Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why Are Conservatives Targeting Muslims? And Why Now? ANS

Here is Sara Robinson's latest.  It's on why the Conservatives made such a big deal out of the Muslim Community Center two and a half blocks from Ground Zero.  Some interesting stuff on how Conservatives think: The Devil is really more important than God....
Find it here:  

Why Are Conservatives Targeting Muslims? And Why Now?

Sara Robinson's picture

By Sara Robinson

September 23, 2010 - 3:26pm ET

Now that the so-called Ground Zero Mosque controversy is slipping off the front pages for the first time in weeks, it's time to ask: Just what the hell was all that about, anyway? Why was it so important that we had to spend all that time discussing it? And why are the conservatives taking out after the Muslim community now -- nine full years after 9/11?

By now, it's pretty obvious that this was never really about sacred ground or respecting the memories of the dead. What it was really about was the future of the conservative movement.

Where Have All The Bad Guys Gone?
Conservatives can do without a God, but they can�t get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who�s out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they�ll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up).

Unfortunately, the past couple of decades have been rough for them on this front. Losing the Communists as the Bad Guys left a big gap in the conservative cosmology, which they've been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to fill ever since. This void has driven them crazy, forcing them to reveal their inner ugliness in all kinds of ways as they thrash around looking for some likely replacement. The longer this goes on, the more of that ugliness we've all seen -- and the less coherent their politics have become.

They had some luck early on with gays. But that target had one serious flaw. If you're going to go to all the trouble of conjuring yourself a major existential demon, you want one people can hate on with unfettered abandon for at least a couple of decades to come. The biggest threat to that goal is familiarity: it's nearly impossible to sustain the necessary level of fear when members of the feared group are living on your own street (or can be seen regularly on your own TV), where you're forced to deal with them as actual human beings. It's a question of ROI: you don't want to invest all that effort in a creating a target, only to have people figure out within just a few years that you were flat-out lying about how awful those people are. In the end, hating on gays turned out to be nothing but a big fat credibility hit, which they're still paying for.

Hating on Latinos seemed promising for a while; but it's fizzling out, too. Even the most rageaholic right-wingers now realize that the GOP has no future if conservatives don't knock off that crap, preferably 15 years ago. You've got a rising Millennial generation that's 44% minority -- a plurality of it Latino -- that will probably not be voting Republican in their lifetimes due to this new New Southern Strategy. So that's not going to work, either.

For a couple of years around 2008-2009, they tried to ratchet up the liberal-hating. The proximity problem made liberals a bad target from the get. But on top of that, there was a scary rash of nutjobs who didn't get the memo that this was all just political noisemaking, and the "liberals are a mortal threat to the nation" exhortation wasn't meant to be taken as a literal call to arms. In less than a year, over a dozen people were murdered in cold blood as a direct result of this hatemongering; and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bernard Goldberg, and Bill O'Reilly were all put in the uncomfortable position of telling people that they didn't mean for their blustering eliminationist screeds to be taken seriously. Given the choice between dialing down the liberal-bashing or acknowledging the blood on their hands, they picked the obvious alternative.

All this leaves the conservatives right back where they were in 1990 -- still flailing around trying to find their next scapegoat. And at this stage, there's nobody really left to pick on but the Muslims. They've got all the perfect attributes for a solid long-term enemy: brown, Not Like Us, we've actually been in a war with some of them, and they're mostly so far away that it's unlikely that any red-blooded conservative will ever actually have to acknowledge one as a fellow human being. Apart from the messy downsides like war, debt, world approbation, continued terror, and so on, the right wing is starting to see the Muslim Threat as potentially the best thing that's happened to them since the Communists.

"Teachable Moments" -- Conservative Style
Having identified such a great potential target, the next logical step was to whip up public outrage and give people emotionally satisfying reasons to adopt this group as a worthy object of hate. Fortunately for the right wing, conservative PR folks have made an art form out of creating calculated, protracted media crises that drag on for weeks, during which they get to suck up all the news time and create "teachable moments" that put some new agenda item on dramatic public display.

Take two past examples: Terry Schiavo and the Minutemen. Both were ginned-up controversies carefully designed to create a public crisis around a new right-wing political initiative. The goal in both cases was to create a public outcry that someone in a back room somewhere hoped would galvanize the nation into mass political action.

Sometimes this works; sometimes, it doesn't. Schiavo was a spectacular failure. Americans of all persuasions took one look at that situation and recoiled: it turned out nobody in the country wanted Congress and/or the Southern Baptists making their end-of-life decisions for them. But the Minutemen's summer campouts on the border succeeded in bringing immigration and border security to the front burner, ultimately feeding into the militancy of the Tea Party and leading to the building of the border wall.

And that's what the Ground Zero Mosque tantrum was -- yet another conservative PR confection designed to put a new boogeyman on the public agenda. (And the media, as usual, went right after the fake throw -- again. My dog is too smart for that trick, but our corporate media can be counted on to go for it every time.) The right wing has put us on notice that after nine years, they've abandoned Bush-era restraint where Islam is concerned, and are now declaring the entire Muslim world to be the new Devil who will fill that yawning void at the center of their cosmology.

As a target, Muslims were just too tempting to resist any longer. They can be killed with impunity. They can be used to justify endless war. As a demon, they're likely to have tremendous staying power: after all, in the white, straight, Christian enclaves where most American conservatives live, Muslims are far rarer on the ground than even gays, Latinos, or liberals.

Fighting Back
It doesn't have to be this way, though. American Muslims (including our homegrown Black Muslims, who are collateral damage in all this) are strong and well-organized, and they're already fighting back. They're taking steps to define their faith in the public mind, rather than let conservatives do it for them; and to make themselves and their cultures more familiar to the average American. (This was, in fact, the ultimate goal of building a Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan in the first place.) The hate campaign can only last as long as most Americans don't know a few Muslims personally. The sooner that ignorance is fixed, the sooner this nonsense stops.

