Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Politics of Anger

Whenever I hear the pundits speak with much gravitas about how polarized our politics have become, shaking their heads at the depths to which our democracy has sunk, I think about the times when Presidents faced entrenched opposition just as deep and paralyzing and intransigent as what we face now, and deeper.
The paralells to the 1930's and the opposition Franklin Roosevelt faced are obvious and many have commented on them. FDR was accused of instigating class warfare when he spoke of the greed which had led to the Depression. He was vilified by his opposition, who insisted the best action for government was to continue to cut taxes for the wealthy so the wealthy would hire workers and restore the economy.
But for sheer petulence and obstinancy, you have to go back to the 1850's.
John C. Calhoun, in some ways the Newt Gingrich of his time, said, "Nothing can be more unfounded and false than the prevalent opinion that all me are born free an equal for it rests upon the assumption of a fact which is contrary to universal observation." Some were born to be slaves, and that's the way God meant things to be.
There was no give in this man, nor in Jefferson Davis, nor John Wilkes Booth nor Preston Brooks, who beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a heavy gutta-percha cane on the floor of the Senate chamber, attempting to murder the senator for a speech against slavery. Senators Douglas and Robert Toombs of Georgia watched without intervening as Preston reigned blows upon Sumner's head until the cane was splintered.
Sumner's injuries disabled him for three years and blinded one eye.
"Bully" Brooks became a hero in the South. From across the South, his fans sent him dozens of canes and even a gold handled cowhide whip which they urged him to use on other abolitionists.
If any of this echos in your mind with the Congressman from the South who shouted out, "You Lie!" during President Obama's State of the Union speech in 2011, or with Gabby Gifford's head injuries, I'm sure you are not alone.
We have faced intransigence before. In the 1850's, it led to Civil War.
It came as a President who fervently wished to compromise and to douse the flames of discord took office and tried to appease and negotiate.
It has taken three years for President Obama to get past his own denial and to see his opposition, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney for what they are.
Once the Civil War began, Lincoln turned out to be a masterful commander in chief.
He realized his primary job was to find the right generals. This took him several years, but he finally identified Grant, Sherman and Sheridan.
Let us hope President Obama has found his generals for this upcoming fight, and I'm not talking about Afghanistan.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Ryan Lizza, writing in the New Yorker (1/30/12) about President Obama and the Washington cauldron into which he has been thrust provides enough detail to illuminate why any American President is, as Lincoln once said, more controlled by events than controlling them.

Like Lincoln, this man from Springfield, Illinois came to his office with a very clear intention. Lincoln's bedrock conviction was it was his primary job to preserve the union. He knew there were powerful forces he would not be able to control, mostly spewing forth from the volcanic emotions underlying the fight between slave states and abolitionists. But he was determined to save the union despite all that. He said to the slave states the decision to tear apart the union was their's to make. Lincoln did not want to separate; he admonished the slavers not to destroy the marriage, which he believed, despite all their differences could still be saved. Even after those frothing slavery advocates in Charleston pounded Fort Sumter into submission and the union forces had to withdraw, even after two years of bloody, bitter battles, Lincoln said, "If I could save the union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; if I could save the Union by freeing none of the slaves, I would do it; if I could save the union by freeing some of the slaves and leaving others in bondage, I would do that."

In the end, he chose the last option. His famous Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves only in territory in rebellion against the federal government. Slaves in the border states, like Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee were not freed. Even at the moment of what is often remembered as Lincoln's boldest move, he compromised.

Lincoln had to have war forced on him, and ultimately it was and he had to react.

Obama came to Washington with the same determination to compromise, to get past the passions and divisions of the two sides and to unite through reason. His favorite phrase is E Pluribus Unum, which appears on our paper currency, one out of many.

But, like Lincoln, Obama had to be pounded over the head with the intransigence of his opposition. Jim DeMint, the Republican, called his effort to deal with the economic crisis, "The worst piece of economic legislation Congress has considered in a hundred years." Not since the creation of the income tax, "has the United States seriously entertained a policy so comprehensively hostile to economic freedom or so arrogantly indifferent to economic reality."
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, when asked whether he would support a bill which might mitigate the financial crisis asked why he should be asked to support a bill which might help re elect Obama. As if it would be non sensical for him to support something which might help the economy, help his own nation, if that solution also helped Obama.

Six conservatives met with Obama for dinner at George Will's house, a week before his Inauguration. They must have felt quite important. After all, here was the President of the United States coming calling to have dinner with them. Their opinions must matter in the highest reaches of government. One can only imagine the patter and the repartee and the warm feelings of self importance among these "opinion makers."

Before his first term was half old, Will described Obama as a "floundering naif," who advocates Lenin-Socialism. Charles Krauthammer, also at the dinner, described Obama as "sanctimonious, demogogic, self-righteous and arrogant"--now there is a clear case of "takes-one-to-know-one"--another guest (Kudlow someone) accused him of being a "crony capitalist," and someone else (named Michael Barone) came up with the cute Republican marketing phrase, "Gangster Government," and another said Obama was the "whiniest president ever."
But the most withering line, predictably, came from one of the smartest, most psychopathic conservatives, Peggy Noonan: "He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist,"--see how cleverly she sets this up--I am more reasonable and less hyperbolic than my conservative brethren. I am clear eyed and can see the essential core of the man. She proclaimed: "He is a loser."

