts to pass health reform is a prime example – for most of the struggle the Barack “Man of Fire” Obama was somewhere off in La La Land while the rest of his gang was suffering from tremulous, positional constipation.  Then, the miracle, the Dems passed a bill as promised.  A mere accident?  Maybe, but what if the Dems learned from it?  What if the Dems put the brakes of Wall Street excesses by November?       

C. GOP self-disception:  Having assumed it has a winning strategy, the GOP will continue to obstruct passage of everything the Democrats propose, and it will continue to blatantly announce that it is doing so.  This complacency has and will cause the party to assume untenable decisions.   The health care reform, discussed above, is only one example – while insurance companies were arrogantly announcing large rate increases, the GOP stone-walled reform.  And now there’s more – the very day Goldman-Sacks was sued for fraud, the congressional Republicans announced their unanimous opposition to Wall Street reform.  What is this? I thought it was the Democrats who self-distruct… 

D. Party fragmentation:  In spite of the monolithic stance  maintained by the Congressional Republicans, the party terribly splintered.  Yes, there are fissures within Democratic ranks too, but they are not as serious.  The Republican split represents a long-standing struggle between traditional conservatives and small but large anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-anti faction, and anti-antis are slowly winning, and this happens, the party is being pushed into an ever more extreme position.  The Republicans have the “Tea Baggers” on their hands.  If the movement stays with the party it will make it more extreme – if it goes it will take its votes with it.  But whether the Baggers stay or go, they have already seriously wounded the GOP.  Upcoming Republican Congressional and Senatorial primaries promised to be heated, vitrioic battles between  extreme and moderate right factions.  For example, John McCain of Arizona is under attack, and Florida’s popular Charlie Crist, beset by a Jeb Bush mouthpiece, is threatening to run as an independent.  Essentially, the Republican party is eating its own arm, and it’s doubtful that it will grow a new one by November…unless the moderates capitulate.   

E.  The lack of credible leadership:  If Fellini and Hiaasen were to collaborate, they could not invent something as bizarre, inept, incoherent, and unappealing as the current Republican leadership.  If I were a Republican, I’d be embarrassed – Woops, I am a Republican.    

Consider its Congressional notables?  Michael Steele?  How can anyone take this guy seriously.  McConnell, Cantor, Boehner, Wilson, DeMint, Bachman, and a cast of others – humorless, unlikable nay(neigh)sayers – unconstructive negativity – no ideas – no action.  McCain?  Befuddled enough to think of himself as the “Straight-Talking Express.”   That went by the wayside in 2000.  Liebermann – a Republican in Independent clothing?  Please Connecticutt; how long are you going to subject us to his whining?  There are a few Republicans who occasionally attempt to buck this comic opera.  Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snow?  They might provide the basis for a Republican rejuvenation, but every time they open their mouths, they get stiffled.  

And then there’s the wacho fringe.  Let’s face it, the Congressional Republicans couldn’t exercise responsible leadership if they tried.   I take that back, they couldn’t unless they had the inclination and chutzpah to do so.   Alas that is not to be – the true stars of the GOP are jowl-flapping  Lindbaugh, crying Beck, and fatuous Sarah Palin.  Yes, they’re fun and entertaining, but but only a fringy could love them.  

All in all, American politics have entered into a strange, bizarro world where the rate of Democratic self-distruction is being outpaced by self-emulation of the GOP.  Don’t look for a Republican resurgence this fall. 

Jim from the Abyss.

Ahhh, those exhilerating, exuberant days of the cold war – those days when we were MAD.  Remember MAD – Mutual Assured Distruction?  The theory was very simple.  If each side (the USA and the USSR)  had the ability to destroy the other after a “first strike, nuclear war wouldn’t happen – to destroy the enemy was to destroy one’s self and that was MAD.  Tactical warfare was equally unlikely because it would quickly escalate – again nuclear war and …mutual assured destruction.  Pretty slick when you think about it, and it seemed to work.    

Our Senators, towering paragons of wisdom and selflessness that they are, have invented their own version of MAD – the New Filibuster.  Back in the days of the original MAD, a simple majority ruled the day and the filibuster was used as a tactical weapon.  Strom Thurmond, the champion filibusterer, wielded  this weapon for 24 hrs. and 18 minutes in oppostion to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.  This is a record even today.  But after his long rant about bicuit recipes and the like, things moved on – majority rule reasserted itself, there was a vote, and the of the civil rights bill passed.  But now our senators have mutated our filibuster into a more modern version, the New Filibuster.  The New Filibuster could better be term the “No-Need-to-Filibuster.”  Legislative action is brought a screeching halt if  there are not enough votes to stop a filibuster – “cloture” – a super-majority to stop debate, now-a-days, 60%.   

