Archive for September, 2011

The Thinker

The virtues and pitfalls of fellowship

Ever notice how people tend to congregate with people who act and behave a lot like them? I am no exception. I live in a middle class suburb, quite similar to the one I grew up in, with people mostly of my race and around my income level. Our weekends are spent on domestic things like mowing grass and trimming hedges.

Why did I seek this lifestyle instead of hanging on to my old lifestyle, which was living in a townhouse in a truly diverse community? In part it was because I got promoted and could afford a single family house. But I also didn’t like the teenager next door persistently sitting on the hood of our Camry while he smoked, who continued even when repeatedly asked to stop. I’d never do that with his car, or turn up the bass on my stereo so his floorboards rattled. I shared similar values with many of my neighbors, but not with some, particularly those renting next door. So when opportunity presented itself, I skedaddled to a community that did share my values. Here typically the only noise I hear from my neighbors is if they turn on their leaf blower. No one sits on my car hood anymore either, because my car is parked on my property, not communal property. I am happier when people that share my values live around me.

It has been remarked that Unitarian Universalists like me are principally a lot of liberal, upper income, predominantly white people. That is true of the UU church that I attend, although we do have a handful of African American members now as well as a few other families from other races and cultures. In our unison affirmation at every service we covenant to “help one another in fellowship.” Now there’s a strange world: fellowship. It’s so archaic that I had to look up the definition:

The condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality.

Fellowship is basically enjoying spending time with people a lot like you. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy going to services: not only do I hear great sermons, but services are followed by coffee and conversation: code words for fellowship. There I try not to eat too many carbohydrates while chatting mostly with liberal white guys and ladies and discussing issues near and dear to us, like the building expansion. I also practice fellowship by attending my covenant group meeting at the church once a month: more time to interact with smart white people, share our travails and joys, and to discuss some issue of the heart.

I’m not a Rotarian, Lions Club member, Masonite, or Knights of Columbus member, but they are all principally doing the same thing: practicing fellowship. Fellowship seems a bit unnatural to us liberals, even though we guiltily enjoy it. Surely we should be using our time to help the poor or save the earth or something. Instead, we are busy engaging in fellowship. The actual doing of that other stuff is somewhat harder, at least in person. It’s much easier to give money to charities. If I start handing out food to poor people, I may get grateful looks but some teenager may also decide to sit on the hood of my car. That would not be cool.

It turns out America is all about fellowship, and our fellowship is often fierce and insular. Texas governor Rick Perry represents a certain kind of fellowship: almost exclusively conservative Republican white guys and their spouses from Texas with evangelical roots and humble beginnings. He won’t hang out much with George W. Bush, who is also a conservative Republican, but really only gave lip service to religion and evangelicals, is a faux Texan and never had to worry about bills because Daddy always had his back. No wonder they reputedly don’t get along.

Americans love to self-segregate. We mostly unconsciously surround ourselves by yes men who largely parrot our values. Hear enough of it and when you hear something outside of your bubble your tendency is to be hostile toward it.

Yet we do need to escape our bubbles now and then, because too much fellowship leads toward insular outlooks, warped perspectives and ultimately a false picture of how the world is and what is required to fit inside it. It turns out that’s a pretty hard thing to do that, because it requires an open mind, an open heart and finding the courage within yourself to admit that, hey, maybe I am insular. And maybe it came from too much fellowship.

And yet I have found out that fellowship does have merit. I find enormous satisfaction is simply having a community of fellows: people a lot like me that I can bounce ideas off and know I will get heard. In many cases these people may superficially look like me, but they often have life experiences they can share that are outside my experience. Of course, it tends to be easier to consider these ideas when they come from people you perceive as peers.

One way I step outside my comfort circle is by teaching. I teach a course or two a year at a community college. It gives me some satisfaction, but when I teach I am also deliberately moving into a zone of potential discomfort. I am not a peer, I am a teacher, which makes me something of a leader and judge. And unlike in my congregation, neighborhood or even at work, few white middle class faces stare back at me from across my desk. Instead, I see lots of hues. I see people working two or three jobs and still trying to fit college into their lives. I see more women than men. I see a plurality of people from India and Pakistan. Communicating with them is sometimes a struggle, because we both have to struggle through cultural, language and age barriers. At the end of a class I am frequently wrung out. However, I do return home feeling like I have a truer understanding of the community I live in than if I had stayed home instead. By stepping outside my comfort zone, I have developed empathy for the tough lives that so many people endure for just the chance for real middle class prosperity.

I hope you do something to step outside your comfy circle of fellows, at least semi-regularly. It grounds and centers you. It also makes you appreciate the comfort of fellowship in more measured doses. Last week I traveled all the way to Tacoma, Washington and back. Yet it was like I never left home: the same sorts of people and the same conveniences of modern living were available 2300 miles away, right down to the Starbucks on the corner. For a truly grounding experience, I merely had to drive a dozen miles to campus, stand in front of a room full of students, speak and listen. Last night, as is true of most nights after teaching, I felt that I learned far more than I taught.

 
The Thinker

The oligarchy’s recipe for staying in charge

If we reputedly we live in a democracy, then why are those in charge so out of touch with the needs of ordinary people? Ordinary people want jobs, but that appears to be the last thing that politicians in Washington are concerned about. Of course they claim just the opposite, but see what animates them. It sure isn’t jobs. Instead it’s tax breaks for the wealthy and ending abortion.

It might be because Congress has little in common with its constituents. For example, just one percent of Americans are millionaires, but 46 percent of Congress are millionaires. The problem got worse with the 2010 elections, which brought in a freshman class of senators with an average net worth of $4M each. It’s not impossible to get a seat in Congress and be of modest means, but it’s clear that it is very hard.

Running for Congress is not something you can squeeze into your evenings and weekends while you earn income at a full time job. Running for Congress is far more than a full time job. It consumes pretty much all the time you have, including a fair amount of your sleep. To even have a chance of winning against an incumbent, you need lots of money, so you spend most of your time not campaigning, but on the phone dialing for dollars or at fundraisers. So it really helps to be independently wealthy. If fundraising slacks off, you can always dip into your personal savings. But even many of the wealthy cannot self fund their own campaigns. Campaigns are so expensive they must seek out others with money.

