Sep
14

Piece of crap

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In a lead Sunday op-ed, I once slammed local planners for wanting to develop a former factory site into yet another strip mall anchored by big-box stores. Low prices, low wages. Just what the unemployed factory workers need, right? I couldn’t believe the editors allowed it to run with the line about stores selling “cheap, plastic crap from China.”

Now this from the WaPo: The Postal Service is losing millions a year to help you buy cheap stuff from China

Via an arcane treaty mechanism, the U.S. Postal Service delivers small packages from Chinese merchants to destinations in the U.S. at below its cost. The inspector general’s office estimated that foreign “ePacket” treaty mail cost the USPS $79 million in 2013 and another $5 billion last year.

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Sep
14

Sunday Morning Music

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Mr. Straight Ahead.

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Naomi Klein contemplates the struggle between climate change and the globalization juggernaut. It is a struggle she once left to environmentalists. But having struggled with infertility and having covered the Gulf oil spill, her perspective changed. “It’s not that I got in touch with my inner Earth Mother,” Klein writes, “it’s that I started to notice that if the Earth is indeed our mother, then she is a mother facing a great many fertility challenges of her own.”

That climate change is linked to our lifestyle and our economy – and our attempts to deal with planetary warming without changing either – is the crux of Klein’s long piece in the Guardian:

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

Read: Billionaires with good intentions, flashy pronouncements, and market-driven solutions have failed to curb emissions. Much of the piece focuses on Richard Branson’s failed, but much ballyhooed efforts to apply a the same business savvy that made him rich to save the planet.

The idea that only capitalism can save the world from a crisis it created is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested in the real world. We can now take a hard look at the results: at the green products shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were meant to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed to cut emissions. And, most of all, at the billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided, on second thoughts, that the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

Post-Reagan, deregulated capitalism has long looked like something out of Mary Shelley or science-fiction films, a creature we created, but no longer control. Billionaires and their acolytes see only its benefits, but as Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running, and then screaming.” Where once We the People held capitalism’s leash, now we wear the collar.

Whether it’s turning your child’s education from a shared public cost into a corporate profit center; or turning the principle of one-man, one-vote into one-dollar, one-vote; or carbon tax credits and accounting tricks for addressing rising sea levels; questioning the universal application of a business approach to any human need or problem often prompts the challenge, “Do you have something against making a profit?” A more subtle form of red-baiting, this ploy is supposed to be a conversation stopper. Yes? You’re a commie. Game over.

Maybe it’s time our billionaire problem-solvers got over themselves.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Last night, FiveThirtyEight blog reported a marked shift in polling on the NC Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and NC House Speaker Thom Tillis.

In North Carolina, a Rasmussen Reports poll found Democrat Kay Hagan ahead of Republican Thom Tillis 45 percent to 39 percent. Tillis had led in the previous Rasmussen survey by 5 percentage points. Another North Carolina poll released Thursday, by SurveyUSA, gave Hagan a 3-point lead (46 percent to 43 percent).

Combined, the two polls move Hagan from a “45 percent underdog to a 61 percent percent favorite.” But there’s not much analysis on why.

Let’s speculate, shall we?

In part, Hagan has opened up a 21-point advantage over Tillis among women. The “war on women” message has taken such a bite out of the NCGOP that the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity feels the need to cut an ad to sell Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, to women way out in WNC. Thanks to Tim Moffitt, ladies, you’ll be glad to know you have “the power to determine your own destiny,” to invest and to keep more of your money away from Raleigh. Just don’t keep it in your pants. That’s one area Tillis, Tim, and their friends in Raleigh have made sure by law that you don’t control.

More and more, Tillis and close associates seem to be alienating their own base.

WidenI77 held a town hall meeting in Mooresville on Tuesday to explain how “Thom’s Tholl Road” on I-77 would work. The NCDOT is already signing agreements with a Spain-based contractor for the 50-year tolling contract I wrote about in the AC-T. WidenI77’s presentation above details many of the unknowns in the contract, raising concerns about cost and privacy as well as the fact that paying tolls to a foreign vendor for 50 years siphons vast sums of money out of the local economy. The tea party, libertarians, and GOP activists are increasingly unhappy about the prospect. So much so that it seems Tillis and his lieutenants are having to fan out to defend the deal before angry constituents.

After the town hall, Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, got an earful from Republican and independent attendees about corruption they suspect in the highway deal he’s backed along with Tillis. Ashevillians will remember Brawley as one of Moffitt’s allies on the legislative study to look into transferring the Asheville Water System to a regional authority. He was in the posse Moffitt brought with him to face angry parents at a May education rally at Roberson High School in Buncombe County. Brawley, Moffitt, and Nathan Ramsey, R-Buncombe, co-sponsored the bill to wrest control of Charlotte-Douglas airport from the city of Charlotte.

Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, is having to face a meeting of the Southern Wake Republican Club this coming Tuesday. Stam gets to rebut a presentation by NC Citizens Against Toll Roads that believes that legislative efforts to promote public-private partnerships “violates the state constitution, and delegates taxing authority” to unelected officials. They may mistrust government, but they mistrust a marriage between government and business even more.

Tolls and public-private partnerships (P3s) are the new funding model these politicians are promoting, not just for I-77 but for future highway expansion projects across North Carolina. And over objections from angry conservative businessmen, Republican officials, and party activists. Perhaps those are more reasons why Tillis’ senatorial prospects are headed south.

How much weight would Tim Moffitt, the former co-chair of the state’s House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships (2011), and Brawley (the other co-chair), and Tillis give to local objections when it is time to widen I-26?

(Barry Summers contributed much source material for this post.)


Categories : NC Senate race
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Sep
12

Friday Open Thread

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I’m kinda tired. Think I’ll go to bed now. Somebody thread the Friday opening for me.


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Sep
11

Stupid is as stupid does

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Many have commented on the recent Facebook posting by a Georgia Republican state senator. Fran Millar complained about siting an early voting location in a South DeKalb mall heavily used by African American residents, a location with large black churches nearby. Millar then made things worse in followup comments:

“I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters. If you don’t believe this is an efort [sic] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist. This is a partisan stunt and I hope it can be stopped.”

That feeling among Republicans goes back at least to Paul Weyrich’s oldy-goldy, Goo-Goo syndrome speech from 1980.

George Chidi, a Georgia journalist writing in the Guardian, acknowledges the partisan flavor of the location decision, calling the plan “a gigantic middle finger to Republicans intent on suppressing black voters.” But if Republicans want to head off “the coming demographic Armageddon,” Chidi believes, they might just want to start courting those black voters.

Considering that early voting will begin in a few weeks, I want pivot to Millar’s crack about preferring “more educated voters” to more voters generally. It’s easy to sneer at Millar for (basically) calling constituents stupid. Besides being condescending, it’s not the message to send people right before you ask for their votes.

Yet, I sometimes hear the same from lefties about poor, white, Republican voters. Occasionally, they just blurt out that voters are stupid. More often it’s couched in a dog-whistle complaint about people voting against their best interests. Which, if you think about it, is just a more polite way of saying the same thing.

As a field organizer in the South, I remind canvassers that, no, those voters are not stupid. They’re busy. With jobs and kids and choir practice and soccer practice and church and PTA and Friday night football and more. Unlike political junkies, they don’t keep up with issues. They don’t have time for the issues. When they go to the polls they are voting to hire someone to keep up with the issues for them. And when they look at a candidate — your candidate — what they are really asking themselves is simple: “Is this someone I can trust?”

One of my favorite southernisms is, “I wouldn’t trust anyone my dog doesn’t like.” That, I caution canvassers, is how most Americans really vote, like it or not. And if you don’t purge the thought, those “low information” voters? They will know you think they’re stupid before you do. Right before you ask for their votes.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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Sep
11

An economic cult

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Paul Krugman this morning writes about “the inflation cult,” doomsaying pundits and supposed economic experts who, economic rain or shine, predict that a steep rise in inflation is coming anytime now and, quite reliably, get it wrong time after time.

Part of that appeal is clearly political; there’s a reason why Mr. Santelli yells about both inflation and how President Obama is giving money away to “losers,” why Mr. Ryan warns about both a debased currency and a government that redistributes from “makers” to “takers.” Inflation cultists almost always link the Fed’s policies to complaints about government spending. They’re completely wrong about the details — no, the Fed isn’t printing money to cover the budget deficit — but it’s true that governments whose debt is denominated in a currency they can issue have more fiscal flexibility, and hence more ability to maintain aid to those in need, than governments that don’t.

And anger against “takers” — anger that is very much tied up with ethnic and cultural divisions — runs deep. Many people, therefore, feel an affinity with those who rant about looming inflation; Mr. Santelli is their kind of guy. In an important sense, I’d argue, the persistence of the inflation cult is an example of the “affinity fraud” crucial to many swindles, in which investors trust a con man because he seems to be part of their tribe. In this case, the con men may be conning themselves as well as their followers, but that hardly matters.

This tribal interpretation of the inflation cult helps explain the sheer rage you encounter when pointing out that the promised hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen. It’s comparable to the reaction you get when pointing out that Obamacare seems to be working, and probably has the same roots.

