Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Links/Open Thread

Not Everyone Hates Citizens United, particularly local TV stations, pithily writes Michael Socolow in Slate:
For local broadcast channels and their it-bleeds-it-leads newscasts, the Supreme Court might as well be that mythic relative who leaves you an unexpected fortune in his will. The cascade of political money to your local channel began for real in 2012. That year, according to the Pew Research Center, local television stations received $3.1 billion in political advertising revenue. That was 48 percent more than was spent just two years earlier (before Citizens United) and represented more than double the amount raked in during the previous presidential election in 2008.
Read the whole thing. In case you were still wondering why you keep getting that queasy feeling whenever you unwittingly morph from Judge Judy berating the poor and marginalized into local news berating the poor and the marginalized, Socolow lays it all out for you.  My own local news fare lurches between lambasting "progressive" Mayor De Blasio for his un-tough on crime demeanor, to ads for charter schools produced by anonymous dark hedge fund money, to big bank lobbies honoring recently re-elected NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (whose administration is currently under investigation for alleged corruption) for his support for Wall Street. These local propaganda mills make the national network news conglomerates actually seem journalistically responsible, even with their feel-good animal videos and their hideous Viagra and Big Oil ads. Cancelling my cable is looking more and more like a treat to be savored, rather than a deprivation in my infotainment diet. Plus, all those books that must be read before one dies are piling up on my nightstand.
Where were you when you discovered your own personal political and moral conscience? Was it a book, a friend, a teacher who opened your eyes? Henry Giroux tells his own personal story in a heartfelt Truthout essay about his simultaneous embrace and transcendence of his working class roots. He recounts the epiphany that the dreck that the ruling class sells us day in and day out is not only harmful to our health, it is pure poison:
 The struggle to redefine my sense of agency was about more than a perpetual struggle between matters of intelligence, competency and low self-esteem; it was about reclaiming a sense of history, opening the door to dangerous memories, and taking risks that enabled a new and more radical sense of identity and what it meant to be in the world from a position of strength. I found signposts of such resistance in my youth in Black music, stories about union struggles, the warm solidarity of my peers, and later in the powerful display of public intellectuals whose lectures I attended at Brown University. The people who moved me at those lectures were not academics reading papers I barely understood, or intellectuals who seemed frozen emotionally, spewing out a kind of jargon reserved for the already initiated, smug in their insularity and remoteness.
Speaking of stories on union and class struggles, one of the great influencers of my own youth was the folk music group The Weavers. Ronnie Gilbert, the female voice of that quartet, died this week at the age of 88. From Rolling Stone:
The Weavers' first concerts were often free performances at union meetings and on picket lines. In 1949, about to break up, they were offered a two week residency at the Village Vanguard in New York City that proved so successful they stayed for six months. The stint earned the Weavers a deal with Decca Records, which led to television and radio appearances, and extensive touring.
Amidst their success, the group maintained their progressive and leftist politics, which drew the eye and ire of those in the anti-communist movement of the 1950s. In 1951, the Weavers were investigated by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which sought to probe potentially subversive citizen threats, and soon they were blacklisted from performing and recording.
The daughter of Russian/Ukrainian immigrants and labor activists, Gilbert was inspired in her own youth by the voice of Paul Robeson. Her activism was her music. And luckily for us, she also wrote an autobiography before she died, to be published posthumously this fall. While you're waiting, here's a link to one of my own Weavers favorites -- Which Side Are You On?

Which side is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on? Well, we know it is not the crazy Republicans. Nor is it the crazy leftists, whoever they may be. They certainly do not exist within the moneyed realm of the ironically named Democratic Party. To his credit, unlike other pundits, Krugman rarely delves into the river of false equivalency in his columns. But he really stuck a big toe into it in yesterday's effort, cutesily titled Fighting the Derp. For the uninitiated unhip readers out there, Krugman helpfully explains that "derp" is a South Park cartoon neologism defined as repeating the same lies over and over and over again to give them legitimacy and currency. In other words, "derp" is another way to describe Goebbels-style propaganda.

Here's the "both sides do it" part of the column that really pissed me off:
Thus, if you’re a conservative opposed to a stronger safety net, you should be extra skeptical about claims that health reform is about to crash and burn, especially coming from people who made the same prediction last year and the year before (Obamacare derp runs almost as deep as inflation derp).
But if you’re a liberal who believes that we should reduce inequality, you should similarly be cautious about studies purporting to show that inequality is responsible for many of our economic ills, from slow growth to financial instability. Those studies might be correct — the fact is that there’s less derp on America’s left than there is on the right — but you nonetheless need to fight the temptation to let political convenience dictate your beliefs.
My published response:
  "Liberals" are admonished to also be careful of studies purporting to show that income inequality is responsible for many of our economic ills. And then PK neglects to mention any alleged lefty studies.
Is he referring to Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz's work on inequality, which shows that the wealth gap, deliberately manufactured by financial deregulation and political malfeasance, is indeed responsible for a tepid economy and slow recovery due to stagnant wages? Or is he referring to Barack Obama, who's been acting more like a Reaganesque supply-sider lately with his shilling for the Trans-Pacific Partnership "trickle-down" power grab by the ultra-rich?

