NRC storage decision may lead to building of more dangerous nuclear power plants

The single most important news story of the day—the one most likely to still be affecting lives in 10 or even 100 years—was buried on page A13 of the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal didn’t cover it all, nor did Yahoo! News or Google News. A search of Google News yielded a mere 199 or 353 stories about it, depending on which search terms you entered. Those numbers are pittances compared to the hundreds of thousands and sometimes million of stories produced by searches for skirmishes in the Middle East or the marriage of celebrities.

Yet there is no doubt in my mind that it is the most important news event of the week, because it will have the greatest long-term impact on our people and our economy. And the impact will all be bad!

I’m talking about the decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC for “not real careful”) to allow nuclear power plants to permanently store the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods above ground in guarded containers. This unanimous decision by the NRC removes a major barrier for the nuclear power industry, which can now build new plants and expand old ones.

It’s bad news for people because using nuclear power to generate electricity is a dangerous process. Accidents can cause increases in early deaths for decades to come.

And it’s also bad news for the economy, because the money spent to build new nuclear power plants will not be spent to develop solar and wind energy.

Some of the spent fuel has a half life of 25,000 years. That means it takes 25,000 years for half of its radioactivity to dissipate. What an arrogant and ignorant assumption the Obama NRC is making to assume that sentient beings will be able to guard and maintain the radioactive cesspools inside containers for hundreds of thousands of years, ten times the length of recorded history. How many societies will come and go in that time? How many mutations of language will occur? How likely will it be that after a social upheaval or a natural disaster the survivors will forget the location of the containers and what’s inside them? Take a look at the oldest identifiable human settlements and your answers to my questions may unsettle you.

Of course, what the Obama NRC is really doing is kicking the can down the road, leaving it to future generations to solve the problem of permanently storing nuclear waste in a safe manner. But what if we never do? Or we do only after a number of accidents that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars? And let’s not forget that the future generations that are supposed to figure out how to safely store nuclear waste will also be focused on global warming, a crumbled infrastructure of roads, mass transit and bridges, oil shortages and immigration reform.

The nuclear power generating industry has been grappling with the problem of waste storage since its inception after World War II. Ideas for permanent storage such as underground or in caverns have met with disapproval from the public and regulators. Above-ground storage in containers has up to now been a temporary solution. One of the major reasons that no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1977, although the Obama NRC approved construction of four new ones two years ago.

I keep calling it the “Obama NRC” because our current president placed all the current the commissioners but one on the commission; the other one Obama re-nominated after she served one term. The Obama administration has proven to be vehement in its support of increasing our use of this dangerous energy source that only produces electricity.

Nothing has changed—the containers are no safer than they were before the Obama NRC made its decision.  But by substituting one word for another—“temporary” to “permanent”—the NRC is pointing the United States down a path that has already proven to be disastrous.

So I guess your mother was wrong when she told you that, while “sticks and stones will break your bones, words will never harm you.” Calling above-ground containers “permanent” will harm lots of people.

To New York progressives: Vote for Teachout in primary!

New York State could serve as a model of how progressives can move the right-of-Eisenhower Democratic Party back towards the left. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s version of Barack Obama, is running for reelection as governor of the Empire State. But first there’s the little matter of the September 9 primary in which Cuomo faces Zephyr Teachout, a very progressive professor of law at Fordham University.

Cuomo has essentially run the state of New York by looking rightward.  He put a cap on property taxes and wants to lower taxes for businesses. He blocked New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund pre-schools, preferring to take money from the existing state budget, which means other programs will do without. Cuomo is an ardent supporter of charter schools, a conservative initiative originated to bust teachers’ unions and has proven to underperform and undercut funding for public schools.  And like President Obama, Cuomo is too fast to make deals with Republicans that continue the disastrous economic policies of the past 30+ years.

Let’s not forget about the whiff of corruption now emanating from the Cuomo body politic. Cuomo empanelled a state commission to investigate corruption in government and then dismantled it when it started turning over the rocks of his administration. In the best case scenario, Cuomo is exercising too much power in an effort to subvert democracy. The worst case would involve a cover-up of the kind of unethical and often illegal crony capitalism that seems to plague Republican governors these days.

Cuomo does support gay marriage and tends to speak and vote progressive on most social issues, but so do virtually every Democrat and a growing number of Republicans nowadays. He did pass one of the toughest gun control laws in the country after the Newtown mass murders, for which he should be applauded.

