Daily Archives: April 16, 2009

The Five Strands of Conservatism: Why the GOP is Unraveling

political_patry_symbols_republican_elephant_3

According to author, Drew Westen, who is a Psychologist, Neuroscientist and Emory University Professor, the five strands once held together due to “a charismatic leader bringing it together (Ronald Reagan), a tacit agreement among its coalition partners to give each other what they wanted, and a message machine to start selling the idea that that there was coherence to a conservative “philosophy” that was anything but coherent.”

He goes on to say these, “five discrete strands and interest groups that couldn’t coexist … only began to unravel because the GOP under the Bush Administration became so corrupt, inept, and/or bankrupt (or causing bankruptcy) that even moderate Republicans jumped ship.”

The five ideologies:

  1. Libertarian Conservatism
    Think Barry Goldwater. Libertarian conservatives believe government should be small and weak and kept that way through low taxes.
  2. Social Conservatism
    Believe that they have privileged knowledge of God’s Will and hence have the right to use whatever methods available–including the instruments of state–to impose that will on others.
  3. Old Fashioned Fiscal Conservatism
    Fiscal conservatives accept the premises of the New Deal–that we need a safety net, that when people lose their jobs because of economic downturns they shouldn’t lose their homes, that people deserve some minimal degree of dignity in old age if they worked hard for 40 years–but prefer the safety net and tax codes to be thin.
  4. National Security Conservatism
    Hawkish (although they have a curious habit of evading military service when it comes their turn), and they are generally quick to accuse others of being soft on the threat du jour (unless the other side happens to be in an interventionist mood, in which case they often morph into isolationists just for sport, as when George W. Bush attacked Clinton and Gore for “nation building” and then went on a six year binge of it).
  5. Bigots /Prejudice
    The one Nixon exploited with his Southern Strategy and the Republicans have exploited ever since, whether the issue is voting rights, “welfare queens,” affirmative action, or the fate of “illegals.”  Given that most white Americans no longer see themselves or want to see themselves as racist, and that they actually consciously eschew racist sentiments and actions such as overt discrimination against people because of the color of their skin, emotional appeals to this segment of the conservative population tend to be strongest when a conscious “text” with some merit (e.g., we can’t simply open the floodgates to all who would want to enter the United States and become citizens) is superimposed on the unconscious “subtext” of prejudice (the people flooding in happen to have dark skin).

The reality is that it’s going to be difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and it’s going to take someone with vision and charisma to figure out which aspects of conservatism to bring back into the center and which to catapult without losing a base that is now seriously out of step with mainstream America.

Faux tea parties aren’t going to get them there, either (and if you ask me, they seem more than a little elite (tea?) and, well, gay (don’t real men drink beer?) for a Party determined to “save the institution of marriage.” But perhaps as they clink their porcelain cups in unison for high tea, they’ll have an epiphany about how to replace their predictable and carping Constant Comments about taxes and deficits with a new blend. Perhaps they could borrow some green tea from the President.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-westen/the-five-strands-of-conse_b_187675.html

fnord

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Filed under libertarians, Republicans

Internet Providers Want To Meter Usage

internet-mapIf Internet service providers’ current experiments succeed, subscribers may end up paying for high-speed Internet based on how much material they download. Trials with such metered access, rather than the traditional monthly flat fee for unlimited connection time, offer enough bandwidth that they won’t affect many consumers — yet.

But as more people use the Internet to watch TV and stream movies, they could bump up against the metered rates’ caps, paying expensive over-use fees. Watching a movie may then require paying two fees: one for the movie, another to the cable company.

Most consumers probably don’t realize how much bandwidth their Internet usage consumes, because they’ve never had to care. Time Warner, the nation’s third-largest Internet service provider, in its five experimental markets is offering 5 gigabytes of downloaded Internet content for $29.95 per month. That translates to 15 hours of viewing standard-definition video, or 350,000 e-mails, or 170 hours of online gaming, or some combination of those activities, according to the company.

Others among the nation’s largest ISPs are also experimenting with caps and tiers.

Both Time Warner and AT&T stressed that the trials, though they have no announced end dates, are just that: experiments. They’ll be modified, or even abandoned, if they meet too much hostility, Dudley said.

OK, Bloggers, they need to see some hostility!

fnord

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Filed under Economics, Media, Music

Some Thoughts on Tax Reform

As predictable as the sun rising in the East, this April 15th brought a pronouncement from the President that he and his administration will be working to simplify the administration of the income tax. Heard that one before from other Presidents, and I’m still waiting.

One “reform” being championed is the so-called Fair Tax, promoted as being a way to replace the income tax and payroll taxes with no revenue loss to the government. Facially simple, it provides a national sales tax, currently pegged at a 23% rate, to be assessed against purchases of new goods (and services, I believe). Each taxpayer would pay this tax, and each household would receive a “prebate” in the form of a check from the government in an amount calculated to provide the household with a monetary equivalent to what exempting certain basic necessities from the tax would save. This amount takes into consideration the size of the household, and the federal poverty level for such household.

Immediately, the following comes to mind. What constitutes a “household”? Should two adult individuals living under the same roof be a household, or should this combination be counted as two households? Determining the answer to this question and monitoring compliance therewith will, IMHO, not reduce the costs of administration of the tax system as is promoted by the proponents of the Fair Tax.

Then, what are basic necessities? Do prescription pharmaceuticals qualify? If so, how does the proposed prebate take into account the need for the purchase of drugs by a “household” where one or more of the members thereof suffers from a chronic illness, where the Fair Tax being paid on the needed prescriptions exceeds the amount of the prebate?

What about internet sales? Will the current exemption from sales taxes be abolished? If so, how will these be monitored for compliance? Seem like additional administrative costs will be needed.

My favorite is the exemption of the sales of used goods from imposition of the tax, on the basis of the goods already being taxed. Does this not guarantee that there will be a booming market for used “stuff”, to the detriment of sales of new? Is this not contrary to the idea that replacing the current tax system with the Fair Tax will encourage the creation of more manufacturing jobs in the U.S.?

Then, what about the components that go into finished products? Current sales tax laws generally allow an exemption for those components that are not sold to the ultimate end users of the products of which the components are a part. The pure Fair Tax would impose a tax on each such component, as I understand it; and to be “fair”, that should be the result. Otherwise, if these kind of exemptions are enacted, the application and collection of the tax will become as complex as the current system, as exemptions are monitored, distinctions made, compliance assured.

Finally, for purposes of this post, we are assured that as the “rich” purchase big ticket items, the burden will be borne more by them. Hogwash; if they are truly “rich”, they will purchase what they want from other countries with lower effective tax rates. This could be avoided, to some extent, by adoption of a Fair Tax Compensating Use Tax to be sure that the 23% is paid; but again, does this not increase the costs of administration, etc., to levels similar to or higher than the current costs of administering the present system?

There is a certain basic sense of simplicity with the idea of the Fair Tax, and its appeal is based on this. Like all proposals for reform, however, it raises more questions than it answers. And, as with all proposals for reform, it creates additional employment opportunities for accountants and lawyers. To pretend otherwise ignores reality.

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Filed under Economics, taxes, The Economy

Arthur Levitt — Again By Don Bauder

1695009In 2006, Arthur Levitt Jr., former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, came under intense criticism in San Diego. At the time, Levitt was raking in $900 an hour as titular head of an outside group probing the City’s financial-disclosure practices. His firm, Kroll Inc., and its law firm, New York’s Willkie Farr & Gallagher, found the monetary joys of a cut-and-paste job. They took a year and a half to slap together a $20.3 million report that was greatly borrowed from previous studies. That is, it was a “derivative” report — copied or adapted from the work of others. Now that word “derivative” is hanging over Levitt’s head again. Financial derivatives — or monetary instruments whose value is linked to, or derived from, some other security, such as a stock — have dragged the global financial system to the brink. There are a quadrillion dollars’ worth of these extremely complex derivatives sloshing around the world, and half are not regulated — something that is now recognized as a horrible mistake. When he was head of the securities agency, Levitt played a major role in this colossal misjudgment. He had some high-powered company: Alan Greenspan, then head of the Federal Reserve; Robert Rubin, then secretary of the treasury; and Larry Summers, then Rubin’s top assistant and now President Obama’s chief economic guru. Some of the people that Levitt battled in San Diego three years ago are on his trail once again — this time, over the financial derivatives issue. Frank Partnoy, law professor at the University of San Diego, has been a longtime Levitt critic. When the professor learned that Levitt was charging $900 an hour to investigate San Diego, Partnoy cracked that Levitt wasn’t worth $9 an hour. In his 2003 book Infectious Greed, Partnoy came down hard on Levitt. In one passage, he recalled that in 1994, Levitt declared that top derivatives dealers should regulate themselves. “Levitt urged the dealers to form a self-regulatory ‘Derivatives Policy Group,’ and said legislation should wait until that group had decided on a plan,” wrote Partnoy. In 1994 and 1995, “Levitt gave speeches saying the financial industry should police itself.” I have dug up a Levitt speech from 1995. Although he admitted there had been some abuses, he told a group of derivatives dealers, “We must avoid the temptation to demonize derivatives, which are a vital tool in modern financial markets.… We must resist the siren call for stringent regulation.” The way to regulate derivatives was through the computerized risk models of the dealers themselves, continued Levitt. Displaying a prescience he surely never perceived at the time, he said it was critical that “the models are not built on a house of cards.” Of course, it turned out that they were. And Levitt, Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers should have known it, says Mike Aguirre, who as city attorney battled the $20.3 million bill Levitt and his cronies foisted on the City. (The City sued Willkie Farr for unauthorized practice of law; the firm tried unsuccessfully to get the suit thrown out on the grounds that the City was suing for intimidation purposes. It is now at the appellate level.) “Had Arthur Levitt done his job, the derivatives debacle would never have happened,” says Aguirre, who has prepared a voluminous report on how derivatives escaped regulation. He is preparing to file a suit against American International Group (AIG), the notorious insurance company that drowned in derivatives and could have taken the world’s financial system with it if it weren’t for billions of bailout dollars from the U.S. government. The unsung heroine in this slimy mess was Brooksley Born, who got her law degree from Stanford in 1964 and was named chairman of the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 1996. Once in office, she quickly saw that the billowing market for financial derivatives had to be restrained — and regulated. But that went against the so-called free market religion of Levitt, Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers. They tried to get her to change her mind. She wouldn’t budge. Summers told her that lobbyists for derivatives dealers were putting pressure on him, according to an article in the March/April Stanford magazine. At a heated meeting, Rubin told her that her commodity agency had no jurisdiction over derivatives. Greenspan told her that the action she proposed would drive creative financial business offshore. In May of 1998, Rubin, Greenspan, and Levitt issued a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” about Born’s regulation proposal, once again warning that interfering with the derivatives marketplace might drive the dealers offshore. In June of 1998, Greenspan, Rubin, and Levitt called on Congress to prevent Born from going forward. That fall, Long-Term Capital Management nearly collapsed because of foolish gambles on financial instruments, including derivatives. Nonetheless, Congress froze the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s regulatory authority for six months. The next year, Born resigned. “History already has shown that Greenspan was wrong about virtually everything, and Brooksley was right,” Partnoy told the Stanford publication. “I think she has been entirely vindicated.… If there is one person we should have listened to, it was Brooksley.” Partnoy has now come out with a new edition of his 1997 book, F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street, the first major probe of the derivatives scam. Late last month, he discussed the derivatives calamity on National Public Radio. He noted that Greenspan “admitted to some mistakes.… Arthur Levitt, the former SEC chair, admitted his errors and called for reform. No one mentioned Brooksley Born.” (Actually, three weeks earlier, Newsweek had quoted Levitt saying, “We had a warning. It was from Brooksley Born. We didn’t listen.”) That same Newsweek article told how Born had turned ashen after Summers shouted at her over the phone. In 2006, Summers was forced to resign as president of Harvard when faculty members complained of his arrogance. He also got into trouble suggesting that there are few women in the top ranks of mathematicians because of innate gender differences. Now he is being criticized for accepting $2.7 million in speaking fees from financial institutions that have accepted government bailout money. “She did a fabulous job,” agrees Aguirre. However, the alpha male contingent still gets in its digs. Rubin complains that Born did not act “in a constructive way. My recollection was…this was done in a more strident way.” And Levitt? He says that Born was “characterized as being abrasive.” The macho males who resented Born for being “abrasive” (and for being right) went on to engineer other tragic errors. The Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act had barred a bank from offering investment, commercial banking, and insurance services. It had to go, declared the musclemen. So in November of 1999, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which overturned part of Glass-Steagall, permitting banks, insurers, and securities companies to poach on each other’s terrain and also consolidate. There followed a wave of acquisitions: banks, brokerages, and insurance companies joined forces under one corporate umbrella. The result? Ill-conceived and ill-managed hodgepodges, addicted to derivatives, that the government feels it must pump taxpayers’ money into. Arthur Levitt is contrite about helping to create the derivatives disaster, but he is not contrite about fleecing San Diego. Certainly, he did far more damage to the world. Sums up Partnoy, “Derivatives are the most recent example of a basic theme in the history of finance: Wall Street bilks Main Street.”

