An official endorsement: OpEdge urges voters to vote party line Democratic on Nov. 6

There are several good reasons to vote for Obama and many very good reasons to vote against Romney.  The most compelling case to be made, however, is to vote straight party line Democratic regardless of the individual candidates.

Today’s Republican Party advocates a ratcheting up of the policies that have gutted the middle class and created a nation of rich and poor, including:

  • Reducing taxes on the income and investments of the wealthy.
  • Reducing programs that help the needy among us, including the elderly, poor and disadvantaged.
  • Ending job creation programs, even those that build or repair our infrastructure of highways, bridges, mass transit, sewers and schools.
  • Attacking unions and making it harder to unionize.
  • Privatizing standard government functions, which turns the middle class income of government employees into profit for government suppliers such as Halliburton and Blackwater.

One can’t help but note that in articulating these positions, many Republicans use racial code words and insinuate that their version of us-versus-them has a racial and ethnic tinge to it.  Republicans bite off these code words with a mean-spirited malevolence that advocates that we should always turn our back on our fellow humans.

Republicans also are opposed to regulations that protect workers, markets, the community and the environment. They do embrace regulations that impede minorities, the poor and students from voting.

While worshipping at the altar of the free market, the current Republican Party wants to take freedoms away from individuals, women in particular, but also gays, Muslims and poor.  In the Republican fantasy land, there are no married gays, in fact no gays whatsoever, no abortion, homes full of pregnant wives and a landscape buzzing with houses of worship, all Christian. Everybody speaks English.

This combination of controlling private actions that hurt no one but allowing public actions that can hurt the entire community is the essence of what has led to the U.S. decline since about 1980. To reject it, we have to reject Republicans at every level of the ballot, from President on down to dogcatcher.

If Mitt Romney were a Democrat, I might urge voters to go third party, because his beliefs or lack of beliefs aside, he does not have the qualifications or capabilities to be President of the United States.

Here is my bill of particulars against Mr. Romney:

  • Romney will do anything and say anything to get elected. We don’t know if the right-wing Romney of the primaries and early election season is the true Romney, or if it’s the more centrist Romney of the first debate and beyond. We don’t know and that very fact should frighten voters.
  • Mitt lies way too much for an elected official: He lied about Obama cutting $715 billion out of Medicare; he lied about Chrysler shipping U.S. jobs to China. He lied about the impact of his proposed tax break for the wealthy on the tax payments of the non-wealthy.  He lied when he said his health care plan would cover pre-existing conditions.  He lied when he said that Obama was responsible for all the job losses of the recession (which came before Obama took office or during his first few months in office).  The idea of an apology tour is one sustained big lie. There are many lists on the Internet of Romney’s constant lying: here’s one.
  • He has proven to be a complete doofus on foreign policy issues:  an inelegant bull in a china shop, shooting from the hip, insulting allies and seemingly dense to issues of foreign protocol.
  • As Lee Fang and others are beginning to uncover,  Romney is poised to turn the federal budget into a piggy bank for his supporters and cronies in the same way that Bush II did with the ill-conceived and costly Iraq War.

The case for Obama is the hardest to make. His record on protecting the environment and preparing the country for climate change is disappointing, as is his war on legal medical marijuana and his support of union-busting charter schools. From the standpoint of progressives in the George McGovern tradition, which constitute a large part of the Democratic Party, Obama has been a disappointment in foreign policy matters. When judged, however, by the centrist American imperialist and exceptionalist policies that have been in effect since World War II, Obama has been one of our most successful foreign policy presidents. He got Osama bin Laden, shut down Al Qaeda, has show a steady hand as middle eastern regimes have toppled and has managed our complicated business relationship with China.

To the positive is the Rube Goldberg machine called the Affordable Care Act.  It provides coverage for an additional 30-40 million Americans, removes the financial onus of a pre-existing condition, covers children under their parents policy until the age of 26, removes lifetime limits and begins to address the inefficiencies in our healthcare delivery system. Also to the good is the economy, which is slowly nursing its way back to health. Yes, the economy could be better, but that’s the fault of Congress for not passing the broader stimulus bill Obama wanted and for not funding this stimulus by allowing temporary tax breaks for the wealthy to expire. It is true that Obama caved too quickly on all of these issues, another reason for disappointment. I’m also dismayed that Obama has said nice things about the Bowles-Simpson report, which ignored its charge to address the deficit and instead proposed a tax overhaul that would have the wealthy paying less and all others paying more.

