Tuesday, August 25, 2009

China kicking our ass and Ben Bernanke again

Hey kids! James Call: Expert returns. Still awaiting your questions, but in the meantime, here's some fun updates!!! If by "fun," you mean, "severely depressing". Enjoy!

Today in the Chinese Have Been Superior to Us with a Few Exceptions for About 4,000 Years so Why Stop Now

It looks like the Chinese are poised to kick our ass in the solar panel market. Solar and wind energy would seem like THE industry to be developing, old-school style, to bring America into the 21st Century with a new industrial base, and to generate JOBS. But hey, who needs jobs, right? Especially high-paying manufacturing jobs? Not almost 10% of Americans, right?

Today in Fed Chairmanship

Ben Bernanke has being reappointed. No big surprise there. He's been an usually open chairman, for which he has my respect; perhaps he'll help shatter some of the Secrets of the Temple (everyone go read that book, now, it's way more intense than the Harry Potter franchise, I promise). However, Simon Johnson, who is way smarter than me, has a pretty unpleasant forecast for Bernanke's next term... basically, a new bubble, this time in Asia.

Not sure who SHOULD be appointed, though. Is the Punisher available?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brazil "Nationalizes" Its (Major) Oil (Discovery), and Liberals Up in Arms

James Call: Expert here! A reminder: I am still looking for your questions. But for today, I'll just spiel through this haze of claritin some of our more exciting goings-on.

Today in 2nd-World Countries Nationalizing Oil

So, hey, good news! Brazil has declared that Petrobras (Brazil's oil company, and a notable player in the exciting world of oil companies, sort of the "John Stewart Green Lantern" to the international oil industry's "JLA") straight-up gets the rights to the remainder of the massive deep-sea oil deposits off its coast, which were discovered in 2007. About 38% of these deposits have already been bid away, including to foreign developers. The rest is for BRAZIL!

This is pretty huge shit, becaus the world hasn't weaned itself off of oil yet, and these fields are expected to be amongst the world's more significant oil resources for the, uh, remainder of the oil age, probably. Unless the oil age ends up lasting another century instead of just another four to five decades or so...

The risk to whitey (i.e., consumers, globally) is that Petrobras will bungle the extraction process and not get the oil to the market. This has happened with state-owned oil companies numerous times before. Look at Venezuela's PDVSA if you want, or look at Iran, which has to actually import oil when it should be a major exporter. State-run oil companies just don't get the job done the way private companies do.

But: private companies also tend not to give one solitary shit how the countries they operate in fare. For all that output has dropped in the wake of Hugo Chavez's takeover of PDVSA, the profits from that oil company now go to Venezuela itself. There's plenty of reasons to oppose Chavez, but there's no denying that PDVSA is now working for Venezuela and not the other way around.

So I say good for Brazil. If Petrobras can't get the oil out of the ground in time, well then, oil prices will just have to rise, globally, which will encourage investment in the fuels and energy sources of the future, which is much better than relying on a 19th century energy source proven to be a finite resource, anyways.

Today in Health Care Reform

I have to give some props to the mainstream so-called "liberal" media, for actually acting like liberals, for a change, and sticking it to Prez Obama for backing down on the public option. Specifically, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow demonstrated some real cojones on calling Obama on his shit. A health care bill without the public option is weak stuff, and those shitty little "co-ops" aren't going to cut it.

Perhaps these House liberals will surprise us and not back down in threatening to scuttle any bill without a public option? We can get a bill with a public option through the Senate; we just have to live with zero GOP votes, and use reconciliation. It'll be tight, but we can do it. The question is, would Obama lean on the swing Senators to get the job done?

Nate Silver thinks we're being too hard on Obama, not being realistic (by "we" I mean "we liberals who feel betrayed that he's abandoning the public option"), and Mr. Silver is always worth listening to. However, he's also prone to often take a pro-statist, almost anti-progressive view of how business should be conducted in Washington, and I have to disagree with him. I think Pelosi threatening to pull the plug on the whole bill is exactly what is needed.

