Monday, March 31, 2014


It may be time for President Obama to take a victory lap ...

After establishing 7 million sign ups as the bench mark for success by today's March 31, 2014 deadline we are now learning that between 6 and 7 million people have signed up for Obamacare. Seven million seems a sure thing by the middle of April (the extension deadline). This figure, however, covers only the sign ups.

The RAND Corporation estimates that about 9.5 million people have benefited from Obamacare, with 3 million of this number being young adults who are able to remain on their parents' insurance plan until they turn 26.

But wait, it gets better.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Canada/TX) asked his Facebook friends whether they were better off with Obamacare and he got an answer he didn't want. More to the point, there was a tsunami of "YES" votes. Among the reasons for being better off with Obamacare included (1) the ability to obtain coverage despite preexisting conditions, (2) being able to keep their kids on their insurance plan until their 26, (3) lower premiums, and (4) the end of lifetime benefit limits.

So, yeah, in spite of all the excuses and lies that the GOP are starting to roll out (again), phase one Obamacare is looking pretty good. This is especially the case in California, one of the states that have cooperated with the federal government on the program.

While sign ups for Latinos, Blacks, and California's young (18-15) are lagging behind in the state of California, one thing is clear. In spite of vigorous right wing media opposition, 50 repeal votes in congress, and unprecedented GOP obstructionism at the state level Obamacare is reaching targets and delivering results.

With all this I think it's time for President Obama to take a phase one victory lap.

- Mark

UPDATE: Over 7.1 million people signed up for Obamacare by April 1, 2014. 


I posted on this topic last year. But it deserves re-posting ...

Here's one issue that should help us all understand how the system is rigged

Millionaires and billionaires, including people like Donald Trump, have used bankruptcy.

Municipalities can file for bankruptcy protection, and then go after city and union pensions.

Wall Street can wreck the economy and get the U.S. Congress to provide special exemptions and trillions in bailout funds.

But 37 million formers students - many of whom had to incur more debt because wages have stagnated while tuition skyrocketed - have to drown in student loan debt. Why? Because they can neither discharge their debts in bankruptcy proceedings, nor become eligible for bailout cash.

Just another example of how the game is rigged.

- Mark

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Thomas G. Clark does a pretty good job of explaining wage repression here. In a few words wage repression occurs when employers unnecessarily keep wages low and use any excuse to justify doing so. Currently employers are using the Wall Street induced 2007-08 market collapse, and the subsequent economic crisis, to justify wage repression.

This is significant because while wages are repressed corporations are making record profits while stock markets around the world are soaring. Worse, corporations have made so much money that they're hoarding trillions of dollars while paying executives outrageous bonuses that cumulatively add up to tens of billions of dollars.

So, no, a rising tide doesn't lift all boats, and the wealth doesn't automatically trickle down.

- Mark 

Friday, March 28, 2014


Tunisia's golden age of crony capitalism (Washington Post).

Burger King baby left in bathroom 27 years ago finds birth mom (Trove).

With thousands of preschoolers suspended AG Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Anne Duncan are stunned by discipline figures (Center for Public Integrity).

Five signs that solar energy may be taking over the world (Nation of Change / Juan Cole).

The new tribalism (Nation of Change / Robert Reich).

An excuse to do nothing ... Paul Ryan's cruel agenda (Eugene Robinson / Buzz Flash).

Dark money and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Majority of money given by just 64 entities (Truth Out).

The health care industry sow fear and doubt, use spin doctors and front groups to sow fear about Obamacare (Wendell Potter / Center for Public Integrity).

These Time magazine covers help us understand how myopic America really is (Business Insider).

Extremists in the education debate are undermining education (Nation of Change).

Academia is under the influence of our myopic and divisive political world (Truth Out).

Inherited wealth is an injustice. Let's end it (The Guardian).

Microsoft defends its right to read your email (CNNMoney).

