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The Danger of Disillusionment

Posted by MacZad
Jun 26 2012

At the end of World War One the Allies imposed draconian reparations on Germany. That financial burden made life so tough for the German people that by the early 1930s they were thoroughly disillusioned and desperately searching for who to blame and for leadership that promised better times ahead. The leader they chose was Hitler with his fascism and, persuaded by his eloquent rhetoric, part of the blame was placed on the Jews. You know how it all ended.

Recently in the middle-east, and despite the armed solders in the streets, disillusionment boiled up into revolutions in several countries and resulted in the removal of their autocratic leaders. Now with austerity being imposed in Greece we are seeing the rise of extreme political groups there.

Here in our country the stirrings of disillusionment with the current plutocracy/corporatocracy have surfaced both on the right (Tea Party) and the left (Occupy Wall Street). The two groups place the blame differently but there is much in common about their concerns. At present both are on the fringes. However, unless true democracy begins to replace the current plutocracy/corporatocracy their numbers will grow dramatically and dangerously, for in the modern world it's easy for people to see gross inequity, and they know that they can successfully rebel against those causing it. If the rich and powerful continue to resist all reforms the coming rebellion will be ugly for them and perhaps for us all, for what follows a rebellion can be much worse than what was before. As with Hitler, disillusionment and rebellions often give those at the extremes a chance to grab power. Socialism would likely be too mild, but fascism, communism and autocracy are all possibilities.

Here's a quote that echoes this thinking. It's from the article "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" by former Bush administration staffer David Frum.

The[se] Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they're gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are ­actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair. The emphasis is mine.

The rich and powerful need an "enlightenment" and perhaps there is hope. More and more Republicans are questioning the party's current stubborn dedication to the plutocrats/corporatocrats. On the Democratic Party side there needs to be a disengagement from Wall Street and a return to the party's roots as the working man's friend, but much prodding from the working man will be needed before it happens.

Twitter ( @MacZad ) has just alerted me to the excellent Truthout Op Ed article on this subject. Well worth the read. (Updated 11/01/12)

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

Rail Transit - A Local Issue

Posted by MacZad
Jun 24 2012

As stated in my About posting I lean toward being socially progressive and fiscally conservative. An issue here in NC's Triangle area is a proposed public-transportation plan that includes rail transit. My fiscally conservative side takes over here as rail transit for this area is one of the local planners' Utopian ideas that will provide little benefit and saddle the taxpayers with its excessive costs. Charlotte has a light-rail line, and I believe that the real concern of local planners is that without rail transit The Triangle will lose bragging rights.

Here's Spread-out Reality, my opinion letter debunking the plan's rail option, that appeared in the News & Observer on 6/24/12.

I don't agree with the John Locke Foundation's stand on most issues, but they have it right with Light-rail Folly in the same N & O issue.

Governments we need - but they must spend our money wisely.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Seeking Better Governance

Grover Norquist's Anti-Tax Pledge

Posted by MacZad
Jun 22 2012

The Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist has stated, "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." The many lawmakers who have signed his anti-tax pledge have essentially delegated the tax legislating duties of their office to his Washington lobby.

When Norquist achieves success and we have government that "can drown in a bathtub," do we really expect that it will so improve our situations that we will be sharing this fat cat's chair, or even be sitting on smaller chairs on the platform beside him?

Not a chance! Norquist's success will give us an emaciated government and further concentrate power and wealth at the top. The rest of us will be like the Citizens United folks in the cartoon. Short of revolution a strong representative government is all there is that stands between us and total rule by the rich and powerful - just as they rule in non-democratic countries throughout the world.

None of us like taxes. However, they are essential and, while blind opposition to them may make us feel good in the short term, such opposition is not in our long-term best interest. Those who govern us need to be able to consider tax questions with an open mind, but those who have signed the pledge are not able to do so and don't deserve our votes.

So how about the candidates that you plan to support in November? Have they signed Norquist's pledge? Romney has and the vast majority of Republican and some Democratic congressmen have. However, there are indications that some prominent Republicans ( Examples: Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham) are coming to realize that Norquist and his pledge aren't good for their party or the country.