This is the Senate’s version of MAD.   Like the original MAD, the new filibuster is intended to stop action, and like the original MAD, it has been effective.  Imagine, Strom’s day-long filibuster – the new filibuster can go one for months without effort.  This has had a devastating effect on democracy and majority rule.   Unlike war, legislative action is a desired outcome; it is the means by which our society collectively responds to the issues and problems of the day.  I’m sure many would disagree with this statement – they would contend that inaction is the desireable outcome.  Why is this the case; why is it that the wonderful, cherished form of government that we boast so much about, is also held in such disdain?  Is it not so much action that we fear, but the tripe that Congress produces?  Our cherished legislative institution is not performing as it should.  Rather than taking definitive and sensible action, at best it is passes unworkable and self-defeating nonsense when finally does act.  Instead of making horses when we need horses, it is giving us camels (horses made by a committee, in this case a deadlocked one).  The health care debate is a timely example.   There are many ways that we could spend less than we are currently spending and still assure that all our citizens have access to adequate health care (and still maintaining a close working relationship between individuals and their chosen private, for-profit health care practicioners).  But instead of addressing the problem rationally and head on, we are going to end up (at best) with a half-baked bill.  Yes, if the current legislation is passed, it will bring access to health care to millions of Americans, but it will be unnecessarily expensive and cumbersome…it will perpetuate a wasteful, inefficient “system,” and it will accelerate the already rapid growth in health care costs.      

 While the common people languish, the ruling duopoly in the Senate (the Democrat and Republican office holders) is awash with benefits from mechanisms such as the new filibuster.  Inaction is safe, especially when its causes are ambiguous – who is responsible for insipid outcomes – intransgent right or left wingers – individual hold outs?   Take a look at the current crisis in our financial system.  Senators may pound their chests in outrage (Frank…Dodd?) at the excesses of the financial industry, but don’t they find this easy to do when they know that nothing will come of it.  Is not inaction and stalemate a cover, does it not  ignore the needs of the country and its citizens and leave the field open for the big interests?  Is it any wonder that these interests payoff  Republican and Democrat alike no matter where they stand on the issues?  The duopoly and their handlers both know that the rhetoric is necessary, it convinces the populous is looking out for them…and this is very convenient when it is mere idle babble.  

The new filibuster is only one of the mechanisms of congressional inaction, but is one of the easiest to rectify.  Simply restore the good old fashion filibuster by filibuster.  Allow opponents to a bill filibuster – let them read the entirety of the Fanny Farmer if there are not enough votes for cloture.  At least put-up-or-shut-up is straight up and honest;  it is out in the open and it deters double talk and hipocrisy.  Although the old filibuster could go on forever, it has a built in accountability that makes it time limited.  Look what happened the last time a party shut down government!

Jim from the Abyss

A debilitating polarity grips American politics.  This is not merely the bitter paritsanism that dominates Washington D.C., the media, and the US hinterland.  Rather, it’s a polarity of ideas – a barren chasm of thought separating “yes – no,” “either this or that,” – “black -white.”  Nowadays it is actually considered sissy to think before expressing an opinion.  Rather than tools of analysis, information and data are now carefully selected in order to support  un-nuanced positions no matter how complex the issue.  Sadly, we have lost “maybe” – “neither” – “both.”  We have become a nation of cowboy thinkers, shooting from the hip, and embarrassingly, hitting ourselves in the foot.  

This polarity is bringing us down.  If the USA is the nation of exceptionalism, it is rapidly becoming exceptional in ways for which we should not be proud.  Our wealth is more maldistributed than any of our developed peers; in this regard; instead we are similar to such nations as Cuba and Iran.  We are falling behind our peers in education.  On average we die about 4 and a half years sooner than the longest lived nations, and we are sliding backwards.  We now rank forty-fifth in infant mortality (out of 224 political entities – the CIA World Fact-book), and yes, here too, Cuba beats us out.   We have the lowest tax rate of any industrialized nation, and yet we whine about exorbitant taxes.  The size of our middle class is shrinking, size of those in poverty is growing – the percent of those owning homes lags behind others.  We spend a larger percent of our GNP on health care than do others while leaving a large population without access (unlike our developed peers).   We kill more people (relative to population), rape more people, and rob more people than others.  We are not even the most free (according to a UN measure).

