Shocked and Persuaded

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Separating Fact From Fiction

Back Off Westboro Baptist Church

Last year we had a group of visitors here in Burlington from Topeka, Kansas affiliated with Fred Phelps‘ Westboro Baptist Church. For those not familiar this group you may be familiar with some of their pleasant slogans such as “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God for 9/11”, “Thank God for IEDs”, “Fags are Beasts, “God Hates Jews”, “Fags Doom Nations”, etc, etc. The list is long and oh so thoughtful. When this group came to Burlington they brought with them their signs and their children to protest Vermont being “most ‘gay’ friendly spot in DOOMED america.” This was not the first time they visited little ol’ Vermont they came a couple of years earlier to spew nonsense during the funeral of a Richmond man killed in Iraq by one of those IEDs they like to scream about so much.

During their most recent visit the anti-Westboro contingent was large, persistent, and peaceful following them from Montpelier to Burlington and all around town just letting them know we didn’t agree with their tactics or the hateful rhetoric that came forth from their mouths and those of their children. BUT I don’t know one person involved in the Burlington section of the anti-Westboro crew that thought they didn’t have the right to say what they wanted wherever they wanted. As common defense of Howard Stern goes: If you don’t like him change the station?

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Convenient Thomas Jefferson Fidelity

I just received an amazingly convenient reading of Thomas Jefferson today and I would like for the record to address some of the convenient stuff. First I am listing my rebuttal and below you will find the quotes from the email. Enjoy!

To All
I just can’t let this lauding of some of TJ’s work go without parsing the other side of the story.
First
OK I understand the admiration for TJ as I have tons myself, but keep in mind he was a willing owner of slaves.
ALSO
Second
This idea that there are tons of folks out there not willing to work and looking for those that are to bail them out is nonsense. The people that received the biggest bail out weren’t the bottom half or bottom 99% it was the top 0.001Percenters. Look at AIG, Goldman, Citi, hedge funds galore. They got bailed out because much of what we feel is sacrosanct about capitalism failed that is undeniable. I for one would be happy to work full-time for way less than the folks at the Big Banksters get paid PER WEEK!! But because the financial industry collapsed under CDOs, CDSs, leverage, and real-estate BS I can’t get a job and I know tons of folks like me. This argument that this all comes down to Obama and it is all his fault is so much nonsense if you believe honestly that what just happened stems from the last 2 years IN ISOLATION your crazy and need heavy dose of rationality. I know Socialists, I know Marxists, I know liberals and conservatives. Obama is hardly a left-winger and would laugh at the thought of embracing socialism I am sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Giffords and Judge Roll Would Be Ashamed

In the wake of the horrible and senseless actions in Tucson last weekend I was not surprised but definitely fearful of what the response would be among the political elites. Instead of hearing them say we need to get out into our communities more and spend less time wining and dining lobbyists and the political punditocracy in DC or make a pledge to stop bullshitting us about everything from the country’s long-term fiscal and monetary stability to Peak Oil….WE GET people like Robert Brady a Democratic Pennsylvanian congressman proposing Political Exceptionalism laws. Read the rest of this entry »

We’re Not Your Problem Mr. President!

I have known for quite a while now that the vote I cast for you in November of 2008 – my first ever vote for a member of The Big Two – was one that I would not regret, because I am still a huge admirer of your intellect, but would come to view with a great degree of disappointment and anger. Read the rest of this entry »

When the facts change I…

…change my mind? Wrong! You stay strong and resist waffling even if it means keeping a man wrongly accused of murder – by his own wife – in prison past the 35 years he has already served. Now I know most people wouldn’t choose this path in upholding the law, but one female Republican governor has decided to go rouge and in the name of politics. No no no I am not talking about the Mama Grizzly/hockey mom from Alaska Sarah Palin folks. I am talking about her mirror image in Arizona’s very own Prickly Pear Governor Jan Brewer. There are so many places I could go with the comparisons but most are totally inappropriate and mean spirited, which is what these 2 women appear to revel in along with their brothers and sisters in arms.

Anyway if there is anyone that reads this blog I urge you to call the AZ governor and demand that she abide by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency’s unanimous 5-0 decision to release William Macumber given that the evidence against him is non-existent and another man has emphatically copped to the double murder of a couple outside Scottsdale, AZ that Mr. Macumber’s mean spirited and apparently slightly evil wife framed him for back in 1974. You can’t make this stuff up and on top of her Orwellian passage of the much publicized and downright cruel SB1070 Ms. Brewer has succeeded in topping what appeared to be the ultimate sign of ignorance with this prank.  As P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois said. “I have been following state clemency for 30 years, and this is easily, easily, the most disturbing. It’s borderline despicable.” Amazing! I must at this point apologize to the great John Maynard Keynes for paraphrasing one of his classic quotes to fit this post and know I must apologize to him for including his name in a post with the former governor of Alaska and current governor of Arizona. It will never happen again! I included this entry in the Education category as an example of what can happen if you never receive any or in the case of Ms. Palin actively seek it…What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some men (women) you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.