Check'em out before you vote.

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

The Foundation - The Fellowship - The Family - C Street

Posted by MacZad
Jun 20 2012

You may have heard of the National Prayer Breakfast an annual Washington, DC event. It sounds innocent enough - many of the nations political leaders getting together for breakfast and prayer.

The event is hardly innocent; it's part of the war on America's religious freedoms. It's a screening tool used by a secretive organization to help recruit new members from Washington's elite and powerful. It is heavily bankrolled by people of wealth (mostly men) who actually believe that it's god's will that has made certain people (them) rich and/or powerful and that god wants many others to be today's equivalent of the serfs of the middle-ages. The national ethics organization, CREW, has suggested that the breakfast be boycotted.

The sponsoring group The Foundation - The Fellowship - The Family (a New Yorker article) cultivates a very low public profile; as well it should for it has many far-out ideas that would be viewed negatively by most Americans. In addition to the one in the paragraph above there's this little glimpse of the twisted thinking of the group's leader, Douglas Coe, courtesy of author, Jeff Sharlet, who recounts one conversation he overheard between Coe and another man. Coe asked the man, "Suppose I hear you rape three little girls. What would I think?" The man said he thought Coe would consider him awful and a monster. Coe said, "No. No I wouldn't because you're chosen. As a member of The Family, you're chosen and, when you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply. Morality is for the little people."

Douglas Coe and son David guide this organization that has a radically different but very patient approach to achieving its goals - little nibbles here and there - a new senator recruited, additional Federal funds flowing to a cause of their liking, etc. I'll leave it to the links below to better acquaint you with the organization and its goals, but it's chilling that such an organization has so much - even any - influence in Washington.

Jeff Sharlet has written several articles and two books (reviewed on these WorldCat pages): "The Family" and "C Street." They shed much light on this dark organization. He is prominently featured in these links:

A High-Five to Jeff for all of his work bringing this to light, but let's hope that the main-stream media will soon be giving this story much more attention; for the workings of this organization, its kooky leadership and theocratic goals, need a thorough airing.

Categories: Defending Religious Freedom, Illuminating Dark Places

Election 2012 - Questions for Candidates

Posted by MacZad
Jun 16 2012

We must begin the effort to take back our government from the plutocrats who now almost control it. It won't be an easy task, but it is an essential one if our country is ever to return to its former greatness. We need to understand the candidates positions on significant issues in this battle. Here are several questions for candidates in the November elections that should be asked by the media and in town hall meetings and televised debates.

  • Do you believe that the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which has allowed unlimited corporate money to flow into political campaigns, was in the best interest of the country? Any answer other than an unqualified no indicates a candidate undeserving of our votes. Further, will you pledge to vigorously support efforts for a constitutional amendment to negate this decision? Only a yes answer should garner our support.

  • The Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist has stated, "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." Have you supported this goal by signing his anti-tax pledge? Lawmakers who have signed it have essentially delegated the tax legislating duties of their office to a Washington lobby; thus they are not fully-functioning legislators and don't deserve our votes.

  • Prior to the 2008 financial crash the prevailing wisdom was that markets were self correcting and no government regulation of them was required. If that was your view prior to the crash, do you still adhere to that view? A yes answer indicates a candidate still wedded to a failed economic philosophy. Further, will you pledge to support the drastic reforms that still have not been taken to assure that the 2008 debacle isn't repeated? To receive our support a yes answer should be required.

  • Do you mostly agree with this statement: Wall Street has strayed from its original mission of helping to finance American business and instead has become the site of giant gambling and extortion operations whose main goal seems to be siphoning as much as possible from the economy? A no answer probably indicates a candidate deeply dependent on Wall Street contributions and undeserving of our support. Further, will you pledge to support the strong reforms necessary to return Wall Street to its original mission? Answering yes should be a requirement for our votes.

  • How old do you believe the earth to be? Any answer other than an unqualified "billions of years" indicated a candidate with such a warped sense of reality that he/she is unfit to govern and is undeserving of our votes.

