Tag Archives: America

Louis CK Discusses Corporate Takeover

A smart discussion with Louis CK on the Opie and Anthony show. It is at the point where comedians make the most valuable insights on American society now. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have more news than Fox. Louis CK has more to say in this 25 minute segment than Rush Limbaugh has said in his entire radio career.

It s ironic how this discussion took place on satellite radio, an irony they point out in this discussion.

I like the part when they talk about being able to fix your car on the side of the road. You used to be able to pull over to the side of the road, fiddle with some some parts and get it working again. Parts used to be hefty and last forever. Now everything is computerized, making it impossible to fix your car on your own. Car parts now are light and flimsy, guaranteed to break after a year or two.

And all of those auto jobs were moved out of Michigan in the name of “progress”.

We all are being forced to belong to corporations. Life itself is being arranged around the demands of a corporate elite. What is marketed as “progress” to us means progress for a very small group of people.

The Real Welfare Recipients

What do you notice about the majority of states on this list that receive the most federal funding? Yup, they are some of the reddest states in the country.

The top freeloading state in the union in 2005 was New Mexico. Reading the State of New Mexico’s Wikipedia page confirmed my guess as to why they receive such government largesse:

Federal government spending is a major driver of the New Mexico economy. In 2005 the federal government spent $2.03 on New Mexico for every dollar of tax revenue collected from the state. This rate of return is higher than any other state in the Union.[15] The federal government is also a major employer in New Mexico providing more than a quarter of the state’s jobs.

Many of the federal jobs relate to the military; the state hosts three air force bases (Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, and Cannon Air Force Base); a testing range (White Sands Missile Range); and an army proving ground and maneuver range (Fort Bliss – McGregor Range).

In addition to the National Guard, New Mexico has a New Mexico State Defense Force. Other minor locations include the New Mexico Army National Guard Headquarters in Santa Fe county and the National Guard Armory in far northern Rio Rancho in Sandoval county.

Other federal installations include national observatories and the technology labs of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). SNL conducts electronic and industrial research on Kirtland AFB, on the southeast side of Albuquerque. These installations also include the missile and spacecraft proving grounds at White Sands. Other federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the United States Bureau of Land Management are a big part of the state’s rural employment base.

They are awash with military installations and little green men.

The funny thing about this is New Mexico is the state of Gary Johnson, a man who has become the second-biggest Libertarian hero behind Ron Paul. During his stint as governor, Johnson slashed state spending and balanced the budget. He gained a national following, generally among small government types, as a symbol of fiscally responsible leadership.

I suppose small government is not possible without large government.

The second biggest recipient on the list is the poorest state in the country, Mississippi. Their standing as number 2 in 2005 is probably due to Hurricane Katrina.

The home of Sarah Palin, Alaska, is the third biggest mooching state on the list. Alaska has a wealth of natural resources. Their oil and gas companies depend upon a healthy stream of federal funds to drill for more. A 2010 article outlines Alaska’s love affair with federal money:

Each person in Alaska receives approximately $20,351 in federal funds each year. Compare that amount with Nevada residents who receive only $7.14 per year.  The large amount of federal funds that go to Alaska allow them to go without a state income or sales tax.  Besides a generous amount of federal dollars for defense spending within the state, the state also receives a disproportionate amount of federal subsidies for oil and gas exploration.  Many Alaskan residents actually receive a yearly check, which comes from the massive revenue generated from Alaska’s oil and gas reserves.  Some would argue that far from being “independent,” the state actually is heavily dependent on the federal government it so maligns.

Wow, it seems that Alaska is one giant den of welfare recipients. Is this the independent and can-do American spirit that Sarah Palin spoke so much about on the 2008 campaign trail?

Louisiana was the fourth state on the list. Just like Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina seems to account for its standing in 2005.

West Virginia rounds out the top 5. One beneficiary of federal funds seems to be the coal industry:

In reality, the coal industry is heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments, enjoying explicit subsidies of billions of dollars a year, plus the indirect subsidy of free pollution that costs the United States 10,000 lives a year, destroys the land and water of mining communities, and destabilizes our climate. In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute identified coal industry “subsidies of around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008”.

So, taking a look at 3 of the top 5 states who benefit the most from federal tax dollars, we get a picture of who the biggest welfare recipients are in the United States: the military-industrial complex and polluters.

And who pays those federal taxes? It certainly is not the wealthiest corporations who, thanks to loopholes and the Bush Tax Cuts, pay absolutely nothing. No, it is you and I, the working people of this country who fund imperialist war and environmental degradation.

What do 4 of these 5 states have in common? Take a look at this map and see for yourself:

Just a word about the only blue state, New Mexico:

The key voting bloc in this state is Hispanics, which makes up a plurality of the state’s total population with 45%. George W. Bush enjoyed good popularity with Hispanic voters and received over 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally in 2004. As a result, Bush had the ability to nip John Kerry by approximately 6,000 votes in New Mexico in 2004. In the previous election, New Mexico had been a very close swing state. Al Gore won the state by only 300 votes in 2000, which was even narrower than the controversial results in Florida. However, after the 2004 presidential election, support for Bush in the Hispanic community collapsed. During the 2008 election, New Mexico was regarded as an Obama-leaning state despite the fact that John McCain was from neighboring Arizona and held similar views on illegal immigration to those of Bush. Ultimately, McCain was only able to obtain 30% of the Hispanic vote.