More evidence that half of America is in or near poverty (Nation of Change)

Rise of the Machine(s): NSA plans to infect 'millions' of computers, and may even lose control of the process by using a malware system implant (named TURBINE) that does it automatically (RT).

Spy agencies - and not the politicians - hold all the cards in Washington (The Nation).

Edward Snowden's TED talk offers guided tour of NSA leaks (Nation of Change).

New Snowden leak reveals that the NSA routinely hacks system administrators (RT).

Police keep quiet about cell-tracking technology (the "Stingray" device) that pretends it's a cell tower to attract calls (ABC News).

America's workers: Stressed out, overwhelmed, totally exhausted (The Atlantic).

The overprotected kid, and they're not any safer (The Atlantic).

Let kids play with fire, and other rules for good parenting (The Atlantic).

Current Iran "crisis" began with overthrow of democratically elected government in 1953 ... Which is something that any student who has read "All The Shah's Men" in one of my classes understands (Truth Out).

Secret service agents on Obama detail sent home after a night of drinking in the Netherlands (Washington Post).

Virginia girl's style not considered feminine enough for Christian school (Washington Post).

The Danish zoo that killed a giraffe in front of kids puts down four lions (The Guardian).

- Mark 


- Mark 

Thursday, March 27, 2014


With Russian President Vladimir Putin doing his level best to make Russia the center of attention - and not always in a good way - here's a clip of people in Russia stopping to do the right thing ...

- Mark

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


If you've tried to sign up for Obamacare and have found difficulties due to the sudden surge in demand at don't worry. As long as you can show that you tried to enroll you will be allowed to sign up past the March 31st deadline.

More specifically, you will have until mid-April to ask for an extension. You can read more about the extension option here.

As a reminder, what you get with Obamacare includes a real policy that:

* Doesn't bankrupt you when you get sick.
* Doesn't reject you from coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
* Doesn't impose yearly or lifetime coverage limits.
* Doesn't exclude you, but especially women, from preventative care that is now free.
* Doesn't boot kids off of their plans once they turn 18.

Put another way Obamacare will one day have you asking your neighbors and friends ...

- Mark 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


The story of the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez makes its movie debut this weekend (March 28). I strongly encourage you to find a theater and watch it.

The clip below captures an iconic moment between Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Kern County Sheriff Roy F. Galyen. The 1966 exchange between Kennedy and Galyen focused attention on Kern County law enforcement and Sheriff Galyen, who had a habit of arresting the picketing farm workers organized by Cesar Chavez ...

For those of you who need a primer on the film, here's the trailer ...

If you're unfamiliar with the Kern County reference above know that the UFW and Cesar Chavez' labor movement was built in the southern San Joaquin Valley, around the town of Delano which is located in the most northern area of Kern County, California.

Kern County, California outlined in red.

Don't let the proximity of Kern County to Los Angeles fool you. The two regions are separated by a mountain range - the Tehachapi Mountains - that often becomes impassable during the winter.

Heading south from Bakersfield on I-5, approaching the base of the Grapevine in the Tehachapi Mountains. 

Kern County and Los Angeles are distinct worlds. Oil and agriculture dominate Kern County. Republicans control the political scene. Born in the region, and having lived here (in Bakersfield) for almost 20 years, I can tell you that in many ways Kern County is Texas.

Kern County, California

The point of all this is that the people of Kern County have long taken pride in not being Los Angeles, which helps to explain much of the drama you will see in the movie.

- Mark 


Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has lied and misled America so many times that I've had a field day posting on his claims (which you can see here). The fact that he helped put together and signed off on a budget with no numbers suggests that he's a borderline psychopath who lives in a make-believe world that only people like him recognize. Ryan's most recent claims on minimum wage tell us that he's not slowing down.

Here are the numbers from the Economic Policy Institute that help explain who earns minimum wage, and why it needs to be raised ...

  • The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
  • 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
  • 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
  • 56 percent are women;
  • 28 percent have children;
  • 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
  • 44 percent have at least some college experience.

