Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

WEEKEND READING (June 28, 2014)

Iraq crisis: Key oil refinery seized by rebels (BBC News).

5 extreme acts of greed that screw the American people (Alternet).

Grazing on federal land, which was originally used help entice settlers westward, is now threatened because of drought (LA Times).

I told my biological dad goodbye - and it made all the difference (Salon).

Federal judge rules that no-fly list violates constitutional rights (Associated Press).

Cool. Type in "askew" on Google and see what happens (Google).

Supreme court justices earn quarter-million on the side from teaching gigs and book royalties (Center for Public Integrity).

Majority of Supreme Court members are millionaires (Center for Public Integrity).

Backing banks over borrowers, California judges often big stakeholders in big banks (Truth Out).

Mass graves filled with remains of immigrants found in Texas (Russian Times).

The militarization of our police departments (Nation of Change).

RANT: Your messed up Christian tradition is fetishizing little girls (Blue Nation Review).

Tea party groups and the NRA get a pass, but the IRS says this liberal group is too political for 'social welfare' status (Center for Public Integrity).

North Korea threatens the U.S. with war over the release of an action-comedy movie (trailer here) about their "beloved" leader Kim Jong-un (BBC News).

North Korea calls action-comedy movie about Kim Jong-un an 'act of war' (CTV News).

10 primitive forms of birth control you don't want to try (Answers).

Veterans and Zombies ... The hype behind the health care scandal (NY Times / Paul Krugman).

Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa 'out of control' (CNN Health).

Here's an idea. To fix VA wait times hire more staff (Truth Out).

These maps show many hot days you will suffer when you get old (Mother Jones).

Rand Paul: Republicans are too eager for war (Mother Jones).

This is what happens when a campaign finance scholar runs for governor (Washington Post).

America's faith in news media at an all time low (Al Jazeera).

Hate summer? Just wait until global warming really kicks in (Truth Out).

Is this Congress' most awkward moment, ever (Blue Nation Review)?

It appears that Abraham Lincoln was a liberal (Blue Nation Review).

A word on voter fraud (MSNBC).

- Mark

Friday, June 27, 2014


OK, let's start with this: Corporations are the only reason taxes are so complex and skewed that only corporations and a few of America's ubber rich can take advantage of the tax havens, hidden exemptions, write-offs, and write-downs that you and I can't access.

Corporate lobbyists who secure tax gifts through favorable legislation have generated a real profit center for corporate America and the top 1 percent of wage earners. The fact that America's middle-class can't access these legal tax gifts and off-shore tax havens is a slap in the face to the American family and every worker.

These legislative gifts have not only shifted the burden of paying taxes to the middle class - while transferring more wealth to the ubber rich - but it's also created a unique wealth creating culture built around tax avoidance (hate the state, and let someone else pay), white collar crime (can you say 'ponzi scheme'?), and wealth extraction (hidden fees, front-loaded interest rates, bailouts, the commodification of debt, etc).

Corporate loopholes that allow a select few to avoid paying taxes have drained the public treasury, and go a long way to explain why local, state, and federal agencies are cash-strapped. More specifically, loopholes and legislative tax favors go a long way to explain why corporate taxes as both a percentage of federal revenue (what we take in) and GDP (what we produce) has collapsed since the 1950s ...

The fact that public services have been cut back while the rich have gotten richer during this period should not be a surprise to anyone ... and America's on-going race to the bottom continues.

Next up: Explaining Our Race to the Bottom ... How Our Shadow Banking System Helps Undermine Financial Stability.

- Mark


- Mark

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Want to know what's behind the coming financial and political storm in America? Here are a couple of the under the radar factors contributing to the gradual collapse of the United States ...

Click here for really big graphic that even people with poor eyesight should be able to read.

The point here is to understand how our current focus on wealth extraction over wealth creation (which I discus here and here) is undermining the moral justification of capitalism in America.

Specifically, we now have:

1. WEALTH EXTRACTION / FINANCIALIZATION: A financial sector that focuses on wealth extraction instead of wealth creation because of how it feeds off of the commodification of debt and the buffet of fees associated with debt instruments (which I discuss here). 
2. PRISON ECONOMICS: A punitive culture focused more on building prisons that increasingly are becoming profit centers rather than corrective institutions (which I discuss here and here).
3. OUR GROWING NATIONAL SECURITY STATE: A militarized national security state that's more concerned with bending the rules of law, and guaranteeing their institutional survival, than they are with protecting the American idea (discussed here and here).