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully, it is sufficient to make a point.  Our exceptionalism does not mean that the USA remains the shining beacon for all to emulate – the best.  This is especially true regarding our quality of life.  This is shameful for a country as wealthy and powerful as ours.  We are moving toward third world status, and if we opt for the pablum of “yes or no,” we are going to get there quickly.                 

Why have we abandoned responsible analysis and thought?  Why have we gravitated toward trivial answers based on hackneyed formulas?  Is it mental laziness?  Is it that our attention spans have shortened?  Is it that we teach rote memorization rather than analytical thought in our schools?  Is it that the news media is now inhabited by soporific, boffo propagandizers putting forth extreme points of view.  No doubt, it is for all of these reasons, and many more.  But lurking in the background is are structural causes that makes it inevitable that we will be polarized.  It is built in the nature of our democracy.  Consider:

  1. We have a two party system.  With few exceptions, our choices are black or white – either this or that.  Rarely do we think in terms of neither this nor that.   2. Our participation in a polarized politics does not stop with voting; we are members of one of our two parties.  Instead of citizens selecting and evaluating our elected leaders, we are mere subjects – blind pawns supporting the interests of our “superiors.”  Thus it is our role to act rather than think.   
  2. We have an either this or that, winner-take-all  political apparatus.  No matter how close the vote count – a president appoints a cabinet and dictates policy.  No matter how balanced the congress, the party with majority gets all committee chairmanships and a majority of committee members.  In our recent close elections, does either party have such a mandate to wield such power – should the opinions of 49.99999% of the population be ignored?   
  3. In reality, our democracy is a power-sharing arrangement.  “Who are you going to vote for?”  the answer “neither one!” is an anathema to the Democrat/Republican “duopoly.”  Yes, there is often bitter contest between the two members of this duopoly, but it is not in the interest of either to render the other a killing blow.  Evidence of this can be found in our electoral system: 
  • We are offered choice, and at times, these choices appear to be extreme, however, in the end, there is little difference in the policies that are actually enacted. 
  • With few exceptions, moneyed interests pour massive dollars in the campaign coffers of both parties irrespective of their “position.”   The destruction of the Howard Dean 2004 candidacy was not motivated by his “scream” (in reality, a reasonable reaction to an embarrassing loss that was transformed by sound technicians and editorializers), but because he was not beholden to the moneyed interests (his campaign was funded by small, citizen donations).       
  • There is an emphasis on the support of an in-group (incumbents) in the way elections are structured – no incumbent of the Republican/Democratic Duopoly is forced to face another.
  • We simply have no place for a third party – when one does emerge, the needed absolute majority becomes the need for a mere plurality.   Since 1872, plurality presidents were elected in 1880 – 1892, 1912 (Wilson), 1976 (Carter), 1992 (Clinton), and 2000 (G. W. Bush).  All were member of the duopoly.
  • When new power blocks emerge, they are incorporated into the two party system through gerrymandered districting or some other device.  This process is co-optation rather than integation ration.  For example, for years, African-Americans felt compelled to chose the lesser of two evils (the Democrats) in spite of receiving little from either party.   
  • There are high barriers to entry (into electoral politics).  Campaigns are expensive .  It is a bad investment to back a likely loser.  and outsider.  thus, there are very high “barriers to entry.”   When a third party does emerge, it is virtually ignored – a mere plurality of voters select the winner.  Thus, voting for a third party is a “wasted vote.”  Thus,  

It is little wonder that the USA is punging toward third-world status.  This slide will continue (toward the Abyss) as long is “citizens” continue to serve as foot soldiers marching to the tune of emotive, meaningless, hackneyed  mantras broadcast by glib assholes.

From the Abyss,

Jim

Yesterday (Dec. 6), a remarkable thing happened in Bolivia; Evo Morales won a second term as president!  Barak Obama shapes his presidency on the study of the successes and failures of previous presidents – he could learn a lot from the man from the Andes.

Speaking of one his misadventures, Michael Tyson once said that he was being sent to “Bolivian.”  Humorous?  There’s more to it than you might think; for most, “Bolivian” and “oblivian” are essentially the same – Bolivia  is virtually unknown.  When I trucked off to Bolivia in 1960s (as a Peace Corps Volunteer), few in my family knew where the country was – many thought it was in Africa.  Today, Bolivia’s place in most’s consciousness is not much different – it’s a poor country where women wear bowler hats, where there are lots of llamas, where the capital, La Paz, is “really high up”…and where there’s a really high altitude lake.  

