Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Democrats' Support of PAYGO is Unwise—in Fact, Dumb

PAYGO (PAY As You Go), enshrined into Federal law[1] is an erroneous and dangerous economic doctrine that has created much mischief over the past twenty-or-so years. It has made fools of the Democrats in Congress, who have treated it as a fiscal straitjacket, while the Republicans have ignored it when in power. The huge tax cut benefitting the top 1%, especially the top 0.1%, was a typical slap in the face to the Democrats, as well as the bottom 90%.

Tax cuts for the wealthy seldom turn the wheels of industry, which should create demand for skilled (or even unskilled) labor, because it is usually invested in stocks, bonds, and land. Some if it may trickle down to the lower 90%, but most of it ends up again in the hands of the upper 1%. Billionaires have little incentive to either consume more that they are already consuming or to invest in capital goods[2], like factories.

There’s a good economic argument that buying stock has nothing to do with investment, but is more like saving.

The lower 90%, and especially the lower 50% usually spend all their earnings on consumption, and spend tax cuts the same way, contributing to demand. There are several recent articles that elaborate on this theme. I strongly recommend them:

  1. Josh Bivins: The bad economics of PAYGO swamp any strategic gain from adopting it. 12/18/2018  ↩

  2. In economic parlance, the phrase “capital goods” means goods that are used to produce goods, including consumer goods and other capital goods. Examples of capital goods are, blast furnaces, metal stamping equipment, looms, woodworking tools, and microprocessor factories. Examples of consumer goods are: ice cream, autos, clothes, home computers, shingles, groceries, and goldfish.  ↩

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Robots are Not Coming

A recent article in Gizmodo, 'Robots' Are Not 'Coming for Your Job'—Management Is, explains how big business is framing the replacement of human workers by robots and other algorithmic systems to make it sound as though it’s the robots’ fault.

As the writer, Brian Merchant, points out, robots are not coming for anything. Robots are not searching online job sites intending to apply for jobs traditionally held by humans. It is management, pressured by stockholders, creditors, and competitors, that is trying to reduce expenses by replacing workers with automation. The purpose of framing the change as the work of robots, is, in Merchant’s words, to “mask the agency behind the decision to automate jobs.”

The article is worth reading. It’s good to be mindful of how framing can surreptitiously manipulate our perception of what would otherwise be straightforward but awkward facts. Unless you deliberately make yourself consciously aware that framing in going on, you will never notice it. For an explanation of the use of framing in politics, read Don’t Think of An Elephant1 and The Political Mind2 by George Lakoff. These works are written from a progressive standpoint, but like the works of Saul Alinsky, they apply to all sides of political controversies.

  1. 2004, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT  ↩

  2. 2008, Viking, NYC, NY  ↩

Friday, April 12, 2019

Assange Arrested

Editorial Preview

Julian Assange has been expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and arrested by Scotland Yard. . The US Justice Department has unsealed an indictment against Assange and requested extradition. The link above is an interview with Daniel Ellsberg on the situation.

Ellsberg, you will recall, turned over some highly classified documents involving the war in Vietnam to the New York Times, which documents were subsequently published as the Pentagon Papers. He was indicted under the Epionage Act, but the charges were dropped because of the illegal methods the government used to gather evidence against him (like breaking into his psychiatrist`s office).

He was prosecuted for telling the truth.

My thought: Empires do not forgive truth-telling, particularly if the truth is embarrassing. The penalties can be anything from imprisonment to crucifixion.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Get ready for the problems of migration to worsen

The president and just about all the members of his administration believe in walls but not in climate change, a guarantee of disaster.

Alternet/William DeBuys/Tom Dispatch

Thursday, March 7, 2019

When Will Trump Go?

For at least a year, columnists, pundits, and prognosticators have been predicting that Trump will be gone any minute now. They have been bombarding us with phrases like “the wheels are coming off ”, “the twilight of the Trump presidency”, “impeachable offense”, but nothing happens.

Fact: He’s still here, even though every single one of his predecessors would have already resigned by now. But times are different. Really different. Congress is controlled by Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, and will stick by Trump, no matter what he does. And it’s difficult, as history shows, to impeach a president.

My prediction: Trump will finish out his term but will not be reelected. There is one caviat, however: If the Democrats choose a neoliberal establishment candidate, for example, Joe Biden, all bets are off. His subservience to Wall Street will sink his ship just as sure as HRC`s speaking fees from Goldman Sachs sank her candidacy 4 years ago. The same goes for most of the other Democratic hopefuls.

The DNC is still run by the same neoliberal establishment that has performed so dismally over the last 40 years. They will stop at nothing to keep their gravy train uninterrupted. Thus they must ensure that an establishment candidate becomes the Democratic nominee.

The fight between the progressives and the DNC will be nasty. I should be stocking up on popcorn to watch the show, but I don’t think I‘ll have the appetite.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Metrocenter - December, 2018

Anyone who has grown up in Jackson will remember the procession of shopping malls that have graced our city, each one being put out of business by the next, more illustrious, mall: Jackson Mall, Metrocenter, Northpark, and Renaissance Center, the latest, located in Madison off I–55.
This evening, I came across a 28-minute YouTube video which recorded for posterity the last Christmas at Metrocenter. Made by Salvatore Amader as part of a series, it is a nostalgic trip into the past where old-timers (I’m talking about us, guys) can reconstruct their fond memories of what Metro was like in the seventies and eighties.

I was surprised that the mall was even open, but a portion of it still had businesses that were open. The owners of the mall had put up Christmas decorations, knowing that everything would close down by February. Today there are city offices in some of the mall and one large anchor store, but Metro, as we knew it, is gone.

