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Because They Can - Part 1

Posted by MacZad
Sep 29 2012

This is the first of a series of several that will focus on what happens when the "power pendulum" swings too far in any direction because the countervailing forces are weak. When it happens destabilizing excesses occur because the people with power exercise it - because they can. That pendulums can have big swings is undeniable, but things go better if the "power pendulum" swings don't depart too far from the golden mean. This post examines excessive union power in the middle of the 20th Century.

There is much said these days about the sad state of union power. Many lament the unions decline, and long for the "good old days" when the unions had real power. Well, they may have been the "good old days" for the middle class prospered, but the excessive power that unions exercised in that era was ultimately destabilizing and certainly contributed to the decline of American manufacturing.

The abuse of union power in the auto industry (with a focus on GM) is succinctly told by Megan McArdle in her Why Companies Fail article in the March 2012 issue of The Atlantic magazine.

Detroit labor relations have been a disaster ever since the early unionization drives, which were acrimonious and at times violent (at the infamous “Battle of the Overpass,” in 1937, a claque of Ford security guards attacked union agitators in front of an assembled press delegation). The result was a poisonous relationship; in many ways, GM workers were more a part of the United Auto Workers than of GM. Eventually, the union became a sort of shadow management that had to sign off on every production decision the company made, if it had any effect at all on workers.
This system actually worked during the boom years. Because GM’s competitors were unionized too, the UAW’s power kept wages more or less equal across the Big Three, and helped contain cost competition that might have led to price wars, undercutting margins. The UAW, meanwhile, never had to worry that an excessively rich compensation package would put the Big Three in jeopardy.
Conditions changed, but the union's thinking didn't. The union frequently behaved like a parasite that didn’t care whether it killed its host — calling strikes just as the company was trying to launch a pathbreaking small car; demanding that GM keep paying surplus workers nearly full salary indefinitely, even as market share declined. Rather than trying to change this dynamic, management caved, again and again — possibly, Ingrassia suggests, because any increase in wages would “trickle up,” as GM strove to maintain a pay differential between management and the hourly workers.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not anti union. This is just an example from the past showing how things end badly when the countervailing forces are impotent. In today's world Wall Street, corporate America, the NRA, the fundamentalist Christians, etc. are all exercising excessive power - because they can. These abuses of power are destabilizing and are having a negative effect on our national affairs. I've already mentioned some of their abuses in past posts, and I'll elaborate more in future posts in this series.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Nikki Haley's Hard Sell

Posted by MacZad
Sep 27 2012

Recently S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley appeared in a nearby town trying to convince the local ladies that the Republican Party was not waging a "war on women," and that they should vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Her message is a hard sell for, as depicted by this Wasserman Boston Globe cartoon, the ultra-conservative and sometimes ignorant Republican leaders (mostly men) have made restricting women's reproductive rights a top priority.

 Cartoon showing Todd Akin and Paul Ryan

And it's not just these two. Much of the party leadership is just as disparaging of women. Here's an excerpt from a CNN article about the Republican Convention's Platform Committee:

The 110-member platform panel passed a so-called Human Life Amendment that calls for a ban on abortion, without mention of the more common exceptions for victims of rape or incest. “Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” said platform language obtained by CNN. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Barney Frank had it right when he said that anti-abortion legislators ,"believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth." Given such strongly-held Republican mindsets it's clear that their concern for the unborn will always far outweigh any concern for the pregnant woman. So ladies don't believe Nikki Haley's claim that there's no Republican "war on women." The facts speak otherwise.

Categories: Seeking Better Governance

Conservatives Embracing Evolution?

Posted by MacZad
Sep 23 2012

As evidenced by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case which put corporations on the same footing as people (actually above them by virtue of their superior financial resources) this conservative court has finally done what many conservatives have been loath to do - embraced evolution as depicted below.

Cartoon showing the corporation as the final sep in the process of evolution  

Categories: Humor and Fun Stuff

A Most Interesting Thing About The Political Convertions

Posted by MacZad
Sep 20 2012

There was a most interesting contrast between the Republican and Democratic conventions - the stark difference in the treatment of two former presidents.

The Democrats gave former president Bill Clinton a prime time slot for his speech at the DNC. At the RNC the Republicans did not have former president George Bush speak at all.

