Saturday, September 29, 2012


It's mid-term time for my Introduction to American Politics class. Below are a set of links to three topics that we discussed in lecture. These links are provided as a courtesy only, and designed to complement and support the reading from the text and class notes. 

Put more simply, if you have not read or taken notes, what's linked below will not help you.

Those of you not in my class can read along too ;-) 

Liberal Republic / Liberal Revolution. Look here under "Three Intertwined Developments" for the historical forces and intellectual roots behind our political and economic system. Then use them to help explain the Liberal Revolution, and the ideas behind our Constitution.

Federal Imperative / California: Creating access points and dispersing power lies at the heart of the federal principle in America. This post on fiscal federalism outlines how the U.S. works to achieve these goals by shifting and redistributing wealth. As part of our larger discussion on California in the federal system we discussed budget issues and the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, which is discussed here.

Civil Liberties / Civil Rights: The long march to equality under the law involved challenging stereotypes that were supported by junk science and confronting issues tied to blacks, women, and labor, among other issues. Some of the issues that we discussed in class can be found here, in last 2/3 of this post.

- Mark

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The political commentary that runs through this clip makes this another Simpsons classic. Enjoy ... 

- Mark 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Of all the misunderstood and ill considered political positions in American politics today is how many Americans view the redistribution of wealth. They oppose it. But the reality is America redistributes wealth by the boatload. And its been happening on a regular basis for some time now.

Consider this. If California were to get back all the money that it pays in taxes to the federal government California would not be staring down the barrel of an $11 billion state budget deficit this year. California would be running budget surpluses if the state got all the money back it has sent to the federal government. In fact, for every dollar the state of California sent to the federal government through 2005 the state of California only got .78 cents in return.

Redistributing the Wealth
What happened to the rest of California's money, you ask? The easiest way to put it is that California's wealth is redistributed to other states in the union. States that send one dollar to the federal government and got more back through 2005 include states like Alaska ($1.84), Louisiana ($1.76), Kentucky ($1.51), Alabama ($1.66) and Mississippi ($2.02), with the vast majority or recipients being politically conservative Red States.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. When it comes to the 47% of the population who GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney derisively said don't pay income taxes (an ill-informed comment, on many levels) the ten states with the highest percentage of non-filers (and with no federal tax responsibility) reside in the same states that are recipients of California's redistributed wealth.

Apart from typically voting Republican, these are the regions of the country that we usually see and hear noise about getting the federal government off of their back and out of their life.

But the redistribution of wealth does not stop at the federal level. Consider what happens in the state of Alaska.

Mama Grizzlies' Children Sucking Off the Tit of Government
After watching Sarah Palin emerge from Alaska's wilderness to become John McCain's vice presidential pick in 2008 many fell in love with her because of how she represented a state of rugged individualists. Shooting caribou and all her talk of "mama grizzlies" was exciting. And it would have presented a powerful story line, except for one thing. It wasn't true. Not even close.

It's not well known outside of the state, but since 1976 oil companies in Alaska have been sending the state a check for every barrel they pull out of the ground. The state then turns around and redistributes the wealth to Alaska's rugged individualists.

In 2008, for example, Sarah Palin and the state government watched over a system that distributed $3,269 to every eligible Alaskan citizen ($1,200 of this came from a resource rebate program). This added up to just under $20,000 for the Palin family in 2008. While the wealth redistribution for each Alaskan dropped to $1,281 in 2010 and $858 for 2012 there's no avoiding that this money falls into each Alaskans lap for no other reason than the state embraces a wealth redistribution policy that many of the states rugged individualists claim to despise.

With that much money from the Feds ($1.84 for every dollar sent to the Feds) and Big Oil (thousands for each family) you would think someone might inform Alaska of their socialistic redistribution of wealth policies. It sure wasn't going to be Sarah Palin.

Instead of calling their spread the oil wealth program something like the “Redistributing the Wealth Because We’re Really Socialists Fund” – as Sarah Palin might have called it if President Obama suggested the same program nationally in 2008 – the state of Alaska calls it the “Permanent Fund Dividend.”

In a few words, Alaska’s hardened sense of “rugged individualism” is really built on a foundation of communal welfarism, direct from the American taxpayers in the lower 48.