As progressives, we need to give them all the help we can, for two reasons. The first is that we have a clear moral obligation to step up and defend the civil rights of a group that's now been declared a high-profile public target. We've always done this, and history is calling on us to do it again. The media has moved on; but now that war has been declared, the conservative haters have their orders, and we'd be smart to expect more attacks on our Muslim neighbors, no matter where in the country we live.

But beyond that, if we can deprive the conservatives of this made-to-order boogeyman, we may be able to keep that void at the center of the conservative cosmos wide open -- thus forcing them to keep their essential meanness on full public display. Conservatism doesn't thrive in cultures where diversity is recognized, embraced, and celebrated. As long as we keep debunking their devils, we make it very hard for them to regroup politically and present themselves as sane.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Angry Rich ANS

Here is an article by Paul Krugman, from Andy Schmookler's site, None So Blind:  the comment before the article is from Andy.  It's about how odd it is that the rich are so angry about paying taxes. 
Find it here: 

The Angry Rich: Another Dazzling Krugman Polemic

Krugman does such a fine job. I nominate him for MVP.

Regarding this passage:

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their money, and they have the right to keep it. "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said Oliver Wendell Holmes ­ but that was a long time ago.

It would be nice also to know what has happened to explain how it is that "a long time ago" was so different from now in these ways.


The Angry Rich

by Paul Krugman
New York Times, September 19, 2010

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they're out for revenge.

No, I'm not talking about the Tea Partiers. I'm talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can't find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they'll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage ­ the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason ­ you won't find it among these suffering Americans. You'll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don't have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled "The Wail Of the 1%," it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts ­ will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? ­ the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.

For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It's one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It's another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, "anticolonialist" agenda, that "the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s." When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.

At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don't really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class ­ the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their money, and they have the right to keep it. "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said Oliver Wendell Holmes ­ but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world's luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It's partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it's also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain ­ feel it much more acutely, it's clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they'll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say "we," they mean "you." Sacrifice is for the little people.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fwd: Re: How Tax Brackets Work ANS

Hi everyone:   Here is an article one of our readers wrote in response to the article I sent to you titled: How Tax Brackets Work.  It's short. 
It is first published here, so no URL to refer you to.....

How Do Tax Brackets Really Work?
        by Bob Steiner
Let us look at the confusion about How Tax Brackets Work.  
When you learn the truth about the different interpretations, you will
understand that the analysis goes beyond mathematics and gets into politics.
In the article by Dave Johnson in the recent issue of this newsletter, we read:
        Suppose they say they are going to raise taxes on income above $250K.
        People seem to think that this means if you earn $250K plus a dollar,
        that you owe an additional tax on the entire $250K.  [I never met anybody
        who thought that.]
Back to Dave Johnson:
        Here is how it really works.   
        What happens is that the first $250K is taxed just like it has been,
        but that anything that is made over 250K -- and only the amount over 250K --
        is then taxed at the higher rate.  The tax on the amount below $250K is not
        Example: Suppose the tax increase is 5% on income over $250K.  That means
        that a person who reports income of $250K plus one dollar will be taxed an
        additional 5 cents.  FIVE CENTS! 
        Yes, that's right, if it is 5% they are talking about, it means a 5 cent
        increase on people who
make $250,001.
        Let me repeat that.  If you make $250,001, and they raise taxes 5% on people
        who make over $250K, then you will have to pay 5 cents more.  Five.
        F.I.V.E. C.E.N.T.S.  That is what people are so upset about.  5 cents.
Now, if you will pardon me, I shall leave politics and get back to arithmetic.
If you are Married Filing Jointly OR if you are Single (using tax rates for 2009),
if you have Taxable Income in the area above $250K, you are in the 33% bracket. 
If, starting at $250K they raise the tax bracket by 5% (per Dave Johnson's example),
your tax bracket will be 38%.  That is the present 33% plus the 5% as the raise
being discussed.  If your Taxable Income goes up just one dollar, that one
dollar is taxed at 38%.  Thus, if your taxable income goes up just one dollar, that
One Dollar will be taxed at 38%.  Your Income Tax Bracket has increased 5%,
but that additional taxable income will be increased to 38%.  And so, that extra
dollar will be taxed at 38% -- that's $.38 income tax on that one dollar additional
taxable income.
Now, if you want to take a survey of whether people believe that your
income tax went up just 5%, or 5 cents on each dollar,  or 38%, since
your tax bracket is 38%, which 38% is applied in full on your tax bracket
of more than $250K, it appears to matter little whether your survey subject
took higher mathematics.  The knowledge you need to guess at this
person's reply depends more on whether the person considers himself
or herself to be a Conservative or a Liberal.
I wish you all a happy, productive discussion with your friends.  And if you
truly want to cut down the tax rate, figure out how to stop having wars in
the world.
Happy, peaceful days and nights to all.
Bob Steiner

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Tax Brackets Work ANS

I just had to make sure you saw this one too.  Send it on to anyone who may not know how tax brackets work.  It's short, so read it!
Find it here:   

How Tax Brackets Work

Dave Johnson's picture

By Dave Johnson

September 24, 2010 - 3:19pm ET

by Dave Johnson | September 23, 2010

This discussion of whether to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the rich has been a learning experience. I have been listening on the radio and reading the comments at blogs. The main thing I am concluding is that people just do not understand how tax brackets work.

When people talk about raising taxes on people "who make more than" a certain income they really mean that they are going to raise it ONLY on the income that comes in after a certain income is received, not on the person't entire income.

Here is what I mean. Suppose they say they are going to raise taxes on incomes above $250K. People seem to think that this means if you earn $250K plus a dollar, that you owe an additional tax on the entire $250K. This is not correct. I actually hear stories about people who give away money, and do other things to avoid going "into a higher bracket" because they think they have to pay additional taxes on their entire earnings.

Here is how it really works. What happens is that the first $250K is taxed just like it has been, but anything that is made over $250K -- and only the amount over $250K -- is then taxed at the higher rate. The tax on the amount below $250K is not changed.

Example: Suppose the tax increase is 5% on income over $250K. This means that a person who reports income of $250K plus one dollar will be taxed an additional 5 cents. FIVE CENTS!