Teachout has no chance of beating Cuomo in the primary, but every vote she gets should turn Cuomo’s head a little bit to the left. If Teachout could get more than 45% of the vote, it would send a strong message to Cuomo to shift leftward on economic issues.

Which is exactly what Cuomo doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want to do. That’s why the Governor sued to keep Teachout off the ballot and then appealed when he lost. Even though he knows the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, he does not want to have to listen to progressives. It would upset the corporate bankers who back him and who might up the ante if he decides to run for president of the United States.

The worst that can happen by voting for Teachout is that she wins, which will be very good for New York State and the nation. The Republican Rob Astorino, a former Catholic radio personality, is far too right-wing for New York State. While it’s probable that conservatives would pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign against the relatively unknown Teachout, the Democrats also have a ton of money for whoever the candidate for governor of New York happens to be.  I’m confident any Democrat will beat Rob Astorino in New York State, especially if turnout is high. And it stands to reason that more Democrats would come out to vote for a face fresh than they would for the incumbent expected to steamroll Astorino.  In other words, if Teachout won the primary, she would also win the election.

What we have then is a win-win situation for progressives. By voting for Teachout in the Democratic primary, New York voters can send a message to Andrew Cuomo—and every Democrat considering a run for the presidency.

America can learn a lot from the Ferguson situation, that is, if we’re willing to

The American public is relearning many lessons from the events in Ferguson following the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.  The three biggest takeaways from this tragedy and its aftermath are:

  1. We have gone way too far in militarizing our local police forces.
  2. There is still rampant institutional racism built into our policing and criminal justice system.
  3. The police and criminal justice system does itself and the people it is supposed to protect a disservice by never admitting a mistake.

The ramifications of these big picture dynamics affect more than the relationship between authorities and the citizens they protect. Going too far in militarizing our police, for example, results partially from the political cowardice and cronyism that led Congress to give every state a cut of the money we dedicated to fighting terrorism in the USA Patriot Act instead of focusing the money on those areas and systems most vulnerable to terrorist attack, i.e., New York, Washington, D.C. and our docks and harbors. Of course, the opportunity for American manufacturers to sell to local police forces with money supplied by the feds was too good for the crony capitalists who run our country to pass up. The result—local police everywhere now own all kinds of military equipment that they don’t need and, which, when used, only make a sensitive street situation more volatile. The number of SWAT team attacks has skyrocketed across the country, as have the number of SWAT invasions directed at the wrong address.  I’m thinking that the money spent on military-grade guns and vehicles might have been better spent in the recruitment and training of minority police officers and the introduction of less violent ways to confront suspects.

Ferguson is only the latest proof that minorities and the poor get treated badly by the criminal justice system across the country.  As Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state senator and professor of sociology at The New School, pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, Ferguson does the same kind of racial profiling that the courts have made New York City stop doing.  In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of police stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of African-Americans, numbers which are way out line with the percentage of the total Ferguson population that they represent, which is about 62%. Even more damning is the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on African-Americans, 22 percent of whom were carrying something illegal, compared to 34 percent of whites.

It’s almost painful to see the Ferguson police chief try to justify the actions of his department. For example, instead of thanking the Governor for bringing in the Highway Patrol and National Guard and installing a charismatic African-American to be the face of the police response, Chief Tom Jackson prefers to complain about the insult to the Ferguson police that the switch in authorities and tactics represented.

Instead of admitting he was wrong to bring out the tanks, the Ferguson police chief released information meant to stain the reputation of the young man who was shot six times, including twice in the head. First it was news that the boy was a suspect in a robbery, which the officer who fired the shots was decent enough to admit he didn’t know when the confrontation occurred. Now we’ve learned that the boy—Michael Brown—had marijuana in his system. So what? It wouldn’t matter if he was a suspect in 30 armed robberies and they found traces of cocaine, heroin, Oxycontin and meth in his body. An experienced police office trained in protecting the public and probably in martial arts fired six bullets into his body. One or maybe two bullets and I—and the rest of the public—could understand the act as possibly, maybe necessary. But six??  The officer should get his due process, but the police department would advance the cause of better understanding between police and minorities by admitting its mistakes and stating that it will not support officers who behave brutally or illegally.

