SOMETHING I NEVER REALLY UNDERSTOOD – UNTIL NOW

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Okay, I will be the first to admit there is a lot in the wide world that I do not understand. And even that statement is complicated because it is different from saying something like, “I don’t understand why a kazillion billion dollars is not enough for some people.” I totally get why they want a kazillion billion dollars – because for some people, all the money in the freaking world isn’t enough. What I DON’T get is why some people are built that way. And that’s a whole different level of non-understanding.

But here’s something I am having a comprehension problem with right at the moment – how come some people in our country are getting so rich when a bunch of others are staying poor? Why isn’t it the economy working for everybody, like, trickling down, or floating all boats, or whatever? I found an article that claims to simplify this question, but even it was too complicated for my tiny feeble brain to process. So I had to make it even MORE basic, just so I could get it. And here it is.

There’s this word: “stagpression”. It is a combo word of “stagnant” and “depression”. “Stagnant” is when nothing happens because the economy is just sort of sitting there. A “depression” is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity. So far, so good. We are definitely stagnant, and definitely in some kind of depression event, judging from a lot of people’s circumstances. Thus – “stagpression”. Got it.

How can this be happening, though? Housing is coming back, the job market is increasing slowly but steadily, corporate profits are at record highs, and the stock market is off the charts. So how come so many of us are still stuck in stagpression?

Well… THIS is why. There’s still a lot of unemployment, and stagnant wages haven’t shifted since Reagan was Prez. The middle class’s wealth is being methodically stripped away until the thinnest of shells remains. Massive student loan debt ties young people to servicing loans instead of buying houses, having families, and spending money on stuff, which puts those dollaroos back into circulation. All this leads to consumers with zero confidence in the future, at least as it seems likely to play out for them.

But on paper, the economy should be booming, right? Look at the profits! Look at the stock market!  And it IS booming … for really, really rich people. They are doing GREAT. But the vast majority of Americans who AREN’T fabulously wealthy have been economically laying around like logs in the woods. Nothing changes, except for inexorable slow decay. No movement, unless something bad happens, and then it’s straight into poverty.

Why are we stuck here?

Observe: a chart that measures”free cash flow.” According to Investopedia, “free cash flow” is “measure of financial performance calculated as operating cash flow minus capital expenditures. Free cash flow (FCF) represents the cash that a company is able to generate after laying out the money required to maintain or expand its asset base.” Okay, I think I get this definition – free cash flow is the money that a business has AFTER it pays out all its expenses to maintain the business – like wages, raw materials, operating costs, etc.

Chart 1

Wow, look at that peak! Cash flow is at an all time high, right? Lots of dough to reinvest, make the business better, hire more workers!

Eek. But here’s what is happening instead …

Chart 2

What the hell is “non-residential fixed investment” anyway?  In economic theory, non-residential fixed investment is “the amount purchased per unit time of goods which are not consumed but are to be used for future production (i.e. capital).” So,in other words, those high points in the chart represent money being plowed back into the economy. The low points are money stockpiled by businesses, or, the equivalent of being buried in a Folger’s can in some rich person’s yard. And don’t tell me, “Oh, it’s getting better!”, because even on an upward trend, it is STILL lower than it has ever been!

We have dropped taxes on businesses to alarming lows – in fact, many of the biggest, most wealthy businesses pay no taxes at all. There is less regulation (think “Freedom Industries”, responsible for the poisoned Charlottesville water debacle), and many tax funded price supports ( aka, subsidies). Unions have been shackled, so wages dropped. Technology developed by tax-supported government programs is distributed to businesses for free.  And STILL, business is investing less.

Jeepers! Big business is sure saving a lot of money these days! What the heck are they doing with it, anyway?

Glad you asked! Rather than invest in plants, equipment, or hiring, businesses are using most of their funds to repurchase their own stocks in order to boost management earnings (CEO bonuses!) and ward off hostile take-overs (which is when other, even bigger and richer companies try to grab enough stock to control the company they are taking over – excellent strategy to reduce competition!), pay dividends to stockholders (those wealthy stockholders again), and accumulate large cash and bond holdings. In other words, businesses are “swimming in money, and they haven’t shown the slightest inclination to use all this cash for investment or employment.”