But there’s more going on there than you might think, and it’s something that President Obama should learn.  Evo Morales, the current president, is something of a political oddity.  He’s an Aymara, one of the two major indigenous groups in Bolivia – he’s the son of a llama herder – he’s never attended from high school – and instead of a three-piece, look-important-suit, he wears a sweater.   Funny, humerous, cool – quaint?  Neither the Bolivian elite nor their foreign cronies think so.  They would tell you there’s a dark side to this romantic tale.   He’s a socialist; he’s the head of a political party called the Movement toward Socialism (MAS); he’s a friend of Hugo Chaves and Fidel Castro; and before becoming president, he was the head of the coca grower’s union!   More alarmingly, importantly, he taken bold action in behalof of the vast sea of forgotten poor living in his country.  For example, he’s renegotiated deals for Bolivia’s reserves of natural gas.  This has resulted in a huge new infusion of cash in the national coffers.  For once, the Bolivian masses have benefitted from the country’s natural riches instead of a cabal of rich, domestic and foreign ruling elite that has sucked the wealth out of the country for centuries.  Naturally, that elite doesn’t like this.  Another example, he’s redistributed lands in the eastern low lands.  This has given landless poor more than hope, it’s given them actual meaningful change.  Lo, more enemies – more of the elite being tweeked.  

Morales’ first election was as unique an event in Bolivian history as was Obama’s in the USA.  After all, he became the country’s first Indian president.  But it was a near-unique event because he elected by an actual majority.  Bolivia has a multiparty system on steroids.  There, there is an incomprehensible morass of parties, coalitions, and candidates involved in every election.  This has served the ruling elite well.  It has enabled them to maintain their power.  It has worked like this:  Usually, the three leading presidential contenders receive between 20% to 30% of the vote.  With no outright majority,  the decision goes over to the congress.  It’s there that the elite work their magic; they select the next president behind closed doors.  Not surprisingly, such a president is weak, such a president is one of their own.  

But this is where the story begins to sound more familiar.  The ” ” that held power before Morales’ first victory left the country in shambles – the selected presidential resigned and was followed quickly by his successor.  The third limped through what was left of the term.  Tired of hearing ephemeral promises and receiving mountainous dung heaps of disappointment, they turned to a loud, confrontational outsider.   Morales offered hope and change, but could he deliver…would he deliver?  He was wasn’t the run of the mill politician; maybe he meant what he said – maybe he could and would follow through.  Besides, where’s the loss if he didn’t? – things would merely stay the same.   Thus, Morales won his first electoral majority.   And this is where the learning should begin:  Morales did deliver.  This wasn’t easy.  Morales’ agenda was  clearly socialistic – it was enough to give your average neo-con (woops, neo-cons are never average) apoplexy, and his party did not control the Senate.  His opposition mounted a whithering attach.  There were threats of secession from the low lands, calls for his resignation, a national referendum contesting his rule.  But Morales stuck to his guns.  The man from the Andes knew that you can’t make substantial structural economic and political change by making nice to the beneficiaries of very structure you’re trying to change.  In spite of continued threats to his administration, Morales did not attempt to finesse the opposition.  Eschewing meaningless change, he persisted.  His bold actions were rewarded – the threats were repelled by the growing support of the populous – so much so, that in the current election he received 61% of the vote.  Even in the lowlands his popularity is growing.  His party now has a strong majority in both houses of the Bolivian Congress. 

In spite of his lack of formal education, Morales has shown wisdom and acumen – whatever the promises and rhetoric, people desert wishy-washy leadership.  I’m sure the Democrats would not be losing ground to such an unpopular opposition if Obama showed some leadership.  We need real, honest to goodness health care reform, and the last time I looked the Senate needs only a simple majority to pass legislation.  Yes, yes, I know – there’s the fillibuster, and there’s weapy-whiny Liberman and his ilk.  The fillibuster is an idle threat; looked at what happened the last time the Republicans shut down government.  Clinton won not by backing down, but by standing firm.  Meaningless legislation is not change even if the process is less contentious (which it isn’t) – it’s simply business as usual wrapped in another guise.  And while you’re at it, put some fresh, outside thinking in your economic team; hiring only Wall Street insiders to change the way Wall Street works, is absurd.  Cojones, Obama, cojones!

Jim from the Abyss.