But closing ranks isn’t new for the criminal justice system. Several times a year we read of district attorneys who are opposed to new trials or the release of the unjustly imprisoned, or those who will fight tooth and nail to insist that a retarded or near retarded death row prisoner has a high enough IQ to qualify for the death penalty. We recently saw the union representing New York City police department cry that is was unfair to investigate the death of an innocent man from a police choke hold. The union also bemoaned the lack of solidarity of the teachers’ union to participate in a march against police brutality.  The union made itself look bad by not explicitly stating that it did not support the use of chokeholds, which is an illegal tactic for police in New York State.

People and organizations make mistakes. Organizations occasionally hire individuals who won’t follow the rules or make their own rules. When you admit your mistake and then fix it, you gain the respect of others. When you hunker down and defend your position even after it painfully clear you were wrong, others begin to disrespect you and question your authority. Now imagine decades of closing ranks and protecting bad decisions and rogue employees and you begin to understand why minority communities distrust our criminal justice system.

WSJ blames Ferguson unrest on generous police contracts. Does it also think unions were responsible for holocaust?

In a lead editorial, the Wall Street Journal proposes the truly bizarre theory that overly generous police contracts helped cause the civil unrest in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

To come to this outrageous conclusion, the Journal must combine truly twisted reasoning with an imperfect history of public sector employment. What the editorial says is that because police officers receive lifetime job protection and generous retirement benefits, turnover among police occurs more slowly than the demographic changes in the communities they serve. That mismatch in turnover explains why 94% of all police officers in Ferguson are white even though Ferguson shifted to a majority-African-American population over the past decade—or so says the Journal. The Journal concludes this nice bit of dishonest analysis by saying that the complete dearth of minority officers “may have contributed to municipal mistrust.” The Journal also blames union-negotiated contracts that build in bureaucratic privileges that would never be extended to other suspects.”

Let’s begin our analysis of the Journal’s deception with the history that the editorial does not provide: Historically public sector employees made less than what workers earned in the private sector, a deal that public employees—and their unions—were willing to make for better benefits and more job protection. Private sector workers have only fallen behind police, teachers and other government workers during the last 30 years of stagnant and falling wages for all employees. As the newspaper of record for corporate America, the Wall Street Journal has long supported anything that drives down the wages and benefits of employees, be it implementing anti-union regulations, keeping a tight lid on the minimum wage or weaseling out of pension deals with public employees.

Unions and union contracts have nothing to do with what happened in Ferguson, which resulted because of a “bad shoot” by one officer and the overreaction of the police department to the exercise of the legal right of residents to gather in protest. As the New York Times and others (including the Economist weeks before the Ferguson incident) have noted, the militarization of police departments following 9/11 has gone too far, with the overuse of SWAT team and other military tactics becoming all too frequent across the country. That this militarization of local police has led to many more tragic incidents in minority communities than in upper- and middle-class white neighborhoods merely continues the long and sad history of institutional racism in the United States.

Making union contracts less generous to create greater turnover will not help to prevent future Fergusons. Distrust of police comes from practices such as racial profiling, overly harsh treatment of suspects, trigger-happy officers and racism.

The world gets a tutorial on how to create wall-to-wall media coverage of the death of a celebrity

The recent deaths of two well-known actors, Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, dominated the news media this week, but in very predictable ways. The news media has got celebrating the life of a famous person down to a science. If the feeding frenzy on the dead bones of a troubled comic or a classy New York personality has been so thorough, it’s only because the media has done it many, many times before.

No reporter assigned to write a story about a celebrity death should have to scratch his or her head in frustration or confusion, wondering where to begin. There are so many models from which to select that most of the stories about dead celebrities seem to write themselves. Besides the basic obituary of the star, the media churns out story after story on the following topics:

    1. Analysis and appreciations of the celebrity’s body of work
    2. Reaction of the public
    3. Reaction of the star’s family
    4. Reaction of other celebrities
    5. Anecdotes and memories, primarily by other celebrities
    6. The funeral
    7. In-depth coverage of the reason the star died—e.g., suicide in middle age for Robin Williams
    8. The last moments or days in the star’s life
    9. The star’s significance in his or her field and to the larger society
    10. The lessons we can all learn from the star’s life or death
    11. Past scandals or high moments in the life/career of the star, e.g. Bacall & Bogie supporting the blacklisted actors, directors and technicians
    12. Unfinished work that the public may be able to see after the star’s death
    13. The star’s financial state
    14. The star’s will and who gets what
    15. The dispensation of the star’s real estate
    16. Any special tributes that cities or organizations are making, from moments of silence to all-star concerts for charity
    17. His or her past sex life

Eventually, the backlash starts. We’ve already started seeing it with Robin Williams. Suddenly there are stories questioning how the news media covered the death;  whether the celebrities who commented were self-serving or in good/bad taste; and  whether the celebrity’s significance really warranted all the coverage. The media like nothing better than to flagellate themselves—or should I say, other media.