We work, buy their products, and most of the lucre we give them goes into that Folger’s can, which they then bury.

This does not help the nation – at all. No matter how good your small-business plan is, if most of the nation’s capital is tied up in bonds, dividends, and CEO bonuses, and regular people are making the same wage as they did in 1980, there aren’t going to be a lot of customers for you. When money is cycled to the bottom, it circulates. When it cycles into the bank accounts of the rich, it just sits there.

Here’s what’s been tried …
1.Price and pay freezes (Let’s play the austerity game! You be Greece and I’ll be Spain!)
2.Government set and regulated prices. (Regulations: source of ENDLESS business bitching and moaning)
3.Lower tax rates.
4.Cash incentives from taxpayers to reinvest.
5.Pleas and entreaties from the Oval Office. (Yeah, like THAT ever works. The leaders of giant corporations are paid bales of money to disregard shame. In fact, many of them are SELECTED for their complete imperviousness to negative public opinion)
6.Higher marginal tax rates. (“Marginal tax rate” is the fancy way to say the more money you bring in, the higher your tax rate goes)

The only one that has worked is HIGHER TAX RATES. When a business invests in itself, it earns a lower tax rate. When it just grabs money from a lot of other places – like taxpayers, and bailouts and subsidies and slackening regulation – why bother with reinvesting in your company? You have the cake, and you can eat it too!

Look at the Fixed Investment chart. Rates of reinvestment climbed during each of these presidencies: Eisenhower, Kennedy-Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. Each time, Congress legislated higher marginal tax rates.

Remember Bush 2’s tax cuts? The ones that big business went into whining-overdrive about, and Republicans practically killed themselves to defend? The ones Obama held on to? Reinvestment sank like a rock, and is barely rising now.

Are you starting to get it? I am.

I guess corporations are a lot like people – for some, everything is still not enough. And who cares how many people have to scrabble, so long as the money keeps flowing to the top.

It’s the American Way!

SNAKES VS. CHRISTIANS

Dedicated Christians who put their lives in God’s hands. Deadly poisonous vipers with 200 million years of evolution behind them. Gee, put these two together and how could anything possibly go wrong?

Well, it did. Jamie Coots, age 42, died Feb. 15 of a snakebite that occurred during church services, or whatever it is snake-handling Christians call these get-togethers. He was also a TV star of his own show: “Snake Salvation”.

The snake, I believe, was a 2-1/2 foot-long timber rattler. That’s on the small side for a timber rattler. The average size is three to five feet, so this must have been an adolescent or young adult. These snakes range all over the Eastern part of the country, from Minnesota and New York State, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. They generally eat small mammals – voles, mice, rats, gophers.

The outstanding characteristic of a timber rattler is its “relatively mild disposition”. Rattlers evolved to eat small things and scare big things away. That’s why they have rattles – to warn off creatures that might like to dine on a piece of tender snakemeat, or just clumsily step on the rattle’s owner and damage him or her. Vipers did not develop venom to hunt down and kill big creatures: they developed it to incapacitate small creatures. The timber rattler would much rather scare you than attack you, and then, when you are at a safe distance, get the hell away from you and into the shrubbery.

Very few creatures in nature attack people. Horses attack people, and dogs attack people, but these are not natural creatures: they have been totally refined and changed by human manipulation. There have been cases of lions, tigers, European wolves, pumas, etc. attacking people, but that’s because humans were considered prey. Humans will also blunder into jellyfish swarms or wasp nests,and perhaps be attacked defensively. But it’s nothing personal. No natural species hunts humans just for entertainment. In fact, there is only one animal species that actively hunts and kills humans for purposes besides food – and that would be other humans.

But back to the snakes. As a person who kept a variety of snakes for several years, I feel like I got to know my charges fairly well. Snakes are not killing machines, nor are they malevolent. They are natural creatures that have been well-adapted to the lifestyle of hunting and capturing prey: there are no herbivore snakes.

