Friday, January 1, 2016

Some New Year’s resolutions for a better 2016 for America & the world

The cycle of life on Earth that repeats itself every 365 days is part of nature. The idea to count these cycles and to set a date to begin counting each new one is a human invention, as is celebration of each of these new beginnings.  

The human race is not in complete agreement as to when a New Year starts: the Chinese and Jews use lunar calendars, which produce different starting days each year.  The Jews confuse the matter even more, celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the world as the New Year in the fall and ignoring the first day of the Hebrew calendar year, which occurs in the spring. That most of the world has settled on what is the dead of winter for a majority of people as the beginning of the year seems counterintuitive. Don’t the early shoots and buds of spring seem more like a beginning than leafless branches or snow-covered streets?  

Celebration traditions for any holiday might look strange to an anthropologist from another planet, but they make sense to us. People gather in groups and drink alcohol to mark many important occasions across cultures. No other celebration, however, can attract one million people to one spot in the middle of a small American island off the Atlantic Ocean or two million to a Brazilian beach. 

Most holidays also have a religious aspect, and for the first day of the year, a secular holiday, spirituality has typically manifested itself in a pledge to be a better person or improve yourself or the world during the coming twelve months. Wikipedia’s sketchy but fact-filled article on New Year’s resolutions reports that the Babylonians and Romans made promises to their gods at the beginning of the year. Today, about 40% of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, most of them personal in nature. 

While I think it’s important for people to improve their lives, and especially their health, I’m going to propose a number of possible New Year’s resolutions that also improve the world in which we live. 

Here are some OpEdge New Year resolutions to consider:

1.      Don’t vote for anyone who questions human-caused global warming, evolution, the moral imperative to accept as many Syrian refugees as possible, same-sex marriage or a woman’s right to an abortion.
2.      Don’t vote for anyone who thinks lowering taxes on the wealthy produces more jobs; supports charter schools, subsidies for the oil and gas industry or privatization of government functions; or wants fewer or looser gun laws and environmental regulations.

3.      Write your representatives and all political candidates asking them to support lifting the cap on income assessed for Social Security taxes; strengthening gun control laws; raising taxes on incomes over $250,000; raising the gas tax and dedicating all the additional money raised to inner and inter-city mass transit; forcing all charter schools to have unionized teaching staffs; raising the minimum wage to $15.00/hour; forcing large corporations to repatriate their income; and creating an easy path to citizenship for undocumented aliens.

4.      Vote in every primary and general election.

5.      Attend at least one political rally in support of a progressive cause.

6.      Do not watch Fox News or listen to any radio station that carries Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

7.      Start composting —you can store the composted materials in a plastic bag in your freezer until it’s convenient to dispose of it.

8.      Replace two car trips a week with mass transit, walking or bicycling.

9.      If you don’t bicycle or walk to work, go to work only in a vehicle carrying at least four people.

10.  Spend a half hour a day reading a history book that does not detail battles.

11.  Contribute money or time to one organization that is helping refugees of war.

12.  Speak up when someone at a social gathering starts spouting right-wing lies about the President, Hillary Clinton, minorities, crime, guns, abortion, gay marriage or any other issue.

I wish all my readers a prosperous and creative New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why Bill Clinton’s sexual past is not an issue, but Donald Trump’s sexism is

By Marc Jampole

Republicans are very clear that they intend to make Bill Clinton’s past wolfish behavior an issue in the election campaign. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have both said that discussing Bill’s past affairs is fair game, as did the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Both Trump and the Journal compare Bill’s actions and words to Trump’s and declare Trump to be less of a sexist than our ex-President. The Journal even talked about Clinton’s “war on women.”

There are lots of ways that Democrats could argue react to Republican accusations regarding Bill Clinton’s sexual past. They could point out all the strides that women made during the Clinton Administration.

They could remind people that unlike Trump, who believes he is superior to women and has insulted a number of them for their looks or their bodily functions, Bill loves women.

They could reconstruct the two incidents that reflect most poorly on Slick Willie and assert that Paula Jones was a gold-digger and Monica Lewinsky admitted she came to the White House looking to score some presidential booty.  

They could explain that many spouses stray and that Bill and Hillary worked out their marital difficulties and didn’t get divorced, unlike Trump, who has been divorced twice, with at least one divorce coming after a torrid love affair with a much younger woman. Perhaps Clinton supporters could play Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” in the background while making this point. This approach might resonate with those who don’t believe in divorce.

They could claim that the extramarital affairs are a private matter that should play no part in the political discussion.

All of these approaches to responding to the Republican’s attempts to dredge up Bill’s past sexual history would be wrong for one reason—all are irrelevant. In fact the entire discussion is irrelevant, simply because: Bill Clinton is not Hillary Clinton.

It is Hillary who is running for office, not Bill. Bill’s past should be of no concern to voters unless someone can prove that Hillary Clinton lied or participated in a cover-up, which they can’t. If Hillary had acted illegally or unethically before, during or after her husband’s several “bimbo eruptions,” the Republicans would have uncovered evidence after more than twenty years of investigating the Clintons’ past for dirt.

In this regard, Bill Clinton plays the role of embarrassing relative—similar to Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, Neil Bush or Bill’s own brother, Roger. The one difference, of course, is that Bill is not an obscure figure, but an extremely popular ex-President.

The decades-old sexual antics of Hillary Clinton’s spouse have absolutely no bearing on Hillary Clinton’s competence or her ability to lead the country, administer the laws, set foreign policy or work with Congress.