Input Robin Williams into Google News and you will find several versions of all of these generic story ideas; a search for Lauren Bacall and you’ll find at least one example of most of these concepts.

These media frenzies can go on for days, or in the case of someone of the stature of Michael Jackson, who died under suspicious circumstances, for weeks or months.

Some justify this intensive coverage of the death of a celebrity as part of the national mourning: the news media channels what everyone is feeling into a barrage of stories that give us all a good catharsis.

But the therapeutic value of mass media’s mass mourning begs a question: who is being glorified and beautified and why?  Why does the media go on for days about Robin Williams or Phillip Seymour Hoffman and give cursory attention to the deaths of Maya Anjelou or Gabriel Garcia Marquez?  What about scientists like Jancinto Convit or Andres Carrasco. Or Bill Dana, who flew the X-15 and other experimental aircraft or NASA engineer John Houbolt? Or how about Howard Baker, once the voice of conscience of the Republican Party? Why don’t we find out about their children, finances, real estate, deep secrets, life history, fears and significance?

If Robin William’s touched the lives of more people, it is not just because he starred in a few TV shows and movies. It’s also because the news media focuses much more on actors, singers, athletes and celebrities (people who are famous for being famous or for being rich) than they do on scientists, engineers, classical composers, elected officials (except presidents), scholars, jazz musicians and other high achievers.

The more significant question, though, is not who is being glorified, it’s why there is so much of it. I would be just as disappointed to see newspapers and the Internet stuffed with meaningless stories about a recently deceased great historian or scientist. In either case, the coverage is excessive because it drives out coverage of other, more important news. We get woefully inadequate coverage of local political campaigns and issues, much less than the news media gave us twenty or even ten years ago. Neither the New York Times nor Wall Street Journal seem to have enough space to do any stories on Democratic candidates this year, although I suspect a bias in favor the Republicans is part of the reason for ignoring Democratic primary races. We are painfully unaware of what is happening in many parts of the world.  The mass media has practically ignored studies that show that charter schools are ineffective, immigrants raise the wages of other workers, we could supply the entire world’s electricity needs with windmills right now, inequality of wealth is growing and raising taxes on the wealthy leads to economic growth.

In short, the coverage of important economic, social and political issues is sparse, and often one-sided. Instead of news, we get dead celebrity worship.

Have people in America & Great Britain gotten meaner, & if so, why?

People have gotten meaner because they have no vested interest in worrying about their fellow human beings. That’s the conclusion of Tom Clark (with Anthony Heath) in Hard Times: The Divisive Toll of the Economic Slump¸ a recent book that sifts through a slew of recent research and impressionistic interviews related to the effect of the Great Recession on the economy and the fabric of society in the United States and Great Britain.

Clark makes his argument through a series of assertions, each of which he proves with research and illustrates with a handful of conversations with people who suffered during the recession that ended a few years ago if you belonged to the upper 1% in income/wealth, but continues for everyone else:

  1. This last “great recession” essentially affected a small part of the population, although everyone outside the 1% has suffered from stagnant wages over the past 30 years.
  2. Those who suffered from the recession the most have tended not to recover.
  3. Unlike other recessions, it was easy to predict who would and would not be affected and not recover from the Great Recession: the poor, the underemployed, the undereducated, primarily minorities and the young.
  4. Compared to previous recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Anglo-Saxon governments did much less for those who suffered the worst effects of the Great Recession.
  5. The attitudes of the wealthy, middle class and working poor towards victims of the Great Recession were much less generous to victims of previous recessions. A blame-it-on-the-victim mentality replaced the former generosity displayed in surveys in former recessions about whether people liked government support of victims of economic dislocation.