Yes, that's right, if it is 5% they are talking about then it means a 5 cent tax increase on people who make $250,001.

Let me repeat that. If you make $250,001, and they raise taxes 5% on people who make over $250K, then you will have to pay 5 cents more. Five cents. F.I.V.E. C.E.N.T.S. That is what people are so upset about. 5 cents.

If it is 5% a person making $260K might pay an additional $500. That's right, the proposed tax increase is approx. $42 a month on people making $260K, about $21,600 a month. Forty-four dollars out of twenty-one thousand. THIS is what all the right-wingers are screaming about. THIS is what all the Ayn Rand cultists are threatening to stop working over. THAT is how tax brackets work.

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Coming Home to America ANS

Here is a new article by Sara Robinson.  It's kindof personal, but it's also about America and how it looks when you've been somewhere else for seven years. 
Find it here:   

«« How Tax Brackets Work  | Blog Home House Committee Approves China Currency ...  »»

Coming Home to America

Sara Robinson's picture

By Sara Robinson

September 24, 2010 - 1:43pm ET

I haven't been blogging for the past few weeks because I was busy moving house. After nearly seven years in Canada, my husband and son and I packed up our things, and came home to the US. The decision was almost an accidental one -- it's a long and not very interesting story; suffice to say that there were family commitments involved -- but the upshot is that we're now at home in Bellingham, WA, a small college and farming town of 80,000 souls located 70 miles north of Seattle and just 20 miles south of the US/Canada border.

The move has given my son access to the high school of his dreams, and allowed my husband to accept a good job in Seattle. I'm exploring my new surroundings, getting back into the flow of American life.

I spent the first week back in low-grade culture shock. I couldn't figure out whether seven years immersed in the gentle waves of Canadian Nice had softened my hide, or Americans really had gotten that much rougher and meaner to each other while I was gone. Every time I went into town, I heard people grousing at each other -- and sometimes, at me. Female bloggers don't last long in the business unless they have a pretty thick hide to start with; but it was becoming clear that mine was going to need to get even thicker, or else I was going to have to stop going out altogether.

Other friends who've lived abroad for a while and then returned to the US reassured me that this is a common reaction to coming home. America really is a socially much rougher, more competitive, and less forgiving place than Europe, Latin America, or much of the rest of the world. But we don't really realize it until we step outside of that for a while and then step back into it. It's like being doused with a bucket of ice water.

Happily, living in Canada taught me some new strategies for dealing with this. I'd never seen niceness used as an offensive weapon until I moved north of the border. Whenever I'd get my prickly American red-headed let-me-talk-to-your-supervisor sass on, they'd just outnice me until I felt like a pluperfect idiot. The more obstreperous you get, the nicer Canadians get (and they're just soooo sorry you're having such a bad day), until it's obvious even to you who the problem person in this conversation is. I was caught by this a couple of times before I made it my business to learn the trick rather than be trapped by it.

Turns out that this is a great way to deal with grouchy people here, too -- this tactic just confuses the hell out of Americans.

Another area of adjustment is the sheer quantity of stuff that's available to Americans. Canada, at just 34 million souls, is a smaller marketplace than California, so it doesn't have the same intensively-cultivated consumer culture the US does. Shopping isn't as big a focus there, largely because there simply isn't anything like the huge selection of stuff that's available here, even in a middling-sized town like Bellingham. As we settle in, I find I'm spending a couple hours a day just shopping for things. Some of this is normal when you're trying to outfit a new home, but I'd forgotten just how cheap and easy to get things are, and how seductively overwhelming American-style consumerism can be.

On the upside, I appear to have landed in a locavore's paradise. The greenies in town have provided a thriving market for the family farmers, who have obliged them by going organic and/or converting to CSAs by the dozen. This has been going on for over 20 years, creating a foodshed that's so robust that you can eat a rich and varied 50-mile diet here eight months out of the year. I can get fruits and vegetables, every kind of meat and dairy product, fresh fish from Puget Sound, and even household cleaners and wooly winter socks entirely made by local hands. (One of the goat cheese makers produces a sweet, light chevre that's literally entered my dreams.) There's a huge food co-op, a nearly year-round farmer's market that's a weekly all-city event, two local grocery chains that pride themselves on selling local food, and the aforementioned CSAs. What there isn't is a Whole Foods -- who needs them, when you've got all this?

The lively resilience movement here has important political implications, too. It's forged a partnership between the deeply conservative Dutch farmers out in the countryside (where the Tea Party is huge), and the big in-town progressive community that's anchored by the university. The townfolk support the family farms; in return, the farmers manage the land in sustainable ways, and get to keep farming like their grandfathers did. Food is the place where everybody's interests align, regardless of their politics. At the end of the day -- despite the grousing at each other downtown -- we're all eating from the same dinner table, teaching each other long-lost homely skills, and forming community almost in spite of ourselves.

If America ever comes back together as a nation, this is one way it might happen: one town, one farmer's market, one table at a time. Right or left, the interconnections between us become undeniably obvious when we're working together to make our shared local environment sustainable and resilient for the long haul. And those connections may, in time, help us learn to trust each other enough to begin to govern together again.

Living in Canada was an adventure -- and there's a real possibility we'll be going back in a couple of years -- but for now, my life is here. America has its troubles, and the future looks hard and rocky; but (as my Canadian neighbors will be the first to tell you), you can take the girl out of America, but you can't ever take America out of the girl.

It's good to be home.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taxing My Patience ANS

Find this article on Slate: it's about those Bush tax cuts that are about to expire and some of the shenanigans going on about them.
Find it here:  

Taxing My Patience

Five points to keep in mind as Congress debates the Bush tax cuts.

By Daniel Gross     Posted Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010, at 4:57 PM ET

George W. Bush. Will the Bush tax cuts expire?Here are five things you need to know about the debate over extending the temporary tax cuts Congress passed almost a decade ago. (For those of you who haven't been paying attention in class, these are known as "the Bush tax cuts" because they were passed at the former president's urging, and if Congress does nothing, they will expire at the end of the year.)

