Saturday, November 30, 2013

THE UGLY STEP-CHILD OF THE "KNOW NOTHINGS" ... OUR "DO NOTHING" CONGRESS

In the 1850s, right before the Civil War, there was a xenophobic movement in America called the Know Nothings. Driven by their fear that Irish Catholics and other immigrants (especially German) were diluting the American experience, the Know Nothings primary goal was to put a break on immigration and naturalization services. In all cases, nativism, fear, and ignorance were the driving forces behind the movement.

The Know Nothing name evolved from the semi-secrecy under which the movement was founded. When members were asked about the group they were supposed to comment - much like Sargent Shultz in Hogan's Heroes - "I know nothing."

One of the reasons for opposing Catholic immigrants was the misplaced concern that Pope Pius IX had done little to quell the 1848 liberal revolutionary uprisings in Europe and the fear that newly arriving Catholics would follow orders from the Pope. But the Know Nothings were opposed to more than European Catholics. In California, for example, the Know Nothings rallied against Chinese immigrants.


The American Republic - the argument went at the time - was threatened by these foreign and other anti-democratic forces.

While the Know Nothings were also known in history as the American Party, it was the Ku Klux Klan who would revive the Know Nothings nativist sentiments by the end of the 19th century. Historically, the real achievement of the Know Nothings was to demonstrate how powerful fear and ignorance can be in American politics.


I bring all of this up because in many ways we are seeing the emergence of the Know Nothings ugly step-child: The "Do Nothings" of our U.S. Congress.

However, instead of simply standing against immigration reform and promoting virulent nationalism, our Do Nothing Congress has stood by while President Obama has been accused of being foreign born and un-American. Worse, they have acted to nullify the actions of America's first Black president with reckless filibusters and a long standing promise to say "no" to virtually every one of President Obama's policy initiatives.

In the process our Do Nothing Congress has made it clear that the political bloodlines of the Know Nothing movement are still strong in America.


Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich does a pretty good job of explaining the obstructionism of the Do Nothings ...
To call the Congress that enters its final weeks of the year a "do-nothing" Congress is far too generous. Not only has it done nothing to reform the nation's obsolete immigration laws, or our absurd and unfair tax system, or the government's heinously intrusive methods of spying on its own citizens. But in failing to extend unemployment benefits to 1.3 million jobless people who are about to lose them, or enact any climate legislation, or renew the ban on plastic guns, or end the draconian budget "sequester" that willy-nilly cuts spending on defense and on the poor and needy, it has done worse than nothing. As the year reaches a close, America is worse off than it was when the 113th Congress began. I don't mean to draw a false equivalence. It is the Democrats who have accomplished nothing. Republicans, by contrast, have accomplished exactly what they intended.
There's more, but you get the point. The politics behind our Do Nothing Congress is pretty ugly, and show no signs of slowing down.

- Mark 

Friday, November 29, 2013

THOUGHTS FROM JOHN STEINBECK


For those who enjoy John Steinbeck, here's a quote for the times ...
And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.
~ John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath
 - Mark

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

HAPPY THANKSGIVING



- Mark

MY KIND OF POPE

A message for the ages ...


- Mark 

WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA SHOULD IGNORE THE THE FAR RIGHT ON IRAN (and just about anything else when it comes to national security)


When President Obama entered the White House in 2009 he inherited a mess. The world was in economic turmoil, we were mired in two messy wars with no end in sight, and our relationships with the Middle East were unstable, at best. Osama bin Laden was still on the loose while Iran was an antagonizing enigma. The muscular foreign policy approach of the Bush administration showed the world that America had all the tools it needed to wage war, but it also showed the world that the American empire had feet of clay.

All of this would have been enough for any new president. But it was all made worse by a group of domestic political enemies who - if we're being honest - wanted President Obama to fail. They still do. Their vision of the world requires a military approach to virtually every issue they don't understand.


Their desire to militarize foreign policy issues while pushing endless war scenarios ignores one simple reality. The hard core neo-conservatives on the right who believe President Obama is doing it wrong have gotten virtually everything wrong about the world over the past 35 years. Think about the following conservative led developments.