Watch the video by clicking this link: Metrocenter Mall - Jackson, Mississippi | spectre of Christmas past

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Venezuela in the Crosshairs

When a weak country determines to choose its own future, it usually finds that a larger and more powerful neighbor has other ideas.

Like Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez, a former military officer, won the presidency of Venezuela in 1999, brought a new Bolivarian[1] constitution into being, and took control of PDVSA, the Venezuelan national oil company, using its profits for the benefit of the poor, instead of stuffing them into the bank accounts of the elite. For these outrageous acts Chavez’s Bolivarian party immediately became a target of the power elite in both Venezuela and the United States.

Since Chavez assumed office, four successive US administrations have repeatedly attempted to overthrow his government. The first attempt was in 2002, when the US supported a coup by the kleptocracy that ruled Venezuela before Chavez was elected. A massive uprising of the people defeated the coup and restored Chavez to power. After a number of years spent undermining the Bolivarian government headed by Chavez and then by Nicolas Maduro, the US is now supporting a slow-motion coup that is weakening Maduro’s government and tearing apart Venezuela. A precipitous drop in world oil prices, exacerbated by cruel economic sanctions imposed by the United States has decimated the economy. Like Chile in 1973, the ground is being laid.[2]

The speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido, has recently declared himself President. The US government, together with the sycophants making up its worldwide empire, has recognized this unelected, self-proclaimed pretender as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The inconvenient fact, that Maduro became president by winning a majority of votes in a fair election, is irrelevant.

While Maduro’s government still holds power, it relies upon 1) the poor who have been the chief beneficiaries of the Bolivarian government, 2) the army, and 3) the other security forces that still support Maduro. The US, along with the heads of neighboring governments, are even now enticing the ranking officers of the Venezuelan army to switch their allegiance to the pretender. If they succeed, Venezuelans can look forward to years of brutal, authoritarian, right-wing government, much like the one that ruled Venezuela before Chavez.

If you want to see who is causing the rioting, destruction, and violent demonstrations in the cities of Venezuela, examine carefully the complexion of the rioters pictured in the media. Members of the upper class in Venezuela are of European origin and are therefore light-skinned, whereas the poor are the descendants of indigenous Indians and former slaves, all of whom have dark skin.

Draw your own conclusions.

The upper crust, backed by the army and paramilitaries, has historically monopolized the vast resources of the nation for itself, while the indigenous population has suffered grinding poverty. The elite hated Chavez when he was in office. Now they hate Maduro because neither Chavez nor Maduro were one of them.

The US media is closing ranks by refusing to publish news or opinion contradicting the official narrative. It portrays the kleptocratic class not as former oppressors, but as victims of the Chavistas, especially Maduro and his government. They report demonstrations, often violent, as the work of Maduro and his supporters. They demonize Maduro and his government as vicious authoritarians. They label the Bolivarian democracy established by Chavez as communist, socialist, dictatorial, inept, destructive, or by any other label they can use to defame the current, legimately elected, government. While not yet hanging by a thread, Maduro is being forced to deal with a slow-motion coup. A large segment of the population still suports Maduro, however, and would likely resist in the event of a coup or a US invasion.

Over the last few days, Twitter and Facebook have blocked thousands of accounts that support the Bolivarian government, justifying their actions on grounds of violation of their terms of usage. Venezuelan Analysis, a source of alternative news and information about Venezuela since 2003, was one of these[3]. The media companies have been cagey as to exactly which of their terms these account holders have violated. Google has refused to carry their advertisments for some time and now has reduced the page rank of websites that support Maduro. The latter action is a subtle way of disappearing websites that contradict the propaganda of the U.S. power elite.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003 under similar pretenses and attracted the same support from the media and the military-industrial complex. Dissenting voices were silenced or fired. Phil Donahue, one of the most popular commentators on his network, was summarily dismissed after voicing his opposition to the invasion on the air[4]. A large proportion of the American public believed the lies that the Bush administration spread throughout the media. Although massive demonstrations took place all over the world in opposition to the invasion, the invasion proceeded on schedule and led to a chain of consequences that plague the middle east to this day. The only beneficiaries of that invasion were military contractors (paid by the rest of us).

It will be the same this time. Even if the US does not succeed in conquering Venezuela, the contractors will be the real victors.

  1. Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) led multiple expeditionary forces against the Spaniards, and between 1819 and 1822 he successfully liberated three territories—New Granada (Colombia and Panama), Venezuela, and Quito (Ecuador)—from Spanish rule. With the help of Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín, Bolívar freed Peru (1824) and what was to become Bolivia (1825) too. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Article on Simón Bolívar; Last Updated 1/30/2019..  ↩

  2. In 1973, a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, army commander in chief, overthrew the government of Chile, headed by Salvator Allende, and imposed a brutal and murderous military dictatorship until 1998. The coup was preceded by the imposition of economic sanctions by the US that reduced Chile to chaos. The US is currently following the same playbook in Venezuela. The architect of the 1973 coup was Henry Kissinger, who served as head of the National Security Council and then Secretary of State (1973–1977) under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He was appointed to the latter position the day that Allende died, probably by suicide.  ↩

  3. Venezuelanalysis.com is a project of Venezuela Analysis, Inc., which is registered as a non-profit organization in New York State, and of the Fundación para la Justicia Económica Global, a foundation registered in Caracas, Venezuela.  ↩

  4. MSNBC was a subsidiary of General Electric at that time. General Electric is one of the largest defense contractors in the US. MSNBC is now a subsidiary of NBC-Universal, which is owned by Comcast.  ↩