Friday, January 30, 2015

Romney Still Confused About Who He Is

Mitt Romney has run for President in the last two cycles. The first time around he was beaten to the nomination by that irascible Senator from Arizona and then he was, of course, dispatched by a rather vulnerable looking President Obama. So one would not be remiss in thinking the New England billionaire would take the hint and retire into that dying light with his family and vast fortune to keep him company. One would be wrong. In fact, Mitt is back and ready to rebrand himself yet again! And what will he be this time around? Apparently an “authentic” guy. But as one of the greatest flip-floppers and, let’s be honest, liars in recent nominee history, I thought we might like to look up the word authentic. Here’s the definition from the trusty ole M&W online:

: real or genuine : not copied or false
: true and accurate
: made to be or look just like an original

Actually, maybe that third definition is perfect for a man that just can’t seem to decide who he is or what he believes. In his latest “You will love me, you will really love me” impression of a young Sally Field, Romney has decided he will now talk openly about his Mormon faith and try to pull the Bush trick of making himself seem like a “regular guy.” Given his ~ $250 million net worth, his 47 percent comment from a couple of years ago, the failed two runs and his general trouble with the truth, it seems unlikely people would fall for this latest flirtation. But then again, they did sort of elect that George Bush guy twice, so who knows.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Good News for the One Percent!

In the wake of the recent disclosure that the Koch brothers will be spending close to a billion dollars to elect GOPers across the country in 2016, the New York Times shared some additional positive news for the one percent. Namely, that they are still garnering the vast majority of the benefits of a growing economy. According to data from Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, their share of total income (excluding capital gains) for 2013 is 17.1 percent. That is a level of inequality not seen since the Gilded Age a hundred years ago. Digging a little deeper into the numbers, we find that average income for the richest one percent has risen from $871,100 in 2009 to $968,000 in 2013. By contrast, the average for the remaining 99 percent has fallen from $44,000 to $43,900. This has been a consistent trend since the 1970s, though it has accelerated dramatically since the Bush tax cuts of 2001 (see the chart below).

This growing inequality occurs not as the economy is squeezed, as many believe, but as productivity and profits continue to rise. In fact, profits hit a record peak in 2013 and are expected to continue that trend when 2014 final numbers become available. And productivity has been steadily rising as well, as seen in the chart from EPI below. What has happened instead of the spreading of economic benefits across the working public, as happened during the Golden Era of Economic Growth from 1948 to 1973, is a money grab by the one percent that appears to be continuing unabated by the popular sentiment of addressing the issue. Why? Maybe because unlimited money being poured into elections and a corporate media that seems intent on ignoring the bigger issues, the endless misrepresentations and lies of the candidates and supporting the status quo have the tendency to undermine the will of the people. And at the epicenter of this new corporate-government complex is the Koch brothers and their seemingly bottomless pit of money.

Speaking of those infamous brothers, one of their great triumphs in recent years was somehow keeping the very unpopular Scott Walker from losing a recall election, before backing him in a successful reelection this year. Walker has consistently backed a right-wing agenda to cut government services, corporate and state taxes and, maybe most famously, take collective bargaining power away from Wisconsin public employees who are unionized (taking calls from the Koch brothers and considering sending in troublemakers to break up the pro-union demonstrations in 2011). His record on the economy is rather suspect as well, as his job growth has lagged far below the national average, even as his campaign ads offered up some false claims (including that he turned job loss into job growth, when job growth was already happening when he took office and hasn’t improved under his radar), and the future prospects for the state languish in 49th. His latest move? A $300 million cut to the renowned University of Wisconsin system. This is a cut of 13.1 percent of the overall budget for the 26 schools, offset only by his rather empty promise increased autonomy for the campuses. The reality is the increased autonomy will simply force these campuses to increase tuition to students, essentially shifting the burden of higher education from taxpayers to parents and students themselves. This is a perfect example of the radical agenda the Koch brothers are pushing across the country, with increasing success since the 2010 Citizens United decision. They are policies that benefit corporations and the wealthy while undermining democracy, energy efficiency, equality and freedom. And in case you didn’t hear … they want Walker to run for president.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bush for President III Off to Shaky Start

