Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ronald Reagan, the Great Eliminator (of the middle class)

I’m not an economist, I don’t play one on TV and numbers scare me, but I think everyone should have a basic understanding of why we find ourselves with such gaping income inequality in America today and an economy that is stuck in neutral. There’s a very accessible article in Truthout that explains in language I can grasp how having a middle class in a capitalist society is a conscious choice and not something that naturally flows from a free market economy.

Our economic troubles really began when Ronald Reagan took office in 1980 and started drastically cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Since then, the very wealthy have continued to accumulate money, their income has grown dramatically, while those once considered middle class realized stagnant or negative income growth, eventually plummeting to near poverty levels.

The article points out that the great economic growth and expansion of the middle class we experienced in the 1950s and 1960s was directly related to high taxes on the very rich, a tightly regulated economy and strong labor laws. That’s all gone by the wayside in the last 33 years, and the current Grand Canyon of income inequality is the result.

One point made in the article that I found very interesting was the idea that when you have a middle class, a large group of Americans who were relatively comfortable financially, people are able to focus their energy and attention on broader social issues (civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the environment) rather than the day-to-day struggle for survival. This, of course, scared the shit out of the conservative establishment, and their champion, Ronald Reagan, finally put a stop to all of that as president. Today, a large swath of America is right where conservatives want us to be, scraping to get by and beholden to our employers for letting us keep our jobs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The ballad of Cliven Bundy and the myopic militiamen

The recent drama involving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management is a sad microcosm of our skewed priorities and unfocused anger as American citizens.

For the past twenty years, Bundy has been grazing his cattle on land that has a fee attached to it by the government. The fee was instituted to discourage ranchers from allowing cattle to graze on environmentally sensitive land. Bundy doesn’t like that, and chose not to pay the fee. He now owes the government about $1 million. Bundy has a handful of contorted and unconvincing claims that he feels justify his use of the land. The BLM decided to take action and started rounding up Bundy’s cattle to sell them off. Bundy put out a call, and hundreds of Clint Eastwood wannabes showed up at his ranch armed to the teeth and ready for a fight with the gubrment. The BLM has backed off for now, but everyone involved says that the fight isn’t over.

A rancher has land issues with the U.S. government. Within a day or two of this hitting the news, militia members from all over the West came running to lay down their lives for a guy who is basically deciding what laws he’s going to follow and what ones he’s not going to follow. The government is listening in on your calls, reading your emails and monitoring what websites you visit, all without a warrant. This, friends, is an actual constitutional crisis, but can we get 200 people, hell, twenty people, riled up enough to take to the streets in protest? Uh, no.

Income inequality, the criminal actions of Wall Street, the use of drones, Climate change, the fact that we’ve transitioned from a democracy to an oligarchy; these are real issues that demand our attention and energy as citizens, not some sun baked cowboy with a dubious land claim. While you’re playing High Noon in the Nevada desert, the elites are draining your savings and destroying your economy, killing innocent people in your name, polluting your air and water, and invading your privacy.

The great irony is that these misguided militiamen will go back home and undoubtedly vote for Republicans or Libertarians at the ballot box, thus aggravating every one of the major problems this country faces. The militia members claimed victory after the BLM backed down, but they won nothing and the fracas only served as a minor diversion from the real cancer that is growing and attacking democracy from within.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New short story - The Things Money Can't Buy

Posted a new short story at They're Only Shadows titled "The Things Money Can't Buy." Here's an excerpt:

“I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal.” That said, he drew out a long kitchen knife from his belt and advanced toward the woman. Having ample time to prepare, Suzanne cocked her right leg and then swung it forward with all the power she could tap into. The top of her foot landed squarely on Kevin’s testicles and he crumpled to the sidewalk like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Standing over the moaning man, she kicked the knife into a patch of ivy, then quickly surveyed the neighborhood for any prying eyes. Satisfied she hadn’t been seen, she grabbed Kevin by his collar and dragged him down the driveway into the garage, out of sight of her neighbors.
            The blinding pain began to subside, and Kevin looked around the garage through his tears. His eyes landed on Suzanne’s running shoes. He twisted his aching body to a sitting position and could now see that she was holding a hammer and angry as hell. “Sorry,” he said.
            “Sorry?” she yelled, then immediately brought the decibel level of her voice down. “You are the worst fucking assassin on the entire planet.”
            “I never killed anyone before.”
            “That’s obvious. My five-year old daughter could have done a better job than you. I cannot believe Jason would hire a bum off the streets to murder me and not a professional.”
            “We did discuss that—“
            “Shut up. I should call the cops right this minute, but…”
            “But what?” he asked hopefully. 
            “You’re mine now. I own you. Say it.”
            “What?”
            “Say I own you.”
            “I…you own me.”
“Good. Now I want you to kill Jason. I’ll pay you $60,000.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Republicans and smaller government: The big lie.