I'll do my civic duty and read Stiglitz and others, like Bill Black and Michael Hudson, who rightly point to blatant corruption and rule by the plutocracy as a prime cause of economic inequality. I'll put my faith in my fellow citizens, 61% of whom believe, according to a recent NYT poll, that this inequality is getting worse. We believe, along with Sens. Warren and Sanders, that the whole economic system is rigged against us. I'll also put my faith in the most recent OECD figures showing that the US ranks near dead last in all Western measures of social and economic health.

There may be a derp problem, but the real problem is that of the insatiable greed of the pathocrats and the influence of their unlimited dark money in what is still quaintly called a democracy.
To be fair, Krugman did follow up his column with a blogpost/chart purporting to debunk a causal relationship between inequality and a bad economy. He first conveniently tossed out the widely used and respected Gini co-efficient measurements of wealth inequality because they apparently do not fit with his own theory. His argument was rather too technical for a layperson like me, but do read the comments. People with obvious economic backgrounds and expertise were not impressed.

 As an antidote to Krugman wishy-washiness, be sure to read Thomas Piketty's review of a truly radical economist's prescription to heal the scourge of historic and global wealth inequality. And then get a hold of the book (Inequality: What Can Be Done? by Anthony B. Atkinson) if you can. I got so excited that I plunked down an outrageous 16-plus bucks to download it from Amazon, but it's been well worth it so far. He addresses mere laypersons! In just the first few pages he tears apart the neoliberal metaphors that I love to hate -- level playing fields and ladders of opportunity! -- and gets right into how politicians and pundits avoid talking about how people often stumble and fall on those level playing fields and how "we" avoid talking about actual equal outcomes.

Piketty writes,
He also argues for guaranteed public-sector jobs at a minimum wage for the unemployed, and democratization of access to property ownership via an innovative national savings system, with guaranteed returns for the depositors. There will be inheritance for all, achieved by a capital endowment at age eighteen, financed by a more robust estate tax; an end to the English poll tax—a flat-rate tax for local governments—and the effective abandonment of Thatcherism. The effect is exhilarating. Witty, elegant, profound, this book should be read: it brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer.
In other words, Atkinson is even more radical than Bernie Sanders. And the fact that he concentrates on Britain should not at all dissuade us from translating his Rx to our own shores. After all, it's a global economy. The City of London and Wall Street are one and the same entity. Obama's consigliere Jim Messina just helped re-elect austerian David Cameron to another term as prime minister.

But as Atkinson cheerily writes in his intro: "The world faces great problems but collectively we are not helpless in the face of forces outside our control. The future is very much in our hands."

Like I said, quite the antidote to learned helplessness, one of the many neoliberal toxins being poured down our political gullets to induce the chronic condition known as Panglossitis. Things could always be worse in this best of all possible worlds, of course. But why not demand better? The only thing holding us back is the propaganda of the fear-mongers.

Give up that dark money-driven cable infotainment and embrace your inner Henry Giroux and Ronnie Gilbert. Life is too short not to.


Meredith NYC said...

Karen.....Glad you brought up what to me is one of Krugman's worst columns....and you cited Stiglitz.
My submitted comment below was unpublished, but my others were.

Ok we’ll fight Derpitude! That’s a neat trick—challenge whatever is convenient for your political tribe, so you’re a liberal but also a resolutely principled seeker of truth. Let the rest follow the lib mob, right?

I recall your blog disagreeing with Joe Stiglitz. You said that inequality doesn’t necessarily inhibit growth in the economy, since there are ‘other factors’. Please engage with Stiglitz’s argument on this.

What if the ‘growth’ is at the top, not distributed fairly to the majority? That’s what’s happening, obviously. Define growth. The elites are redistributing the profits from productivity upward, and offshoring them away from taxes. The US still has the most inequality of any world democracy. You need to tackle these comparisons and cut through the excuses.

So if Stiglitz is wrong, then the elites can just keep growing and accumulating our resources and the hell with the masses? Lack of consumer spending means nothing? So, the majority can only demand more equality on the basis of some kind of 'Christian charity' or the like? Not appealing self interest of the elites. Never mind their ethics. Readers would welcome some clarification.

When eminent liberal Nobels disagree on a basic tenet of inequality’s effects, this calls for public discussion, not just a sentence or 2. Will you do it? Inequality is shaping up to be the major issue for 2016, so a few columns in clear language at are needed. Those candidate

Meredith NYC said...