The Pew Research Center has a nice graph that outlines minimum wage levels from 1938 through 2012. The yellow line lets you know how much a minimum wage salary could buy by year. So, yeah, in 1968 when the minimum wage was $1.60 you could buy at least four times what you could purchase in 2012.

In fact, if increases in mimimum wage had kept pace with worker productivity it would be about $21.72 an hour.

- Mark 

READING FOR THE WEEK (March 25, 2014)

Reading after a London Air Raid, 1940

Lie by Lie ... A timeline of how we got into Iraq (Mother Jones).

A people's history of Koch Industries ... Or how Stalin helped fund the Tea Party movement (The Exiled).

10 famous geniuses and their drugs of choice (Salon).

$500 million of Bitcoin has been stolen since 2010 (Business Insider).

First amendment train wreck in the making ... The U.S. Senate will try to define who is a journalist (Alternet).

There is no meritocracy: It's just the 1 percent, and the game is rigged (Salon).

The Koch brothers spend more than double what the top 10 unions spend (The Investigative Fund).

Pensiongate? Christie campaign donors - and hedge fund managers - won huge contracts to "manage" pension funds (The Nation).

Forthcoming report ... Fortune 100 companies received $1.2 trillion in corporate welfare (Truth Out).

What's the primary cause of wealth inequality? Financialization (Global Research).

Wells Fargo caught forging mortgage documents ... Will we finally see jail time for the bankers? (Alternet).

Another minimum wage success story ... From San Jose, California (San Jose Mercury).

How wealth inequality is wrecking the world, and what we can do about it (The European Financial Review).

Employees sue McDonald's for wage theft (Generation Progress).

Pat Robertson suggests that a woman's atheism is a result of rape or demonic possession (Alternet).

Man credits God with saving him, files lawsuit against actual rescuers (Addicting Info).

GOP lawmaker introduces bill that would require divorcing couples to get court approval before dating or having sex, then says he didn't actually support the bill (Addicting Info).

According to a religious radio host God is holding back from striking down Bill Maher ... but says nothing about God striking him down for claiming to speak for God (Alternet).

Top 10 Darwin Awards for 2013 (We Know Memes).

Why a melting Arctic could sink the global economy (Center for American Progress).

LIBOR, the world's most dishonest number (Bill Black / The Big Picture).

Currency Wars here we come? Russia sees Chinese Yuan as world reserve currency (Zero Hedge).

What's the problem with 401(k)s? You (The Big Picture).

The worst Bear Market in history ... it's Cyprus (The Big Picture).

Duke Energy caught dumping 61 million gallons of coal waste into North Carolina water (Think Progress).

Spanish anti-austerity protesters "sick of this system they call democracy" (Zero Hedge).

Obamacare: Health insurance agents now the most popular in town (San Jose Mercury News).

California just had its warmest winter on record (MoJo).

Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses how science "got cool" and explains why he doesn't debate deniers (MoJo).

- Mark 

Monday, March 24, 2014


Chuck Collins - co-author of "Wealth and our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes" -  has an article that explains how wealth inequality is "wrecking the world" and what we need to do to address the issue in the United States.

Wealth Inequality in the United Kingdom

To help make his point Collins starts by telling us that by 2010 at least 25 of the largest 100 corporations in the United States were paying their CEO more than they paid in U.S. taxes. Worse, we learn that the top 1 percent took home over 21 percent of our nation's total income in 2010, which was up from 8 percent in 1979.

How did this wealth shift happen? Collins makes it clear that mysterious market forces, or the logic of the invisible hand, had little to do with these developments. Rather, the game is now rigged to favor those who are already wealthy.

More specifically, Collins writes:

“The rules of the economy have been changed to benefit asset owners at the expense of wage earners, and these rule changes have benefited global corporations at the expense of local businesses.”

As evidence of these changing rules Collins writes that between 2001 and 2010 the U.S. borrowed more than $1 trillion to give wealthy tax payers earning more than $250,000 "substantial tax breaks, including the 2001 Bush era tax cuts".