Clark establishes these facts and then uses them to develop a grand synthesis which he thinks explains what he sees as a hard turn right in both the United States and Great Britain over the past 10 years: In former recessions, the impact was widespread and serendipitous, so people supported government intervention and support of victims out of self-interest: maybe they would need the help. But we could predict who the long-term and permanent victims of the Great Recession would be. The result: even though—or perhaps because—most everyone else has been struggling, they did not think they would need the government benefits and so did not support expansion of benefits. Additionally, more of the middle class and working poor grew to believe that large portions of those receiving benefits were “undeserving.” In a sense, 30 years of static wages and a slow erosion of buying power made everyone hunker down and get more selfish.

Clark’s argument resonates to a careful student of the history of healthcare reform. In Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar Struggle over Health Care Reform, Paul Starr points out that because most Americans already had health insurance through their employers, Medicare or Medicaid, they had no vested interest in seeing the healthcare law now called Obamacare pass, and in fact recognized that it would mean that they would pay more without getting more to help fund those getting coverage under the proposed new law. Republican Scott Brown, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts for what baseball people used to call “a cup of coffee,” expressed this attitude best when he said he liked the recently enacted healthcare law in Massachusetts but did not want the citizens he represented to pay for extending the Massachusetts model to the rest of the country, which Obamacare essentially did.

But although Clark makes a compelling case, I think he discounts the impact of the constant barrage of propaganda we have endured since the rise of Reaganism. We’ve had more than 30 years of the right using code words to demonize the poor and downtrodden, such as “welfare queens, “those people,” “the 47% who think they’re victims” and “urban culture problems.” We’ve had more than 30 years of the glorification of the free market and the nonsense that government always produces inferior solutions. For more than 30 years, we’ve been told that the ultra-rich worked hard for their money and deserve what they get, whereas those who fail have only themselves to blame. More than 30 years of media bashing of unions, teachers and public school workers. More than 30 years of hearing and reading the lie that giving food stamps, medical care and other aid to the poor makes them dependent on handouts and saps their self-reliance so that they prefer to sit on their duffs and do nothing all day. We’ve been told the lie that the only thing that hurts the economy more than giving money to poor people, who will spend it all and thereby create jobs, is to cut taxes on the wealthy. The news media has drummed into our minds that we have to pay down the debt, even if it means gutting social welfare benefits.

In short, some 30 years of brain-washing has made Americans—and evidently Brits, too—inured to the suffering of their fellow neighbors and has atomized our communities into millions of selfish individuals.

I am reluctant to recommend Hard Times as a read, because it’s written in an irritating combination of styles, taking the worst from both a jargon-laden academic style and the slang-and-case-history approach of pop sociology. What’s worse, it’s not even U.S. slang, but that of the foreign tongue known as British. The ideas are certainly worth assimilating and the book is relatively short, but still, if you’re a stickler for good writing, its style will infuriate even as its ideas captivate.

Neither Israel nor United States can justify current bombing campaigns, but Hamas & ISIS are also wrong

Someone on Facebook recently wondered why it’s okay for the United States to bomb the ISIS positions in Iraq but not okay for Israel to bomb the Gaza strip. By “okay,” I’m pretty sure she was asking why the mainstream news media and our political leaders applauded one and not the other. She was correct to observe that while there has been almost universal approval of Obama bombing Iraq (except for those who think he should be doing more!), the press and politicos have expressed mixed feelings about Israel’s actions.

In my mind, both the United States and Israel are pursuing the worst possible courses from both a moral and a political standpoint. Neither country will achieve the stated goals on its acts of violence.

The Iraq situation is much easier to analyze, for the simple reason that no U.S. lives are in harm’s way and no one has attacked our country.

We hear two main reasons to bomb: 1) ISIS is becoming a destabilizing force in the region after having carved out major territory for itself in both Syria and Iraq; 2) We owe it to Iraq, which is a kind of “we broke it so we have to fix it” argument.

This second argument often comes from Republicans and their supporters as part of their program of blaming the President for the situation since he authorized final withdrawal of American troops from Iraq a few years ago. It’s as short-sighted and self-serving as the argument that Obama caused the Great Recession.  Iraq has always been a glued-together country. Even in ancient times, the territory that was Iraq consisted of two and sometimes three national entities. Just as Yugoslavia fell apart as soon as strongman Tito died, so did Iraq splinter when the United States destroyed the strongman government of Sadam Hussein. The violent fractionalization of Iraq was predictable, and many people predicted it.  It has also been painfully obvious to anyone willing to look the facts straight in the face that the country would remain a seething pit of terrorism as long as United States troops remained in the country and that it would soon break apart soon after we left. That’s exactly what has happened.

