The Serious Men and Their Serious Plans


Sculpture of serious men talking in Tübingen, Germany

Step aside, the serious people are going to take the country back. The word serious is the “it” word of the year.  A global scold to all of us who have made America not serious by imposing such things as healthcare, affordable housing, environmental protection, public education, public health, public transportation and the most unserious thing: care of the disabled and elderly.  The Republicans and the pundits are telling us, Ryan, being the leading serious guy, are going to impose the Daddy state and bring back austerity.  Get rid of all the frivolity we have been toying with, we have to be serious.  Daddy is coming home and boy are you all gonna get it.

Who is not serious?  Easy.  Women for one, they are not serious.  No, they need to be put back in their place, in that corner of being poor, uneducated and not allowed to make serious choices.   Children are not serious.  This is why we cut off their education so that we can control them.  Old people, well, they are the least serious, why they serve no serious purpose at all.   Government is not serious at all, business is serious according to the thinking.  Serious people tend to be male and white if you pay attention.

The Ryan budget proposal offers to disband and cut off the social contract that has kept Americans from sliding into Dickensian poverty.   A poverty that is cruel, harsh and unjust.  A poverty that cuts off power from all those with no wealth and amasses all the power of the state to those who control wealth.  I am not talking income from work, I am talking wealth.  To have a job and manage to pay your living expenses, is not wealth.  You are at the mercy of the wealthy.  You are powerless.  This is what serious people, Daddies impose authority and punish.  Our white Daddies are back and they are gonna put this house they ransacked in their free marketeering debauchery, back in line.  More debauchery for them, more austerity for the rest of us.

We hear of “serious and bold” budget cutting measures, yet if you look at these measures they are pure unabashed backward slide into the dark age.  The age where families had to cobble together a safety net.  The common theme is that let the grown ups, the men in authority handle this.  You who speak of safety nets, social programs and such, step aside.  This is the time for grownups.  They called it the “Nanny and Mommy State”, now we have the Daddies like Paul Ryan, coming back to make us all behave in the name of austerity, sanity and fiscal responsibility in their way.

The assumption is that we of “the safety nets”, human rights and cultural left broke down the system .   Now they say we must turn back the clock to the time where our daddies and grand daddies took care of things and we submitted to their authority.   In truth, the daddies never stopped being in charge, but this is another post.  We got a few bits here and there, but still, we never got an Equal Rights amendment.  We never got a law that protects our choices.  We never got equal pay.  Affordable healthcare is still a glimmer in our eyes.  But, nonetheless, it’s grandmas fault with her demands.

The media of course falls into the narrative of the “serious and the bold”  poster boy, Paul Ryan.  As if the senior citizens, the poor men and women, the children created and took the train of Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” over the cliff.  Any talk of empathy, compassion and caring for the poor is seen is childish, wasteful and irrational.  If you want serious, look at the Banking industry and their serious lending practices that eviscerated  the real estate market, now that is some serious and bold stuff.  The serious Financial Industry fathers, need their millions, teachers not being serious do not need a living wage,or a pension.

You see, caring for the disabled Iraq war veteran when he returns home is not serious, leading the nation into a war and imposing and occupation is serious.  Feeding the hungry and educating children is not serious, conducting an economic Armageddon that robs people of their meager wealth, is serious.  Protecting the environment and protecting women’s choices not serious,  subsidies to oil companies and cutting off Planned Parenthood serious.  Do you see the pattern?

In truth, there is nothing serious in the Ryan calculations, his economic/social policy is based on the Libertarian Heritage Foundation world view.  Faith based economics with no empirical basis.  No, I will not spend time arguing with people who have no proof that their trickle down, cut taxes, starve the beast dunderheadism has ever worked, or will ever work.  I look at the real consequences of their policies:  Hunger, homelessness, sickness, unemployment, war and oppression.  I guess these are not serious issues to be talking about.  We need to invoke a mediocre white male, Ryan, as the one to bring us back to our senses.

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In Desperate Times, Remember to Laugh and Sing.


I was out of the country for the week of the “shutting down the government”  fandango.  Times feel desperate and the people in charge do not appear to be capable.

The safety net is unraveling and some millionaires show common sense.  When Warren Buffet says:

But, what the fuck, listen to this song.

I still want to “unfuck it up”, but for a few days, I can just be gloomy.  Thank you Katie Goodman.

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The Loneliness of An American Lefty


As an American citizen with left leaning politics I am trapped in a small box.  I have no real political choices.  I have no chance.  Between the American Taliban and the pragmatists, we have shut down the voice of a legitimate American left. Yes, we still have Bernie Sanders, but where are the other voices?  Buried down in the layers of the noise machine.  The 200 Tea Partyers get first page New York Times coverage and the thousands who fight to protect the safety net, get little notice.

  • I can vote for a Neo-Liberal free market centrist, Barack Obama;
  • Not vote; or
  • Vote for a marginal third party, or an independent candidate who emerges.