Snakes are deaf. In fact, they are not just deaf: they have absolutely no equipment that could be construed as “ears”. Instead, they rely on different means to sense their environments: heat, taste, smell, and vibration. So, trying to recognize the mind of a snake is impossible, if you insist on the standards that apply to a typical domestic animal. You speak to a dog, he wags his tail. Speak to a snake, and he acts like he didn’t hear you – because he didn’t.

Einstein pointed out that  ‘… if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ Or, in this case, us believing that other species are intellectually vacant. However, over last few decades, humans have discovered some surprising things about other species that tend to challenge our sense of specialness. Chickadees can speak other bird languages. Elephants recognize themselves in mirrors. Dolphins have personal sound name-tags.

And snakes are not stupid. Snakes recognize their keepers. They know how to indicate to the keeper that they are hungry, which is a form of communication. A snake can analyze a threat and act in accordance with that evaluation.

I used to take my snakes into the public schools to show kids. I had one big fat rat snake that really did not like kids grabbing at her. Did she bite? Did she flail? Did she threaten? None of the above. She would tolerate about three minutes of handling, and then make a colossal effort to issue a huge, stenchy poop onto the tabletop, whereupon the mortified keeper would scoop her up and stick her back into her box, which was exactly where she wanted to go. One could chalk this up to coincidence, but not after the fifteenth or twentieth time. She never pooped on people, and never went more than three minutes of kid-handling. I call that some pretty sophisticated analytic thinking, for a creature with a brain the size of a black-eyed pea.

I had another grizzled veteran, a corn snake, who I acquired full-grown, kept for about 15 years, and then passed along to another snake aficionado for his kids. This snake was gentle and kind-hearted, and the only person he ever bit – or even threatened to bite – was someone I had really developed an intense dislike for. Nice work, Corny! But Corny was an escape artist, and routinely would find a way out of his enclosure to hide in the house somewhere. Then, when he got hungry, he would find his way to the potato drawer in the kitchen and lay in there waiting to be discovered. Over and over and over this happened. He knew the drill – be discovered, returned to his cage, get fed, and a day or so later, vanish again, only to reappear among the potatoes a couple months later. This was not a coincidence – he learned what to do from his first accidental experience, and thereafter applied his learning with consistency.

Along these lines, people have noted that vipers generally, and rattlers in particular, have a tendency to “dry-bite”. That means a snake might bite someone, but choose to withhold its venom. Or, possibly, partially-dry-bite a person, and inject just a small portion of venom and not the full load. Constant experience in snake-handling services would doubtless familiarize a rattlesnake with what’s probably going to happen, and after a few run-throughs, they might feel relatively uncompelled to issue a bite, particularly a “wet” bite. I suppose if you were religious, you’d say something like “God protected me from that hideous reptile, because it bit me and I lived!” Well, give the snake some credit because it was the SNAKE that chose to let you live, not God.

Mr. Coots was not dealing with just some rubber animal that God was gonna guide, kind of like a scaly hand-puppet. He was dealing with a creature that had a different mentality, but not an absent mentality. Plus, it was a young snake, which are typically less experienced and less predictable, and tend to unleash their full venom loads because they are small and want to be absolutely sure of neutralizing the threat. In this case, the threat neutralized was Jamie Coots.

This little incident capsulizes the thing I detest most about Christianity. If you are going to sell the concept that people are supposed to  “fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground,” then you cannot grant any kind of independent validity to the natural world. Christians think they are the boss of everything, because God told them so, in that musty old book that about a thousand people wrote in at all different times, each throwing out the parts they didn’t like, and adding in new parts that they approved. What is it about the Bible that starts killing your brain cells the instant you open it? Sorry, Christians, you just aren’t that special. You can TELL yourself you are, but you aren’t, and any lightning storm, swollen river, tainted water, or poisonous snake would be happy to instruct you as to the actual measure of your own specialness..