Karen...a question---if we comment on yesterday's blog, should we go back to it, or put it with today's post and refer to it?

--- ---- ---- ---------
I'm thinking now that Krugman is becoming a parody himself, like Dowd! Embarrassing.

This was my reply to your comment to Krugman's column.

Karen....Professor Stiglitz was very impressive this weekend on his Cspan interview about his new book on inequality, “The Great Divide, Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them.”
He asks how has America become the most unequal advanced country in the world. It’s on video.

One of Stiglitz’s interesting points was how other nations make it much easier for women with kids to work full time---they have child care benefits for all, and good public trans to get to jobs---2 crucial things the US largely lacks. It all works together toward a result.

Krugman never mentions those “OECD figures showing the US ranks near dead last in all Western measures of social and economic health.” This despite his many world travels. But he has very briefly cited a fact or 2 in talks I’ve seen on line. Like that Germany manufactures and exports quality products and has good labor/management relations. Or that the middle class in advanced EU nations is generally more secure than in the US. No details or comparisons. But then he never follows up what should be his main themes---instead does his anti Derp, Zombie talk,

Insatiable greed of 'pathocrats' can be either brought out, or tamped down, depending on the prevailing viewpoints. Here it's ok to consider everything a profit center, even essential services that citizens deserve.

Meredith NYC said...

Correction...in my 1st post above I ended with 'those candidate.' Should be those candidate debates are looming.
Thus the debates will force Krugman to grapple with issues

annenigma said...

Books that opened my eyes and changed my life as a young teen were 'The Feminine Mystique' by Betty Friedan, 'Black Like Me' by John Howard Griffin, and 'Death Be Not Proud' by John Gunther.

The person I most associate with an awakening mind was a teacher named Deborah Winsor. She created the atmosphere that invited us to explore the deeper levels of life in our studies. We came into her class as children and left feeling like young adults.

Tragically, she left this world far too soon as a result of a car accident. She did a whole lot of good while she was here, bless her soul.

Meredith NYC said...

Thanks for Slate article.
We give business the reins of the money machine with legal protections, then let them apply $ with no limits to lawmakers, thus more profits. A vicious cycle, called free speech. Future candidates are tailoring their statements with 1 eye always on future donors.

Renowned 1st amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said in letter to NYT that the same 1st amend that protected the Times in the Pentagon Papers case now protects corporate free speech in the form of money. Abrams represented The Times in Pentagon Papers and Senator Mitch McConnell in Citizens United. McConnell stated that Citizens United has ‘leveled the playing field’. Evidently he thought it was too unbalanced toward the non wealthy before.

Glenn Greenwald who defends us against NSA collecting our data, also supports Citizens United. No govt restrictions on ‘speech’ he says.

Strange that dozens of other democracies don’t agree that limiting private donations and using public funds somehow takes away their freedoms!

Our news does little to no reporting on campaign finance reform, which to many is our most important reform on which the other issues depends. Even liberal MSNBC. In John Nichols book, Dollarocracy, he tells how broadcasters will cut news time to fit in more campaign ads at high rates, since elections are their Christmas season for profits. In most other countries, like the UK with 3 month long campaigns, that’s a lot less profits. The Times said in the French elections privately paid campaign are banned, period. Liberte!

My question is---if media abroad make a lot less profit than in US, due to bans on high cost ads, do they lobby against these 'big govt restrictios'? Do their conservative parties push for a US style system? Just think of all that lovely profit lost to media and politicians.

Just like all the medical profits lost, b/c they let their govts actually negotiate prices for their universal health care. What kind of freedom loving countries are these?

Where’s some reporting on this mystery?

Kat said...


Karen Garcia said...


Books can indeed be life and mind-changers. Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" (feminism and writing) and Emile Zola's "Germinal" (social justice) were the two that hit me like a blast of mental dynamite. Needless to say, they were not part of any high school curriculum then or now.


I believe that commenting etiquette at the NYT would require you to stick to the topic at hand, so if you want to bring up Stiglitz do so at the earlier post for a better chance of getting published. (Of course there are always ways to finagle your point in elsewhere as long as you blend it in with the topic at hand. This is how you can make your points on such stuff as the TPP and the Bernie Sanders candidacy on a column all about Hillary, for example.)


This is the reason I refuse to give money to "Bernie" or any other politician. Another fund-raiser for him is ActBlue, which sent out all that fear-mongering spam during the mid-terms. They take their own cut right off the top and then readily share your email address with every other candidate out there, even congressional reps living a thousand miles away. The people running ActBlue are multimillionaires in their own right. So although I support Bernie's ideas and candidacy, I think it is a huge mistake for progressives to be putting all their eggs in the Bernie Basket. We have to be our own heroes and heroines.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Good grief. Karen's already struck camp on this topic and moved on to the next. Well, anyway, this is what she got me to sleep on and then compose when I got up, late as usual.