Then we have an America whose citizens are no longer talking to each other as much as they are yelling at and condemning one another. Throw in the fact that an ideologue labeled as a "moderate" can become the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives and we can begin to understand that some thing is askew in America.

There's more, but you get the point. This wave of developments cannot be sustained. Worse, America's race to the bottom is real, and our political elites don't seem to care.

Tomorrow: Explaining Our Race to the Bottom ... Why Our Public Treasuries Are Drained.

- Mark 


Via Mail Online we learn about the largest companies in each state, based on income ...

Be sure to check out Alaska's Permanent Dividend Fund. Yeah, Alaska's largest company is a state created "firm" that takes money from the oil companies and redistributes it to each citizen in the state (which I wrote about here).

- Mark

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

MID-WEEK READING (June 24, 2014)

These lies could trigger another market collapse (Shah Gilani / Money Morning).

As QE3 winds down your portfolio can keep on ticking (Money Morning).

Did this city bring down its murder rate by paying people not to kill (Mother Jones)?

An African mining company buys armed drones for 'riot control' (3NewsNZ).

Germany is NSA's primary host of surveillance architecture in Europe (Russian Times).

Why is the Pentagon buying weapons with Chinese parts instead of U.S. parts (Truthout)?

'Politically explosive' documents show how the NSA wiretaps the earth (Common Dreams).

Eric Snowden: 'Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped' ... The top 13 Snowden quotes on the NSA (Russian Times).  

On Iraq, John McCain will not take John McCain's advice (Mother Jones).

The 13 countries John McCain has wanted to invade, attack, or destabalize (Mother Jones).

GOP congressional candidate insists we found Saddam's WMD program (Mother Jones).

White right wing gun nuts plan to march through black neighborhood carrying assault rifles (Politics USA).

Tea Party supporter caught pretending (lying) that she has evidence that the White House, or the Obama campaign,used the IRS to target conservatives (News Hounds).

Mormon church excommunicates women's rights activist because of her campaign for female priests (The Independent).

Mike Huckabee likens the IRS to the Gestapo (News Hounds).

They belong in prison, not on TV (Truthout).

This is crazy ... With the Federal government owing Social Security $2.7 trillion, and with Baby Boomers ready to retire, Social Security is closing field offices (News-Press).

Most working Americans applaud Snowden's exposure of NSA mass surveillance (Russian Times).

NSA blowback: The top 8 political scandals sparked by the Snowden leaks (Russian Times).

- Mark 

Monday, June 23, 2014


- Mark


The May 2013 Financial Crimes Enforcement Network reported that suspicious activities for financial fraud in America began to dip after the market collapsed in 2008 (Issue 23, p. 17).

That's the good news.

The bad news is that it's still higher than it was in 2005 or 2006, and considerably higher than was the case 10 years ago.

The good news from this? People have been thrown in jail after the market collapsed in 2008. The bad news? Over 7,700 Wall Street protesters have been thrown into jail, while the executives and bankers who run the big Too Big to Fail biggest institutions have gotten a pass.

- Mark   

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich nails it here ...

Robert Reich: 
I was always very short for my age, and when I was a kid relied on a few older boys to protect me from the bullies. One of my protectors was Mickey (Michael) Schwerner. Fifty years ago today [June 20, 2014], Mickey and two others, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were in Mississippi to register black voters when they were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, including the sheriff of Nashoba County. 
For more on this see Mississippi civil rights worker's murders.

When I learned that the person who had protected me from childhood bullies was murdered by the real bullies of America, I began to understand the true meaning of social injustice. A decent society does not allow those with power and privilege to bully those without.

Today’s bullying comes in many forms: Not just racists preventing minorities from voting but also CEOs taking huge salaries for themselves while cutting their workers’ wages, Wall Street bankers foreclosing on homeowners who got walloped when the Street’s bubble burst, multi-millionaires refusing to pay higher taxes to finance better schools for poor kids, monopolists raising prices to squeeze their customers, executives firing workers for trying to unionize, business lobbyists paying off members of Congress to vote against a higher minimum wage, and billionaires funding their own political machines to spew lies and undermine our democracy.

The best way to honor the memories of Mickey, James, and Andrew is to stand up to the bullies.

- Mark

Hat tip to John for the link.