For the most part, the rest of us are just trying to survive. If we have ambitions for running for political office, it might be for school board or dogcatcher, because that’s as high as we are likely to get. But even winning those kinds of elections still takes the ability to raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which is why you quickly find that you must affiliate yourself with a political party. Hopefully there is some congruence between your beliefs and the political party you choose, because if you run then you will need to animate members of your party to campaign for you. Which means you will tune your message, at least in part, to what they want to hear. To win, it helps enormously if you become more partisan, not less.

It also helps if you fire up your base while other voters stay mired in apathy. You want those who would vote against you to feel disengaged and not vote at all. When voters overall are engaged, this results in close elections, reducing the likelihood that you will win. However, if you can fire up your base but those who would vote against you are more inclined toward apathy than to vote, the chances of winning rise dramatically. On the other hand, particularly during presidential election years when turnout tends to be higher, if you can align with the winning presidential candidate’s ideas and philosophies, you can profit from the coattail effect. This is great if it works, but is dangerous.

Once in office, while you could work on issues your constituents care about, for the most part they won’t be calling or writing, since they are busy. Those who will be calling and writing are more likely those with particular axes to grind. Don’t expect many visits from those lobbying to end muscular dystrophy. Instead, expect those fiercely animated about something to knock on your door instead. This will be a lot of gun nuts and antiabortion zealots. You will find your path to reelection so much easier if you accommodate them instead of having them as obstacles, so most in Congress do. Mostly those who will be calling will represent corporate interests. In fact, most of them you will know already, because they helped fund your campaign. They did so on the understanding that you were aligned with their business interests, so you need to keep voting for their bills.

Since Congress has become an oligarchy run principally to meet the needs of American corporations, American corporations in particular know a good thing when they see one. Power is exercised through proxies. They will sponsor you to the extent that you vote with their interests, and will quickly pull money and support if you dare deviate from it. With money of course comes the opportunity to leverage more power. This is done in various ways. It is done by setting up think tanks stuffed with eloquent people that will act as an echo chamber. It will be done through setting up shell political action committees that are purportedly average citizens, but in reality are corporate CEOs. Since those with money tend to control the airwaves and the presses, it also means the media must reflect a corporate message. Over time it means using your advantage to win more political power, not just in Congress, but also in the executive branch and, most importantly, in the Supreme Court, where power can be extended over decades unchecked. It is not coincidence that our conservative Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, in spite of the fact that this has nothing to do with original intent.

What does have something to do with original intent is limiting voting power to men with property. This was how republican government was understood in 1776, but it reflected a society where slaves and women were chattel, and those without property were often indentured servants. Who could vote was a matter for states to decide, and typically these were only male property owners. Some see virtues in this today, and it is expressed in a variety of policies that give one class more power at the expense of another. At one time it was accomplished through a poll tax. Now it is done by raising barriers to voting: making it harder to use absentee ballots, requiring students to come home to vote, voter ID laws and tightening the window between when you must be registered to vote in order to vote. Vote suppression is only illegal if you get caught, and if you do get caught it won’t invalidate the results of an election, so it’s worth a try. Election officials can always claim later they did not know they needed more voting booths in poor wards. Mistakes happen.

There are more insidious ways to maintain power, and unfortunately they are being played out now. The wealthy understand that money is power, which is partly why it doesn’t bother the Supreme Court at all to call corporations people. If money is power, then those with more money have more power. Hence, you want those with less money to have even less of it, and you to have more of it, so lower those capital gains taxes and keep taxes for the rich artificially low in general. The key to doing this is to make it virtually impossible for anyone poor to get a leg up. You want people to be poor, because this leaves them disenfranchised. You want public schools to fail, so you underfund them. You want more poor people, since it further reduces the cost of labor, so you find it convenient to be antiabortion. You also want the poor to die early, since they do not burden society by being unproductively unhealthy, so it doesn’t bother you if they cannot afford health insurance. You want the poor to have insurmountable obstacles to wealth. In short, the poor become tools that let you live a richer life. They are to be used with no thought or concern that they are actual human being with feelings.

What you don’t want are people who manage to escape the barriers put in front of them, most recently manifested by presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Lessons learned: they managed to escape their social class through Great Society programs like Food Stamps and scholarships for poor and minority students. Practical men of action like them, who root for the common man, are extremely dangerous. This explains not just the dislike, but the hatred and loathing against both Clinton and Obama. They escaped the many traps put in place to keep them down. So get rid of welfare, get rid of Food Stamps, get rid of scholarships, and get rid of anything that can address their inequity. Say it’s all about self-reliance and that anyone with enough gumption can surmount insurmountable hurdles. It’s part of the American myth and it’s part of how the oligarchy stays in charge.

In a future essay I hope to suggest what we can do about this.

 
The Thinker

First impressions of Tacoma

In my last post I whined a bit about the downside of business travel. In spite of days usually spent in conference rooms, when sent somewhere new on business one still has an opportunity to form some initial impressions of the place. Thankfully, Tacoma has a lot to recommend it. When I think of the places I have had to travel on someone else’s dime, Tacoma ranks in the top ten percent.

Tacoma of course is across the bay from its much bigger twin Seattle. My wife and I visited Seattle in 2010, but never quite got around to seeing Tacoma. While considerably smaller than Seattle, Tacoma in many ways is better. For one thing, at least when the weather clears it has one heck of a view. Mount Rainier forms a huge, hulking and looming presence to the southeast. You almost wonder if it might tip over it is so huge. It looks magnificent and it is more than a little bit terrifying when you realize that underneath it lurks a volcano. Thankfully it hasn’t had a major eruption in five thousand years, and the last time volcanic activity was noted on the mountain was in 1894. Still, the mind has to wonder, what if it erupted? The answer is clear when you see how near it is: there would be a whole lot of devastation. Tacoma could be buried, probably not in lava, but more likely by ash and clogged waterways. When you see it from Tacoma, you have no doubt that it has earned its place as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, simply because it is located too close to populated places. The right volcanic activity, say something similar to what happened to its nearby cousin Mount St. Helens in 1980, would be cataclysmic to nearby communities and perhaps Tacoma as well.

If cataclysmic volcanic activity is unlikely enough not to deter you from living here, consider the Tacoma Fault just north of the city. Fortunately, that particular fault has not shifted in a millennium, but the whole region is full of faults, which means you would be living in one of the most earthquake prone spots in the country. Unlike the recent earthquake we experienced in Washington, D.C., walking around downtown Tacoma makes you feel like these buildings are built to handle most anything. The hotel I am sleeping in, the upscale Hotel Murano in downtown Tacoma, looks like it should fall over but once inside it feels unusually solid and anchored. Things would shake in a major earthquake but it’s unlikely it would experience any major damage.