In his best Mitt Romney impression yet, Jeb Bush flip-flopped his position on immigration … in one speech! The slip up came during his speech to the National Automobile Dealers last Friday in San Francisco. First Bush argued, “We need to find a way, a path to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows. There’s no way that they're going to be deported — no one’s suggesting an organized effort to do that. The cost of that would be extraordinary.” And then, apparently wanting to grab both sides of the argument simultaneously to maximize his chances of becoming the third Bush in office – though we’re unsure if there will be another Dick beside him – he said, "The 40 percent of the people that have come illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to find where they are and politely ask them to leave." Thanks for clearing things up! Maybe Jeb is closer to George than we are led to believe …

And There Goes Our Democracy

In more good news for the GOP and terrible news for democracy, the Koch brothers announced at their annual winter donor retreat that they are going to spend close to $900 million on the upcoming presidential election. That’s right, close to $1 billion dollars to pass their right-wing agenda, spending at a level equal to the Republican and Democratic Parties. To put the figure in perspective, the Republican National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaigns spent a total of $657 million in total in 2008. Their goal – more deregulation, tax cuts and smaller government. It is an agenda that has been at the heart of conservative politics since Reagan took office in 1981, but one that has accelerated in recent campaign cycles and one that sees unprecedented GOP power at all levels of government beside the presidency. Democracy? The will of the people? These appear to be bygone ideals of a different era, the one that seems to have withered with the passage of the Citizens decision in 2010, but one that has been under strain since the birth of the lobbying industry we have been saddled with since the 80s. As income inequality and poverty grow, the middle class is strained, debt increases and environmental concerns only grow, it appears the interests of the corporate and power elites are now in full control of our republic, undermining the last vestiges of the system our forefathers built. It is a sad day for the country that once stood as a beacon of democracy and freedom for the world ... but hey, at least the one percent will be happy!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

FA Cup Recap: Arsenal Win, Liverpool and United Draw, Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham all Lose

In one of the most rousing fourth round FA Cup weekends in recent memory, Chelsea blew a 2-0 lead at home and lost to League One Bradford, Man City were scalped 2-0 by Middlesbrough at the Etihad and Tottenham too lost at home, to Leicester City 2-1. These results were coupled with goalless draws for Manchester United at Cambridge and Liverpool at home against previous Premier League regulars Bolton. To cap things off, Southampton was dumped out by a surging Crystal Palace, continuing to play inspired football in the wake of Alan Pardew’s return (winning 3-2 on the road), and Swansea City lost 3-1 to the Championship’s mid table dwelling Blackburn. Overall, only two of the top ten in the EPL have secured passage to the next round, with Stoke playing tomorrow and Liverpool and United set for replays.

After two days of major upsets, results went more or less to form on Sunday, with West Ham able to hold off Bristol City with a late goal from sub Diafra Sakho (81st minute), Aston Villa taking down AFC Bournemouth 2-1 and Arsenal pulling off a tight victory 3-2 at Brighton. Arsenal started brightly with Theo Walcott scoring his first goal in over a year on two minutes after meeting a nice cross from Calum Chambers, settling it and then finishing strongly across goal. Then, after a period of complete domination, they made it two in the 24th minute, when the just returning Ozil scored on a great pass from Rosicky, finishing coolly across goal with his preferred left foot.

But in the 50th minute, some typically shambolic defending from the Gunners that started with a poor Rosicky followed by Chambers not challenging for the ball in the air and Koscielny failing to block the shot. It was suddenly 2-1 and five minutes later a real scare emerged, as an Albion player dove in the box in a way that could easily have led to a penalty, though referee Mike Oliver made the right call. In the 59th minute, Arsenal restored order as Rosicky and Giroud engaged in a lovely one-two after a Rosicky steal that included a Giroud chip and a lovely Rosicky volley/shot from the edge of the box, to make it 3-1. Walcott forced a good save in the 67th minute on a fierce and well-placed shot from outside the box for what turned out to be his last contribution. In the 69th, Sanchez came on for him and Akpom for Giroud. And then more poor defending from Arsenal made it 3-2 with Boldon making a good run and then lifting it over a charging Szczesny in the 75th minute.

