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Posts Tagged ‘Business

GOP Turns Off Youth Vote

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So, the GOP must be in REAL trouble with the young vote if Politico says the report is scathing. As most know, Politico has a Republican bent to its editorials and reporting.

Report: How GOP lost young voters

Here’s my assessment. It’s a little long, but bear with me.

I’m a registered Democrat but consider myself fairly moderate. After California changed its primary rules to allow open primary voting, I considered changing my voting status to Independent. But no more. If anything, the modern, conservative movement GOP has caused me to become even more assuredly Democratic in my voting. As an older Boomer, I’ve witnessed the changes in both parties over many decades. But the change in the Republican Party has been so dramatic, and so negative that I no longer trust Republican candidates. And that’s a shame.

Throughout the 50s to early ’80s, Republicans could be counted upon to strong but sensible on defense and rationally conservative on spending. They believed in balanced budgets and taxing at required levels to pay for what was being spent. As a result, spending was controlled because no one really wants higher taxes. (The national credit card hadn’t been invented by latter GOP politicians.) And they had lots of ideas to strengthen the middle class as well as move lower income groups out of poverty.

Mind you, when I was growing up the majority of Republicans were either Eisenhower or Rockefeller Republican who grew up during the Great Depression and fought with everyone else during WWII. Many of that era’s leaders had a wholly different take on economics: they saw America, albeit of diverse background and religions, as one people striving to achieve the fabled American dream of success via education and economic opportunities…which is one reason why they continued to control Wall St’s penchant for unbridled peculation that caused the Great Depression. In their minds, as a result of their experiences during WWII, they concluded that we are all in this together. Moreover, honor, honesty, dignity and integrity really meant something to them.

I remember watching the Watergate hearings during which the only senator that grabbed my attention…and my praise…was Republican Senator Howard Baker from Tennessee. He exhibited all the honorable values and integrity I had come to expect, from my civics education and my youth as a military brat, from members of the Senate. Partisanship seemed not to enter his mind; only seeking  the truth.

Following the Goldwater rout in ’64, an extremely conservative, religious, libertarian segment of the Republican Party made a concerted push to take over control of the Party. That segment, from Southern state conservative immigrants to Orange County, California, worked hard to execute an all out campaign to take over the GOP. Both Nixon and Reagan fostered that movement to increase their electoral opportunities until their Republican Party take over was complete.

What Nixon and Reagan began and fostered, as a politically advantageous counter to the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, unleashed a backlash against both government and large segments of the population. Prior to Reagan, most people did not hold the federal government in total distain. Except for a somewhat minor loss of presidential, executive prestige caused by Nixon’s paranoia, from which the federal government recovered nicely throughout Ford’s and Carter’s administrations, the federal government generally was held in high regard.

It took Reagan telling Americans that the federal government couldn’t be trusted…and all of his and Nixon’s old staff to convince conservative and Moral Majority religious Americans to hate the federal government as well as state, county, and city governments. In fact, they unknowingly advanced hatred any government whatsoever at all levels…and thus advanced the libertarian utopian idealism espoused by the Cato Institute.

The Republican Party used to be a party of middle class concerned ideas, i.e., protecting the middle class while helping lower classes enter the middle class, rather than a party that strictly protected the most wealthy in the nation. Eisenhower and Rockefeller Republicans, perhaps because of their WWII experiences, understood that a rising middle class was the secret to American economic success. They lived through the Great Depression and some even remembered via their parents TR’s era. As a result, their policies advanced long term capital investment (five plus years) while penalizing short-term investment gains; strict control of investment vehicles to prevent dangerous speculation; and corporate investment in product and business expansion as well as R&D over short-term stock yields.

For all the racial, religious, ethnic and gender discrimination, Republicans of ’50s through the early ’70s and even some into the early ’80s believed in the party of Lincoln. The party of opportunity even when it meant expanding federal welfare as well as the kind of fiscal responsibility that meant paying for what you spend. In truth, those older, fiscally responsible Republicans held down spending by simply making clear that increased spending meant higher taxes now…not somewhere down the road as our modern GOP chose to exhibit during the GW Bush Administration.

Regardless, the 1980s changed everything.

Modern generation Republicans have forgotten – or never learned – what their parents and grandparents learned. Even those skeptical of the federal government, Southern conservatives who immigrated to So. California during the Dust Bowl and those who stayed in their states eventually came around to asking the federal government for help, as Ken Burns’ documentary on the Depression and Dust Bowl illuminates. After many years of denying federal help, Southern and Midwestern farmers finally gave in, pleaing for federal help. It was the federal government that helped Southern state immigrant families in the West when they found themselves being exploited and Southern farmers who discovered modern federal farm policies could help them save their lands.