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The toilet rang and when answered, said…

cleaning_man

“Ahem! Remember me?  Are you still my primary-care provider?  Could I get an appointment?  An emergency appointment?”

I think bloggers do things differently.  At least those who are passionate about blogging and give it their all. I can remember the time (faintly) when I had never seen a ring in the toilet. It was a time before I discovered blogging and the toilet must have been cleaned often enough and on a regular enough schedule to not form rings.

This morning when getting ready to shower I noticed that ring in the toilet and knew this bathroom must be cleaned this day. While showering, I also noticed soap scum buildup on the tiled walls and door of the shower. Soap is a good thing in the shower! But soap scum buildup means you’ve successfully ignored that stuff until its dried and built up.

Here I am at the computer wondering if my blogging addiction means I’ll always need the ring in the toilet to tell me its time to clean. I’ve reasoned that if yesterday when I knew we were all out of bath soap and I needed to spend part of the day replenishing supplies, but got caught up blogging instead, it is a good thing I had that build up of soap to fall back on! 😉 Haven’t found a logical use of putting off the toilet cleaning until there is a ring — yet.  Are blogging addicts like any run-of-the-mill addict and can always find good reasons to continue their addiction?

Are there other endeavors, over and above house cleaning, handled differently by ardent bloggers?

fnord

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Filed under Humor, Psychological Disorders

Homeland Security: Beware of Radical Rightwing Groups

A Washington Times article indicates that the Department of Homeland Security has sent out a report to Police and Sheriff’s office warning of the dangers of radical rightwing groups.  These groups have capitalized on the Obama presidency, the fear of pending gun control legislation, and the illegal immigrant issue to stir up their followers according to the Times.

For a pdf version of the nine page Homeland Security document, click here.

Interestingly, the Federal authorities suggest the  weapon and ammunition stockpiling (which is discussed on a conservative blog in our vicinity) has been  correlated with the fear of pending gun-control legislation.

Of concern to the Department of Homeland Security is that the rightwing groups are especially interested in attracting members from returning overseas military veterans. An FBI spokesman indicated:

“Although the white supremacist movement is of concern to the FBI, our assessment shows that only a very small number of people with prior military experience may have an affiliation with white supremacist groups.”

Officials from the Southern Poverty Law Center indicate that they are aware Hate groups are interested in attracting members of the military as followers.

See the above links for more information.

Iggy Donnelly

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Filed under hate groups, Radical Rightwing groups, Republicans

04/16/09 Public Square

winding-fence-neighbor-lg

According to google images, this beautiful and serene setting was photographed in western Kansas and is filed under “prairie.” Isn’t it gorgeous!?

So lean on that fence and let’s visit while we drink in the beauty of our state.

fnord

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Filed under Kansas History, The Environment, The Public Square