All the U.S. bombing can do now is shore up a corrupt and weak regime that does not represent all its citizens.  It does not offer a permanent solution.  Instead, U.S. bombing slows down the inevitable process of the various factions in Iraq coming to terms with one another, either in a unified country or in a number of smaller countries. It’s not likely to be pretty and will probably be violent, but with the United States bombing, it is definitely going to be violent and will take a lot longer to achieve. It’s time for us to leave bad enough alone by not bombing or committing any military action in Iraq, while increasing our non-military support for a newly elected government of Iraq that would be willing not to play ethnic or religious favorites.  I’m not saying that ISIS is not a grave threat; what I’m saying is the U.S. position is too compromised from past actions in Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS. We should stay on the sidelines of the military battle, and instead increase humanitarian aid, call for and uphold an arms embargo in Iraq and Syria and coordinate with the United Nations on evacuation and diplomatic efforts.

Like the United States in Iraq, to a large degree Israel made its own untenable situation through years of harsh treatment of the Palestinians, brutal execution of wars and unwillingness to be flexible at the negotiating table. To be sure, Israel has not been alone in its unwillingness to confront the other side peaceably. Moreover, Hamas and its predecessors have conducted terrorist campaigns against Israeli citizens.

But Israel’s past harsh ways have never worked, unless the country’s real goals are to keep a population that it believes to be inherently inferior in a political and social structure akin to apartheid, no matter how much violence it takes. I do not believe this patently anti-Semitic characterization of Israel’s actions, which is why I can’t understand why Israel’s political and military leaders keep answering violence with an escalation of brutality. The numbers speak for themselves: 1,800 Palestinians dead since the latest conflict began, 70% of whom were civilians; fewer than 70 Israelis killed of whom only three were civilians.  No wonder the mainstream media is giving the Israeli attacks a mixed review. And it’s no wonder anti-Semitic acts have increased in Europe.  The contrast between 1,800 and 70 feeds the imaginations of anti-Semites everywhere. It makes Hamas even more recalcitrant and it encourages the funders of terrorism to give more money to their violent clients.

In short, the Israeli way to meet a slap with a sledgehammer has never worked and never will work. It would have been much better if Israel had reacted to the act that started the latest wave of violence—the kidnapping and killing of three boys—with a more studied, more nuanced approach.  First and foremost, it should have insisted on due process to find and punish the killers of the boys. By not bombing civilian targets, it would have won the admiration of many in the West for restraint and perhaps convinced the other side that it was willing to consider a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem. It might have considered using drones to target known terrorists in civilian areas or tried some surgical operations similar to when it dismantled a Syrian nuclear reactor years ago.

But instead of trying to think of new approaches, Israel and the United States have both decided to default to the unworkable. And so “business as usual”continues in Israeli and the occupied lands and returns to Iraq. It’s a bloody status quo that shows absolutely no signs of transforming into something better.

S&P identifies problem—income inequality—but gives same absurd solution that most economists do

Standard & Poor’s, the agency that rates financial instruments, has released a report that demonstrates that inequality of income is a drag on the American economy. S&P predicts that the economy will grow at an annual rate of 2.5% over the next 10 years, which is .3% lower than it predicted five years ago. S&P says that this more than 10% drop in growth rate derives from the great inequality of income and wealth that exists today, which has made the economy more prone to boom-and-bust cycles.

S&P joins the growing list of economists of all political persuasions to recognize that income and wealth inequality is growing and that it is a bad omen for the economy.

And just like many of the other distinguished boffins who have chimed in on the subject, S&P thinks that the way to reduce inequality of income is through education. It’s amazing how many economists and pundits—conservatives and progressives—think that education is answer.

No one except Thomas Piketty has cared to dismantle the argument that greater equality of wealth is connected to education, and Piketty approaches the issue from the causal end: the argument that education has caused inequality of wealth. Piketty postulates that it’s not the fact that some people are much more highly skilled than others that has led to growing inequality of income, but social custom and the low rate of income tax which gives executives more incentive to line their own pockets.

But I haven’t read anyone try to refute the assertion that education will reduce inequality of wealth because it will enable the newly educated employees to become more productive.

Yet this ridiculous argument is child’s play to dismantle: Even if everyone gets a PhD, someone has to flip the burgers, dig the ditches, sweep the floors, clean the bed pans, check out people at the grocery store and work the drive-through car wash. As it turns out, most of the new jobs created since the Great Recession started are at the low end of the skill and wage ladder.