* THE OMNIPOTENT SOVIETS: In the 1980s neo-conservatives like Dick Cheney were so consumed with the threat posed by the Soviet Union that they consistently misread reports telling us that the Soviets were on the verge of collapsing. They acknowledged Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, but dismissed them as a ruse designed to catch us off guard. When the Soviet Union collapsed we were left flat footed, and bungled the post-Soviet world. 
* REAGAN DEFEATED THE SOVIET UNION: During the 1990s neo-conservative fed (and continue to feed) the naive story line that President Reagan's policies defeated the Soviet Union. Wrong. President Reagan's Under Secretary of State made it clear that President Reagan didn't defeat the Soviet Union. A series of policies carried out by Republican and Democratic presidents alike - which began under President Truman - followed a "containment" strategy advocated by diplomat George Kennan. He predicted the Soviet system would collapse on its own nonsense if we contained them and just waited them out. Suggesting that President Reagan brought down the Soviets puts him in front of a parade he didn't organize. 
* A CULTURE OF MILITARISM: Chalmers Johnson discusses the rise of militarism in the United States. The key is understanding that our domestic security and military institutions have grown so large and powerful that they now put their institutional survival above our democratic structures. While bi-partisan defense budget increases have contributed to our growing culture of militarism, the reality is that neo-conservative military hawks have pushed a terror filled military agenda non-stop. In the process our security institutions have grown stronger, bolder, and less controllable while our domestic rights - especially with regards to the 1st and 4th amendments - have become diluted. 
* MISREADING 9/11: Let's make this real simple. The events of 9/11 were carried out by a small band of thugs who don't represent a single religion, one group of people, or a single nation. We acted as if this was the case, and began a global war on terror that has cost us both financially and in terms of prestige. Instead of militarizing our nation, and criminalizing an entire group of people, we should have treated the perpetrators of 9/11 as war criminals. We did this with the Nazis, who actually posed a real threat to the world. Today Adolf Hitler is no martyr, while there are no statues and even less sympathy for a pathetic band of thugs who set the world on fire. Militarizing our budgets and turning millions of Americans against an entire religion is something Osama bin Laden always wanted. It's something he also wanted the Muslim world to see. Today, we are still pursuing a seemingly endless War on Terror that has cost us dearly. 

They got it wrong on the Soviet threat in the 1980s ... They fail Foreign Policy 101 when it comes to understanding cause and effect ... They have no clue how a culture of fear and how militarizing our budgets are affecting our nation ... And they completely misread how to respond to 9/11.

I bring all of this up because of recent events in the Middle East, and how the far right and the neo-conservative military hawks have been responding to these events. From outlandish claims about incompetence in Benghazi, to questions about the president's "inaction" in Lybia, Egypt and Syria, conservatives in Washington have let the world know that President Obama is not their kind of commander-in-chief.

What they really want is for the world to forget what happened the last time they were running the White House.


Today almost all conservatives (and several Democrats) are criticizing President Obama's agreement with Iran, which temporarily suspends their nuclear program. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the no. 2 Republican in the Senate, even went so far as to claim that President Obama came up with this agreement - which includes the threat of more sanctions, is easily reversible, and sunsets - to distract America from Obamacare.

Incredibly, there are even a handful of Republicans who are comparing this agreement to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement at Munich (once again demonstrating that many conservatives - who should know better - have no understanding of history, or simply have no idea what they're talking about).

At the end of the day, Egypt is on a new path, we avoided war in Syria, Iran is talking, we're pulling out of disastrous war in Iraq, and Afghanistan is a quagmire that we are talking about leaving.


Given what President Obama was handed, and the GOP's long history of getting the world seriously wrong, I'd say President Obama needs to ignore the far right when it comes to places like Iran.

Better yet, President Obama should ignore virtually any suggestion that comes from the far right that has to do with national security. Seriously.

- Mark

UPDATE: The last cartoon was added after I originally posted this.

UPDATE II: This post was edited and published in the Bakersfield Californian, which you can find here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THANK YOU HARRY REID

Of all the judicial nominees that have been nominated and then filibustered (blocked) in the 224 year history of the U.S. Senate almost half of them (82) have been nominated by President Obama.


These numbers help to explain why Senator Harry Reid changed the filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate when it comes to judicial nominees.

Simply put, the filibuster is a simple procedural measure designed to protect the rights of the minority in the U.S. Senate. It was being abused by the GOP as a matter of course so that virtually every presidential nominee requiring U.S. Senate approval required 60 votes (out of 100) to get past the U.S. Senate. The GOPs filibuster game playing reached such ridiculous levels that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced, stalled, objected to, and then finally filibustered his own bill!

With 3 years left in his second term President Obama now stands alone as the most filibustered president in our nation's history.



The Republicans made it clear that they would continue to ignore the spirit of the filibuster in the last 3 years of President Obama's second term. The last straw for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate came when the Republicans said they would, as Kevin Drum put it, filibuster all of President Obama's nominees to the DC circuit court because they didn't want a Democratic president to fill any more vacancies.

As a result, instead of requiring 60 votes in the U.S. Senate just to get his nominees presented in the U.S. Senate, President Obama's judicial nominees can go up for a simple up and down vote, which will require 51 votes in a full Senate.

Thank you Harry Reid.

- Mark 

HISTORY OF THE WORLD + 1,000 YEARS OF WAR ...

Two pretty cool YouTube videos.

History of the world in two minutes ...


1,000 years of war in 5 minutes ...


- Mark 

Monday, November 25, 2013

ILLITERACY IN THE 21st CENTURY


- Mark 

READING FOR THE WEEK (11-25-13)


McClatchy: CBS undertaking a "journalistic review" of flawed "60 Minutes" Benghazi report (Mother Jones).

Interesting story about the media and one regular guy that could be you (Upworthy).

The people of "the pit" and other industrial "monotowns" of Russia (Foreign Policy).


NSA STUFF
Obama administration drowning in lawsuits filed over NSA surveillance (RT).

Edward Snowden reveals U.S. intelligence's Black Budget: $52 billion spent on secret programs (RT).