I don't think Obama is genuine about wanting a public option, but if he is - and he still says he is - then it's time to do this bill through reconciliation, not the normal procedure, because the GOP is going to oppose the health care bill even WITHOUT the public option. So might as well cut them out of the whole process. The Dems, and Obama, will enjoy a 5-point poll bounce once health care reform gets passed - so sez former Prez Clinton, and I have to give Bill Clinton props for political saavy (most of the time), if nothing else. People will completely forget about "socialism" once they have cheap, reliable health care.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bye Bye Public Option and other shitty news

On a day when James Call: Expert is locked in a death-struggle he appears to be losing with a collection agency, it's very appropriate that the public option, perhaps the one policy item we had the most right to feel hopeful about, in the wake of the 2008 elections, is now more-or-less officially kaput.

Today in Health Care Reform

So yeah, over the weekend, Obama and crew (specifically Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius) basically threw the public option under the rug. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota said that the public option "never" had the votes to pass in the Senate, and Obama et al are basically giving him and his ilk the nod, albeit still ostensibly saying the public option is the best way to go.

Paul Krugman and Nate Silver don't seem too depressed about it; in order to avoid being depressed myself, I'm deferring to their expertise. But we now know that even if health care reform does result in expanded coverage, especially to folks like me, with pre-existing conditions, it's going to do very little for cost, which should be a major concern, and may very well lead to calls a few decades down the line to do away with the entire thing.

The big question now is whether anything will be done to rein in the vicious cycle of doctors charging insurance companies for big-item, frivolous treatments. This will require cracking the whip on both doctors and insurers, and I'm not sure anyone in government has the backbone to do that, at this point. Still, this is one of the major problems driving cost, and to rectify this problem doesn't require spending any money at all. It just requires the will to stand up to these constituencies. Something we haven't seen a whole lot of so far, sadly.

Very, very disappointing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why We're in This Mess

Ok! Today I'm just gonna straight-up QUOTE A BLOG to highlight an overlooked subject... hell, a subject that no one even talks about, for some reason, in this country: wage growth.

In the 1990s, Japan was in the shitter in a manner very similar to where we are today. As someone who currently feels he can't leave his job, because to do so would be borderline suicidal, since there are no other options out there, these 4 paragraphs really hit home. The bolding, italics, etc., are mine. This is from the Conceptual Guerilla blog (the author is "unlawflcombatnt"), and in turn is derived from the book "Greenspan's Fraud" by Ravi Batra:

Japan experienced extremely rapid growth between 1960 and 1975. During that time there was a 168% increase in per capita GDP. Their per capita GDP increased from $2,139 in 1960 to $5,750 in 1975. Real wages increased 217% during that time. Manufacturing productivity increased 264% during these 15 years. Japan prospered and its economy grew during this period because wages, which create demand, kept up with productivity, which creates supply. There was sufficient WAGE-FINANCED demand to stimulate production. And the necessary demand was maintained by consumer income, not consumer borrowing.

After 1975, productivity growth began to outpace wage growth. The result was a much slower growth in GDP. Between 1975 and 1990, productivity increased 3% more than wages per year. During that period, wages increased 27%, while productivity increased 86%. The per capita GDP increase was 64% from 1975 to 1990. Less of the wealth produced by Japanese workers was being shared with them. As a result, business profits soared, increasing money available for investment. This caused Japanese investors to over-invest in both the stock market and housing. Japanese stock markets and real estate values soared as a result of this over-investment. Meanwhile, there was insufficient wage-financed demand to keep up with this capital investment. This necessitated increased levels of borrowing to maintain the demand that wages could not maintain.

By 1990 there was a huge Japanese stock market bubble and real estate bubble. And in 1990 this overvaluation all came crashing down. The Japanese economy has still not recovered 15 years later. By 2003, the Japanese stock market was still 80% below its peak in 1990. From 1990 thru 2002, per capita GDP increased 13%. Compare that with the 168% increase between 1960 and 1975. Compare this latter 15-year increase with the 59% increase during the 27 years from 1975 to 2002. Japan's per capita GDP increased 3 times as much during the 15 years prior to 1975, than it did during the 27 years after 1975. The pre-1975 rate of increase was 5 times faster than the post-1975 increase.

What caused this slowdown? The rise in the wage-productivity gap. Worker income that could have been put to good use buying Japanese goods was siphoned off as corporate profits. Since the benefits of investment capital are limited by consumer demand, the result was over-investment of Japanese stock and housing markets, and maintenance of consumer demand by borrowing.