We can divide our vote up into three parts: Centrists and liberals might vote “no” on the Republicans, “no” on Romney and “maybe” on Obama, which computes to a positive vote for Obama on election days. But even progressives who might vote “no” on Obama in their hearts must pull the Obama lever because of Romney’s incompetence and Republican intransigence. And the same holds for traditional Eisenhower-Rockefeller conservatives as well. 

But I’m going to make it easy for everyone but the one-percenters or the 20% who are extreme social conservatives (the ones against vaccinations and abortion even if the woman has been raped): Don’t vote for Obama. Vote straight party line Democratic.

Famous for being the sister-in-law of someone whose grandma is famous for being famous

When I saw Parade Magazine’s front cover of a semi-attractive young lady named Pippa Middleton watching a young girl eat a donut hanging by a string, I immediately thought of Miggy and A-Rod.

Miggy, Miguel Cabrera, the best pure hitter of baseballs since Mickey Mantle, only gets in the news when he does something newsworthy like wins the Triple Crown or gets flagged by the cops for drunk driving. By contrast, faded superstar Alex Rodriguez gets in the news every time he pulls out of his driveway, waves to an attractive women or yawns.

A-Rod is a celebrity and Miggy is merely a great athlete.

But at least A-Rod can still hit a little bit and is a good fielder with the best infield arm since Cal Ripken.

And at least Lady Gaga can shake that thing and pretend to sing. Although just like Madonna three decades past, many rock critics gush a little bit too much about Gaga’s tunes, which really are the musical equivalent of eating microwave-warmed KFC leftovers.

Moving along the celebrity spectrum to the less essential, we can at least point at the relatives and paramours of the Kardashian bimbas and say that they have some accomplishments, e.g. Olympic gold medalist, pro basketball player and entertainment business mogul.

But what the heck did Pippa Middleton ever do to deserve any coverage in the news media?

She is the done-nothing sister of a done-nothing who married a done-nothing whose did-nothing grandmother happens to serve a hereditary ceremonial role that symbolizes everything against which the United States is said to stand and against which we fought the Revolutionary War. The bedrock of American exceptionalism—a theory that I reject—is the principle that we have no royalty. All men and women are created equal.

Middleton represents the pure celebrity—famous for nothing more than being famous. While the news media can find small admirable things about her life, in the grand scheme of things, she is little more than a hanger-on to royalty: a sycophant to evil. Let’s not forget that royalty is the belief that some people are inherently better and more deserving than others, and not even by virtue of doing good, but merely by birthright. To assert this belief, kings and queens through the ages have killed, maimed, tortured, stolen, raped and pillaged.  Middleton is the avatar not of evil monarchy but of the parasite, the drinking companion or the lady-in-waiting. Would we hang on the words and actions of the familial flotsam of the North Korean dictator?

When Parade first got the idea to build its Halloween issue around the celebration in another country, I wonder if a Spanish-speaking land came to mind, and was then rejected as not entirely keeping with the current anti-immigrant wave welling across the heartland. The Sunday supplement to most local newspapers wouldn’t want to appear to take a political stand over Halloween.

To make Merry Olde England the exotic foreign land whose celebration of Halloween Parade would feature makes sense since part of American consumerism is to homogenize the exotic—to reduce it to a few easy-to-identify traits that are then used to trick up the same old same old. Since we’re so British to begin with and we speak the same tongue, we start with instant homogenization.

But as usual, when Parade explores a holiday, social issue or milestone (with the strange exception of its recent excellent feature advocating vaccination), it does so through the prism of celebrity. It can’t just be British or Celtic (Irish) Halloween; it has to be Halloween celebrated by a British celebrity.  If fact, how Pippa spends her Halloween has less to do with Celtic or British traditions than it does with the high quality enrichment I associate with the best public elementary schools.

Who did Parade not feature? Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Prime Minister David Cameron, Christian Bale, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins!), Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. These Brits are all celebrities and have also done something, although I don’t want to conflate acting in a few popular action hero movies with making major contributions to the science of evolution.

For Parade and the American mass media, the celebrity sets the tone for a celebration, trend, idea, holiday or event. The celebrity defines and upholds the standard as to what is hip, new, chic, stylish or socially acceptable. The celebrity tells us what to do, what to eat, and most importantly what to buy.   The celebrity sells not just products, services and actions but the very idea that social interaction reduces to buying.