Update On Our Fiscal Union
What is clear here is that when it comes to California's "surplus" dollars, many of the go-it-alone rugged individualist living in some of our most conservative states have demonstrated a remarkable tendency to see the work of others as a form of community property. And it continues today.

In 2011 The Economist reported that from 1990 through 2009 state transfers to New Mexico, Mississippi, and West Virginia exceeded 200% of annual GDP. As an example, it reported that during this period "the federal government spent $1.44 trillion in Virginia but collected less than $850 billion in taxes, a gap of over $590 billion." During the same period California transferred more than $336 billion out of the state, with New York leading the pack with over $956 billion transferred out of state.

The Economist has an updated report on the state of America's fiscal union - and wealth redistribution - from 1990 through 2009 here.

There's more on how our nation redistributes wealth (like subsidies to industry and retroactive insurance programs that the state often picks up when things go wrong in the private sector, which you can read about here). In fact, we've been transferring money for so long that Paul Krugman once noted we don't even think about it anymore.

Yet, we have a group of people who think asking the top 1% of this nation - who actually improved their financial position over the past twenty years - to pitch in a little more to help is akin to "socialism." It's not. Just ask the people who live in states like Alaska, Louisiana, Wyoming, Montana, and Kentucky

- Mark

P.S. It appears that getting the figures on our fiscal union from the federal government won't be as easy as it used to be. The Federal Financial Statistics program has been terminated due to funding cuts, which The Economist reports on here.

UPDATE, II: Here's a 2014 update from Wall Street Cheat Sheet on the redistribution figures. The methods change (different source) but the outcome is the same: Republican-led Red States are a financial drain on the Democratic-led Blue States. 

Friday, September 21, 2012


From time to time I like to post stories and clips that have nothing to do with politics, but help us understand and appreciate life a little better. Via my good friend Duane, this is one of those clips ...

- Mark 

Thursday, September 20, 2012


You would think that the Republicans "Just Say No" to President Obama strategy could take a breather when it comes to America's veterans. Think again.

Yesterday Senate Republicans once again used the power of the filibuster (which requires 60 votes to proceed to vote) to reject a bill that would provide money to employ our returning warriors. They would have been employed as police officers, firefighters, and park workers.

The vote was 58-40. Citing bogus budget control technicalities (the cost of the bill was offset with new revenues), every "nay" vote was Republican.

Yes, this is the same party that told America to "Never Forget 9/11" ... but then forgot to fund the health costs of First Responders because it interfered with their tax cuts for millionaires & billionaires program.

This is the same party that debates and encourages conflict and confrontation (now in Iran) ... but then turns a blind eye to how we force our warriors into endless "backdoor drafts" with a stop-loss policy that keeps them in harms way years beyond their tours of duty were scheduled to be over (which I discuss here).

There's much more our veterans and their families have to deal with (record high suicides, mortgage foreclosures, etc.), so you would like to think that the GOP would put away the politics to help our troops get a job.

Think again..

- Mark 

Monday, September 17, 2012


After saying that the middle class earns between $200,000 and $250,000 per year Mitt Romney tells us what he really thinks about ordinary working Americans who support President Obama. In a few words, he thinks Obama supporters are free loaders ...

Here's the video clip ...

- Mark

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Most of you probably recall GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney shooting himself in the foot during his Olympic timed trip to Britain and Poland. It was a complete disaster, which I wrote about here.

Well, if you're a supporter of Mitt Romney hold on to your tin foil hats. It appears that Romney has solidified his credentials in embarrassing and inept diplomacy by shooting himself in the foot (again).

It all starts with conservative nut and U.S pastor Terry Jones promising to promote a cheap online "video" during a hate-Muslim fest scheduled in Florida. This should have been enough to warn Romney to stay away. But it wasn't. Here's short chronology of recent events, and Romney's bumbling ...

* In an "International Judge Mohammad Day" event in Florida U.S. pastor Terry Jones - the same idiot who inflamed passions in 2010 by threatening to burn a Koran - is scheduled to participate, with events that include a symbolic trial of the Prophet Mohammad. This is scheduled for September 11th.

