Saturday, September 24, 2011

Anti Zionist Orthodox Jews Demonstrate Against Israel

On Sept 21, 2011, Anti Zionist Orthodox Jews demonstrated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, for a free Palestine in the entire Holy Land and to express the Jewish opposition to Zionism and the occupation of Palestine.

Funding of Leading Credit Rating Agencies Must Change

Lloyd B Thomas Jr, a Kansas State professor of economics and the author of The Financial Crisis and Federal Reserve Policy, a book about the financial crisis, says:

Standard and Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s—the three leading credit rating agencies—behaved very poorly during the housing and credit bubbles of 2000-2006. Many buyers of mortgage backed bonds can only purchase those rated AAA. The rating agencies routinely stamped mortgage backed bonds and related derivatives AAA without carefully examining the quality of the individual mortgages that backed them.

This failure of the rating process helped feed an enormous expansion in the pipeline of credit to the housing sector, and its inevitable collapse after 2006 is the primary cause of the nation’s economic problems today. Many of these bonds were junk bonds because of the inferior quality of mortgages backing them. He continued:

These credit rating agencies have been funded by the very investment banks that built the toxic mortgage backed bonds and related securities.

It led to corruption of the ratings process as Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch engaged in a “race to the bottom”. Such obvious conflicts of interest and poor performance are why the way leading credit rating agencies are funded should be changed:

Standard and Poor’s knew that if it failed to rate a mortgage backed bond AAA, the investment bank would take it’s business to Fitch or Moody’s, which would likely rate the bond AAA to collect its million dollar fee for its rating service from the investment bank. Clearly this obvious conflict of interest needs to be corrected by implementing a new way of funding the rating agencies.

How much evidence of corruption in the higher echelons of the country’s financial sector, and the rich minority that benefit from it, do we need to get enraged?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Americans Get More Antisocial as the Meanness of Capitalism Registers

Sociality is essential to humanity. It is the feeling of care and concern that people have towards each other, and is a deep instinct within us from the time when we lived for several hundred thousand years in small groups which gave us the advantage over fiercer animals that eventually made us king of the jungle and of the world. The instinct to work in small groups is still with us, but is getting weaker:

There is a lot of evidence that our democracy is based on having citizens connected with one another. When we connect with one another in associations we learn that our self interest is actually connected to the interests of others. That gives us a conception of the public good, common identity, and sense of common responsibility as a nation and as citizens. Any decline in that scholars see as potentially detrimental to democracy.
Pamela Paxton

Pamela Paxton is a sociology professor and Population Research Center affiliate from The University of Texas at Austin. She and Matthew A Painter II, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wyoming, used the Iowa Community Survey and the General Social Survey to explore the changing nature of voluntary association membership between 1994 and 2004, using responses from approximately 10,000 citizens in 99 small towns in Iowa, as well as a national sample of the United States population. They compared active members, who regularly attend local meetings, to checkbook members who do not attend any meetings and whose only requirement for membership was likely just to write a check.

Small town Iowans on average actively participated in about a quarter fewer associations in 2004 than they did in 1994. Active participation in recreational groups declined the most at 6 percent. The smallest declines in participation occurred for church and political/civic associations. Church participation declined by 3.5 percent, and active memberships in political and job related groups declined by 2 percent, the latter decline being less because 2004 was a presidential election year.

Overall, the evidence from Iowa suggests not only declining membership in general, but also a shift in how members participate in voluntary organizations. All categories show small but significant checkbook membership of all categories, except one which remained level, increased 1 to 1.6 percent. Paxton said:

Even if we thought these checkbook memberships were equivalent to being actively involved in an organization, the decline in the active associations is greater than any increase we are getting in checkbook memberships.

Paxton said scholars are still trying to understand the decline, but if it is happening in small towns in Iowa, the heartland of America, she expects the declines may be even more drastic elsewhere in country. Potential explanations for the shift from active to passive participation include:

  • communities have less neighborhood interaction
  • commutes are longer
  • television and computer gaming inhibit interaction
  • generational differences.

Academics have to think of the sources of their funding and therefore are often timid in expressing conclusions that funding bodies do not like. The fact is that capitalism is based on the ruthless exploitation of your neighbor, everyone wants to join the rich man’s club, and capitalism is supposed to be the way to the American dream, trust disappears, neighborliness and sociality seem old fashioned in the increasingly harsh America. People withdraw to their tellies and computers. Turn to any political forum and you find the defenders of the system, people who are doing all right out of it, and many, like these, who are plainly exasperated by unemployment, hardship, uncertainty, unfriendliness:

  1. interactions between people now always have the motive of profit
  2. the reality of commercial competition is that anything goes, to win
  3. a monetarist system always breeds distrust
  4. employers always have some angle or con going even against their own employees—I’m sick of it
  5. the system of government and economics is designed for people to screw one another
  6. I don’t trush anybody any more—I haven’t found one person worth trusting
  7. poor people are disposable, there are so many of them they don’t individually matter
  8. societies with large impoverished classes soon acquire repressive means of state control of those populations—the USofA used terrorist threats to set up more repressive mechanisms
  9. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who isn’t some sort of con artist or predator or something—to hell with them
  10. our country became great is because we wanted it to help the poor and the elderly
  11. it is unfairness that is ruining the country—how does a corporation making billions in profits not pay taxes and get government disbursements every year?
  12. tax dollars should help our communities not fund foreign wars and corporation bribes—decent government gives us back the tax we pay in better community services, benefits for our people out of work, community projects that create jobs, and community education, then interaction will grow
  13. it is a sick society that keeps a huge prison population and pays most people peanuts for doing menial jobs like flipping burgers, but an immensely rich minority who takes everything to spend abroad—what’s fair?
  14. society needs a social contract—without it, a society has no stake in its people, and is ripe for revolution.

Americans have been conditioned for decades to hate socialism, yet it simply means building a society that everyone wants to live in. It does not mean collecting tax dollars from the poor and middle classes to give to the megarich.

The six broad categories of organizations in the study were service and fraternal organizations, recreational groups, political and civic groups, job-related organizations, church-related groups, and all other groups and organizations.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scientists, Republicans and Democracy

A 2009 study of US scientists by the Pew Research Center found that:

  1. 6 percent consider themselves Republicans
  2. 55 percent consider themselves Democrats
  3. 39 percent consider themselves independent
  4. 9 percent consider themselves conservative
  5. 66 percent consider themselves liberal or very liberal.

It seems scientists have no affection for conservatives and Republicans, perhaps a good reason why Republicans are now the anti-science party. Or maybe scientists simply reject Republicans because they are anti-science (Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science). Science denial today is more pronounced on the political right, which, unlike the center-left is far more likely to question climate change, evolutionary theory, and biomedicine.

One reason for the latter is that Republicans now depend upon fundamentalist Christians in the South and the Midwest to get elected at all, and this means they have to pander to biblicist posturing on creation and evolution. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that highly intelligent, educated people reject religion as childish and unreasonable. As our leading scientists are necessarily intelligent and educated—quite unlike far too many Republican candidates for high and even presidential office—they are not likely to be impressed by those who think Bronze Age myths deserve more respect than modern science.

Washington is a magnet for unprincipled spinesless worms keen only on their own political and financial progress, and not on serving the people, or doing so only to the extent that they will benefit somewhat incidentally from doing so. Such men get their rewards from the mega rich whose wealth bankrolls the party, and put themselves in a position to receive them by pandering to the lowest common denominator of their electorate.

We are seeing what J S Mill, in a work much admired by right wing libertarians (Liberty) feared most of all, the oppression of the minority by the majority—the dictatorship of popular opinion. The right wing media feed the intolerant dogmata of the ignorant and their representatives by forcing into prominence false “controversy” on supposedly liberal grounds. Needless to say, Mill was against such false liberalism. Feeding false ideas to suppress true ones is not liberal, it is fascist. It is the “Big Lie” method of the Nazi propagandists.

Fascism is elitism, and elitism never supported democracy and liberalism. When the elite has all the money, it has all the power. In particular it owns the media, and so controls popular opinion, controls the financial apparatus, and controls where the jobs are. If the media cannot fool enough people, the banks and corporations will destroy their lives, by foreclosing on their homes, or by shipping their local factory somewhere else, often not even in the USA.

Liberty is expressed metaphorically as letting a thousand flowers bloom, not covering every acre with the same monocultured plant. Liberty is tolerating a plethora of views, not forcing one, usually wrong one, on to everybody, like it or not. That is the theocracy that the fundamentalists aim for, and the wealthy elite will gladly go along with it, if it means they keep their wealth and power.

Scientists are among those who can be relied upon generally to see what is going on, and to question it. The professional bodies of scientists ought to be standing candidates for office. They can aim to, at least, set a high intellectual and moral standard for candidates. If the electorate rejects them, it deserves what it gets.

The British Labour Party in 1931 put in its election manifesto that the electors had before them the choice to plan their economy or to perish. Hugh Dalton, a Labor minister, wrote:

By a majority of two to one they voted for perishing.