Remember that scene from My Fair Lady, where the sophisticated linguist analyzes the central guest at the party, Liza Doolittle, who is a flower girl dressed up as a lady and this analyst divines she is no lady at all, but a fraud. Of course, she is masquerading, but the analyst gets what she is entirely wrong. He thinks she is not less than what she pretends to be, but more--she is a princess! Such is the judgment of the sophisticates of the court.

But what this really reminds me of is the time Lincoln took his secretary of war down to the rooming house where the diminutive general in command of the Union Army, George McCellan, was staying. The general remained in his upstairs room and did not deign to come down to speak with the President, or his secretary of War. He left them there with their hats in their hands until they finally realized he was not coming down. So he showed them.

That's how important George McCellan thought he was. People cheered George McCellan when he rode by on his great stallion. They stood up and cheered when he entered a room. He was a very important man.

Few American school children or their parents even know his name today.

The same, I dearly hope, will be true of these self important, oh so clever detractors. Peggy Noonan has never had a shot fired at her in anger and has never bet her job on a stealth operation by Navy SEALS carried out at night half a world away. She, like George Will, is the essence of a sissy--people who are oh so good with words, but cannot hit a fast ball, not to mention a curve. Nobody much, outside Washington, or devotees of Sunday talk shows knows who George Will or Peggy Noonan are--a blessing there. And certainly, 10 years from now, nobody even insider Washington will know who these dessicated authorities are.

I knew people like this in high school. There were boys who knew my record as a varsity wrestler and knew my statistics, how many take downs, how many pins, things I never bothered to record, never cared about. They followed me around with advice. They were important, they thought, because they analyzed my performance. They knew things I did not know.

But I knew a different sort of thing: What it felt like to step out on the mat, heart pounding, facing the hundred forty pounds of testosterone driven animosity across the mat.

And, remember one more thing about Peggy's loser: The night before the Osama Bin Laden take down, he delivered a cool-as-you-like comedy routine for all the professional talkers at the National Press Club.

Who you calling a loser, chump?

Friday, January 27, 2012


James Surowieki, writing in the January 30 New Yorker, has finally shown me how the very rich manage to scarf up the lion's share of the pie and to leave nothing but slivers behind.
I knew they had to be gaming the system, just by looking at the results, but I did not know enough about the details of the game to really appreciate how they accomplish their win. Now, in one page, Surowiecki illuminates the scam.
A typical scheme is to buy a company which is doing pretty well, but starting to lag, as Wasserstein & Company did to Harry and David, the fruit retailers. The private equity guys then borrow a ton of money which becomes Harry and David's debt. Before that borrowed money can help improve the company, the private equity guys (Wasserstein&Co) pay themselves "special dividends" in this case a hundred million dollars. (The special dividends by dint of a very sweet tax provision are taxed at a very low rate.) Then the PE guys charge Harry and David "managment fees," (several million.) Six years later, after the PE guys had sucked Harry and David dry, it defaulted on its debt and dumped its pension obligations. Its workers were out of a job and out of the pensions they had labored years to earn.
Harry and David was sucked dry, a husk, but the PE guys had made millions and moved on.
These are the sorts of shenanigans Mitt Romney played at Bain Capital, but with other companies.
It's all legal, because Republican "job creators," entrepreneurs, don't you know, have enough senators and Congressmen in their pockets--in our case the Frank Guintas and Kelly Ayottes of the world to make this predation legal.
Rick Perry called it "vulture capitalism," but that strikes me as entirely too civil. Vultures, as far as I can tell only pick clean the carcases of animals killed by others. Hyenas, however, actually swarm around living creatures, and bring them down, and then tear them apart.
That's a more apt description of how the private equity nasties at firms like Bain Capital play the game.
But as Mitt Romney has said, he has no apologies to make for his "success."
After all, it's all perfectly legal.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

To Have and To Have Not

Like Curt Schilling before him, Tim Thomas the stellar goal tender for the Boston Bruins is a Boston hero. Like Curt Schilling he is a multimillionaire. As Mitt Romney would say, neither pro athlete has to apologize for his wealth because they earned it.
One may argue even if the free market is willing to pay Schilling $8 million and Thomas $6 million neither is a heart surgeon, and there's something out of whack here, but that is semi free market, monopoly twisted capitalism. Neither broke any laws pulling in their millions.
But Tim Thomas, like Schilling before him, is angry. He's angry because that socialist in the White House wants to give money to the undeserving and because Obama thinks government can and should do some good whereas Tim Thomas thinks government already does too much and wants to take some of his money and give it away to the undeserving.
Now, you might ask, why should anyone care what Tim Thomas or Curt Schiling think about politics or economics or financial fairness. They are professional athletes and we do not watch them because we are interested in their philosophy of economy.
Thomas refused to go to the White House to meet Obama because of his sense of outrage.
He joins the angry rich.
There may have been a time when the rich were smug.
There was probably a time when the rich felt themselves fortunate, chosen even, but they lived their lives of leisure and indulgence with smiles, cognizant of their own good fortune.
Here, in America, the rich are the angry ones.
I got mine fair and square and I want to keep it. Nobody gave me anything. I had to fight for everything I got and I didn't ask anyone for help.
Of course, in the case of professional athletes, there was a lot of infrastructure, from the roads to the stadium to the stadium itself, to the support for college programs where they were nurtured, to the public access to airways which supported the vast sums of wealth made available for their success.
But these angry rich see themselves as living off the grid, above the grid. They owe nothing to anyone, because they had to work hard.
I hear this from doctors not infrequently.
I worked hard in smelly organic chemistry labs for years in college and medical school while my classmates partied.
Of course, those labs, those schools were supported by government grants and the opportunity to work hard at Harvard or NYU or Vanderbilt was supported by their parents, so the coaching that made them good was given them by others, whether family or community.
But these guys are still angry and entitled.
Talk about an entitlement program. Talk about a sense of you owed it to me.
Well, then, you are talking about Republicans.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Coddling the Bully