When WWII occurred, everyone, rich or poor alike, joined up and served together. Those vets learned about each other – from every sort of community and neighborhood, rich and poor alike – and out of that conflict arose Eisenhower and Rockefeller Republicans. Not unlike their Republican ancestors nearly 80 years before, they sought a better, fairer America in which anyone could succeed if given the opportunity.

Although racism continued, the barriers began to break down. First with Jews and then with Catholics. Finally, as a result of WWII, the barriers along color lines began to break down even as many Southerners refused to permit that breakdown. With Nixon’s Southern Strategy…and Reagan’s expansion of it…racist Democrats (Dixiecrats) shifted from the Democratic party to the Republican. But that wasn’t the only change that occurred.

Unlike 20th century generations, in which everyone, regardless of wealth or class, was expected to participate, we now have a military comprised mostly of poor or lower income people. Richer, upper income people refuse to serve. It’s not the first time in American history that the most-wealthy refused to serve, but that circumstance is new since the dawn of the 20th Century.

As the nation has grown, the separation of income status and communities has become even more stark, becoming a barrier to public unity. I see it all the time in my small, conservative rural community where community involvement and concern for the commons (local businesses, economic development, charities, and involvement in local activities) exists at nearly negligible levels. There is an attitude that says, “It’s not my problem, and I don’t care. Let someone else do it.” Yet, in communities of comparable size with a more liberal bent where I lived, community events volunteers were turned away as a result of the too many volunteers…and community events were packed with resident participation.

I grew up in a military household who voted Republican. I became a Democrat because of Civil Rights and the ERA. I believe in fairness and charity as practiced by government because of the lessons I was taught in Sunday School in Georgia as a small child. “God loves all the little children. All the children of the World. Black and White, Yellow and Red, all the children of the World.” Scripture is not much clearer than those words as I remember them.

There is a lot conservatives could do to put forth policies that seek better results than those proposed by old fashioned Democrats. But they don’t. They seek only to protect the plutocrats even if doing so destroys America’s ability to compete and succeed in the 21st Century.

The US is not Russia, ruled by a corrupt oligarchy whose only concern is their own wealth and power. The US is better than Russia. It always has been…and it always should be. The US should be the land of opportunity for everyone that Lincoln envisioned.

A few – very few – Republican reformers and pundits get it, but they’ve a very hard uphill climb against those Republicans who seek to return to the 1870s or 1890s or 1950s. As Austrian economist Hayek stated in Chicago, he was a classical liberal because liberals looked to the future while conservatives looked back at the past for answers.

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What “Meritocracy” Gets Wrong

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A lot has been written lately in the media about meritocracy, what it has become, and its value to society. Traditionally, Americans assumed that intelligence, education, hard work and a willingness to accept – and overcome – risk was the definition of meritocracy. But what recent studies find is that a true meritocracy does not exist.

A majority of Americans now believe that wealth equals meritocratic value…that those at the top of the economic ladder earned their wealth because of their superior talents. Just look at the dramatic rise in the number of evangelical mega-churches preaching prosperity theology. From Wikipedia,”a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.”

But the actual truth is the US does not have a meritocratic society. It has a society in which those who are born into wealth have a much better chance of succeeding than those born of middle or lower income groups, not because of their inherent abilities but because of the superior opportunities wealth gave them.

Yes, there are people who grew up in the ghetto and against all odds achieved great wealth and prestige, but those examples are few and far between by comparison. Nevertheless, as a society, particularly in this economic climate, we choose to denigrate those who have not succeeded to wealth and ridicule those who don’t even want great wealth: those who see family and friends and charity and community as far more important values.

However, the Abrahamic tradition says something entirely different.

Judge for yourself what is righteous according to Abrahamic tradition:

  • JD Rockefeller: To those who have been given so much, so much is owed.
  • Paraphrasing Old Testament Prophets: God demands that you take care of the sick, the old, the widows and orphans, and the poor. If you do not, God will send his wrath upon you, and send you into slavery. (Leaning from their windows, the wealthy laughed and ridiculed the prophets. But God executed his promise. In 555 BCE, Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, fell to the Assyrians, and the Kingdom of Israel came to an end. Scores of thousands of the conquered people were led into captivity and disappeared from history as the lost tribes of Israel. Then in 434 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah tried to form an alliance with Egypt. The Jews thought, despite Jeremiah’s prophecies, that this would keep them safe. But instead, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, marched on Judah. He pillaged Jerusalem and deported tens of thousands of Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from the upper classes, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed a puppet king over Judah, Zedekiah.)
  • Paraphrasing Jesus: God said if you do not care about the least among my people, you will not have a place in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Judaic Law commands that the poor are to be respected and protected. According to Jacobs and Greer, “the overarching Jewish attitude toward the poor can be best summed up in a single word: achikha (your brother). Jews are enjoined by the Torah to resist any temptation to view the poor as somehow different from themselves.[7] The Tanakh sets forth numerous protections of the poor. As an example of such protections, Perotta points out that the poor were protected from being exploited when in debt. Perrotta asserts that the goal of these commandments was “not only to protect the poor but also to prevent the excessive accumulation of wealth in a few hands.” In essence, the poor man is “protected by God”.[8] Kravitz and Olitzky cite the Jubilee (yoveil) and the sh’mitah as examples of commandments in the Torah designed to protect the poor.[2] – Wikipedia I’ve heard tell that every 50 years each Jewish family must donate 50% of its wealth to the poor to prevent too much wealth accumulation in any one family.
  • Modern Catholic Popes continue to preach of the need to care for the poor, the sick, the elderly, saying it is the will of God that most fortunate care for the least of God’s people.
  • The Qur’an demands that no interest (interest amounts to usury) be charged on loans as it harms those least able to pay their debts. (And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful. (Ch4:V.37) And it is not your riches nor your children that will bring you near Us in rank, but those who believe and do good works, will have a double reward for what they did… (Ch.34:V.38))