However, as I never tire of pointing out in class, when it comes to thinking of new ways to pay back the $2.7 trillion that the federal government has "borrowed" from the social security fund we're told that America is broke.

How did we get to the point that we borrow trillions and give tax breaks to those who already have millions of dollars, but then turn around and tell the American worker that built the social security surpluses "tough luck, you're going to have to learn to do more with less"?

Economists Emmanuel Saenz and Thomas Piketty make it clear that our economic problems started when we shifted our economy's focus from building good products, offering sound services, and market innovation to simply borrowing money so we could gamble on financial products (i.e. the "financialization" of the American economy). When the Federal Reserve offers our nation's largest financial players near zero interest rates (0.1 percent) but then tells you and me that we have to accept whatever rate the banks offer there's something wrong in America.

The impact this shift has had on our lives can't be understated. The fact that the top 10 percent of income earners in America now take home over 50 percent of all national income tells us that something is awry in America.

Perhaps the biggest problem according to Collins is how growing wealth inequality has "distorted all the arenas of life that matter" in America. Today we are seeing the erosion of support for community institutions that are middle-class pillars, like public schools, public libraries, public parks, and public infrastructures. The flip side of this coin is a society whose embrace of mindless individualism is only matched by the glorification of financial institutions that, ironically, have had a field day feeding at the public trough of public bailouts, cheap money (thank you Alan Greenspan), and favorable legislation.

The end result is a general reluctance to see the world as it is.

How do we fix these problems? Chuck Collins has several common sense suggestions, which include taxing the top 1 percent at the same rates we did in the 1960s, reining in CEO pay, breaking up the big banks, and putting an end to corporate tax dodging (no more tax havens in the Cayman Islands), among others.

There's more, which you can check out here. But make no mistake. We are in trouble. The status quo is not sustainable.

- Mark 

Friday, March 21, 2014


Have you ever wanted to know what hedge funds are all about? You wouldn't be alone. For many "hedge fund" sounds mysterious and complex. While they may be mysterious - the language surrounding the industry is unnecessarily jargon-filled and ridiculously opaque - hedge funds really aren't that complex.

To help clarify Barry Ritholtz offers us what's supposed to be a simple synopsis of what a hedge fund is and does. Take a look ...

Here's the problem. If you're not clued into hedge funds or the market speak used in the industry this explanation isn't very helpful.

So let's start over.

First and foremost don't let the language hedge fund managers use fool you. Hedge fund managers really do little more than follow the old farmers advice of not putting all your eggs in one basket. All that "offsetting long equities positions" with "short positions" to "manage risk" is the linguistic smoke & mirrors hedge fund managers need to charge you 20 percent. But keep in mind they are doing what you would do if you just followed the farmers advice.

Seriously, in most cases a monkey with darts could do what many hedge fund managers claim to do.

So, you might ask, how do hedge funds actually work? Good question.

As a thought exercise let's imagine that you have all your money in the beef industry. One day people decide they want to start eating more chicken instead of beef. Those who have their money invested only in the beef industry will see a sudden drop in the value of what they own. The solution? Find new places to invest your money so you won't be hurt as much by such sudden market turns. In this case you look toward investing in poultry farms. If you're really thinking ahead you might also want to put some of your money in the fishing industry.

What you're actually doing is hedging your market bets by purchasing investment products that will help you off-set losses in one industry by making you money in another parallel industry.

At the end of the day, hedge funds are not as sophisticated as you might think. The goal, now, is for you to get your hedge fund guy to stop using ridiculously confusing terms, or save some money and go with the monkey & darts strategy.

- Mark

P.S. For my money the comments posted on The Big Picture's (Barry Ritholtz) blog help to sum up the reality behind the hedge fund industry. Specifically:

"For most hedge funds the scam artist in charge is the only person who benefit. Investors are taking a high risk bet that they more often than not end up losing."
"It is called making money from money and is the bane of our present existence."
"What is a hedge fund? It is a great financial device for separating fools from their money in huge 2/20 buckets."
"Hard to believe that 10,000 of them are going to do much better than average."