A coworker today told me she didn't like the Republican candidates, each for a different reason--Gingrich is clearly mentally unstable; Romney is a Cylon robot; Ron Paul is an anarchist; Ron Santori is a demagogue. But she doesn't like Obama either because he's ineffective and has accomplished nothing.

I tried to think of what to say: Well, he is ineffective because of anything he has failed to do, or because of anything he has done? Or is he a failure because the Republicans in Congress have been successful in making the government fail? The Republicans say, we are going to make this man fail, the fate of the country be damned. So is that his fault?

But that is not a line which is memorable or even works.

What can you say to a crowd which watches a playground bully, like Mitch McConnell, walk up and start pounding on the fat kid and the crowd says, "Well, the fat kid should have done more" ?

Blame the victim.

Mitch McConnell says right on camera his highest priority is preventing the re election of President Obama. Not jobs. Not repairing the economy. Not protection of the nation from terrorism. Defeat Obama. That's all that matters.

And there's a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives who feel the same way. And there's 51 senators who feel the same way.

So the intransigence of the Congress is a reason to turn Obama out of office.

The last Democratic president, the Republicans impeached for marital infidelity, and the Republicans who led the charge were Newt Gingrich, who even as he inveighed indignantly against this moral reprobate in the White House was carrying on with a woman dozens of years his junior, behind the back of his wife. And Henry Hyde, same thing. He had an affair when he was just Clinton's age, behind his wife's back, but oh, that, he said, was just a "youthful indiscretion." Wink. Wink.

But all this is is just fine.

Is this a great country or what?

Until we get our own heads on straight, how can we hope for a leader who has half a chance of succeeding?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tidy Lies

"There was something bracing about the way he did it--his passion, his humor, his intolerance of stupidity, his preference for leaving an honest mess for others to clean up rather than a tidy lie for them to admire." --Michael Lewis, of Bill James in Moneyball.

This morning I was faced with a Hobbesian choice, which is to say, a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Caught on the treadmill, I had 60 minutes to watch TV programs with men seated in TV studios talking about who is going to win the Super Bowl, or I could watch air head bimbos with great makeup talk about who is going to win the Presidential campaign or I could watch last night's Republican debate in Florida.

I went with Florida--at least there were no commercials, which are often better than the programming, but this morning even the commercials were uninspired, so I had to stick with the debate.

What was fascinating was listening to each of the four horsemen of the apocalypse inveighing on the horrible, and I mean horrible, state our country is in, and they each quoted numbers and statistics so fast it was difficult to keep up with how bogus those numbers really are.

Newt Gingrich is a particularly facile historian. Did you know we entered World War II properly? We declared war on Japan through an act of Congress--the last time we actually did go to war by an act of Congress. Now, that is the proper way to get into a war. It makes the war much more respectable, or something.

Not that Newt disagrees with the wars we waged without an act of Congress--he is all for Vietnam and the Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan, far as I can tell. So are all the other Republicans, save Ron Paul, but he is not really a Republican.

They all know so many things and have the numbers (which I suspect they make up as they go along) to show: 1. The economic morass was caused by Obamacare.--which actually hasn't kicked in yet. 2. The economic morass was caused by the bail out bill or by the Federal Reserve (which is a Democratic Party plot to bankrupt the nation by lending money to welfare queens) and 3. We'll be right as rain just as soon as we stop all government spending and pay down the deficit and balance the budget--but none of this will require the rich paying more taxes; in fact if the rich pay less, the country will recover even more quickly. 4. President Obama's rejecting the pipeline from Canada proves he hates American industry and workers. 5. The tourist industry in Florida would be benefited greatly by more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. 6. Ronald Reagan was the greatest President ever because he fought for free markets and good old capitalism and limited government spending which resulted in the greatest explosion of our national debt and deficit ever seen before or since him.

No, wait, that last part wasn't mentioned. Reagan was a saint. He did all the right things for the economy.

The trouble with the tangled woof of fact is that it is so untidy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Economics 101

As I noted last time, I admit to being untrained in economics, but that does not mean I know less about what drives our economy than professional economists. This is sadly true because of the sad nature of the dismal science, which is all conjecture and bias and precious little science.

The scientific method requires hypothesis, test (experiment), conclusion, reassessment when the next experiment gets done. The economist, whether he is the cluelss Milton Friedman or the more informed Paul Krugman, has to stop after the first step. His version of experiment, testing is, at best, a mathematical model.

Because the model involves math, it intimidates everyone but other economists, so it is often accepted as truth.

But if you want to learn something about the real economy, log on to the New York Times of 1/22/12, Sunday, and read the article "How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work."