As it turns out, much of the Pippa Middleton article consists of a hodgepodge of interesting ideas to expand Halloween beyond dunning neighbors for treats that the children then consume in a sugary orgy. Parade suggested activities like leaf rubbing and pumpkin bowling that actively engage children in imaginative play and easy crafts but which aren’t really British, English or Welsh.  Reading Halloween books with children is also a good idea.

Setting aside the relative lack of authenticity in Pippa’s Halloween, what corrupts these excellent suggestions for a Halloween party is the very fact that the context is the celebrity, and not just any celebrity, but the pure celebrity, known for nothing more than being famous.

Parade consciously decided to build its celebration of Halloween around a celebrity. That they found one who represents an inherent evil is merely a lucky bit of symbolism, since the very concept of celebrity is as detrimental to the human body and soul as royalty is. Royalty enslaves us to other, more powerful people who can never lose their power (until we overthrow them), whereas celebrity enslaves us to the marketplace and the concept that all human expression revolves around buying and consumption.

The actual suggestions in the article eschew marketplace solutions for the quaint, old-fashioned and many would say enduring values of imaginary play and crafty activities. Parade validates these values through the vehicle of celebrity, as if to say that even though leaf rubbing and cutting spooky place cards has nothing to do with vacationing at a fancy resort or wearing designer dresses, they’re still okay because a celebrity does them.




Does Romney deserve a free pass on foreign policy because he never represented a nation?


The consensus in the main stream news media is that Obama won the debate on foreign policy, but that Romney did okay.


The view that Romney held his own neglects the fact that Mitt once again repudiated 24 months worth of speeches and position papers to list to the center. His accused Obama of projecting weakness abroad and yet ended up saying he’d do exactly what the President has done. At certain points, Romney was incoherent in response to Obama’s articulate and respectful chiding.


Whoever wins the election, Obama’s line about Romney’s idea of increasing our battleships will go down as one of the greatest of all debate putdowns. Here is the most extended version of it:

“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines…And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”


While demurring from the mainstream view that Romney did okay enough to help himself, I want to consider the excuse that some like Cokie Roberts gave for Romney: a sitting president has an enormous advantage over the challenger when it comes to foreign policy.


It sounds reasonable until you actually examine the evidence. Even after four years as president, Bush II had no more experience in foreign policy than Kerry. The same for Bob Dole and President Clinton; the same for Walter Mondale and President Reagan. While challenger Clinton’s and Reagan’s foreign policy credentials couldn’t compare to the incumbents, they articulated easy-to-understand global visions and voters hated the policies of the incumbents, Bush I and Jimmy Carter, respectively.


In short, lack of foreign policy experience is not an excuse for Romney, but a flaw in his candidacy that voters should and will weigh when deciding for whom to cast their vote.


At least the inexperienced Clinton and Reagan offered voters a choice, each in his own way. By contrast, Romney offers nothing different in substance or action from Obama. Mitt’s only difference on foreign policy is one of style. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick—yet another way in which Barack Obama resembles past Republicans, Mitt would propose we thrust our horns out, snort, kick the earth a few times and plunge into that China shop.


As many Democratic, liberal and progressive candidates, office holders and pundits have already recommended, perhaps we should judge Romney by the advisors he has retained. About two-thirds are former Bush II officials and the main guys all advocated or helped to plan or wage the disastrous Iraq war. Romney himself has now flipped and flopped on every foreign policy issue; and on many of them he flipped and flopped in the third debate.  Maybe instead of believing that Mitt has settled in the center, we should instead assume that he will listen to his neo-con advisors. The guys who brought us an expensive goalless war, torture, diminished respect among our allies and the hatred of many in the Moslem world


We can’t afford to give Romney the chance to put the neo-con warmongers back in charge.

I thought Mitt’s big issue was low taxes for rich; turns out he wants to use presidency to make money

Over the weekend I read Lee Fang’s expose of the “Romney Family Business” in the latest issue of The Nation.

All this time I thought that the only thing Mitt Romney really cared about was lowering taxes on the wealthy. It turns out he plans to peddle influence and sell off the government to cronies and those who pay to be his pal—CORRECTION—the pal of his son Tagg. You know the young Mormon who wanted to slug the President of the United States.

Lee Fang reports that Mitt’s tag-along son owns a company that is a fund of funds for rich investors. For a big take of the action and fees up front, Tagg’s company, Solamere, invests the money of very rich folk into various hedge funds and private equity funds. But they do it through a series of corporations in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere so that the investors don’t pay taxes. It makes the Bush family ties to Saudi oil interests seem virtuous.

But wait, it gets worse.

Investors expect, and get, special access to the presidency.