The NSA's new code breakers (Foreign Policy).

Privacy is a red herring ... the debate over NSA surveillance is about something else entirely (Foreign Policy).

Before the fools at the NSA there were the idiots of Watergate (Simplisafe.com).


IN THE "THIS AIN'T RIGHT" DEPARTMENT
JP Morgan's CFO says $7 trillion of $13 trillion fine is tax deductible (NY Times / DealB%k).

America's worst charities, and how they have blown almost $1 billion (Tampa Bay Times).

Not lovin' it ... McDonald's advice to their low wage employees includes singing songs (to lower blood pressure) and to stop complaining because stress hormones rise after 15 minutes of complaining (Zero Hedge).

Republican Congressman who voted to drug test food stamp recipients busted for cocaine (Huffington Post).

Three women held as slaves for 30 years in London (BBC).


MISCELLANEOUS
These people recreated their childhood photos and the results are epic (EliteDaily).

Immigrants tied closely to those who serve in the military to get reprieve (NY Times).

China rejects U.S. corn cargo for unapproved GMO corn variety (Food Democracy Now).

- Mark

Friday, November 22, 2013

CENTRAL MEXICO ... TURNING A CORNER?

Recognized as one of the safest and most productive regions of the country, central Mexico is fast becoming one of Latin Americas most dynamic economic centers. Unlike Mexico's crime ridden U.S. border region, corporations from around the world are increasingly turning to Mexican states like Guanajuato and Queretaro to invest and build plants. 

Los Arcos in Queretaro, Qro.

There are several reasons for this development.

The increasing cost of doing business in China has encouraged businesses to look elsewhere to invest. Rising wages coupled with transportation costs have put China at a comparative disadvantage. But the real key may not be what's happening in places like China. It's what's happening in central Mexico's El Bajio region.



Instead of focusing on promoting NAFTA-esque low-skilled labor, that's concentrated in poorly developed maquiladora zones that we see along Mexico's border, states in central Mexico over the past 20 years have emphasized public policies that encourage investments in education and the building of "interior ports" (centers with a RR depot, customs facilities, and air links, among others). And it's paying dividends as the NY Times' article "In Middle Mexico, a Middle Class Rises" points out.

In fact, things are going so well in the central Mexico that it's one of the reasons that - you're going to love this one - more Americans have been added to Mexico's population over the past few years than Mexicans have been added to the United States population (it's also why more Asians and Europeans are now arriving in Mexico).

In the FYI department, I'm highlighting this story not just because of the economic development angle. I lived in the state of Queretaro on and off for the better part of two years between 1990 and 1993, and taught at the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro's Facultad de Ciencias Politicas y Sociales in 1993. I watched as the region began to implement the policies that are bearing fruit today.


So, yeah, I'm glad to see these developments, in a place I used to call home.

- Mark

Thursday, November 21, 2013

S&P BREAKS RECORD, AGAIN (YAWN) + BONUS INFO ... QUANTITATIVE EASING EXPLAINED


This is getting ridiculous ...

If you follow this blog you might think that I sound like a broken record with this post. But it needs to be said, and repeated over and over until we all understand one thing: No one should be jumping for joy over the S&P and the Dow hitting new highs because the record is artificial and based on taxpayer-backed money dumps.

The correlation between S&P and the Dow hitting new market highs because of (and only because of) government interventions should be pretty clear. Check it out.


For those who don't see it, here's what's happening. Every time the Federal Reserve steps in and dumps money into the market (to purchase Treasury bills; denoted by the colored lines) it puts enough money into the system that it pumps up both the bond and stock markets. When the Federal Reserve pulls back, not surprisingly, the market begins to tank (grey lines).

See the correlation? To be sure, as I've been pointing out before, regular bailouts and favorable legislation are helping pump up the market too. But the money dumps from the Fed seem to be what's putting the market into over drive.

If you're wondering what this means let's make this real simple. Our markets are not healthy. They are dependent on artificial stimulants - Fed money dumps, legislative favors, and bailouts - for their success.

I'll go one step further. We don't have a functioning free market economy.

Wall Street and today's financial market players (they're not entrepreneurs) are successful only because of taxpayer backed money dumps from the Federal Reserve. The people tied to Wall Street who have seen their wealth increase over the past 5 years are actually beneficiaries of tax payer backed state interventions (which helps to explain why there should be a Tobin Tax on market transactions).

If we're being blunt, it's even simpler. Market players in the financial sector today are wards of the state.

So, how much money has the Federal Reserve been pumping into the system, you ask? Oh, about $5 trillion ...


So you might be asking your self, How come I haven't heard of these massive money dumps? Good question. The answer is real simple. Market players and the Federal Reserve have decided to call this massive taxpayer-backed transfer of money into our markets "Quantitative Easing" instead of what it really is, corporate welfare. People who might look up to listen to someone talking about trillions of dollars spent on corporate welfare tend to tune out when they hear "quantitative easing" in conjunction with "Federal Reserve" and "the economy".

But quantitative easing (QE) - or corporate welfare - is actually quite easy to understand. It's the Federal Reserve transferring incredibly cheap taxpayer-backed money to the private banking sector. That's it.