Thursday, March 20, 2014


With an eye towards eliminating our budget deficits in 2011 I posted "Here's How We Save $1.1 trillion (and more) ...". The focus was to go after tax deductions rather than raising taxes. Two weeks later I followed up with a similar proposal in "This is How We Fix the Budget".

Later, we got "8 Tips on How We Could Cut the Deficit, Since Slashing Social Security Benefits Won't Help" from Richard Eskow. The focus is on a combination of tax hikes (in the right areas) and budget cuts. Below, we see an expanded version of Eskow's proposal in an easy to understand chart (hat tip Gary) ...

For those of you looking for more areas to fix our budget problems check out PolicyMic's "10 Ways to Reduce the Deficit by $6.2 Trillion".

- Mark

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


This is as pertinent today as it was in 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt outlines America's need for a second Bill of Rights ...

In the FYI category, President Roosevelt had been working up to his second Bill of Rights moment for some time, as this "I welcome their hatred ..." talk illustrates.

I'll leave it up to you to make the connection.

- Mark 


• After the last bar fight, America decides that he needs to be the bartender and the bouncer and moves behind the bar. 
• Germany comes to and sees everyone drinking with his money and sees Austria sitting in the corner by himself. 
• Germany, angry that Britain, France, and America took his wallet grabs Austria and makes him stand next to him. 
• Germany then does the same to Czechoslovakia. 
• On the other side of the room, Japan punches China. After a while, America tells them to knock it off. 
• Germany signs a bar napkin telling Britain that he is done moving people over to his side of the room. 
• Germany sucker punches Poland, claiming that Poland started it. 
• Russia says he will help and ends up punching Poland from the other side. 
• France and Britain begin swinging at Germany. Germany pushes Britain through the door and knocks him into the pool. France is also shoved through the door, but comes back in wearing a new beret and decides to hang out with Germany. 
• For no apparent reason, Russia slaps Finland. 
• Italy gets into a fight over the toys in the sandbox out back, gets a bloody nose and cries to Germany for help. 
• Germany and Britain get into a tug of war over Italy’s sandbox. 
• Britain and Germany begin throwing rocks at each others’ houses. 
• Because Russia helped him with beating up Poland, Germany sucker punches Russia. 
• While everybody is looking at Germany and Britain, Japan puts China into a headlock and begins punching his head. 
• America tells Japan to knock it off and tells him he’s had too much to drink and he’s cut off. 
• Japan jumps over the bar and punches America. And Britain. And France. And the Netherlands. 
• Germany shakes his fist at America and makes a rude noise. 
• America jumps into Germany’s sandbox and falls flat on his ass. Italy laughs at him. 
• Because America is mad at Germany, America punches Italy. 
• America, Canada, and Britain rip off France’s new beret and punch Germany. 
• America, Britain and Australia gang up and start shoving Japan back into a corner on the other side of the room. 
• Germany taps America on the shoulder and says, “What’s that over there in the snow?” Then he kicks America in the behind when he’s not looking. 
• Everyone piles on Germany until he passes out. 
• America hits Japan in the face with a baseball bat like Capone did in “The Untouchables”. Twice. 
• As Japan is on his way to the floor, Russia shakes his fist at Japan, pretending that he’s joined the fight and hoping that he’ll be able to go through Japan’s wallet after the fight’s over. 
• After Japan and Germany wake up, America, France, Britain, and Russia move into Germany’s House. America moves into Japan’s house, too. 
• America buys drinks for Germany and Japan until everyone is happy again.

Then we have World War II in comic art form here.

If World War I were a bar fight here.

- Mark

Monday, March 17, 2014

READING FOR THE WEEK (March 17, 2014)

Paul Ryan's Irish Amnesia (NY Times).

