Folk Wisdom vs. Punditry

I come from Pennsylvania, whose political map has been described as Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other, and Arkansas in between.

Lately, that’s also been a rough portrait of the U.S. as a whole, a schizophrenic Jekyll/Hyde that’s about to be tested once again this November.

This morning an analyst on CNBC recited the common wisdom – that Democrats are vulnerable in a number of states, stretching their resources, while Republicans are sitting on mountains of cash surrounded by gloating Supreme court conservatives and ferocious billionaires; so they are bound to take over the Senate as well as the House this fall.

It could all be true – especially in red states armed with gerrymandered districts and racist, anti-minority, anti-democracy voter suppression laws cloaked as anti-vote-fraud measures.

The only vote frauds in sight are the voter suppression laws themselves, which in a perfect world would be punished as treason.

But wait a minute. This week results of the latest (January) Pew Research Center poll were crisply summed up by Charles M. Blow in the Times, and those sentiments seem to hint at a different story. If voters are speaking the truth to pollsters, the nation may no longer be so easy to mislead as Republicans are assuming. To wit:

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Asked which party is more willing to work with the other party, 52% of respondents said the Democrats. Only 27% said Republicans.

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Which party is more concerned “with needs of people like me”? Again, 52% said Democratic, 32% said Republican.

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Which party governs in a more honest and ethical way? 41% Democratic, 31% Republican.

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Do Republicans outscore Democrats on anything? Oh, yes:

Which party is more extreme in its positions? Republican 54%, Democratic 35%. Which is more influenced by Lobbyists? Republican 47%, Democratic 30%.

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Underscoring the voters’ disgust, the most recent Gallup poll asked them what should be done to fix Congress, and the most popular answer was to throw the rascals out — fire every one of them. Another favored choice: term limits.

What should be done about the Supreme Court? It’s a good thing nobody asked.

As folk wisdom has always advised, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
We’ll soon see how folk wisdom fares — after running a gauntlet of three more months of lying, smearing TV ads — when next the folk go to the polls.

Raise the Minimum Bribe!

Disgraceful. Just disgraceful.

Congressional junkets – paid for by lobbyists – are on the rise again. On hundreds of “fact finding” trips, congressmen and women and their aides and families and girlfriends and boyfriends find facts such as where the best beaches are and which luxury hotels have the fluffiest pillows.

It’s a privileged existence. And yet for some reason the congressmen still expect hard working taxpayers to kick in with generous public salaries and pensions on top of everything they get from their corporate sponsors. Are we to suppose that the special interests represented by lobbyists can’t afford to support congress in an appropriate lifestyle without yet another federal subsidy?

Last year the lobbyists came up with $6 million worth of junkets that we know about, plus whatever goes on in the dark. In exchange, we can be sure the special interests are getting $6 billion in benefits sneaked through congress – or $60 billion; who really knows? So why can’t they afford to pay their captive legislators a living wage?

There ought to be a law. If lobbyists insist on shaping the government to their own liking, they shouldn’t be asking for handouts from working Americans to subsidize their congressional payroll.

Admittedly, state legislators, especially the dumb ones, are worth much less to the lobbyists – no big military contracts, interstate highways, or free oil and gas leases – so they should be corruptible at less expense. Perhaps a lower minimum bribe could be allowed for ridiculously stupid, sanctimonious, flagrantly crooked creationist zombie state legislators (for certification, just get one to open his mouth).

You get what you pay for. Clearly, in one form or another, it’s time to raise the Minimum Bribe.

Let’s give corruption a chance to work.

Good-for-Nothings

Call it the Good-for-Nothing Government Caucus. For the past 35 years or so, it’s been a sacred article of the Republican faith that government is not much good at anything.

Government can’t innovate new technology, devout right wingers believe, nor create jobs, nor stimulate economic growth. Only the mighty private sector of free market capitalism can take us to the Promised Land. All the government can do is screw things up with useless regulations and wasteful entitlements to healthcare, Food Stamps, Social Security, Medicare, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and polling places in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Dismantling all those programs (though not so far proposing any real alternatives) pretty much describes the Republican Holy Grail ever since Reagan promised to “get the government off our backs.”