In theory this is how corporate welfare QE should flow through the economy ...


Banks are supposed to get the money transferred from the Federal Reserve and then make this money available to both private companies and to people like you and me. But they're not doing this.

The reality is banks are hoarding money.

Today the banks have more deposits on hand than loans outstanding and - though they purchase U.S. Treasury notes - they are effectively sitting on money lent to them by the Federal Reserve. They're able to do this because the federal government's financial guarantees have enabled the biggest banks in America to continue making money while operating selfishly and recklessly.

Unfortunately, rather than circulating the cheap money they get from the Federal Reserve into the economy the banks appear to be sitting on it for their next rainy day. The fact that America's largest financial institutions are preparing for it should be a warning for us all.

- Mark 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

THE COOLEST ROBOT EVER

Perhaps this is why I never got into Star Wars. As a kid growing up in the 60s I thought the robot on "Lost in Space" was the coolest robot ever. For me, it still is ...


- Mark 

TAX FAIRNESS ... THIS NEEDS TO BE FIXED

If conservatives are really concerned about tax fairness and everybody pulling their weight this needs to be fixed ...


Seriously, if you are fortunate enough to live and work in this country you have an obligation to help keep it solvent and working for the next guy. This is especially the case since our trillion dollar budget deficits started to appear when marginal tax rates on the richest Americans began to drop below 50 percent ...


At the end of the day it's human capital that drives the economy and makes finance capital both possible and profitable. Why privilege one over the other?

- Mark

Hat tip to Tom for top graph.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CEO-TO-WORKER PAY RATIOS ... SOME GOOD LINKS



I was going to put this information in with my regular Weekly Readings post but CEO-to-Worker pay gaps deserves its own post ...

CEO-TO-WORKER PAY GAPS
Cool interactive ... CEO-to-Worker pay ratios around the world (AFLCIO).

Here's another graph on CEO-to-Worker pay ratios in the United States. The numbers are different from the AFL-CIO piece, but the story is the same (Washington Post).

The 5 highest CEO pay ratios ... and, yeah, Wal-Mart is #1, with a CEO-to-Worker pay ratio of 1,034: 1 (Payscale.com). For more on the topic click here.

Here's what Politifact has to say about a misleading, but viral, FB post on CEO-Worker pay ratios (Politifact).


- Mark

Monday, November 18, 2013

THE REPUBLICAN ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE

Just in case you needed a reminder, this is what the Republicans are really proposing when they say they want to repeal Obamacare ...


The positive developments from Obamacare are real. Untold millions have already benefited. These developments help explain why the only debate we should be having about Obamacare today is whether we should be expanding it, and moving it towards a single payer system.

Instead, we're talking about how the GOP wants to repeal Obamacare, which would take us back to a path that has given us the world's most expensive health care system, with surprisingly mediocre outcomes. Not surprisingly, the talking heads at Fox News are engaged in some serious navel gazing, as they float incredibly misleading stories about the costs associated with the Obamacare website (which was created in the private sector, mind you).

At the end of the day, instead of highlighting or explaining that national health care costs actually goes down by over $100 billion under Obamacare - while covering many more Americans - the GOP is pushing an empty alternative that simply takes us back to a failed model from the past.

It's really that simple.

- Mark 

Friday, November 15, 2013

READING FOR THE WEEKEND (11-15-13)


Basic facts on Social Security (Social Security).

A tribute to Ken Stabler, baddest man on the planet (SF Gate).

According to IEA the U.S. will become the world's top oil producer by 2015 because of shale (Bloomberg).

The Fukushima crisis comes to the states (Esquire).


GOOD WELFARE ISSUES TO DISCUSS
Here's a strong lucid argument from Barry Ritholtz on how McDonald's and Wal-Mart became welfare queens, and what should be done about it (Bloomberg).

Here's a response to Ritholtz' article that confuses rather than informs. You be the judge (Forbes).

The average monthly food stamp (SNAP) benefit is $133.85 per month, or less than $1.50 per person per meal ... plus more food stamp facts, myths and realities (Feeding America).

Who receives government benefits in six charts (Washington Post).

Six myths about food stamps (Moyers & Company).

The real mooches? There's more than 1 trillion reasons why we should be concerned about tax expenditures (WP / Wonkblog).


POLITICAL STORIES TO CONSIDER
How Republicans have rigged the game to stay in power, even as more and more Americans reject their ideas (Rolling Stone).

Elizabeth Warren's populist insurgency enters the next phase (Salon).

The true patriots in Congress are trying to end the NSA tyranny (Truth Dig / Robert Scheer).


MISCELLANEOUS
With their Obamacare report debunked and their "60 Minutes" Benghazi story thoroughly refuted, the question is whether there is something seriously wrong at CBS (Media Matters).

President Obama embraces $10 minimum wage (Truth Out).

Are politicians who cut food stamps and deny health access truly "pro-life"? (Buzz Flash)

Public banking in Costa Rica: A remarkable, little known model (Truth Out).

Twice betrayed. Survivors of military sexual trauma face discrimination at the VA (The Nation).

