Friday, April 16, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) The volcano in Iceland will not be the only explosion this weekend, I predict. DO NOT PICK UP THE DEBRIS! Right wing brains, such as they are, are toxic!
2) So Obama cancels a modest plan to re-visit the moon...which to me holds far more immediate benefits to affirm the commitment to visit Mars this century. Interesting. While the moon is lifeless, so far as we know (Mars is more doubtful than not), it holds vast quantities of minerals from asteroid impacts, comets, and even from its formation as a piece of the earth and the planet that collided with us billions of years ago. Mining operations could be set up on the Moon almost immediately, robotic mining tools that would then fling materials into a stable orbit around the earth for, say, a retired shuttle to pick up and bring back to earth. Undoubtedly, this is part of the private operations that are being planned. The government ought to be up in the front of the pack and ahead of the curve on this, rather than tailing behind, making sure there's sufficient oversight. Cuz. You know...Republicans.
3) Home-grown terrorism is not limited to the Teabaggers.
4) Think the Teabaggers are really popular and have the backs of the people? Think different.
5) Today is National Stress Awareness Day? Today? WHAT!? Why was I not informed in triplicate and a copy sent to my cat!? Why am I ALWAYS the last to know????
6) By the way, today is also National Health Care Decisions Day. Help the one you love kick the bucket. But don't get too stressed about it.
7) Wow, there really IS a reason why every iPhone ad shows the time "9:42"...
9) I wonder what she did to deserve a two-year nationwide ban? Judging from the picture, I suspect she may have a problem keeping her clothes on. I must examine this case carefully.
10) Errrrrrrrrrrrrr, ummmmmmmmmm...not sure how to introduce

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Capitalist Fools

Capitalism is an economic system based in fear. If you're a coward, you're a capitalist.

Think about it. According to theory, capitalism is advanced through the "enlightened" self-interest of individuals (I'll get back to the enlightened bit later). Translation: greed. Greed is good in capitalism. Indeed, if capitalism can be said to have any morality, that morality is based in greed.

But greed is based in fear, just as nearly every negative emotion is. Greed is about the fear that you will not have enough, never have enough and therefore must always have more.

Ask anyone who was mixed up in the junk bond bubble of the Reagan years or the dot-com bubble of the Clinton/Bush years or the real estate bubble of the Bush years: it was not about having enough, it was about having more. From the homeowners who foolishly bit into a mortgage they could never possibly handle to the bankers who lent that money knowing full well those borrowers couldn't afford the mortgage to the stockholders who demanded higher earnings every quarter from the bankers who lent the money to the people who couldn't afford it, to the governments who gladly accepted the property and income taxes due on the money that the shareholders demanded by higher each quarter from the bankers who lent the money to people who couldn't afford it, all of this monumental folly was based in greed.

And enabled by countless pundits, analysts, media flacks, and government officials. "Ownership society," Mr. Bush? OWERship society is more like it, you pompous butthead!

Adam Smith in positing capitalism, even tho he called it laissez-faire (French for "leave to do"), spoke for the need for taxes on business activity, strong government oversight, and warned against business combinations of any sort that involved removing the personal responsibility for the actions of a business.

We call those "corporations". You'll never hear this from your immature libertarian friends who read Ayn Rand for the sex scenes and came away with some muddled sense of economic theory crossed with personal freedom.

Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations, speaks of the "Invisible Hand" precisely once (Book IV, chapter II, paragraph IX , if you're playing along at home). It was in the context of domestic trade being preferable to international trade. In other words, all those "free marketeers" are bullshitting you. And yet, an entire conservative cottage industry has arisen over a gross distortion of Smith's intent.

All to support and justify naked greed. There is no community when greed is involved. You would steal from your neighbors as soon as you'd steal from a stranger if capitalism had its way. And if you don't believe that, pick up any newspaper.

Indeed, on a macro basis, this is precisely what happens. International trade and relations are less dependent upon any sense of community than local and domestic trade, which was Adam Smith's point about the "invisible hand". Why were we attacked on September 11, after all? Was it because we're rich? Was it because we supplied arms to Israel, or Osama bin Laden? Was it because we had protected Muslims in Bosnia? Was it because we helped harm Muslims in Palestine?