It’s a stunning confession of guilt.

Republicans are roughly half the government they abhor. Since they’ve unanimously pronounced themselves useless, we’ll have to admit that we had noticed.

Democrats understand that government can do essential things well – except when its Incompetent Caucus stamps its feet in unison, holds its breath, and screams “NO!” to every initiative, even their own.

That’s settled, then. Nothing remains except for mass Republican resignations from state and federal office, and the refunding of ill-gotten salaries they collected but haven’t done anything to earn for the past 6 years.

Or not. Actually each time the Good-for-Nothing Government Caucus is again proven wrong, it just gets louder, repeating the same ignorant non-facts that have just been discredited.

A couple of examples.

Paul Krugman writes in Saturday’s Times about the state of Obamacare – not how bad it is, how good it is – how every doomsday/trainwreck prediction from right wingers has come crashing down around their ears.

No, the sign-ups did not fall short of quotas; they far exceeded them. No, the ratio of younger participants did not turn out to be too low. No, the insurance companies did not sharply increase premiums.

But you can still hear the same hollow proclamations of non-facts twelve times a day on Fox News, recited as if from the New Testament. Old dogs turning old tricks –speaking for treats.

Another example – perhaps the richest of all – is the commonly stated assumption that technological innovations never come from government, always arise from entrepreneurism and profit motives in the private sector.

On that subject, Mariana Mazzucato just published The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (Anthem) – which the New York Review of Books calls “one of the most incisive economics books in years.”

Mazzucato quotes various economists who should have known better – Milton Friedman, Lawrence Summers, Robert Gordon – as, in Gordon’s term, “extremely skeptical of government as a source of innovation.” He thinks real inventions come from entrepreneurs like those in Silicon Valley.

Mazzucato shows how misinformed such typical comments have been. Not only was the Internet itself developed by the Defense Department, it was also U.S. military contracts that gave rise to the flowering of Silicon Valley around Palo Alto.

Though Steve Jobs and others brilliantly designed commercial products, “almost all the scientific research on which the iPod, iPhone, and iPad are based was done by government-backed scientists in Europe and America.”

For example, research that resulted in touchscreen technology arose from government-sponsored science in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the medical sciences, much the same pattern holds true. Between 1993 and 2004, NIH was responsible for 75% of the major scientific breakthroughs – known as “new molecular entities.”

Despite all the credit commonly given to venture capital, the fact is that private firms typically invest only after innovations have come a long way under government’s much more daring basic research and more patient injection of capital.

In reality, less and less basic research is done by companies. Instead, they focus on commercial development of breakthroughs already achieved with the help of public money. Mazzucato cites government initiatives that engendered new technologies in completely new spheres such as information theory, information technology, nuclear energy, biotech, and nanotech.

Not bad for a good-for-nothing government.

Milestone in Ideological Paleontology

Scientists have discovered the fossilized brain and nervous system of an animal that lived 520 million years ago. The creature was a member of the Megaclaw family of crustaceans.

Names have been withheld, but the recovery of this rudimentary cognitive organ was made in the Republican caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The name Megaclaw derives from two large grasping appendages protruding from the animal’s head, apparently used for scooping up large sums of money from creeping lobbyists and from unbalanced swooping predators known as billionaire right-wing extremists.

The breakthrough of unearthing such a primitive brain, intact, is considered comparable to the earlier discovery of three dozen complete assholes, also in the Republican caucus.

A Bribe by Any Other Name

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. True, there are earnest, honest senators and representatives. And earnest, ethical lobbyists who provide essential, albeit slanted, information needed to formulate legislation.

As Diogenes wrote to us a while back, both specimens may be hard to find — and even harder to insulate from subsequent corruption. Still, surely they exist.

But you don’t want to read about endangered species in the Beltway, so let’s talk about bankers in China.