Now if you look at any US wage/productivity gap chart, you'll notice the gap starts kicking in at the beginning of the Reagan years, and never lets up:

Now, I want to apologize for basically ripping off another blog wholesale, but this is important stuff, for the 15-20 of you who read this here bad boy, and after all, I can't cry over health care reform everyday. This is, actually, in the end, MORE IMPORTANT (or at least, just as) than health care reform, because if wages grew in tandem with productivity, like they're supposed to, a lot more of us could afford to buy health care from our current system (private insurers who charge you an arm and a leg) anyways.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Bother Being Democrats? And other musings

Hey kids! James Call: Expert has a super budy day today, and can't grace you with his bounteous knowledge and esteemed judgment. But he does have some super-groovy links that you should just read for yourselves! Bookmark them, they're borderline important!

1. Iraq's Shiites aren't flipping the hell out as assorted Sunnis (not all Sunnis, mind you) continue to terrorize them (I typed that non-ironically!) Turns out having a theology that is centered around suffering, even more so than Catholicism, is good for building up patience - such as the patience to endure people attacking you for no reason.

2. The mob's goin' after Sen. Specter, who's my favorite turncoat Republican. Ooops! Maybe you shoulda stuck around the Grand Old Party of Xenophobes and Dipshits, Arlen!...

3. After all, more and more Dem Senators are beginning to vote like Republicans on key issues. Sort of makes you wonder what the point of having a Dem majority is, right? Also: when are these folks gonna flip GOP? 2010, if the numbers look right? Time will tell...

4. To counter GOP screams of "socialism," Dems are being encouraged to "villify" insurance companies. Sounds good to me! Private insurers are a bunch of scum whose sole concern is the bottom line, which, as often as possible, means screwing the insured out of proper coverage. But, it is worth noting, insurance companies have some legitimate complaints with doctors bilking the system. Drs. in turn have some legitimate gripes with being underpaid by insurance companies, which thus encourages them to bilk! The losers, of course, are the poor shmucks paying for insurance. Health care reform MUST tackle these subjects, and, strangely, none of the plans out of committee so far touch the subject.

And those are enough links for you. Also, China has a major problem with trash incinerators, but we don't have time for that, and the above of plenty of reading for now.

Live long and prosper or die young and stay pretty!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fighting Segregtion

James Call: Expert returns, trying to get high on his OWN supply and not the supply of mankind! Tally ho!

Today in Unexpected Good News

I've been pretty critical of President Obama so far. Despite his (initial) overwhelming popularity, and transcendant political stature, he's squandered a lot of political capital capitulating to the Powers That Typically Be: Big Finance, the insurance industry, Republicans in general, etc.

Still, I think the Prez has the ability to do some pretty impressive and valuable things under the radar of the national media and political party apparati, on issues that people simply don't pay attention to. He's already reversed the trend on stem cell research and signed a major modernized GI Bill, one that doesn't ask our soliders to go kill and possibly die and then come home to enjoy unemployment, potential homelessness, and PTSD.

And today it looks like the Obama administration's shift on national housing policy is bearing fruit, as the Anti-Discrimination Center has won an historic lawsuit in Westchester county ordering local officials to make more housing available along racial lines to the middle and lower class (but not necessarily the "super-poor").

It was found in the suit that despite the availability of plentiful public housing in Westchester county, it wasn't being offered to Blacks or Hispanics. This is a very important point: it's not a matter of Rich People vs. Poor People this time, it's a matter of Whites vs. Non-Whites, and Westchester was basically told to get its shit together and get some more minorities into these de facto segregated neighborhoods.

If it was just Westchester county, this wouldn't be huuuuuuge news, but its thought that this lawsuit will provide a template for future rulings across the entire nation. And that, to me, is very good news. In this country, Africans were bought here as slaves, became "Black" people, and were kept Down on the Farm at the end of slavery by segregation, all over the course a few hundred years. Many folks like to think that the end of legal segregation is the end of the story, but it's not: being Stuck in the Ghetto and limited by lack of jobs and education is every bit as stifling as being Down on the Farm. Lifting black people up out of poverty is the remaining part of the "trilogy" of ending the horseshit that his been, historically, foisted on Africans brought to this country against their will. That's my opinion.

That similar benefits should be extended to Hispanics, and any other discriminated-against racial group, especially of a lower wealth level, should go without saying (but doesn't always, does it?).