The article focuses on the potential for giving away the government store to cronies. Here’s one example of what we might expect from a Romney presidency: twice on the campaign trail, Mitt has gone out of his way to praise a for-profit college called Full Sale University in comments about education reform.  Full Sale is owned by one of the Solamere equity partners, TA Associates.  It’s a real bargain, too—LOL—the third most expensive college in the country.

We can expect Romney to privatize as much as he can and then give the rights away in sweetheart deals to cronies, defined as those who invest with Tagg.  BTW, here’s what privatization mean to the U.S. economy: middle class government jobs are replaced by jobs that pay less and more money goes to the executives and owners of the companies with the government contracts.

But wait, it gets worse.

Solamere has invested in Hart Intercivic, which makes voting machines that Politico reports are prone to failures and counting errors. And yes, the Hart Intercivic machines are being used on voting day in parts of Ohio. Of course the good little Tagg-along would never dream of cooking the voting books. That would be illegal.

At this point, it might be best to begin remembering the difference between aristocracy and plutocracy. Aristocrats can be rich or poor, although the rich aristocracy will often help poor relations, especially the talented ones, kind of like Gavin Newsom and John Kerry got help as youths. (Of course, when the help is offered to all regardless of family background it’s sometimes called a meritocracy and sometimes called godless socialism.)  You can’t stop being an aristocrat, because it’s in the blood.

But the plutocracy operates on a cash only basis. If you don’t have the money, you have no influence in government. Without the big bucks, you are essentially without a vote.

Keep that in mind in the case that Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

Do voters condone lying by candidates? Corruption of elections may begin with the public

The reaction to the vice presidential and the second presidential debates reminds me of a mirror. When you look in a mirror you see yourself. In the case of these debates, it appears that opinion writers, pundits, political advisors and bloggers are all seeing what they want to see. Yes, I believe that both the President and Vice President kicked butt, but I’m a liberal. The twisted arguments I have read on both sides make me discount all opinions, including my own, as subjective wishful thinking. Maybe I’m just seeing the reflection of my own views in the mirror. As with the first debate, we really won’t know who won until we see the polls in about a week.

Perhaps the most talked-about moment in the debate has been Mitt Romney’s unfortunate elision of “binders full of resumes of women” into “binders full of women.” Many Democrats and feminists have been giving Romney a hard time about the remark. The remark as stated does commoditize women, that is, treat them as interchangeable commodities. But give the guy a break.  It was another verbal flub and nothing more. I’m not voting for Mitt because I don’t like his stands and his plans and I don’t think he would make a competent leader of a democracy, but I’m willing to give him a free pass on this remark and rather focus on his awful positions on women’s reproductive rights, health care, the fact that women still make less than men for the same jobs and other important issues. The election is too important to sweat the small stuff.

The fact that the story Romney told about his binders was false raises a more important issue—lying by candidates.  Romney said that he asked for the resumes, when in fact they had been given to him and his opponent in the election before the votes came out in Mitt’s favor.  The Republicans have used these kinds of distortions as a major strategy of the campaign, as fact-checking services have revealed time and again.

But does the public care if candidates lie?

An opinion poll on the homepage of Yahoo! the day before the second presidential debate suggests that many do not.

First, let’s be clear that these online polls are not scientific since people can vote more than once using different computers and the participants are not screened to represent an accurate demographic cross-section.  For example, the Yahoo! polls always skew slightly to the right, meaning that the results always favor the conservative view more than scientific polls conducted by reputable organizations do. This rightward lean could reflect the fact that retired people tend to be more conservative and have the time to do these polls, or it may suggest that Yahoo! is used by a right-leaning demographic or it may be caused by another factor.

The results of Yahoo! polls can be particularly suspect because instead of asking yes-and-no questions, the possible answers always come with a characterization that spins them in one way or another. Here’s today’s poll, for example:

Was Candy Crowley wrong to fact-check during the debate?
            Yes, it’s not the moderator’s place.
            No, she made a good correction.

But what if you think that it is the moderator’s place to fact-check, but do not think Crowley’s correction was accurate? How do you vote then?

Taking the inherent inaccuracies of the Yahoo! poll into account, I am nevertheless completely shocked and dismayed by the results of the Yahoo! Poll on candidates’ lying. Here’s what the approximately half million people who answered the question said:

Do you expect candidates to lie during the debates?
Yes, it’s part of the game: 58%
No, they should be honest: 42%

Even if we factor in people voting twice and take into account the chatty but distorting way Yahoo! asks its questions—even when we consider all those factors, we can only conclude that a large part of the American public believes that its okay for our candidates and elected officials to lie to us. (BTW, I don’t want anyone to infer that I believe that conservatives condone lying more than liberals or centrists. I don’t, although I do believe that the current crop of conservative politicians do lie a lot more than other candidates, and a lot more than conservatives of the 60’s and 70’s did).

