Sunday, December 5, 2010

The notion that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs is total nonsense.

The notion that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs is total nonsense.

First, if reducing taxes in the top brackets is such a great employment stimulus, why didn’t it work in the years since the Republicans initiated it, in the beginning days of the Bush Administration?

Second, if prosperous business owners want to squirrel away some money where the IRS can't get it, they can always reinvest it in their businesses and claim the tax deduction. In this case, HIGHER taxes, not lower ones, would provide incentive for business growth.

Third, jobs don't just appear because the rich have a few more millions lying around. They already do. Not just millions, but hundreds of billions that they're sitting on because the economy is too weak to invest in.

Jobs appear when there is work to be done. There is work to be done when demand increases. Demand increases when the common people have something to spend. Common people have something to spend when they get either paychecks or unemployment checks.

Extending unemployment benefits will therefore ultimately increase employment by increasing demand.

Extending tax cuts for the rich will do nothing but make the rich richer while slowing down the economy and pushing up the deficit for no good reason.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Price Security?

And, really, is it even security?

On September 11, 2001 the United States suffered a terrorist attack that cost about 3,000 lives.

In that same year, 42,000 Americans died in traffic accidents. 3200 were killed in motorcycle accidents alone.

We have now expended more than a trillion dollars and 5800 American military lives (4400 in Iraq and 1400 in Afghanistan) in the two wars we are fighting on the pretext of preventing another 9-11. This number, about twice the number lost in the WTC tragedy, does not count the perhaps one million civilian lives we have destroyed in the countries we invaded.

On the home front, we are now twisting ourselves into knots and surrendering our freedoms at an alarming rate in order to prevent people from smuggling small amounts of explosives onto airplanes.

However, anybody who really wants to take down an airplane can do so without smuggling anything on board in a body cavity. For example, a small, easily-smuggled ground-launched missile would do the job pretty well. If you want a sitting duck situation, shoot the missile at a plane that is just landing or taking off. 300 people might die, and that would be a great tragedy, of course, but it would also be comparable to the number of traffic fatalities in America in any random 3-day period. So, in the grand scale of things, we are putting more extreme strains on our democracy every day, and expending irreplaceable resources, on futile but highly intrusive procedures aimed at preventing relatively unlikely and relatively small-scale attacks.

If all this TSA irradiating and gropery at the airports is totally ineffectual in preventing planes from being blown up then it must have some other purpose. Cranking up fear and rage in the public might be such a purpose. Or maybe it’s just a test of our docility.

The worst possible terrorist attack on America might involve setting off a nuclear device in a major city. It could kill millions of people. Any coastal city would be totally vulnerable to a nuclear device in the hold of a tramp steamer from anywhere. But we aren’t at all thorough about searching bulk cargos.

If we were really serious about preventing a truly disastrous terrorist attack, we would remove all those TSA people from the airports and put them to work searching the big ships and the cargo planes coming into the country.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dammit, some days it's just hard not to imagine a huge conspiracy is controlling the course of events in the world.

The US is now facing the greatest concentration of wealth at the top that we have seen since 1929, and we seem to have a Forever War going on. Even during the Clinton years, between the two Iraq wars, we continued a program of "low-intensity" warfare against Saddam. We have now shifted our focus to Afghanistan--that eternal sink of imperial ambitions--and will likely take on Pakistan next, followed by Iran.

The New Democrats in the US seem to be imperialist Republicans minus the hoods and burning crosses. The nation is being swept by anti-intellectualism: fundamentalist religion, climate change denial, writing Thomas Jefferson out of the history books, and the like. The public schools are being reduced to serf academies where students learn the minimal literacy and numeracy skills required to make them useful for their masters, while those parts of the curriculum having to do with critical thinking, artistic expression, and general understanding of the world are being subverted by various strategems.

A large portion of this country seems to think they live in a universe equipped with different physical laws than the one I believe myself to inhabit. Somehow, I think this is no accident. People who are willing to believe that humans coexisted with dinosaurs are also likely to accept the notion that their interests will best be served by deregulating the corporations and predatory investment banks, and that their true enemies are the trade unions, the Muslims, the socialists, and the brown-skinned unfortunates who pick their crops under brutal conditions for desperately little pay.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I think we will look back on the BP disaster as a tipping point.

Its impact on national and world consciousness will rival and perhaps ultimately exceed that of 9-11.

In a corporate calamity like this one, the most important thing from the corporate perspective is to first, minimize the significance of the disaster and second, to shift blame.

The corporate overlords seem to have lost control of the message entirely on this one.

It's hard to minimize the impending destruction of that heavily populated, economically significant, favored fantasy land of everyone's imagination that is the Gulf. And everyone seems to know who to blame. For example, Rush's meme about "eco-terrorism" crashed on takeoff. Contrast this situation with the Exxon Valdez. In that case, they were able to cover up much of the extent of the damage, at least from the view of the general public, largely because it happened in such a remote area. Nobody really much cared about Alaska. They didn't have fantasies about retiring there on a yacht. Also, Exxon was pretty much able to pin the whole rap on a drunken sea captain. No such luck in the Gulf. Everyone knows that it was deliberate corporate malfeasance, aided and abetted by deregulating politicians, that lay at the core of the tragedy.