This is hilarious ... President Obama does "Between Two Ferns" with Zach Galifianakis (Upworthy).

Unprecedented interruption of Supreme Court proceedings (Nation of Change)

Hollywood originally founded to escape Thomas Edison and avoid his patents? This and other weird facts about individual states in America ... (Huffington Post).

Small (major?) victory for President Obama ... House Republicans to introduce 3 bills that improve/clarify aspects of Obamacare (PoliticsUSA).

12-year-olds (and younger) picking tobacco (The Investigative Fund).

Fished out? The world's fish are in danger (Barry Ritholtz).

This is just one of many reasons why private prisons are simply wrong (NY Post / LA Times).

Subsidizing the 1 percent ... Big businesses receive at least 75 percent of state and local development subsidies, which comes to $110 billion in corporate gifts from the state (Good Jobs First).

Yes, free trade agreements have hurt American workers (Economic Policy Institute).

The "carried interest" tax loophole allows big financial players to treat their income as "special" income, and should be eliminated (Robert Reich).

New doomsday poll: 99% chance of 2014 market crash (Market Watch).

"In-the-know" insiders are dumping stocks (Market Watch).

The Koch brothers spend more than double what the top 10 unions spend on campaigns (The Investigative Fund).

The F-35 has cost the U.S. taxpayer about $11,000 each, or well over $1 trillion (Political).

Apparently these three questions will tell you if your relationship will last (Lifehacker).

At least 7,100 deaths annually (and perhaps as many as 17,000 deaths) are the likely result of 25 states deciding to reject Medicaid expansion under Obamacare (Physicians for a National Health Program).

Income gap meet longevity gap (NY Times)

Where income is higher, life spans are longer (NY Times).

Slide Show: Two counties, separated by fortune (NY Times).

Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science (NY Times).

This Time profile of Putin's man in Crimea suggests that Sergei Aksyonov just might be Ukraine's worst  nightmare (Time).

How to deal with Ukraine obsessed Russia ... let's punish Putin, the oligarchs and their shopaholic wives (The Telegraph).

25 questions to test how much you know about the Tsars, Russia and it's history (Christian Science Monitor).

MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski calls Sarah Palin a 'multi-million dollar moron' (Bizpac Review).

Jon Stewart goes after the Far Right's logic for opposing how food stamps are used (Upworthy).

How to blow off the Religious right-wingers' who claim they are being persecuted (Salon).

Mexico's craziest drug lord - Nazario Moreno, head of the Knights Templar - 'died' twice and used to dress as God (Time).

Rush Limbaugh: The election of America's first black president has "paralyzed" Washington and the Republican Party (PoliticsUSA).

- Mark

Sunday, March 16, 2014


This has been floating around for some time now, but it's still fun to read ...

Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria's pint.
Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg.
Germany expresses its support for Austria's point of view.
Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.
Serbia points out that it can't afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria's trousers.
Russia and Serbia look at Austria.
Austria asks Serbia who it's looking at.
Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone.
Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so.
Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene.
Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?
Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action.
Britain and France ask Germany whether it's looking at Belgium. Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper. When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone.
Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium.
France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other.
Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it's on Britain's side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.
Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it.
France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change.
Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway. Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting.
America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself.
By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered.
Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany/s fault . While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.

- Mark

UPDATE: If World War II were a bar fight here


For the record, today we have ...

- Only 11.3% of America's workforce UNIONIZED
- A 39.6% INCOME TAX rate for America's millionaires, with rates as low as 0%, 15%, or 20% if income is categorized as Capital Gains. 
- TRADE POLICIES have encouraged U.S. firms to take U.S. jobs abroad, which has cost America's working class millions of jobs and crushed American cities in the process. 
- AMERICAN BANKS are now "too big to jail" and are making a mockery of U.S. laws. 
- The RICHEST ONE PERCENT are not only taking home about 25% of our nation's income, but income gaps are intricately tied to aging gaps. Guess which income group is living fewer years? 