Lying and corruption are supposed to be the exceptions that we root out of the system. We are supposed to be shocked when we see students in cheating scandals, scientists giving false results or executives cooking the books.  We’re supposed to base our decisions on the truth and consider the liar a pariah.

But evidently, large numbers of Americans have become ethically challenged. They believe that it’s not how you play the game, but if you win. They follow the cynical political philosopher Machiavelli and think that the ends justify the means.

Is this what the American compact has come down to? Lie to get what you want.

The low minimum wage reduces to a subsidy to businesses

The statistic has been around for a few months now, but I just stumbled upon it and was amazed: Wal-Mart workers collectively receive $2.66 billion a year in food stamps, or $420,000 per Wal-Mart store in food stamps. Year after year, low Wal-Mart wages lead to the government providing food stamps and other assistance to its workers and thus indirectly subsidizing Wal-Mart’s profit.

What would happen if Wal-Mart raised the wages it pays its workers to a level that prevented them from qualifying for food stamps? In asking the question, I assume that Wal-Mart, like most companies, does not carry excess labor and so could not lay off masses of people to keep their profit margin stable. So the company would be forced to raise prices. But if Wal-Mart raises prices too much, people will start shopping elsewhere. After all, the main reason people shop at Wal-Mart is price.

To remain viable as a business, Wal-Mart would eventually have to take the money to pay workers a decent wage out of profit and executive salaries.

That means that there would be less money for the multi-billionaire Walton family and the executives who make millions, starting with $35 million a year for the chief executive officer. Maybe the CEO would have to settle for making 42 times what the average worker makes, which is what the average manufacturing CEO in the United States made in 1960. By the way, the average U.S. manufacturing CEO now makes 344 times what the average worker makes, compared to 25 times the average worker for European CEOs. Wal-Mart’s CEO currently makes more than 2,000 times what an entry-level Wal-Mart employee does.

It amazes me that Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and the other good old boys and girls don’t complain about the corporate giveaway that takes place every time someone with a minimum or low wage job files for food stamps.

During the past 30 years, one way that income has been transferred from the poor and middle class is through the deterioration of the purchasing power of the minimum wage. Since the late 1960’s the minimum wage has lost 40% of its value. Most people who lose 40% of their purchasing power would be in real trouble—so imagine what it means to those at the lowest end of the wage spectrum.

It’s been a boon to employers who now can pay a de facto 40% less to get minimum wage jobs done. Since the minimum wage sets the bar for wages and salaries at all levels, it’s no wonder that on average, employees make less than they did 30 years ago, when inflation is figured into the equation.

My proposal is to set the minimum wage at a level so that 40 hours of it would bring a worker above the maximum level for receiving food stamps. That would result in an increase in all wages. It would also take money out of the pockets of the rich folk who save a significant part of their income and put that money into the hands of the poor, near poor and middle class, who would spend more of it, thus creating more jobs. Don’t worry, the rich and upper middle class would still do pretty well.

The fly in the ointment is the possibility that Wal-Mart and other large companies would offshore even more jobs to Asia than they do now. Which brings us to the second part of my proposal: that no good or service be allowed to be imported into the United States unless the producer/seller both paid its workers the prevailing U.S. wage and provided a similar level of safety and environmental protections.

My two proposals would lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth, in the United States and probably worldwide. Studies of 20th century America, 14th century Europe and 16th century Spain demonstrate that a more equitable distribution of wealth leads to a stronger economy.

The alternative is to continue on the path we are on and end up having an economy and society that look like those of a third world nation.

Right-wing group thinks that program to have school children have lunch with new friends may turn kids gay

What could be more innocent and more reflective of basic American values than a program that encourages school children to have lunch with kids with whom they usually don’t associate?  It’s a wonderful way to encourage children to learn about people outside their small circle of friends, who might come from a different ethnic or economic background, or maybe even have a disability.

This national program is called Mix It Up at Lunch Day and is sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a long-time civil rights organization known primarily for its work on behalf of African-Americans, but which in recent years has gotten involved in rights issues for gays, immigrants and others.  According to SPLC, Mix It Up “encourages students across the nation to challenge and cross social and racial boundaries by sitting with someone new in the cafeteria for just one day.” SPLC says that more than one million students across the nation took part in Mix It Up last year.