Even those who would favor, in theory, increased racial integration get a little queasy at the premise of "social engineering," which is another reason this lawsuit is potentially such major good news. President Obama, or any President (even a "more white" one) couldn't very well make a big hoopla and go before Congress and the American people and try to pass an "Integration Bill". You think the cries of "socialism" over the bailout/health care reform/yadda yadda are bad NOW? I'd hate to see that one.

But do this quietly, while the media and parties are distracted by other huge issues, and put it slowly into place?

Man, that would be a coup comparable to that enacted by the Bush administration, when it basically staffed the entire Judiciary with wacko fundamentalists who had passed political litmus tests. Except, you know, really, really good news, as opposed to really evil, destructive-of-the-fabric-of-our-Republic news.

Call me a communist... I just think that people should not have the right to raise their children away from other children of other races. This is the 21st century, right? I mean, racial pride, at this point?!? The nation state is dying at the hands of global capital - why should we allow the segregation of races? Further, why should we allow people to think that their race counts for anything other than literal sky color and perhaps eye pigment, etc? Genetics has already disproven the premise that your races matters, scientifically, at all. It's just fucking stupid to think otherwise, and it allows the elite who are destroying the nation state with global capital to create pre-nation state-style divisions amongst those said elite would exploit.

Anyways, read the article to get the details.

Today in Understatements of the Year

Meanwhile, in less good news, listen to what this dingleberry had to say about the Obama administration's attempts to negotiate with terror, er, excuse me, Republicans:

"The expectation was that things have gotten so bad in the last 16 years that there would be consensus on the need to act this time," said Howard Paster, who was Mr. Clinton's chief lobbyist in 1993. "That was a mistake, that assumption." (NY Times, 8/11/09)

Gee, YA THINK?!? Dude, you are talking about building consensus with the Republican party, a party that hasn't cooperated with the Democrats in approximately 30 years. A party that will only compromise if you are willing to literally SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT like Clinton was forced to in the 90s.

Cooperate with these people?!? Get a goddamn clue!*

This is why I'm a communist sympathizer.

* Tip o' the hat to Chuck Schumer, too, who is getting more vocal about the premise that "we may have to do this without Republican help" (paraphrased). The Democrats control 2 branches of the government; it is time to finally WIELD that power and stop pussyfooting around.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Very Important Question

An anonymous reader asks:

Mr. Call, my wife and I recently enjoyed a threesome with a monied Count, but we woke up the next day naked in Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon, along with TV's David Hyde Pierce and deceased mathematician David Hilbert. Shouldn't the Count apologize? Or are we expected to contact him and arrange for a second date?

Second date.

And can I just add, this happens to me ALL THE TIME.

A Very Important Question

An anonymous reader asks:

Mr. Call, and wife and I recently enjoyed a threesome with a monied Count, but we woke up the next day naked in Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon, along with TV's David Hyde Pierce and deceased mathematician David Hilbert. Shouldn't the Count apologize? Or are we expected to contact him and arrange for a second date?

Second date.

And can I just add, this happens to me ALL THE TIME.

The Devil's Moon and other topics

James Call: Expert! Answering your questions with his TOTAL KNOWLEDGE OF ALL SUBJECTS!

Today in the Moon

Reader "Will" asks:

What's with the moon? Why is it sometimes freakin' RED? Also, why does it sometimes look GIANT like it's going to crash into the Earth?

(I may have taken some liberties with Will's exact wording of the question.)

Very good question, Will! I'll tell you why. In a nutshell, the Sun is always shining the full visible spectrum of light on the moon. That's why, on a clear night, the moon looks white: because all the colors (this should be familiar to you Green Lantern fans) are combined into white, and reflected off the moon. Bear in mind one of my favorite science factoids: nothing has intrinsic color, everything is simply reflected light. Smoke some weed and meditate on THAT concept, buckos. Anyways...

The blue/green spectrum of the rainbow consists of shorter wavelengths, and these wavelengths can be filtered out by atmosphere, in much the same way that bass frequencies carry more easily between walls than higher frequencies do (which is why the neighbor doesn't need to turn down their music at night, just their bass, really, though most people don't realize this). So when there's plenty of atmosphere, only the red/orange light reflecting off the moon can filter through to our eyesight.

When farmers are burning the fields to make them fertile again, etc., there's more smoke (atmosphere) in the sky. That's why the blood-red moon is also called the "Harvest Moon". Of course, it should really be renamed the "Failure of Industrialism Moon" because that's what it is these days. You see a lot of Harvest Moonage in NYC, LA, and other large metropolitan areas, because all the emissions from congestion are creating more atmosphere and filtering out the blue/green light.

