Saturday, September 29, 2012

DC Sacrifice, Blood & Lives, Merits DC Statehood

In recent weeks I have attended/taken part in/responded to a number of DC candidate forums and questionnaires.  One important question has been, "What would you do to promote DC Statehood if elected?"  First of all I will continue to work for Statehood whether I am elected or not.  However, I do have several thoughts/ideas on the whole issue.  One reason I have joined the DC Statehood Green Party is that we do not accept corporate financing and thus have no part in the recent electoral scandals and questions.  Therefore we can promote Statehood with clean hands and a pure heart throughout the country.

Thus, I encourage our voters to vote the DC Statehood Green Party ticket.  We will have 6 candidates printed on the November ballot.  Some may be tempted to vote for President Obama.  Last election he had 93% of the vote in DC.  Has this gained us anything in DC?  For those who rightfully fear a Romney administration, voting for Dr. Jill Stein in DC is not going to change the fact that President Obama will still get a majority of DC votes and our electoral votes.  However, if his count drops by 10 or 15% perhaps he will realize that we are disappointed that while living here full time he has done so little for our city or our Statehood quest.  Continuing to pay 100% federal taxes, while only electing 2 out of the 5 representatives we ought to have simply is not fair.

Second, it has come to my attention that Republicans have expressed an interest in having Puerto Rico, with potentially 5 Representatives and 2 Senators, become a state.  Although a majority of those elected might be Republicans, if we in DC were to enter as a state at the same time, the major political parties would probably be represented roughly in equal numbers.  Pairs of states entering the Union with different political views has been arranged several times in the past.  Since we lost the Utah redistricting pairing idea, this seems to be our next best strategy as DC is unlikely to win a supermajority of approvals by the 50 states in the near future.

On Sept. 24th I raised this idea at the DC for Democracy candidate forum when my competition for the "Shadow" Representative to Congress and I were questioned, which you can see at this link:
The chance to use this strategy for the moment depends on the results of the November 6th vote in Puerto Rico when they will decide if they want Statehood, Independence, or status quo.  I am considering making a fact finding trip there, where I have family already living, to make contacts for potential future joint action.   Unlike Rick Santorum, who says PR would have to make Spanish language secondary, rather than co-equal with English as it is now, I suspect that we in DC would honor their cultural diversity and language.

A third idea is to raise national awareness of the very real sacrifices in blood and lives that we in DC have made in our military.  This is also true for Puerto Ricans who have served bravely in the US military as well.  I propose that each Veteran's Day and Memorial Day we have a press conference/demonstration in front of the column with Washington DC carved on it at the World War II Memorial.  There is a large blank granite rectangular block holding a tall column.  We should prepare a poster the size of this rectangle.  Written on it should be:  DC soldiers DIED (              ), DC soldiers WOUNDED (              ), DC soldiers SERVED
(            ).  Supporters of Puerto Rican statehood could join us in doing the same.  Photographed against our memorial column this would be a powerful statement to send the nation.

The failure of candidate Romney to even mention our service people in his major Republican Convention address is especially indicative of his lack of concern for the common man.  You would think that after getting 6 draft waivers while selling Mormonism in France, he would recognize the need to make an extra effort with the group that has sacrificed so much more than the rest of us.  The fact that so many of the 47% that he says don't matter to him are service people or families, and often living in "red" states, shows just how ignorant and unconcerned he is with the economic condition of people in our country.  I have encountered several wonderful summaries of opinion regarding the Romney campaign that deserve quoting.  They are comments at a Huffington Post article titled,  Mitt Romney Ohio Ground Game: A Frantic Race to Catch Obama, by San Stein.
"redhead55, (1089 Fans)  Redhead informs me he quoted this from the blog:  Crooks and Liars.
"Introducing President Obama in Virginia Beach, retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), condemned Mitt Romney for failing to mention veterans or the military in his GOP convention speech.  The omission was all the more damning, Webb suggested, because Romney is of an age where he might have served in Vietnam but did not.

“If nothing else, at least mention some word of thanks and respect when a presidential candidate who is their generational peer makes a speech,” said Webb, a former Navy secretary and decorated Marine who served in Vietnam. Romney was exempted from the draft, first as a student and then as a missionary.  “This was a time when every American male was eligible to be drafted. People made choices,” Webb said. “Those among us who stepped forward to face the harsh unknowns did so with the belief that their service would be honored.”