The central story here is how Steve Jobs suddenly decided he wanted stratch proof glass screens on his iPhone because he had carried the plastic screen iPhone in his pocket and the screen was scratched by his keys. And he wanted the change NOW. So his minions scurried off to China, where the factory had a dormitory filled with workers who were roused from sleep, given a biscuit and a cup of tea and they started churning out the new phones with the new glass screens overnight and Mr. Jobs had his glass screen iPhone.

This is supposed to demonstrate that: 1/ Chinese workers are more flexible and 2/ Diligent 3/ Skilled and 4/ Dedicated than American workers. Those Chinese workers in that factory will never be displaced by American workers. Steve Jobs loved them. His successors at Apple love them.

But the question you have to ask yourself is, how important was it that iPhone had a new glass screen overnight? If American workers had come in the next Monday, after they'd had a weekend at their kids soccer games, hunting or fishing, and they'd got those glass screens into the iPhones, say a week or two later, how much market share would iPhone and Apple have lost?

Here in Hampton, New Hampshire, I was astonished when I first arrived in 2008, and discovered the laundramat closed down at 3 PM on Saturday, as did the barber shops and many of the stores. It was like when I was a kid in Bethesda, Maryland and everything closed down at 1 PM on Saturday and nothing was open on Sunday, which was God's day, and you were supposed to be in church and not worshiping at the palace of Mammon on Sunday.

But you know, we all managed to plan a little and to get our shopping done and that meant we played ball on Saturday and Sunday rather than shopping. I doubt we bought any less; we just planned our shopping in advance.

I could be wrong.

By the time I left Bethesda, I could have my hair cut at 7 AM, Sunday morning by the Vietnamese barber, but, you know, if he had not been open then, I would have gone in on a Monday.

Anyway, this is all a digression, I understand.

A man I know who got rich making dress shirts for executives told me about the factory he had in Arizona. He lived in Maryland, but his factory was in Arizona and ultimately, he discovered he could make the shirts at a factory in China, pay for the shirts to be shipped back to the USA and he still could get the same quality workmanship and shirt for ninety-seven cents less per shirt and when you're selling hundreds of thousands of shirts to Brooks Brothers every year, that savings becomes significant.
But when you really questionned this guy, in a friendly, non judgmental way, what became evident was what really attracted him was he owed nothing to the workers in China. When he got his shirts from China, he sent the cloth in and out came the shirts and he paid the factory owner and he had no more cares than how to get the shirts back to the USA and sell them.

He did not want to be the father of the people who made the shirts. When he complained about "regulations" in the USA, he was talking about inspections to be sure the factory didn't go up in flames, and negotiations over pensions for the workers, and taxes he paid for the workman's comensation insurance, and taxes he paid for the employer's share of worker's taxes and the money he spent on medical insurance for his workers, which any year could rise enough to wipe out any profit margin.

"I just wanted to get a shirt out of a factory," he said. "I didn't want to adopt 400 children."

For this same reason, American companies now "outsource" or contract out lots of tasks and work to people who have a contract, but are not on their payroll. You do a specific task, and I pay you a set fee and I have no more responsibity to you or for you.

This is a far cry from the man in Georgia who kept his broom factory open, making specialty brooms because he had 30 workers who had worked for him for 30 years and he felt he owed them a job. And it's a far cry from the partner in the real estate development firm who kept the firm open after he and his two partners struck it so rich on a single deal that his two partners promptly retired, but he felt he had to keep the firm open because 12 people depended on him for their jobs. His partners were living the lives of country squires in Hunt Country in Virginia, while he went in to the office every day and worried about health insurance costs for his employees.

The fact is, that sort of paternal feeling of the CEO of the company who feels he owes his workers and his country something is becoming quaint and has been rejected as sentimental.

The company is run for the guys who own it, which, even in a publicly owned company like Apple, means Steve Jobs and a few others, who make hundres of millions while the Chinese factory workers live in dormatories.

Is this right?

Wrong question. That's the way it is, under current law and under current American values.

But it reveals the big lie in what the Republicans have been saying, that it's "Regulations" that is keeping American companies from creating jobs for American workers.

Regulations have nothing to do with it. You can say, well regulations which require factory owners to deal with unions are government regulation, and regulations which require the factory not burn down or poison the workers or the river next to it are regulations and regulations which take the form of taxes are government's heavy lash. But the fact is, American factory owners are willing to bear all that to make cars in America because it's still cheaper than trying to do it in Asia, and when it stops being cheaper, those jobs will vanish.

Fact is, making a product can happen anywhere and with current modes of transport, the other side of the world is just fine--the product is as close to you as your nearest Walmart.

American jobs will have to be done here only for those things where proximity matters.

You can out source the reading of an X ray to a doctor in India--and many if not most hospitals have already done this. You go to the emergency room after a brick has fallen on your head and the CT they do there is read in India, by a radiologist who doesn't even have to be roused from bed. He's already awake because it's 3 PM in India. But the neurologist who examines you, the IV tech who starts your intravenous line, the nurse who gives you your medication, those folks cannot be in India.

What's making American workers lose out to Chinese workers is a lot bigger than any set of government regulations. The Republicans are just looking for a scapegoat which will benefit their own election ambitions, and they've found it in "The Government."