It reminds me of the middle school my son attended, which assigned kids to lunch tables and changed the assignments every six weeks. By the end of the year, every child had sat at lunch with every other child in his or her grade, a great way to slow down the formation of cliques.

Mix it Up at Lunch Day sounds like an idea that everyone from all points of the political spectrum can get behind.

But not the ultra- right-wing American Family Association (AFA), which has launched a campaign to have parents keep their children home from school on this year’s Mix It Up day, set for October 30.

What could AFA’s objection possibly be?

As reported in the New York Times, AFA claims that the event is “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in America.”

The Times gives us this quote from Bryan Fisher, who works for AFA: “Anti-bullying legislation is exactly the same,” Mr. Fischer said. “It’s just another thinly veiled attempt to promote the homosexual agenda. No one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized.”

The only way that this statement makes any sense is if Fisher is saying that AFA dislikes Mix It Up and anti-bullying policies because both discourage kids from beating up gays. What else could AFA possibly mean by “punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior should not be normalized” in the context of anti-bullying initiatives?

Beyond this convoluted justification for literally bashing GLBT students, is the illogical inference that Mix It Up has a special gay agenda. There is no special mention of GBLT as a group in the Mix It Up material I saw, and quite a lot about racial and ethnic groups like African-Americans and Latinos. I also saw an emphasis on encouraging kids from different socioeconomic groups to get together. There can be no doubt that Mix It Up is meant to include people of differing sexual orientations (as it should), but their inclusion is not explicitly stated. To say that the program has a special gay orientation is nothing more than a lie.

Moreover, Mix It Up promotes tolerance for differences—be it racial, social, sexual, whatever— and does nothing to promote any given lifestyle or ethnic group.

What’s more, most people would only connect SPLC with the civil rights movement for African-Americans.   I understand that the AFA boycott may partially be in retaliation for SPLC putting the right-wing group on its list of hate groups. So maybe, all we have here is a tit-for-tat maneuver that is unfortunately based on a big lie and AFA’s ugly viewpoint regarding sexual minorities.

That’s pretty bad in and of itself, but I keep having this gnawing feeling that something else is going on.  Let’s add one and one together: The first one is the fact that Mix It Up Day focuses on race and ethnicity. The second one is the fact that SPLC is known for its stand on race issues. When I add those two “ones” together, the two I get is that behind the attack on gays by AFA is a veiled racist attack against minorities.

“Cap & trade” too complex. Why not just create more rigorous emissions standards and fine polluters?

Let’s take a break from the presidential election campaign to discuss a topic that both candidates seem to be largely ignoring: the environment – specifically the enormous amount of carbon wastes that human are spewing into the environment by burning fossil fuels. The funny thing is that in long term, the rapid warming of the planet through human action is the most single important issue we face, and the candidates want to run away from the discussion.

California is not taking the head-in-the-sand approach of our national leaders when it comes to pollution emissions.  As the New York Times reported today, California is set to introduce a cap-and-trade plan which charges industries money for the greenhouse gases they produce. The California plan seems to be the preferred mode of economists and governments to address pollution control.  A similar cap-and-trade plan never made it through the U.S. Congress. The European Union has had a cap-and-trade program in place since 2005.

But just what is cap-and-trade? The Times gives a good overview of what will happen in California. After I read it, I was scratching my head at its complexity:

“…the state will set an overall ceiling on those emissions and assign allowable emission amounts for individual polluters. A portion of these so-called allowances will be allocated to utilities, manufacturers and others; the remainder will be auctioned off.

Over time, the number of allowances issued by the state will be reduced, which should force a reduction in emissions.

To obtain the allowances needed to account for their emissions, companies can buy them at auction or on the carbon market. They can secure offset credits, as they are known, either by buying leftover allowances from emitters that have met their targets or by purchasing them from projects that remove carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere…”

I like the part of it that involves gradually lowering the amount of emissions that are allowed.

But the idea of trading emissions credits is overly complex and therefore almost by definition easy to abuse.   Cap-and-trade creates a marketplace in which pollution credits are bought and sold.  Theoretically it enables a major polluter to continue to spew poison into the air merely by buying pollution credits from companies that don’t pollute or don’t pollute as much. As with all markets, even the theoretical “free market,” the altar at which most Republicans pray, the cap-and-trade marketplace runs by rules and regulations that lend both additional complexity and the possibility of nefarious manipulation.