Webb also tied in Romney’s much criticized remark that 47 percent of Americans believe they are “victims” who feel entitled to federal handouts, saying some of those benefits go to veterans.  “Those young Marines that I led have grown older now. All gave some. Some gave all. That’s not a culture of dependency,” he said. ”They paid. Some with their lives, some with their wounds, disabilities. Some with emotional scars. Some with lost opportunities. Not only did they pay, they are owed. They are owed.”  excerpt from C&L"
"RandomJ, (170 Fans)  This was reacting to a Romney volunteer, a Marine "trying to save his country."
A former Marine is for his presidential nominee NOT mentioning ONE word of the Afghanistan war, the LONGEST war in American HISTORY, and NOT saluting our brave American troops in his RNC coronation speech...?! A candidate running for president better mention THIS, and Sir Mittens DIDN'T!

"When you give a speech you don't go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important." –Mitt Romney, when asked about failing to mention the troops in his nomination speech at the Republican National Convention, Fox News interview (Sept. 7, 2012)  "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." —Mitt Romney, speaking in 2007 about killing Osama bin Laden

A former Marine is for his presidential nominee NOT having a timetable to withdraw troops out of our endless war where American soldiers are getting shot and killed every week...?!  A former Marine is for his presidential nominee attempting to politicize the killings of American diplomats in Libya by falsely accusing President Obama of apologizing for America and getting the facts of the situation backwards...?!

A former Marine is for Republican lawmakers BLOCKING a just recent $1 billion dollar veterans jobs program putting 720,000 veterans who are unemployed across the nation back to work tending to the country's federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments...?!  Way to go Marine..."
_  _  _  _  
I believe we have a powerful argument when we point out to the rest of the country, just how much our vote deprived citizens have sacrificed because they live in Washington, DC or Puerto Rico.  Taxation without Representation is just plain unAmerican.  Personal note:  My older son who participated 3 years in DC schools ROTC program still has 2 years to go before his 20 year retirement from Special Forces.  He has already served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his wife and two children will soon again be deprived of their husband/father for another 8 months.  He and his family are just one of many and all deserve the right to vote for Senators and Representatives.
[If any local historian has the figures for our WWII DC military service, please place the information or source in the Comments box.  Thanks, G. Lee Aikin]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicago School/Conservative Views of Economics

Guest post by Don Wharton

Milton Friedman
Economic theories are to a great extent ethical claims. They say that shared outcomes will be better if we engage in certain policies of governance, taxation and finance. The outcomes for people living under those laws will be vastly different depending upon which theories and which laws we adopt. Economics is asserted to be a science and in theory we should be able to compare these theoretical claims with the factual data.

Milton Friedman was one of the central figures creating the conservative Chicago School of economics. A prime feature of this variety of economics is a belief in largely unrestricted free markets. This can be very effective in increasing or decreasing commodities, manufactured goods and services in response to changes in relative demand by our society. If there is a shortage of corn the price will rise. There will then be more land, labor, fertilizer and machinery used to produce corn, satisfying the demand.

Friedman wanted an extremely minimal government and disliked things such as permits and licenses as a matter of almost quasi-religious belief. He was opposed to licensing medical doctors. Of course, this would have opened up medical services market to a vast variety of medical fraud and quackery. To be fair, there are laws against fraud and in principle Friedman would argue that these laws would limit misbehavior.  On the other hand, we have seen how well this worked for the banking industry this past decade.

Alan Greenspan was a supporter of Friedman's views. He saw no problem with the mushrooming of sub prime, low documentation loans for real estate or the slicing and dicing of bundled mortgages to finance the recent housing bubble. This fraud was endorsed by rating agencies that seemed willing to give AAA ratings to repackaged mortgage instruments sold to credulous buyers. The ratings agencies were in effect bribed by the financial institutions that were requesting the ratings. Once again laws against fraud in theory apply. A few people have been prosecuted under such laws, but only a very tiny percentage of the army of people who built the housing bubble that destroyed many trillions in the American people's assets. The fear of prosecution was almost totally absent during the building of the housing bubble. The very minimal current levels of prosecution suggests there would be no fear of  bad legal consequences when future markets become similarly disconnected from reality.

A major contributor to the recent credit bubble was the abolition of Glass-Steagall Act which was installed at the height of the Great Depression in 1933, but partially repealed in 1999.  These provision limited the abilities of banks to directly participate in risky investments for their own profit. This reflected the assumption made by Friedman and others that free markets worked and the best government was one that governed least. The result was a disaster with overall median family net worth falling 38.8 percent from 2007 to 2010 (June 2012 report from Federal Reserve).

