Monthly Archives: June 2011

Trickle-Down Theory: It’s Still A Myth

Poor People

Image by PropagandaTimes via Flickr

The original peddlers of Supply Side Economics argued that tax cuts would defy expectations and actually increase tax revenues. They argued that it would stimulate the economy sufficiently to offset the loss of revenue. It was a trickle-down promise: give money to the wealthy and it will trickle down to the rest of us. Although this fantasy has been largely abandoned by serious economists, it is kept alive by politicians who want to convince you that transferring wealth from the poor to the rich is in your best interests.

We heard a lot last December from the Republicans about how we had better extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich in order to protect jobs in America. We now know that their success in forcing Obama to go along with this bad idea is adding $410 billion to our deficit in 2011 alone.

After exploding the size of the deficit, Republicans shifted strategy and are now sounding the alarm about our rising deficits in order to convince America to embrace Paul Ryan‘s budget plans. They claim it is the only serious and courageous proposal to tackle our rising deficit. The funny thing about his proposal is that it really doesn’t do that much to improve the deficit, but it does a lot to reduce taxes for the rich. According the The Center On Budget And Policy Priorities, based on analysis from the CBO, Ryan’s plan reduces the deficit by 380 billion between 2012 and 2021. In other words it would take the Republicans’ budget plan nine years to recover the damage their Bush extension caused in one year.

They are trying to sell Ryan’s plan as a way to get serious about the deficit, but in fact it is primarily a plan that seriously reduces government services to Americans for the sake of the most well-off. Ryan’s plan cuts government spending by over ten times as much as his plan saves.  How can that be? Most of the money from cuts in services is used to pay for tax cuts. Ryan cuts $4.5 trillion in government services but he adds $4.2 trillion in tax cuts.  In order to hand out this largess in tax cuts, America is supposed to swallow the fact that the money they have paid into Medicare will no longer be there to guarantee their healthcare when they retire. Most of Ryan’s cuts affect the average American, but most of his tax cuts benefit the wealthiest Americans.

The Republicans have successfully limited dissenting arguments against Ryan’s budget to the issue of whether his plan turns Medicare into a voucher system or not. Refusing to call his Medicare proposal a “voucher” is the Republican’s white lie. Their big lie is the claim that his plan is about deficit reduction; in truth, it is just another attempt to transfer more wealth to those who already have the most in this nation.

Passing iTunes Match off as Innovation

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Much media frothing occurs whenever Steve Jobs condescends to make public the latest from the masters of innovation at Apple. Today he is announcing, among some other things, iCloud. By copyrighting the phrase which sticks a characteristic “i” in front of the word, “cloud,” Jobs ordains cloud computing as having finally arrived to the level of cool.

Cloud computing has been around for years. It basically means taking the brains and data of some system and putting it on the internet so that it is available through any internet device that can run a browser.

In his “one more thing” moment, Jobs announced iTunes Match. This is a service that identifies the music that you own and gives you some form of “credit” for that music so that you can stream it from your device without having to upload it into the cloud.

This was a nifty trick popularized by LaLa music several years ago. Apple bought them, and then they shut them down. They killed LaLa music a year ago, and now they are dressing up the same idea as something new and innovative. The only thing innovative about iTunes Match is that it manages to charge customers $25 a year for a service that was free from LaLa.

In its typical way Apple has taken a product, spruced up its user interface, given it a veneer of “cool,” made it more expensive, and offered it up as the latest innovation. I have no reason to believe that Apple’s adoring fans will not lap it up and pat themselves on the back for being an early adopter of the leading edge in music delivery.

Acts 2:1-21: Coping with Miracles

Icon of the Pentecost

Image via Wikipedia

[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for June 5, 2011]

On the Day of Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension to heaven, Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking in tongues. This means that they began speaking in languages that they didn’t know. According the Book of Acts, the people who witnessed this miracle had mixed reactions. Some were “amazed and astonished” (Acts 2:7, NRSV); others “sneered” (Acts 2:13, NRSV) and accused them of being drunk.

I can understand the reaction of those who sneered. I am reluctant to believe in something that I have never heard of before. I tend to be skeptical about things that have no precedent. I don’t tend to believe that something new and miraculous is going on around me.

Throughout human history, God has periodically intervened with acts that only God could perform. These events have served to testify to God’s existence and power. However, each of us have an out. Each of us have the choice to deny such things. Each of us can preserve our cherished understanding of how the world works even in the face of miracles. We can find explanations for miracles that ignore and disrespect our Creator.

Choosing to Repeat History

Unemployment rate in the US 1910–1960, with th...

Image via Wikipedia

Lately economic news has suggested that the dreaded double dip in the economy may be upon us. The talking heads at CNBC have been talking up a double dip for months if not years; their dream/fear may be finally coming true.

The Republican victory last November essentially killed any notion that the government might be able to continue to stimulate the economy until it gets on more solid footing. After getting their rich constituents a nice slice of their favorite form of government handout: a juicy tax cut extension, the Republican’s have been able to keep up a steady drumbeat about the deficit and the need to suppress the economy through spending cuts.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was only by remembering the Great Depression that this country was able to respond to the recent Great Recession and limit its carnage. Unfortunately, we have recently either forgotten our history or worse.

Back in 1937, there were signs that the nation was recovering from the Great Depression. President Roosevelt decided it was time to get the debt problem under control. His advisers told him he needed to cut spending from his stimulus programs. He agreed, and the result was the Recession of 1937-1938.

I would like to think that the clamor for spending cuts today simply reflects a general ignorance about history. Yet the more cynical side of me realizes that these cuts are being urged by some on the right who certainly know all about what happened in 1937. I then have to wonder whether the Republican cries for spending cuts are motivated precisely because they know their history and they hope to send the economy into a double dip. After all, a double dip is their best hope for regaining the White House in 2012. As the New York Times reports, “No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.”

Churning Out True Believers Who Are Inoculated Against Doubt

Roger Ailes, Cupid

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Rolling Stone magazine has a lengthy article on Fox News’ Chairman, Roger Ailes. I’ve read news stories before about Fox and seen the documentary Outfoxed, but this article delivers a more detailed and carefully researched exposé about what it dubs “the most profitable propaganda machine in history.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that Fox News functions like the PR arm of the Republican Party. This thesis is painstakingly documented by Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone. What has escaped me before, however is the degree to which Roger Ailes’ political attack strategy has poisoned the entire process of discourse for devotees of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others.

Dickinson’s article paints a picture of a man who has put his stamp on virtually every right-wing pundit. He has schooled each of them in the same strategy that he has used to help every Republican president since Richard Nixon. According to this article, Ailes’ strategy is to “forget all the facts and figures, and move to the offense as quickly as possible.”

It strikes me that the problem isn’t all of the propaganda that gets spewed forth by Fox and others; the problem is that over time they have trained an army of Tea Party patriots to be totally immune to facts or argument. As soon as they hear facts that challenge their own opinions, then they react by going on the offensive. They do not become circumspect. They do not wonder whether the fact is true. They do not search for a plausible counter-fact with equivalent weight. They simply get aggressive in their denial. And in the end, they’ve been energized by how well Ailes’ strategy has allowed them to “win” against those who disagree with them.

How can a society have intelligent discourse if people are inoculated against ever questioning their own beliefs? What is the point of educating such a person about history or anything else, if their mind has been effectively sealed shut? More troubling is the question of what is the consequence to a Democracy filled with people immune to all forms of doubt? Roger Ailes knows the answer, and that answer is the reason he’s dedicated his life to such a quest.