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

Thoughts About Money and Motivation

Posted by MacZad
Jun 13 2012

The need to richly reward the plutocrats is standard propaganda for them and their apologists, and the conventional wisdom is that people are more highly motivated and do better work if they are rewarded with more money.

Well it turns out that it's true - and it isn't. Many studies have been done on money as a motivator and they show that it's a good motivator for tasks that are essentially mechanical ones - like getting roofers to install more shingles per hour. However, if the tasks are ones that require even a little higher-level thinking the answer is more complex. If brainpower is important to the task more money produces better results up to the point where ones' basic needs are essentially satisfied. However, surprise, beyond that point using money as an incentive produces poorer results, and other incentives become better motivators.

Perhaps that's why "The London Whale," a trader in J. P. Morgan Chase's London office, recently lost 2 billion dollars (Update 7/16/12 - It's now up to 7 billion) for the firm - a little too much dollar incentive dangling before him? Could this possibly mean that companies (and society) would do better if their executives were paid less?

Here's the great 11  minute RSA animation on this subject that was the inspiration for this post.

It shows that Autonomy - Leave me alone and I'll do it better, Mastery - I want to improve my skill at this task, and Purpose - I want my work to make a real contribution are the best motivators where brainpower is involved. The illustration about open-source software toward the end is great.

However, despite the studies it seems to me that in many corporate executive suites and particularly on Wall Street there are too many sociopathic individuals and too often their Purpose is: I want my work to make an immediate contribution to my bank account irrespective of the impact on others. If, as the studies show, more money does not produce the best results in these brainpower-intensive environments perhaps this is one of the reasons why we have so many frauds, panics, crashes, etc.

Sociopaths in business should be a good topic for a future post.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Seeking Truth - Debunking Dogma

Wisconsin's Recall

Posted by MacZad
Jun 10 2012

In spite of my skepticism about many of the policies of the current ultra-conservative Republican party I believe that it's good that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the recall vote despite the public-sector unions' best efforts to unseat him.

Both the left and the right have loony ideas, and the left's support of public sector unions is near the top in loonyness.

In the private sector union demands that are too strident can raise a company's costs, and hence its prices, to the point where sales fall and perhaps the company fails. For most private sector companies this marketplace pressure puts a lid on union demands - the unions don't want their demands to cause unionized companies to falter and fail.

In the public sector, however, marketplace pressure is lacking as governments seldom go out of existence. The unions' strategy has been to less strongly push for current pay increases, which would require immediate tax increases and thus are often resisted by governing entities. Instead they pursued the easier course of seeking ever-greater retirement benefits. Because the costs of these benefits are pushed into the future (no immediate tax increases) this course has allowed the governing entities to acquiesce to the demands and avoid union confrontations. This has resulted in: (1) public-sector retirement benefits that are far more generous than in the private sector, and (2) government pension obligations that cannot be discharged without massive tax increases. In Wisconsin, and elsewhere, the taxpayers are finally providing some "marketplace pressure" as they are taking action to curb the public-sector unions' power and assure that their taxes are not increased to pay for overly generous benefits.

While I'm positive on this recall outcome please note that I'm wary of many other policies that politicians of the Scott Walker ilk pursue - for example Paul Ryan's proposed budget and Florida governor Rick Scott's purge of voter rolls.

Categories: Seeking Better Governance

Books - Greedy Bastards & Why Nations Fail

Posted by MacZad
Jun 08 2012

I have recently finished reading two books significant to America's future:

Greedy Bastards by Dylan Ratigan - Simon & Schuster - 2012, $25.00, 245 Pages

If you care about your country's future this book is a must read! It's a rant, but a rant is what's called for. Buy it or get it from the library. Ratigan is mad about our situation. Reading it will make you as mad about it as he is, and will give you some ideas about what we can do to get out country back on the right track.