Whatever part of the political spectrum you come from, it doesn't matter. Whatever answer to that "why" you feel comfortable with, it doesn't matter. All answers return to the greed of capitalism. Our private industries made money in conflict with our so-called "moral values." After all, if we fear radical Islam, why were we helping the mujahadeen in the 1980s? It's not like we were friends with radical Islam back then. We had just had hostages returned from Iran, for goodness sake!

Once you look at the world around you and do a thought experiment, you understand why greed needs to be in check, and why capitalism is for cowards. If we took morality out of the equation, if we truly allowed capitalism to be laissez-faire, crime would be a booming industry, all drugs would be legal, and porn would be available on the counter of your corner newsstand instead of bowdlerized and forced into dark corners and pay-per-view television.

Is that what we really want?

If capitalism was based on enlightened need, one could conceivably find a lot of good in capitalism. Capitalism presumes that we each have the other citizens of our community in mind.

Sadly, no...

Capitalism is not immoral, but capitalism is responsible for immoral acts. Capitalism is also responsible for the greatest man-made tragedies to befall America and by extension, the world.

In and of itself, capitalism is not immoral. It is amoral. It does not think. It only works like a vast enumbed machine, not distinguishing between friend or foe, between good or evil, between moral and immoral.

And here's the real kicker: capitalism is antithetical to American values, if we define "American values" as freedom, equality, and morality.

Those are in our Constitution. They're declared and demanded in the Declaration of Independence. And yet, self-interest sans enlightenment is harmful to all three of those. Sure, you can say that freedom exists, but is it really freedom when your boss can fire you at-will, and worse, threaten that to hold your behavior in check? Is it really freedom when that same boss can demand you work overtime or put in free hours from home, but then get all pissy when you ask for a few hours to take your sick kid to the hospital?

Is it really freedom without equality? And is it ever equal in a society where greed is honored and acquisition the goal?

And is that EVER moral?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dumberer And Dumberest

How do you react when your party has just been handled its biggest legislative defeat in decades? Do you go back, lick your wounds and try to regroup? Do you indulge in a little self-examination and introspection, wondering how you could have let go of both Houses of Congress so ignominously in only twelve years after forty years of dominance by the other guys, who successfully portrayed you as a party out of touch with the people and enslaved to the mantra of mammon?
Or, do you double down on the stoopid and go to bat for the wealthy?

Bit by bit, bipartisan negotiations in the Senate over financial regulatory reform have broken down. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee split with the Democratic Chairman, Chris Dodd in February. Bob Corker filled the gap, stepping in to try to hammer out a compromise on an issue in which both parties see the potential for good policy and good politics. But wary of delays after a bitter health care fight, Democrats voted the bill out of committee in March with no Republican support, and now are looking to open up the legislation to amendments and debate on the Senate floor. As recently as last month, Republican leadership was open to a deal.

In a floor speech this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw cold water on the prospects of detente, establishing a hard line of attack against the Dodd bill, and indelibly marking the party line: "We must not pass the financial reform bill that's about to hit the floor."

The crux of his criticism is that the bill "institutionalizes... taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks." He knocked the expansion of power at the Fed and Treasury, while sounding the alarm on Wall Street accountability.  If the outline of his speech sounds familiar, it's because it is the exact argument pollster Frank Luntz urged Republicans to make earlier this year in a widely publicized memo.

 Now, there's really nothing wrong with McConnell's, errrr, Luntz complaints: there probably ought to come a point in bailing out financial institutions where we say "enough is enough" and let the chips fall. Surely, we came awful close in 2008/2009.

But what this list of talking points ignores is the bill contains mechanisms that will circumvent all but the worst scenarios by forcing banks to pony up and self-insure their operations by levying a financial tax on transactions.