In short, the more red moons we see, the more pollution we are living amidst!

NOW: why does the moon appear to be so fucking HUGE somethings? This is a simple matter of perspective. The moon is always, to our eyesight, the same size. However, when it's up in the sky, we compare it to the field of the sky, which is quite vast. Therefore, the moon appears small and less significant, something we could easily blow up with nuclear missles to test our manhood as a species. On the other hand, when the moon is rising over the horizon, we may compare it to nearby buildings, trees, etc., which is why it appears berserkly huge at times.

And that, my friends, is your science for today. Please bear in mind the "Harvest Moon" should be differentiated from the "Blue Moon," which you see standing alone, and the "Poison Moon," which you laugh in the face of.

Today in Declining Birth Rates

Hey, two days after I posted my blog, look what All the News that's Fit to Print is reporting on!

Today in Finally Some Good News for the Obama Administration

Whoa, hey, the jobless rate finally DECLINED! In July! From 9.5% to 9.4%!


Certainly a sign that everything works perfectly in our system and that health care reform, cap and trade, and financial regulation are all completely unnecessary. I'm sure CNBC would agree with me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sorry We Have No Blog Today ♫

Too much headache, too little time to comment. Real briefly:

Today in Health Care Reform

Paul Krugman catches some flak over criticizing Rasmussen Reports for underestimating public support for health care reform. Unfortunately, while Krugman is right 90% of the time, Rasmussen also is, and on this score, Rasmussen wins. It's one of the most accurate pollsters out there. And public support for health care reform is pretty low.

"John Boehner of Sector 2814. You have been chosen for your ability to instill great fear."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

No Baby Boom, No Cry and other nonsense

James Call: Expert returns to discuss all the latest issues, plus shit that's just plain pissing him off!

Today in Shamelessness

So apparently, some woman on the Taconic Parkway, Diane Schuler, got plastered on vodka and high on pot, and then got in her car, resulting in an accident that took the lives of her daughter, 3 of her nieces, and 3 other innocent people. The NY Daily News plastered a big ol' picture of Schuler on their front page, with the headline "HOW COULD SHE".

Now, one has to ask: if Schuler has any conscience at all, any shred of human feeling in her heart, won't she be living in a personal hell for the next many years? She should never have done what she did, and she should pay the legal price, but unless she's a complete sociopath, the crushing guilt of such an incident is going to be very apt punishment for what she's done.

Is it REALLY necessary for the Daily News to plaster her face on the front page of a paper that is read by millions of New Yorkers, and seen by millions more? Does that serve any productive fucking function? When there are SERIOUS issues afoot - health care reform, rising joblessness, the dangerous situation in Afghanistan - the Daily News is going to waste very expensive front page publication time lambasting some woman who has to live with her grief for the rest of her life anyways?!?!

The people who publish and edit the Daily News should be hacked to death by machetes.

Today in Malthusianism

Reader "Lindsey" asks:

It seems many folks I know are having a baby or have recently adopted a dog. Despite generalized frustration, depression and an economy in shambles, it seems affection is a currency in these-here harsh-times. Do you think that the current economic crisis will spawn a neo-baby boom? Are there any stats available about the current birth rate in the US, and if so, how does it compare to the post-war boom? What are your thoughts? additionally, do you foresee any dystopic/Swiftian implications with this possible neo-baby boom?

To answer, in brief: no, yes, favorably, I'll tell you, and no.

First off, the last recorded data point, around October 2008, indicates a very slight decline in the US fertility rate. After a "baby boomlet" in 2006-2007, births are down slightly. And bear in mind, that's nine months after February 2008, when the recession/depression was just in its first phase. It's continuing full steam ahead, so one would expect the birth rate to decline further.

Now, the poorly educated tend to have more children than the well educated, and we certainly have more jobless folks these days. But these are the newly poor: many are bright enough to use birth control, and in this country, most aren't mainline Catholics anyways. So I would not expect these newly poor to be cranking out the kids. On the contracy, I think the fertility rate will decline further, as people (wisely) decide not to have kids whom they cannot provide for.

Here's a pretty succinct article on the matter.