Friedman was a monetarist asserting that inflation was always a result of an increase in money supply. He argued that the Fed should be abolished and the money supply should be increased at a fixed rate based on the increase in the national economy. He also argued that government should never use government spending to increase demand in recessionary times. The April 2012 GDP rate was slightly over 8% more than the peak rate prior to the crash recorded in April 2008. The M2 money supply increased 28.7% over the same time. Over $1 trillion in federal budget deficits has occurred every year of the Obama administration.

 Based on these facts there has been an avalanche of predictions by conservative economists and politicians that inflation and the fear of inflation will vastly increase the cost of funding our national debt, destroy the value of the dollar, and put us on a pathway to becoming the next Greece. The yield on the ten year US note has collapsed from a recent peak of 4% on 4/5/2010 to 1.51% on 8/2/2012. The dollar index, DXY, at the beginning of August 2012 is higher than at the beginning of August of 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.  Their predictions have obviously been flat wrong.

The Neo-Keynesian concensus is that during the recessionary period following a liquidity crisis the government should provide demand which makes use of the people and productive capacity that would otherwise not be put to good use. There was a very large inventment in skills, organization and tools in the construction industry during the housing boom. After years of disuse a large fraction of these investments now have no value. People are unemplyed for years and are living with a sense of desperation with no options to support their families. At the same time we have thousands of schools which are desperately in need of renovation. We have bridges that are in danger of collapse and we have a transportation system which is in near dysfuntional gridlock in many areas of our country.

Much of our society is now focused on paying down debt resulting in an increased demand for safely stored money and lower than normal desire to invest or consume. The result is extremely low interest rates at every future maturity date of Federal debt. Thus, the cost to our national government for most borrowing is less than current or expected rates of inflation. This means that any public sector investment that yields any positive efficiency in our economy creates a net positive benefit for society.

 The Friedman economic view is that these investments will always create distortions and inefficiencies that damage the economy. The obvious net value of children learning better in renovated schools or people getting where they wish to go more rapidly and safely with an updated trasnportation system is strong evidence against conservative economic claims. Public health, fire safety and police protection are other obvious areas where positive value can be generated at low or negative net cost.

A sweaping claim made by conservative economists is that fiscal deficits are financial warfare against our children. The reality is that forcing so many children to live in poverty or the stress of near poverty is an unneeded war against them in the here and now. The impact of forced austerity on employment has been illustrated by the nearly 25% unemployment rates in Greece and Spain. Statistical analysis of changes in budgets and subsequent changes in GDP in Euopean countries suggests that less than half of any reductions in government spending will be seen as smaller deficits. If we slash Federal budgets by a trillion dollars the deficit will be reduced by less than half that amount because the GDP will be reduced and the tax revenue will be much less. That means that in order to balance the US budget there would need to be multiple waves of massive budget slashing.

 The result would certainly be many millions added to the unemployment roles and a huge increase in deprivation for American children. Given the impact on both state budgets and parent's ability to save for education our next generation would be significantly deprived of the education that would be needed for our nation to deal with the problems of the future. Conservatives claim that a balanced budget would create economic growth, but there is no nation that has confirmed the current conservative theory that government austerity creates growth.

As noted before Friedman asserted that the money supply should be increased by law only in response to an increase in the economy. Implicit in his assumption is that the velocity of money will remain constant. This assumption is false. As we know, during and after a liquidity crisis the desire for safe stores of money is sharply increased and the desire to consume and invest is reduced. The net effect is that a given money supply will be associated with a far lower level of economic activity. If the Fed is abolished as Friedman suggested there is no mechanism to increase the money supply in respond to this abnormal situation. If Friedman's rule were in effect our current M2 money supply would have to be reduced 17.5% to be in line with the increase in GDP since 2008. Of course, with a much lower money supply we would not have our current GDP.

Major concepts of conservative economics have not been confirmed by recent evidence. They are about as valid as the phlogiston theory of combustion and the flat Earth theory of geography. It is profoundly sad that one of our major political parties is addicted to demonstrably false economic theories. If these theories are more fully implemented they will yield massive suffering to the citizens of our nation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are You Better Off Today vs 4 Years Ago: "Better" Defined

Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?  This seems to be a major theme of both the Republicans and the Democrats.  The Republicans insist that we are worse off than 4 years ago.  Of course, they are NOT asking if we were better off 4 years ago than we were 8 years ago.  The Democrats are saying that we are indeed better off in 2012, because millions more are now covered by health insurance, GM and the 3 million related jobs was saved, Osama bin Laden is gone, we have pulled out of Iraq and are moving out of Afganistan, among other things.