The Ayn Rand ideology of selfishness that perhaps affects so many among our wealthy class and many politicians fails to understand or accept the Abrahamic requirement to take care of the least among us. It ignores the Abrahamic tradition and laws. It ignores that meritocracy, as practiced, ignores the laws of Abraham’s God and the many barriers erected to prevent intellectually worthy individuals from succeeding.

If the US were really a meritocratic society, everyone would start out on the same level and have the same opportunities. Only their own native abilities and intelligence would determine how high on the ladder of wealth and success they climb. But that is not really the case…and Americans should really face the truth and figure out how to deal with it.

Written by Valerie Curl

June 4, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Democratic Republic for Sale by Narcessistic, No-Nothing Legislators. Shouldn’t the American Public Expect Better?

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In the days of Dole and Howard Baker, et al, Congressional members knew something about the legislation they were voting on. These days Congressional members know little to nothing about the legislation the vote on…and for far too many in Congress, they have no interest in learning about the legislation. Instead they spend an average of 60% of their time “dialing for dollars” and attending fundraisers. During the days of Dole and Baker, congressional members spent most of their time working on legislation and learning what was in the legislation. Now we have “no-nothing” narcissists representing us at both the state and federal levels, according to

This current state of affairs doesn’t work for me. I expect my legislators, whether in Congress or my state house, to work for my and my community’s benefit rather than for the benefit a wealthy donor or a corporation seeking protective legislation.

However, when we have a millionaires congress as currently exists, those legislators idea of average middle income lives doesn’t compute. Essentially, they have no clue what it means to struggle to meet expenses and keep/stay out of crushing debt when incomes are declining. Over the last 30 years, millionaires have completely segregated themselves from the rest of American society to the extent that millionaires no longer live in middle income communities so they have no point of reference or understanding of the lives and challenges facing middle income earners, let alone have friends and associates who are not millionaires. Their friends and associates are among their own wealthy class and they associate only among their wealthy class. As a consequence, those of us who are not among that wealth class, as donors and friends. hardly make into our legislators thoughts.

The most recent example of support of the congressional millionaire’s club was the truly bipartisan Senate approval of a Farm Bill amendment that makes it illegal for individual states to approve GMO labeling, even though marches across this country and around the world demanded GMO seeds and product labeling. Instead of listening to the millions of people, who do have legitimate concerns about the genetic effects of GMO foods on humans and animals, both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate cast their votes for Monsanto. Essentially, both sides of the aisle put the concerns of their millionaire friends and donors ahead of the concerns of millions of average families.

It’s taken 30 years of electoral politics of putting money ahead of expertise, knowledge, understanding and community – accelerated by Gingrich’s money raising focused changes in the House – to lead us to this moment when once again millionaires control Congress and all legislation. (see Washington Post associate editor and author of Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t Robert G. Kaiser op ed)

At the turn of the 20th Century, millionaires controlled both Congress and state legislatures. That control worked fine for the millionaires, but not so well for anyone who challenged their domination. Tesla, the father of AC electrical current (now the American standard), was destroyed by JP Morgan’s millions (and his political connections) who had spent heavily backing Edison’s DC current. Henry Ford’s first patent application was denied because the millionaires who controlled congress didn’t want the competition he offered the public.

Even as millionaires consolidated their control over state and federal governments, average workers, often enduring deadly and extraordinarily harsh working conditions for very little income, were drawn to communism as espoused by Eugene Debs and other union organizers. Meanwhile the millionaires Congress, ignoring the often deadly plight of workers, along with many states chose to crack down violently on workers and worker movements. Thousands of workers died at state sponsored hands when those workers revolted, via strikes, against working and living conditions.

Finally, the strikes and street corner public outcry grew to the point that prescient economists and politicos like TR recognized that capitalism itself was endangered. Moreover, politicians like TR understood and spoke out in the public forum about the failure of basic ethics and morality among the politician class: that essentially legislation could be bought by or ransomed to the highest bidder at both the federal and state levels.