1) All the representatives and senators who voted for the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 also voted for their expiration. That's how they were designed.

2) The tax cuts could have been made permanent or extended at some point before now. Alternatively, the folks who ran fiscal policy from 2001 through 2008­the Republican White House and a Congress that was controlled for most of that period by Republicans­could have created the conditions that would have made it possible to extend the tax cuts or make them permanent. But they didn't. Instead of running balanced budgets, they appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars to fight two wars, created an expensive, open-ended entitlement without a funding mechanism (Medicare prescription drug coverage), and increased discretionary spending. Oh, and their failures of oversight, regulation, and management led to expensive, deficit-enhancing bailouts.

3) Many Republicans and some Democrats have spent much of the last year warning (falsely, it turns out) that the large deficits we face this year and in coming years would cause inflation, result in high interest rates, and turn us into indentured servants to China. Now, the same folks are arguing for … even-larger short-term deficits that somehow won't have all those ill effects. President Obama's proposal to extend the tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 per year will add $3.2 trillion to the debt. But as the Congressional Budget Office noted, extending them all will add $3.9 trillion in debt. Now, advocating tax cuts without specifying spending cuts (and, no, John Boehner, saying you want to roll back spending to 2008 levels doesn't count) means you're advocating a huge increase in new debt creation. It's sad to say, but it's nearly impossible to find a Democrat or Republican who can speak seriously about how we can align revenues with expenditures. (And, no, Rep. Paul Ryan, your much-discussed "road map" doesn't count, since it cuts taxes on the rich but doesn't lower deficits over the long term.)

4) The bold and confident assertions made about the links between tax rates and economic growth, market performance, and prosperity are almost certainly wrong. Turn on CNBC or look at the Wall Street Journal op-ed page these days, and you'll learn that we must keep tax rates on capital gains, dividends, and income precisely where they are because shifting them to different levels will retard economic growth. Keep this in mind: The people who designed the current, unsustainable tax system promised us that lower marginal rates, and lower taxes on capital and dividends, would boost the economy, promote investment, create jobs, spur market performance, and raise everybody's income. They were wrong. (It's no coincidence that these same people also warned us that raising taxes in 1993 would kill market returns and the economy. They were wrong then, too. They're pretty much always wrong.) As I've pointed out, the years under the current tax regime have been a lost decade. Pick your metric­median income, employment, stock market returns, economic growth­the low-tax '00s sucked. Yet proponents of keeping the tax cuts persist in making the argument: To avoid a repeat of the past decade, we must have the exact same tax policies as we did for the past decade.

5) Stopping all the tax cuts from expiring requires the passage of legislation. But the people who most want all the tax cuts extended­i.e., Republicans­don't have the ability to enact legislation. They don't control a majority in either legislative body, and for the past two years they've proved successful only at stopping or delaying legislation.

The upshot is this: If you're in the $250,000-per-year-and-up camp, even if you don't think you're rich, I'd start planning to pay higher taxes next year. But I wouldn't discount the scenario of all the tax cuts expiring. Look at what happened with the estate tax, another sop to the rich. In a bizarre turn of events, it was designed to decline throughout the decade, disappear entirely in 2010, and then return at a much higher level in 2011. Rather than compromise with Democrats on a permanent reduction that would leave lots of people better off but still require the richest of the rich to payer higher taxes, Republicans held out for a maximalist, all-or-nothing approach. They ended up with nothing. History may not repeat, but it sometimes rhymes.

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Economics vs. Fakeonomics ANS

Here is an article on economic theory and how the whole country has been bamboozled by lies about how it works. 
Find it here:  

Ian Fletcher

Ian Fletcher

Adjunct Fellow at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Business and Industry Council
Posted: September 16, 2010 07:45 PM


Economics vs. Fakeonomics

We skeptics of free trade are used to being told, "You don't understand economics." In fact, one major reason I wrote the book Free Trade Doesn't Work was simply to expose, once and for all, that there do exist extremely serious and intellectually reputable arguments, within the confines of accepted mainstream economics, which question free trade. And indeed they exist.

But I've noticed something. We skeptics are often not really struggling against real economics at all. When I pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal, or Forbes, or the New York Times, or turn on Fox TV or MSNBC, or read papers issued by the libertarian Cato Institute or the Peterson Institute for International Economics, I don't even find economic arguments. I find a mischievous substitute for economics we can call "fakeonomics."

What is fakeonomics? It sounds like economics to the uninitiated. It uses the same language, addresses the same issues and fills the same logical hole in the national policy discourse. Most people can't tell the difference. But fakeonomics is not the real thing.

How is fakeonomics fake? It tells a story that goes something like this...

• Free markets are always right, always and everywhere.

• Anyone who doesn't believe this is stupid. Smart people not only understand that free markets are best, they like free markets, because free markets mean opportunities to get rich.

• Or maybe they're corrupt. The opposite of free markets is government. Government is always incompetent. It never does anything right. Ever.

• Or maybe they're evil. Anyone who doesn't believe in perfectly free markets is a Marxist wannabe or a loser jealous of more-successful people.

• Free trade is just free markets applied internationally.

• Therefore all smart, good, successful people must believe in free trade.

Unfortunately, fakeonomics is at best a crude parody of economics. It is often larded with a thick layer of moral hectoring, courtesy of a certain variety of the American Right which seems to think that economics is its exclusive property, a stick given it by God to beat liberals with. There is even a whole class of people, known as "libertarians" who elevate fakeonomics to the level of an all-encompassing moral ideology. (Their fundamentalist sect is the old Ayn Rand cult, who call themselves "objectivists.")

So let's be clear about one thing: real economics does not support the idea that 100 percent pure free markets are best. Not domestically, not internationally. That's why the U.S. has, like every other developed nation, a mixed economy, with government amounting to about 35 percent (pre-2008; it's spiked since then) of our GDP and various laws, from child labor laws to environmental laws and the SEC, regulating much of the rest. It's easy to fulminate against this fact in beautiful after-dinner speeches about economic liberty, but the reality is that when in office, even conservative Republicans grasp the necessity of most of these policies -- whatever adjustments on the margin they may make.