In some ways, cap-and-trade reminds me of the securitization of home mortgages. It used to be that banks loaned people money to buy a home and then patiently waited until the consumer paid the loan back. With securitization, the banks made the loan and then sold it to someone else, who lumped together many loans and sold them as an investment that could be traded on the market.  Creating a market for mortgage-based financial instruments was supposed to spread the risk and lead to safer investments, which in turn would help consumers.  We all know how that worked out: Because banks were selling off the loans, their lending standards fell, people who couldn’t afford loans got them, those loans were buried in the financial vehicles that were sold, and when the loans went south, the entire house of cards of the mortgage market crumbled, taking the U.S. economy with it.

I don’t think that cap-and-trade will lead to another financial meltdown (although trading in a triviality—the tulip bulb—took down the Dutch economy in the 17th century). What it does is interject a level of complexity that is both unnecessary and open to abuse.

Cap-and-trade is the type of plan that Rube Goldberg might build.  Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist who drew a series of popular cartoons depicting complex gadgets performing very simple tasks in convoluted ways.

The simple way to deal with emissions is to set regulations and make polluters follow them or suffer stiff fines. The argument against this approach is that it will be too expensive for companies or that the companies will pass on the costs of consumers, hurting everyone, but especially poor people.

These arguments are bogus: First of all, society is already paying the additional cost of pollution through higher healthcare costs and cleanup of natural disasters. These “hidden” costs, often called “social costs” are paid collectively by all of us. We pay and the company doesn’t, meaning that besides allowing our environment to be fouled, we as a community are subsidizing the income of the polluting company’s senior management and shareholders. It’s a classic “pay me now or pay me later,” except instead of the companies paying now, we all pay later.

Keep in mind, too, that the money that the polluting companies shell out to put scrubbers on coal-burning plants, introduce a little natural gas into the coal mix or any of the other currently available emission technologies goes to the companies that develop, sell and maintain these pollution-preventing technologies . The money is not burned and lost to the economy. It is used to create a more diversified economy, and one that is not so hazardous to the health of the Earth.

As to poor people who might not be able to afford the new higher prices when companies clean up their act, it seems to me that it’s far simpler to give the poor an energy tax credit than to create a convoluted and easy-to-scam cap-and-trade marketplace.

I applaud California for actually doing something about greenhouse gas emissions.  I only wish it had followed the dictum of 14th century Christian philosopher, Thomas of Occam, to seek the simpler solution, which is this case means making polluters pay.



Why do so many right-wingers seem so grim and angry?

I normally associate fear with many conservative positions:  Fear of minorities and the poor. Fear of losing a job or a home. Fear of terrorist attack. Fear of cities and those that have different lifestyles and backgrounds. This fear of the other that haunts U.S. culture through history.

But what I’m feeling from the right in the current presidential election cycle is anger not fear.  Anger at people who accept government benefits—except for themselves, of course. Anger at Muslims and at Arabs (two different things). Anger at unions. Anger at anyone who wants to raise their taxes. Anger at women who have abortions and even at women who use birth control.

There have been so many Republican candidates who had fed this anger and then fed off of it that I don’t know where to start: Certainly, Mitt deserves notice for his “47%” comments, delivered in the smooth corporate style that Bertram Gross once called “friendly fascism.”

But even at his worst, Romney is so genteel. I’m talking about bitter, hateful words that seem to spew from the mouth like spitfire from an automatic weapon—Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Todd Akin are the A-team of the angry candidates, but other Republican celebs fomenting anger include Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Jack Welch, Jack Nicklaus and Sarah Palin.

I have experienced this anger in the tweets I receive whenever I write something critical of Romney or right-wing positions.  I must preface this remark by mentioning that I get very polished and enlightening tweets on a regular basis from a dozen or so conservatives who vehemently oppose my views—vehemently but with civility.

But I am getting a very large number of tweets from Romney supporters, global warming deniers and those who want to lower taxes on the wealthy and end Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid that manifest anger, and in many cases contain nothing more than angry invictive. Over the past few months every grammatical tense of all the common four-letter vulgarities have been tossed my way, along with a number of other usually tedious and gratuitous insults and an occasional veiled threat involving firearms.

I especially like when people infer things about me or my life, for example that I was a hippie that didn’t study in college (I won the scholarship as the outstanding student) or that I am not financially successful (when I have earned a great living running a business for more than 20 years).