Stop any Republican on the street and ask that person what his party stands for and I guarantee you one of the first things to come out of his mouth will be “smaller government.” Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.” Sometimes stated openly, sometimes only implied, Republicans and libertarians want the government to be less involved in their lives. Okay, I can certainly appreciate that as a tenet of their party, but how does it square with their proposals, policies and platforms?

Here’s what small Republican state and federal government looks like. Some of these things have happened, some are happening now, and some are merely wishful thinking:
  • Outlaw abortion
  • Punish doctors who perform abortions and women who try to get them
  • Restrictions on contraceptives
  • Prayer in public schools
  • Replace science and history in public schools with Christian myths
  • Corporal punishment in schools
  • Guns in schools, and everywhere else
  • Continue the war on drugs and keep existing drug laws that favor punishment over rehabilitation. Build more prisons.
  • Stop no-fault divorce and require marriage counseling
  • Let insurance companies run healthcare in America
  • Roll back regulations that affect the safety of the food you eat, the air that you breath and the water that you drink
  • Continue rigging the economy to benefit the .01%
  • Allow open discrimination and demonization of all none-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual citizens
  • Allow only the “right people” to immigrate to America
  • Implement an international political approach that favors war over diplomacy
  • Codify the unitary executive
  • Drill for oil anywhere and everywhere

Does this sound like a political party that wants a smaller, less intrusive government?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

America’s problems are obvious. Solutions, not so much.

A research article soon to be published in Perspectives on Politics comes to the conclusion that the sun is hot. Oh, sorry. The paper actually finds that the wealthy and special interest groups in America have a strong impact on government policies, while the average person has almost none. The authors of the study note that when placed against the interests of the rich, “it makes very little difference what the general public thinks.”

Surprising as it sounds, those of us who make less than seven figure yearly incomes had a hunch that was the case. And thanks to the unjustices on the Supreme Court, we’ve handed the elites even more opportunities to buy the politicians and policies they want. Aren’t you frustrated knowing what the problems are in American, but being powerless to do anything about them? I know I am. What good is writing your congressperson when you know that they really don’t care what you think?

It’s a gloomy, cold Minnesota Sunday, and I am in a mood to match.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Equal pay issue highlights the Republican’s war on women

The battle currently underway over equal pay for women reveals once again that conservatives are far more interested in pleasing their corporate overlords and defending their medieval ideology than finding solutions to real world problems. The arguments against equal pay are nonsensical at best and blatantly misogynistic at worst.

How can you genuinely argue that it’s okay to pay a woman less than a man for doing the same job? How do you force yourself to believe that? As with the abortion issue, conservatives have no problem with treating women as second-class citizens who don’t deserve the same rights as men. Republicans in congress call the wage gap issue a political stunt by Democrats. I doubt the majority of women in the workforce consider equal pay a partisan stunt.

Why would any woman vote for a Republican? Many of the programs that Congressional Republicans want to cut spending for, like Medicaid, food stamps and child-care assistance, are predominantly assisting women with children. Republicans deny they are waging a war on women, but if you judge them by their actions and their rhetoric, it’s clear they think of women as inferior beings.

It will always be the 15th century for conservatives.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Being liberal or conservative is more hard wired than previously thought

I just read an interesting article in Mother Jones exploring current research into the physiological foundation for our liberal or conservative view of the world. The work of political scientist John Hibbing and others is pointing toward the notion that our political outlook is more hardwired, more closely woven into the fabric of our being, than previously realized.

Hibbing’s research finds that conservatives tend to focus more on negative stimuli in the world around them than liberals, and in response, build up ideological defenses against these perceived threats. The bottom line, according to Hibbing’s work is that liberals and conservatives see the world through different lenses or filters and that this divide is the result of more than simply environmental factors or familial preferences. It explains how two people (liberal and conservative) can watch the same debate and come away with completely different interpretations of the event. They are literally seeing different debates. People cannot fully control their political beliefs, says Hibbing, any more than they can control their sexual orientation or left/right handedness.

If you go to the comments section, you will find a lot of angry conservative responses to these findings as there has been for other research articles in this arena. This is highly emotional and controversial stuff and I feel like we’re still left with the question, “What do we do with this knowledge?” Despite the fact that at our particular point in history the conservative/liberal divide seems to be as wide s the Grand Canyon and intractable, it’s also as old as man and is perhaps a necessary friction for our growth as humans.