The Republican base in New Mexico consists of the more rural southeastern part of the state which, while thinly populated, votes heavily Republican. Democrats are strongest in the state capital, Santa Fe and its close-in suburbs. The city of Albuquerque and the southwestern part of the state are also Democratic, but to a far lesser extent. On a larger context, Southern New Mexico is typically more Republican while Northern New Mexico is traditionally more Democratic, while Albuquerque and other areas in the center tend to swing both ways.

There are 4 major military bases in New Mexico. And where are 3 of the 4 bases located? That’s right, in the southeastern (Republican) part of New Mexico: Curry and Otero counties. The reddest parts of the state are the biggest beneficiaries of federal largesse.

And the states that receive the least bang for their tax buck are: New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Minnesota. And what do all of these states have in common? Take a look again:

So the bluest states in the United States subsidize the reddest states.

And yet, the reddest politicians rail against government handouts and how those handouts destroy the individualist spirit of the country.

They certainly do, just not for the reasons they imply.

Speaking of American tradition, 3 of the 5 states who subsidize all of this welfare are from the oldest (eastern) parts of the country.

And the two largest welfare recipients? From the youngest (western) part of the country.

There is your American tradition.

The political narrative in this country has been stood on its head.

The Secularist’s Rise

Atheists gathered this past Saturday in Washington, D.C. for what they called the “Reason Rally”. The purpose, according to a quote in this article, was to show America that “we are here and we will never be silenced again.”

An estimated 30,000 people of diverse backgrounds showed up. It was a heartening turnout for what is becoming a necessary cause in the United States of America.

Since the end of the 1960s, a Christian fundamentalist movement has been afoot. There were wide swaths of the population who were disoriented by the changes of that era. Technology, morals, politics and everything else were undergoing rapid change. Religion provided solid answers and stability amidst these changes.

The simplicity of fundamentalism made it a great vehicle for political organization. We started seeing signs of this with the election of Jimmy Carter, who wore his religion on his sleeve and even in his policies. Through televangelism, Jesus camps and church organization, southern-style Christianity became a form of political activism. The Culture Wars of the early 1990s provided the fertile ground needed to turn the Democrats out of Congress and elect a crop of very Christian Republicans. This bore fruit later with Clinton’s impeachment and the election of George W. Bush.

Since this time, we have seen attacks on women’s reproductive rights, homosexuals and Muslims. We have taken to seriously debating the merits between creation and evolution, as if they occupy the same intellectual plane. We have become a country where policies inspired by a small but organized group of Christian fundamentalists impact the lives of everyone around the world.

Around this trend is the rise of a counter narrative of American history that portrays the Founding Fathers as intolerant Christians. Although the Founders talked a lot about God, it was the God of Enlightenment Deism that ruled their day. It was a mechanical God, a “watchmaker” as Isaac Newton would say, under which they lived. It was a God that had created the universe and then walked away, allowing humans to use their brains to divine the underlying laws of nature.

So, it is necessary that the secularists gathered in the nation’s capital over the weekend. Unbelievers need to show that they can be a political force as well. Leaders need to see that there is a base of very organized, very vocal Americans who feel attacked by religious fundamentalism.

At the same time, secularists need to take care of not falling into the trap of the fundamentalists. It is very easy to be dogmatic. My own views on religion are complex. I am more agnostic than anything. There is a danger of falling into dogma whether you are a believer or unbeliever. What the secularists are fighting against is the intolerance, the demagoguery, the arrogance of Christian fundamentalism. We should be careful not to replace religious dogmatism with secular dogmatism.

What we should be fighting for is a free and open society. There are atheists who are just as demeaning as fundamentalists. Faith in science can be just as severe and unyielding as faith in God. Our aim should not to be severe, but to be free.

The Mediaopoly

The evil Mickey Mouse and the rest of the brainwashing squad.

I have been mostly television free for around two years. The other day (I won’t get into specifics) I was forced into watching Jersey Shore. It is a show where a bunch of people do nothing but argue and have sex for an hour. There is no other purpose to it than to parade these young people in front of a camera so that their jackassery becomes a for-profit public spectacle.

One of the reasons I gave up on the tube is the fact that the entire media is controlled by six megacorporations. This is a brief overview of the media landscape:

Time Warner

Home Box Office (HBO)
Time Inc.
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
CW Network (partial ownership)
TMZ
New Line Cinema
Time Warner Cable
Cinemax
Cartoon Network
TBS
TNT
America Online
MapQuest
Moviefone
Castle Rock
Sports Illustrated
Fortune
Marie Claire
People Magazine

Walt Disney

ABC Television Network
Disney Publishing
ESPN Inc.
Disney Channel
SOAPnet
A&E
Lifetime
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Buena Vista Theatrical Productions
Buena Vista Records
Disney Records
Hollywood Records
Miramax Films
Touchstone Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios
Buena Vista Games
Hyperion Books

Viacom

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Home Entertainment
Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Comedy Central
Country Music Television (CMT)
Logo
MTV
MTV Canada
MTV2
Nick Magazine
Nick at Nite
Nick Jr.
Nickelodeon
Noggin
Spike TV
The Movie Channel
TV Land
VH1