Todays Master of the Obvious

Two stories in the news that are like duh!!!

1. Tanning causes skin cancer? Are you kidding me?

2. The southern legal system is racially asymmetrical.

Do we need to conduct studies and spend tons of money researching the obvious?

Should we make laws to prevent underage tanning booth use or excessive use across the board? OR is this simply a case of caveat emptor.

The question that really needs to be asked is how do the eight southern states studied in #2 compare to the rest of the country? My worry is that they aren’t the outliers those of us in the “liberal north” would hope they are/were. I had a friend I worked with while landscaping in Connecticut when I was a kid named Eddie Brown and he was (is?) a black man from South Carolina. Anyway I remember asking him if racism was worse in the north or the south. He immediately said it was worse in the north, because at least in the south everyone knew where everyone stood. As he said “Our women didn’t sleep with their men and we didn’t sleep with their women.” However, in the north as he pointed out he was put off by the fact that when I or others he worked with asked a customer if we could use their bathroom they said absolutely, but when he asked there was an ever so slight hesitation and even when obliged he was “monitored” as he put it. So, my point is that we rip on the south and deservedly so in many instances, but as we are seeing with the couched criticism of President Obama from all over the country there is latent racism everywhere and it will not be resolved if we continue to pillory the south while not looking in our own bathroom mirrors.

Long Lost Brothers In Arms

I just read an article at Project Syndicate by Heizo Takenaka former Minister of Economics, Minister of Financial Reform, and Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications under former LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi; of Japan. Who cares you may ask? And you would be right for asking that….BUT the reason we should care is that if you replaced Japanese people and places with US people and places this article would read like a John Boehner or Mitch McConnell manifesto replete with the privatization, deregulation, reduced government spending, and lower taxes (See Friedman, M) mantra of these 2 esteemed leaders of the Republican party. This would be awesome and totally worth considering if it weren’t for 1 conveniently downplayed FACT….Mr. Takenaka’s party – prior to the current DPJ government that can’t get out of its own way with respect to broken promises – had had complete autonomy in Japan for the better part of 50 years. Likewise Messrs. Boehner and McConnell along with a moderate agenda going back to Gerald Ford have been running the show since the early seventies. Okay I know there was a brief hiccup by the name of Jimmy Carter, who decided the American people needed to hear certain truths that would prove hard to swallow. Well we canned his ass the next chance we got! The point is that these Monday morning quarterbacks are incapable of acknowledging their participation in the games to which they refer. Until they do this their rhetoric and bombastic critiques of current and future regimes will – in my humble but certain opinion – be comedic at best and counterproductive to the point of being obstructionist at worst. Do the current folks in office in Japan and the US and the soon to be Green administration in Columbia have problems? Sure lots of them and their growing by the day, but to say that the trouble a/o irresponsibility starts with them, while simultaneously ignoring their own malfeasance is the reason why I just can’t imagine why anyone would give such biased and myopic voices any type of local or global platform. Enough with the sectarian rhetoric!

Beware Québécoise!

So it appears that Arizona successfully decoupled its laws from those of advanced society when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into Law SB 1070 last Friday whose “…aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.” The criteria police officers will use rely on something the law calls “reasonable suspicion”, which is about as big an umbrella category is you will find anywhere. Anyone with dark skin (THAT MEANS YOU JOHN BOEHNER!) will be forced to carry with them wherever they go documentation speaking to the validity of their residence in the United States. I find it amazing that the very same folks that pushed this bill out of one side of their mouth are on the other side accusing Barack Obama of being a Fascist. This DoubleSpeak is right out of George Orwell’s opus “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and is the type of rhetoric that has slowly but steadily been percolating up from right-wing hate groups since President Obama’s election. It is even creeping – overtly and covertly – into national politics with Pat Bertroche (R) vying for the 3rd District Congressional primary seat in Iowa noting that “I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?” That’s very True Pat why don’t we just make a minor incision in everyone with dark skin, implant a microchip, and send them on their merry way. That makes complete sense and it doesn’t sound prima facie like it violates anyone’s human rights!

This uptick dovetails into The Southern Poverty Law Center’s documentation of mushrooming phenomena in their latest report “Rage on the Right”, which quantified a 244% increase in the number of “Patriot’ groups, from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009. This came at the same time as racist hate groups rose from an all-time high of 926 to 932 in 2009 and “nativist extremist” groups – vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants – grew from 173 to 309 (+80%) between 2008 and 2009.

This type of trend does not speak well for border states writ large. If Vermonters think that this type of sentiment will not rear its ugly head here with respect to Canadians in general and Québécoise specifically we’re fooling ourselves. The recent legal battle between the Rainsville’s of Franklin County and The Department of Homeland Security is in my opinion the opening salvo in a nascent fortification and potentially militarization of our border with Québéc. Janet Napolitano & Co. feel it is imperative that we fortify a crossing that experiences 2.5 cars an hour or 21,900 per year. If you consider that the monies allotted to this project amount to $5 million that averages out to $228 per car or with respect to the Rainville’s about 4.9 acres we’re talking about $1.02 million per acre. Either way you cut it I am sure Governor Douglas or his successor could find markedly more important things to do with this “stimulus”. For anyone interested in reading more about the Rainville matter I would refer you to Secretary Napolitano’s letter to Senator Leahy on March 10 of this year.