So with 15 minutes left, a game Arsenal largely dominated was still in the balance, largely because of a return to their wobbly defending of old. Ozil came out for Coquelin in the 80th minute, clearly with the idea of stealing the defense as Brighton’s belief rose. Arsenal continued to clear without real resolve and lose the ball in the middle, before a strong counter by Sanchez got the ball out to Akpom, though the weight of the pass pulled him wide and his resultant shot was well saved. In the 83rd, Sanchez earned a free kick on the edge of the box, allowing a break in a game that was starting to get more and more open. Sanchez’s kick was nicked by the wall and hit the post, inches from sealing things. Arsenal were holding on for dear life when a handball in the box by Chambers was fortuitously too close to be called a penalty before the resultant corner was less than convincingly cleared by Szczesny, who has failed to keep a clean sheet since November. Akpom was clattered just outside the box in the first of four minutes of extra time and Sanchez almost scored again, with a decent save that looked more heroic in real time than in replay. A third free kick on the edge of the box was sent just high by the Chilean and Arsenal settled down for the last few minutes, though Ramsey could have made it four when Rosicky served up a great cross at the far corner that he failed to convert. But the game ended 3-2 and Arsenal were through to the fifth round.

Looking at the individual performances of the Gunners, Ozil was bright throughout and scored, Ramsey was active and looked more comfortable with Ozil beside him for most of the match, Walcott showed a glimmer of his old self with the great early finish and Rosicky was a constant threat sealing the victory with a lovely bit of technique. The defense, on the other hand, was up and down with Chambers looking vulnerable (and being partially guilty on the first Brighton goal) and Szczesny continuing the shaky play that has seen him supplanted as first choice by Ospina. In fact, the rumours that the Polish goalkeeper might be on his way out at season’s end seem more likely than ever after this display. Overall, it was nice to see the beautiful football Arsenal are best known for return after the gritty Man City win last weekend, though the absence of Coquelin until the final 10 minutes exposed those old defensive holes. The addition of Paulista for the back line and the emergence of Coquelin in DM (with new signing Bielik available as backup) seem to indicate a second half run could be in the offing for a team that blew their title bid last year in a torrid run from February through March.

Liverpool and United will have chances to win their replays, obviously, but Arsenal already find themselves with a strong chance to win the FA Cup for the second year running, as City, Chelsea, Southampton and Tottenham are all already gone. There’s a long way to go, but two years of silverware in a row would be like winning a small lottery, after the ten years of futility us Gooners lived through.

Friday, January 23, 2015

In Case There Was Any Confusion … GOP Still Hates Science

A couple of weeks ago, Senators Rand Paul and Lamar Smith wanted to clarify the Republican position on global warming with a Politico piece entitled “No, the GOP is Not at War with Science.” After an auspicious beginning where the Senators wrote about debt and taxpayer relief (code words for further cuts to government spending and tax cuts for the wealthy), they go on to explain that science is really important to our future but that it is important to check what our taxpayer dollars are being used for. Among their concerns are NSF dollars that went to a climate-change themed musical, investigation of Tea Party activities on social media and a study of bicycle designs. Now all three might sound a bit absurd on the surface, but lets consider them again: 1. We do arguably need to make people aware of the hazards and perils associated with continuing to do nothing about climate change, 2. Research on how politics works in cyberspace is important in the field of political science, and 3. Increased bicycle use is a powerful way to not only help the environment but improve the health of those engaged in that activity. A better designed bicycle makes it easier for those who are out of shape/overweight to ride them over a greater distance.