News Corporation

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Fox Television Stations
The New York Post
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Beliefnet
Fox Business Network
Fox Kids Europe
Fox News Channel
Fox Sports Net
Fox Television Network
FX
My Network TV
MySpace
News Limited News
Phoenix InfoNews Channel
Phoenix Movies Channel
Sky PerfecTV
Speed Channel
STAR TV India
STAR TV Taiwan
STAR World
Times Higher Education Supplement Magazine
Times Literary Supplement Magazine
Times of London
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox International
20th Century Fox Studios
20th Century Fox Television
BSkyB
DIRECTV
The Wall Street Journal
Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox Interactive Media
FOXTEL
HarperCollins Publishers
The National Geographic Channel
National Rugby League
News Interactive
News Outdoor
Radio Veronica
ReganBooks
Sky Italia
Sky Radio Denmark
Sky Radio Germany
Sky Radio Netherlands
STAR
Zondervan

CBS Corporation

CBS News
CBS Sports
CBS Television Network
CNET
Showtime
TV.com
CBS Radio Inc. (130 stations)
CBS Consumer Products
CBS Outdoor
CW Network (50% ownership)
Infinity Broadcasting
Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books, Scribner)
Westwood One Radio Network

NBC Universal

Bravo
CNBC
NBC News
MSNBC
NBC Sports
NBC Television Network
Oxygen
SciFi Magazine
Syfy (Sci Fi Channel)
Telemundo
USA Network
Weather Channel
Focus Features
NBC Universal Television Distribution
NBC Universal Television Studio
Paxson Communications (partial ownership)
Trio
Universal Parks & Resorts
Universal Pictures
Universal Studio Home Video

I believe NBC belongs to General Electric.

That means that whatever gets on the television, movie screen and radio must be filtered through a corporate bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to turn a profit.

As recently as the 1990s, the actual airwaves that carried television broadcasts were owned by the federal government. At certain points, the government was able take hold of the airwaves to provide coverage of events like presidential debates and speeches. The thinking was that there were certain things that needed to be shown in the interests of having an informed democratic citizenry.

Thanks to the privatization wave of the 1990s, the rights to the airwaves were sold to corporate interests for a song. The media is now fully privatized and corporate-run. This means that everything that passes as news in the media gets filtered through a corporate bureaucracy first. There is never any bad press about Disney or General Electric because it would never make it on to the air.

There is no longer any pretense of the media helping cultivate an informed democratic citizenry.

In this clip, Bill Maher mentions something very telling about this media-opoly:

He says 2/3 of Americans cannot name the economic system under which we operate. That seems about right. And if you cannot name the system, how can you analyze it or fight against its injustices?

Media helps shape the boundaries of public discourse. There are very few places one can turn for serious discussion about our economic system. Sure, there are discussions about economic policy, but those policies might as well take place in a vacuum. Without an overall context for those policies, the media tacitly portrays the economic system under which we live as natural.

This is why Occupy Wall Street was evicted. It was drawing too much attention to the economic system as a whole, connecting too many dots and pointing out too many damning truths.

The history textbooks do the same thing as the media. This is why I don’t use them.

Here is a fun video about the media-opoly:

And this documentary, Orwell Rolls in his Grave, is well worth a few watches. It is a much more in-depth look at corporate media and its implications for our democracy. Watch for the cameos by Bernie Sanders:

School Reform is Educational Reaganomics

An article from the Huffington Post this past weekend, entitled Education Reform is a Vote for the Economy, describes one of ed reform’s central tenants:

“But there’s another “E” missing from the equation that actually feeds — or starves — even the best economy. It’s called Education, and its reform is the imperative for a nation that continues to lag in achievement and finances.

In every state and community, education reform is the battle cry for those most afflicted by the nation’s 2,000 failing high schools, and for the approximately 70 percent of kids who are not learning at either national or international benchmarks….”

This quote is inspired by the idea that children are the future; that schools should prepare children for the future; and that good schools give children the skills they need to be successful in the future economy. Given all of this, a nation full of well-prepared children stands the country in good stead to be competitive in the global marketplace.

This is the premise from which business leaders work when they claim schools are failing. They see children graduating high school without the skills that make them employable by America’s companies. To prove this, they quote statistics that show people with only high school diplomas making little money or as part of the long-term unemployed. If only the education system better prepared their graduates, their prospects for success would improve.

It really is a hallowed American assumption, echoing Horace Mann’s words about education being the “balance wheel” of society. Children are not failing in school. Schools are failing children. Enter the reformers, who promise to restore public education to its true role of being America’s balance wheel. It would not be a stretch to say that the prevalence of this assumption throughout the country is part of what gives education reform so much public support.

There is something Reaganesque about this idea.

Ronald Reagan became president as an acolyte of economist Milton Friedman. Friedman’s calls for lower corporate taxes, deregulation of business and union busting were folded into a program that Reagan dubbed “supply-side economics”. It was called that because these policies aimed at increasing corporate productivity and innovation, leading to an increase in the volume and quality of the supply of goods and services. This increase would lower prices and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Supply-side economics, or Reaganomics as some called it (“voodoo economics” in the words of George H.W. Bush), stood in stark contrast to the economic orthodoxy of the day, which was Keynesianism. Since the days of FDR, the country had operated under the assumption that ensuring consumers had money was of utmost importance. People with money meant consistent demand. Consistent demand gave business the confidence to keep producing. Progressive taxation, business regulation and strong unions would ensure a healthy level of demand. If times got rough, the government should step in to be the employer of last resort to buoy demand.