Friday, June 20, 2014



On this day in history ...

Muhammad Ali wasn't the greatest simply because of his boxing skills. He was also concerned about world events and civil rights. He opposed the Vietnam War, was arrested for refusing to be drafted, and on June 20, 1967 was convicted in Houston of draft evasion. Ali was stripped of his boxing title and had his license suspended. He did not fight again for nearly four years, losing millions in the process.

He said at the time:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here..... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.

For his refusal to be drafted Muhammad Ali was both condemned and exalted in America. At the same time, by sacrificing his title in the name of a larger cause, he was breathing life into one of his most famous quotes:

- Mark

FYI, this is re-posted from one year ago. 


Former Vice President Dick Cheney, and his daughter Liz, wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Incredibly they go after President Obama for being reckless in Iraq, and for putting so many lives in danger.

Yeah, they went there.

Anyways, following up on the articles claims, Fox's Megyn Kelly interviewed Dick Cheney and told him that "Time and time again history has proven that you got it wrong ... in Iraq." The fact that this appeared on Fox News, and came from Megyn Kelly, is what makes this is a stunning interview ...

While we're at it, let me debunk "the surge worked" nonsense that Dick Cheney claimed during the interview. Click here or here.

- Mark


So the NY Times has dubbed Congressman Kevin McCarthy a moderate who has Tea Party "bona fides." Then they suggest that he's a deal-maker because, while he was in the California Assembly, he was able to get a $1 billion Central Valley earmark (on a $37 billion infrastructure project) from Gov. Schwarzenegger.

So, yeah, if we are to believe the NY Times, Rep. McCarthy is a moderate, a Tea Party favorite, and a deal-maker all in one. He's all things to all people. A savior of sorts, I guess.

It's coverage like this that convinces me that traditional print media can get lazy, or don't always do their homework.

To be sure, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank does a good job reminding us that Rep. McCarthy has trouble putting his thoughts together when he speaks. But stumbling over words on a regular basis - as Milbank notes - has never been an obstacle to high office.

The reality is that while he's been in leadership positions at the state and national levels Rep. McCarthy has been a big part of stonewalling and obstructing legislation that could have helped his constituents, and his country. He's been an ideologue, not a moderate. Let's take a look.

GUMMING UP THE WORKS: Rep. McCarthy's "no new taxes" pledge while he was an assembly member in California did nothing to help solve California's budget problems. In fact, he helped make budget matters worse with his Grover Norquist-inspired pledge. Once Rep. McCarthy left the state assembly, and the Democrats took over the legislature and the governor's office, taxes were raised. California is now staring at budget surpluses. Gumming up the works doesn't make you a moderate. It makes you an ideologue. I write about it here.

NO NEW TAXES PLEDGE, ON STEROIDS & THE PARTY OF NO: Rep. McCarthy's "no new taxes" pledge was taken to a new level when he went to Washington. It actually went on steroids. Once Republicans became the majority party in the House of Representatives - and Rep. McCarthy became Majority Whip - House Republicans effectively turned "no new taxes" into "The Party of No." As Robert Draper pointed out in Do Not Ask What Good We Do Rep. McCarthy and the GOP leadership pledged not to work with President Obama on the night of his first inauguration. And they have stuck to their pledge. Simply saying "No" doesn't make you a deal-maker. It makes you an ideologue. I write about it here.

DISTRICT TOWN HALL TURNS INTO GOP RED MEAT FESTIVAL: Rep. McCarthy held a health care town hall meeting in his district. It was supposed to be a Q&A that would inform district constituents about Obamacare. It was anything but an informative town hall meeting. Held at California State University, Bakersfield the event quickly turned into a GOP-McCarthy love fest, with Rep. McCarthy complaining about deficits (caused by Bush) and lecturing those who asked genuine questions about health insurance. Turning a town hall meeting into a political rally doesn't make you a moderate. It makes you an ideologue. I was there, and wrote about it here.

LEGISLATIVE GAME PLAYING / DROUGHTS ARE MAN-MADE?: For years the GOP has been opposed to big government (states' rights, you know), and scoffed at those who claim that climate change is man-made. Then, under Rep. McCarthy's guidance, House Republicans passed H.R. 3964 which was sponsored (wink, wink) by Rep. David Valadao. Supporters of H.R. 3964 claim that not only is the drought in California "man-made" but the problem requires the federal government to step in to manage California's water system (good bye states' rights, hello big government). Worse, H.R. 3964 does nothing to make it rain or snow, which is the real cause of California's drought conditions. But it certainly does much to promote the career of Rep. David Valadao, whose district sits adjacent to - you guessed it - Rep. McCarthy's. Legislative stunts like this don't make you a moderate. It makes you an ideologue. I wrote about it here.