TR’s reforms began to bring unbridled money dominated capitalism under control, to bring ethics and morality back into government, and to enable competition, including creative destruction of old industries for newer, more inventive ones, back into the capitalist fold.

Later, FDR chose to focus on the human benefits of reform, once again recognizing the significant rise of communism among the working class, to quell the masses who saw only the idealistic good of communism rather than the downside of Stalin and Communist Russia. FDR’s fight against the pro-business SCOTUS Lockner Court was yet another example of the realization that, for capitalism to survive, average workers had to be brought back into the fold as participants in the decision making process: workers had to see some benefit to their labor to prevent a mass uprising against corporations and capitalism at large…and the massive poverty – and small business bankruptcies – that accompanied the Great Depression.

Our modern day millionaires Congress, on both sides of aisle, fails to understand the lessons of history in their constant search for donations and corporate money support. But throughout history, from the earliest days of Mesopotamia to 20th Century America, average people revolted against and overwhelmed governments they saw as not working on their behalf. The same will occur again with our modern day millionaires Congress and state legislatures. Out of the masses another TR will arise to claim an ethical and honorable balance. He or she will find an eager American willing to support his/her presidency that speaks to average, every day, middle income American values and morality with regards to work and living standards.

Communism was the driving force that changed the political millionaires club in Congress and the States. I don’t know what the next counter force will be, but I do know it will occur unless the political, judicial, and pundit class wakes up to harm it has wrought with purchased no-nothing legislators.

Why Austerity Doesn’t Currently Work

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The following article is quite possibly one of the best explanations of Keynesian vs classical economics I’ve ever read.

Why Debunking The Austerity Paper Won’t Kill Austerity — And What Actually Could

By Ruy Teixeira, Guest Blogger on ThinkProgress

Yesterday on TP Ideas Zack Beauchamp covered the release of new research showing that a key paper used to justify austerity in a time of economic crisis is so empirically flawed as to be rendered useless as a guide to policy. That paper, by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, purported to show that countries that cross a 90 percent debt to GDP ratio sustain a big hit to economic growth. Turns out the data were analyzed incorrectly and the alleged relationship does not exist. Out the window goes one of the main intellectual justifications for the current hysteria about bringing down the national debt.

Zack focused on exposing the foibles of journalists who take as gospel studies like Reinhart-Rogoff based on methodology they don’t understand and data they know nothing about. That is indeed a problem and his post does a service by concentrating on it.

I’ll take a different tack here and focus on the idea of austerity. The theory that slashing deficits can revive slumping economies has been a dominant economic theory since the late 18th century and the rise of classical economics. But its claim to be a policy elixir has never been grounded in strong empirical evidence. That is why, despite this serious hit to the academic case for austerity, we should not expect austerity’s vice grip on policy to weaken very soon or very easily.

The theory behind the austerity idea is as follows. Classical economists believed that the overall economy tended toward a full employment equilibrium where all resources were productively employed. While this equilibrium could be temporarily disturbed by wage and price rigidities, misguided monetary policies and other things that distorted the market, the economy would quickly return to a full employment equilibrium once these distortions were eased. The role for government in responding to recession was therefore to do nothing, letting prices and wages fall to their natural levels or, even better, to do less, since government spending simply crowds out the private spending necessary to get the economy back into equilibrium. That is why, prior to Keynes, the orthodox budgetary approach to recessions was to cut, not increase, government spending so as to create the proper business environment and hasten the arrival of a new equilibrium.

Keynes didn’t buy all this, seeing it as inconsistent with the behavior of real world economies, especially the ones he was observing at the time. In his view, the normal state of capitalist economies was not full employment because total demand in the economy could easily fall short of total supply, creating equilibria with high levels of unemployment — the reverse of the classical precept (Say’s Law) that supply creates its own demand. A shortfall of demand could arise, for example, when consumers and investors start to prefer holding cash to spending and investing.

Another reason for a shortfall of demand, according to Keynes, was the instability of investment, the non-consumption part of demand. Investment was unstable because businesses’ expectations fluctuated depending on their assessments of future possibilities for profit which, in turn, were intrinsically uncertain. Classical economists, in contrast, believed businesses precisely understood their statistical probabilities of success and invested accordingly. Keynes rejected this view and insisted that uncertainty was pervasive.

Given shortfalls in demand, only the “animal spirits” of capitalists — confidence and the lack thereof — allowed capitalists to forge ahead (or not) in poor business conditions and were therefore a huge influence on their investment decisions. And if capitalists lacked confidence in their ability to make profits they would seek to reduce costs by laying off workers, thereby reducing demand in the economy and further eroding business confidence. The process of lowering output, employment and confidence would continue until a new equilibrium was reached — an “under-employment equilibrium” rather than the full employment equilibrium of the classical economists.