Two visions of economic policy, one focusing on the supply side and the other focusing on the demand side of the economy. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon said “we are all Keynesians”. Since the days of Reagan, it is safe to say that our nation’s leaders are all Friedmanites.

This includes education reformers.

Education reformers clothe their policies in a concern for the supply-side of the labor market. They work from the assumption that improving the quality of labor will improve the economy overall: more people will be employable, corporate productivity will increase and innovation will blossom. The United States will catch up with Europe and stay ahead of China. As economists would say, it is all about improving the quality of the nation’s “human capital”.

If the start of the Great Recession showed us anything, it is that supply-side economics is not sustainable. When the mortgage market melted down, there were those who pointed the finger at people who had taken out mortgages they could not repay. They coupled this with finger-pointing at people who lived by credit cards, refused to save money and generally lived beyond their means. We were reminded that pennies saved were pennies earned. These criticisms miss the point.

People had no choice but to live beyond their means. Real wages for the working class have stagnated or declined since the Reagan era, despite the increased productivity of the American worker. The average American is now working more hours for less money than they did 35 years ago. At the same time, the wealthiest have seen unprecedented gains in wealth.

The growth of suburban sprawl, technology and inflation has made it more expensive to merely participate in the world of work and family. We now need cars, cell phones, computers and a host of other things in order to stay piped in to the world around us. Try looking for a job without a reliable car, a cell phone with an unlimited plan or an internet connection. The demands of the modern age require that most members of the working class live beyond their means.

Concentrating on only the supply side of the economy has proven to be a recipe for savage inequalities. Society has disinvested from the American worker (demand), in order to invest in the American business owner (supply). Now education reform seeks to focus only on the supply side of the future American workforce. Without investing in what those future workers, who are our children, demand, we merely stand to exacerbate those inequalities.

The demand side of the future labor market is the future jobs market. Of course people with only a high school diploma are hit the hardest by the Great Recession. This is not because they are not competitive or unemployable because our schools do such a horrible job of educating them. It is the fact that the real unemployment rate in this country could be upwards of 22%, when considering people who have given up on looking for work or people who are underemployed. There simply are not enough jobs out there to absorb the labor force we have. This provides a large labor pool from which employers can hire. The proliferation of people with college degrees out there means they will usually get chosen above high school graduates, even if it is for relatively low-skilled work.

Seeing it this way, there is no reason to believe that improving the public education system will improve the chances of high school graduates to find jobs.

Talking about education reform as a solution for our economic woes makes no sense. What is worse, it deflects attention away from the lack of jobs in the economy.

What is probably the scariest of all is the nature of education reform being proposed. The same Huffington Post article goes on to say:

“There are solutions to these true economic deficiencies (yes, education is vital to a healthy economy!) ranging from more choices in public and private education, teacher and parent empowerment, higher standards, better content, online delivery, tenure reform and more.”

Talk about speaking out of both sides of your mouth. How does “teacher empowerment” jive with “tenure reform”? How does “better content” jive with “online delivery”?

What this really is saying is more charter schools, parent trigger laws, online classes, standardized exams and union busting. People in business know better than anyone the types of jobs that will be around in the future. The fact that they are stressing bubble-in exams, rote online learning programs and a docile teaching force is a glimpse into the types of jobs that will be around in the future: low-skilled, low-paying and unimaginative, the types of jobs where workers are interchangeable and replaceable. It is imperative they crush any thought or imagination in children. It is imperative that they deskill and devalue the teaching profession so the workers of tomorrow do not have any role models with the ability or capacity to speak freely.

Supply-side education is as wrong-headed and insidious as supply-side economics. Yet, at the very least, the manner in which its supporters wish to accomplish its goals says a lot about what they have in store for America’s future.

America the Idiocracy

I decided to put the movie Idiocracy on in the background as I grade some homework. You can watch the full movie at the bottom of this post.

A man goes into the future to find a country full of stupid people obsessed with money and sex. They are facing a food crisis because they have been watering their crops with a product called Brawndo (Gatorade?). Brawndo’s slogan says it has “got what plants crave”. All the people can do is recite the slogan over and over. They cling to it despite the fact that their crops are dying around them. It’s a commentary on the power of corporate propaganda and the simplistic, sound bite culture that enables it.

Brawndo is eerily similar to education reform. Corporate types tell us that testing, charters, the Khan Academy, online classes and the rest of the bill of goods will lead our students to “success”. People thoughtlessly repeat these mantras, like the vacuous babbling of people who think the Khan Academy is some sort of education solution.

Despite the fact that the reformers are pushing a regime that promises to test children from age 5; despite the fact that charters have been shown to stress obedience from children and teachers while the CEOs that run them make off with obscene profits; despite the fact that online learning celebrates rote memorization and works from a philosophy that teaching is a scripted act; and despite the fact the entire education reform movement is a plot to privatize our last truly public institution, people inside and mostly outside education recite its mantras.

And just like the crops that receive the Brawndo treatment, our children are withering under education deform. They are seeing their schools get closed, their enrichment programs taken away, their most experienced teachers disappear and their futures increasingly determined by an elite that have seen their personal profits skyrocket while the rest of the country suffers under the yoke of unemployment and underemployment.

Education reform “is what students crave”. The more people believe this, the more likely it will be that our country will really resemble Idiocracy.

You can watch the full movie here:

Bill Clinton’s Legacy?

He feels your pain.