THE UNDEMOCRATIC SPIRIT: Rep. McCarthy's district was drawn to keep him in office, well, forever. This is actually not a big deal, and can't be pinned on Rep. McCarthy. Partisan redistricting is a national problem. The issue here is how Rep. McCarthy ducked debates with his 2012 congressional opponent, Terry Phillips, finally agreeing to one television debate. Then, in spite of Phillips having no chance of winning Rep. McCarthy got our local paper's CEO to plant a story for him so he could set a negative narrative about Terry Phillips on local radio. For those of you interested in these kind of issues, I write about it here

The point of all this is that the NY Times has done all of us a disservice by painting Congressman Kevin McCarthy as a work across the aisle "moderate" Republican who helped Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pass some legislation (all the while making sure no new taxes were raised to pay down the state's debt).

Helping your party's governor get things done, while turning your back on our nation's president, does not make you a consensus builder, or a moderate.

The reality is Rep. McCarthy is adept at embracing and pushing party trends. No new taxes, opposing immigration reform, opposing jobs programs unless they contain tax cut poison pills, no new spending for Veterans (even securing a "D" grade from the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans of America), passing faux legislation that won't see the light of day, and an obscene obsession with saying no on the Affordable Care Act is not the sign of a moderate, or a deal-maker.

Then we have Rep. McCarthy standing by as House Republicans played fast with budget deficit figures, and even presented a budget with no numbers.

At the end of the day Rep. McCarthy's ascent says a lot about his ability to read votes, his discipline, and his perseverance. He is a hard worker. But his success is also a product of towing the party line and his ability to listen to people, while making them feel that he's their best friend (he's very good at this). He's even gotten many Silicon Valley leaders to say nice things about him, with many impressed that McCarthy "listens" but does not ask for money (his safe seat and leadership position grant him this luxury when he goes to the Silicon Valley).

Rep. McCarthy has also benefited from the tutelage and contacts of his predecessor, former Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas. Throw in the fact that he's in a safe congressional district, which allows him to throw money around Washington, and it's not hard to understand why Rep. McCarthy is where he's at today.

The problem for all of us is that Rep. McCarthy's ascent to the #2 position in the House of Representatives only means that the status quo (gridlock) will continue, and might even worsen.

If there is any glimmer of hope it's that Rep. McCarthy can count. His congressional district is now 35 percent Latino, and that number is growing.

Kern county, California. Rep. McCarthy's congressional district (click here) covers much of Kern.

Because of changing demographics in California there may come a point when Rep. McCarthy will have to shift his positions, or explain the votes he's tied himself to today. But this doesn't mean Rep. McCarthy is a moderate. It only means that he knows how to survive politically.

Until this day comes, it's a mistake to see Rep. McCarthy as the NY Times paints him. Up to this point he's been an ideologue who has put the interests of his party above good public policy. And we all know how that's turned out.

- Mark 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


President Bush's decision to take out Saddam Hussein removed the one person in the Middle East who could counter balance the religious radicals in the region. As I discussed almost 12 years ago, this decision has radicalized a region, and is coming back to haunt us all.

For those who want to blindly blame President Obama for what's happening in Iraq, know this ...

1. President Bush signed the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in December of 2008, which made it clear when we had to leave Iraq, not President Obama. 
2. The adventure in Iraq was ill-conceived, ill-advised, and poorly executed from the beginning. It was always a fools errand.  
3. The same people who mindlessly said 'Let's go into Iraq' are now the loudest critics of President Obama for not fixing their poorly administered mess. 

If you want to blame someone for the blowback we're now seeing in Iraq take a look at the guy who foolishly took us into Iraq in the first place.

- Mark 

READING FOR THE WEEK (June 18, 2014)

Famous elephant known for tusks so large that they touched the ground killed by poachers (Daily Mail).

Response sent to university asking for money from their graduates (Blue Nation Review).

Abused Florida wife sentenced to 20 years for firing warning shot at husband after Stand Your Ground defense fails (Mail Online).