Many Americans take pride in “American Exceptionalism,” the idea that their country is unique and in some way special.  In many respects, this notion is true; the United States doesn’t seem to fit the norm.  However, is this good or bad?  Should it be a source of jingoistic pride, or does it mean that there is work to do?  Here, one aspect of American Exceptionalism is explored.  The United States is a wealthy country, but to what extent do all citizens share in this wealth?  How does this distribution compare with that of its other developed, western peers?  Where does it fit among the nations of the world?  What can be expected in the future – i.e. where is the nation heading with regard the distribution of wealth?  That is, this the middle class growing as the poor increasingly share in the American dream…or are fewer and fewer gobbling up more and more?

One common way to look at the distribution of wealth is through a statistic called the Gini Coefficient.  A short discussion of the coefficient can be found at the end of this article, and more extensive discussions of it can be found in Wikipaedia or a number of other web sites easily found through a Google search.  Suffice it here, the coefficient measures how wealth is distributed in society.  It consists of a decimal value ranging for zero (0) to one (1).  The smaller the value, the more evenly wealth is distributed.  A gini coefficient of zero (0) indicates a society where all are equal – no rich or poor.  As the coefficient rises toward one (1), more and more wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.  Zero (0) – utopian state, one (1) greedy gus gone wild.  For practical purposes, gini coefficients range from .230 (Sweden, the nation with the most equitable distribution of wealth) to .707 (Namibia, the nation where wealth in most maldistributed).

 

So how does the USA fare?  Not well – it ranks 91th among the 134 nations included in the CIA World Factbook. (Illustration I provides a sampling of nations ordered by gini coefficient – the complete world Factbook list is located at http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rankorder/2172rank.html.)  In itself, this does not make the USA exceptional and it provides no indication Nations1of the nature of this exceptionalism should it exist.  One must dig a little deeper to explore these issues.  The poor of all developed, “western” countires possess more of their society’s wealth than do those of the USA.  Consider: Sweden – .23; Denmark – .24; Norway and Iceland – .25; Luxembourg and Austria – .26; Germany – .27; Belgium – .28; Finland – .30; Australia and the Netherlands – .31; Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Canada – .32; France – 33; Switzerland and the UK – .34, New Zealand – .36; Japan – .38.  And the USA? – a dismal .45.   Unlike the countries we look to as peers, our actual peers are third world countires.  Jamaica, Uruguay, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, and Iran are our closest neighbors (all rounded to .45).  Other of these less developed countries score much better than we do – i.e. Yemen (.38), Laos (.35), Egypt (.34), Mongolia (.33), Pakistan (.31),  Ethiopia (.30), and Albania (.27).

 

USAHIS1

Additional data suggests that the maldistribution of wealth in the USA is growing more extreme.  Illustration II presents a historical series of US gini coefficient scores spanning the 61 years starting in 1947 and ending in 2007.  The chart indicates that wealth became more evenly spread across society through the first two decades following the second world war.  Since that time, more and more of the nation’s wealth has ended up in fewer and fewer hands.

In summary, this suggests that the USA is exceptional.  However, it is not an exceptionalism to be proud of.  We are a first-world country with a third-world pattern of wealth distribution.  Furthermore, it tells us that we are becoming a two class society – the rich are getting richer relative to the poor; meanwhile,  the  middle class is shrinking.  A study by the US Department of Labor raises the alarm about this trend.  It suggests that the pattern of wealth distribution is approaching that of Mexico and will be statistically equally by 2043  (http://www.sustainablemiddleclass.com/Gini-Coefficient.html).  Recent data suggests that this will happen much sooner.

What does all this imply politically and regarding public policy?   The pattern of changing wealth distribution does not reveal partisan differences.  Eight years of Republican and twelve years of Democratic administrations presided over the twenty-year era of diminishing disparity.  Economic equality has diminished steady during the following forty years, i.e. through the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations.  The largest one-year decline was experienced during the Clinton presidency.  It would seem, then, that the poor and middle class need to analyze any redistributive government action more wisely than in the past.  It doesn’t matter who is supporting or opposing it.  The habitual sales-pitch “lower taxes” appears to be a mere deception – the question needs to be asked, is “how much is this tax break going to cost me?”  For example, are the few dollars saved in a “tax holiday” worth more than the rising cost of college education, or disadvantages our children will experience from a poorer quality of education?  But the issue is not restricted to government – private enterprise and the “market” have played a role in the growing disparity.  Should executives receive huge bonuses for failure (irrespective of whether they receive government bailouts or not)?  Should they be rewarded for eliminating jobs, disrupting communities, and ruining families?  Should sports figures pull in huge salaries when the majority of kids can’t afford to attend games?  Are Corn Flakes really worth $4 a box?  Hell no to all of this!