PBS recently showed a 3 ½ documentary on Bill Clinton, which you can see in full here. Afterwards they asked what the legacy of Bill Clinton was. I do not know the answer to the question. Evaluating someone’s legacy takes a little more distance than 11 years (Clinton left office in 2001). Mao Tse-Tung summarized this sentiment nicely when someone asked him what the impacts of the French Revolution were and he replied:  “it’s too early to tell.”

My biggest issue with this documentary was the ridiculous amount of time they spent on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which echoed the obsession the mainstream media had with the scandal back when it was breaking. I know it resulted in the impeachment of a president, only the second time in U.S. history that has happened. Despite that, most Americans saw it for the witch hunt it was. For God’s sake, he left office with sky-high approval ratings. The other impeached president, Andrew Johnson, slinked out of office in disgrace without even getting his party’s nomination.

What they did a half-assed job on, and what really should have been the focus of the documentary, was the whole idea of the New Democrat that Clinton crafted. For his first two years in office, Clinton overplayed his “liberal” (try not to laugh) hand, culminating in the healthcare reform disaster spearheaded by Hillary. He paid the price in the 1994 midterm elections when the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, not to mention losing 8 seats in the Senate. This caused Clinton to focus on what was “possible”. With a Republican-controlled Congress, the only things that were possible were very Republican things like the 1996 welfare reform law.

Shades of Barack Obama?

Bill Clinton’s New Democrat looked much like an Old Republican. Even before 1994 he had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law, a treaty that had begun under George H.W. Bush. This allowed companies to easily move jobs into Mexico. Then there was “ending welfare as we know it.” There is a lot of revisionism about how welfare reform was a great success for the millions of people, mostly women, who were thrown off the welfare rolls. Here is a hint: the percentage of children living in poverty increased since that law and has seen no signs of slowing down. It turns out that forcing single mothers into minimum wage Wal-Mart jobs was not their path to financial freedom.

In his second term, Clinton did things like repeal the Glass-Stegall Act, tearing down the firewalls between savings and investment banks. This turned the entire banking industry into a giant casino and was a major cause of the current Great Recession in which we are still mired. How about privatization? Under Clinton, the idea that “markets work best” led to a tremendous outsourcing of public functions to private companies. Even parts of the CIA were privatized. All this did was accelerate the development of the “shadow government” that began under Reagan, wherein private companies do things like disburse welfare and public sector checks and mop the hallways of federal buildings.

Yet, for most of us who lived through the Clinton years, they provide a bright contrast to the dark 2000s marked by the Bush/Obama era. It was a decade of technological innovation. The internet breathed new life into the economy, sparking an entire information revolution that changed the face of the planet. Materially speaking, most Americans were better off in 2001, after Clinton left office, than in 1993 when he had assumed it. This, along with leaving behind a budget surplus, is what will probably mark Clinton as one of the best presidents of the 20th century.

And that is just a shame.

First, it is not clear at all that the booming economy had anything to do with Clinton. The internet that was the hub of the entire boom came out of heavy military spending during the Reagan years. In fact, most of the nifty technologies of the 1990s, like cell phones and ever-larger, gas-guzzling jeeps, were the fruits of government investment well before Clinton was anywhere near Washington. Much like Calvin Coolidge, he was the right president at the right time.

Second, and most importantly, the fruits of this economic boom were maldistributed. Maybe everyone’s standard of living went up, but the standard of living for the wealthiest Americans went up much more. Again, just like Coolidge, he presided over one of the most uneven economic growths in American history. This was not the recipe for sustained economic prosperity. (A very underrated book on this issue is Joe Stiglitz’s The Roaring Nineties). The documentary makes the false claim that Clinton oversaw the longest boom of the 20th century. In fact, the longest boom lasted from 1941 until 1973 and it lasted so long because the New Deal ensured that the fruits of that boom were more evenly distributed than at any point, ever.

In reality, what Clinton oversaw was a bubble, one with dire consequences. Much like the 1920s, the uneven distribution of wealth would doom the country down the line. When the economy tanked in 2008, it started with people who could not repay their mortgages. We can replay all of the reasons why they could not repay, like predatory lending in the shady subprime market, that were results of Bush’s policies. However, at the very core, people could not repay because they were broke and they were broke because they represented a class of Americans who were receiving less and less of a piece of that great big American economic pie.

This is really Clinton’s legacy. The horrid gap between rich and poor began in earnest during the Reagan era, of which President Bush 41 was a part. Clinton came into office and merely held the line on that gap. It did not increase as fast as it did under Reagan, but it increased nonetheless. Then Bush 43 came to Washington and picked up from where Reagan left off, furiously transferring the nation’s wealth upwards. This is what the New Democrats represent. They are a more subtle, more cushioned continuation of what the Republican Party has always aimed to do throughout the 20th century.

Clinton was the first Democrat since FDR to win a second term. (Truman and LBJ do not count because their first terms were not their own.) He was Nixon in reverse. Nixon won a second term largely because he presided over a liberal era and gave himself over to liberal policies in order to gain support. He expanded the welfare state, made peace with communist nations and helped pass meaningful environmental legislation. Clinton won a second term in a conservative era by giving himself over to conservative policies. This was cold political calculation on Clinton’s part and Clinton was not anything if not a masterful politician.