The thing is in spite of the nearby volcanoes and earthquakes, Tacoma is a neat city, the sort of place I’d kind of like to live if I could talk my wife into it. It is a lot like San Francisco, just much cleaner and much richer overall. Its only streetcars consist of a short light rail line going through the downtown area, but its hills are quite steep. Walking around downtown is like working out on a Stairmaster. Tacoma residents have plenty of incentive to make sure their car brakes aren’t worn because you really, really need to stop at that red light otherwise the results will not be pretty. Brake shops must do a hustling business around here. Take a bus or a car into the hills and you have pleasant old fashioned neighborhoods with plenty of Mom and Pop businesses and pedestrian-friendly stores hugging main streets, but few Walmarts, at least not unless you get out near the highways. Then there is the view: of its rivers, of the many tributaries to the sound, the mountain and the towering pine trees.

It’s also a prosperous place, full of the coffee shops that made Seattle famous, brew pubs (it seems that most restaurants have to brew their own), lots of ethnic restaurants and people who look if not wealthy then seemingly better off than most. At least in the downtown area there are few homeless, and the streets feel safe to walk at night. There is a heavy Asian influence as you might expect, but also it is more white that most cities on the west coast. African Americans are few and far between in Tacoma. I haven’t checked real estate prices, but the area feels quite pricey.

The Hotel Murano that my group is staying at is an example of Tacoma at its best: a gorgeous, upscale and classy place, with a day spa downstairs, art everywhere and exhibits on every floor (all done in glass, doubtless to complement the nearby Museum of Glass), superfast elevators that somehow don’t leave your stomach feeling like it has dropped and young looking bellhops surreally smiling who can’t wait to open the door for you.

Tacoma also has the required university, the required touristy things to do (with the Museum of Glass just a few blocks away), and the required light rail. Traffic can be a bear outside the city, but it is not bad inside of it. The plentiful buses and metered parking makes it quite pedestrian friendly. In short, it has almost all of the things to admire about a city with few of the downsides. It’s a neat place to visit, and would be a neat place to live, just as long as Mount Rainier does not blow.

Speaking of things blowing, I blow out of here early Friday on a 7 AM flight. To bed.

 
The Thinker

High, flying and bored (and a bit whiny)

Did you see the movie Up in the Air? I did. In fact, I reviewed it. It made the life of an extreme business traveler interesting, so interesting that George Clooney’s character loved life on the road and at 35,000 feet and dreaded coming home to Oklahoma and his apartment.

In truth there is nothing glamorous about business travel. I know because today I am in the thick of it: flying across the country again on business. Normally when you fly across country, you switch planes somewhere, which at least breaks up the tedium. Today I am on a nonstop flight between Washington D.C. and that other Washington. That would be Washington State, more specifically Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The good news is you get there quickly. The bad news is that for an east-to-west coast flight, this is about as miserable as they come, being something like five and a half hours long. The movie is, of course, pretty mediocre, this flight being on United Airlines. This movie, Midnight in Paris, is reputedly one of Woody Allen’s better movies, but I found it kind of annoying. Perhaps this is because I find Woody Allen kind of annoying. Owen Wilson plays the lead character, and he is little more than a young and blond version of Woody Allen. Eventually, I tired watching the movie to write this instead.

To make this long flight less painful I was willing to exchange 7500 of my frequent flier miles for a first class seat. Alas, it was not to be because I waited too long, which means I am back here in the cattle car section. I’ve learned a few rules from these bicoastal flights. One of them is that a ready exit seat is preferred over a windows seat, so I am on the aisle. It is so much easier to get to the restroom this way. Second, keep the Kindle fully charged because you are likely to be using it a lot. I am, as I plod through the first volume of Shelby Foote’s chronology of the Civil War. Third, don’t try to watch a movie on my laptop. The video will come through fine, but with the aircraft noise and the limits on volume control, I cannot hear enough of the movie. A pair of noise reduction headphones might do the trick, but so far I have not succumbed.

When on a long flight, sleeping is one way to kill time. Coach seats are not designed for sleeping, and even if you succeed it will be a restless sleep because some passenger will graze your shoulders or poke you from time to time. Sleeping in theory should help the body adjust to an abrupt three hour time change when going west. I may try for a snooze but I have yet to actually fall asleep on a plane. And while it takes a day or two for my body to adjust to west coast time, it seems like I should not bother to try, because I will be high-tailing it out of here early Friday morning. Then there are the incessant interruptions. Seat belts on. Seat belts off. It’s been like this for hours.

Tacoma is my destination this time, which I have driven around but have not seen. I am hoping for decent weather, and the forecast is hopeful: a couple of days of sunshine, maybe. When you come to the Puget Sound, you have to expect clouds and precipitation. So the most important article to pack is a sturdy umbrella. I am prepared. If you are very lucky, the clouds might break and Mount Rainier will appear in its majesty.

Somehow I imagined a trip of this length between two major airports might warrant a 747, but I don’t believe United Airlines has any 747s left in the fleet, at least not for domestic flights. This makes me a little sad because a flight on a 747 would make this otherwise unmemorable flight memorable. I’ve flown lots of flights over the decades, but only once did I have the pleasure of traveling by a 747. The 747’s cheap cousin is the DC-10. I’ve had lots of flights on DC-10s but they seem to now be largely retired. Today’s flight is on an Airbus A320, a very fuel efficient aircraft but incredibly ordinary with one row and six seats across. We know what aircraft designs work well in our atmosphere, which is why commercial aviation fuselages all largely look the same. The 747 is the exception, and is still elegant.

The only thing different about this flight is what I chose to eat on it. Since my triglycerides are high, I have been told to eat fewer carbohydrates. This meant a salad for lunch and a can of almonds for a snack. I had to pay for this airline food, but for United, the salad was surprisingly good and the almonds were quite tasty as well. I am not sure I can sustain a low carbohydrate diet, but a business trip gives me an excuse to try.

With the movie over, passengers are left with few alternatives but whatever United wants to put on the TV, which is whatever network wins the bid for captive audiences. Today it is NBC, which means a lot of 30 Rock episodes. I guess it is an acquired taste.