- Mark 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

INEQUALITY FOR ALL ... WHY THE RICH SHOULD BE TAXED MORE

Last night at a Bakersfield screening for Robert Reich's documentary "Inequality for All" I was asked to lead a Q&A with the audience after the show. The documentary was full of information that got many in the audience thinking about the reckless direction of our economy and society, and what we need to do to turn things around.

Among the first points made by Reich in the film was how the top 1 percent of America has seen their share of income swing radically upward since the 1970s. Specifically, in a span of 30 years it more than doubled, and reached levels not seen since right before the Great Crash of 1929.



For Reich the swing in income looks very much like a suspension bridge ...



I noted during the Q&A that the top 1 percent of wage earners believe that their income gains are "earned" because - if we are to believe their argument - they are smarter, harder working, and more deserving, among others. Conversely, if your income and financial situation has stagnated or worsened - as is the case with America's middle class - it's because you are not smart enough, hard working enough, and less deserving. Worse, many are viewed as whiners and moochers.

Both assumptions are simply not true.

Let's make this real simple. The rich are getting richer because of legislative favors that include tax gifts, deregulation, state sponsored globalization (Bretton Woods / Treaties), state supported outsourcing (tax inducements), technological advancements that facilitate outsourcing, manipulation of the law, a string of market bailouts, artificially cheap money, and many other developments that have nothing to do with being harder working or smarter than middle-class Americans.

Put another way, as I point out in my book, the state creates the conditions under which wealth is created. The fact that the rich have gotten richer because of favorable legislation, regular bailouts and deregulation tells me that they should pay more to the state that helps their riches grow.

Put more bluntly - and following Reich's cue during the film - one of the things that we need to do is raise taxes on the top 1 percent of wage earners. I made this point during the Q&A.

Towards the end of our Q&A discussion one of the last questions of the evening was about raising taxes on the richest Americans. The person asking the question was curious as to why it's always mentioned that we need to raise taxes on the top 1 percent. I answered by noting that we have bills to pay, and that the real issue is one of fairness. I left it at that since we were at the end of our evening discussion.

I should have said more. This is what I would have added with more time.

I would have made it clear that the richest Americans need to pay more than they do now (15-20 percent on capital gains, and 39.6 percent marginal rate on other income) because they have been enjoying state supported successes that you and I help to subsidize with our taxes. Think about the following:

1. SOCIALIZED LOSSES: Investors enjoy built in tax advantages for making investments. If they sell their stocks at a loss they can deduct it as a capital loss from their next tax bill. You and I pay for this. Nice.
2. SOCIALIZED LOSSES, II: Did you know that if an investors' losses are so big and they can't use them all in one year they can carry them forward so that they can be applied to another year? It's part of the carry forward law. You and I also pay for this.
3. BAILOUT FEVER: One of the lessons of capitalism is that if you make stupid decisions you're supposed to lose your money. Not so under our current system (see #1 and #2 above). Thanks to a series of market bailouts for Wall Street our nation's biggest market players have seen their financial portfolios surge rather than tank. You and I backstopped the bailouts.
4. CHEAP MONEY: Thanks to Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve the biggest financial players have been able to access dirt cheap money. Specifically, because of the Greenspan Put every time market players make a mess of things the Fed is there to push cheap money into the market for the nations biggest financial institutions. You and I pay for the gambling and market crashes that occur because of the cheap money.
5. INCOME IS INCOME. Why should income from investments be taxed at a lower rate when the income that I make - after investing years and money into getting my degree - is taxed at two (and perhaps three) times the rate that the richest Americans pay?  

Seriously, apart from being granted favorable legislation and deregulation gifts, where's the fear of losing money in the market if your investments and market bets are backstopped with tax favors, bailouts, and artificially cheap money?

Put more simply, those who have made a lot of cash in this fixed market environment need to help pay the trillion dollar tabs that we've run up while subsidizing their "market" successes.

How simple has it been for America's richest class to make money? Think about this. Things have been rigged in the favor of the top 1 percent to such a degree over the past 30 years that a monkey throwing darts could have made money in the market.

Seriously, click on the link here to learn about monkeys making money in the market.

Do yourself a favor and watch Robert Reich's "Inequality for All." And bring a notebook. There's so much information (and that's a good thing) that you might regret not bringing it (or buy the DVD when it comes out) ...


If you you live in Bakersfield there will be showings at the Maya Theater on Thursday (11/13) and Saturday (11/15).

- Mark 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WELFARE VS. FULL TIME JOBS ... FOX NEWS AT IT, AGAIN

In their never-ending attempt to turn America against those on the lower rung of our economic ladder here's an incredibly misleading chart presented by Fox News on one of their October 28, 2013 segments ...


Can you figure out why this chart is misleading?

Think about it for a moment. It's not just the scale in the visual (though that's a problem too).

Think a little more ...

OK, here's the story behind the story (and the chart). Let's start with this. Fox is using information from 2011 when it's 2013.

But wait. It gets better.

Because of the way "households" are counted by the Census Bureau if you happen to live with a child who is getting a reduced price lunch or a reduced price breakfast not only is the kid "on welfare" but so are you.