Surveys indeed show that about 90 percent of economists support free trade. But, and this is crucial, only about 70 percent of them support it without reservation. Economists are, in fact, well aware of a number of problems with free trade, like:

• Free trade for America is one-sided, with most major foreign economies practicing managed trade of one kind or another.

• When free trade involves trade deficits, it may be optimal in the short run but is unsustainable over longer time horizons.

• Even if it increases GDP, it has even stronger effects on income distribution and can thus harm many, or even most, of the people in the economy.

• The adjustment costs of declining industries -- from unemployment checks to the rubble of Detroit -- are huge and ongoing.

• It brings us cheap goods today at the price of building up economic rivals who will take markets away from us tomorrow.

• It helps dirty industries move from environmentally-strict jurisdictions to environmentally-lax ones.

• Even if it is efficient in the short run, efficiency per se has little to do with long-term economic growth.

• The theory of comparative advantage -- which supposedly proves that free trade guarantees win-win outcomes -- doesn't hold in the presence of capital mobility between nations.

None of the above is especially new information, though these points are legitimately controversial like anything else. My point here is simply that economics does not grant free trade the blank check many people seem to think it does. Nonetheless, the juggernaut of fakeonomics, which doesn't understand this, rolls on.

The really scary thing about fakeonomics is that it is not just a vulgar version of economics, served up to amuse the audience of Bill O'Reilly's TV show. It is also believed in by people who should know better. Like it or not, fakeonomics is mistaken for real thinking by a disturbingly large number of people with top MBAs, graduate degrees in serious fields, congressional staffers, et cetera. (I know; my job obliges me to talk to these people all the time, and they tell me so.) Perhaps it's just laziness on their part, but people who should be taking their bearings from more serious sources -- people whose careers depend upon the idea that they have genuine expertise -- are drawing their ideas from fakeonomics. These are people who pride themselves on understanding the most sophisticated ideas when it comes to, say, corporate finance, but here they are, relying upon intellectual constructs of a chat-show level of sophistication.

Make no mistake: Fakeonomics matters. For one thing, it is the implied theoretical model of current U.S. trade policy. That is to say, if one looks at American trade policy and asks what picture of the economy one would have to hold in order to believe that these policies make sense, fakeonomics is that picture. So whatever sophisticated version of real economics someone like ex-Harvard professor Larry Summers may have tucked away in his head somewhere, when he acts as economic adviser to President Obama, fakeonomics is what he dishes out.

One can, of course, gin up rationalizations bridging the gap between real economics and fakeonomics on any given issue at will. So there's no point confronting people like Larry Summers with the gap between, say, their own theoretical writings and the policies they support in office. If they weren't bright enough to pull off a piece of minor casuistry like that, they wouldn't be where they are in the first place.

Why are the nominally sophisticated so misguided? Because fakeonomics tells them what they want to hear. At bottom, fakeonomics is the ultimate free lunch story. Its seductive message is that we can consume all we want, right now, and never worry about the consequences. "Free" trade translates as "don't worry about" trade. The market forgives all sins.

Unfortunately for this happy fantasy, fakeonomics can only maintain this fantasy vision by systematically ignoring half of economic reality. It is, for one thing, almost exclusively focused on consumption, ignoring the production side of the economy. So it has plenty to say about how cheap imports provide consumers lower prices, but blithely airbrushes out of the picture the way imports deplete our industrial base. Of course, in the long run, nobody can afford imports, however cheap, without the ability to produce something to exchange for them. But that, of course, is the long run, and fakeonomics is about instant gratification and letting the chickens come home to roost in the next administration.

What does all this mean? It means that there are really two targets, for those of us who would criticize free trade. There is economics per se, which tends to be pro-free trade, but is actually surprisingly well aware of the counterarguments and becoming slowly but inexorably more skeptical. And there is fakeonomics, which is dogmatically pro-free trade, proactively ignorant of the counterarguments, and determined to stick its head in the sand. Shooting at the first target does almost nothing, unfortunately, to hit the latter, which is arguably more important, at least in the short run, for determining real-world policy outcomes. As a result, the first question one must ask when querying some piece of economic reasoning offered as justification for policy is this: is it real?

Or is it fakeonomics?

Ian Fletcher is the author of the Free Trade Doesn't Work: What Should Replace It and Why (USBIC, 2010, $24.95) An Adjunct Fellow at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a Washington think tank founded in 1933, he was previously an economist in private practice, mostly serving hedge funds and private equity firms. He may be contacted at

Top 5 Social Security Myths ANS

This is from so you may have seen it before, but we can't say it enough to counter the lies from those on the right who want Cheap Labor and quiet servitude from you!
Find it here: 

Top 5 Social Security Myths

Rumors of Social Security's demise are greatly exaggerated. But some powerful people keep spreading lies about the program to scare people into accepting benefit cuts. Can you check out this list of Social Security myths and share it with your friends, family and coworkers?

Myth: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.3 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits--and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers retirement decades ago.2 Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than did 70 years ago.3 What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly--since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half.4 But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come.5 Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income.6 But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.7 The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market--which would have been disastrous--but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth: Social Security adds to the deficit

Reality: It's not just wrong -- it's impossible! By law, Social Security funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.1


1."To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security" New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010

2. "The Straight Facts on Social Security" Economic Opportunity Institute, September 2009

3. "Social Security and the Age of Retirement"Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010

4. "More on raising the retirement age" Ezra Klein, Washington Post, July 8, 2010

5. "Social Security is sustainable" Economic and Policy Institute, May 27, 2010

6. "Maximum wage contribution and the amount for a credit in 2010." Social Security Administration, April 23, 2010

7. "Trust Fund FAQs" Social Security Administration, February 18, 2010

8. "To Deficit Hawks: We the People Know Best on Social Security" New Deal 2.0, June 14, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Story of Stuff" vs "Citizens United" ANS

This is from Brad Hicks.  It's about who wins elections.  Read it an weep....
Find it here:

"Story of Stuff" vs "Citizens United"

  • Sep. 17th, 2010 at 4:06 PM
Brad @ Burning Man
Via the Story of Stuff's Facebook feed, I got a request to blow 40 minutes of my (admittedly copious) free time watching a selection of YouTube videos that came out after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that legislated from the bench that corporations have a First Amendment guaranteed right to spend as much money as they want on political campaign advertising at all times, including in the last few days before an election. I had nothing better to do, so I figured what the heck, as much value as Anne Leonard has donated to my life, I can spare her 40 minutes.