There's a not so subtle message to be inferred from those decisions by party leaders. Of course the Democrats are proud of Bill Clinton; he was a popular president who governed well. They wanted him on the program to capitalize on his legacy. But what of the Republicans? By not having George Bush, the last Republican president, speak at the convention they all but disowned him. Poor George. However, the guys running the Romney campaign aren't dummies and George's record is not something that they wanted to dwell on.

However, even though Romney and Ryan aren't Bush and Cheney the policies that they espouse are very much like those of the Bush-Cheney administration. The people are different but the mindset is the same so if they are elected we can expect:

  • Adherence to the idea that almost every problem can be solved by cutting taxes.
  • Reluctance to do the government's regulatory functions - not regulating the financial industry gave us the 2008 crash.
  • Allegiance to the oil industry and reluctance to move toward alternative energy sources.
  • Strong funding of the US military for operations throughout the world - at the expense of domestic programs.
  • Repressive social legislation favored by fundamentalist Christians.
  • Staunch conservative appointees to the Supreme Court giving us even more corporate favoritism.

There's more evidence in this NY Times article that the Bush and Cheney policies have Romney's support. However, he's endorsing them only during private meetings with campaign donors, not publically .

These policies didn't leave George Bush with a good record and it's not logical to expect that the results will be any better for Romney.

Categories: Seeking Better Governance

It's A Grand Old Flag

Posted by MacZad
Sep 13 2012

Years of corporate favoritism by our leaders and the 2010 Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing corporations unlimited spending to influence elections have given us a country pretty much as depicted by this flag:

So to paraphrase Lincoln, it's now, "---that government: of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, shall not perish from the earth."

Here are some reforms that would help to get the citizens' influence in Washington somewhat equal to that of the corporations:

  • Enact a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations do not have the same rights as people.
  • Put real limits on the use of influence money by the K Street lobbying firms.
  • Further limit the revolving doors that shuttle people between Washington and corporations.
  • Take redistricting out of the hands of the politicians as California has done with its Citizens Redistricting Commission.
  • Go to open primary elections like Washington State is using.
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and go to popular election of the President.

These reforms are lofty and perhaps almost impossible to universally achieve, but as Washington state and California have shown reform is possible if the citizens keep pressing for it. The Center for Voting and Democracy is concerned with all aspects of voting, and has some good ideas beyond those mentioned above. Check them out and also their Blog. (Updated 10/08/2012)

Categories: Opposing Plutocracy and Corporatocracy, Seeking Better Governance

Creating Realities?

Posted by MacZad
Sep 08 2012

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan

How our politics have changed since the Moynihan era. During the past few years it's become apparent from the utterances of Republican leaders that they see manipulation of truth as a powerful tool in helping them to gain power and pursue their objectives.

Here's a quote from an extensive article on the Bush presidency by Ron Suskind in the October 2004 New York Times Magazine.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

The aide (Karl Rove?) appeared more than willing to invent or distort facts to "create our own reality." The arrogance displayed is almost unbelievable. One of those created realities was the "weapons of mass destruction" reality that led to the Iraq war. That ignoring/distorting of the truth didn't lead to a smashing success, did it? My last posting about Republican wisdom had this example (from the time of the 2012 RNC) of this continuing willingness to manipulate the truth. All but admitting that the Romney campaign would be lying pollster Neil Newhouse said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

What a disservice this use of deceit is to political discourse. Presenting the electorate with distortions or downright lies blunt the truth, and the country suffers as decisions based on anything other than the best understanding of the truth are bound to turn out badly. As the old saying goes, "Garbage in garbage out."

However, this behavior by Republican leaders is not surprising considering Christian fundamentalists influence in the party. Creating alternative realities is old stuff to Christian fundamentalists. They do it in their theme parks where they show people and dinosaurs coexisting.

So, are the Democrats guilty as well? Yes but to a lesser degree, and a willingness, even an eagerness, to ignore hard facts and "create our own reality" does not seem to be present when they are governing.

All this means that voters now have to be much more skeptical about the information presented during campaigns. Fortunately the media has become quite alert to this decrease in truthfulness, and the lies and distortions are increasingly being called out. Also there are now political fact checkers so voters can check truthfulness themselves. The fact checkers sure called out Ryan on his RNC speech. The most respected fact checkers: FactCheck.org - PolitiFact.com - The Fact Checker

Categories: Illuminating Dark Places, Seeking Better Governance