* The decidedly anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims, is scheduled to be shown on "Judge Muhammad" day. The Grand Mufti of Egypt condemns the film on September 9.

* On September 10, before the "International Judge Muhammad Day" event, pastor Terry promotes says he will screen the decidedly anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims.

* Egyptian media mogul fans the flames by calling for protests and demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

* The U.S. Embassy in Cairo - acting on its own and without clearance from the Obama administration - issued a condemnation of the film on September 11th ...

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

* Protests in Cairo, Egypt and demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya lead to the murder of U.S. Ambassador in Libya, Chris Stevens.

Following all of this - and rather than staying away from the mess - GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney decides to double down on his trip abroad stupidity by attacking President Obama's comments, in spite of the fact that "his comments" were actually issued independently by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt before the Ambassador was murdered.

Romney called the embassy's comments - which he attributed to President Obama - as "disgraceful" because of how President Obama "sympathized" with the murderers ... even though the embassy's comments were issued before the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya.

If you're having trouble following the convoluted logic behind Romney's comments, you're not alone.

Former Reagan speech writer, Peggy Noonan, made it clear that Romney wasn't helping himself and should have stayed quiet. Former George W. Bush pollster Mathew Dowd jumped in and tweeted, "Romney react feels a lot like ready, fire, aim."

Incredibly, Romney still managed to hit himself in the foot.

Rather than disavow or move away from his comments this morning Romney decided to double down on the stupidity, and walked away from the podium a happy and content man.

I'm sure there's more to come, but I'll leave you with this ...

- Mark 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CONFIRMATION BIAS EXPLAINED (and why it's dangerous)

If you're wondering what confirmation bias looks like the following should help.

In spite of having no supporting scholarly evidence (or links) to support his case, a FB friend of mine decided to post this "Letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar." According to the chain-like FB post, proof of the letters existence lies somewhere in the Library of Congress.

The supposed letter from Pontius Pilate describes Jesus as some kind of Prince Valiant golden child.

This is some great find because neither biblical scholars nor academics have developed any proof of, let alone consensus on, what Jesus looks like. Here's part of Pontius Pilate's Hallmark card-like description of Jesus ...

... His golden colored hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial aspect. He appeared to be about 30 years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between Him and His bearers with their black beards and tawny complexions! ... I say that such a man who could convert water into wine, change death into life, disease into health; calm the stormy seas, is not guilty of any criminal offense and as others have said, we must agree -- truly this is the Son of God.

My FB friend bought into the description. We shouldn't be surprised. These kind of descriptions have been around and supported by those who want to believe things about Jesus that simply can not be proven. Unfortunately, these descriptions have even drifted towards confirming the existence of an Aryan Jesus.

While it's often better to leave this stuff alone, some times it's good to confront this kind of ignorance head on. Here's my FB response to my friend ...

It's a miracle, _________ ... You've uncovered what the Bible and religious scholars have not. The fact that Jesus had golden hair, and did not exhibit that "tawny complexion" so evident in his inferiors must make this true. How about this one ... "Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification ..."? You'll find this in the Bible, if you ever bother to pick one up.

(In the FYI department, the "Nor give heed ..." quote is in the Bible, Timothy 1: 4.)

Here's the problem with believing and promoting this type of evidence. It leads people to embrace only information that reaffirms what they believe, or want to believe. Over time, it replaces fact and carries a certain degree of truth and reality for people who ultimately are intellectually lazy.

This is the essence of "confirmation bias."

Now, to be sure, confirmation bias might be good for children who want to believe in, say, Santa Claus. But in adults it prevents them from seeing the truth, or keeping an open mind. Worse, when confirmation bias is applied in this "Aryan Jesus" context it can help to create or sustain twisted caricatures of Jesus that simply are not there ...

The point is confirmation bias leads people to believe only information that confirms their beliefs, which is dangerous because of how it distorts public discussion and undermines policy debates. If the focus is on acquiring and remembering information selectively the discussion becomes an exercise in futility. No one likes repeating the same information, again and again, only to have the other person rolling around in cul-de-sacs of ignorance.

So, to take this lesson a step further (and to it's illogical extreme), if someone is inclined towards believing Jesus was a blonde haired golden child, who would have been opposed to something like the Affordable Care Act, they might also be inclined to embrace this historical interpretation of Jesus ...