Not just economists, but the country (and perhaps the entire Republican Party) seems to be in the grip of an economic cult concerned with much more than inflation — that’s just a symptom. As Krugman suggests, ethnic and cultural (and class) divisions factor into it. Digby has written repeatedly (and just yesterday) that many of the same people “have always been wrong about everything.” And yet, their followers keep listening. Conservatism never fails. It is unfalsifiable. I wrote last week that the Koch brothers’ evangelism for the their libertarian Kochification Church resembles recruiting techniques used by cults.

Hey, let’s start a meme.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Sep
11

Failing at Thought

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Sigh.

Then she said she wanted the government to force McDonalds to pay more “so I won’t have to struggle.”

If you think it is the government’s job to force your employer, who is more likely than not paying you before he pays himself, to raise your wages, you’ve got a problem and it is not your employer’s problem and it is not my problem.

I don’t think that McDonalds needs to worry about making payroll.

Without struggle, there is no progress. Forcing your employer, via government action, to pay you more is not struggling.

They missed the part about me being a conservative and not libertarian and therefore supporting a social safety net for people who cannot take care of themselves.

Nice struggling straw man there. And your whole position seems to be that government should not force employers to raise wages which, without even raising the minimum wage from it’s paltry $7.25 an hour, it is already doing. Sounds like you would abolish the minimum wage. So definitely not libertarian.

And apparently it’s a conservative first principle to allow markets to race to the bottom and have everyone else pick up the tab for their failure. But I didn’t get the part about the safety net being for people who cannot take care of themselves. People who hold a full time job can’t take care of themselves? Anyway sounds a whole lot like redistributin’ the wealth.

Meanwhile another conservative has a different take on it:

“The bottom line is that the American government right now spends $250 billion a year on social welfare programs to benefit the working poor,” he said. “What we have right now is the classic case of businesses privatizing the benefits of the workers, but socializing the costs — shifting the burden to taxpayers and the rest of society. And I think businesses should stand on their own two feet and pay their own workers, rather than force the taxpayers to make up the difference.”

Standing on their own two feet also known as picking yourself up by your own bootstraps.


Categories : Economy, Labor
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Sep
10

Math is hard

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TillisCaptureNorth Carolina’s Republican House Speaker, Thom Tillis, wants to be the state’s next U.S. senator. He’s finding it a tough sell. Tea party members and Republican small businessmen oppose Tillis for pushing for toll lanes on I-77 in his own district and elsewhere in the state. Then, someone anonymously slipped a provision into a must-pass budget bill that “allows warrantless drone surveillance at all public events … or any place which is in ‘plain view’ of a law enforcement officer.” Privacy advocates from left to right cried foul.

Next, Tillis was been pilloried for “mansplaining” both in his debate with incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan and in a TV ad where he uses “simple math” (just numbers on a white board) to show how math is lost on Hagan. The Tillis ad spotlights the average 7% raise he claims state teachers received under his leadership (only after the loud public outcry over Republican education cuts in an election year). Well, not so fast.

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figure as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

McCroryCapture

I guess math is hard for Pat and Thom.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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“It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. I am not willing to defend them anymore.” – retiring Wisconsin state Senator Dale Schultz, the sole Senate Republican to oppose early voting limits

The New York Times editorial page the other day turned it’s ire on voter the fraud squad. Specifically, on Texas where the Justice Department and other groups are in court challenging its absurdly restrictive 2011 identity card law. (Almost as absurd as North Carolina’s.) The Times states the obvious: These laws are about erecting obstacles to Democratic-leaning voters voting.

The laws’ backers rely on a 2008 Supreme Court ruling upholding an Indiana voter-ID law, but at least two of the judges in that case have since admitted they were wrong. Richard Posner, a federal appeals court judge who approved the law, said last fall that voter-ID laws were “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.” And former Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted with the majority, said that in retrospect the dissent was “dead right.”

Rather than find a way to appeal to a wider swath of voters, Republican lawmakers rig the game with pointless obstacles to voting. The courts are finally catching on, but in the meantime, many of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens are shut out of the democratic process.

Oh, you have to give the voter fraud squads their due for dedication. Whatever else, they are persistent. The “evidence” they produce to support their claims of rampant fraud are voluminous. What they lack in quality they make up for in quantity. Fraud theorists have never produced actual wrongdoers in numbers to justify claims of widespread fraud. But statistical analyses? They produce those in bulk.

They’ve got nothing. But we are to be impressed by the sheer volume of the nothing. So much so that we will agree to requiring every American to present a photo identity card before voting. Because nothing says freedom like a government official asking to see your papers.

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Categories : Vote Suppression
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