Meanwhile, Nature continues to motor along at its stately rate, ignoring the concepts of god or gods or books or bibles or karma or sin or deservingness or undeservingness. Nature is its own entity, just as a snake is its own microcosmic entity of Nature. Mr. Coots learned that the hard way.

But don’t blame the snake.

 

 

 

THE STUFF REPUBLICANS SAY

Back in the early 1900’s there was a woman doctor named Sara Josephine Baker. She wrote a book called “Fighting for Life”, which was about public health, although public health in the absence of  modern medicine and antibiotics was kind of iffy at best, particularly with the waves of European immigrants – Irish, Italians, Poles – that were jamming themselves into inner-city New York. She was hired in 1902 by the NYC Department of Health, and in 1908, she was put in charge of the health Department’s new Bureau of Child Hygiene.

She promptly changed the mission from treatment to prevention. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, poor mothers love their children as much as any other mother, and these poor mothers were willing to try anything to save their infants from an early demise. In her first year, Dr. Baker sent nurses to visit new mothers within a day of delivery, encouraging breast-feeding, fresh air, and cleanliness, and also to discourage such practices as letting babies drink beer, for example.

The first summer after Dr. Baker instituted her new program, 1200 fewer children died in that district compared to the year before. Anti-choicers, pay special attention to that statistic – 1200. Fewer. Children. Died.

(The point here is, anti-choicers, that you must care for children after they are born in order to consider your job well done. Otherwise – all you accomplish are a bunch of super- late-term abortions.)

The home-visit program was expanded city-wide. In 1910 a network of “milk stations” was established. At these stations, nurses and doctors began offering regular baby exams and safe formula for older children and infants of women who could not breast-feed.

Result: in just three years, the infant death rate in NYC fell by 40%.

So, in the late 1910’s, Baker and others wrote a legislative bill to create a nationwide network of home visit programs, along with maternal and child health clinics modeled on the ragingly successful New York model.

Enter the Republicans. The American Medical Association was then backed by wealthy Repubs, who then, as now, hated spending money on social welfare. They claimed the program was tantamount to “Bolshevism”.

Ring a bell, anyone? Bolshevism, communism, socialism, really doesn’t matter what the words actually mean, so long as Republicans can find a way to spook people with them. Here’s what an A.M.A. doctor said to explain their position to a Congressional committee:

“We oppose this bill because, if you are going to save the lives of all these women and children, what inducement will there be for young men to study medicine?”

Senator Sheppard was the chairman of this committee. “Perhaps I didn’t understand you correctly,” he said. “You surely don’t mean that you want women and children to die unnecessarily or live in constant danger of sickness so there will be something for young doctors to do?”

“Why not?” said the fine young A.M.A. shill. “That’s the will of God, isn’t it?”

Oh, so Republican. Who cares who suffers, if we get what we want, while clothing it in the garb of Almighty God? And, as so often happened then, and happens now, Republican money and misdirection killed the bill.

Fast forward to Richard Nixon’s day, early 70’s. Poverty was getting worse. A group of Washington officials and their allies from the civil rights movement drafted the Comprehensive Child Care and Development Act, which would have created a nation-wide system of high-quality day-care, pre-school, and home-visit programs envisioned by Baker and allies 50 years back. It passed both houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support.

Guess what happened? Right-wing Republicans, using language highly similar to that which was used to crush Baker’s national proposal, pressured Nixon to veto it. Pat Buchanan, then a Nixon advisor, encouraged conservative journalists to write commentaries with headlines like “Child Development Act – To Sovietize Our Youth.”

Of course, Nixon vetoes it and this is why – straight from Wikipedia:

“Nixon’s veto and his accompanying rationale reveal several staple thought processes of Cold War politics in the United States. He said that the bill would implement a “communal approach to child-rearing,” tying it to broad-based fears of Communism. He also said it had “family-weakening implications.” The idea that America was distinguished by strong traditional families was often used (by Nixon and other American leaders) to contrast it with the USSR and to resist feminist demands for greater equality for women. … The bill (also) incited some political backlash from anti-welfare and anti-feminist activists who opposed the idea of women in the workforce and who were leery of allowing children to be partially raised outside of the home.