The 10 most futuristic cities in the world (Bustle).

Political polarization in America is worse today than 10 years ago (Pew Research Center).

Private wealth, public squalor: America's dilemma (Nation of Change).

Your tax dollars at work: Charitable donations that make the rich richer (Nation of Change).

Race to the bottom here we come ... CEOs to Congress: We need more under-skilled immigrant workers to take jobs Americans won't take (The Blaze).

Hospital uses executive bonus money to give workers a raise (Nation of Change).

Trader Joe's experience shows us all how Obamacare can free us from the wrong jobs (Huffington Post).

Major terrorism trial could be held in secret for first time in UK legal history (The Guardian).

Thinking it through, a federal judge reverses himself and says that the NSA can now get rid of FISA surveillance evidence "in order to protect national security programs" (Russian Times).

Year of the Whistleblower: 10 things we didn't know before Snowden leaks (Russian Times).

How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism (Washington Post)?

One of the world's largest cellphone carriers reveals 'unprecedented and terrifying' scope of government spying (The Blaze).

7 myths about the radical Sunni advance in Iraq (Nation of Change).

Iraq, Syria and the Middle East - an essay by Tony Blair (The Office of Tony Blair).

'Blair has finally gone mad' and 'needs professional psychiatric help': London mayor ridicules ex-Prime Minister over Iraq assertions (Russian Times).

Hillary Clinton: Iraq pullout was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's fault for failing to sign a SOFA with the White House (Daily Mail).

10 lessons from Bush's fiasco in Iraq (Daily Kos).

Superbowl 50 is right, especially since Super Bowl CXLIV would be kind of odd. Roman numerals, good riddance (Washington Post).

What kills you and your investments (Barry Ritholtz / Bloomberg View).

Why hedge funds won't make you rich (Bloomberg View).

- Mark

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Three points to think about ...

1. The United States has more guns per capita than any other country in the world. This ranking will not change any time soon as FBI firearm background checks are soaring ...

2. Since 9/11 the United States is embracing a militarized cult of secrecy and spying that's more in tune with a national security state ...

3. Though numbers began to decline slightly around 2009, since the War on Drugs was announced, and with the growing number of privatized prisons in America, the number of Americans being held in prison has soared  ...

More guns. More spying. More prisons. So, do you feel safer?

- Mark


I was going to put this article by Yves Smith in my weekly "READING" post but it deserves a little more time. Also, because it might be a bit long for those on the run, a quick synopsis is warranted.

In the article  - "Larry Summers' Contradictory and Dishonest Defense of the Administration's Bank-Focused Crisis Response" - Smith does a great job of issuing a smack down of former Obama administration Larry Summers, and even gets in a few lines on former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Yves Smith, author of Econned: How Unenlightened Self-Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Democracy, takes Summers and Geithner to task for their on-going efforts to tell the world that, President Obama's White House had no choice but to help Wall Street after the 2008 market collapse. Political realities, the story line goes, forced them to effectively ignore the interests of Main Street.

Smith is especially critical of Summers and Geithner for suggesting that all the Monday Morning Quarterbacking (and criticisms) of the Obama administration's post-2008 decisions should cease. Their rationale? Because only people like them understand the policy world. The rest of us, if we are to believe them, should just sit back and admire their genius in the face of adversity.

While Yves Smith does a great job dissecting the failed economic policies (and outcomes) that were approved and guided by Summers and Geithner she's at her best discussing the political ramifications.

Specifically, Smith points out that the decision to bailout the bankers, while ignoring America's struggling home owners, may have cost the Democrats the House of Representatives in 2010. A fateful development considering the gridlock and political dystopia we're now seeing in Washington.

Worse, according to Smith, because the bank bailout happened while the Obama administration was bumbling through weak and ineffective efforts on behalf of American home owners (HAMP was especially pitiful) the Obama administration soon came to be identified as caring more about Wall Street than Main Street (Tim Geithner's book, Stress Test, does little to change this view). By ignoring common sense proposals - which included allowing bankruptcy judges to write down primary mortgages, or allowing a HOLC-like institution to buy underwater mortgages - the Obama administration effectively told the American people the banks are more important than you and me.

Worse, the American taxpayer was going to backstop the bailout, and the myriad of programs put up by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve..

This did much to help blow up President Obama's Hope and Change brand in the minds of most Americans.

