Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where people are a priority

"In the United States, we paid the equivalent of 8.2 percent of our economy more in social spending out of our own pockets than the people in other rich countries did that year. So the savings we enjoyed on our tax bills were more than offset by what we paid for those things our counterparts bought with their taxes."
9 Countries that Do It Better - AlterNet

The war over reality

"[T]he parties are increasingly divided over reality itself: over what is actually true, not only about hard science but also social science and simple policy facts such as the contents of the health-care bill."
Reality Bites - The American Prospect

Monday, June 13, 2011

When facts are just a means to an end

"Intellectualism, science, and knowledge itself is only valuable [for conservatives] to the extent to which it can shore up the ideological beliefs of the speaker or the listener. Facts that might subvert those assertions are simply dismissed."
The Conservative War on Facts - Daily Kos

The problem for conservatives is that they're wrong

"Low tax rates. Profits for so-called 'job creators.' Spending cuts. The three things that conservatives say are most necessary for achieving a healthy economy are all occurring at historic levels. If conservatives were right, there could be no way that the economic situation could be this bad on either side of the pond. But it is, and that leads to one inescapable logical conclusion: conservative economic policies are not good for job creation or the overall economy."
If Conservatives Were Right - Daily Kos

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Government spending does not diminish freedom

"If freedom, as the conservatives seem to insist, comes down primarily to the quantity of government spending, then a country such as Sweden, where government spends quite a lot, would be less 'free' than a right-wing dictatorship that had no welfare state and no public schools — but also didn’t allow its people to speak, pray, write or organize as they wish."
Romney’s Flawed View of Freedom - Washington Post

America, the learning impaired

"But we’re special. We’re Americans. We’re exceptional. If we want to learn how to keep healthcare costs from devouring the economy, we don’t need to study the methods used by comparable countries -- because no other countries are comparable to us, in our virtue, our wisdom, and our divinely inspired founding. No, instead of sending fact-finding commissions to other nations to meet with their medical experts, we’ll turn to the Federalist Papers, and try to deduce what Hamilton, Madison and Jay might have said about physician reimbursement rates."
The Case Against "American Exceptionalism" - Salon

Free markets don't exist

"Free-market economists may want you to believe that the correct boundaries of the market can be scientifically determined, but this is incorrect. If the boundaries of what you are studying cannot be scientifically determined, what you are doing is not a science.... Their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth, while other people’s politics is political. However, they are as politically motivated as their opponents."
There Is No Such Thing as a Free Market - Truthout

Monday, April 25, 2011

If they don't quit patting themselves on the back, they're going to hurt themselves

"Yes, I make good money, but I work hard for it." People have got to stop saying that as if it explains everything. Lots of people work hard. They just don't get paid well for it. One does not axiomatically lead to the other.

Of course, many people love to believe that they control their own lives completely, and any good thing that happens to them is due to their own innate wonderfulness (l'm looking at you, Ayn Randians). Maybe the one good thing to come out of the current financial mess is that some of them have, at long last, been disabused of this ego-inflating illusion.

Also, it's odd how many conservatives in Congress are admitted Rand fans. They obviously believe they're part of the heroic "producer" class. That's absurd. They're in *conservatives in Congress,* for God's sake.

Btw, this is not to argue that people don't make bad decisions or are not in the least bit responsible for their circumstances. It's just to say that many people make plenty of good choices and still can't afford to live in this expensive world. Also, if we have any pretense of compassion, we need to make *some* allowance for simple human error. (And the "right choices" are not always so obvious when you're young or in the thick of things.) The bottom line is that our society *needs* a safety net, because a) in this imperfect world, the rewards don't always go to the good or follow from good choices (sometimes it seems precisely the opposite); and b) if we have any pretense of honoring the intrinsic worth of human life, it must be regarded as unacceptable for any one of us to go without the fundamentals of life: food, shelter. and medical care.

But then the Walton family couldn't buy quite as many platinum-plated butt scratchers

"Walmart and other low-wage employers are poster-children for free-market hypocrisy, claiming that the 'market' dictates they pay poverty wages while shifting some of their labor costs onto the taxpayer. A 2004 study by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that just one Walmart store with 200 'associates' costs taxpayers over $420,000 per year in government assistance to the poor."
If Walmart Paid its 1.4 Million U.S. Workers a Living Wage, it Would Result in Almost No Pain for the Average Customer - AlterNet

And it's not just health care that's been commodified

"How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as 'consumers'? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered...almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car--and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough."
Patients Are Not Consumers - The New York Times

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The conservatives' Bizarro-world morality

‎"There is one idea that explains Republican behavior: moral disgust at income redistribution.... Opposition to the progressive income tax is at once a sacred and a hidden value for Republicans, and thus one that makes compromise nearly impossible. You cannot bargain with a partner whose stated goals are merely pretexts....