It doesn’t matter how educated one is if one works in a job that’s poorly compensated. Moreover, if enough people get the education and training needed for a job with a higher wage, the wage for that job will fall because of the increase in the supply of qualified candidates.

There are only four ways to make wages more equal:

  1. Cut what we pay the highest compensated professions, such as hedge fund managers and executives of large corporations.
  2. Raise taxes on the income of these highly compensated workers.
  3. Raise salaries of lower paid workers.
  4. Provide lower paid workers with government benefits, which in a sense subsidizes their employers by paying for some of the living costs off low-paid workers.

I like the combination of two and three: Tax the wealthy more and pay workers more.  In fact, if we taxed the rich what we taxed them in 1950 and pay workers the purchasing power they had in 1950, we would find wealth inequality return to what it used to be in the golden age of American equality between about 1946 to sometime in the mid or late 1970’s.

S&P gives the standard rightwing reasons for warning against raising taxes to reduce inequality of wealth: that it reduces the incentives to work and that businesses will hire fewer workers. Why anyone ever believed that business ever hire workers just because they’re cheaper is beyond me; only good businesses survive, and good businesses only hire when they need someone, whatever the salary. I suppose that those who believe that increasing taxes reduces the incentive to work would all turn down a job because the take home pay was $4 million instead of $5.4 million.

Like the argument that education will diminish wage inequality, the idea that raising taxes reduces the incentive to make money is so absurd that the true wonder is why anyone would still try to slip these logical absurdities by the public. And yet the mass media continues to lap it up like the lapdogs they are when it comes to reporting macroeconomic news.

If the S&P really wants to reduce inequality of income, it should call for the following:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • End all right-to-work laws and shorten the time before employees vote to affiliate with a union
  • Raise income tax rates on incomes over $150,000 and institute an annual wealth tax.

I’m basically talking about returning things to the 1950’s. The reason the rich have gotten so much richer while the rest of us have stagnated is because of policy changes. All I’m proposing is changing it back to the way it used to be.

NY Times reveals its conservative bias in its reporting of primary elections

The New York Times management probably thinks the paper got a lot of progressive street cred by coming out in favor of the total legalization of marijuana. The Times has published a series of very long editorials that take apart every aspect of the subject and conclude that legalization is the right thing to do. I concur with the Times and am pleased it has come out so aggressively on this relatively minor social issue.

But that doesn’t change my mind about the electoral politics the Times news department subtle favors in its news coverage.  First of all, just because you support legalization of pot doesn’t mean you’re a progressive. Progressives do not have ownership of the legalize pot issue—libertarians are also in favor allowing recreational use of the devil weed.

More to the point, while the Times editorial page has been smoking, the news room has a chronic case of Tea Party conservatism when it comes to election coverage. The coverage of the primary results in Kansas and Michigan provides an excellent example of the way the Times has been reporting primaries since 2010: The article titled “Senator Beats Tea Party Challenger in Kansas” reports the results of three Kansas and two Michigan primaries—but only on the Republican side. The story follows the Times overarching narrative of the 2014 election, which is the same narrative the newspaper—and the rest of the mass media—foisted on the American public in 2010. The story is the bitter and dramatic battle for the soul of the Republican Party between ultra-rightwing Tea Partiers and the merely conservative traditional Republicans.

But what about the Democrats?

There is no national narrative about the Democratic Party, except an occasional mention of a candidate running away from Obamacare. No coverage of the races in which progressive candidates are facing centrist Democrats. In fact, no coverage of Democratic primaries at all!

It’s not just the New York Times, of course. A Google search comparing coverage of the Republican and Democratic primaries in Kansas and Michigan shows a decided bias in covering the doctrinal disputes between factions of the Republican Party, while ignoring anything that has to do with Democratic primaries or the Democrat’s process of selecting candidates:

  • Inputting “Chad Taylor,” who won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator from Kansas, reveals 16,000 stories on Google News; do the same for the Republican nominee Pat Roberts (the incumbent) and it’s 30,300 stories.
  • In Michigan’s 11th district, a Google News search of Democratic nominee Bobby McKenzie yields 1,570 stories; a search for the Republican nominee Dave Trott yields 3,790, more than twice as many.