Also, although unemployment figures are not as low as many feel they should be, the rate of disemployment was very high as George Bush left office, but since that rate bottomed out in 2009, 4 1/2 million private sector jobs have been added.  Unfortunately, public sector jobs continue to fall as local and state governments struggle with reduced tax income to pay for government employees.  Nevertheless, some jurisdictions continue to pay outrageous amounts in overtime, when it would be better to use this money, (perhaps at time and one half rates) to hire other employees, reduce the total unemployment and enable additional workers to pay their property taxes (instead of loosing their homes) and buy commodities that produce sales taxes.  Frankly I was appalled to see a recent article showing that some Maryland employees were working 60 to 80 hours per week and almost doubling their take home pay, while others in Maryland are unemployed.

As I listen to both parties insist that our goal requires that each generation have a better life than the one before, I find myself thinking.  What is a better life really, and when do we have enough.  A few years ago I wondered the same thing as I watched the  McMansion craze.  I wondered how so many people could think that a huge house would make them any happier, other than for bragging rights.  I thought of Aesop's Fable about the magic fish.  A fisherman caught a fish that offered to grant his every request if only he could be freed.  The fisherman released the fish.  He and his wife lived in a shack.  His wife first wanted a nice cottage, then a big house, then a palace and ultimately the stars and the moon.  At this point the fish put them back in the shack.  Will our reckless use of resources eventually put most of us back in shacks?

I have just read "Lost on Planet China" by J. Maarten Troost (2008).  This amusing but distressing book should be on the reading list of anyone who cares about the future of Planet Earth.  He describes the almost unbreathable air in most of China that kills about 700,000 people a year (more than the population of Washington, DC), and that gives traffic policemen a life expectancy of 45 years.  He points out that the US has 5% of the world's population and emits 25% of the world's pollution.  In the US there is one vehicle for every 1.25 inhabitants.  In China there is one for every 40 Chinese.  He asks what will happen when the Chinese (1/5th the worlds population) start to live like us?  Do they have less right to air conditioning, central heating, a car, an office or factory job?  He concludes that "from an environmental perspective, this is a terrifying development."

And make no doubt about it.  The Chinese are developing as fast as they can, although the recent world economic setback has been slowing things down there too.  They are spreading throughout the undeveloped and developing world as fast as they can, to nail down the resources that will become very scarce as they and the Indians continue to develop their countries. One example specific to our country is the XL Pipeline.  The Republicans have been screaming that failure to support this project is a failure by the Obama administration, and causes higher gas prices.  Fortunately, he has had to listen to the conservationist wing of the party.  We are already exporting some of our own oil production, and this will only result in more oil to export, not lower gas prices.  By all means lets hurry up and deliver it to the Chinese.

Surely it is imperative that we look at a newer and greener way of determining what makes our world and country a better place.  The Republicans tend to look at obvious wealth and goods as the measure of doing well.  Democrats tend to give more value to health, security and employment.  Another value is more time to enjoy with family, to work on creative projects, travel in and study the world, etc.  I think that many of us who are not neurotically greedy reach a point when we have a big enough home, have earned enough money and now wish we could relax and enjoy our relative prosperity.  If we are not emotionally invested in "keeping up with the Joneses" then our enjoyment of non material resources and services can become a sign and goal of being better off.

This is much harder to quantify, but the tiny country of Bhutan has developed a formula.  In addition to Gross National Product (GNP), they also consider Gross National Happiness (GNH).  The 4 components of GNH include sustainable economic development, environmental preservation, cultural preservation and good governance. The have even abolished TV advertising, and smoking.  Bhutan has made environmental preservation a top priority in its development policy.  Our own national Green Party has done the same.  If only our major parties would do the same.  Of course, it helps that Bhutan has an enlightened absolute monarch, which we never will, nor should want.  I encourage you to Google search more information about this fascinating GNH policy in Bhutan.

Thus, as we listen to the parties insist that they will help the next generation be even better off than this one is, let us consider carefully, what we really need to make us happier.  Is it a big house or SUV, a much bigger salary, or greater health security, time to enjoy our life and families, and explore this wonderful earth?  Once you have examined your own priorities, then you can evaluate what each party is trying to sell us.  In my own case I have concluded that much of what I value most is provided by the Green Party platform and least by the Republican platform.