There you go. Nixon’s veto was shit-stained from the beginning, the Child Development Act smeared by Republicans who were then, as now, riding their anti-Communist, Joe McCarthy, keep-women-in-the-kitchen-barefoot-and-pregnant high horse. Result: now we have millions of American kids being raised outside the home by other street kids or by themselves, because their parents work two jobs each for minimum wages that still aren’t enough, because Republican fear-mongering consigned a great idea to the garbage can of history. Thanks, Republicans! We were just that far from a better nation for all!

REPUBLICANS AS A PARTY HAVE NEVER BEEN REASONABLE. THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COMPLETELY DEDICATED TO THE CAUSES OF THE RICH AND POWERFUL. They have been using the same rationale, with virtually the same language, to  deny American citizens the privilege of healthy children that the rich enjoy from being – rich. This crock of Republicans-have- family-values baloney has been spread around for over a hundred years now! Wise up, America!

And you want to know the irony of all this? There is ONE segment of American society that enjoys all the advantages and privileges of what Josephine Baker envisioned all those hoary decades ago.

THE MILITARY. That should warm the Repub cockles, for sure. Maybe it can explain why military kids score higher on tests in math and reading than public-school kids. Maybe it also explains the lower black/white achievement gap in military families.

Since the military child-care program was created in 1989, the government repeatedly denies requests to fund an in-depth evaluation. You know why? Because if Americans knew about it, they’d insist on these programs for THEIR kids too. And Republicans certainly don’t want THAT for the general run of Americans. It only occurs in the military because the Repubs SUPPORT the military, always, unquestioningly, and with lots and lots of money. If they only knew – or thought about it.

I am tired of having these freaking Teabaggers telling me what to fear all the time, like Bolshevism and Commies. I KNOW what I’m scared of – the place the Right wants to drag us down to. THAT’S scarier than anything a horror movie could throw at you.

Believe it.

 

 

 

THE APPALLING CATHY MCMORRIS TURNIPHEAD RODGERS

I guess it had to be this way. MY representative in the House is universally regarded as the loyal dog of the Republican Party. Similar to Lassie, she kind of hangs around the action looking pretty with all that flowing Collie hair, until Timmy falls into the well, or in this case, John Boehner. Then, she leaps into action! But also like Lassie, her “action” comprises a whole lot of aimless barking, which requires some skill to interpret – in other words, to pick out the dog-whistles from the generally pointless noise she generates.

I have previously pointed out that Cathy MM Rodgers is not bright. She may hang around the Republican talking heads, attempting to impart the message that yeah, she’s female, and yeah, here she is in the thick of the political stew. But notice she obediently keeps her trap shut – good little girls are seen but never heard (especially if they are stupid), and Cathy is very well-trained and predictable. She writes like a sixth-grader, judging from her prose printed in generally bottom-tier conservative websites. Her speaking skills are nil: clearly, she is a student of the rote memorization school, heavily augmented by the teleprompter. Her “town hall meetings” are memorable in two major ways – the first being that she doesn’t tell anybody about them unless they are diehard Repub warhorses. I’ve been on her mailing list for ages, and never do I hear peep-squat about her showing up in Spokane. This is because she prefers to populate these meetings with people who will agree with her and won’t ask questions that she is not equipped to answer: AKA, questions that aren’t on the Republican talking-points list.

However, since these ARE supposed to be public venues, people DO  show up to ask her about her complete screaming hypocrisy on any of dozens of points. The meetings then devolve into Cathy spouting the verbatim party line over and over, despite the fact that what she is repeating is irrelevant to the question posed, and the audience getting more and more frustrated with the fact she is pretty clearly ducking and diving. So then, since Cathy cannot afford to showcase any form of disagreement with conservative policy, she NEVER uses her town-hall meetings as a source of pride, publicity, or connection. What she does is film these little canned fireside speeches, where any kind of public input has been deftly dodged. THAT’S what she shows people on TV, and it is all completely staged horse manure.