Movie done, lunch done, TV shows boring, no in-flight Internet and still with at least two and a half hours to go. I cannot wait for the flight to be over. I am glad my Kindle is fully charged.

 
The Thinker

For moneyed Republicans, ignorance is strength

I must credit George Orwell, who came up with the slogan “Ignorance is Strength” in his seminal and dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, Orwell was simply summarizing lessons he had witnessed in life. The novel was published in 1949, not too long after the Second World War, and doubtless summarized lessons he learned observing Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and others. They succeeded by keeping the population as ignorant and gullible as possible and shamelessly appealing to their patriotic reflexes. The result was that you not only can get millions to believe the ridiculous, but you could also whip them into a frenzy that can translate into enormous political power.

In the Second World War, intelligence and morality eventually won over ignorance and obsessive nationalism, but certainly at a tremendous cost in lives and treasure. It was not coincidence that the war was eventually won by the atomic bomb, a horrific weapon whose use was certainly immoral, but whose power at least persuaded the fanatical and hopelessly brainwashed Japanese to surrender in what looked like would be a much longer and bloodier war.

The 2010 election proved again that ignorance is strength. In this election, ignorance plus apathy made a potent concoction for regaining political power. For many, voting took second fiddle to more important things, like avoiding homelessness. Contrary to public myth, the Tea Party did not spring up spontaneously from the grassroots. Rather, its rise was organized and shepherded by well-moneyed Republicans, principally by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. He created an organization called FreedomWorks, which among other things organized protests against the Affordable Care Act at town halls across the country. Few at those town halls were offering insightful solutions on how to address the growing number of uninsured. Rather, the orchestrated message was that the ACA was somehow socialistic and thus evil and unconstitutional. Dick Armey proved to be a smart and prescient man, the result of which can be seen today in the U.S. House of Representatives where Republicans and Tea Partiers now wield power and make sure little governing actually happens.

As we approach the 2012 elections, Republican candidates seem to be busy trying to out crazy each other. With a few exceptions, logic, facts and scientific knowledge simply do not matter. Neither apparently does simple humanity. Possession of any of these makes you unelectable. At an earlier debate, attendees roared in appreciation when candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry expressed pride in the over two hundred executions he approved during his term as governor. At a debate in Tampa this week, attendees (presumably mostly Tea Partiers, as it was sponsored by a Florida tea party) cheered the notion that those who cannot afford health insurance should die. It was a scene out of a Charles Dickens novel. Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, assured us that this is what freedom really means. Without exception, each candidate has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer who should take care of those without health insurance, the conventional wisdom seemed to be to let the churches take care of them.

Now, if you have a logical brain like me you would start crunching some numbers in your head. The last estimate I saw was that each policyholder paid $800 a year to cover uninsured who show up at emergency rooms and hospitals. About 250 million Americans do have health insurance. If just one third of those were policyholders and each paid $800 to cover the uninsured just for emergencies, this would be over $66 billion a year that churches would have to spend just for their emergency care. Those Republicans who take the time to do the math know it’s impossible to expect our houses of worship to cough up that kind of money to address this problem. It really doesn’t matter because you see it’s the principle of the thing. This is a problem so large that only government can address it, but since it would involve redistribution of wealth, it’s somehow socialism, and thus is not allowed. It is better to let fifty million Americans die early and lead miserable lives than to violate a principle. The expression of this principle elicited yells of enthusiastic agreement from Tea Partiers in Tampa this week. And none of the candidates on the stage had the courage of conviction to say this is immoral and unchristian.

Naturally, just to make the whole thing even crazier, these are the same folk that agree that life is sacred and must be protected. Abortion is especially evil, but providing government money to make sure uninsured pregnant women can carry their babies to term is socialism, as is picking up any costs for their children’s health once born. Every unborn child has the right to be born into and lead a life of misery and poverty, starting from the moment of conception. How very Christ-like of them.

In fact, Republicans believe in no government handouts to poor people ever. (Big business subsidies, of course, are exempt.) Rep. Peter King (R-IA) is in a froth about the unemployed. They are on the dole and just being slackers, he asserts, as if they can snap their fingers and find employment somewhere. If you are unemployed, you must be lazy and shiftless. He’s hardly the only Republican to say this aloud, but perhaps is the most vocal. No one, at least no one poor or unincorporated, should get any government assistance ever. They must raise themselves up by their own bootstraps somehow, without a dime of government money, without access to nurturing teachers, nutritious food, affordable housing and a stable family environment. If you try hard enough, and clap enough, Tinkerbell is sure to come to help.

Never mind that their educations were heavily subsidized, unless their parents were wealthy enough to home school them or send them to a private school. Never mind that their relatively wealthy parents lived in high-income neighborhoods with good public schools and kept them clothed and fed. Never mind that their parents gave them access to many of the keys needed for success: like good colleges, tutors, cars, orthodontics, regular checkups and don’t forget those inheritances from Aunt Martha. Those things had nothing to do with their personal success. They just came with the skills reflexively.

The obvious effects of not giving the poor a helping hand are to increase the number of poor and keep them disenfranchised, which in reality is fine with them. The real long term effect is to turn the United States into a second class country, since we reached top tier status by creating and sustaining a middle class at some expense from the wealthy. All the “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” stuff is bullshit even they don’t believe in.  They just want cheap labor and to be in charge, and you can stay in charge if you keep them disenfranchised and poor. And many of them are also sadists. But just in case the poor and compassionate might want to vote for change, make it hard for them to vote.

Republican-dominated states across the country are busy doing just this: making absentee voting harder, toughening voting requirements by requiring government issued photo IDs to vote, and by requiring students to come home to vote. These tactics of course get supplemented with the usual voting day shenanigans: fewer voting booths in poor neighborhoods and robocalls to minority voters with threatening or misleading messages about voting. It doesn’t hurt to have a Republican lawyer on site and some white guys in a police car parked outside the polling place either. Some states are getting exceptionally creative. Pennsylvania Republicans want to have electoral votes allocated by the vote in each congressional district, effectively disenfranchising voters in densely populated areas, like Philadelphia. It’s like another Orwell novel, Animal Farm. Some animals (Republicans) are more equal than others.

Ignorance is strength, providing Republican leaders do not really buy their own bullshit. In their hearts they know they are a minority party and will likely be a larger minority party in the future, since demographics are against them. So keep the bulk of Republicans in a lather about issues that appeal to their basic fears and prejudices. This involves mostly a lot of hot air about abortion, God, guns and NASCAR. Keep their flock prejudiced and it will lead to a better America, well, at least for the well-capitalized Republicans with the money who insist on holding onto the bulk of our wealth. As for everyone else: let ’em eat (someone else’s) cake.