This is what the New Democrats represent. In order to maintain power for themselves, they will agree to policies that end up screwing the weakest people in society. Obama is a New Democrat on steroids. The fact that Obama is willing to bargain on Social Security, accelerate the privatization of education and keep taxes low on the wealthy (which Clinton did not do, I might mention), is a sign of how far we have fallen as a nation. Since the 1994 midterm elections, if not since Ted Kennedy’s defeat in the 1980 Democratic primaries, real progressives have been relegated to the political wilderness.

Nobody has done more to relegate progressives, not to mention the poorest among us,  to oblivion than the New Democrats. Will this end up being Bill Clinton’s legacy when all is said and done?

The Farce of Rising Gas Prices

When gas prices went up in the 1970s, there were definite geopolitical reasons.

In 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced oil exports. They did this in response to the United States’ support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Oil supplies went down, prices went up. Simple economics.

In 1979, Iran had its revolution where they overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi in favor of the Ayatollah. The unrest disrupted oil production and, even after it resumed, the anti-U.S. Ayatollah was in no mood to roll out barrels of oil for greedy Americans. Supply went down, prices went up. Simple Economics.

But, within the span of the past 4 years, there have been two major spikes in oil prices: first, on the eve of the 2008 election and now on the eve of the 2012 election.

Prices are going up despite the fact that Americans are using less oil due to environmental regulations, hybrid cars and people being more conscious of their “carbon footprint.” In other words, demand is down, so why are prices going up?

One explanation is that, while America’s demand is decreasing, the demand of developing countries like Brazil and China is increasing.

This explanation does not cut it. Increases in global demand might push prices upward gradually over the long term. They do not usually create a spike in prices.

A spike in prices indicates some sort of sudden shock or event in oil producing regions that disrupts oil production. This is where the protests in the Middle East or unrest between Iran and Israel could be handy excuses.

For example:

Pro-democracy movements across the Middle East last year prompted markets to speculate that supplies could be cut off. That speculation helped drive up the U.S. gas price from about $3 a gallon on Christmas Day 2010 to around $3.30 last Christmas.

The emphasis is mine.

That is because unrest in the Middle East does not cut it as an explanation anymore. The unrest has yet to drastically reduce the supply of oil on the market. Geopolitical factors in the 1970s reduced the physical supply of oil, causing actual spikes in prices.

What we have now are imaginary reductions in oil supplies. It is the fear of  a reduction of supply, a fear in the minds of the suits on Wall Street.

It goes something like this: over the past 35 years, the wealthiest Americans have gotten much more wealthy. They are so wealthy, in fact, that they have billions of dollars just sitting there doing nothing. Now, in a time like this, you would want them to use that money to create jobs (they are the “job creators”, after all).

This was the fundamental problem during the Great Depression. It was not that money had disappeared, only that it has coagulated at the top, clogging economic activity throughout the country. The aim of the New Deal was to act like a giant plunger, pulling the money from the top through taxation in order to use it to create jobs and get the economy flowing again.

But we live in a post-New Deal, post-Keynesian world.

So the job creators are allowed to sit on gobs of money and do absolutely nothing with it. Nothing, that is, except speculate.

Wealthy people have always speculated. But we live in an age where high volume speculation in commodities like oil is relatively new.

Here is Matt Taibbi:

The issue here, which I covered somewhat in Griftopia and in “The Great American Bubble Machine,” revolves around the influx of speculative money into the commodities markets. Because of various changes to the way commodities were traded — including a series of semi-secret exemptions handed out to commodities speculators, allowing companies like Goldman Sachs to popularize commodities speculation — there was, by the summer of 2008, a cascade of investor money pouring into commodities, mostly all betting on a rise of commodity prices. Much of this might have been due to money flowing out of mortgages and into the “safe” haven of commodities, with exploding energy prices being an unwelcome side effect. While there was less than $20 billion of speculative activity in commodities in the early 2000s, by 2008 that number had jumped up to well over $200 billion, with virtually all that money being “long” money, i.e. bets on a rise in prices. All of that new money turned into a battering ram pushing prices through the roof. We are seeing the same phenomenon this year. (2011)

In short, when you keep financial institutions deregulated and keep taxes low on the super wealthy, this is what you get.

The “job creators” have had plenty of money and room to invest in the people of the United States. Instead, they are investing in commodities. There was a time when the commodities market was just for producers and consumers to protect themselves against the vagaries of dealing in products that rely on nature (oil, wheat, etc.). It was a highly specialized and, therefore, small market, meaning it was relatively stable.

But with the injection of billions of Wall Street dollars, commodities have become as volatile as stocks. When Wall Street gets scared, we literally end up paying the price.

And these are the people that are quickly getting their hands on the education system, from Kindergarten up to grad school. Education futures coming to a commodities market near you.

Google V. Teachers

Ever since starting this blog, I have been required to stay on top of the latest news from the world of education. Sometimes a perusal of the links on my blogroll does the trick. Other times, Google serves as my old stand by. I have a Google account that automatically mines the latest stories by using some choice tags. Lately, it does not matter what sets of tags I use, the same types of results come up.

So, here is a list of the headlines that appeared on yesterday’s search. See if you can find a common theme among them:

Former LA Teacher Charged with Lewd Acts in Photographing on 23 Kids to be….

Report: Vietnamese high school teacher arrested for advocating multiparty….