J.P. Morgan makes fees bigger than parade dragons in that mysterious land, facilitated by the fact that they hire the sons and daughters of high ranking corporate and government officials.

That’s not uncommon, and the sons and daughters may be bright, capable people. But if there is a quid quo pro – if J.P. Morgan were to get big contracts from the parents’ agencies or companies as a direct result of the hiring – that would be bribery under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977. And that’s what the SEC, the FBI, and Hong Kong authorities are busy these days trying to determine.

Our question is this. Why isn’t there a Domestic Corrupt Practices Act to look into the quid pro quo relationships between lobbyists and congressmen?

As of 1974, according to The Economist, 3% of retiring policymakers became lobbyists. Now 50% of senators and 42% of congressman do that.

Special interests now spend $3.5 billion a year – that we know of — lobbying the federal government. And beyond the money they pour directly into campaign funds and other things dear to the hearts of congresspeople, there are those cushy, highly paid jobs they are dangling in front of them.

Why would a senator spoil his or her chances for a hugely enriching sinecure at a lobbying firm by putting the American people’s interests ahead of the lobbyist’s?

Until we can get a Domestic Corrupt Practices Act passed (over the fierce objections of all lobbyists and all members of congress who like money), couldn’t we at least change the name of K Street to Bribery Boulevard?

Dunces on the Hill

You can’t obtain Stupid Pills in just any healthcare plan. You have to have the Cadillac coverage available to congresspeople and to Divas and Doocys on Fox News.

It’s just as well. Stupid Pills are in short supply. Jointly developed by Pfazer and Jerck, giant pfarmaceutical pfirms, Stupid Pills contain the rare-earth element Imbecilium, found only in a few back pockets of Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma – all of which have state laws reserving most of the local Imbecilium for use in municipal water supplies.

Still, demonstrations of the Stupid Pill’s efficacy abound.

In a study by the Sunshine Foundation, the scholastic grade level equivalent of speeches made by members of Congress has fallen by nearly a full grade since 2006. The most conservative members were ranked at the bottom.

Of the 20 lowest scoring members, 17 were Republicans, and new Tea Party members proved to be the most conspicuous dunces of all.

Tea Partyers smuggle Stupid Pills into meetings of their caucus in doctored packets of Splenda. Then their pupils dilate and they go forth to dispense sound bites.

When Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif) announced at a town meeting that global warming is a total fraud, one voter pointed out that global warming has been proved to have happened, even in ancient times.

“That,” sniffed Rohrabacher, “could have been caused by dinosaur flatulence.”

Mind you, he’s on the House Science Committee.

On the Senate side, the effects of Imbecilium are most pronounced in the antics of Rand Paul, who represents what you might call the state of Kentucky. In an interview on Bloomberg TV, Paul was asked whom he would like to see appointed as Ben Bernanke’s successor at the Federal Reserve.

His answer: Milton Friedman.

On Fox News, he would have gotten away with that; but the Bloomberg interviewer noted that Friedman had been dead for quite a while. He would have been 101 years old by now.

Paul frequently derides Barack Obama because, he says, “We’re running a trillion dollar a year deficit.” That passes for sanity on Hannity, but the fact is that the current deficit is about $400 billion less than that, and it’s been shrinking fast ever since Obama inherited the financial apocalypse from Bush.

(Eric Cantor also keeps wailing about the “growing deficit,” but we don’t think he takes Stupid Pills. He just lies.)

Rand Paul also grumbles that we should stop picking on BP Petroleum just because they killed 11 workers and ruined the Gulf of Mexico. People who keep criticizing and penalizing BP, he complains, “are really un-American.”

Somebody please ask him what the “B” in BP stands for.

No doubt the House Republicans will go on abusing Stupid Pills, but at least we can now understand why they voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare. They’re afraid healthcare reform will do away with Imbecilium in the reservoirs, and nobody in their right mind would vote for them.

We Want Our Money Back

Here’s a draft petition. Please suggest edits via e-mail or comments, below.