Creating jobs here at home will take more thought than a few clever slogans. We've got to figure out what we can do here that those Chinese workers in the factory dormatories cannot do faster and more cheaply. We'll be happy to have what those Chinese factories can give us, but we have to figure out what they cannot do for us and we can do those jobs here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I was a science major in college, so I never got much beyond the introductory courses in economics.
I did, however, have lots of courses in anthropology, and some in psychology, and I can still read.
I've been reading Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson on economics and politics.

What these authors demonstrate, to my mind convincingly, is the very fact the distribution of wealth has become so extreme is a bad thing.

Those who control wealth or those who think they may one day control wealth will say there is no harm in a small percentage of people getting control of most of the wealth in the country, just as long as the pie keeps getting bigger so the small slice left to the "bottom 80%" is actually only relatively small--it is still so big it keeps that bottom 80% happy.

If the American economy is big enough, the poorest among us are still much richer than people in Africa and South America and most of Asia. The poor still have big color TV's, computers, automobiles, if not houses, then warm and dry apartments, entertainment, vacations and, this argument runs, even our poorest would be considered rich in Africa, Brazil, Asia.

The argument is, don't envy the American rich, their wealth does not make you poorer, or hurt you in any way. In fact, the argument goes, their wealth is good for you.

In fact, what Hacker and Pierson demonstrate is neither of these things are true. As the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer, and in fact not just the poor have got poorer but people who were not poor in the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's have become relatively poorer.

I realize there are all sorts of statistics out there, but this fits my own personal experience. When I lived in a very asymmetric society--Washington, DC, even though I made more money than I do living in New Hampshire I felt poorer, and in fact was poorer in some very measurable ways.
The presence of rich people diminished my life.


I had to compete with a group of much richer people when I went to buy a house. I was barely able to afford a three bedroom house in Washington, a very small three bedroom, with few amenities, because the competition for housing in the WDC area was made intense by rich people who would buy smaller houses, crush them and build McMansions. Gentrification became mansionification.

Money for the rich was simply less valuable than it was for me.

When the small ranch house next door was bought, crushed and a huge McMansion erected, my own house looked like a carriage house, and when I tried to sell, many buyers drove up and passed us buy and many buyers told us they could simply not get around the dwarfing effect of the house next door. Our house, assessed at $850,000 sold for $650,000, in no small part, and in reasonably direct measure, because of the power of the rich guy to diminish the value of what I owned.

The rich simply have the power to bid up prices, to blow away competition.

This is the essence of what Trusts used to do in the days of the robber barons--get control of a market, and ruin their competitors.

Moving to New Hampshire, I find there are rich people here, but not as many, and so my house is much bigger, and I can compete for restaurant meals and other goods and services because there are not enough rich people to out compete me. I feel wealthier, even though I am actually making less money.

People abbreviate this as "a lower cost of living." What that means is, you don't just feel wealthier in a society where incomes are more evenly distributed and there is no heavy weight of rich people tipping the boat over, you are actually safer and more wealthy.

The rich constitute a weight which threatens to capsize the whole boat.

If we taxed the rich at rates which were more prevalent in the 1950's, it's not that we could take what we got from the rich and make individual poor people middle class--those numbers do not add up. But what we could do is make it more difficult for the rich to simply bid up life for the middle class. We could use the money to educate, train and employ the middle class and help more of them to make the leap up to the next level.

The one percent are not irrelevant to the middle class. They are keeping the other 99% down. They may live in walled off, gated communities, but their influence seeps out and contaminates the whole pie.

Money is power and when you allow 1% to have too much power, the whole body politic is poisoned.

That's not the politics of bitter envy. That's simply what happens.

It's not so obvious in rural areas, like New Hampshire, where even poor people have land which makes them feel protected from others around them. It's more obvious to city people, like New Yorkers, who seem the limousines pull up the clubs and restaurants and they see when even 1% of the population wants something, that means you are crowded out. Even more so for living space, and space to recreate. The buildings which line Central Park have no middle class people. Only rich people look out over Park vistas.

We get so accustomed to the idea that, "Well, that is not for people like me," we do not even see any more that things don't have to be that way.

Shoreline property on Lake Winnipesaukee no longer belongs to middle class people, who owned small bungalows. They have all been moved out and displaced by the one percenters. And one of the biggest compounds along the lake belongs to Mitt Romney.

There is no Jones Beach, at Lake Winnipesaukee, no major public beach. The lake has become, for the most part, the property of the rich.

Along the Seacoast, there is public ownership. Hampton has three public beaches, and although private rich homes loom above the beach at Plaice Cove, the beach is open to the hoi polloi.

This is, to put it bluntly, a good thing. But as economic power is ineluctably translated into political power, one can see the movement toward a Lake Winnipesaukee effect may yet, years hence, grip the seacoast.

James Baldwin once observed that slavery harmed not just the enslaved, but it hurt the masters as well. That was a very keen insight. Those who dominate, who have to spend the energy and the malevolent force to dominant others become meaner, unhappier people.

We ought to consider taking the benevolent action of saving the rich and powerful from themselves, by taxing them down to size.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Democrat Nation: Where is Our Don Draper?