He tackles several of the things that have been bothering me and offers solutions. No fluff or padding - fairly solid content all the way through. Suggests 4 core values that he calls VICI: Visibility, Integrity, Choice and Interests. His marketplace example using cups could have been better, but otherwise he's right on target. The need for a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people is the central thesis of the book, and he has established united re:public to further the idea which, surprisingly, is also gaining traction with Some Washington lawmakers. If you want more detail about the book's content read this Seeking Alpha review.


Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson - Crown Publishers - 2012, $30.00, 529 Pages

I wish that I could recommend reading this excellent book for the authors obviously have much time and thought invested in it, and it's a very significant contribution to economic understanding. However, it's far too long - should have been no more than 200 pages, and I can't recommend reading it. Here's my take on what you need to know:

The book's compelling central thesis is that nations fail because: (1) their politics favor a small group of elites and the status quo - there's little or no creative destruction and the old businesses and organizations survive long past the time when they should have been replaced by the new, and/or (2) they lack sufficient central control over the country. These weak countries have extractive governments, and it seems to be hard mold to break out of for in most of these countries the money piles up in Swiss bank accounts while the populace suffers through one extractive regime after another. The authors aren't very optimistic about the possibility of meaningful change in most of the extractive countries. (Number 2 above would seem to doom Afghanistan despite all our efforts.) In contrast inclusive (pluralistic) governments (US, Britain, France, etc) seem to be almost happy accidents with just the right things having happened at the right times in history to make broad-based governance possible. If you want more detail here's Bloomberg's review.

How lucky we are to live in one of the inclusive societies! However, in our country the extractors (sometimes called rent-seekers) have been hard at work for the past 30+ years bending government policies to their liking so we are slowly becoming an extractive society - our "corps of plutocratic elites" is already in almost full control. This quote on the book's the applicability to the US is from Tom Freedman's review: "Acemoglu worries that our huge growth in economic inequality is undermining the inclusiveness of America’s institutions, too. 'The real problem is that economic inequality, when it becomes this large, translates into political inequality.' When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voices?"

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

Debt Reduction Isn't Paul Ryan's Goal

Posted by MacZad
Jun 04 2012

"Those who don't like government aren't very good at it." I once read this but don't know its author.

The need for a somewhat smaller, more efficient a less debt ridden federal government is clear to me. However the question here is: Do we want an emaciated federal government?

The current deficit reduction push by GOP Congressman Paul Ryan is a hypocritical effort that has different real objectives. They are the objectives of Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform: "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

Hypocritical Ryan - such a late comer to fiscal discipline. During the Bush administration Ryan had no qualms about the spending on a grand scale that led to Obama inheriting a country in something of a fiscal mess.    

Here from the Washington Monthly - Political Animal Blog is a quote that elaborates on Ryan's real objectives better than I can:

"The important thing to grasp here is that for all the talk about Paul Ryan being the “adult in the room” who understands the “tough choices” needed to confront the “debt crisis,” everything we know about him suggests that fiscal probity is at best a third-order motive for his proposals to decimate the social safety net. More important to him is that the spending cuts he supports are necessary to finance still more regressive tax cuts, and furthermore, are positive social measures in and of themselves. Like the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold, a character in Ryan’s favorite book Atlas Shrugged, who sinks aid ships as a moral gesture aimed at the “looting” of the successful, Ryan would object to safety net programs even if the federal budget was in surplus:
“It is not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big or the health-care plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason,” Ryan said in 2009. “It is the morality of what is occurring right now, and how it offends the morality of individuals working toward their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack, and it is that what I think Ayn Rand would be commenting on.” Ryan’s philosophical opposition to a government that forces the “makers” to subsidize the “takers”—terms he still employs—is foundational; the policy details are secondary."

So Ryan is a disciple of Ayn Rand's rugged individualism and free-market unbridled capitalism, as were Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, et al - an economic philosophy which gave us the recent financial crisis. The crisis has given Greenspan second thoughts, but not Ryan whose only qualm about Rand is that he has recently discovered that she was an atheist so he is now trying to distance himself from her, but clearly not from her philosophy. BTW: Rand herself, late in life, participated in Social Security and Medicare those government safety-net programs that she so hated.