In the next twenty years under the victorious right wing government, the depression continued and led into WWII. Today, Americans have a similar choice. To get and preserve a liberal society, you do not vote libertarian, you vote liberal.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

America Stops Laughing to Correct Apoplectic Republican Comic, Rush Limbaugh

Alternet has a plethora of interesting articles and often more interesting and informative comments. This link is to a comment thread to a short article about the right wing propagandist Rush Limbaugh, who is no repecter of the truth or even of facts. A comment by passnthru2 noted:

  1. The richest 1 percent has 43 percent of the nation’s wealth—6 times that of the bottom 80 percent, which has just 7 percent
  2. the richest 5 percent has 72 percent of the nation’s wealth—10 times that of the bottom 80 percent
  3. the top 20 percent has 93 percent of the nation’s wealth—23 times that of the bottom 80 percent
  4. the top 50 percent has 97.5 percent of the nation’s wealth—39 times that of the bottom 50 percent which has 2.5 percent

44 percent of Americans couldn’t get $2000 together if their lives depended on it, while the richest 400 families:

  1. have $1.4 trillion, and yet,
  2. pay under 14% income tax

These rich people and the big corporations they own are sitting on piles of cash, yet they refuse to pay decent wages, and do everything in their power to lower the workers wages, for example using professional bigots like Rush Limbaugh whose splenetic rants impress a substantial section of the redneck population. It explains why there is a recession, and illustrates the huge fault in capitalism.

The rich always want more, and have to drive up profits to get more. They can do it by charging more and by paying their workers proportionally or absolutely less. They can even move their businesses abroad and pay the domestic worker nothing at all! But when people have less to spend whether it is absolutely less through wage cuts or relatively less by price inflation, they cannot afford to buy as much as they could previously. The retail trade goes into recession, and manufacturing businesses follow.

RustyCannon observed that if they were to pay people better, retail and therefore industry would be stimulated. Poor workers necessarily spend what they receive in earnings. They do not earn enough to save it. So the economy would be stimulated if the rich would just realize that they are starving the economy of liquidity by their greed. If the rich will not do it then the government must. President Carter created jobs, then Reagan came in, cut taxes for the rich, and drove unemployment through the roof.

The theory was “trickle down”. Give the rich more tax breaks and less regulations and they will spend more readily, employing people to expand their businesses. It doesn’t work. Republican President, George W Bush did not create as many jobs in the two terms of his presidency as did Carter in the single term he had. The rich just begin to expect more tax breaks to accumulate more risk free wealth—it is easier than taking the risks of trading. 30 years of this has just lead to manufacturers closing factories and destroying lives at home to move maufacture abroad to low labor cost countries. 50,000 manufacturing companies went in the Bush administration alone.

The large and enterprising middle class that was the economic engine of the USA is being impoverished by the stranglehold the rich have on the nation’s ready money—the top 400 wealthiest own more than the bottom 150 million. The economy is starved of demand. Middle class wages have been flat for 3 decades, yet the cost of living has continued to climb. Two income homes are now needed just to get by. The middle class no longer has as much disposable income, and what it has is falling, leaving its demand for products and services lower, with knock-ons to other small businesses dependent on them.

When people, encouraged by the sleepwalking bankers, began using the equity in their homes, they created a false demand bubble, and a false sense of prosperity. Disastrous greed among bankers who thought our money was theirs, led them to gamble with those unsound derivatives. Trading them backwards and forwards each day yielded immense bionuses for doing nothing in the least bit useful. That bubble burst, leaving us in the mess we are in, yet with no will to regulate the banksters and the rentiers, and sustained “head in the sand” insanity among Republicans determined to tie down Obama, and bring him down, if at all possible.

Further cuts as demanded by the Republicans can only make the situation worse, and that is the fault of the Republicans themselves who ought to have accummulated in the good years to spend in the bleak ones. They spent through the good years and now, when spending is the only way out of depression, they want to cut. Strong financial regulation and a New Deal like FDR’s will be necessary to reinvigorate the economy—measures that Republican bigots like Limbaugh call socialism for the sake of their indoctrinated disciples.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around—90 Years Later!

Why is it that our industrialists, who are responsible for the welfare of industry, have allowed a financial policy to be pursued which has been so damaging to it, and not only damaging to the working people involved in the industry, but to the industrialists themselves?

They all of them put their money on the side of Conservatism politically, and voted with the big battalions of Conservatism, while Conservative Governments were putting through quite steadily, from 1922 onwards till last year, a monetary policy which was hitting industry and the industrialists all the time, though they did not seem to see it. They complained, of course, from time to time.

Even Mr Churchill claims now that he was all in favour of a monetary policy which would take into consideration the welfare of industry and not look only at the position from the point of view of high finance and the City. But it was Mr Churchill who put through the return to the Gold Standard all the same. One might say of Mr Churchill what Frederick the Great said of the Empress Maria Theresa, when she took part in the partition of Poland: “He wept, but he took.”

What did he take? Maynard Keynes states that the primary consequence of the return to the Gold Standard was to place £1,000,000,000 into the pockets of the rentier interest, a purely debt holding interest, out of our pockets
A L Rowse, Fabian Society Lecture (1932)

What is different? Only some of the jargon. Periodically, the über rich simply rob us of the odd $trillion or so at current values. Why do we put up with it?