Keynes argued that because these equilibria were a natural and recurring tendency of capitalism, there was no natural adjustment process that would lead a market economy back to full employment. Nor could monetary policy mechanisms, like lowering interest rates or increasing the money supply, always be relied upon to jolt businesses back into action and increase employment. Instead, government must frequently step in to make up shortfalls in demand through fiscal policy — in other words, through government spending.

This was a powerful idea and powerfully backed up as well by the empirical record. Its influence spread rapidly. As Mark Blaug, perhaps the leading historian of economic thought, remarks “[N]ever before had the economics profession been won over so rapidly and so massively to a new economic theory, nor has it since. Within the space of about a decade, 1936-46, the vast majority of economists in the Western world were converted to the Keynesian way of thinking.” This “Keynesian consensus” underpinned economic policy-making until the 1970s.

But the austerity idea never really went away as Mark Blyth shows in his excellent new book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (soon to be the subject of a TP Ideas book symposium!). It came roaring back in the 1970’s when Keynesian economics appeared to falter, dominated economic thinking for the decades leading up to Great Financial Crisis and then, after a very brief resurgence of Keynesian economics in 2008-2010, is back again (see this great paper by Henry Farrell and John Quiggin for a blow by blow of how this happened), suffusing our economic conversation with the “expansionary fiscal austerity” chimera — the idea that the way out of an economic slump is to cut spending which will lead to rising business confidence, more investment and strong growth.

It ain’t working and, truth be told, it’s never worked. As Larry Summers put it a review of Blyth’s book in the Financial Times:

    In many cases, the idea of expansionary fiscal contraction is not just oxymoronic but plain moronic as well. Blyth’s views on the current situation are also cogent. As he argues, the accumulation of debt by the public sector throughout the industrial world has far more to do with the direct and indirect effects of financial distress than it does with government profligacy. Indeed, countries such as Ireland and Spain had more favourable records of government debt accumulation than even Germany before the crisis.

    The author makes a strong case that at times such as the present, austerity can actually be self-defeating in that its adverse effects on growth exceed any direct benefits from reduced borrowing. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the UK, where extraordinary austerity has been coupled with a rapid rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio.

So how can we defeat a powerful idea like austerity given its remarkable ability to persist across time in spite of abundant empirical evidence that it just doesn’t work? The only answer is another powerful idea; just undermining the austerity idea empirically isn’t going to do the job.

Indeed, the entire history of austerity is a testament to the amazing power of ideas. It is a lesson that progressives, focused as we tend to be on the pragmatic, day-to-day struggle, should take to heart.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 17, 2013 at 1:57 PM

How Progressives Can Save California…And the Nation

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Californa State Flag

Conor Friedersdorf has a great editorial over at the Atlantic on California’s political and economic situation. As a Democrat (mostly because I’m too lazy to change my registration to Independent) and as someone who PEW described in a study as a liberal, I agree with most of what he wrote about California. Yet, for all that I enjoy Freidersdorf’s editorials, I think he fails because of his libertarian bent and his understanding of history.

As a few examples of why I agree with Friedersdorf’s editorial, I submit these examples:

Regarding the citizen approved non-partisan redistricting committee, I was absolutely outraged by Democratic party attempts to con, manipulate and impede the independent redistricting committee. It was wrong, immoral and highly unethical. I gather from later news reports that it failed; at least I hope so. No seat should be safe for a party or a legislator through redistricting. All people, regardless of partisan or political views, need to be represented fairly.

Moreover, I voted for Prop 5 and thus against the 3-strikes law for the reasons Freidserdorf stated: its economically wasteful as well as unreasonably harsh. Even Superior Court Judges have stated that the 3-strikes law forces penalties, in terms of prison sentences, that are excessive considering the crimes. But California’s prison system was mostly sold off private prison corporations. Thus, private profit motives nearly preclude any sensible changes like rehab, community monitoring, and ankle bracelet monitors for drug and minor infractions. If California enacted the same kind of reform that Texas did to save money, our prison costs would drop dramatically while leaving plenty of room in our prison system for hardened criminals. I have a few thoughts on them as well: like required real, prison fiscally sustaining work, job training and education rather than inmates spending time weight lifting and body building. For example…and this is my bias…ditch the gyms and create sustainable food gardens.

As for the pension funds, I’d like to see state employees given salaries comparable to private industry for that specific job and then have the employees make defined contributions to CALPers. I’d recommend, too, that CALPers investigate/study pulling the funds out of Wall St. firms to create it’s own investment bank where it loaned money to businesses and bought state infrastructure bonds for a reasonable return, a la ND’s state bank.

If state employees no longer need taxpayer funds, as a result of employee only investments and a CALPers investment bank, then taxpayers would be off the hook for employee pension funds, which would make CALPers and state employees more responsible for their own retirement management.