Okay, citizens, we need to think.
Republicans have, it must be admitted, outclassed Democrats for years when it comes to selling ideas.
Romney is confronted with the fact he pays only 15% income tax when the average nurse or police officer pays 20%.
"I will not apologize for being successful," he says.
That's a sure fire applause line. Who would want a fellow citizen to apologize for his own, hard won success?
A lot of politics is about saying outrageous things and making them sound reasonable and correct.
So how do we point out the problems with this line?
"It's not your success in making money you should apologize's your unwillingness to allow others to have a chance to be successful."
No, you haven' t shown how his success prevents others from achieving success.
How about, "You mean, you don't have to apologize for bribing the referees?"
That's closer.
Or maybe, "So you refuse to tax billionaires, and you refuse to apologize for that?"
Or, "So, if the game is rigged, the losers are guilty of envy?"
Or, "So, if the casino has rigged the games, the losers are guilty of envy, if they complain?"
I don't know. We need to work on this.
Other things which need to be answered:
The estate tax is the death tax.
Regulations are the government's way of torpedoing our economy. If it weren't for the government, the economy would be going gang busters.
What we need is a Don Draper of our own. We need a bunch of Democrats sitting around a table at a nightclub, a drinking bourbon, thinking up a good ad campaign.
I open the floor to the public. Let me hear from you.
We need some help here in New Hampshire.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Al Sharpton Finds Redemption in Blueberry Pie

Al Sharpton has redeemed himself.

Whatever sins he has committed in the past, however much he has offended by being a blow hard, an exploiter, a self promoter, however much you may have disliked him in the past, go on line and find his "Blueberry Pie," commercial.
Finally, a Democrat who can actually communicate.
He tells the tale of kids being caught with blueberry pie all over their faces and proclaiming their innocence to their indignant mother, who cooked the pie. "Oh, no, it wasn't us!"
You have to see it for yourself. If I were smarter, I'd figure out how to do a link to it.
But it's just right--to pick up the pie motif. The American pie, which the Republicans and their rich patrons have eaten and they claim they had nothing to do with the way the pie got consumed.

Oh, wait, I may have done it. Try clicking on this link:

Every Democrat should be wearing a T shirt or a sweat shirt with the Republican Pie chart (see above) to keep that image in the eyes of every citizen, red and blue.

It is, as Mitt Romney would say, the politics of bitter envy. And it works for us.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dead Seals and the Feds

This is not a dead seal, although there is a resemblance. This lab is alive.

Someone from the Gulf coast emailed me about my post about the dead seals who were washing up on the Hampton beaches last summer and fall.
The answer is, no there have been no more dead seals.
The federal government picked up each and every one, along with dead birds, and did autopsies which revealed influenza.
The implication was this particular virus had made the leap from gulls to seals, but that was never confirmed.
I cannot resist pointing out how effective and efficient and all around helpful our federal government has been in addressing this distressing event.
Of course, nobody in Hampton or along the seacoast said anything like, "Gee, I'm glad those federal workers were there."
It's not like when Superman swoops in and sets down the little girl, all safe and sound, and everyone beams and shouts, "Gee, thanks, Superman!"
The feds were just doing their jobs and nobody said, "Good old NOAA," or "Thanks."
They just expected this work would be done by someone and would have complained if those seals had been left to rot.
Live Free or Die.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winner Takes All Politics (and Economics)

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written a book, Winner Take All Politics, about numbers and politics and economics.
What they discovered was that since the Bush tax cuts, which were sold as tax cuts for all, each of the wealthiest 400 families got $49 million extra dollars, whereas the middle class taxpayer got $600 the first year, and little since.

I think I have those numbers right. There are a lot of numbers.

What they describe, setting the numbers aside, is following World War II, the great bulk of the population got richer, with a huge jump in the percentage of college educated (owing to the federally funded GI bill) and a broad middle class emerged.

What has happened since the Bush tax cuts is the country has moved closer to Mexico and Brazil, where a very small number of very wealthy people are shuttled back and forth between safe havens, gated communities, while the 99% get their houses repossessed, or move back in with their parents.

Some of this was explained as happening as a result of technology and economic forces like the globalization of the economy, but as their work shows, what really drove this gobbling up of all the goodies by the one percent was government rules, laws, policy. The Congress and the Republican Presidents were in the pockets of the very rich and they made sure the very rich got everything they had paid for.

My coworkers at my office tell me they don't care how rich the rich get, as long as the pie keeps getting bigger and there's enough pie for them.

I don't think the American pie can ever get that big.

We are re capitulating history. Silent Cal Coolidge, Herbert Hoover had for their Secretary of the Treasury one of the country's richest men: Andrew Mellon. He pushed through the Mellon plan, which made fortunes for the richest and pushed the nation into the great Depression.

So here we go again.

It's a free country. People like Hacker and Pierson can tell the truth, can organize it, write about it, but other people, like Rush Limbaugh and Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney are free to drown out the truth speakers.

And in a nation where money is speech--well, we get what we pay for.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Okay, Okay, I admit it. I am only minimally conversant with 21st century social networking, interneting and blogging.

Invoking the image of speaking to nobody at Hyde Park Speaker's corner, I closed this blog in November.

I had no reason to believe this was an action anyone noted.

But, suffering from a congenital syndrome of verbal incontinence, I let loose two subsequent screeds, and, mysteriously, I got emails saying, "Glad you are back." Multiple emails. Some from, Australia. (Go figure.)