Of course, it HAD to be her giving the rebuttal to Obama’s state-of-the-union speech. First of all, for whatever reasons I cannot fathom, people keep electing her. NOT people from Spokane, though! People from the outlying regions to the north and south, regions sprinkled with voters who think whatever she says about apple pie and our American way sounds pretty appealing, on a visceral level. Of course, the Republicans are screwing them, but a lot of them don’t understand that part. They just hear the litany of scary brown immigrants, the deficit (which, incidentally, has been reduced to the same level as it was in the late 50’s Eisenhower years – not that you could convince these people of it), and the horrible menace of some guy in Pittsburgh marrying his boyfriend. Aiee!

Many have commented in other venues about the McMorris rebuttal, and more completely and insightfully than I could. However, there are some points she made that bear some scrutiny.

1) Bette, the woman who thought Obama screwed her on her health care. You know, Bette, there was a reason your policy was cancelled. It was complete CRAP, and if you tried to collect on it after your cancer diagnosis and then had to go bankrupt because of your shitty health insurance, guess who picks up your bills? Right – WE DO. (Details regarding Bette’s cluelessness here.)

2) WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR STUPID FAMILY. SHUT UP ABOUT THEM. WHO CARES THAT YOU PICKED APPLES AS A KID. SHUT UP ABOUT THAT TOO. (More about how biography does not have ANYTHING to do with policy here.)

3) The stuff you said in your speech was in COMPLETE opposition to the facts in your own half of the state – where you always win majorities in elections. “Why?” is the great mystery, because YOU say:

“…a nation where we are not defined by our limits but by our potential, and a nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s drive-through to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.”
I am curious. When was the last time somebody had a PRAYER of “paying for college” from their McDonalds’s job they hold in high school? Yet you completely OPPOSE any efforts at raising the minimum wage.

“…people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world, people who come to America because here no challenge is too great and no dream too big. That’s the genius of America.”
Oh, Cathy. Upward mobility into better incomes is commoner in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland than in the US. Does that mean those countries are bigger “geniuses” than the US? Such you do imply. Not to mention the fact that people in those countries are far less pessimistic about their children’s futures than in the “genius” USA.

“If you would have told me as a little girl that I would one day put my hand on the Bible…”
CHRISTIAN DOG WHISTLE, DUH.

Here’s a long dead spot as she natters on about her biography…

Then: “Because a job is so much more than a paycheck: It gives us purpose, dignity and the foundation to build a future.”
This woman went into state government right out of college (Pensacola Christian College, a then-unaccredited Independent Baptist institution. I have never heard of it, and I bet you haven’t either.) She knows NOTHING about working for a living! The taxpayers have been footing her bills for over 20 years! Jeez! What malarkey!

Blah blah blah, more inane biography. Just SHUT UP about yourself already!

Then, here we go… “Republicans have plans…”, “Every day, we’re working…”, “We have plans…”, “We’re working …”, “We have solutions…”
Well? What are they? There’s NOTHING HERE but a bunch of empty promises without a shred of substance to support them. I suppose if when you say “working”, you mean “having vote after vote in useless pursuit of repealing Obamacare even though we knew it was never going to happen” … well … THAT’S not work. That’s just doing the same insane thing over and over and expecting different results.

Then the Bette anecdote, which turned out to be more false than a beefsteak label on a haunch of goat meat. Cathy, check your damned sources.

And then, “...but this law (Obamacare) is not working.”
Question: if the law is not working, and your “plans” are so much better, then why are SO MANY PEOPLE IN YOUR OWN COUNTY signing up on the exchange, or for expanded Medicare? One in twelve!

More biography, some more Christian dog-whistling, and FINALLY, the end. And a greater conglomeration of fakery and false assertion collected into one spot at one time is seldom to be encountered.

Don’t blame Washington State for Cathy McMorris Turniphead Rodgers. Blame all those people from Kansas who happen to live in Eastern Washington, who consistently listen to political promises despite repeated disappointment, who place more faith in “faith” than in evidence, and who insist, against all the rules of logic, to vote against their own self-interest to re-elect this hack over and over.