Unfortunately, this also helped put President Obama on par politically with the President Bush. He now had an ownership stake in the political failures associated with the financial collapse because he was now contributing to the personal heartache ordinary Americans experienced while the banks got rescued.

There's more, but you get the point. While the article is a bit long, Yves Smith does a good job of rebutting the finer points made by Summers, so I encourage you to read the article.

- Mark

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Up bright and early for CSU Bakersfield's 2014 graduation ceremonies.

Now it's time to grade 140 exams and papers ...

- Mark

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


The surprising primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) by economics professor David Brat is sending shock waves through Washington and the political establishment.

We could talk about the Republican Party bringing this upon themselves because they fed the tea party movement. We could also talk about low primary voter turnout, excessive gerrymandering (which made Cantor's district hyper-conservative), or the fact that Cantor was viewed as increasingly distant by the constituents within his district because of his national level profile and work.

Then there's the fact that Cantor's campaign relied on internal polls that showed Cantor ahead by as much as 34 and 13 percentage points at the end of May (showing that conservatives learned nothing from their "skewed polls" nonsense in 2012).

For me the important points to consider are what drives David Brat, and the single issue that inspired his supporters: Free market fundamentalism and opposition to immigration reform.

As an economics professor David Brat proudly announces that he's an Adam Smith, free market kind of guy. Those of you who have read my book, or follow this blog regularly, know where I stand here. The idea that we live in a free market society is based on myth, which makes mainstream economics little more than a cult.

David Brat may have touched a populist nerve with his primary victory, but the economic ideas that drive him means that he's as out of touch about how the world really works as the next guy in Washington. So, yeah, he should fit right in.

Then we have Brat's opposition to immigration reform.

By using undocumented workers as his 'whipping boy' Brat was able to touch a nerve in the Virginia electorate that's built around fear and ignorance. Specifically, by agitating over the coming Brown Horde it's clear that Brat understands the role of fear-mongering in politics. But it's also clear that he has no understanding of how our market system really works in a globalized economy. People moving to find work, and a higher wage, are the backbone of any free market market economy - including a globalized one.

Brat may be an economist but he seems to have forgotten that the free movement of "labor" is just as important as the free exchange of "land" and "capital" when it comes to building a free market platform.

Let me restate the above another way. Every economics text makes it clear that land, labor, and capital must be unfettered, and capable of finding its level price if you want to have a free market economy. Brat's opposition to immigration reform does nothing to suggest that he understands this simple point.

At the end of the day Brat is not a free market kind of guy. Worse, his intellectual heart is wedded to a failed theory built by the first free market economists.

However, Brat's politics of fear, over the coming Brown Hordes, will help make him one of the guys.

With exception of the tea party paranoia running through the veins of the Republican Party now, Brat's victory will not alter politics (or gridlock) in Washington. We all know who is still running the show.

- Mark

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Jon Stewart explains how we've learned to get over what seem to be regular mass shooting events in the United States ...

While we're at it, let's not forget (as this South Park episode reminds us) how certain laws embrace and encourage a gun culture that's not always applied uniformly across society ...

- Mark

Monday, June 9, 2014


It's that time of year again. To help my students in American Politics (PS 101) concentrate, while channeling their inner Thomas Jefferson ...

... below I provide an updated set of links to some of the topics we've discussed in lecture. These links should not be interpreted as providing all the information needed for each of the questions asked in the final exam. They are simply links to topics that are not in the book and/or are tied to topics students have asked about during class and office hours. 

Questions for the first two mid-terms (typos and all) are listed below the links section. 


Liberal Republic / Liberal Revolution. Look here under "Three Intertwined Developments" for the historical forces and intellectual roots behind our political and economic system. Then use them to help explain the Liberal Revolution, and how they provide the base for the ideas behind our Constitution.

* The Federal Imperative / California: Creating access points, opportunities, and dispersing power lies at the heart of the federal principle in America. These two posts on fiscal federalism outlines how the U.S. works to achieve these goals by shifting and, yes, redistributing wealth in America. This post explains how California is 'dead last' when it comes to ease of getting welfare. This link discusses the tax policies of Governor Reagan. As part of our larger discussion on California in the federal system we discussed budget issues and the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, which is discussed here. Finally, this post explains how California is now looking at balanced budgets after raising taxes, which we discussed in class.