There is probably a way of knowing how many people actually click on and read this blog, but I have never figured it out. All I know is despite the lack of "members" or comments, apparently, the number is not zero.

This sounds like a scene from "Contact." Even one contact can sometimes make a difference.

Reminds me of the famous story of the comic who wrote Groucho Marx letters, daily, for years. Never a reply. Eventually, he became a fairly successful comic--Buddy Hackett. One day he sees Groucho in a restaurant and summons up the nerve to go over to his table and blurts, out: "Mr. Marx. I'm a huge fan. I've learned so much from you. My name is Buddy Hackett."

Groucho looks at him for a moment and says, "So why'd you stop writing?"

Any way, I will keep postings short. One thing which I learned during my vow of silence is, there really is no shortage of political commentary and one voice is never missed from the chorus. There are some, like Stephen Colbert, who are really different and inventive. I'm not in that elite stratum. But U.S. Grant did some valuable things, not through brilliance but with persistence. I can aspire to that.

Today's simply is to suggest a modest proposal: Let's spend a little cash to print flags, T-shirts and hats with the American Pie graph shown above. Let us make it our T Party reply.

We will have to think about the label: Republican Pie. Or maybe, American Pie, Republican Division Technique. Or maybe, Republican Pie, Divide and Conquer. Or, Republicans: Let Them Eat Pie.

That's the first contest. Suggestions will be accepted.

The next is what to name the Splinter faction; Democrat 99 percenters. Or, American Pie Party. Or, Bong Hits for Billionaires. Just a few to get you thinking.

Mr. Romney calls this the politics of envy.

I call it class defense. His class has been torpedoes and full steam ahead, sink the rest of us.

The rich accused FDR of class warfare. It always is class warfare when you want to tax the rich, or change the rules so they do not automatically win.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

For the Video Conference

I know I promised to keep my mouth shut.

I did this because I accepted, in the marketplace of ideas there are winners and losers, and like any businessman, when I saw there were no customers for what I had to say, I accepted the verdict of the marketplace, I spoke, and no body responded, so I shut up.

But I have now been invited to join a TV link to Vice President Biden, with a group of Hampton Democrats to talk about the upcoming election and our local efforts to help re elect President Obama.

I’ve been to things like this before and I realize, even if the camera is on you for ten seconds, it’s a pretty unsatisfying opportunity.

So, I will use this space to be there, in spirit.

With that pre amble, here’s what I’d like to tell Vice President Biden on January 10, 2012:

Mr. Vice President, you are asking local Democrats to work hard for the re election of President Obama, which we would be willing and eager to do.

But, and here’s the big “But,” I for one am tired of doing the heavy lifting when I do not see that effort matched from President Obama.

Why should we, at the local effort, work harder for his re election than he is?

For three years now, I have been talking to my neighbors here in Hampton, saying the tough, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes offensive, sometimes combative things which need to be said in response to the Republicans and for most of those 3 years there has been nothing similar coming from President Obama, who has remained “above the fray” (a kind way of putting it) or afraid to throw a punch, presumably out of fear of looking partisan.

Ronald Reagan was not afraid of throwing a punch. The Republicans of this era from top down throw punches. Mitt Romney says President Obama is leading class warfare, trying to replace the American work ethic of ambition with a socialist ethic of envy. And that is the kindest remark coming from their would be presidents.

The spokesmen for the Democrats are an embarrassment. Every night on TV we see that Casper Milquetoast with his wispy voice and his hunched posture, the eternal apologist, Harry Reid fulfilling the Republicans’ image of the typical Democrat: an effete wuss who has no backbone, no conviction and no fight and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner eat him and the rest of the Democrats alive—they eat Democrats not because they make more sense but because they sound as if they believe what they are saying and they always have a marketing phrase to throw out there: Estate taxes become death taxes; end of life planning become death panels; government insurance programs, which citizens have paid into for years become “entitlements,” as if you are somehow not really entitled to the benefits you have contracted and paid for.

I give my neighbors a few deep thoughts, but if they do not hear this from President Obama himself, they tend to not give it much credibility.

So here’s what I would like to hear President Obama say, himself, not through you or through surrogates:

  1. I agree with the Republicans government is not the solution; it is the problem. This is true whenever the Republicans have any part in government, on any level. The Republican party is a poison pill for government. They don’t believe any good can come from government. That’s why they all jumped on board when Republican Paul Ryan put forward a bill to convert Medicare from a paid for insurance program into Coupon Care. And all the Republicans voted for this killing of Medicare, trying to kill Medicare under the pretense they were voting to save it. This is the height of dishonesty. This is the typical Republican tactic: Do something that hurts the people and call it good medicine. Try to fool all the people at least some of the time.

  1. I am less afraid of Big government than I am afraid of Bad government: And it is bad government the Republicans want to give us, when they are willing to give us any government at all. Medicare is Big government. I make no apologies for Medicare. I want to improve it. It can be frustrating. But the Republicans want to kill it. The Republicans see Medicare as a yellow lab with a big appetite, and rather than put it on a diet, they just say “Let’s kill it.”

