Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why don't Chinese fight for democracy?

This question was asked on Quora and received hundreds of comments in response. Here is my response to one person's opinion:

If you can't find criticism of the Chinese government on the internet, you haven't been looking very hard. Perhaps the internet in China is censored so well that none of the stories get through. I found a story right away from Human Rights Watch that details many of the protests and individuals who have been persecuted for their views. I will post just one paragraph from that article here.

From mid-2013, the Chinese government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have issued directives insisting on “correct” ideology among party members, university lecturers, students, researchers, and journalists. These documents warn against the perils of “universal values” and human rights, and assert the importance of a pro-government and pro-CCP stance. (Human Rights Watch. World Report: 2015. China.)

Your statement that "Majority of Chinese people don't care much about democracy" is impossible to verify objectively, since speaking out about lack of democracy could land you in prison in China. Take the case of Cao Shunli, who was imprisoned for trying to participate in the 2013 Human Rights Council in NYC. She died in prison after her jailers denied her medical treatment.

Democracy is not just a way to make free speech and freedom of association possible in a country. It is the only way. Many of the problems facing China involve a lack of concern for the environment, which leads to deaths from pollution. These kinds of problems can only be addressed by using freedom of the press (to publish stories critical of the government), freedom of speech (to let others know the truth about government policies), freedom of assembly (so that people may gather together and discuss alternative solutions), and freedom to elect the leaders of your choice instead of being forced to vote for the party's choice.

All of these freedoms are only available under a democracy. China will never be able to address its problems without them.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Democracy?

Although Republicans assure us we live in a republic, not a democracy, since the people elect our representatives, we are still a democracy. If that is the case, why can't our representatives pass the laws we want?

A recent PPP poll asked wide-ranging questions about controversial issues and came up with the following results:

  • 71% of Americans polled favor raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour or higher.
  • 63% favor proposed EPA regulations that limit carbon pollution from power plants.
  • 85% favor getting a criminal background check for every gun purchaser.

Other public opinion polls have shown similar results. The American people support these three policies by overwhelming margins.

Why doesn't Congress or the states change the laws in accord with the wishes of the American people?

There is only one possible answer to this question and it's a very simple one: Our democracy is broken.

Results like these suggest we need to abandon our wars on drugs, abortion, and crime and replace that effort with a single movement, the movement to bring back democracy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

JEB! promises to grow the economy at 4% using the same tired Republican proposals.

The promises JEB! has made with his latest tax proposals amount to a great big hill of beans that means nothing. In the first place, lowering taxes to increase economic prosperity has been tried before, by Reagan, George Bush Sr., & George Bush Jr. Each time the result was the same. Reduced taxes led to reduced revenues which led to reinstating the taxes that had been cut. George W. Bush's taxes have not been entirely repealed, but the result of the initial tax reduction is painfully obvious to all: years of trillion dollar deficits in the federal budget.

JEB! clearly has some new ideas. He figures that he can push 15 million people who currently pay taxes into the non-taxpayer category. That means that more people should be willing to vote Republican, perhaps enough of them to make him the President.

JEB! thinks he can also cut the deduction that lets hedge fund managers treat their incomes as capital gains. But wait a minute. How is he going to get that one through the all-Republican congress?  which has sworn never to raise taxes, ANY taxes? Answer: He cannot. So add $6 billion annually to the amount that will have to be cut from other programs to pay the hedge fund managers, or $60 billion over the next ten years.

There's another big hole dug in the treasury by JEB!'s budget. It's a switch from taxing multinational companies for their world-wide income to taxing them only for their income in the US. As you might imagine, the big corporations are all in favor of this change. But economists estimate it will cost the US Treasury $13 billion a year in lost taxes, or $130 billion over the next 10 years.

Another tax reduction JEB! proposes is to cap all deductions at 2% of a tax filers income. This proposal also runs afoul of the Republican promise not to raise taxes because, for those guys, fewer deductions means higher taxes and thus a tax increase.

This whole tax plan is a lie, like most Republican plans. Even if all the provisions were passed, the government would still lose $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That means the Republican Congress will be looking to cut $150 billion from the federal budget every year--under a best case scenario. Under a more reasonable scenario, where the economy grows at 2% instead of the 4% JEB! is praying for, the government would lose $3.4 trillion over 10 years, or $340 billion a year. Add to this the cost of failing to raise taxes on hedge fund managers ($60 billion) and the underestimate of the cost of territorial corporate taxation ($130 billion), and the total amount the Republicans will have to cut from the federal budget every year will be...$360 billion.

That $360 billion will be coming out of our social security, Medicare, and Affordable Health Care payments. If you like the idea of getting less for medical care and social security, by all means vote for JEB! and the Republicans. If you think the wealthy and the corporate elite already have a big enough slice of the national pie, vote for the Democrats. Then, at least, you will have a chance to stop losing ground to the wealthy!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Judge rules Christians must obey the same laws as everyone else

Judge David Bunning of the Federal District Court of Eastern Kentucky has ordered Kim Davis, Clerk of Rowan County, to be held in jail for contempt of court. Even some Republicans--mostly the lawyers--are saying the judge did the right thing. 