As I start to write this, I'm about halfway through ... and I feel my brain liquefying and running out of my ears.

And I'll tell you why: here are about a dozen or more supposed experts on the subject, both in favor of and against the Citizens United decision, and after almost half an hour of talking nobody's talking about the real issue here. They're talking about straw men like censorship, or alleged buying of votes in exchange for campaign donations, and they're not talking about the only vote that has been bought by corporations:


The elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about is the fact that the second most powerful decider of every election that's been held in this country since I was a child in the early 1960s is the 15 second broadcast television advertisement. And the most powerful decider (the basic likability of the candidate, their ability to seem like nice people when in public) is not one that's at stake here.

Now, if you're reading this blog entry, the odds are that you're not actually one of the people I'm talking about. On the other hand, if you're actually reading this blog entry, the odds are just as good that you feel like you have little or no voice in our elections, that you've been frustrated for your entire life by the fact that the voters who matter, the voters who decide the election, seem to be making their decision as to who to vote for in total ignorance of even the basic facts about the parties, about the candidates, about the policies being advocated. And you're right. In every statewide or federal election since the 1960s, the most reliable predictor of which candidate will win is which candidate was able to place the largest number of 15 second television advertisements. Period.

Sure, some ads do more harm than good, and some candidates have a hard time looking good in their ads, and some can never get it right. And once or twice per decade, somewhere in America, there have been gifted politicians who've won the old fashioned way, without depending on saturation bombing campaigns of TV ads. But probably in excess of 90% of the people who show up at the polling places on election day based their entire collective impression of each candidate off of nothing but 15 second campaign TV ads. As long as that remains true, then running campaign television ads is like taking swings at a pinata full of ill-informed voters to see who can knock the most of them out of it. Only the tiny handful of candidates who are so inept at swinging at the pinata that no matter how many swings they take they can't hit it, and only the even tinier handful of candidates who are so good at swinging at the pinata that they only need one swing, are exempt from this basic math: the person who gets the most swings at the pinata is the one who'll get the candy.

The result is not a Congress or a statehouse or a White House that can be bought. The result is 50 statehouses, a Congress, and a White House who don't need to be bought, because all of the candidates who were even willing to consider occasionally voting against the interests of the Fortune 500 and the Forbes 400* were massively out-spent on 15-second broadcast television advertisements. Out of any given pool of candidates, the one or two that the wealthiest individuals and the wealthiest corporations in the world personally trust to see the world their way will be given 9 or 10 chances to puff themselves up, 9 or 10 chances to smear mud on the other guy, for every 1 chance that any of the less-reliably pro-corporation candidates get, and study after study has shown that with enough repetition, you can convince almost anybody of almost anything.

By the time I got to the end of this essay, the videos were done, and still, nobody had said word one about this simple fact: almost the only form of political activity that has mattered since the 1960s is the running of 15-second broadcast television political campaign advertisements, and those are (a) prohibitively expensive and (b) to some extent, auctioned.

I love Anne Leonard's videos to date, and I wish everybody in America would watch them. But I can't get past this fact: before she made "The Story of Stuff" and its sequels like "The Story of Bottled Water" and "The Story of Cap and Trade" and "The Story of Cosmetics," she spent her entire adult lifetime to date studying the materials economy. By comparison, she's spent mere months studying American electoral politics; I don't really have a whole lot of confidence that when her next video comes out, it'll reflect the same level of insight as what she brought to the extraction to production to sale to consumption to disposal economy.

* P.S. It was in the news, yesterday, that over 40 million Americans are now living in poverty. There are only 400 people on the Forbes 400 list. Even with one hundred thousand poor people's votes for every one ultra-rich person's vote, the ultra-rich people's preferred candidates win every election. As my old friend [info] the_geoffrey used to say, "Coincidence? Or ancient astronauts?"


( 9 comments ­ Leave a comment )
[info] teflonspyder wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
So if you want to make a significant change in national government policy you've got to come into it with an absolutely unholy amount of financial backing. The Paulsies tried that last election, but even knowing what to do they just couldn't hold a candle to the real players. Cash-to-enthusiasm only converts in the one direction as far as elections are concerned.

Also you really nailed it with the 15-second ads; even persons with strong media presence prior to a run haven't been able to make a dent without commercial support.
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[info] mikazo wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
I don't wish to change the original subject, but do you suppose that alternative voting would change any of this? In Minneapolis now, you can vote for three candidates in order of preference. The point is apparently to support voting for third-party candidates. Perhaps people would be more inclined to vote in a manner less influenced by corporate advertising if they could put their favorite corporate candidate as their second choice instead of only being able to vote for him or her?
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
As long as the conversation is driven by 15 second sound-bites, and which sound-bites a decisive number of the voters believe are determined by the rate of repetition, how could that affect the outcome? Once in a very rare while it might get a candidate out of the primaries and to the nomination who was less corporate funded, but what then stops the corporations and the hyper-rich from picking the friendlier (to them) candidate of the three and smearing the other two, or the other six, 9 times an hour for all four hours of television a night the average voter watches?
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[info] jonathankorman wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
This unhappy observation reminds me of an old favourite: Teresa Neilsen Hayden's essay Common Fraud which contains the horrifying observation that deceiving us has become an industrial process.
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[info] captain_swing wrote:
Sep. 18th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
Interesting links. They remind me of the the point Phil Agre constantly repeated on his Red Rock Eater mailing list; that properly debunking slick industrial sophistry requires substantially more time and effort than its consumption.
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[info] tacky_tramp wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
This is part of my starry-eyed motivation for going into education: increasing media literacy may help average people be less susceptible to advertising manipulation, and more able to make thoughtful political decisions based on the facts and their values and priorities. But that's about as long-term a goal as turning public opinion away from unfettered campaign spending, and it would encounter just as much resistance.
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[info] peristaltor wrote:
Sep. 17th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
. . . the most reliable predictor of which candidate will win is which candidate was able to place the largest number of 15 second television advertisements. Period.