Teacher critically injured in crash

Locked in dark room by teacher, six-year-old dies

White teacher sues to use the “N” word

Bayshore High teacher accused of being drunk on the job

This one promises to remain in the news a few days:

Spitting mad teacher faces off with student

The news loves these videos of teachers behaving badly. While it is obvious that the teacher was out of line here, there really is no way to tell what preceded all of this. Here is the video posted on the Daily News site:

At the start of the video, the teacher says “you can’t put your hands on me”, meaning that the student might have hit, or threatened to hit the teacher. Who knows?

What we do know is that this is just pure sensationalism, what used to be called Yellow Journalism. The Daily News headline begins with the words SEE IT in all capital letters. These headlines are all about the spectacle. Of course, they tend to prove teachers guilty in the court of public opinion before they go through any sort of due process.

This helps explains all the headway education reform has made over the past 10 years. Reformers have been screaming about a “crisis” in public schools for so long that a quick Google search of “schools” and “crisis” will assuredly turn up example after example of how crummy our schools are.

This is the 2012 version of the sinking of the USS Maine. The Maine sank under mysterious circumstances and the Yellow Journalists pinned it on Spain, stirring up the country for war. In the same way, the school crisis has been pinned on teachers, getting the country in line for a war on our profession.

Google is the perfect invention for our age. The television and print media already mindlessly parrot whatever politicians and tycoons say. Google is here to exponentially expand that parroting.

So next time you see something about a “bad” teacher, just remember why that story even made into the news at all. Then thank Google for finding it for you.

Reflections On Presidents’ Day: The Election of 2012

Happy Presidents' Day from Bushbama.

The Washington Post ran an article this past Sunday on the most important presidential elections in American history. The assumption is the upcoming election of 2012 will rank right up there with many others as a watershed moment. This is a very popular assumption, and it is very wrong.

One important election to which the article pays very little attention took place in 1800. The Federalist and incumbent John Adams squared off against his Republican Vice President, Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists had occupied the presidency since the promulgation of the Constitution and had done a great job alienating small government types centered in the south and west (which back then was everything between the Appalachians and the Mississippi). President Washington stood strong against the Whiskey Rebellion, President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts and both of their administrations had decidedly Anglophile foreign policies. To Republicans like Jefferson, all of this meant that the Federalists aimed to imitate the English monarchy America had fought so hard to jettison.

Thomas Jefferson led a spirited opposition to both Washington’s and Adams’ Federalist program. He resigned as Washington’s Secretary of State because he felt his counsel was continuously ignored. As Vice President, he helped vilify John Adams at every turn, leaking stories of Adams’ bad temper and obsession with the trappings of royalty to the press. Along with James Madison, he helped draft what would become the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that sought to invalidate the Alien and Sedition Acts that Adams had signed into law. The resolutions were the first bold statements in favor of nullification, the idea that a state can choose not to follow a federal law if they deem it unconstitutional. Although the resolutions went nowhere, nullification would rear its head later during the presidency of Andrew Jackson and again on the eve of the Civil War.

So when 1800 came around, Americans had a clear choice between continuing the strong government program of the Federalists and experimenting with the states’ rights agenda of the Republicans. The campaign was vicious, with each side’s press corps working overtime to destroy the characters of the opposing candidate. Adams was attacked as an obese Anglophile monarchist. Jefferson was attacked as a Jacobin who owned and cavorted with slaves. Once the votes were tallied, no man had received a majority of electoral votes. It was up to the House of Representatives to choose from the top two candidates, which were Jefferson and the shady Aaron Burr. After several contentious votes, Alexander Hamilton used his pull in the House to throw the election to Jefferson. Although he hated Jefferson, he thought Burr was too dangerous to be president. This would be the beginning of a rivalry between Hamilton and Burr that would end with the fatal duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Once the election was decided, John Adams sat dejected in an unfinished ramshackle residence located on a swamp called the District of Columbia. He reflected upon what a Jefferson Administration might mean for the country. At no point did he ever consider contesting the results of the election, or of using his power as commander-in-chief to declare some sort of martial law that would extend his presidency indefinitely. Instead, he dutifully vacated what would become the White House and went back home to Massachusetts. It was an epic moment in the history of western civilization. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the reins of power transferred peacefully from one group to another. It was a validation of the principles of constitutional government and a hopeful sign that the fledgling republic could survive political turmoil without descending into civil war. The two men at the center of this battle would have an icy relationship until, towards the end of their lives, they struck up an extraordinary correspondence. That correspondence would only end when both men died, which happened to be on the same day: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day of the Declaration of Independence.

The upcoming election this year promises to have nothing on 1800. On the surface, there might be similarities between the two incumbents, John Adams and Barack Obama. Both men were educated at Harvard. Both men were very conscious about being presidential and bringing a sense of gravitas to the highest office in the land. Like Obama, Adams did things that caused howls in his own party. He made peace with France despite his own party’s call for war, especially after the humiliation of the XYZ Affair.  This opened up Adams to criticism of being a closet Republican. Obama has been accused of selling out the progressive wing of his party, whether it was by not fighting for a public option during the healthcare reform debate or refusing to call the Bush Administration to account for war crimes or by supporting a law that puts Social Security on the road to extinction. It seems that an argument can be made that Obama is a modern-day John Adams.