Courts have very little power to enforce their rulings. They can issue warnings, they can assess fines, and they can jail those who disobey court orders. The judge warned this woman more than once. He probably assumed that any fine he assessed would be paid by right-wing Christian groups, not by her. So he had no choice but to put her in jail for contempt.

If this woman can get away with breaking the law because she says her god told her to do it, then everyone in the country can use that defense. The Christian right would like to substitute Mosaic law for the US Constitution and common law, no doubt. But a Federal judge can't permit them to do it.

The law operates on the basis of treating everyone equally. The motto above the US Supreme Court entrance reads, "Equal Justice Under Law". If the judge allows the defendant to use Christian law (or some form of it that was never written down or recognized in any court, as in this case), then he, or another judge, would have no choice but to permit defendants to be judged under Sharia law, or the laws of some other country of their choice. I can just see Justice Scalia's eyes rolling as he considers that possibility, strong defender of American jurisprudence that he is.

From the viewpoint of a fundamentalist Christian, this ruling probably makes no sense. But their position on whether or not they should be required to obey the same laws as everyone else is absolutely untenable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

$52 trillion: That's how much denying climate change may cost the world

Charles Koch believes in the free market. His objections to government regulations are always the same: "They distort the free market". But what if the market itself is distorted? Economists call this "failure of the market".

One example of market failure is the dust bowl on the American Great Plains in the 1930s. Farmers pursued practices that destroyed the topsoil until it was blown away. This market failure happened because short-term profits (cash crops) kept farmers from using sustainable methods until the soil was ruined and people had to abandon their farms.

A similar market failure led to the collapse of the Sumerian civilization, which was based on advanced farming using irrigation. The civilization thrived until the soil became too salty to produce crops. Then the Sumerian civilizations failed, big-time.

Is this the destiny in store for us? Will our civilization, so large and impressive, be destroyed by market failure?

Climate change is the biggest failure of the market in the history of the world. It is the first one we know of that affects the entire planet. It is also the first market failure caused by polluting the atmosphere as opposed to being produced by destroying the ecosystem.

Scientists have studied the current climate change for the last 50 years. They have become aware of what is happening and why. Economists have only recently begun to study the possible effects of climate change. Since economists are well-versed in making predictions about the future, their predictions should be taken seriously, no matter how extreme they may sound to our ears. This is especially true when the economists in question work for citi, one of the Big Four banks of the US. Citi has just produced an extensive study of the economic effects of Climate Change. Their conclusions are eye-opening.

The report issued by citi economists measures the economic effects of ignoring climate change as opposed to doing something about it right away. The effects of ignoring it, as you might imagine, are horrendous. The report uses three scenarios of action. In one, the green path, the planet is able to keep the temperature from rising more than1.5 degrees Centigrade. In that case, the global GDP will be reduced by 0.7% or $20 trillion by 2060. In the worst-case scenario, the temperature will rise 4.5 degrees Centigrade and global GDP will be reduced by $72 trillion.

In brief, the citi report predicts that doing nothing would cost the world $52 trillion more than spending the money now to reduce our fossil fuel use and take other steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But here again, we may run into the problem of market failure, because the people who make money by producing CO2--primarily fossil fuel producing companies--will not be the ones who will have to pay for the mess they are creating. Instead, those who pay will be our children and grandchildren.

There will be a summit meeting in Paris in December to decide what actions to take globally to avert such a catastrophe. We will all need to take action.

Monday, August 31, 2015

JEB! fortune built on bribes and payoffs--all legal, of course!

It's all legal because We, the 99 percent, have not yet caught on to how politicians have been robbing us blind. Instead, due to misdirection by conservative front groups, we focus on their salaries. Politicians don't get wealthy from drawing salaries while in office. Geb!'s salary as governor of Florida was never higher than $130,000. While that may seem like a hulluva lot to the 99%, it's just chickenfeed to one-percenters like the Bush family.

When Jeb! was the Governor of Florida, his net worth was $1.3 million. A lot to you and me but not to Jeb!'s family. In 2016,9 years after leaving office, Jeb!'s wealth is estimated at $10 million. The year that he left office, 2007, he earned $27 million. What could that money be but payoffs for favors he had done while in office? No, please, tell me what else it could be. Right now I'm going by the Sherlock Holmes rule:
When you have exhausted all the possibilities, whatever is left, no matter how implausible, must be the truth.
During his tenure in office, Jeb! funneled more than $1.3 billion to international brokerage houses in return receiving more than $5 million in campaign contributions for his brother and other Republicans:

Blackstone Group$99,000.00$150,000,000.00
Carlyle Group$69,000.00$275,000,000.00
Deutsche Bank$200,000.00$45,000,000.00
Freeman Spogli$743,000.00$50,000,000.00
Goldman Sachs$1,500,000.00$150,000,000.00
Hicks Muse$189,000.00$25,000,000.00
JPMorgan Chase$64,000.00$100,000,000.00
Lehman Brothers$499,000.00$175,000,000.00
Morgan Stanley$1,100,000.00$150,000,000.00
Prudential Financial$406,000.00$100,000,000.00
Source: International Business Times.