Our Court System: Here's the link to help with the FISA courts. Click here for a discussion on the Original Intent / Judicial Activist debate. Click here for a discussion on how our court system is used to protect financial interests.

The Presidency / American Caesar: For a review of one of the stronger presidents in the 19th century check out this this post on Andrew Jackson. Do we have an emerging American Caesar? This op-ed review several issues tied to the American presidency that we discussed in class. The links here and here help us understand some of the new "tools" now at the disposal of the American President )and the rise of the National Security State), while these two  posts discuss signing statements.

Congress: Why is it that many members of Congress appear overwhelmed and uninformed? Why do they appear to talk at each other instead of with each other? Apart from issues tied to redistricting, this post on the Bell Experiment ties into our lecture on post-industrialandia and semi-democracy in America. Click here for the link to "We're not the greatest country in the world."

Political Parties: This one will require that you read the entire chapter on political parties closely. Still, here's a link I have used in previous class lectures to help explain the evolution of political parties in America.


Economic Policy Making: At the beginning of our lecture on economic policy making I discussed how the magic of the market really works. Here I used my experience at Disneyland to help explain how markets actually work. You can find my C-SPAN interview (where I discuss Aladdin moment) here. The following links discuss the role of  fiscal policysubsidiescorporate welfareregulatory policy, and the forces behind our wage structure in America. This post discusses how much the big banks depend on government subsidies to survive. This post discusses how America redistributes wealth (i.e. fiscal federalism), while this post discusses how America has consistently worked to bailout and subsidize the market.

Social Security: For the question on social security, apart from your notes you might want to look at thisthisthis, and this. For a discussion on COLAs (cost of living allowances), "hedonics," and our efforts to "save" social security see this (under "Boskin Commission").

Finally, keep in mind that a successful response to each question depends on you demonstrating that you have thought about and understand the topic(s) that you are addressing. Don't just list facts. Bring in the text where possible. Elaborate and be creative in what you write.

Spring 2013 Questions, Exam #1 ...

Part I: In class we discussed the historical and intellectual forces behind America’s political system. Describe these forces and explain how they contributed to the creation of our Liberal Republic. Indeed, if someone were to ask you the difference between a republic and a democracy (in the classic sense) how would you respond? How does our Liberal Republic contrast with feudal and colonial patterns of governance? Part II: How does European history and America’s colonial experience help us understand the U.S. Constitution and our economic system? What type of governing system(s) did the Founding Fathers fear? What type of governing system did they create? What measures were put in place to assuage the fears of the Founding Fathers? How has America’s political system evolved since the U.S. Constitution was adopted?

Part I: How does European history and America’s colonial experience help us understand the U.S. Constitution and our economic system? What type of governing system(s) did the Founding Fathers fear? What type of governing system did they create? What measures were put in place to assuage the fears of the Founding Fathers? How has America’s political system evolved since the U.S. Constitution was adopted? Part II: In class I explained how history and a keen understanding of the human condition helped inspire the Founding Fathers to create a federal system of government. Explain what I meant by this. How do the Articles of Confederation help us understand federalism in America? How do the Federalist Papers help us understand the U.S. Constitution? Can you think of any specific quotes from the Federalist Papers that help us understand the intent and goals of the U.S. Constitution? How do the Supreme Court cases discussed in class help us understand the pecking order behind our federal-state relations?

Part I: In class I explained how history and a keen understanding of the human condition helped inspire the Founding Fathers to create a federal system of government. Explain what I meant by this. How do the Articles of Confederation help us understand federalism in America? How do the Federalist Papers help us understand the U.S. Constitution? Can you think of any specific quotes from the Federalist Papers that help us understand the intent and goals of the U.S. Constitution? How do the Supreme Court cases discussed in class help us understand the pecking order behind our federal-state relations? Part II: Drawing from the readings and our discussions explain how California’s political system differs from the federal government. Specifically, what can the state of California do that the federal government can not (and vice versa)? Why did the Founding Fathers create these institutional differences? How does California’s history help us understand these differences? During lecture we discussed some of the factors that led to California’s debt problems. Why did California start going into debt on a regular basis. How would you fix California’s debt problem? Was/Is Proposition 30 a good starting point? Explain.

Spring 2014 Questions, Exam #2 ...