The bottom line for me is that I value many federal government activities (we could be much less interventionalist in world affairs), and I must speak out against those who want an emaciated government that would gut environmental regulations, sell the national parks, enact more regressive taxes etc., and thus give us even more of a plutocracy than we now have. We can't vote against Norquist, but we can vote against Ryan and other Ayn Rand disciples.

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance, Seeking Truth - Debunking Dogma

The Sunday Funnies - Congressional Style

Posted by MacZad
Jun 03 2012

Not much today, but thought you might enjoy these strips poking some well deserved fun at your congressman:

Aren't we lucky that we have these great Supercongressmen?

Categories: Humor and Fun Stuff, Seeking Better Governance

On The Need For Political Engagement

Posted by MacZad
Jun 02 2012

We hear a lot these days about the vast difference in income and assets between the 1% and the 99%. (Graphs here and here ) Of course, the rich have always had higher incomes, and that's not necessarily bad. However, the use of wealth and the power it bestows to relentlessly lobby for favorable government policy and tax treatment to further skew the distribution of income upward is wrong. This has been going on for at least three decades and has resulted in our democracy essentially becoming a plutocracy - rule by the wealthy.

We, the 99%, have allowed this to happen: (1) by a disinterest in the political process - who wins Saturday's game, the American Idol competition or social websites get far more attention than politics and elections, (2) by a failure to vote in primary elections thus allowing those on the political fringes to go on to success in the main elections, and (3) by giving social issues, not economic ones, the greater weight in our political decision making process. 

However, there are signs of hope. The Occupy Wall Street movement put the frustrations on the front pages, but was unlikely to be successful. More likely to begin reversing the situation is the movement underway to amend the constitution to declare that corporations are not people.

You can be fairly sure that the plutocrats' aren't on Facebook or concerned with Saturday's game or the latest Idol winner. They're focused on directing their lobbying dollars to those politicians most likely to help them maintain and advance their favored position. To counteract the plutocrats and restore our democracy the rest of us need to be pushing back. We can start by giving economic and political issues more attention.

Food for thought about issues that matter will be the main thrust of future posts. 

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

Who creates jobs? Surprise- we do.

Posted by MacZad
Jun 01 2012

Those at the top are saying don't tax us, we're the job creators, and small business owners say the same. Well, there's little truth here as neither of them are the great engines of job creation that they claim to be.

The mom and pop businesses at the bottom don't create jobs because they usually don't have any employees; they're just one or two person operations often started by people laid off and unable to find new positions. In the large firms, where I have some experience, the upper managers are obsessed with headcount - how to keep it down!

If any segment of industry can claim to create jobs, it's the middle-sized companies that have the best claim. According to this Entrepreneur article from 2007 to 2010, the mid-market companies added 2.2 million jobs, while big businesses cut 3.7 million jobs.

However, even the middle-sized companies claim is weak for companies, of any size, don't just create jobs out of thin air. It takes market demand for a company's products or services to lead to job creation. At my old employer employees were added when product sales were strong and laid off when sales were weak, and that's generally the case at all companies.

So what does all this say about government policies - tax and other? To me it says that rebuilding the infrastructure would be good and that other good policies for job creation would be those that enable a broad segment of the population to purchase more goods and services. In other words, policies that reverse the high percentage of income going to the top few percent and spread it more broadly. The upper 1% aren't going to purchase many Harley-Davidson "hogs," but the other 99% will. Here's a businessman making this case much more compellingly than I ever could:

This great 6 minute Nick Hanauer TED talk on this subject is a must-watch video.

These ideas suggest income redistribution - a hot-button subject for many, but the gaming of the system in the past 30+ years that has so strongly skewed the flow to the upper end has to be reversed if our country is to ever return to its former greatness. I'll have more on this in later posts.

Update 11/01/12: Via Twitter ( @MacZad ) I have become aware of this great article which solidly debunks the myth that tax cuts for the rich create jobs; in fact they create bubbles. Read it! It makes the point much more solidly than I have done here.

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance