Tag Archives: Democracy

The Morning Grumpy – 6/4/12

4 Jun

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.


1. After a massive decline during the last recession, corporate profits have now skyrocketed to historic levels. Somehow, it’s the fault of the government fault that those companies are not using those profits to hire people who would then use their new salaries to, ya know, buy stuff and stimulate the economy.

As a reminder, the effective corporate tax rate in America is lower than most other developed nations and U.S. corporations ARE actually hiring, they’re just doing it overseas.

2. 32 innovations that will change your tomorrow

We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn’t the goal; it’s everything that gets you there. It’s bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren’t built until decades later. It’s the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it’s the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.

When we ignore how innovation actually works, we make it hard to see what’s happening right in front of us today.

Worse, the fairy-tale view of history implies that innovation has an end. It doesn’t. What we want and what we need keeps changing. That’s what this issue is about: all the little failures, trivialities and not-quite-solved mysteries that make the successes possible. This is what innovation looks like. It’s messy, and it’s awesome.

An awesome list of cool things that reminds us what a tricky thing innovation can be. I’m a big fan of the “Shut-Up Gun”

3. Are people too dumb to participate in elections? A new study says they are.

The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

If you live in Western New York, you know this to be fact.

4. Bill Moyers says we should pity the poor billionaires.

You see, according to the website Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens Unitedand pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

As a reminder, welcome to the plutocracy.

5. A fantastic long read, “Our French Connection“.

For some Americans, the Parisian way of life is best. Others simply prefer “freedom fries.” A two-week journey across the United States—passing through a handful of small towns named Paris—to find out what Americans really think about the French these days.

Our attitudes toward the French tell us as much about our xenophobia as it does our openness to culture. The story is a journalistic diorama of American attitudes.

Fact Of The Day: 12% of all the people ever born are walking the planet at this very moment.

Quote Of The Day: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal” – Oscar Wilde

Video Of The Day: Idea For “Canalside“! This would go really well next to the hot dog shed, deck chairs, and the solar powered whatnot they want to put down there. I’d love to see Donn Esmonde try it.

Song Of The Day: “Ain’t Good Enough For You” – Bruce Springsteen

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

The Libertarian Mob

14 May

The libertarian mob...

Welcome to the new populism, centered on the politics of “leave me alone”…

A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.

Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more concise interpretation of the libertarian movement in America.  Sure, there are certainly exceptions to the above, some true believers, some not, but the point is that the Tea Party movement is a coalescing of divergent ideologies under the umbrella of selfishness.  A romantic embrace of willful ignorance and purposeful stupidity as well as a rejection of collectivism.  These aren’t the Cato libertarians, these are the people who are read the paraphrased headlines from the Cato Institute by their local petty talk show tyrant…who is most likely an under-educated closet case with a fear complex.

Today’s conservatives prefer the company of anti-intellectuals who know how to exploit nonintellectuals, as Sarah Palin does so masterfully. The dumbing-down they have long lamented in our schools they are now bringing to our politics, and they will drag everyone and everything along with them. As David Frum, one of the remaining lucid conservatives, has written to his wayward comrades, “When you argue stupid, you campaign stupid. When you campaign stupid, you win stupid. And when you win stupid, you govern stupid.”

The irony of it all is that this movement is being gamed as a collective by a collective which seeks to achieve a political end.  The upper echelons of the “conservative movement” foment the anger of this movement to achieve greater political influence (FreedomWorks), empower agendas (right wing politicians) and achieve profits in the media (Fox News/Murdoch/Ailes).

The conservative media did not create the Tea Party movement and do not direct it; nobody does. But the movement’s rapid growth and popularity are unthinkable without the demagogues’ new ability to tell isolated individuals worried about their futures what they want to hear and put them in direct contact with one another, bypassing the parties and other mediating institutions our democracy depends on. When the new Jacobins turn on their televisions they do not tune in to the PBS News Hour or C-Span to hear economists and congressmen debate the effectiveness of financial regulations or health care reform. They look for shows that laud their common sense, then recite to them the libertarian credo that Fox emblazons on its home page nearly every day: YOU DECIDE.

I agree with the author that this iteration of the tea party movement will not have a seismic effect on the 2010 elections, but I do think the philosophy of this movement will only grow in strength into other areas of our lives and continue to manifest itself in our politics…at least until enough baby boomers die to water down the effect of this movement.

Now an angry group of Americans wants to be freer still—free from government agencies that protect their health, wealth, and well-being; free from problems and policies too difficult to understand; free from parties and coalitions; free from experts who think they know better than they do; free from politicians who don’t talk or look like they do (and Barack Obama certainly doesn’t). They want to say what they have to say without fear of contradiction, and then hear someone on television tell them they’re right. They don’t want the rule of the people, though that’s what they say. They want to be people without rules—and, who knows, they may succeed.

That sort of uninformed and angry rejection of “E pluribus unum” is a danger to the republic.  And it is serious.