If you are living in a household where a disabled adult is receiving social security (20.3 million) you are also on welfare, even if you have a full time job.

If you're working but moved in to help an elderly relative or friend who needs help from the state with their electric bill or with housing (or is on Medicaid) you're counted as someone who is on welfare.

Fox News doesn't discuss or present any of this information.

Then we have the fact that 76% of food stamp (SNAP) recipient households include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. No one expects anyone listed in this group to work, but Fox doesn't mention this. You would think that this is important, especially since those counted in this group (about 49 million people) receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.

Then we have the actual number of workers in America in 2013.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013 has over 141 million full- and part-time workers listed. Over 18 million of these workers are listed as part-time. Do the math. Fox decided to ignore this, and reported on what was presented in 2011 ... even though it's 2013.

Then there's the false dichotomy that Fox presents.

The unfortunate reality is that many full time workers are eligible for assistance because they earn a minimum wage that does not pay them enough to subsist. They need help to live. Working does not preclude the need for help. Fox fails to mention this. They would rather have you believe that people either work or they get aid. This is a false dichotomy.

This game playing along with their failure to mention that the elderly, the disabled, and children are the largest number of recipients of aid is a significant lapse in judgment. If we're being blunt, it's also unethical.

But let's admit it. Most of us have come to expect crap like this from Fox.
At the end of the day, the Fox chart is misleading because the people at Fox know that their viewers need to be lied to. It's the only way that the world they want to see becomes real. It's comfort food for those who are intellectually lazy and for those who want to point fingers while bemoaning the "collapse" of America.

The Founding Fathers understood that a well educated and informed society was the key to a successful and vibrant republic. What Fox viewers fail to see is how their ignorance and gullibility on issues like this are the real cancer contributing to America's race to the bottom.

Not surprisingly, it's also this condition that keeps them tuning into Fox.

- Mark 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

THIS GUY DESERVED TO BE EMBARRASSED

Via Upworthy we get to watch Rep. Tammy Duckworth rip into a loser who's using a football injury to game a program designed for wounded veterans. Rep. Duckworth, a double amputee from the war in Iraq, makes the witness look petty and small at about 4:30 in the clip ...


- Mark  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD ... MICHAEL MAUBOUSSIN HELPS US UNDERSTAND A (SLIGHTLY) COMPLEX TOPIC


When I go through the scientific method in my Introduction to International Relations Theory class I discuss the various steps that a good scientist needs to go through when trying to understand events, or even beliefs. I always start by explaining that widely-held beliefs aren't always true and that "facts don't speak for themselves." Simply because many people believed that the world was flat didn't make it any more so than the widely-held belief that the earth was the center of the universe.

If we get the steps right we not only can understand the world around us better, but we can begin to make predictions. This is the essence of the scientific method.



I spend almost two weeks going through the scientific method in my IR class, specifically discussing how we use it to make predictions and build theories about conflict and war. When it comes to any series of events (or developments) in the international community the goal is to understand not only "what" happened but "how" conflict happens in our world. The larger issue of "why" something happens is better left to students of philosophy and religion.

Whether or not God "willed it" is not the domain of the scientist. But it is still a useful discussion.

While we are pursuing the scientific method we have to understand that we will never get the same type of certainty in the social sciences that we get in the hard sciences. The law of gravity, for example, is different from the "laws" that explain human error and the causes of war. The key to understanding this is knowing that the steps and rigour that flow from the scientific method are essentially the same across disciplines, across academic schools, across professions and, yes, across time.


Finding the causes behind war requires the same kind of discipline and patience for the political scientist as does finding causality in a criminal investigation for a detective. Perhaps more importantly, finding causality means walking through intellectual traps and the mine fields put in place by those who would rather believe what they know rather than what is being discovered.


Helping us to understand the importance of the scientific method is this clip from Credit Suisse's Michael Mauboussin. His three steps - Observation, Forecasting, and Sorting Relevance - for making decisions on financial matters are short and to the point ...


For the record (and for my students), Mauboussin's three "scientific" steps mirror what we discuss during the first two weeks of my IR class: 1) Investigation, Observation, and Analysis (Mauboussin's Observation), 2) Hypothesis & Predictions (Mauboussin's Forecasts), and 3) Theory Building (Mauboussin's Sorting Relevance of new information against what you know).

During all these steps we also have to be aware of basic stumbling blocks like counter factuals, confirmation bias (this one's especially funny/sad), false equivalencies, paranoia, and simple illiteracy and ignorance (this one's sad/funny too).

If you get all of this right you will begin to distinguish yourself from those with simple, ill-informed, opinions.

I think I'll leave it at that.

- Mark

UPDATE: From Barry Ritholtz, the most laughable of all assumption-based theories (The Big Picture).

Here are several links where I discuss junk science, the intellectually lazy, the science behind prejudice, and the various components of the scientific method ...

http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2012/10/americas-on-going-tribute-to-ignorance.html ...
http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2007/11/this-weeks-program-religion-and-society.html ...
http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2011/05/end-is-near-so-were-told.html ...
http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2010/10/dark-side-of-our-free-market-myths.html ...
http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2013/04/what-nazis-took-from-california.html ...
http://markmartinezshow.blogspot.com/2012/03/science-behind-prejudice.html

Saturday, November 9, 2013

OAXACA, MEXICO

I have no talent at this, but I took this picture while in Oaxaca, Mexico ...