 
The Thinker

Will the iPad mean the death of Windows?

Microsoft Windows has shown amazing resilience for much of its existence, in spite of its arguably inferior status. Microsoft is now busily creating its next version of Windows, Window 8, and is already heavily hyping it. Many years of observation suggest to me that this means the company is running scared. They fear the success of the iPad and the whole new mobile computer market, where Microsoft has floundered.

Apple dazzled the world with its iPad, but it was just the latest in a number of well-received innovations that included the iPod and the iPhone. The cool factor was primarily a result of its amazingly well thought out user interface. Its success spawned a huge developer community that wrote apps for these devices, making them even more useful. While Microsoft was arguably first in the tablet market by creating stylus-based devices like the Tablet PC, they naturally tethered it to Windows. It’s understandable that they would see value in embedding it with Windows, since it is their brand. What they did not see was that a tablet computer needed an operating system where mobility was at its center, not at the periphery. When Apple and Steve Jobs delivered the iPad, they achieved a breakthrough: a highly useful mobile and connected computer that could also do virtually everything you could do on a desktop computer yet not weigh enough to feel burdensome.

What cemented my feeling that Windows days were numbered at last was observing a woman in my chain of command. She dutifully dragged around the required Blackberry for years, but it was largely used for reading and responding to email. With its tiny keyboard, it was hardly ideal for email either. When the iPhone came out, because she had the clout, she quickly got one and realized the freedom of having a useful mobile product. She retired the Blackberry. Just this week her iPad arrived. It’s bigger than her iPhone, of course, but not too big or too heavy not to be easily carried around. Moreover, it was WiFi and 3G friendly. She could be as productive on the go with her iPad as she could in the office.

Executives everywhere are discovering the iPad and to a lesser extent Android-based tablet computers like Samsung’s Galaxy pad. Some of those executives are CIOs and CTOs, and the light bulbs above their heads began glowing brightly as they figured out that these devices make them more productive on the go while also doing 95% of what their desktop computer can do. In fact they do more than their desktop computer can do, because their tablet computers are so portable and geographically aware. When something is 95% as useful as your desktop computer while you are in the office, and more useful than your desktop computer when away from the office, the end of Windows as a client operating system is not hard to infer.

No, Microsoft won’t go away, but desktop computers will become a declining share of the market in general, which in fact is already underway. Instead, you will carry your iPad or Android-based tablet to work, but probably plug it in to keep the battery charged. You will also probably skip the network cable for the convenience of the office’s wireless network. You will mostly use a wireless keyboard to put content on it (at least until voice recognition software too become ubiquitous), and if its relatively small screen is insufficient for the office, you will plug it into your big honkin’ high-resolution monitor. When it’s time to go home you will slip it automatically into your briefcase or bag. It will follow you pretty much everywhere you go, and its low power requirements will mean you can go for many hours without needing to recharge it. But if you do, you are probably near the power grid anyhow.

Windows 8 is supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system) and Android. But no matter how well it is engineered, it is unlikely to be more compelling than iOS and the iPad, which the nation’s opinion leaders are already using. It is they who will slowly strangle Microsoft Windows, and over time kill its Office suite and the other products tethered to it as well. In time, we will discover that iOS and Android are really nothing but smartly thought out thin-client operating systems, because content (most of it resting securely in the Internet cloud) and an optimized mobile user interface to read and manipulate it is what really matters in our 21st century information age.

I think Windows will die a slow death, with income principally coming from its server-based products like Exchange. Eventually the backroom tech team will find alternatives for Exchange, Active Directory and many other Windows server based products, because they will be cheaper and many of them will not be proprietary.

If you own Microsoft stock, I would not dump it all at once since it probably still has a decade of profits ahead of it. However, I would be selling it in hearty slices over the next few years because its value is likely to sink. I believe that eventually Microsoft will become just another niche company, like Novell or Computer Associates, selling dated legacy products at premium prices to a reduced set of customers too incompetent or lazy to go through the cost and hassle of ditching them.

 
The Thinker

September 11, 2001 memories

Here, slightly edited, is an email I sent out to family later in the day on September 11, 2001, written after I had a chance to collect my wits. Add it to the collective memory archive for that traumatic date.

I thank you all for your concern for my safety. In the back of my mind are always scenarios like the one that happened today. More than once I have stood outside the Hubert H. Humphrey Building where I work and wondered if an Oklahoma City bombing happened whether I would survive. Ours is a weird looking building with the first two floors much smaller than the rest of the building. Much of the building hangs out over the street. And there is metered parking right next to the building so it wouldn’t take much to park a Yellow Rider truck along the street and do another Oklahoma City. Needless to say I am glad I don’t work in the Pentagon anymore for lots of reasons, my own personal safety being only one of them. Had I still been working for the Air Force my office would have been in Rosslyn so I would have been safe. The part of the Pentagon that was hit was on the Heliport Side far from my old office in 3A153. Had I still been there I probably would have escaped but I’m sure I’d be a lot more traumatized.

Terrorism is just a risk of being a federal employee but so far it has been a pretty abstract risk. I figured my particular building was unlikely to be a target but one never knows about these things. HHS tends to be a pretty low-key sort of place and is rarely in the news. But I do work in HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s building (most of my agency is actually in another building) so I’m perhaps more vulnerable than most in my agency.

Like most of you I was just sitting at my desk at work when I heard rumors of the World Trade Center explosion from a colleague. I tried to get news on the ’Net but I couldn’t connect to much of anything. The story grew in the telling. I started getting frantic phone calls from Terri. It was after the Pentagon got hit that I felt a more immediate presence. I watched part of it live on MSNBC in a nearby conference room. Terri called with rumors that the White House was hit, which proved unfounded and urged me to come home immediately. There had been no executive decision to release us but my vanpool was leaving so I high tailed it out of there.

Since I work in SW it is not quite as gridlocked and frantic as NW. Still there was a lot of traffic and not much of it moving very quickly as everyone tried to bug out. Intersections were a bit more jammed than usual but people were largely obeying traffic lights. I had to scoot though because I have to walk four blocks to pick up my van. Dan, our crazy vanpool driver, called about 10:15 saying he was leaving. Dan works in the Department of Transportation building in L’Enfant Plaza and parks the van in the garage.