"The great irony of the recent triumph of [Ayn Rand's] vision on the right is that it takes place in conditions just the opposite. The poor and working classes have languished for decades, while the rich pull in unimaginable sums. This is the atmosphere that has paradoxically given rise to the right’s fervid class warfare."
The Triumph of Taxophobia - Democracy

Yep--somehow it keeps coming back to Rand. The attraction is baffling to those of us who do not experience what Randians apparently do, i.e., an unquestioned sense of superiority to the 99.9999999 percent of humanity who are not them. I mean, radial solipsism and comically distorted egos I can almost grasp--winning!--but this is flat out psyhopathology:

‎"She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that 'he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people;' and she meant this as praise."

‎"From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To the gas chambers--go!'" - Whittaker Chambers, in a 1957 review of Rand's novel published in--wait for it--William F. Buckley's "National Review."

Note to Paul Ryan: this is not the kind of change we can believe in.

A meaningful deficit fix

"Estimates of how much would be saved by extending Medicare to cover the entire population range from $58 billion to $400 billion a year. More Americans would get quality health care, and the long-term budget crisis would be sharply reduced."
Medicare Isn't the Problem -- It's the Solution - Salon

I have an ideology. And so do you

"There’s an old joke to the effect that you’re an ideologue; I’m just being sensible. The point is that everyone has an ideology — which is another way of saying that everyone has (a) values and (b) some view about how the world works. And there’s nothing wrong with that."
Everyone Has An Ideology - The New York Times

Who decides "deservingness"--and why?

A recent conversation reminded me of this: the virtue of government safety-net programs vs. individually directed "charity" (beyond the sheer financial and logistical inadequacy of the latter) is that public programs provide objective criteria by which to evaluate need, as opposed to the erratic and often inaccurate patterns of distribution that would result from individual taxpayers' underinformed and often biased suppositions as to what another person's circumstances or degree of "deservingness" might be (see, for example, Reagan's fictitious Cadillac-driving "welfare queen," a story that all too many believed unquestioningly because it played to their preconceptions and prejudices).
Eight Great Myths About Welfare -

Monday, April 4, 2011

Slouching towards America

"The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years...went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance)."
‎"When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth."
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% - Vanity Fair

Where do they find these people?

"It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair
The Truth, Still Inconvenient - The New York Times

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rewriting the libertarian gospel

"Countless factors beyond our choosing influence our [abilities,] ambition and effort, such as our upbringing, our family’s work ethic, our childhood experiences, subconscious insecurities, social milieu, career fads, role models, parental and peer pressure, available life paths, lucky breaks, and other contingent factors. It is not clear how much of it is our own doing, however militantly we may hold the illusion that we create our own life story...."
‎"Even if we somehow leveled socioeconomic disparities, the winners of the race would still be the fastest runners, due in part to a natural lottery. People are often born with certain talents and attributes—for instance, oratory, musical acumen, physical beauty and health, athleticism, good memory and cognition, extroversion, etc.—that give them unearned advantages. Are their wins not as arbitrary from a moral standpoint as of those born with silver spoons in their mouths? Further, is it not our dumb luck that our society happens to value certain aptitudes we may have—such as the leap and hand-eye coordination of Michael Jordan, sound-byte witticisms of talk show hosts like Jay Leno, or the algorithmic wizardry of Sergey Brin in the Internet age?"
"n Rawlsian terms, the problem in America is not that a minority has grown super rich, but that for decades now, it has done so to the detriment of the lower social classes. The big question is: why does the majority in a seemingly free society tolerate this, and even happily vote against its own economic interests? A plausible answer is that it is under a self-destructive meritocratic spell that sees social outcomes as moral desert—a spell at least as old as the American frontier but long since repurposed by the corporate control of public institutions and the media: news, film, TV, publishing, etc. Rather than move towards greater fairness and egalitarianism, it promotes a libertarian gospel of the free market with minimal regulation, taxation, and public safety nets.[10] What would it take to break this spell?"
What Do We Deserve? - 3 Quarks Daily
‎"It just so happens that I was in the right place at the right time. I really wouldn't have made a difference if I were born in Bangladesh. Or if I was born here in 1700. The odds of me being born here, in this time, were 1:50. And I just got lucky as hell. I won a lottery. Stick me some place other else and I could say I know how to allocate capital and value business. But they'd say, so what?" - Warren Buffett (investment guru; #3 on Forbes' 2011 list of world's richest people)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The "dumbest idea in the world"

"Only in the English-speaking world, with its tradition of radical libertarian ideology, could a head of state like Margaret Thatcher declare: 'There is no such thing as society.'"
The Failure of Shareholder Capitalism - Salon

Friday, March 25, 2011

Like conducting a Gallup poll on gravity

"[T]he rise of Idiot America today represents -- for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power -- the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about."

Greetings from Idiot America - Esquire

Defining crime as price rather than punishment

“'The purpose of limited liability is to protect people from being responsible. If we put the assumptions about how we organize business in other areas of our lives and politics, people would be aghast.'”
How Wall Street Crooks Get Out of Jail Free - The Nation