While I don't doubt it at all, I've never seen it stated more boldly. Do you by any chance have a source to back that assertion?
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[info] westrider wrote:
Sep. 18th, 2010 02:14 am (UTC)
Here in Washington State, because we've got Citizen's Initiatives on the Ballot, every Voting Household gets sent a packet with an overview and brief pro- and con- statements on these Initiatives.

Since they're sending out the packet anyhow, the Elections Commission (I think that's who puts these out) also includes a brief statement from every Candidate running for Office in that Election. These range from a quarter-page or less for Municipal Positions, up to a full page for Presidential Candidates.

I've long maintained that they should make these packets standard nationwide, and then simply ban any other form of Political Advertising. Candidates get their couple of paragraphs to a page to make their point, and that's it.

Probably totally unfeasible, but it seems like it might be worth considering.
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[info] simulated_knave wrote:
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
That's...that's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
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[info] kimchalister wrote:
Sep. 18th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
Well, my partner tells me that television is dying. Not fast enough....
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( 9 comments ­ Leave a comment )

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


One of our readers sent this to Jerry Brown, and to me.  Enjoy.

Largely visual, quite short, high impact for $$$.  Scenes sequence:

(Whitman faces are an artist's unmistakable likeness, in consistent style, but NOT photos.  ONLY PLACE "CALIFORNIA" appears is last screen.)

1)  Whitman dreamy face, piles of $$$ and glittery gold coins and bars  3-4 seconds is plenty,  No text.

2)  REALLY dreamy Whitman face, smaller, center, with huge yacht, State of Texas, Giant baby toy of some kind? etc, around.  Total of 5.  [California is NOT SHOWN]     3.3 seconds.
Optional voice-over, last 1.8 seconds, text in at bottom..."What can I buy to play with next?"  or just "Meg wonders...."

The " play with phrasing...", if used, and images can be as scathing as you want.  Do in Spanish first, then English, if short enough.  KEEP IT VERY TERSE.

3)  Meg face, with "AHHH" EXPRESSION, 1/3rd of screen.  Remaining 2 items, combination of Gov Mansion, State outline map, with "NN Million Citizens" on it.  Visual only, no text or voice-over, or maybe just the "AHHH".  2.5 seconds.

4)  Latino person, Anglo,  American Indian, 2 more--varying ethnicity. Total of 4-5.  Each, varying script and emphasis, "Meg didn't vote for 28 years.  Not much interest in government there.  Let her buy the leadership of our state?  No way"  (My script here is very preliminary--again, terse, "natural to the person" in articulateness....    Total 15 seconds or less?

5)  Silent, yellow against black ending, "California is not a toy for a billionaire to buy".


Monday, September 06, 2010

We're all minorities. and Social Justice and Modern (Biblical) Obligations ANS

Here's two interesting articles by Ogre at Sparks in the Dark.  The first one is on minority rights.  The second one is on a biblical defense of taxes for social justice. 
Find them here: 

Friday, September 03, 2010

We're all minorities.

I recently read this in the comments (electronic letters to the editor?) to an article about a case in NJ where the police really screwed up while presenting Miranda rights to a Latino minor and his Spanish-speaking mother. All of which I offer just to provide context. But this isn't about that case. It's about the comment.

Constitutional rights should NOT be afforded to ILLEGALS.

The writer insists that "illegals" should not be afforded Constitutional rights. One has to wonder what rights they should be afforded, in that case. But the Constitution is pretty clear; in most cases, it asserts, rights are inherent in human beings, period (in a few cases, they inhere to citizens, but those are a narrow class of things like political rights, the right to vote, etc.).

Should constitutional rights be "afforded" to someone who has committed murder? Isn't that a crime that's far, far, far worse than the mere infraction (which is all it is, legally) of crossing the border in a manner not in accordance with the law?

Why does it--why do we--affirm (not afford!) the same rights to people who may have, and who have, violated some law?

The answer is simple. It's one to commit to memory and remember every time our sense of anger and outrage and desire for punishment (we like to think of it as "justice" when we feel that way) surges. We affirm and uphold the rights of everyone. All the time. Even--especially--the people who have done terrible, terrible things. Even people who aren't like us. People who are different. People who are scary, who trigger that primitive thing deep in our brains that worries about leopards in trees and monsters under the bed.

We uphold that for them, but not for them. We do it for ourselves.

You see, we do it to ensure that in that terrible moment where we are looked at--justly or not--by someone as the scary thing, the monster, the other, the bad person, we are not outside of being treated with rights. In doing so we are ensured just and equitable treatment by a system that rejects the impulse that judges without facts and understanding and imposes a harsh punishment on the monster under the bed, so that it never, never, never comes back.

But of course it does. The monster under the bed is almost entirely in our heads. It's always with us.

No matter how often we kill it, or imprison it, or treat it brutally (which, I suspect, really doesn't make it go away at all. It feeds the real monster under the bed; the one in our heads).

We "afford" rights to people who might be people who immigrated illegally for the same reason that we afford rights to people accused of murder, or theft, or speeding. We do it for ourselves, so that our rights are protected and held sacred.

The minute that we carve out an exception to this principle, the minute that we except a person, or a group from having the same rights, we put ourselves at extreme risk. If anyone can be put outside the protect of the law, then anyone can be put outside. Including you.

After all, each of us is part of some minority that others might dislike, despise, or fear. History proves that.