But while Bill Clinton’s sexual history is not an issue of substance, Trump’s dismissive attitudes towards women definitely should be open for discussion, again, for one reason only—because the Donald is running for office.  His old-fashioned laddie-boy sexism will make it harder for him to work with female members of Congress and foreign leaders. Imagine Trump referring to Nancy Pelosi’s menopausal behavior or disparaging Angela Merkel’s fashion sense. Finding out how Trump really stands on a woman’s right to control her own body is important—sometimes he says he favors abortion, sometimes he says he’s against it. The fact that the Donald wants to defund Planned Parenthood is an issue.  Some have characterized Trump as the archetypal “rich man who regularly trades in his wives for younger models.” Trump’s past marriages may turn out to be a character issue for many people.

In short, Trump’s attitudes towards women and women’s issues is of utmost importance in determining his suitability to serve as President of the United States. But whatever Hillary Clinton's husband did two decades ago is nothing more than a sideshow. Of course, sideshows such as Trump, Carson and Cruz are coming to dominate the Republican nominating process.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Koch-bought professor right about impact on inequality of “like marrying like,” but gives wrong ways to fix it

I never thought that I would agree with Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, whom the mainstream media has been trying to turn into a “public intellectual” for the past few years.  Cowen, who is general director of the Koch-funded Mercatus Center, specializes in two types of illogical thinking; 1) proposing market solutions to problems created by markets; 2) Arguing about the impact on individuals instead of focusing on the impact on groups. 

Among Cowen gems of fallacious reasoning was his embarrassing critique of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Cowen’s argument tended to follow the pattern of staring at the trees so you won’t see the forest, which in this case means believing that the fact individual families gain and lose wealth through generations proves that over time more wealth does not tend to accumulate into fewer hands. By focusing on the trees—individual wealthy people, Cowen ignores the forest—the class of the wealthy—who have accumulated more and more of the wealth of the world and the United States over the past 35 years.

Earlier this year, Cowen used the same trick of ignoring the group to perform another feat of corporate justification in a New York Times article asserting that some workers—those who hustle, i.e., “are willing and able to turn their spare time to productive uses,”—will do very well in the freelance economy created by sharing services such as Uber and Airbnb. He ignores the statistics to argue about opportunity for those who possess the entrepreneurial spirit, the Holy Ghost and Holy Grail of American society as conceived by big business operators and their think-tank factotums.

Here it is the season of good will and good tidings, and I find that I agree with what Cowen wrote in “How aMarriage of Equals May Promote Inequality” a New York Times Sunday Business article under the rubric “Economic View.”

Cowen states that professionals tend to marry other professionals and blue and pink collar workers tend to marry each other, creating a natural disparity in incomes. The math is easy. Two lawyers making $250,000 a year have a household income of half a million, while a cashier earning $30,000 married to a janitor making $40,000 generate a household income of $70,000.


I didn’t need to read Cowen’s documentation to know he’s right, because in 1982 I used Stanford Research Institute Research to predict in a five-part television news special that “like incomes marrying” would be one of five factors that would lead to the United States becoming a nation of rich and poor in the near future. 

Yes, 1982. Professor Cowen, congratulations on catching up to the times. 

Once upon a time, many women didn’t work, and those who did made far less than men, so that “like incomes marrying” was an impossibility, except among the ultra-wealthy who often arranged marriages to preserve or increase family wealth.  

Cowen gives us a tired-sounding list of three potential cures, two of which are from the right-wing playbook: further experiments with charter schools and higher subsidies or tax credits for children. His third prescription is also tied to education: universal preschool. Let’s forget that there is nothing inherent in charter schools that improves educational outcomes, and focus on the common theme of education in Cowen’s suggestions, which he admits won’t do much. Both right-wing and centrist economists and social thinkers virtually all say that greater education will lead to less inequality, because the more educated worker will get a better job and make more money. It’s a load of hooey, for one reason: Someone has to take out the garbage, drive trucks, input raw data, change bedpans and perform other jobs that require little or no training. As long these jobs are misprized by society and paid extremely low wages, no amount of education will eradicate poverty and lessen inequality of wealth and income. 

Cowen forgets to mention the other factors that have led to a society of rich and poor, with a shrunken, almost moribund middle class: 1) Loss of union jobs; 2) Globalization; 3) New tax policies; 4) Automation and computerization. 

The real answer to reversing the trend of greater inequality of the income and wealth is to reverse the social and economic policies of the past 40 years so that those who make more money make a little less and those who make less money make a little more. A combination of raising the minimum wage, greater unionization of the work force, increasing taxes on the wealthy and a reversal of the privatization of government functions will go a long way to reversing inequality of wealth and income in the short run. 

Let’s return to our hypothetical two couples and imagine that the two lawyers make only $150,000 each and that the cashier makes $70,000 and the janitor makes $80,000. The professional couple still makes twice what the blue collar couple do, but the blue collar couple isn’t doing badly at a combined income of $150,000 a year. I haven’t run the numbers, but when we compensate for inflation, that seems more in keeping with the middle class spectrum of incomes in 1950’s and 1960’s, when we had a strong middle class and a large percent of the workforce unionized; that is, before professional and executive jobs received an enormous income boost and the income from other jobs started to stagnate. 

Unless we start paying everyone exactly the same and taking away everyone’s savings every five years, we will never achieve perfect equality, and no one says that we should. But the current situation has become intolerable to far too many people who used to consider themselves part of the middle class or thought they had a chance to improve their economic conditions.  

The problem, then, is not inequality per se, but that inequality has led to a shrinking of the middle class. The solution is not more education, but an end to the economic policies started by the Reagan revolution that have transformed the United States from a nation of the middle class into one of rich and poor.