But my favorite tactic of the angry birds attacking me on Twitter is “machine-gunning tweets,” by which I mean sending eight or nine tweets in a row. I can understand wanting to string some tweets together to make a point that requires too much detail for the 140-charatcter Twitter limit. When machine-gunning tweets though, the tweeter is not building an argument, just sending a series of disconnected statements, all dripping with hostility.

(I can’t say if the progressives and centrists who tweet me are angry—they tend to agree with what I have written, so why would anger leak into their communications to an ally? They may display hostility when they tweet those with whom they disagree. I do know that a lot of them express fear when they tweet me—fear that Social Security, Medicare or food stamps could be eliminated, fear that we’ll restart our torture gulag, fear that they’ll lose reproductive rights, fear they’ll lose basic civil rights.  But I can’t say what the underlying emotional tone is when they tweet conservatives.)

The switch from fear to a mean-spirited anger came with the ascension of the Tea Party, which studies show basically comprises wealthier than usual whites living primarily in distant suburbs and rural areas.

Both anger and fear have an object and that object is the other. We fear the other. We hate the other. The other in the United States (as in many countries) are racial minorities and newcomers (AKA immigrants). It is truly a propaganda tour de force, though, that the Republicans have gotten away with adding poor people, those who receive government benefits (except for those that the hater receives), school teachers, union members and intellectuals to the list of the despised other without large numbers of people realizing that the list now includes a majority of all Americans.

Change in polls show Romney won debate and kudos to Parade Magazine

I wrote the other day that we wouldn’t know who really won the first presidential debate until the next polls of likely voters came out.

That verdict is in, and it seems as if the pundits were right and Romney won by the only criterion that counts: a change in the polls in his favor.  New polls have shown Romney pulling even or slightly ahead in the larger swing states and closing the gap nationally. That is, assuming these polls aren’t cooked like many Republicans said former polls and the latest unemployment numbers were.  Funny, they’re not questioning the accuracy of these new polls.  LOL.

I have a few observations I want to share on Romney’s post-debate surge, working backwards from the end of the decision-making chain to the beginning:

  1. We don’t know the composition of the people who swung to Romney in the aftermath of the first debate, but I’m going to guess that they were Republicans who were going to stay home or independents leaning towards Mitt in the first place.
  2. It’s fairly clear that Romney’s performance in the polls swayed the people now responsible for the swing to Romney, since nothing else changed. What is unclear is whether the pundits’ immediate declaration of a Romney victory influenced the perception of who won the debate or the decision to raise hands for the challenger.
  3. Those who judged Romney the winner did not factor in the fact that Mitt told so many lies in his debate remarks.   If telling the truth had been one of the criteria by which the debate were judged, Romney would have been declared the loser by all but the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world.

The most depressing implication of the “win,” then, is that either people are not seeking or retaining information about the views of the candidates AND/OR they just don’t care if a candidate lies or distorts a lot.

Many supporters of Obama I know have been wringing their hands in anxiety and moaning some form of the question, “Why didn’t Obama do better?” The Economist supplied the
answer to this question days before the debate in an editorial cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher: Both candidates are at the debate podium. Romney is juggling three small, perfectly round balls labeled “Massachusetts,” “Bain Capital” and “Olympics.”  Obama is juggling nine or ten enormous shapes, each with jagged edges or other potential hazards, and they’re labeled with “Iran,” “Libya,” “Unemployment,” “Deficit” and so forth.  Kallaugher hits on the reason that incumbents mostly lose the first presidential debate—they all have had a pretty demanding day job.

Changing the subject: I frequently criticize Parade Magazine, the Sunday newspaper supplement that is probably the most widely read periodical in the United States. Parade is an easy target for anyone opposed to celebrity culture and to those concerned that the news media promotes consumerism and unhealthy habits such a poor nutrition.

Today I come not to bury Parade, but to praise it.

This Sunday’s issue has a long article telling the public the dangers of not vaccinating children against common diseases and debunking every myth of the anti-vaccine movement.

Parade presents the case for vaccination with both facts and a heart-rending case history. Parade’s extensive coverage includes two sidebar articles with lists: one of the 5 leading myths about vaccines, each exploded with easy-to-understand science; the other of the types of vaccines people need at different stages of life.

The anti-vaccine movement is one of the saddest parts of our current retreat from rationality—and one of the most senseless. Global warming can seem far off and abstract, even after a summer of beastly heat. Whether we’re descended from other animals doesn’t matter when you’re paying the rent or saving for your children’s higher education. But the growing number of parents who fail to get their children vaccinated leads directly to epidemics of painful and preventable diseases.

Bravo to Parade for taking on this important health issue.