I also believe state workers should not receive retirement benefits until they meet the Social Security retirement age. My brother, who worked really hard and rarely had a day off for the State as a Budget Analyst, retired at 50 with a really good retirement pension as well as a large payout for all the accumulative vacation time he never took. He’s not worked a day since he retired because he didn’t have to…and he’s living quite comfortably as are all retired state workers who retired long before Social Security retirement ages. That’s absurd.

California’s public employee retirement benefits should match the Social Security retirement age. Another point of my agreement with Friedersdorf is teacher tenure. I hate it.

I had a couple of those bad teachers who ended up being a wasting my time and taught me nothing. I’d scrape tenure altogether along with the entire Civil Service System. Both systems exist because of outdated and disproved social psychology thinking from many decades ago (the 30s or 40s?) in which it was believed that if employees didn’t have to worry about being fired, they would do a better job. We now that is wrong.

The fear of being fired provides the additional incentive to work harder and be more productive while complete protection encourages laziness.

California should lead the nation in determining best practices based on recent research, private industry models and what are the best incentives for employees. Research is needed and should be done but in the short term both tenure and Civil Service guarantees should be eliminated. No more working hard until tenure or civil service employment guarantees occur to then become lazy workers as my mother discovered amongst many of her coworkers after she went to work for the State. All workers should be held to private industry best practices standards. Period.

Where is disagree with Friedersdorf are those areas which he exhibits a seemingly youthful naiveté.

Unlike Friedersdorf, I unfortunately don’t have much faith in California Republicans either to deal with California’s real problems of fiscal solvency and rebuilding the state back to the vibrant, thriving state I remember it being when my family returned to CA in 1959.

Admittedly, the state’s proposition ability has made fiscal constraint and budgeting sense much harder, allowing emotional appeals on spending while leading citizens to believe there is no financial penalty to that spending. In the very same election year, I’ve seen propositions approved by citizens that both increased spending while at the same time demanding higher restraints on taxes.

Californians, like the rest of nation over the last 30 some years, came to believe that spending and taxes were disconnected; deficits didn’t matter and a magical belief in growth (i.e., dynamic scoring) would solve all fiscal problems.

Does any company determine its spending based upon what might happen in a year or three or five years? No, they take a hard look at their market and, if they’re smart, make a strategic decision on where to spend their money. They don’t make fiscal decisions based on magical market predictions, which is exactly what Republicans across the country, and most specifically in Congress, now demand. Dynamic scoring, which the GOP pushes, is a lie based on an unproven economic myth of unknown growth. Yes, budgeting for an entire year is hard to do when no one knows what the future will bring which is why the most accurate numbers and predictions must be available.

That is why the California proposition system must to be reformed to bring some reality to it. Overall, the idea that you can get something for nothing, based on magical growth numbers, has caused much of the state’s fiscal problems. And very liberal Democrats have added to this fantasy along with their Republican fellows who said tax cuts were all that was needed to fix the state’s fiscal woes. Hidden accounts or lock boxed accounts no longer make any fiscal sense. Our Legislature must be free, regardless of voter propositions, to make economically fiscal sense of all money flowing into the state and end those that no longer are fiscally appropriate or feasible or necessary.

Right now, I’m praying the State’s Democratic majority will become more fiscally responsible and demand real, true accounting and be willing to say to the citizens that if voters want more spending, it’s going to mean higher taxes. But I don’t have much hope.

As a result of term limits, few if any legislators understand the budget or the budget process which means that few if any candidates understand the budget and all the hidden accounts. As has been noted in numerous news accounts, legislators now rely upon bureaucrats and lobbyists to teach them about the budget and often to write budget legislation. Our California legislators no longer have the knowledge they need to perform their job, and just about the time they begin to understand it, they’re termed limited out for another neophyte. Nevertheless, California citizens seem to getting that message…slowly.

As studies have begun to show, Californians are beginning to realize that our enormous number of propositions and gerrymandered districts caused legislative problems that have accumulated over the last 30 some years which led our state’s fiscal problems.

But California will never be able to resolve its fiscal problems until the state – and by extension the entire country – ends its reliance on special interest election funding, whether that funding comes from teacher and prison guard unions or from corporations or from other groups whose ideology has been totally debunked by mainstream economics. Citizens United and the whole notion of SuperPacs and lobbying dollars for all special interest groups must be overturned and made illegal.

TR described in his autobiography how a system of campaign financing, which closely resembles that which now exists, corrupted the political system during his early political career and before. He described it quite eloquently in his autobiography and showed examples of how it corrupted the public good. Right now, we are right back to where TR looked onto the political system and saw massive corruption on both sides of the political aisle. Nothing can be accomplished to reform our political process nationally or within California until well-funded special interests are barred from elections and lobbying.