We’re under no illusions about the efficacy of petitions. Unless they generate extraordinary momentum, the people to whom they’re addressed usually ignore them (as will John Boehner ignore this one). But that doesn’t immunize the guilty parties to the effects of public exposure.

——————————- PETITION ———————————-

REPUBLICAN CAUCUS:
We want our money back

We, the undersigned – each an American citizen, voter, and taxpayer – demand a refund.

Voters trusted your promises and have been paying you $174,000 a year plus generous benefits, only to witness your adamant refusal to govern for the past five years. You have gone on an undeclared strike and, in your dereliction, you have:

Betrayed your constituents and your country

Damaged the nation’s economy, costing millions of Americans their jobs and many of them their homes.

Unanimously refused to consider any constructive proposal, even your own party’s ideas

Done everything in your power to shred the safety net on which the working poor and the unemployed and their children desperately depend.

Refused to provide essential funding for effective government agencies, education, vital public infrastructure, job training and education.

We believe that every striking Republican in the House owes an apology to the American people and a full refund of the salary we’ve paid you for the last five years.

(signatures)

What’s a Sucker to Do?

How do you deal with employees who haven’t done a lick of work in five years?

I’m not referring to resentful minimum wagers who throw sand in the machinery. These are high ranking private office occupants who make $174,000 a year plus piles of cash under the table, plus blue chip benefits, healthcare, and retirement packages. They have their own gym. They get 240 days off.

Why would they be resentful?

That’s right, we’re talking about Republicans in the House of Representatives. The Troglodyte Army. They don’t like the boss, so whatever needs to be done, they stamp their feet and say No.

They don’t compromise. They don’t negotiate. If they don’t like a proposed law, they don’t suggest a better alternative. They just say No. They refuse to govern – but they go right on getting rich at your expense as if they were real congressmen.

They’re not malingerers, pretending to be sick. They really are sick.

Let’s say you are a red state voter, and you find that in the last election you agreed to hire a person who promised mighty deeds but turned out to be a parasitical fungus. So you have been paying him or her ever since to do nothing except to grow fat helping big contributors steal from you and your kids, undermine your wellbeing, your district, your country, and your future.

What do you do?

Take This Job and Shove It

Mike says,

“Okay, Republicans – here’s your chance to prove you’re serious about creating jobs.”

He forwarded an article from Pro Publica on the 68 Obama appointments bottled up in the Senate – some awaiting confirmation for more than a year. That’s not counting all the vacant judgeships.

Most are not even controversial. Some Senator on an ego trip – or indulging in the exhibitionism of ideological self-abuse – holding up a confirmation vote under threat of filibuster.

Republicans destroying jobs – and crippling federal agencies and the courts –usually as pure sabotage, offering patently dishonest reasons.

And, no, it’s not just the usual obstructionism of a minority party. It’s far worse than under previous administrations of either party. And it’s a tragic deterrent to getting the best, most qualified people to devote their talents to public service.

Take you, for instance.

Knowing what you know about certain senators, would you accept a nomination to the Federal Labor Relations Authority?

Neither would Mike.

Slogans for the Next Four Years

It’s too late for the election campaign, but here are some campaign themes Team Obama should have been using. And now they might serve as rallying cries for the President’s second-term programs.

The source of these insights is Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University and author of the book, The Political Brain.

As part of his research in the deep south, he tested several slogans calling for austerity — like Paul Ryan’s push to slash education, health, and social programs. Those were well received. Then he tried this one:

“The only way to cut the deficit is to put Americans back to work.”

That message beat even the toughest austerity message by a whopping 30 percent – right in the middle of right wing, fundamentalist, Tea Party country. The second Obama administration could use something like this theme to push Congress into job-creation legislation such as infrastructure projects, retraining programs, and tax incentives for companies who create jobs in the U.S. rather than exporting them.

The second message has to do with tax policy, and it won by big margins in every region and with every demographic, including Tea Partyers:

“In tough times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it.”

Obama’s accomplishments have been impressive. But efforts to educate the American public and build public support for these programs have been feeble, as even the President admits.

Team Obama should take a cue from Prof. Westen.