And there, my friends, is the rub: for every stock sale, a piece of the money moving about will go to the Federal Reserve. For every derivative traded on the market, a bit will go to the Feds. For every wacky and hardly-understood transaction some quant analyst dreams up to further drape a veil over the investors' eyes, well, the financial institution will have to stand by the research with a bit of its own money.

Put up or shut up, as they say. And in truth, this is what Luntz and McConnell object to. A tax. On people who would gladly take taxpayer money. Seems a pretty stupid stance to take.

Too, the bill has other, even better and more effective requirements, like forcing every bank to present a plan to wind down their businesses, should the worst happen (which it will and for which every bank ought to have been prepared all along, since these crises happen every twenty years or so anyway). And a liquidation plan that lifts the burden and responsibility (and the potential for politicizing monetary tragedy) from the FDIC and puts it squarely on two other pillars: The Treasury/Fed and three bankruptcy judges.

All of this, included in the Dodd bill, makes for a fairly comprehensive step towards financial reform that will protect the average American (but not the ubergreedy rich) from having to bail out banks at a rate unheard of in world history.

McConnell, not surprisingly, is on the wrong side of history.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Lost Weekend

The Republican party could and probably should have mailed in the get-together this weekend.
All this weekend established was the already-known: they hate Obama (for what reasons still mystify me), they are gradually incorporating the Teabaggers (who like any cancer will eventually suck the life out of the host body), they have no clear leadership, including Sarah Palin, and they aren't going to bounce Michael Steele anytime soon.
Wow. So they really will try to win an election as the "Party of No"? Or even the party of "Hell, No!" as Palin has put it in the past?
There was a time in this country when you had to run as a party of "Why not?" In other words, present ideas and policies that you felt fit the problems facing Americans today. The only solutions we've heard from any Republican are the same damned solutions that they've run on since Reagan and the same ones McCain lost on in 2008.
And since Obama has already lowered taxes on the vast majority of Americans...
Much has been made that 2010 will prove to be a rout of Democratic candidates. Keep in mind that midterm elections almost always see a decline in majority party holdings when the President and Congress come from the same party (2002 being the sole exception in the past fifty years, but then we were at war and had just been attacked by terrorists, hardly the usual election cycle). The Republicans can't lose seats and can only stand to win some, so they've pretty much banked a bragging right already.
But a party with weak-willed leadership that has proven untrustworthy and unfocused can only mean good news for Democrats. The formal inclusion of the Teabaggers between now and November can only dangerously destabilize the Republican party, especially if they refuse to take action against Steele and his profligate ways.
You aren't going to convince the voters you mean business about the economy if you're spending $19 million of your $23 million bankroll and you have only won three special elections.
On top of that, you don't have a Newt Gingrich who has a plan to capture seats. Sarah Palin won't get her hands that dirty, and there's no one else with the star power necessary...I mean, who takes John Boehner seriously? get all the ducks marching in a row, especially after six years of Republican majorities in Congress, a Republican President and a Republican SCOTUS failed to enact much of the right wing agenda, except some state-wide referendums on gay marriage.
Abortions are still legal, there's still no stronger act enforcing heterosexual marriage than Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act, and taxes are still low but not as low as many Republicans have railed for over the past decade. Are they seriously going to go back to the base, hat in hand, and say "No, this time we really mean it!"
Much of this election, then, will be run on perceptions and misperceptions, and right now, Obama has done a marvelous job of wresting the national dialogue to his point of view, despite the engaged efforts of FOX News and their fellow travelers. Perceptions of healthcare transformed with its passage and now the Republicans are forced to retake ground they thought they had won in the months leading up to that vote.
Too, since healthcare reform, Obama has not sat on his laurels, instead signing a nuke treaty, holding a nuke summit and bully-pulpitting Democrats to get to work on a bigger jobs bill.
This all works in the favor of Democrats. That's not to say that the Dems can sit back and talk about the crabgrass. They have to start really twisting arms and lining up votes for such disparate things as the jobs bill, the replacement for Justice Stephens, and any other issues Obama dares bring up before the November elections.
So this weekend was all about drinking the Kool-Aid for Republicans. Well, at least the GOP gave the city of New Orleans some needed money...years too late.