Perhaps Freidersdorf fails to understand the special interest money that historically has led to the state’s fiscal dysfunction, but I’m old enough to have learned the history of it…and it ain’t pretty regardless of whichever side of the aisle you choose.

Conservative Health Ideology is Still Wrong…..

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Budget Cuts in 2011 Sign

I object to many of the points in this article published by the American Conservative Magazine…and many of its comments.

According to PEW, I’m a liberal. However, I do not believe in taxing hospitals and providers at extraordinarily (75%!) high levels as the American Conservative article claims all liberals want. Nor do I believe in making all doctors/practitioners state workers. I find these notions shocking and antithetical to our democratic principles. In addition, I do not agree that liberals want someone else to pay for our health care needs. All of my liberal, Democratic friends agree with me on these points. Conservative talking points about what liberals and Democrats is long out of date, thus making them no longer relevant.

I agree that more money should and could be put into health cure research. Curing diseases, as in eliminating them, does bring down cost of health care. However, contrary to what some people posted in the comments section, the fed government via the NIH has provided much of the needed funding for basic research. Health care companies, in general, have reduced their R&D budgets by billions as more me-too drugs and generics hit the market which means the NIH grants become all the more important. I realize this flies in the face of the oxymoronic notion that government cannot do anything right. Would those thinking this way say the same about the DoD and DARPA over the last 30-plus years? Tremendous research is being carried out all across the country by leading research labs and universities as a result of NIH and allied federal research institutes’ funding.

Third, regarding costs. When people talk about how much cheaper it was to get medical care back in the ’50s they fail to note how much medical care has changed since the ’50s. Technologically driven advances drove much of the increased costs. Comparing 1950s medicine to today is like comparing the Model T to today’s automobile. Ain’t gonna work! It’s why a comparison of the 1950s costs to today are totally worthless at best and deceptively ignorant at worst. By the way, health insurance was instituted by companies, as an employee recruitment draw, during WWII. You know, back in the early ‘40s. So, the ‘50s argument about costs is ludicrous on its face as most large companies already offered health insurance to their employees.

The author correctly states in his analysis that hospitals shift cost losses from ERs to all other areas of the hospital. If hospitals failed to do so, they’d go broke rapidly since EMTLA (since Reagan signed the law, hospitals cannot deny treatment to anyone without insurance, regardless of ability to pay cash) is the law for the land. Thus, ERs have become loss leaders even while being necessary as public/community services. But the medical establishment, in conjunction with politicians, has divided up hospital territories upon which, all too often, none shall intervene.

But more to the point is that medical costs are opaque. Even when you ask about costs, most of the time you cannot get an answer. Either the provider refuses to give an answer or says that different insurance negotiating policies provide different pricing so they cannot/will not provide you an answer regarding pricing. In Taiwan, which has a single payer system and a private practitioner system, all prices of all the different providers are printed and posted in every provider’s office so patients can see the prices and can make their decisions accordingly. We don’t have that same transparency here in the US. How can you know you’re getting the best bang for the buck if pricing and comparative quality remain a mystery?

In addition, regardless of emergency needs, how many of us are capable of telling our doctors, “Sorry, I don’t want to do that test you demand I take or take that expensive medicine you prescribe”? Medical care is not like buying shoes or cars, regardless of the libertarian arguments simply because health care consumers – patients – understand they are not medical experts. If the doctor says do x, y, and z, we tend to do it because we believe the doctor is the expert and knows best. And all too often, as I’ve discovered, when you argue with the doctor, he angrily pulls the argument that he’s the professional and you’re not…do it or else! Free financial markets, to work correctly, depend upon access by all to the same information. That doesn’t occur all too often, and most particularly does not occur in the health care market because we’re not all equal experts in health care.

In addition, current regulations preclude the ability of Medicare from negotiating RX prices which means this country subsidizes other countries. We in the US essentially pay higher costs so those other countries can obtain lower prices. As a free market advocate, I object to that subsidy to other countries.

Finally, let me say that I and my liberal friends look forward to the day when health insurance is completely separated from the current employer based system to one that enables a group of like minded individuals to buy insurance on an exchange at market competitive prices. We recognize, as realists, that health insurance is not going away…it’s been around too long and has a huge hold in the mindset of too many people as an appropriate way to spread costs a la all other insurance policies. In addition, many of us liberals hope that once the exchanges are up and working well, a la Reihan Salam, that Medicaid, Medicare and VA outpatient systems can be moved into that singular system similar to Switzerland which spends approximately 11% compared to our almost 18% (17.9% in 2012). Currently, our health care systems are so fragmented that the most needy in those systems cause the highest cost. Moving everyone into the same system spreads the cost across a greater market – which the rest of the insurance market essentially does – to decrease costs for any individual or family.