3 May

Plutonomy was a term coined by the Global Strategy Team at Citigroup back in 2005 to describe an economy that is driven by or that disproportionately benefits wealthy people, aided by market-friendly governments. You can read the two part report here and here.

Why is a five year old report relevant today?  Because one of America’s best journalists signed off his last broadcast with a discussion of plutonomy and gave us a parting editorial on why plutocracy (rule by the wealthy) and democracy (government by the people) don’t mix.


Unless you’ve been asleep since 1980, our country has been moving towards a plutonomy and a growing inequality in wealth distribution.  As wealth centralizes, social and economic mobility at the bottom is limited. (click image to enlarge and make readable)

It’s ironic that conservative politicians, pundits and talking heads long for a “better time” when the American Dream was never far away from any person (aside from minorities or women) who simply had the gumption and guts to work for it.  You know why they remember it that way?  Because their formative years were spent in the greatest economic boom in world history, supported by higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy and legitimate corporate taxation and regulation.

Hourly rates of pay have been stagnant in the bottom 80% of the workforce for nearly fifty years and CEO pay continues to rise at unprecedented rates, we’re entering another era of robber barons and the super rich.

It’s also relevant as The Buffalo News posted a story on Sunday about rising CEO pay at local publicly traded companies.

While wages for the average worker in Erie County were virtually stagnant over the last year, the top executives at the publicly traded companies in the Buffalo Niagara region still managed to increase their overall median pay by an average of 6.6 percent, to more than $872,000 during 2009.

While the deepest economic slump since the Great Depression had companies cutting costs, slashing jobs and imposing pay cuts and wage freezes on many workers, local CEOs capitalized on the sharp rebound in the stock market to keep their paydays growing far faster than the pay of their employees.

This isn’t intended to be some socialist treatise on how the workers need to control the means of production and seize control of corporations from the plutocrats.  It serves as a reminder about the current state of our economic culture and the underlying motivations of our public policy decisions and political choices.  I believe in the entrepreneurial economy, I believe in the power of regulated markets, I believe in capitalism as an economic theory, I just believe we need balance.  We currently lack balance and honest discourse about the implications of our policy choices and it is slowly eating away at the fabric of our republic.

Those who would begrudge a public school teacher (who might equip their children with the skills to exceed their current standard of living) a good living at $60K per year, also defend the right for Bob Wilmers to earn tens of millions of dollars and his effort to strip the public schools of funding.  We complain about gasoline taxes, yet we care little that the majority of the inflated price of gas has to do with transactional profits taken by energy traders at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.  We get angry with people who bought into a bloated mortgage market, but care little about the banks who purposefully created the bubble by structuring mortgage securities which needed failure prone sub-prime loans to realize profits for the banks themselves.  The examples are almost too numerous to cite.

It’s bizarre, the system is out of whack by any empirical measurement, and many of those on the outside want to keep it that way.

Welcome to America, where many members of the working class fight for their right to be screwed daily by Plutocrats.

On Post Partisanship

29 Mar

A commenter writes:

Reading this thread reminds me of how the Obama presidency was going to be “post-partisan”. How’s it working so far, Libs?

Answer: It takes two to tango.

For instance, consider this joint statement from the leaders of the DNC and RNC:

As leaders of our respective national parties, we want to speak to all Americans about the importance of conducting our political debates in a manner and tone that respects our political system and demonstrates to the world the strength of our democracy.

We have a system of government that allows the great issues of our day to be resolved peacefully and civilly and that serves as a beacon of hope to those around the world who yearn for political freedom, political stability, and governing without the threat of violence.

We have a system that allows people to express approval of their government or change the party in power peaceably through the ballot box.

Our Constitution affords Americans the right to assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Clearly, we have different positions on the merits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, we together call on elected officials of both parties to set an example of the civility we want to see in our citizenry. We also call on all Americans to respect differences of opinion, to refrain from inappropriate forms of intimidation, to reject violence and vandalism, and to scale back rhetoric that might reasonably be misinterpreted by those prone to such behavior.

RNC head Michael Steele refused to sign it.

It takes two to tango. The Republicans’ platform from the moment the Muslim usurper with “Hussein” as a middle name who pals around with terrorists took the oath of office was to stop him and try to repeat 1994. The opposition made a tactical and strategic decision to thwart, yes. But also to demonize, and such as /Miss S. Carolina:


Representative Democracy

16 Aug

One of the right-wing talk-radio talking points is to repeat that we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a representative republic.

Insofar as we have a republican form of government, as opposed to a monarchy, that is correct. Insofar as we elect representatives to represent our interests in various and sundry legislatures and councils and committees, that is also correct.

It is also correct, however, that those representatives are elected using a democratic process whereby people vote for those representatives.

So, because the people get to elect their representatives, we have a government of, by, and for the people. Therefore, we have a representative republic and a democracy all at the same time.