The atmosphere on the streets was something bordering on mild panic. No one was screaming or shouting but lots of federal workers decided they didn’t want to be in their buildings and were out on the streets. Cell phones were everywhere. People tried to hail taxis to take them home with little luck. There were rumors that the Metro was not operating that proved to be unfounded. But at the time I felt lucky to have a van as an escape route.

As we headed west on Independence Avenue we could see plumes of smoke from the fire at the Pentagon, which is not that far away rising, ironically, over the Holocaust Museum. We progressed fairly well on Independence Avenue until it ground to a crawl near the Washington Monument. Dan made a strategic decision at that point to try Constitution Avenue. It’s hard to tell if that was the right decision since that was completely jammed too. Nonetheless we eventually crept out of DC and onto I-66 west, which was stop and go, but with periods of freeway speeds.

The reality of it was hard to miss as we crossed the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. It is actually a glorious day in Washington with clear blue skies, low humidity and temperature in the 70s. From the bridge one could appreciate the massive amount of smoke coming from the Pentagon. It was hard to imagine that so many people were dead or dying over there. I hope at least they died quickly.

Of course we had on the radio all the way back. No one was panicking in the vanpool but there was a lot of concern. I was glad to escape but I also suspected the worst was over. The journey home took about 90 minutes altogether, which wasn’t too bad under the circumstances.

I’m still in the process of analyzing my feelings over this whole thing. I’m sure it will take weeks or months to put it in perspective. It’s one thing to deal with in the abstract and it’s another thing to deal with it in reality. Like most of us caught up in it I didn’t see any mangled bodies or bleeding people. I was largely on the periphery of a crisis, which was fine with me. I fear when all this is over more than 50,000 innocent Americans will have lost their lives, most in New York City. That of course fills me with sadness and a sense of outrage. Embracing my wife after my successful journey home was quite emotional but I felt more than a little sick to my stomach. The last time I really remember feeling this was when we moved into our first townhouse to discover it had flooded overnight. This is a bit of a different experience but the feelings are similar. The uneasiness comes from realizing that security blanket we put around ourselves is mostly an illusion.

And yet something like this was bound to happen. It’s amazing in retrospect it didn’t happen sooner. The plane at the Pentagon shows how simple it is to destroy a good part of our command and control structure. Like with Pearl Harbor I got the feeling we got caught napping as a country. In reality our military has failed utterly to protect us against what are real threats are. All those words about how well protected we are against domestic terrorism I always thought were pretty empty. Rest assured we will bomb some probably innocent victims in return and cause more death and destruction. If the politicians play this right we can turn into another xenophobic Israel with hatred forever coursing through our veins and a feeling of self-righteousness that is still not justified.

The sad reality is that guns, metal detectors and sniffing dogs can’t buy this country national security. If we truly want to minimize this stuff we simply have to be less obnoxious on the international stage. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. But we could learn a lot if we imitated Switzerland. So I’m sad to say I expect more of this stuff, possibly even worse, in our future. All I can do is hope that this federal employee escapes unscathed.

Terri went to donate blood first. Rosie is having an orthodontic emergency I must attend to instead. Hopefully I can donate tonight.

Later that day I wrote in an email:

An online friend of Terri’s probably lost a sister in the World Trade Center disaster.

One interesting observation from these tragedies is it brings home those who really care about you. Terri got a phone call from her childhood friend Frieda. I also got one from Cyndi, our former foster child now approaching the ripe old age of 30. And of course we heard from Terri’s Mom who was very concerned. I guess it’s nice to know that if I’m the victim of one of these things I’ll be mourned. In addition there have been emails from others. All those concerns from parents and siblings were flattering too.

I think both Terri and I have a minor cause of posttraumatic stress syndrome. We were both closer to the action than we would have liked and having fighter jets cruising at low altitudes over your house and workplace leave you feeling creepy and on edge. At some point I suspect the emotional impact is going to hit me and the tears will be flowing. I got as close today to war as I ever want to get.

Terri did manage to give blood but had to wait five hours. They were taking only O- blood since they are universal donors. When they get around to O+ I will be glad to donate.

 
The Thinker

The Fed giveth and the Fed taketh

There are times when I tend to agree with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), the libertarian who argues that we should abolish the Federal Reserve. Granted, we created it to avoid banking crises in general (though it didn’t seem to stop the 2008 crash) and to even out the economic cycles for the American people. Of course, the big newsworthy thing that the Fed does is it sets interest rates. It has made interest rates so artificially low for so long that a lot of people are taking it on the chin. Others, principally well-capitalized debtors like me, stand to benefit from these artificially low interest rates.

Rates are low to stimulate the economy, or so Fed thinking goes. I have to wonder whether if rates were a few points higher the economy would really be that worse off, because our “recovery” is anemic at best. On the other hand, if interest rates were a few points higher, perhaps people would be more enthusiastic about putting money into savings, money market funds and CDs, spurred on by the higher rates of return for these relatively safe investments. Right now, due to inflation, savers are effectively losing money. While protected from large swings in the value of their capital, they are doing so at the cost of losing money on the deal or, at best, coming slightly above inflation.

Of course, the Fed is doing this deliberately. They want you to feel the pain of low interest rates so you will invest money in riskier endeavors instead, like stocks, bonds and mutual funds. This is based on the theory there that growth must come from the corporate world. Until recently many investors were happy to do so until, as I predicted, they finally woke up and realized their investments were way overvalued. This caused markets to decline precipitously and for investors to seek safety in U.S. Treasury Bills, now downgraded by Standard & Poors to AA+, but still good enough for Wall Street. Wisdom on Wall Street is now that it is better to lose a little bit of money by investing in Uncle Sam than a whole lot of money on a turbulent economy with few prospects of short-term gains.

In any economy there are going to be winners and losers. By deciding which cards it was going to play, the Fed has effectively picked winners and losers. In particular, it has disenfranchised savers. Specifically, senior citizens now are taking it on the chin, at least the smart ones. Those senior citizens who followed the typical strategy of selling stocks and mutual funds as they close in on retirement and using the proceeds to buy low risk CDs, Treasury Bills and the like have discovered their expectation of a reasonable income from interest on “safe” securities means essentially no interest on them, which means those investments really are not a good investment.