Further, it should be noted that PPACA, aka Obamacare, does go a long way to fund pilot projects that looks at other health care funding models. Some 27 provisions in the PPACA legislation provide state approved or organizationally approved experimental models. The goal of these 27 provisions is to determine what works to provide the best heath outcomes at the best prices. Many of them are showing such remarkable results that large private companies like Boeing have signed up for.

For the libertarians out there, might I remind you of two things: 1) Friedrich Hayek said he was not a conservative because conservatives look to the past while he looked to the future, and, second, that he believed it was necessary and vital to provide a strong social safety net, including national health care, as societal goods because they promoted social and political stability.

What I believe most conservatives, including many social scientists like Prof. Heidt who claims to lean liberal, get wrong is that modern, post-Clinton Democrats are not adverse to capitalism but rather see the difference between laissez-faire capitalism which never worked for the masses (see Adam Smith, the Irish Famine & British Parliamentary history, early 1900s in the US, Robber Barons, Progressive Movement, TR’s autobiography) and long held Jeffersonian – Jacksonian values of opportunity regardless of the social and economic class into which one was born and regardless of race or ethnicity or wealth. What we liberals don’t demand is equality of outcomes, but rather equity of beginnings, i.e. education.

As a result of our modern belief system, liberals want a medical care delivery system that is fair to all providers while using the best technology and gathered data available to lower delivery system costs including using data from other OECD countries.

Rather than being ideological, we seek pragmatic answers to our modern challenges. Can today’s GOP and its libertarian allies say the same?

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When I read stories or emails like this one, I remember the first time, as an adolescent, I took my mother out to the woods behind our house in New Hampshire. I clearly remember the confusion in her eyes as I talked about how much I loved the woods, how beautiful they were, and how much I enjoyed listening to the animals that inhabited the woods. Her eyes glazed over while I talked about my deep joy of all the forest held since time immemorial as though nothing I said held any significance for her.

I suspect many people today feel much as my mother did those many years ago. Maybe even the owners and stockholders of the company to which this email from the Sierra Club refers.

healthy forests

Almost two weeks ago, my colleague Sarah Matsumoto and I wrote a letter to one of the largest landowners in America, Red Emmerson.

As two workaday environmentalists, united in our devotion to forests and the service to the planet they provide, we made a simple request.

We would like Mr. Emmerson to be clear about his company’s clear cutting. We would like him to let consumers who visit his company’s website—and there are people who do such things before they buy wood to build a new house or remodel a kitchen—get a clear picture of his company’s clear cutting practices.

Emmerson, a timber titan whose own story suggests the protagonist is not your average Joe, got his start in California logging mills as a teenager in the late 1940s. He joined forces with his father, a mill builder, and grew Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) into one of the largest and most powerful lumber companies in America.

As the company’s name suggests, a big chunk of the family owned business’s holdings are in the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, the awe-inspiring part of the story stops there.

Here’s why: Much of the company’s nearly two million acres are destined to be clear cut. That is, they have already been or will be totally wiped clean of trees, shrubs and other living plants, then doused with pesticides before replanting with seedlings that will require decades to mature.

If you fly over parts of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges today—or watch a Google Maps-assisted flyover produced by the Sierra Club—you can see what clear cutting means. It creates a checkerboard of bald spots across the forested mountains. At ground level, it dramatically changes habitat, microclimates and ecosystem services. Clear cutting eliminates breeding and living space for most animals, makes cool places hotter, and reduces the essential water-storing services of the bare land left behind.

When author Cheryl Strayed stumbled across a clear cut during her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (recounted in Wild, one of my favorite books of 2012), it unsettled her. “I felt sad and angry about it, but in a way that included the complicated truce of my own complicity,” she writes. “I used tables and chairs and toilet paper, too, after all.”

So do we consumers of wood products have to accept clear cutting as a necessary evil? No, not at all.

There are better ways to do forestry. Most logging companies in California are moving away from clear cutting, and some do almost no clear cutting. They employ more selective ways to harvest timber. These ways preserve more trees and do less damage to the habitat and the forest’s ability to recover quickly and keep providing ecosystem services.

SPI uses a range of harvest methods, but harvest plans filed with the state suggest it is leading the pack among those who continue to rely heavily on the outdated practice of clear cutting. How much clear cutting does the company do? That’s the question we think SPI should clearly answer for consumers.

That’s why Sarah and I wrote the letter. On the SPI website, the company implies that it practices sustainable forestry. There’s nothing sustainable about clear cutting—it doesn’t sustain forests and it doesn’t sustain jobs.

Clear cutting is to forestry what clubbing baby seals is to the fur trade: an ugly, archaic practice so unnecessary that it is almost hard to believe it continues.

So SPI needs to be clear about clear cutting. We want it to disclose on its home page the number of acres the company clear cuts. Let consumers consider whether Mr. Emmerson’s SPI is really practicing sustainable forestry. Then consumers can vote with their pocketbooks.

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