From the Abyss,

Jim

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Gini1

The Gini Coefficient: Imagine everyone in a society forming a line arranged by their wealth, starting with the poorest and ending with the richest.  If the value of the first person’s (the poorest) wealth is placed on a bar chart, and then the second bar is included representing the second person’s wealth stacked atop the first, and so on until the value of the last person’s (the richest) wealth is stacked on the wealth of all others, a curve will be created (called a Lorenz Curve – which I won’t mention here!).  This line depicts the distribution of wealth within the society.  When the line forms a diagonal running straight from the first bar to the last the society, it represents a society in which all people are economically equal (the line of “Perfect Distribution” in the Illustration III.  However, wealth is never equally distributed; some will have less while others have more.  Invariably then, the line representing  the actual economic distribution of a society will sag (the line of “Actual Distribution” in the Illustration).  The more it sags, the greater the economic disparity.  The gini coefficient is the area of A divided by the total of areas A and B.

 

Why is it that senators and representatives vote on legislation when they have a conflict of interest?  It is not an alien concept – Judges recuse themselves from cases when conflicted – lawyers don’t take cases when conflicted – therapists and brokers are concerned with the issue – and on and on and on.  But our Congressmen cavalierly accept millions of dollars every year from interest groups who are trying to buy legislation.  Is it a surprise, then,  that there is little public confidence in Congress?  The Roper Poll conducted between October 1-5 (2009) finds that only 33% of those polled approve of the way Congress is doing its job – 64% disapproved.  The Gallop Poll of October 1 – 4 finds the public even more disatisfied – 21% approve, 72% disapprove.  The outbusts and threats that occurred during this summer’s town hall meetings supports the notion that confidence in our political institutions is lacking (at least, among a sizable minority). 

This is a serious problem.  Democratic government (in particular) can only operate with the confidence and acquiescence of those governed.  This does not mean that everyone must agree with what government is doing – an effective democracy depends on informed debate and honest dissent.  But citizens must respect the principles by which the policies are derived – e.g. majority rule and representative democracy…  Make no mistake, the more violent and threatening behavior exhibited this summer may have been directed at individuals, but it demonstrates a growing lack of confidence in our institutions.  Shamefully for all of us, many elected officlals encouraged this behavior either openly, by their silence, or through tongue-in-cheek disapproval.  Democracy is not a lazy man’s game, it’s not for the sqeamish, and not a spectator sport, but it does have rules, and mob rule is not one of them.  

However, there is good reason for the citizenry’s declining confidence; there is growing doubt that government puts their welfare before that of special interests.  Consider the insurance industry’s effort to influence health care reform.  Since the 1990 election cycle (1989-90), the industry has pumped one-third of a billion dollars in the campaign coffers of those running for Congress (and this only one interest group with a stake in health care).  As almost every Congressman, no matter which party, receives some of it, it is difficult to explain how this huge outlay of money is directly transformed into favorable votes.  And yet, these contributions must have some affect.  Why would there be such contributions be made if it were otherwise?  And the amount of money involved suggests that the return is large.  Thus, the motives behind the those voting for or against any legislation must be questioned.  What is most influential, the needs and desires of the citizenry or that of an interest group of one kind or another. 

There is something legislators can easily do to rehabilitate their standing in the eyes of the public; they can exclude themselves from votes on legislation if they’ve received contributions from organizations (corporate or otherwise) having an interest in that legislation.  This seems a simple remedy, but it would have a profound effect on the way the political process works.  Congressmen, legislative aids, party or campaign officials, and interest groups would oppose it vehemently.  They would argue:  “Special interests insist on giving us money – don’t they have a right to be heard?”  Of course they do – their members can vote like the rest of us, can’t they?  Besides, this is not about special interests; it’s about you, Congressman!  “Absurd, special interests wouldn’t make contributions – there’d be no incentive.  How would we run our campaigns?  They’re long and expensive, you know.”  Yes, they’re too long and too expensive.  Make them shorter and cheaper, maybe then you could spend time legislating rather than raising money on a continuous basis.  “But everyone takes the money.  There’d be no one to vote if we restricted voting, the legislative process would grind to a halt.”  Yes, that’s true – as long as you continue taking money.  “Why…why, there’d be a complete change the legislative process!”  Right, that’s the point.

So the ball is in your court, you guardians of the public trust.  But remember, democracies have many ways to remedy runaway, improper behavior – if you can’t police yourselves, maybe the citizenry will have to do it for you.  

From the Abyss,

Jim

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