- Mark

Friday, November 8, 2013

READING FOR THE WEEKEND (Nov. 8, 2013).


Gray whale dies ... with a stomach full of plastic trash (Real News).

California probe of campaign donations sheds light on "dark money" (Truth Out).

Sex Workers Unite: Germany gets first prostitution lobby (Der Spiegel).

All star alcoholics ... Superb drunks who also happened to be super atheletes (Drunkard.com).

The cities and states where marriages go to die in the United States (Huffington Post).

Another one denied voter ID card ... and it's former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright (TPM).


WHY CONGRESS RANKS LOWER THAN COCKROACHES
GOP Congressmen willing to expense $166 per day for food, yet vote to cut food stamps for people who are asked to live on less than $5 per day (The New Civil Rights Movement).

Democrat explains to Republicans who's responsible for Benghazi fiasco during hearing: "If you want to know who is responsible in this town, buy a mirror!" (Politicus USA) Related, "60 Minutes" reporter retracts Benghazi report: "We made a mistake" (TPM).

CBO: Sequester cuts could cost U.S. economy 1.6 million jobs through 2014 (The Hill).

GOP cuts food stamps for the poor, which will adversely affect California over the long term (AllGov California).


LAW ENFORCEMENT
Let's take a minute to appreciate how awesome mugs shots were in the 1920s (The Metapicture).

Speaking of law enforcement, these guys are anal, big time (KOB4.com).

Law Enforcement Interrupted: Bill Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, explains why no one goes to jail in spite of confessions (Truth Out).


BY THE NUMBERS
10 psychological experiments that went horribly wrong (Brainz).

13 famous people who were adopted (How Stuff Works).

And now, for some truly useless information .... 8 famous people who died in the bathroom (How Stuff Works).


GENERAL COMMENTARY
NY Federal Reserve chief says some big banks lack "respect for the law, regulation and the public trust" (Huffington Post).

Pimco's Bill Gross: America's privileged 1% need to pay higher taxes (MoneyNews).

Obama brags about falling deficits as jobs disappear and public investment falls to post-WWII low (Moyers & Company).

Food stamps are affordable, corporate welfare is not (Truth Out).

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led trade deal, is deliberately shrouded in secrecy and could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations, and even allow partner nations to change U.S. law (Truth Out).


MISCELLANEOUS
The real story behind the phony canceled health insurance scandal (Mother Jones).

Johnson & Johnson to pay $2 billion fine for false marketing (CNN Money).

$168 million payout to Johnson & Johnson whistle blowers (CNN Money).

- Mark 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

UNDERSTANDING AMERICA'S "RACE TO THE BOTTOM" ... A TALE OF TWO SYSTEMS


Have you ever wondered why Germany builds twice as many cars as the United States, while paying its auto workers twice as much? Of course not. If you're a normal person you probably haven't given much thought to any of this. That's why I'm bringing your attention to this article (again) that was published in Forbes Magazine almost two years ago.

In it Frederick E. Allen writes that there are very specific reasons why Germany produced more than 5.5 million cars in 2010 while the U.S. produced just 2.7 million.


Quite simply, while the United States is engaged in a "race to the bottom" that encourages outsourcing (sending jobs overseas) and pits management against workers, Germany has a constitution and a political system that promotes cooperation through worker councils. These councils encourage employees and management to "work together on matters like shop floor conditions and work life."

Healthy and well-paid workers are viewed as both a company asset and instrumental to the nation's well-being. This is not the case in the United States.

In the United States the social contract between labor and management (or corporate America) has been under attack since the 1980s. Labor in general has been disparaged while unions in specific have been under political attack for the better part of 30 years. And it's all done under the guise of promoting free market economics, as if labor is some kind of factor of production step-child.

All of this helps us understand why the increasingly corrosive gaps in salaries and wealth between U.S. workers and corporate executives in America exists. It's no accident. It's a product of deliberate policies built around the twisted belief that workers who are both represented and paid well are detrimental to a regions economic base.

But, wait. There's more.


German auto companies haven't brought their collaborative management style to the United States (yet) for one simple reason. Because of domestic political opposition in the U.S. they don't have to. Southern politicians in particular have been especially vocal in their opposition to creating a level playing field for workers, arguing that German style worker councils and unionization could hurt their regions ability to lure other large manufacturers.

This mind-set is so prevalent that Volkswagen's recent revelation that they're talking with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to bring worker councils to its Tennessee plant has state politicians concerned. They're fearful that these talks could spill over into Alabama (Mercedes) and South Carolina (BMW), where German auto manufacturers also make cars.

All of this helps to explain why American auto workers are paid about $33 an hour in salary and benefits while German auto workers get about $67 an hour in wages and benefits.

There's more, which is why I encourage you to read the article. You can also read the study - "A Tale of Two Systems" - that the Forbes article is based on here.