Many retired couples anticipated hundreds of dollars a month in interest income off these “safe” securities, figuring the interest would help pay some bills in their old age. Without the income, the Fed has essentially lowered their standard of living. Essentially they are paying the price so that five years ago brokerages could write shoddy homes loans. Effectively, we transferred wealth from prudent savers to reckless corporations in the shoddy mortgage writing business.

It is true that when these seniors sold their stocks and funds to buy these securities, they essentially locked in the gains for these investments made over many years. However, many seniors, particularly the well-capitalized ones, were hoping to live off the interest of these securities and keep the principle to pass it on to relatives. Instead, they are drawing down their savings to live, and at a greater rate than they anticipated. It’s a wonder they do not go down to the Fed en masse to protest, because arguably they are getting shafted. Long-standing economic rules were pulled like a rug from under their feet.

Americans in general are paying down debt and stuffing money in savings, but they too are getting shafted. Because of inflation, they are also losing money on their savings, and saving money is supposed to be a virtue. While it will be nice to have a stash of ready capital on hand when future unplanned expenses come up, they will be penalized for the privilege. This is their reward for paying down their credit card balances? This is the reward for being prudent?

Who is winning with interest rates so cheap? You would think it would be small businesses, but with the economy so fragile, they are finding it hard to get loans. If they get them at all, unless their credit is sterling, they are probably paying more than they should because of the risky economy. Of course, these days larger corporations often don’t need to borrow any money. Their bank accounts are stuffed, thank you very much, because they have become so efficient from laying off people or getting their labor at a discount. Even though business is down, thanks to these efficiencies coming at the expense of others, profits are up. Many companies are taking advantage of their hordes of cash and sagging stock prices to buy up shares of their own company at a discount. That’s good for them, but arguably it does nothing to stimulate the economy.

The winners are also people like me who are well capitalized, have an asset with plenty of equity and a steady job. My financial adviser wants me to refinance our mortgage. It seemed sort of pointless to go through the expense with the balance down to about $66K. Moreover, we already refinanced it once before. Thanks to his badgering, I called the credit union today to run the numbers. I found I could turn my 30-year loan into a 10-year loan, drop my interest rate four percent for about $2300 in closing costs. The effect would to drop my monthly payment $400. Duh! I should have done this months ago! It’s great for me to effectively have another $4800 a year in unearned income a year. But even someone who never studied finance like me knows that borrowing money at a 2.875% is crazy and artificially low. I have to wonder if home loan interest rates will ever be this low again. I figure someone will get shafted by refinancing our home loan.

One thing is for sure: I am not stimulating the economy, except for making business for mortgage processors. Maybe I am shafting senior citizens from getting decent interest rates. All I know is with money so artificially cheap that I’d be a fool not to grab it. So maybe I want the Federal Reserve to survive after all, at least as long as I can stay a financial winner.

The turmoil in the markets also means that those with capital and a long-term vision should be bargain hunting in the stock market. Alas, as my mortgage indicates I am still a debtor, but if I had spare cash lying around I’d be buying undervalued stocks. Maybe once my mortgage payment is reduced $400 a month, I should invest the difference in stocks. The future is always impossible to predict, but it’s not hard to predict that interest rates will stay at rock bottom rates for years to come. It’s a pretty good bet that we have at least a few more years of a sour economy as well.

 
The Thinker

Warning: sugar is hazardous to your health (and may cause cancer)

I predict a day, perhaps twenty years from now, when you will go to the store to pick up a pound of sugar, or a box of Twinkies, or a tube of chocolate chip cookie dough. These products will be kept in a walled off area of the store, inaccessible to those under eighteen. Each product will have on the package a familiar looking message similar to this:

Warning: the Surgeon General has determined that the sugar in this product is a drug, may shorten your lifespan and may give you cancer.

Admit it, you were stuffing your face with M&M’s as you read this. If so, you are not alone. Americans, and increasingly the world at large, are sugar addicts. What’s new is that research is showing that sugar is addictive and can cause cancer. Naturally, you won’t be hearing any of this from the sugar industry. The Sugar Association assures us that sugar is sweet by nature and thus by implication wholly benign.

Hate to tell you this, Sugar Association, but tobacco is also a hundred percent natural, as are fermented beverages and for that matter uranium, ozone and ultraviolet radiation. Unlike a cigarette, eating a package of Ho-Hos won’t have people around you rushing for the exit. Smoking one cigarette won’t kill you. Eating one Oreo cookie a day probably won’t make you obese either, and your liver and pancreas will take it in stride. But just as smoking one cigarette a day is likely to have you smoking a pack a day before long, one Oreo will probably have you reaching for another. Unsurprising, this is because Oreos taste good. More specifically, the Oreo will make you feel briefly like Popeye. You will feel full of energy until, shortly thereafter, your sugar high abruptly crashes, which is when you will likely find yourself hoofing it to the vending machine for some more crack, er, sugar.

Most Americans who have looked around them would not have too much trouble believing that sugar and sugar-based products are contributing to obesity and the complications that come with it: principally diabetes and heart disease. But most would probably argue that I am going too far by calling sugar a drug and highly addictive. They will argue that even if it is addictive, it’s not a drug because it doesn’t really do anything bad to you, at least not right away. And you can always stop. If you do stop then you won’t feel its craving, at least not the way an alcoholic feels the craving for a drink or an ex-smoker feels the lure of nicotine.

Most likely your own experience belies this. There is a reason most diets do not succeed in the long run. It is because we crave what we cannot have, principally sugar and the sugar high we get from it. Moreover, we grew up thinking there was nothing wrong with sugar. It held no social stigma. That certainly happened to me. We got our dose of sugar daily during dessert, after my mother made sure we had eaten all our healthy food. I grew to anticipate dessert (usually yellow cakes with chocolate frosting, because it was my father’s favorite) the same way a dog anticipates his daily can of Alpo. Yes, I am a sugar addict too. Only now though am I realizing that sugar is basically a drug.

This suspicion gained more credence with the referenced New York Times article that my brother forwarded to me. Doubtless if it gets any traction the Sugar Association will be all over it. Unsurprisingly, Republicans want nothing to interfere with our sugar addiction. Among other things, they want to repeal mandates that restaurants of a certain size publish the calorie and fat content on its menus, one of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Informed consent equates to Big Brother-ism and is anti-freedom, or something like that.