In reality, the similarities are only skin-deep. Adams’ peace overtures to France were based on what he knew to be the best interests of the country. Despite the saber-rattling of his own party, he knew that war with France would be impractical. The United States had no military to speak of and no way to mobilize one in time to avoid defeat. France, for all of the turmoil its revolution was causing at the time, was still a world power that was already fully mobilized and doing a heck of a job defeating the monarchies of Europe. As Washington pointed out in his farewell address, the United States was a fledgling country that needed time to develop. At the very least, war would hinder that development and, in the worst case, would kill the United States in its cradle. Adams had to sacrifice good politics in favor of good policy. Making peace with France would surely lose him his base and the election, but it would ensure the survival of the United States for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, Obama cares not for good policy. Everything he does is a political calculation. Fighting for a public option would have surely cost him millions in contributions from Big Pharma, not to mention feed into wild criticisms of him being a radical socialist (just remember the utter insanity of many of the town hall meetings about healthcare reform). Going after Bush for war crimes and rolling back the surveillance state created by the Patriot Act would prevent Obama from having the same type of latitude Bush enjoyed as president. Going out of his way to compromise with a Republican Party hell bent on his destruction makes him look like a consensus builder and rational centrist. Unlike President Adams, what is good for the country and the people in it matters little to President Obama. His calculations are based upon how he can keep the corporate funding rolling in and how he can pander to the other party’s base in order to pull in the airhead “centrists” who pine for “bipartisanship”.

This is not even mentioning his Department of Homeland Security’s crackdown on Occupy Wall Street. What we have in President Obama is someone who does the bidding of the same corporate elite that pulled the strings of George Bush. For all of his faults, President Adams was his own man. He did not need to placate rich people in order to secure his job. Securing his job took a back seat to following his conscience. President Obama has a conscience, but the shape of that conscience is determined by the people and policies that promise to keep him in office.

The upcoming election of 2012 is not another 1800. It is not another 1828, 1864 (the choices in 1860 were much murkier) 1896, 1932 or 1964. Those were years when Americans knew they were at a crossroads. They had a clear choice before them. 1800 was a choice between Federalism and Republicanism. 1828 was a choice between internal improvements and white supremacy. 1864 was a choice between seeing the Civil War to its end and letting the south go its own way in order to secure peace. 1896 was a choice between big business and small farmers. 1932 was a choice between the same old laissez-faire and a “new deal for the American people” (whatever that meant at the time). 1964 was a choice between a federal government that actively sought to remedy inequality and one that wanted to handcuff government’s ability to do much of anything. With all of these elections, a different outcome than the one that actually happened would have clearly set the country down a much different path. 2012 is not one of those elections.

The election of 2012 has much more in common with 1820, 1852, 1888, 1976 and 2000. All of these elections took place in an atmosphere of political stasis. There was very little to distinguish the candidates from each other. Working backwards, the 2000 election was notable for its puny turnout and characterizations of it being the Seinfeld election: an election about nothing. 1976 was a choice between a fiscally conservative Republican and a fiscally conservative Democrat (a harbinger of the New Democrats of the post-Reagan era). 1888 was a squabble over tariffs, with both candidates being in full agreement over the right of corporations to step on the throats of workers (including children). 1852 was between a pro-slavery Democratic Party and a Whig Party so divided over slavery that they were unable to unite behind any platform at all. These were all elections in which the status quo had nothing to fear from the outcome. So it is with 2012.

The election of 1820 was noteworthy for being the last election in American history when a candidate ran unopposed (The other such elections involved George Washington, with whom there was no competition in the minds of the people). James Monroe rode the wave of the Era of Good Feelings to a second term in the White House (properly named after we had painted over the damage the British had caused it during the War of 1812). The Federalists were done and the entire United States, north, south and west, was effectively a Republican nation. The economy was booming, the British were ejected from the Ohio River Valley and the United States had vast stretches of land in the Louisiana Territory that promised unlimited resources. For white men in the Era of Good Feelings, America seemed to offer boundless possibilities. Jefferson’s Republican Party took the credit and James Monroe was the beneficiary.

What we have today is an Era of Bad Feelings. Instead of the promise of endless expansion, Americans of all colors and genders are facing an age of severe limits. Not only is our job market and quality of life deteriorating, we cannot even look forward to another generation of the United States being the undisputed superpower of the world. Unemployment is a permanent condition for millions of Americans. The ones lucky enough to find jobs are working in the low-wage, low-skilled service sector that grinds people up and spits them out. The workers (especially teachers) that used to have union protections and job security are rapidly being stripped of their livelihoods. Other countries like China and India promise to be major players in the 21st century. The American Dream that was the promise of the Era of Good Feelings came and went and now it withers on the vine.

Going into November, we essentially have a perverted version of 1820. It is an Era of Bad Feelings where we essentially have one candidate and one party. Sure, there will be two major people and they will each clad themselves in one of the two major brands, but they will both work for the same interests. Americans essentially have no choice. There is one political party and it is the Corporate Party. It is the party that will do everything in its power to provide boundless opportunity for those who already have it all. It is the party that will continue to destroy the lives of anyone who works or cannot find work for a living. Whether it is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum who take the oath of office on January 20, 2013, America will go down the same path.

The sad thing is, many of those low-wage and unemployed Americans will deck their cars with bumper stickers and hang American flags outside of their windows. They will go to the voting booth under the illusion that they are making a difference, or at least choosing the lesser of two evils. When November 2016 rolls around, if it rolls around, the votes that they cast 4 years prior will be shown to have no impact at all. It will be like nothing ever happened.