I know, I know, but the point remains. People who search for "information" that verifies their belief system rather than the truth will believe just about anything ... as long as it fits their world view.

And that, my friends, is why confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing ...

- Mark 

Friday, September 7, 2012


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney likes to talk about being a rugged individualist, and not getting help from the government. helps us see that before setting the world on fire the Romney's needed a few matches from the American taxpayer to get things started. Here's Mitt's Mom, Lenore Romney, recounting the Romney family history  ...

The money quote begins at  0:50 into the clip.

All of this adds spirit to Jon Stewart's clip, "Mitt Romney: A Human Being Who Built That" ...

And Kudos to Magda for locating the Romney welfare post  ;-)

- Mark

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The good people at took a look at former President Clinton's convention nomination speech. They called it a "fact checker's nightmare" because - get this - it required "lots of effort to run down his many statistics" which turned out to be factually correct.

Put more simply, there was a lot of fact checking work but little for them to write about.

To be sure, they pointed out that there was some rhetorical exaggerations (it was a convention speech). But when it came to the numbers - like his budgets - President Clinton got his arithmetic right (41:50 in the speech).

As far as I'm concerned, what stood out for me was when President Clinton reminded everyone that Republicans have blocked more than 1 million potential new jobs from being created during the Obama administration. wrote that Clinton's jobs blocking claim "checked out too" and added:

Two independent economists — Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics and Joel Prakken of Macroeconomics Advisers — had estimated that Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act would add more than 1 million jobs. Zandi claimed it would add 1.9 million jobs; Prakken 1.3 million. Senate Republicans blocked the $447 billion measure, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell denounced it as “a charade that’s meant to give Democrats a political edge” in 2012.

So, yeah, if anything, President Clinton understated the GOP's job killing numbers. But the point remains, not only did the stimulus work but our unemployment numbers would have been much worse were it not for President Obama's initiatives.

I especially enjoyed President Clinton reminding us about congressional Republicans turning their backs on the American worker because - as I've been arguing for a long long time - the GOP has been deliberately sabotaging the advancement of our nation to score cheap political points.

Today they've fine tuned their strategy to make President Obama look bad.

And, yes, that means making sure millions of Americans remain unemployed so they can point fingers.

- Mark 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT POVERTY (and why Gina Rinehart is this week's Village Idiot)

     Australia's Gina Rinehart, the richest woman in the world.

Last week the LA Times reported that the world's richest woman, Australia's Gina Rinehart, had some recommendations for the poor.

If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain ... Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working.

As the Times' piece suggests, this is akin to the petulant "let them eat cake" line/attitude often attributed to France's Queen Marie Antoinette.

                                France's Marie Antoinnette, 1775.

Here's the problem I have with this kind of stupidity.

According to the Bible there are at least four causes for poverty. Laziness, or what conservatives in the United States (and Gina) would refer to as a lack of personal responsibility, is just one of the causes.

The Bible also speaks about people wronged and impoverished through fraud, falsehoods, and famine (or sickness). You can't speak about poverty and make broad generalizations about "personal responsibility" when people are ripped off, are wrongly judged/accused, or are thrown into a condition or unemployed through no fault of their own.

When the game is rigged the causes behind poverty are made even worse.

Our conservative friends - like Gina - seem to have no sympathy for, nor a clue about, any of this.

And, for the record, like America's Walton and Koch brothers' families, Gina Rinehart did not create her $30 billion iron ore fortune. She got it the old fashioned way. She inherited it.

So, yeah, she's an idiot.

- Mark

UPDATE: Here's something else the rich seem to have skipped during Bible studies ... ... Hat tip to my friend Leonel for bringing both articles to my attention.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


As we begin to enjoy our Labor Day Weekend, let's not forget why protecting the rights of labor is important for a balanced economy and a strong society...
And let's not forget which political party is doing their level best to undermine American labor by encouraging corporations to ship jobs overseas by giving U.S. firms taxpayer dollars for doing so ...

All the senators on this list voted against SB 3364, which would have saved American jobs by encouraging (and rewarding) firms for staying in the United States.

Happy Labor Day.

- Mark