  1. Social Security is Big Government. It’s something people pay into. It’s true, people have no choice. The government makes them plan for their own future in this case, because we have learned something about human nature, which is people tend to solve the problems and pay the bills right in front of them and they tend to not plan for the future unless you make them. We learned that during the Great Depression and we decided to set up a system to save people from homelessness and starvation called Social Security and it’s worked well. The Republicans have tried to kill Social Security. They say they just want citizens to have more choices, to be able to do better and make more money than what Social Security can provide. They want to shunt all those dollars to their rich friends on Wall Street. They look at all that money and they say, we want that money for our Wall Street contributors, the people who have bought and paid for the Republican congress. Can you imagine what would have happened to your retirement if it depended on the stock market? You don’t have to imagine that now. The whole idea of Social Security is it is secure. No matter what happens to the stock market, you have this safety net. May not be as much as you might have if you took that money and went to Las Vegas and gambled it, but at least you know it’s there.

  1. The Republican party is now a hard right to life party. Most of its candidates are now saying they would not allow a woman whose pregnancy occurred from rape to have an abortion. They would not allow a woman whose blood pressure is rising, whose kidneys are failing to have an abortion to save her life, even if the chances are both she and her fetus would die together. I am not for infanticide. I do not know anyone who really is “for” abortion. Pro choice people are not happy about abortion. It’s always a sad choice. But, sometimes when you have two bad choices, you have to make a choice. Ethics is about line drawing. To my mind, and I think most of my fellow citizens are with me, there is a difference between that potential life which is eight cells and a human being. I agree that a 28 week fetus is close enough to life, I would not intervene. Then you are faced with a different choice, but we cannot give the same rights to an eight cell conceptus we give to a 28 week old fetus. We have to have the courage to make hard choices. Mr. Paul is very consistent about this. He says life begins at conception, at the two cell stage. But if you believe that, then you will eliminate birth control pills, IUD’s, and virtually every form of contraception except the less reliable barrier methods. Absolutists can always be consistent, but they are often wrong.

5. I am not a socialist. Nor am I a “crony capitalist.,” as Mr. Romney has said.

Of course, if I suggest government has a role in health insurance, I’m a socialist to some people. If I suggest we need to step in and prevent a 1929 stock market crash, if I suggest we need to invest in solar energy, as other governments do, even as China does, then I’m a “crony capitalist.”

I was not born in Kenya, or in Indonesia or on Mars. Of course, like most people, except perhaps, Rick Santorum, I cannot actually remember the day of my birth or know exactly where it happened. But I was told by a reliable source, my mother, it was Hawaii. Last time I heard, Hawaii is as much a state as Alaska. And yet, the same people who want to believe I am an alien, would love to vote, and did vote for an Alaskan.

6.The Republican party is and has been for the past 3 years living in a state of delusion and fantasy. They would rather hallucinate than see the real world. They would rather repeat history than study it. The ghosts of 1929 do not visit the Republican party because the Republicans willfully refuse to see that a government which does nothing is the problem, not part of the problem but the larger part of the problem. Mr. Paul would have us do nothing with our military. I share his concern about putting American citizens to war. But we fought Hitler and we should have done that. There are times we have to defend ourselves. Mr. Paul would not have killed Osama Bin Laden. Mr. Romney would have put that task out to bid, maybe awarded the contract to Hallburton. But I used the power of the federal government to strike a blow to protect the American people, to protect the American people. I was well aware when President Carter failed in his attempt at a secret mission, he paid for that with his job. But I was willing to take the risk. Republicans are always saying the rich are rich because they are risk takers. What risk does a man who grows up rich take in life? He fails and he’s not homeless. He’s got a house on a lake, another in town and condo somewhere else. Well, I took a real risk and I did it because I was trying to protect my country.

7. The Republican party says Democrats have no guts. But people often accuse others of the failings they perceive in themselves. The Republicans, I imagine, want good health care for the nation. But they are afraid to take the steps which would make healthcare a calling and a public utility rather than a commercial enterprise. So they refused to allow a government option which would have introduced true competition into the medical marketplace—they were afraid of that—and now they are trying to kill even the watered down compromise affordable healthcare act., which they call “Obamacare.” They use that name as a pejorative. Well, I welcome that. Better Obamacare than Nomorecare or Coupon Care.

8. We have a choice between the Democratic Party which will give you some government, government where it’s needed, and the Republican Party, which would kill government. The Republican Party wants to live in a world of their imaging rather than the world which actually exists. The logical extension of the philosophy of Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum would be life off the grid, where no man cooperates with his neighbor but simply builds a fence. The world of Mr. Romney is the world of businessmen on the top, the one percents, distributing cake crumbs to the bottom 99% and the world of Mr. Gingrich, well that’s a moveable feast. I cannot keep up with Mr. Gingrich’s visions, they are too fluid.

This November, the American people will have to make a choice. I hope they choose wisely.

But know one thing, there is no point at all in voting for me in November if you return Republicans to Congress. That would be nothing more than what we’ve had for the past two years. A Congress which invests a debt crisis rather than facing the real problems of this country.

And we need enough Democrats in Congress to be able to push past the George W. Bush Supreme Court, which, in it’s arch conservatism, has transformed free speech into nothing more than a commodity with it’s bizarre Citizen’s United decision. They may very well thwart the will of Congress, weak as it was, by over turning Obamacare. We need enough Democrats in Congress and in the state legislatures to deal with this third, increasingly deranged branch of government.

I have nothing to offer you but action, trial and toil. I can only echo Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom as my guiding principle: We had better all hang together, or surely, we will all hang separately.