Needless to say we are seeing a growing sense of paranoia and misguided attempts at securing 1,969 miles (3,169 km) of Mexican- and 5,525 miles (8,891 km) of Canada-US borderland. We should work hard here in Vermont to insure that the 90 mile border we share with Québéc never even faintly resembles what those in Arizona are trying to construct. After all it is not immigrants, illegal or otherwise, forcing US-based multinationals to outsource thousands of jobs under the guise of globalized capitalism. How about a little more job protectionism and a little less racism cloaked in pseudo-patriotism.

An Asymmetrical Gini In The Bottle

Ever heard of the Gini Coefficient? Yeah I thought not who has and frankly who cares? Well in reading Stephen Roach’s “Stephen Roach on the Next Asia: Opportunities and Challenges for a New Globalization” I came across this measure of income dispersion within and across economies of all shapes and sizes. When I went to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics looking for a historical record of US Gini coefficients I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see a very disturbing trend developing.

First let me note that the Gini Coefficient is a decimal between Zero and One (The Grey Between Binary!), with One being absolute inequality (i.e. The Rich Have Everything) and Zero being completely equitable distribution of income across any given economy.

What I saw when I plotted the Bureau of Labor’s data was a sharply upward trending slope from left (1967) to the present (2007). At the current trend we will have a Gini Coefficient of 0.537 in 2025, 0.652 in 2075, 0.767 in 2125, and 0.939 in 2200. That is unless the world ends. OR H1N1 kills us all. This should disturb those on the left and the right equally, because believe you me the folks benefiting from this trajectory have no religion or aspirations for any type of greener planet, rather they are driven by Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction and really big yachts. This points towards a New America, which when we think about income equality or meritocracy we see that it is becoming more and more a Zero Sum Game or what what 18th/19th Century British economist David Ricardo called Comparative Advantage (See Below). Although in this instance we are talking about intra-country or -region income disparities.

Comparative Advantage (According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics): When one nation’s opportunity cost of producing an item is less than another nation’s opportunity cost of producing that item. A good or service with which a nation has the largest absolute advantage (or smallest absolute disadvantage) is the item for which they have a comparative advantage.

I think that this trend and the data it describes to are two more examples of why across-the-board capitalism does not work. Do aspects of capitalism work? OF COURSE no one (not least of which me!!) is saying differently, but to assume that any “-ISM” in its entirety is suitable for an entire country or across the board is foolish, arrogant, dangerous, and short-sighted. BEWARE OF THE -ISM PEOPLE!!!

gini

Lets briefly put this trend and Gini in some perspective. First it is worth noting where the US sits globally with respect to Gini. As you can see below we (US in Red) are somewhere in the middle of the 153 global average of 0.409±0.103. Some of the esteemed nations with a more equitable distribution of wealth include Russia, Myanmar (That’s Right Myanmar!), Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Our neighbors on the Gini scale include Irag, Petro States like Iran and Nigeria, not exactly paragons of freedom. Given the projections I calculated above we will join nations like Zimbabwe (Hint: You know the nation with inflation >1 quadrillion %) by 2025, systemically corrupt nations like Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, and Namibia in 2075, AND…..Drumroll Please…………..We will be off the current distribution by 2125 at a Gini of 0.767. Not bad huh? So with all the huffing and puffing from the right about our dept and deficit climbing as a % of GDP I think it is worth paying credence to this much maligned index, given its current value and projected trend. Sure we need to consume less and save more, but the fact is that many in this country are under the impression that “Compared with people in other rich countries, Americans tend to accept relatively high levels of income inequality because they believe they may move up over time. The evidence is that America does offer opportunity; but not nearly as much as its citizens believe.”

gini1

So the final point that many on the way- and intermediate-right, along with countless centrists and Efficient-Market Hypothesis ideologues make is that this type of asymmetrical wealth distribution is a product of and promoter of competition. The idea that a rising tide lifts all boats with respect to consumption, investment, government spending, and export-import (ie GDP = C+I+G+(Exp-Imp)). However, if we look at GDP as a function of the Gini Index across the aforementioned 153 nations we see ZERO RELATIONSHIP! Let me say that again there is no relationship between an increasing Gini (ie, Rich Getting Richer!) and GDP growth. So, what are we to make of this? Well the answer is that The Great Decoupling with respect to income inequality has spread geographically and will prove insidious and along with an increasing redistribution of water rights another reason why bottom-up “concern” should and will grow. We’re not talking about astroturf revolution, but rather empirical and well-thought out multi-angle reform.

gini2


No Hopey Changey!

Maybe this – along with the celebrity fortunes lathered on her from the liberal media – is why Sarah Palin jumped ship! Or maybe it is Ms. Rouge’s (I mean Rogue’s) new Don’t Call It A Reality Show….Reality Show!

deptgdp_states