As for the effects of this disaster on world consciousness, this could be the blow that ends the public's "abuse cycle" with Big Oil. After this beating, we're maybe finally gonna leave that sonuvabitch for good. We really mean it this time.

And it may be a wake-up call on the environment. The problem with "global warming" as a mobilizing cause is that it's slowly incremental (boiling the proverbial frog), erratic, and taking place in a complex, chaotic, and unpredictable system, the global climate. It's a lot easier to get the point of an oil-drenched bird than it is of a half-degree rise in mean temperature (even though the latter is part of a far more lethal process in the long run).

In short, global warming is pretty abstract. Oil on the beaches is concrete. 9-11 was concrete. People mobilize to concrete threats far more readily than to abstract ones.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


There once was a shepherd boy who had the job of tending to the sheep that belonged to a village. He was watching over the sheep as they grazed in a clearing in a forest when a great pack of wolves appeared out of the forest and began chasing the sheep and scattering them. The boy cried “Wolves, wolves!” and all the villagers ran away because they were frightened.

"Don't cry 'wolf', shepherd boy," said the villagers after they straggled back to their village, "You frighten people with talk like that!"

A few days later, the wolves returned and the boy cried out again, "Wolves! Wolves! The wolves are chasing the sheep!" The villagers again ran away, leaving him alone to protect the sheep as best he could.

“We told you not to frighten us with these stories of wolves,” said the villagers. “We don’t believe you. We don’t think you ever saw any wolves.” From then on, they simply ignored the boy when he sounded the warning about wolves; they did not run away, but neither did they come to help him protect the sheep.

The wolves grew ever bolder, seeing that they had to contend with only one small boy. One day they summoned all the wolf packs from the surrounding countryside to join them in a gigantic raid on the flock. They dragged all the sheep off into the woods to eat at their leisure. They killed the shepherd boy and took his body along with them as well.

After a while the people of the village began to grow hungry for mutton, so they set out to bring home a sheep from the flock. When they got to the clearing in the forest, they found no sheep and no shepherd boy. “Look at this,” they told each other. “That thieving little boy has gone away and taken all our sheep with him. Now we know why he was crying ‘Wolf’ all the time. He was setting up his alibi.”

The moral of the story: Truth is precious. Don’t tell it too often, or nobody will believe you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Reform Government in a Single Great Leap Forward

The Supreme Court appears poised to permit a massive relaxation of the rules on political contributions. I applaud this trend, but fear that it doesn’t go nearly far enough in cleaning up the tangle of rules and regulations governing our electoral process. Therefore, I would like to propose some simple reforms to make government more responsive and efficient. My grand scheme is predicated on the well-documented fact that political outcomes are decided by money, and upon the apparent intention of the Supreme Court to accelerate this trend. The genius of plan I am about to propose is that it turns what is often perceived as a flaw or failure of the system into a virtue.

The first step in my plan is to permit unlimited contributions to politicians. Any politician will be allowed to take any amount of money from any source at any time.

Second, the cumbersome electoral apparatus will be junked. Instead, all political offices will be put up for bid. Anyone who wants to be a Senator, for example, will submit a bid of so many dollars for the job, and the job will be awarded to the highest bidder. Once in office, the politician will receive no salary; instead, each will be expected to support him/herself on a fee-for-service basis, by selling individual votes on proposed legislation, charging a substantial fee to introduce proposed legislation written by corporate lawyers, etc.

This plan is startling in its elegant simplicity and cost-effectiveness. It can be made to work at all levels of government, from the local city council to the Presidency. In a single stroke it converts the government from a financial drag on society into a center of profit. Furthermore, in the same stroke, it restores honesty to the system. No longer will politicians have to maintain a pretense of serving the interests of people without money. No longer will we be plagued with financial scandals. And no longer will the public need to be distracted from Nintendo, celebrity news, and reality television by so-called “electoral politics.”

This general philosophical approach can be extended beyond the Executive and Legislative branches to the Judicial branch as well. The whole expensive edifice of the Court system, at all its levels, can simply be replaced by a simple system in which court decisions will be determined by a fair and honest bidding process. This can be made to work handily in both civil and criminal matters. If a poor person steals from a rich person, the rich person can pay to have the criminal convicted and punished. As a side benefit, I predict that our jail and prison systems would fall into disuse, at a great cost savings to society, as offended rich people opt to use cheaper means, such as fines, floggings and hangings, to punish those who have offended against them. As a second side benefit, I predict that the whole apparatus of appellate courts could be eliminated--if a person can’t afford to buy a verdict in a lower court, they will also no doubt be too poor to buy an appellate decision.

The more I think about this system, the fewer flaws I can find in it.