It's the lesson that Rev. Martin Niemöller wrote about;

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

You can replace any of those groups, those categories, with any others. Niemöller was writing about what actually happened in Germany. But the lesson is a universal one. (It's worth noting that in the US today, despite the widespread failure of Communism, it--and Communists--are still a pretty powerful monster under the bed. So are trade unionists, for many, despite being down to only several percent of the population (despite their having provided us 40 hour weeks and many other good things...). And it's still easy to find people who fear and hate Jews, too.) Mexican, Tea Partier, Liberal, Conservative, Mormon, Muslim, Gay, Evangelical, and on and on. No group is the majority. Even more to the point, no one is the majority. They just look like it in the moment... if you don't look too closely.

The majority is always a collection of minorities who are--for the moment--ignoring their multitude of differences.

Anyone can fall out of that coalition the minute that they become the moment's monster under the bed.

"Illegals" are afforded the same rights as everyone else, because we insist that everyone has those rights. Not out of generosity, but out of the deepest self-interest. So that when "they" come for us, we're not outside the circle of light that keeps the monsters away.

It's important. The monsters don't like the light. As long as we make sure it shines on all of us, they'll stay deep in the darkness in our heads and hearts.
Posted by ogre at 9:33 AM 0 comments [] []
Labels: constitutional rights, illegals

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Social Justice and Modern (Biblical) Obligations

From the very beginning of the Jewish state in Canaan, there was a fundamental (divine) directive to share. The land was divided up among the tribes, and the tribes were to support and sustain their own (but that's not all). Recognizing that some would become wealthy, and would hoard, and that some would become poor, simply through ill fortune, or being born to poor, unfortunate parents, God's directive was that the land be taken back and redistributed equitably every 50 years. Every seven years, all debts were to be canceled, forgiven, forgotten.

Now, it's questionable (say the scholars) as to whether that was ever actually done. But you know what, that's moot. These folks want to argue that they shouldn't have to care for the sick, the ill, the unfortunate, the homeless­that it should be voluntary, that the state should not be in the business of doing that with money taken from them in taxes. It ought to be... well, optional. Pure charity.


Let's just note in passing that for all their talk, that voluntary care of the poor isn't happening­and hasn't, not in this country, nor any other, to a level that begins to be sufficient. So the idea that it'll get taken care of by good Christians out of charity is poppycock. Not that there aren't all kinds of charitable works­Christian, Jewish, Muslim and otherwise. There are. But not enough. Not nearly enough. Not even close.

So, back to that argument from Biblical grounds.

Just WHO was responsible in ancient Israel (and Judah) for such care?

Well, the original Israelite community was tribal; the tribes were responsible. But those chieftaincies didn't last very long. Various pressures from inside and outside resulted in the creation of the Israelite kingdom. So the king took on the responsibilities of the relatively anarchic tribal confederation. The Hebrew scriptures are pretty clear; just check almost any of the prophets­raging criticism of the wealthy (that would be the rich…) and the powerful (nobility, priests…) and particularly the kings. Railing against those storing up abundance and living in plush accommodations with gold and ivory and pleasant oils, luxuries… while the poor starved, while widows and orphans were dispossessed and abused.

Check any of the prophets. Shall I wait while you check? I recommend Isaiah (an especial fave of most Christians). I recommend Isa 1:14-17.Or heck, there's 5:1-23 (there's more, too). Gee, my translation even subheads Isaiah 5:8-23 "Social Injustice Denounced"­what do you mean that social justice doesn't appear in the Bible?

Most of the justification for the destruction of Israel and Judah, and the Babylonian exile, is that the rulers and the powerful were corrupt, greedy, selfish and unjust. They didn't share with the rest of the people, they let the poor starve and they stole their land. Which was God's anyway, according to the Bible, and people only got to use it­and only until it was redistributed again.

Short form: having more than enough when there are people homeless and hungry is viewed by God as the worst of sins­just like theft, just like murder. In fact, it is essentially apostasy; the willful violation of God's commandments. Sin.

So, back to the question of responsibility. Who's responsible? Well, the king. And so you find the prophets just ripping into the kings for their malfeasance, warning everyone that God is going to devastate the kingdom, that they will be laid low, slain, dragged off into slavery... and that it's God's will if this crap continues.

But heck, what's that got to do with today and all those folks who don't want to share with the poor? They're not king (for which we can all be grateful…).

No, they're part of The People. Here in the USA, that means that they are, by definition, collectively the sovereigns­just like being king. Which means we're ALL responsible. It's not just a question of whatever charity we feel like giving. We bear the responsibility. We The People­the government.We stand in the same relationship to the missing king as the king did to the defunct tribal confederation. All those responsibilities, from defense to justice to... caring for the poor... those are ours.

So when they whine that it's unfair to tax them to give alms to the poor, to care for the sick, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry… they're wrong. All those conservative Christians have a responsibility to meet­as sovereign­to see that the wealth of the nation is shared equitably with all, before excess is used for comfort and luxury. Taxation is how We The People take our money from our pockets to do our collective business.

It's a Biblical, social justice obligation for good Christians and Jews.

For the rest of us, there are other good arguments. But that's for another post, some other day.
Posted by ogre at 8:41 PM 3 comments [] []
Labels: Bible , social justice

sent to Senator Sanders ANS

I just sent this message to Senator Bernie Sanders (of Vermont). I
intend to send it to anyone I think might listen.

If the supreme court has told us that corporations are persons,
shouldn't corporations be judged as persons?
Because corporations have no conscience, they fit the legal
definition of insane. They do not know the difference between right
and wrong. If the CEO has a conscience, that does not apply, as the
corporation is a person on its own, and it is devoid of conscience,
and therefore legally insane. Do we let legally insane persons vote,
or sign contracts? Shouldn't this apply?
thank you for all you do,
--Kim Cooper

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come! ANS

One of our readers linked to this on Facebook.  I thought I would share it with you, just in case you didn't see it.  I didn't hear about it when it came out last October.... It's John Shelby Spong on the subject of arguing about whether homosexuality is acceptable or not. 
Find it here: 

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

by Bishop John Shelby Spong
Oct 15, 2009

Bishop Spong  I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant." I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to "Roll on over or we'll roll on over you!" Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: "New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth." I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

- John Shelby Spong