Since their invention, words have been in competition for attention. Today the volume is near infinite. We can’t read them all, even if we don’t care to have a life beyond the page. We only have time for the best, as they say. And we must be on guard for writer tricks that try to convince us dross is gold. Karen’s parsing of Obama from time to time is an example of attentive literacy.

Same goes for numbers. Problem is, I’m much less prepared to be a judge of the good, the bad and the ugly in that field. So I appreciate tips from those who are numerate themselves or who have discovered economic writers who are technically reliable and humanly responsible. If Karen recommends a title by A. B. Atkinson, of whom I know nothing, and she further tells us Thomas Piketty recommended him, what more do I need to turn from Krugman to Atkinson? If I stay on that course, I just might waste a hell of a lot less time with the Gray Lady and her stable of clearly identified con artists. Or must we pause here to prove some Nobel Laureates might also be con artists?

Last week, I read that Thomas Piketty had attended a conference of economists, bankers and finance ministers in Berlin. Haven’t been able to retrace my steps to the source of the account, but here’s a pretty hostile interview of Piketty about the same time that brings out his ideas on austerian folly towards the debt issue.

Back to the Berlin scene, Piketty surprised and upset his German hosts by proposing that Greece’s debt be forgiven. Boom. He’d been building up to this for some time. Not for soft-hearted reasons but because it made good economic sense for everyone to free what now amounts to a state endlessly enslaved to the bankers and the investors behind the bankers.

Germany itself originally introduced the term “haircut,” in this context implying that investors should occasionally eat their losses. The German economic elites hearing Piketty squirmed a bit when he reminded them that the crushing debts of Germany and France were essentially forgiven after WWII. As a result, their recovery advanced more rapidly. Why not engage the same fix today for Greece? Yes, yes, along with follow-up safeguard measures laid out in Piketty's interview with Der Spiegel.

Those in the growing anti-austerity pack, like Piketty, have advanced two solutions to solve the crippling economic problems of our time. One is plain-old, jubilee-year-like debt forgiveness; the other is the more modern progressive taxation of income AND non-cash wealth. The wisdom of and the differences between these two approaches, which need not be exclusive, was beautifully explained for laypeople, like most of us, in a Baffler interview from 2012. The format is a friendly back and forth between authors David Graeber and Thomas Piketty. Read it, friends, and be enlightened.

Now I have to go catch up with Karen's restless mind.

Jay–Ottawa said...

And here's the link to the story about Piketty's trip to Berlin on 20 May.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen..... I was asking about posting at your blog, not the NYT. If we write about your topic of yesterday or day before, for example, do you prefer us posting it there, or putting it on your latest post and referring back to it? Sometimes we don't have time to post that day. Your preference, if any, is what I was after.

Karen Garcia said...


I am nowhere near as picky as the Times regarding staying strictly on topic in comments. But if you want to bring something new to our attention, it is best to put it in the open thread.... which I keep meaning to update at least once a week. Meanwhile it is also fine with me to go completely off topic once my most recent post has been up for awhile... say, for the better part of a day. I have to admit that it sort of hurts my feelings when I spend my time researching and writing something only to find that the very first comment has absolutely nothing to do with my post and totally ignores my subject du jour. Wahhhhhh! If you really have something important to say in the absence of an open thread, you can always insert it as an addendum. I am not THAT picky, just a little sensitive at times.

Another one of my pet peeves is a comment that consists of a stand-alone link with no explanation. People visiting the blog for the first time are rightly spooked by this spammy looking stuff and will tend not to click on unless some kind of accompanying comment is also offered.

And let me also repeat my long-standing offer of this site for guest posts.

Hope that helps.

Karen Garcia said...


Thank you for the Piketty links. Love The Baffler. I also started the French language interview and was amazed that it made more sense to me than the standard Krugman wonk-blog. Of course,I took three years of high school French and 0 of Economics. Too dismal and wonkish, plus I am math-impaired.

I found it interesting -- and funny -- that Piketty has apparently turned down lucrative American gigs because of what he calls ethical considerations. In other words, the man cannot be bought. He has an actual moral code. All is not lost!

Meredith NYC said...

RE early reading. Interesting. It's time I read Woolf and Zola. Feminism and social justice. I wonder if Ms. Dowd and Collins, our pioneering woman Times columnists ever read them.

As a young teen I was intrigued by the title "Compulsion" on the library shelf, and it led to Clarence Darrow for the Defense. Later some popular essays of Bertrand Russell that a girlfriend gave me. Lovely prose. And in college, An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal in an eye opening sociology class. That class was worth my student loans. (low at that time of course).