They then list a series of other somewhat obscure research to claim that federal dollars should only go to research that could reap clear benefits to technological and economic growth. On the surface this argument also sounds reasonable, but it ignores the fact that science moves forward slowly and incrementally and that some of that esoteric research actually has a huge influence in other areas. If we only focused on research that had instrumental ends, we would miss out on so much more that is useful. In fact, the call for only funding research that has potentially positive economic outcomes, implies an agenda where the economic needs trump all others and democracy becomes an increasingly bygone promise realized only in the fantasy world of rigged campaigns. They claim that the scientific community should be accountable to Congress (now that it is run by the GOP) and that: “The academic community forgets that federal science funding should be in the national interest.” That is true on the surface, but politicizing academic research borders on the edges of censorship and allows people who know nothing about science to spread their pseudoscience to the masses without anyone to check the validity, truth and accuracy of those fictitious claims. The corporate-sponsored GOP thus appears to wants to decide what is wasteful and what isn’t concluding that article with this rather haunting argument, “In the new Congress, Republicans, the party of limited government, should propose legislation to eliminate the funding of wasteful projects—and focus on smart investments instead.”

And thus we return to the question of global warming and the new GOP-majority Senate. So what happened a couple of days ago? That Senate, which is still debating the Keystone Pipeline project, decided to attach a few amendments that could clarify their position on climate change. They held a first vote where the measure simply asked them to vote on whether the climate is, in fact, changing. That one actually passed 98 to 1, with only Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi holding out (though he wouldn't explain why). The folks at Fox “News” must have been apoplectic. A second vote probably calmed them down though, as 50 voted against ending a GOP filibuster on the following statement: “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” This is a fact even the oil-loving Bush gang acknowledged a couple of years before leaving office. A third vote look the word “significantly” out of the climate change statement above, but another GOP filibuster killed that as well. And so just as grains of sand through the hourglass, so is the insanity of our lives.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Obama Gets His Mojo Back

President Obama has taken the midterm election rebuke like Austin Powers a shag, seemingly rejuvenating him in his quest to secure his legacy. He has already taken bold action on immigration, the environment, Net Neutrality and tax reform and yesterday sought to take his due credit for the recovering economy; undermining the GOP Senators and Congressman trying to rewrite history yet again. The speech was an impressive display of populist rhetorical spin, challenging the country to address its growing inequality and reward middle class families for their hard work and resilience in the face of economic disaster, six short years ago.

There are a lot of positives to take from a speech that was high on rhetoric but low on actual policy recommendations. The call to eliminate tax shelters for the rich and corporates should be applauded along with the stated desire to provide tax relief for the middle class (though the poor could probably use some as well). Investment in 21st century infrastructure, research and development, new energy, and education and training to cultivate a more highly skilled workforce all comport with the notion of the New New Deal I have been advocating for a few years now. In fact, the general populist tenor of creating a more equal society is one that this country needs to hear over and over again until it settles into the collective conscious in a way that can render change possible.

Free community college is also something to cheer about, though it must be coupled with student loan relief to be truly effective in improving the prospects of college graduates at all levels. The call for more regulation of the banking industry is welcome, though specific mechanisms to stop GOP obstructionism will be necessary, and it is hard to see pragmatic ways for this to happen in the current political alignment. Suggestions like guaranteed paid sick leave and maternity leave are nice, but more fundamental changes will have to occur if we are to more justly spread both the benefits and costs of the economy we live in today. Raising the minimum wage, pay equity, revival of OT protection and tax credits for more affordable child care, on the other hand, are the kind of policies that can make “middle class economics” a successful route back toward the country that relatively equally shared its economic prosperity during the economically halcyon days that continued from the end of World War II \ until the first oil crisis in 1973.

Beyond the positives, there was one area that should be troubling to progressives everywhere – the call for renewed fast-track trade authority. This is the same tired old neoliberal ideology that has caused increased poverty and inequality across the globe for at least 25 years now and one that must be stopped if real positive social change is to ensue. That Obama continues to push this agenda in education, regulation of Wall Street and international trade reminds us that his achievements will forever be tempered by his failure to truly challenge entrenched power in the country, as he once promised to do. And his inability to completely eradicate us from Iraq, Afghanistan or the Bush war on terror legacy should be equally upsetting to most.

In the end it was a good speech from a President who has given a lot of great speeches, but who has failed to live up to the early promise he offered to radically change the way Washington DC works. That he has finally decided to fight for what he believes in once again should give us hope that change is ultimately possible, even if it will take other men and women to realize that change in full.