- Mark 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

THEY CUT FOOD STAMPS FOR THE POOR, BUT STILL RECEIVE FARM WELFARE (SUBSIDIES) FROM THE FEDS

Check out the 13 members of Congress who voted to cut food stamps but also received farm subsidies for their "family" farms ...


Here's why the food stamp cuts count in California:

* CALIFORNIA'S MONEY STAYS IN WASHINGTON: California already contributes more money to the federal budget than it gets back, every year. Cutting food stamps for a state like California - which is already the toughest state in the union to get food stamps - makes this worse.
* IT MAKES US HUNGRIER: Bakersfield, CA ranks 2nd and Fresno, CA ranks 5th when it comes to the hungriest cities in the country.
* ECONOMY SUFFERS: Because of the size of the state, 1 out of every 10 food stamp dollars that disappears because of the cuts will be lost in California.
* IT HURTS THE MOST VULNERABLE: Approximately 380,000 Californians - mostly kids, seniors, and the disabled - will have to look elsewhere for food.

Here's another nugget to consider. Several of the same GOP Congressmen who voted to cut food stamps - for people who are asked to live on about $5 per day - are expensing up to $166 per day for food.

At the end of the day, I'd have to say that there's nothing more Christian than pointing fingers at the poor for mooching off the system while you have one hand out, and the other in the taxpayer cookie jar. Republican Jesus would no doubt approve.

Sigh ...

- Mark

Hat tip to Robin for the Congressmen graphic.

Monday, November 4, 2013

READING FOR THE WEEK (Nov. 4, 2013)


Robot bartender pours drinks in Germany theme bar (Denver Post) ... and the pouring robot's history, apparently, can be traced to a software developer and electronics engineer (Slate).

Radiation from Fukushima reactors matches the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs ... Fuel removal from Fukushima's Reactor 4 threatens "apocalyptic" scenario (Common Dreams).


NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES
Anyone else catch this? As Europe erupts over U.S. spying the head of the NSA says the government must stop the media from reporting this stuff (Common Dreams).

President Carter: What Edward Snowden did is beneficial to our nation over the long haul ... especially since the United States doesn't have a "functioning democracy" today (Huffington Post / Der Spiegel).

CBS "eyewitness" admits he lied about Benghazi attack while bashing critics (Media Matters).

How the CIA turned venture capitalism into a high-tech intelligence tool (Prism).


BILLIONAIRES & WAGE GAPS
Why "socialist" Sweden has more billionaires per capita than the U.S. (Slate).

CEO-to-worker pay gap is obscene; want to know how obscene (LA Times / Michael Hiltzik)?


IN THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND DEPARTMENT
According to Herman Cain the Devil was behind all those sexual harassment allegations that followed him through his presidential bid (Real Clear Religion).

What ill-informed people believe ... Not that this is news, but here's a Fox News chart that will mislead you about welfare and jobs in three different ways (Daily Kos).

Yeah, he's still an idiot ... Rush Limbaugh believes that NFL players wearing pink is evidence of the national assault on masculinity (Media Matters).


OBAMACARE
Yet another Obamacare horror story debunked (LA Times / Michael Hiltzik).

Special Investigation: How insurers are hiding Obamacare benefits from customers (TPM).

What really happens to people whose health insurance was 'canceled' because of Obamacare (TPM).


MISCELLANEOUS
Saudi man beheaded for car stunt that killed two people (Daily News).

Too funny. Former Vice President Dick Cheney cancels trip to Canada because it's too dangerous (NBC News).

Add Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis to list of people who has to sign an affidavit to vote (KERA News).

- Mark 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CORPORATE WELFARE 101 ... What we could do with the money if we used it elsewhere


As I've pointed out many times over the past five years, the U.S. government has made more than $14 trillion available to Wall Street since the market meltdown of 2008. The money, which is funneled through the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, is part of a larger bailout package that has morphed into a a very generous market support program that currently backstops Wall Street's derivative-laced market bets.

Yeah, these are the same type of bets that crashed the economy in 2008.

When we combine the more than $14 trillion that's been made available to Wall Street with favorable legislation, general market subsidies, artificially low interest rates and assorted regulatory gifts for market players we have an outline of America's corporate welfare state. If I were going to offer a class on the topic I would call it Corporate Welfare 101.

I bring this up because I ran across this graph from the 2011 Washington Summit sponsored by Reuters.


In case you missed it, the more than $14 trillion that we have made available to Wall Street could pay Social Security benefits for the next 21 years. If we used the $14 trillion just to pay out benefits for children and disabled seniors with limited resources the program would be funded for the next 310 years. Similarly, if we applied the money to the Pell Grant program for financially strapped college students the program would be funded for the next 433 years.

Instead of doing any of this we're effectively underwriting Wall Street's reckless market bets. So, yeah, the on-going trillion dollar bailout isn't just Corporate Welfare 101, it's also a massive transfer of wealth to America's richest class.


Here's my question. Why is it that we have enough money to back stop Wall Street's gambles in the market - which encourages reckless behavior and subsidizes undeserved bonuses  - but we're told that we don't have enough money for our nation's seniors, college students, or other national investment programs?

- Mark