Nevertheless, you should read the New York Times article and ponder its implications for you and your family. I cannot say that I like them, but our obesity epidemic is hardly news. Only a fool would not agree that sugar is a major contributor to the problem. What the article makes clear though is the effect of sugar, not just on our weight, but the profound physical changes it makes to organs that you cannot live without, like your liver and pancreas. The article talks about native Inuits, who traditionally did not have sugar in their diet and now do, and now suffer from maladies like breast cancer that were previously virtually unknown. The effect of sugars on the pancreas is well known: pancreatic fatigue occurs, as the pancreas simply cannot generate enough insulin to keep up with the intake of sugar. This of course leads to adult diabetes. The effects of the bad kinds of sugar (principally fructose-based products, but really anything that is not glucose) on the liver are less well known. And like with giving up smoking, by simply removing sugar from your diet these problems can largely go away.

This is an easy solution, of course, but hard to do in practice. Why? Because sugary products are addictive, just like cigarettes, boozes and various other vices are. Yet there is insufficient political will to elevate it to the status of an addictive drug. The evidence suggests that younger generations of Americans will live shorter lives than their elders. How can this be if they are smoking and drinking less than their elders? It’s largely a result of the consumption of sugar, and the many problems that it brings, all of which are preventable.

Perhaps it is fitting that America is the epicenter of the obesity crisis. Since we value freedom most of all, this gives us the freedom to indulge, and we do more and more. Sugar is an easy indulgence because it is so cheap and because we won’t declare it dangerous and unhealthy, which it clearly is. Instead, we discuss it around the edges. We’ll let Michele Obama build a garden at the White House. There is nothing wrong with daily doses of nutritious vegetables and regular exercise, but the unstated and real cause of obesity is our sugary junk food addiction.

I’m not sure what the best approach to deal with this problem is. I’ll leave that to scientists. But my suspicion as a sugar addict is a zero tolerance policy is probably what I really need. Which means no sugar based products at all. No breakfast rolls. No more of my beloved Dark Chocolate M&Ms. No more desserts ever, unless they are sugar free. It’s not about just eliminating high fructose corn syrup from my diet. The article makes clear that table sugar is no less unhealthy. That’s where I would like to go. I hope I can summon the will to do so. I may need a physician’s help to get there.

We might be able to reduce the problem by taxing sugar and sugar-based products the way we tax booze and cigarettes, as well as ending any sugar subsidies. Yes, there would be lots of howling, but we would also end up with a healthier populace.

Americans still believe in free lunches. Sadly, this is more evidence that there are none. We have bodies optimized for hunting and gathering, not for sitting all day and consuming large quantities of additive substances. We can live shorter and unhealthier lives by keeping doing what we are doing, or we can start eating like humans should instead.

 
The Thinker

Republicans rooting for more economic misery

For most Americans, particularly the unemployed ones, the 2012 elections cannot come too soon. Sadly, most Americans who could vote did not bother to vote in the 2010 midterms, particularly the unemployed ones who were having trouble keeping a fixed address. This allowed the crazies (a.k.a. Tea Party Republicans) to get control of one house of Congress. Many of those who did vote for the Tea Party though did so on the assumption that they would do something tangible to create jobs.

Silly voters. Of course everything Republicans say they are doing is to help facilitate job creation. Yet despite all the tax cuts, spending cuts, and regulatory changes our unemployment rate remains basically unchanged at 9.1 percent. In fact, the unemployment rate has gone up since January, when Republicans came into power in the House. (It was 9.0% in January 2011.) Cutting the deficit is somehow supposed to create jobs, but it has also added hundreds of thousands of public sector workers to the unemployment roles as governments everywhere pare spending. Other tactics to reign in spending, like the brouhaha over extending the federal debt ceiling, only served to make our creditors more nervous, adding more uncertainty into the economy, possibly triggering a double dip recession. The stimulus, which at least succeeded in priming the economy a bit and reducing the unemployment rate a percentage or so, is all gone. Meanwhile, businesses are sitting on record amounts of capital, but don’t want to use it to do any hiring because of all the uncertainty in the economy.

Next week President Obama plans to deliver a speech on unemployment to a joint session of Congress. He is expected to say Congress must act to create jobs, but the initiative is almost doomed to go nowhere. Which means if you are unemployed you have to hope against hope that despite all these negative signs employment will pick up, or saner heads will prevail after the 2012 election. If you are getting by on food stamps, you may want to start your own vegetable garden because so many Americans are on food stamps that the program is running out of money, so it is likely to get chopped back. And if you are one of the long-term unemployed that have depended on extended unemployment benefits for at least some income, those benefits will stop arriving soon. So the prognosis for an economic recovery before the election is not great, and made even worse by cutting food stamps and unemployment payments. That’s even less money that will go into the economy.

Republicans take as a matter of faith that if the government stops interfering with the private sector, then free from these constraints the private sector will pick up the slack by investing and hiring people. So far the evidence is just the opposite. The truth is of all the agents that can cause economic growth to occur, in the short term the government is the only that could truly change the dynamic. This is because through intelligent policy, government can inject money into the economy that buys goods and services, and helps employ more people. When people are employed, they have income that they spend, which puts more income in other people’s pockets, which causes growth and begins a virtuous cycle. Moreover, our ability to do so has arguably never been cheaper. Interest on U.S. treasury bills are less than inflation, which effectively means not only that we can borrow money interest free, but also that others are actually paying us money to give us money.

The evidence suggests that if the U.S. were to borrow money now and put it to use to grow the economy, through projects we already need like infrastructure improvements, we would stimulate the economy, effectively pay no interest to do so, and begin a virtuous cycle that would increase employment and growth. Moreover, as people acquire income again, they also contribute taxes again at all levels, which give governments more income than they would have otherwise. Intelligent short term deficit spending now seems very likely to reduce long term deficits through economic growth, which comes back to the treasury in the form of increased tax revenues.

It’s clear to me that Republicans really have no desire to grow the economy or bring down unemployment, at least not until Obama is out of office. And they are willing to keep Americans unemployed to be faithful to an ideology that is proving not to work. Indeed, they seem intent to throw sand into the engine of our economy. The hope seems to be that Americans will blame Obama instead of their party in 2012, although polls suggest Republicans and Tea Party Republicans in particular will shoulder most of the blame.

The only thing we can say for sure is that there is at least a year more of misery ahead, and it will be borne principally by the unemployed and the disenfranchised because Republicans will put ideology ahead of the needs of the American people.

 

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