In truth, these are not choices.   In a Parliamentary system, I would be a member of a party that mirrored my political leanings.  I would vote along my party line and the winner, would have to probably enter a coalition with my party, the lefty party of my choice.  In the American political system, I am held captive.  I could choose a Green Party, or a Socialist Party  in German,  Greece, Italy, or France.  Cripes, Egypt will have more political parties in this election round.  In the end, yes the muddy middle wins and Neo-libearal (corporatist) economics prevail.

Vote for the Democratic candidate, or the American Taliban will be elected.  Your rights, actually your daughter’s rights at this time in life, the social safety net, the environmental policies, the human rights, in sum all your core values will be abolished by the fanatics.  So, unless I capitulate to the corporatist Neo Liberal economic policies and centrist social policies, of the incumbent, I will have to shoulder the responsibility  for the catastrophe. People still blame the Nader voters in 2000 for the Gore loss.  How democratic of you.

The political blackmail barrage will start:

  • It’s about the supreme court.
  • Save Social Security.
  • The last drips and drabs of environmental policy.

In truth, I will get a mediocre Supreme Court, Obama will most likely overhaul Social Security to satisfy the big donors that will help him raise the 1 Billion, all the money will be spent to woo the “Independent” voters, the great bipolar middle, the right will get a chunk of Congress, and the left, will still be on the sidelines diddling with lofty notions of “reason”, “pragmatism”,  “the excellent is the enemy of the good”, drone, drone and drone.

The left, by throwing its early support behind Obama, gave him a tremendous win.  In the process, it failed to create a left base, or voice.  In that respect, the right-wing, from the margins, was somehow better at patching together a voice via the Tea Party.  We can laugh all we want, but they got their distorted populist message out and ours, the real populist message, languished on the inter webs in meek voices.

Representative Democracies need multiple viable political parties.  This two-party system is killing our democracy.  It is merging all the voices into the status quo.  Without parties that offer real political agendas, we get this mish-mash of delirium and confusion.  Meanwhile, the guys who fund all the candidates, the corporatist, get all the access.

Workers have power via unions.  Voters have power via parties, voter blocks.  We, of the American left, were put in the dunce corner and told to be good citizens.  Our pragmatism and reason limits us to the role of saps.

Let me introduce myself:  I am Stella, an American lefty.  I could never be a card carrying lefty.  I always have to apologize and compromise.  Just once, let me vote my politics.

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Austerity Double Standard


Greece was bad.  Consecutive Greek governments spent way beyond their means, we are told.  Greece was scolded and put in the corner by the prudent and thrifty leadership of the EU.   It was the public employees, yes.  It was the graft, yes.  It was the corruption, yes.  It was the culture, maybe.  It was that they are not as wise as the Europeans, define wisdom.  The list is endless.

One area that stayed under the radar was the military spending.  Here is a sweet little picture of the Greek military spending:

Greece’s serious financial troubles are going to affect their military spending. The highest in the European Union and second in NATO only to the United States, the Greeks spend 2.8% of their GDP on defense, compared to an average 1.7% in the other European NATO countries. Defense personnel account for 2.9% of the active population against an average 1.1% in other NATO member states.

One little graph from the Economist jumped at me today.  It seems the scolders were right at the table gorging with the guilty Greeks.  Look, Greece is Germany‘s number one customer.  France‘s number three.  Now that we put Greece on an austerity program, reigned in the pensioners, the universities, the hospitals and the sick, maybe we should see how the superior elders of the EU add to the problem.  Just maybe.

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“Personhood”, the Reframing Of Pro-Life


Regroup and rename. It’s simple. The strategy of fighting the Roe vs. Wade was not going to happen via the courts. The anti-abortion foes have taken the battle to the states and the state legislatures.

In their own words, you can see how they see the battle shaping:

  • Personhood Net: Pro-Life and Pro-Human Policy for the 21st Century.  They list their accomplishments, the initiatives in the various states.  Of course they use the issues such as eugenics, rights of the disabled etc, to conflate the real agenda.  Repealing women’s choice.
  • Personhood USA, is the other site that lists and encourages the support for the initiatives in the various state.

The initiatives are on a wide national scope.  Only simpletons would think this is anything else but taking away women’s rights.  They will keep trying, they will fail at times, but they will keep pushing.  A particularly egrigious South Dakota bill, was shelved for later consideration.

Coming to a legislature near you.  Be aware and be prepared.

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Question Austerity


As our heads spin  from the upside down economic actions of our governments,  Mark Blyth a professor of International Political Economy at Brown University and faculty fellow at its Watson Institute for International Studies, explains in the video below the idiocy of the Global Austerity strategy. He is writing “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea,” forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2011, I cannot wait.

By the way, thanks to the taxpayers of Wisconsin, I got to hear him speak about this on To The Best of Our Knowledge, where you can find the best thinkers of our time and get all the tips on what to read next.

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Beware of Industry Experts


Our experts are failing us. In three global realms experts convinced us that things are under control. That they know better than us. They have the mathematical models, the scientific know how, the insider track, the intelligence. In all three areas they told us the outliers are not possible.  We were repeatedly told:  “We have modeled and planned for the possible outcomes and we got it under control“.  “Listen to us” , they told us,” we have studied and we have planned for the best outcomes“.

