Archive for November 17th, 2014

by lizard

Politically, things are getting back to normal in Montana. Republicans are doing stupid stuff already by getting busted having a secret meeting to discuss their legislative agenda. Because it’s Republicans doing it, it’s obviously bad and therefore worthy of a Cowgirl post. I don’t recall if there was any criticism from Cowgirl when Bullock nominated 5.1 million acres based on the input of 7 people during 5 conference calls last April:

…Bullock’s office nominated 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land as priority for “restoration” (read: logging). Some touted the proposal as a collaborative effort among the timber industry and environmental groups, but the Great Falls Tribune reported that in fact it was cooked up by seven people over the course of five conference calls that included zero opportunity for public input. Those left out of the discussion are rightfully angry and calling out the governor for approving such a heavy-handed clearcut of public lands.

In the governor’s defense, spokesman Dave Parker told the Trib “vigorous” public participation will follow on a project-by-project basis, and he undermined those questioning the governor’s so-called “diverse coalition” by dismissing the critics as a “minority.” The merits of the proposal aside, a decision this large deserves a more transparent process, and the governor should know better than to try to strong-arm the public.

In other Montana blogosphere news, over at Intelligent Discontent, Don can’t think of anything new to say about the party he has learned to love, so he reposted his “Sellout Manifesto” written 3 years ago. Here’s a taste:

Why do I generally support a party that is often far to the right of my own positions? Because in today’s political climate, on many important national and local questions, they represent the last bulwark to protect rights gained and advances made in the past 100 years. Because real human beings will suffer greatly if we further empower a Republican Party so divorced from rationality and human ethics that it would destroy a program which provides economic and health security for our elderly, legally define our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as second class citizens, and accelerate the damage being done to our environment.

We progressives often talk about the importance of confronting privilege. Many of us on the left have the privilege of taking all or nothing positions on political questions because we will survive the fallout: our jobs, our rights, and our positions will be secure no matter which party takes power. In fact, perversely, some of us will even see our prestige and status increased the worse our government behaves.

I’m not so certain that the truly voiceless, the powerless, and the poor have that privilege. While I may have a position privileged enough to endure Republican rule, I believe that the truly powerless are much better served by a Democratic Party who will, co-opted as they may be, fight for them and the programs which offer them a decent standard of living.

In an article last week, titled Rising Inequality and Liberal Myopia, Andrew Levine writes about the futility of trying to revive the past:

Fond wishes for the return of Keynesianism will not bring those days back. (And, of course, if you weren’t a white male those days weren’t necessarily golden anyway.) The Keynesian consensus of the mid-20th century was a product of a particular set of circumstances that no longer exist. Keynesianism then depended on an industrial base and market expansion. A repeat of history isn’t possible because the industrial base of the advanced capitalist countries has been hollowed out, transferred to low-wage developing countries, and there is almost no place remaining to which to expand. Moreover, capitalists who are saved by Keynesian spending programs amass enough power to later impose their preferred neoliberal policies.

Capitalists tolerated such policies because profits could be maintained through expansion of markets and social peace bought. This equilibrium, however, could only be temporary because the new financial center of capitalism, the U.S., possessed a towering economic dominance following World War II that could not last. When markets can’t be expanded at a rate sufficiently robust to maintain or increase profit margins, capitalists cease tolerating paying increased wages.

And, not least, the massive social movements of the 1930s, when communists, socialists and militant unions scared capitalists into granting concessions and prompted the Roosevelt administration to bring forth the New Deal, were a fresh memory. But the movements then settled for reforms, and once capitalists no longer felt pressure from social movements and their profit rates were increasingly squeezed, the turn to neoliberalism was the response.

As we look forward to the social unrest that will continue to simmer under economic stagnation, political corruption and environmental catastrophe, the only thing that has ever worked is the threat of massive social mobilization against those who benefit massively from systemic exploitation. From the same article:

The top 0.1 percent — that is, the uppermost tenth of the 1% — have about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of United Statesians. To put it another way, approximately 320,000 people possess as much as do more than 280 million. It takes at least $20 million in assets to be among the top 0.1 percent, a total that is steadily rising.

Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, and Gabriel Zucman, a professor at the London School of Economics, examined income-tax data to reveal these numbers. They write that they combined that data with other sources to reach what they believe is the most accurate accounting of wealth distribution yet, one that shows inequality to be wider than previously imagined. The authors define wealth as “the current market value of all the assets owned by households net of all their debts,” including the values of retirement plans with the exception of unfunded defined-benefit pensions and Social Security. (The reason for that exclusion is that those moneys do not yet exist but are promises to be kept sometime in the future.)

The authors’ paper, “Wealth Equality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Data,” reports that, for the bottom 90 percent, there was no change in wealth from 1986 to 2012, while the wealth of the top 0.1 percent increased by more than five percent annually — the latter reaped half of total wealth accumulation.

The 22 percent of total wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent is almost equal to what that cohort owned at the peak of inequality in 1916 and 1929. Afterward, their total fell to as low as seven percent in 1978 but has been rising ever since. At the same time, the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent rose from about 20 percent in the 1920s to a peak of 35 percent in the mid-1980s, but has been declining ever since. Although pension wealth has increased since then, Professors Saez and Zucman report, the increase in mortgage, consumer-credit and student debt has been greater.

People, not party politics, will be the catalyst for actual change in this country.

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