A two part question. Part I: In class and from the readings we learned about the history behind our national judiciary system. Why do we have a court system? Drawing from the text, how does habeus corpus and judicial review help shape America’s political and legal systems? What’s the difference between criminal and civil law, and how does this distinction help us understand our legal system? With reference to the Constitution and the Judiciary Act, explain the history and structure of America’s national judicial system. How does the FISA court system fit into our legal system? Part II: How does the “strict constructionist/original intent” vs. “judicial activism” debate help us (or not help us) understand the Supreme Court and our system of justice? Does the documentary Super Chief: The Life and Legacy of Earl Warren help us understand this debate? How so? In your view, what personal experiences contributed to the decisions Earl Warren made while he was Chief Justice? Between the strict constructionist and judicial activist positions, which perspective best represents how judges should act while on the bench? Explain.

Drawing from the text briefly describe (no more than one page) how a bill becomes law. In spite of how a bill is supposed to become law, we discussed in class why the U.S. Congress does not or can not do the work of the people. Specifically, I asked whether Congress can really represent the will of the people when both the members of Congress and “the people” are so distracted and overwhelmed with the challenges of every day life. What did I mean by this? How does hyper-democracy and semi-democracy fit in here? What does this say about how Congress and politics in America actually works? Has the promises of democracy in America been altered in the process? How so? Finally, drawing from your in class experience with redistricting explain how the process of redistricting impacts democracy in America. Does redistricting strengthen or cheapen the democratic experience in America? Explain. Finally, when we contrast what modern politicians say and what you have learned in class about the U.S. Congress, does the United States have the best democracy in America? Explain.

In class we discussed the formal and informal powers of the president. What are these powers? How do they help us understand the office of the president? Drawing from lecture and the readings, who were some of the early powerful presidents and what factors contributed to them being able to stand out as powerful presidents? Discuss the historical factors that helped transform the power of the executive branch over time. Specifically, how did the Civil War, industrialization, the Depression, and WWII affect the office of the president? Finally, from Watergate through 9/11 we have seen the power of the presidency increase in many ways. How have the powers of the executive branch evolved from the last quarter of the 20th century into the beginning of the 21st century? Are we seeing the creation of an “American Caesar”? Explain.

After briefly discussing what Federalist #10 said about “factions” discuss how the logic behind factions applies to political parties today. In the text the evolution of political parties is discussed. After discussing what parties do in America, explain the early ideological roots of the republican and democratic parties? How did Andrew Jackson help shape the evolution of America’s party system? How did party politics evolve from the late 18th century through the Civil War and New Deal Coalition? What led to the break up of the New Deal Coalition and the rise of the Reagan Revolution? How does the Modern Era compare to the Golden Age of party politics? Which social groups in America today tend to identify with each major party and why? Has party politics devolved into political tribalism? Explain. Finally, what role do third parties play in American politics?

- Mark 


Privatizing the modern-day kibbutz (Maclean's).

Dick Cheney wants Hilary Clinton 'held accountable' for Benghazi attacks (The Raw Story).

The promise of solar roadways includes regenerating energy, keeping roads ice and snow free, advanced road hazard warnings, and a host of other benefits (Barry Ritholtz).

The six principles of the New Populism ... and the Establishment's Nightmare (Robert Reich).

Russian companies 'de-dollarize' and switch to yuan and other currencies over fears that Western sanctions could freeze their accounts at any time (Russian Times).

The UK's Royal Bank of Scotland has a '£100 billion black hole' and is in 'danger of failing' ... and the bail-ins cometh (Zero Hedge). 

Little by little, we went insane (Zero Hedge).

Keeping the bums out ... wealthy London neighborhood installs spikes to keep the homeless away (Nation of Change).

America dumbs down. The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking (Maclean's).

Arizona Republican becomes a Democrat and changes his name to 'Cesar Chavez' because he thinks people are too stupid to understand what he's doing (Wonkette).

An astonishing record - of complete failure ... In 2008 the consensus among economists was that no economy would fall into recession in 2009 (Financial Times).

Yet, economists still rule the world (The Washington Post).

Economist Thomas Piketty: One of the benefits of civilization should be working less (The Raw Story).

Why the bailout was a colossal failure (Robert Reich).

Across America police departments are quietly preparing for war (Zero Hedge).

IMF paper shows that Federal Reserve QE policies have had a significant impact on interest rates (Barry Ritholtz).

Five ways to fight global warming (Bloomberg).

CEO pay, an embarrassment of riches (Yahoo).

How to shrink inequality (Robert Reich).

- Mark