The first example is our global financial calamity. The experts, the financiers and bankers told us they hired all the mathematicians and physicists to model the possibilities. The formulas and the new liberal financial markets, will protect us from busts and keep us on a trajectory of booms.

Yet, my instincts, my experience was telling me the following:

  • American household incomes did not rise since 1978.
  • Household debt was on the rise.
  • All on the idea that property values would continue an upward trajectory.

For example, in Richmond, California a friend bought a house for $550, 000, no cash down. The story was that prices would rise and she could then have equity. I turned a few shades of green and red when she told me that she put herself into this mess. My instincts, and experience in housing told me that for each $100,000 of debt, a household will make payments in the range of $800 to $1,000 per month for debt, taxes and insurance. It’s a simple calculus that I gained from twenty plus years of designing affordable housing programs. At $550,000, she would need to pay out, just for housing, something in the range of $4,400 to $5,500 per month. Remember, these were variable rates, so you calculate for the highest possible interest.

So, my dear friend would need to be able to have a minimum of $52,800 per year to make her payments. Now, this does not include food, health insurance, car payments, repairs, entertainment, savings etc. In the old days, banks would say a family was safe if they spent in the range of 25% to 35% of their income towards housing costs.  Well that went out the window with the promise of ever rising values. Let’s be conservative and say that for a time, families can have a housing payment of 50% of their income. So, she would need an income of over $100,000 per year. The median income in Richmond is somewhere below $50,000. Meaning, at that price, hardly anyone in Richmond could afford a house at $550,000. The expectation that somehow the values would rise and there would be a market in the future, was basically a scam.  For the scam to have worked, incomes in Richmond would have to take a remarkable up turn.

At that rate, the population in Richmond would have to have a rise in incomes that was no possible under any of the economic realities of our time.  The financial experts never bothered to do this one simple calculation: Can people who live in that city where we make loans, buy these over leveraged houses in the future, or even now? Of course, the mathematical calculations told them it was a slam dunk.

Our second set of failed experts were the foreign policy experts and middle east experts.  For decades they collectively droned on and on about what happened in Egypt and Tunisia was not possible. People in those nations were passive; They told us “Arabs like the tyrants because they are stuck somewhere in the crusades, they are so far behind the rest of the world. Time has passed them by and they need to be tortured and oppressed because they will just want to take back the world and impose Islam.”

The story line was convenient and convenience is lazy. No one bothered to listen to the voices of Arabs from the various nations, they made up a story and kept telling it to each other. No one bothered to read. No one bothered to follow the demonstrations in Egypt for the last five years at least, or wonder, who is in the prisons. The same batch of recycled ex officials from Europe and the US perpetuated the narrative. When Edward Said accused the west of being Orientalist, meaning they made up a racist story and stuck to it, he was accused of being a radical and anti-Semite. It was in front of them, but first you did not think it within the capability of the Arab people to desire, demand and demonstrate for the human rights they deserve. The democracy that we purport to support with all the sub clauses that are tainted with racist and colonial overtones as to why we don’t think certain people can manage such rights.  You see, the underlying racist assumptions drowned the experts in the echo chamber of foreign policy talk.

Time after time, in nations where they convinced themselves that people were stuck in the crusades, people of all walks of life proved them wrong. All that the experts had to do is get out of their echo chambers.  All you have to do, is be curious.  Talk to some people.  Read their writings.  Go beyond the bubble of our own experts who are paid to project our self interests.

Finally, we have the nuclear experts and the offshore drilling experts. Look, they told us, these systems are safe. Your doomsday scenarios are just naive and sensationalist. In less than twelve months, the worst case scenarios happened in the Gulf of Mexico and in Japan. Two major industries are proving to us that when the worst happens–that small catastrophic possibility occurs– they are not equipped to manage the disaster. They really did not plan for the worst case.  When the catastrophe happens, they tell us to not panic, that it’s not the time to panic.

They pat, pat us on our heads and tell us not to worry our pretty heads, they are the industry scientists, the experts. They hold the wisdom and the tools for our safety. In truth, we have abdicated our welfare to a bunch of corporate, self serving interests. Sure, we close our eyes because we get a flow of electricity and energy that courses through our veins, so we nod and wink and buy the comfort that Daddy will take care of us.

Next time someone tells you ” I am an expert, let me do the worrying, I have it under control” run. Run fast. Run and engage your instincts, your critical thinking and your advantage of being outside whatever echo chamber of experts is patronizing you.   To rift on the Reagan right wing quote, if you hear ” I am an industry expert and I have come to help”, shut the doors, take cover and hide your wallet.  “We don’t understand the world as well as we think we do and tend to be fooled by false patterns, mistake luck for skills (the fooled by randomness effect), overestimate knowledge about rare events (Black Swans), as well as human understanding, something that has been getting worse with the increase in complexity”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

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