I searched Google News for all five races covered in the Times article and in each case there were many more stories in the national news about the Republican winning than about the Democrat (although in two of the cases, the Democrat ran unopposed).  Even more revealing is the fact that a majority of the stories I read focus on the Republican race, only mentioning the Democrat as the candidate whom the Republican will have to face in November.

Just as in 2010, casual perusers of newspapers and the Internet might come to the conclusion that no Democrats are running for any office come November. They certainly will learn a lot about the nuances that distinguish the hard right from the very hard right while culling almost nothing about what issues divide and unite the Democrats—who, BTW, are the larger party in terms of membership and total votes cast for both the presidential and Congressional races in 2012.

It’s as if the mass media are collectively writing the story of the election from the point of view of the Republican Party. Even though the New York Times and the rest of the national mainstream media will endorse Democrats, their news coverage in fact endorses the Republic Party by focusing primary election coverage almost exclusively on Republican races; providing extensive coverage of the Republican’s extreme element while ignoring the far left of the Democratic Party; and framing most national and international issues from the Republican playbook.

Marketers are discovering a rapidly growing group of consumers: adults who want to remain children

The latest marketer to cash in on the trend of adults wanting to remain children is a museum.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), that venerable icon to the natural sciences, is now offering special sleepover parties—for adults only.  That’s right, for a mere $375 a person ($325 for members), you can snuggle up in jammies in your sleeping bag on a cot provided by the museum under the enormous blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life with 149 people you never met before. I don’t know if they’re serving cookies and milk or ‘Smores and hot chocolate, but I understand that lights out is about 1:42 am. BTW, the museum has offered sleepovers for families for about eight years.

Now, the adult meaning of sleepover is much different from when the term is applied to children. For adults, a sleepover means having sex, usually for the first time or early in a relationship. For kids through their late teens, by contrast, it means making popcorn, watching movies, talking through the night and having mom make pancakes or French toast in the morning.

Which do you think the American Natural History museum’s resembles? There is no way the museum trustees, the insurance companies or the police are going to allow condoned sex, nor do I think many adult couples who attend the sleepover are going to want to engage in conjugal relations in full sight and earshot of everyone else trying to sleep on a cot. There may be some hidden hanky-panky among the mastodons or in a bathroom stall, but the point of the AMNH sleepover is not sex. It is therefore not an adult sleepover, at least not in conventional or traditional terms.

What is it then? Well you get a chance to see the exhibits—just like a regular visit or a special event such as a singles night or members day. You get to hear guest lecturers– just like a regular visit or a special event . You get the run of the place pretty much to yourself, which is not like the wall-to-wall masses of chattering humanity of a regular visit, but very much like a special museum event.

The only thing that differentiates the sleepover from other museum events then is the sleepover itself. The big sell point for an adult event is something for children.

In other words, a major American museum is appealing to those adults who want to do something from their childhood—have a sleepover.  The museum’s marketing department is trying to cash in on the growing number of adults who collect My Little Pony dolls, play with Legos, like to go to Disney theme parks, read comic books and juvenile fiction like Harry Potter or spend a lot of time playing shoot-‘em-up video games. And judging from the stories we see in the mass media, their number is growing by leaps and bounds. You can see just how much infantilization of American adults has progressed when  you peruse the growing number of movies dedicated to adults preserving the life they led as children: “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Neighbors,” “The Internship,” “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Ted,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,””Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief” start the long list of movies that glorify not growing up.

Going to the museum is a pretty adult thing to do, unless it’s a children’s museum or the museum has decided to focus an exhibit on a child’s level of discourse. And keep in mind that the purpose of children’s museums or children’s exhibits is to guide children in learning how appreciate the adult experience that is museum-going. So how does a palace dedicated to the scientific education of all ages attract the fast-growing segment of adults who don’t want to grow up?  AMNH has come up with the brilliant solution by combining the very adult pleasure of looking at scientific specimens and analyzing information about the natural world with the child’s treat of having a sleepover.

While we should all retain a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity, I believe that at a certain point, it’s time, as Saul of Tarsus said, to put away childish things. His full quote, according to the King James version of the Christian Bible is “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

The infantilization of American adults is a clear and present danger for representational democracy because adults who constantly participate in child-like activities are not practicing their adult thinking and emotional skills. I believe that mass marketers like infantilized adults because they make more docile and credulous consumers. But I for one would much rather have those who think like adults make decisions in the real world.