The transformation in America that we see above didn't just happen. Nor are the changes we have seen in America over the past 50-60 years the result of greater efforts from the rich, technological innovation, or magical developments in the market. Rather, favorable legislation (deregulation and tax cuts), regular bailouts, and the Greenspan Put are what's behind the transformation of the American economy and, unfortunately, the weakening of America's middle class.

Put another way, America's financial players aren't working any harder than they did 50 years ago. They're getting the U.S. Congress to grant them legislative and financial favors that insures they get a bigger slice of our economic pie. That's it.

- Mark

Friday, March 14, 2014


- Mark 


Last week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked up the beauty of free markets at the conservatives annual political jamboree (CPAC).

It turns out that Gov. Chris Christie isn't really a big proponent of free markets. Specifically, he's opposed to direct sales in the auto industry because it cuts out the middle-man (retailers), who also happen to provide a good deal of money to people like Chris Christie. As a result Tesla Motors can't sell in the state of New Jersey until they create some retail outlets (or work out some other accommodation with the state).

So much for the magic of the market.

- Mark 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Here's an interesting take on the Keystone pipeline from the Chattanooga Times Free Press ...

- Mark 


If you like to think about generational or cyclical turns in American history you might want to consider taking a look at The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy ... (1997). This is especially the case if you believe that America is on the verge of collapse and headed toward Big Brother-like authoritarian rule.

By focusing on how crisis and great upheavals in American history seem to arrive in cycles The Fourth Turning sets the narrative by explaining how the American Revolution was followed by the Civil War 66 years later. It took just 64 years for America to experience the double jolts of the Great Depression and WWII, which was followed 63 years later by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which is still haunting our nation.

As we know, these challenging periods in American history were not resolved with one policy, or in one year.

These tumultuous turning points in American history were worked out and resolved by a committed "prophet generation" that was inspired by a generational leader. While George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt led by working to unify America's prophet generations there are few who would argue that America is rallying around a generational leader today.

Civic decay, heated and pointless battles over policy, global disorder, and the self-serving activities of an incestuous corporate-political elite today are evidence of this.

Specifically, the Far Right has embraced an anger-filled (and Koch inspired) Tea Party movement that is as divisive politically as they are misguided constitutionally. On the liberal side there is great frustration with a president who (to date) has failed to confront and punish the condescending and corrosive financial elites who brought us the 2008 market collapse.

The end result, if you buy into the arguments made in The Fourth Turning, is that America's "prophet generation" is currently missing in action. But that's OK, for now. The book predicted that the country would start to unravel in the aughts (2000s), then really break down in the 2020s. If you believe the larger promise of America is being flushed away, as our pampered elite increasingly use the state to protect them from the social and financial imbalances they create, then you might want to consider this books argument.

Whether or not you're inclined to embrace The Fourth Generation thesis there's no denying that America is in trouble today. This is especially the case since the Band-Aid fixes we applied after the market collapse of 2008 are weak and ineffective.

Worse (for liberals), rather than bringing "hope and change" President Obama's election may turn out to be the smoke & mirrors America's corrosive financial elites needed to hold back a slumbering mob that was preparing to take up their pitchforks and torches.

Whatever your position, the arguments made in The Fourth Generation are an interesting discussion starter for those inclined to embrace patterns and cycles as historical narratives.

- Mark 


The Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik points us to an exchange on health care between a "smug" Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dr. Danielle Martin, VP of Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

During the U.S. senate hearing Dr. Martin dismisses Sen. Burr's remarks about doctors leaving Canada for the U.S. and patient "wait times" in Canada. Dr. Martin explained that there's actually an influx of U.S. medical doctors going into Canada (a surprise for many), and that wait times in Canada are a product of "elective medical procedures" that patients choose to have.

Dr. Martin added that the evidence shows that simply because someone elects to go to the U.S. to have an expensive surgery doesn't necessarily mean that they're getting better treatment. Health care outcomes in areas like cardiac surgery in Toronto, she noted, make this clear.