It's probably for the best that our national birth rate declines. First of all, this is mostly the white birth rate. Latinos and blacks will continue to have a higher fertility rate for the time being, which will level the social playing field a bit. Although, honestly, I'd go for everyone's fertility level declining: we do not need more children in this country. Part of what allows America to enjoy the opulence it does is that the individual American consumes a much larger portion of world's wealth than he/she generates. It's why we're hated across most of the globe, after all. And it's why we have such nice tennis shoes.

That being said, even if we were to experience a doubling in population, from roughly 300 billion to roughly 600 billion people, I still wouldn't worry. This is an incredibly affluent country, and we can take it. The problem is the division of the allocation of resources within the population, not the overall size of the population. The only dystopian effect I could envision is if unemployment hit something like 20% for several generations, leading to a rise in fertility amongst the immobile poor. That would lead to a Mexico-like situation, which nobody wants. But still, hardly an India-like situation.

Honestly, I expect the overall birthrate to decline. Few formerly middle class families are going to want to bring children into the world in this day and age. I could be wrong, but I'll put money on that.

Reality is more frightening than dystopia, of course...

Today in Super-Depressing Crap

MUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH more frightening, negative future-wise, is the slow decline of the American income standard. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, anyone? Read the article at the link. You'll be sad, er, glad you did.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Grant Morrison vs. Alan Moore and Republican Mobs vs. Civilized People

James Call: Expert, having blown his "month of sobriety" pledge (after a week of sobriety) with drinks last night, is a bit hungover, and therefore will mostly be providing links and brief commentary today. But he's back on the wagon now, so expect more productivity soon!

Today in Very Good but Still Overestimated Comics Writers

You may have heard that Marvel Comics has acquired the rights to "Marvelman," a character made famous by Alan Moore's revisionist, dystopian run on the character in the 1980s in "Warrior" magazine. For those of you not in the know, Moore is the author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, amongst other works, all of which are top-notch, and none of which have been made into especially good movies. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is in fact an actively terrible movie, although the comics are excellent.

As good as Moore's writing is, when discussing him, many comics fans tend to go a bit overboard, praising Moore as the One True God who can do no wrong, against whom all other comics writers "epically fail". Moore's definitely up there, but there a lot of great comics writers floating around: Dave Sim, Charles Burns, Robert Crumb, Joe Sacco, just to name a few.

Another great writer who is a tad overhyped is Grant Morrison, known for his work on the "X-Men," "Batman," and "Doom Patrol," as well as numerous independent projects: The Filth, We3, and more. Both Moore and Morrison consistently produce "hits". Four times out of five, reading a Moore or Morrison comic, especially a superhero comic, is going to be the equivalent of watching a good hollywood flick, like Die Hard or Back to the Future, and so forth.

Still, rarely is a comic from either writer going to change your life or broaden your intellectual horizons, unless you haven't read ANY literature whatsoever. Every "big concept" that Moore and Morrison touch on have been done to death by authors of books you were assigned in high school, or at least college, long before. Still: judging by a lot of comics fans' praise of the two writers, said fans haven't been doing a lot of fancy book larnin'.

Given the excessive level of praise for the two writers, I therefore find it highly amusing to read a young Grant Morrison rip Alan Moore a new asshole.

Today in Health Care Reform

Well, it's August recess time, so it's time for the GOP to hit the campaign trail and just constantly tear into health reform, screaming "socialism," while Democrats in turn tear into insurance companies, which should be good tit-for-tat.

Except Democrats play nice and Republicans play dirty, so don't expect this to be an even brawl. The chief GOP tactic? Mobs! Bring disruptive little mobs to town hall meetings where Dem legislators are trying to explain health care reform, and ruin them by just screaming the whole time. It worked during the 2000 recount down in Florida, where screaming mobs intimidated the recounters... why not use this tactic to ruin health care reform?

It's gonna be a long, and shitty, 5 weeks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sir Thomas More and Ollie Cromwell

James Call: Expert here, fighting his window-less office headache with another round of questions from our readers!

Today in Whether Corporations Are Good, Neutral, or Evil

I wanted to just quickly follow up on Geoff's question because I didn't get to over the weekend.

In a nutshell: corporations are driven by the profit motive. They are indifferent to the greater good, and thus often create negative externalities, including pollution, products that cause obesity, etc. However, corporations that manufacture goods have two conflicting interests: they want to lower wage costs, on the one hand, which lower the purchasing power of the consumer (never forget that the worker = the consumer! Most Americans seem to, for some reason...), and yet, at the same time, they want to raise the purchasing power of the consumer, so they can consume more (and more expensive) goods!