In the case of Lehman Brothers, the investment company that nearly tanked the entire US economy in 2008, it's not at all implausible that Jeb! received a payoff. During his term as Governor, Jeb! funneled $500,000 in campaign donations from Lehman Brothers employees into various Republican campaigns. In return, Jeb! took $175 million from the state of Florida's workers' pension funds and handed it to Lehman Brothers to invest (as they jokingly called it). After Jeb! left office,  Lehman Brothers hired him at a salary of $1.7 million. Sounds like a payoff to me.

Bush's appointees in Florida kept on giving money to Lehman Brothers for questionable purchases, including over $1.3 billion "invested" in mortgage derivatives. By 2008, that money had vanished as Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and it turned out that all those mortgage derivatives were worthless. But Lehman Brothers brokers got their commissions and didn't have to stand trial for misrepresenting the value of their "investments".

So Jeb! and his pals transferred $1.3 billion from Florida State Employees pension funds to Lehman Brothers. Not just a bad investment, that money was gone. While Jeb! was working for Lehman.

What has this got to do with you? Check this out. In an interview with the Washington Post, Jeb! claimed he would propose that politicians would have to wait 6 years before going to work for lobbyists. Fascinating proposal, since Jeb! himself didn't wait 6 months after leaving office to get paid off by Lehman Brothers.

It's definitely a case of "do as I say, not as I do".

If Jeb! is elected president, he will no doubt try to do the same thing with the Social Security accounts, currently worth $2.6 trillion. If international brokers paid $5 million to get their hands on $1.3 trillion in Florida Employees' retirement accounts, how much will they pay to get Social Security?

Republicans will tell you that retirement funds can earn more if they are invested in Wall Street. That's a bald-faced lie. Just ask the Florida public employees whose accounts were looted by Jeb!!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Marco Rubio: Get ready for a return to the Cold War

In 1946, after World War II had ended, the US was faced with a choice: It could disarm and join other nations in seeking to maintain peace through negotiations and treaties and international organizations like the United Nations. Or, it could continue adding more weapons to its arsenal, make ever larger bombs, fight more wars in far-flung places, and scare the bejezus out of everyone in the world.

As we now know, the US chose the second course of action and took a series of aggressive postures all over the world that led to animosity, fear, and war. That period of world history is known as the Cold War, an era in which the major military powers stared each other down while trying to seize territory and influence from each other. The Cold War was characterized by intense regional warfare in Korea, Vietnam, Israel, and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, and at the same time, the rest of the world was taking the first course, building the United Nations, developing international treaties to avoid war and, especially, to avoid committing crimes against humanity. The US was in the forefront of this movement in the aftermath of WWII, when Eleanor Roosevelt lent her considerable influence to the UN and the Geneva Accords on human rights. But later presidents--Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower--decided to treat Russia and China as enemies and developed a policy of "containment".

This policy of containment and use of force to deter enemies is exactly what Marco Rubio prescribes as a foreign policy--not surprisingly, since his advisors were also advisors to George W. Bush. So Rubio tells us that
physical strength and an active foreign policy to back it up are a means of preserving peace, not promoting conflict.
Rubio thus makes clear that he did not learn anything from the disastrous wars of G. W. Bush. If physical strength and an active foreign policy are a means of preserving peace, why did Bush's presidency take over a generally peaceful world from his predecessor and turn it into two major wars that continued during his entire administration? The answer is, of course, that Marco Rubio and the neoconservatives who advise him are completely wrong, that his policy will lead to war, not peace, and trying to intimidate nations is a good way to consolidate the power of despots who rule them.

Worse than simply advocating a foreign policy of belligerence against one country, Rubio proposes to attack (either physically or diplomatically) three powerful nations at the same time: Iran, Russia, and China. This policy, if carried out, would undoubtedly complete the destruction of the American economy begun so calamitously under G. W. Bush.

Rubio seems in love with the idea of a powerful US dominating the world's nations and dictating the terms of peace. The world has become too large for that, however. The techniques of asymmetric warfare are too well-known. The rebels in Afghanistan successfully fended off the Russian army. The Communist forces in Vietnam threw off the yoke of colonial oppression and sent the better-equipped and better-trained American forces back home.

Rubio and his neo-con advisors criticize Obama for being too risk-averse. They do not explain, however, how the US could prevent Russia from prevailing in the Ukraine, or prevent China from dominating the South China Sea. Rubio seems to believe the simple posting of military force in opposition would convince the Russians to abandon Ukraine or the Chinese to give up their designs on Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The problem that Rubio faces is not that his plan would fail, but that it would lead inevitably to hostilities between the US and countries whose assistance we will need to meet the challenges of global climate change and growing shortages of water and agricultural land. In an era when nature has provided mankind with a challenge we may not survive, we need to abandon our territorial ambitions and lust for wealth in the name of a greater good, the survival of the planet. Rubio and his pals ignore this fact. Their election to power would bring disaster, not just to the US, but to the whole world and all its inhabitants.