According to Hiltzik the "ultimate zinger" came when Sen. Burr thought he had Dr. Martin cornered on wait times:

BURR: On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know? 
MARTIN: I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.  

There's more, which you can read about here. You can also watch the entire hearing here (Dr. Martin's comments start at the 1 hour mark) ... "".

- Mark 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


The American Right Wing hates President Obama. They hate him so much they are outspoken in their admiration for the "manly" actions of Russian President Putin as he continues to threaten the former Soviet state of Ukraine.

There's one big problem with the Far Right going out of their way to criticize President Obama, while praising Russian President Putin: They remained almost completely silent when President Putin went into the former Soviet state of Georgia in 2008, when President George W. Bush was in the White House.

There's another problem with the Far Rights constant criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy decisions. Apart from providing President Putin with political encouragement for what he's doing the Far Right is demonstrating, once again, that they are historical illiterates and geo-strategic neanderthals.

Seriously, these people are clueless. Let's take a look.

Crimea in beige color, right below Ukraine

As was the case with Syria (which I wrote about here) Russia has some very legitimate economic, strategic, and military issues in Ukraine. This is especially the case in Crimea.

It's not well known in the West, or from the media's narrative, but Far Right groups in Ukraine aren't happy with ethnic Russians (or the Jews). Worse, they are preparing to confront the issue as the Ukraine state continues to unravel. With many ethnic Russians residing in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea (beige color, below Ukraine on the map) Russia can legitimately argue that it must act to protect ethnic Russians in the region.

There's more.

ECONOMIC: There's a U.S.-backed plan to endorse Ukraine's entrance into the European Union. If this happens, and as an economically weak nation, Ukraine could be subject to the same "structural adjustment" terms that were imposed upon Cyprus (as I wrote about here). Once they are strapped with excessive Western loans - and with it's floundering oligarch-ruled economy - Ukraine could be forced into bank supporting "bail-ins" (among other terms) they don't have to worry about now.  
STRATEGIC: Since the time of Peter the Great (1682-1725) Russia has sought access to warm water ports, a route to Mediterranean and the open seas. The stories of Peter the Greats moves to protect Russia's access to the Sea of Azov - and his moves to create St. Petersburg while guarding Taganrog - are legendary. Keeping Crimea within Russia's larger geo-political orbit only makes sense, especially if you're President Putin.

MILITARY: Russia already feels threatened by NATOs expansion into Turkey and the West's opposition to the "Shi-ite Pipeline" which Russia supports. By maintaining alliances and troops in "Russian" break off states - which Crimea could become - Russia maintains their military preparedness and national security interests (there are currently four break off states, including Transnistria, a "state" a former student from Moldova helped me develop a strong interest). 

Polls from the Kremlin show that the majority of Russians were initially opposed to Russia invading Ukraine. Still, President Putin has a pro-Russian leader - Sergei Akysonov - who has taken charge in Crimea and, like Putin, could benefit from starting a hot war in the region that could help fortify his position domestically.

At the end of the day, President Putin has some very serious domestic issues to consider after intervening in Ukraine. But these issues more than likely will fall to the wayside if he succeeds in defending ethnic Russians in Crimea. With India backing Russia's "legitimate interests" claim in Ukraine one thing becomes clear. President Obama's Right Wing critics in the United States have no clue about the region, and their petty and divisive comments show it.

So, yeah, there's a reason why President Obama shouldn't trust the Far Right when it comes to foreign policy (which I wrote about here and here). Their comments are divisive and insincere.

They always have been.

- Mark 

Monday, March 10, 2014


A student dug up some interesting comics for her power point presentation. She used only one in her presentation and was kind enough to share the rest of what she found with me, which I am sharing here.

Old fashion colonialism ... 

Colonialism after independence becomes "neo-colonialism" ...

After World War II we get IMF inspired neo-colonialism ...

Neo-Colonialism in post-war Iraq ...

- Mark