This has led in large part to the growth of debtor culture in our country, wherein people live off their mortgages, credit cards, etc., while high-paying jobs are destroyed and/or replaced by lower-paying jobs overseas. This allows for a high consumption rate and a low wage policy...

...until, of course, the house of cards collapse, and we're left here. One would think that saavy corporations of the future would push for a 1940s-1970s scenario, with higher union membership (and thus higher wages/benefits), to recreate a solid consumer culture. But, of course, corporate thinking can be as entrenched as any other kind of thinking - for instance, is it rock and roll without sex and drugs? - and therefore, I wouldn't expect this change overnight.

Still, corporations CAN be made into productive, if not "good" entities. And I'd certainly argue that corporations can do what saintly "small business" cannot. I'd rather shop at a Barnes and Noble than most smaller bookstores, I have to admit. And I'd rather buy my soap from whomever makes Ivory or Dove than rely on some boutique, ne c'est pas?

However, financial institutions do not necessarily provide a productive function. They provide a speculative function. If they can be made to bet conservatively, then they greatly aid productive corporations, but if they engage in destructive speculation, then there's no other way to put it: they are BAD.

A big step towards making them behave better might be the reinstitution of the Glass-Stegall act, or something like it. More on that if you kids would like to hear.

And as always, I hope you're reading your Paul Krugman.

Today in Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas More

Reader "Damian" asks the following question: "It's not really a question... I just want you to explain to me Oliver Cromwell and how he relates to the other cromwell in the movie 'man for all seasons' about Thomas More, are they related?"

They are NOT related. I forget who the Cromwell in Man for All Seasons is, but Sir Thomas More was a contemporary of Henry VIII (you know, the fat man with all the wives, who started his own fucking church because the Pope wouldn't give him a divorce), and Oliver Cromwell was of course the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, who overthrew Charles I, monarch #4 after Henry VIII.

Thomas More wrote "Utopia" and was a big ol' Catholic, and this led to problems for him. The Pope would not annul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragorn (Henry wanted a male heir which Catherine could not produce, and he was always nailing other chicks, too), because the Pope was being held hostage (true!) by Charles/Carlos V of the Hapsburgs, who was kinda the man at the time - he controlled Spain and Austria, and let's not forget that this was back when Spain was at the height of its New World power - and Catherine was Carlos' aunt.

So Henry was like "F this!" and, after being excommunicated, made it the law of the land that Catholicism, in England, was OUT, and Anglicanism, which is just like Catholicism except lame*, was IN. But Sir Thomas More was a true believer, and so, boom, off with his head. Probably served him right for being a hater against England's Protestants, pre-Henry's excommunication.

By the way, Sir Thomas More and Martin Luther's letters to each other are hella vulgar and LOL-worthy and some dude or gal put 'em on wikipedia, so check 'em out.

* a note: Anglicanism these days is amongst the more benign organized branches of Christianity, so much so that many very conservative African congregations are weighing whether or not to cut themselves off from the Church of England. But it is still lame because what's the point of Catholicism without a Pope? oh well...

Oliver Cromwell was a much more imposing figure. Roughly 100 years after More's time. Cromwell was basically a military guy and a member of Parliament when Parliament got in a spat with Charles I over its prerogatives. Charles was like, "Shut up, I'm the king, leave me along, see you in 11 years," and Parliament grew some cojones and rounded up their own army which took it to Charles, resulting in his execution. This is how the Commonwealth of England was born (not the same as today's Commonwealth, which includes Canadians).

The Parliament ruled for a little bit while Cromwell went and just killed the beejeezus out of folks in Ireland, which was still Catholic (oops) even when the rest of England had Anglicanized it up, and was harboring the exiled royalists. While Cromwell was gone, Parliament dicked around as parliaments are wont to do, and when Cromwell get back, he shut the place down by force, and the Protectorate came to be, with Cromwell declared Lord Protector... for LIFE! He had more power than Charles I ever had.

Thankfully, he eventually died, and his son Richard lost power so quickly they called him "Tumbledown Dick". And then the monarchy came back, under Charles II, but this was a much more mellow monarchy, with Parliament being an almost-equal member of government, so I suppose just like you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, you probably can't make a model for American Representative Democracy without an Irish Genocide or two.