Merry Frickin’ Christmas

On the eve of the day when Christians supposedly celebrate our innate generosity, my attention was drawn to the story of a young woman who, you might say, is a kindred spirit. This article was part of Occupy Wall Street’s “We Are The 99%” campaign, written back in April:

Female engineering student who can't afford college.

Image credit: Unknown/Occupy Wall Street

I am a female mechanical engineering student. Dean’s List student, even for Calc 3 and Dynamics. I have no co-signer for loans, so I am only eligible for enough to cover books and tuition. It’s taken me 5 years to complete 6 semesters because I run up my credit cards to pay for gas and food, and I can’t go back until I pay the balance down. My cards are currently completely maxed, and I fear that I am beginning to lose Calculus knowledge that I learned in 2005. My car is ready to break down at 130,000 miles, and my debt payments are $700 just for interest every month. I have been paying on and off between semesters and I still have $5000 to go before I even begin to pay the principal balance. I’m 25, live at home, and I bartend 50 hours a week. I want to design machines and energy systems that have a positive impact on our society, but I’m getting you HAMMERED and cleaning up after your party instead. I especially enjoy when people talk to me like an idiot because you got the wrong cheese on your burger. I know – I’m serving you dinner because I must be a stupid girl.

A Communique From The 99%

Let’s contrast this with my own experience. Back when I was an engineering student in the late 1970s, tuition was affordable at state schools. I made enough during most summers to cover it, plus part of my other expenses. There were also Pell Grants, or their equivalents (which, if memory serves, were called something else back then), and that plus some scholarships mostly paid for my education. I wasn’t stuck with a crushing debt, nor did I have to take a few courses at a time in order to be able to pay for them. Nor are state universities affordable any longer. The University of Washington and Washington State University cost more in a year than my entire bachelor’s degree. By the time I was this young woman’s age, I’d been working as an engineer for two years. You might say that by that time I was no longer an apprentice engineer, having learned how the process worked in a large engineering firm.

That last sentence should give you an idea of what’s wrong with our current system – “You might say that by that time I was no longer an apprentice engineer, having learned how the process worked in a large engineering firm”. The young woman in the photo, whose brain would seem to be every bit as capable as mine was, is still years away from working as an engineer. That is part of the opportunity cost we pay in the name of “fiscal responsibility“. By just about any measure that matters, we are as capable of giving this young woman an affordable education now as we were capable of giving me one back in the day. Yet we waste years of this young woman’s potential, and the potential of tens of thousands like her, perhaps hundreds of thousands, with economic policies that would have made Scrooge proud.

Based on my experience, her speculation about losing her ability to understand calculus and higher mathematics may be true, as well. Soon after I was taught those things, I was able to see them applied practically in various science and engineering courses. The knowledge stuck with me much longer as a result. While a lot of that knowledge is gone today from lack of use, I remember far more of it than I do the German I learned in high school, which I never used much at all.

Our society’s pathological lack of generosity is wasting the most precious resource we have – the minds of people like this young woman. They are the ones who will cure diseases, set policies, and design the machines we need in the future. They are the ones who will explore space, and find the knowledge necessary to do those other things. Wasting so many minds is worse than a sin – it’s dangerous. As I’ve explained before, our existence on this world is precarious at best. If we continue to ignore the latent talents of our people to deal with what the universe throws at us, we won’t be around much longer.

Merry Frickin’ Christmas.

Sometimes, They Ask The Wrong Questions

As a person who has had an e-mail address for more than a couple of years, I get lots of e-mail from politicians. Every once in a while, they make the mistake of asking my opinion on something. Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) made that mistake yesterday:

Tomorrow the U.S. House will vote on the budget agreement negotiated by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan. You can read more about it HERE. This agreement would last for two years, averting the chance of a government shutdown for at least that length of time.

I’m still evaluating the pros and the cons of this proposal, and I’d like to hear your opinion before I vote tomorrow. What do you think about this bipartisan budget agreement? Please reply to this email and share your thoughts with me.

Which was nice of him, since I’m not even in his district. I suspect it will be the last time, though. My reply:

Here’s what I think – we got screwed again by the Democrats. As usual, the rich will pay nothing to make up for the damage Wall Street has done to our economy. It will be the middle class and the poor who give up their pensions and their standard of living. Military and civilian employees of the government will lose more of their compensation, after having their benefits frozen for years.

And you’re doing all this in service to a wacko idea of “fiscal responsibility” that was proved wrong in the 1930s. I have yet to see or hear a Democratic congressperson tell the truth here, which is that the federal government not only can run a deficit in hard times, but it should run a deficit. I have yet to hear them say that equating balanced budgets with “fiscal responsibility” is a delusional concept, and that the government can make money when it needs to, simply by spending it. President Obama can erase the debt entirely using coin seigniorage, yet the one Democrat in congress who broached that idea was quickly told to shut up.

When I start to hear Democrats speaking the truth on this matter, I’ll start to reconsider my assumption that you’re just the more mendacious wing of the Wall Street Party. Until then, to me, you people are as useless as the Republicans.

At least I’ll be getting less junk e-mail…

UPDATE/Afterword: The House passed the budget 332 to 94. I await with breathless anticipation the usual clowns’ opinions about what ungrateful shitheels folks like me are for not celebrating this grand bipartisan acheivement.

Sometimes, Progressives Get It

We are the 99 percent

From two years ago. For all I know, she’s sill looking for a job.

Yet another thing passed under my nose today that turned out to be worth a look. When I saw the title of this essay by Lynn Parramore, I figured it would be some sort of pseudo-feminist twaddle about how he cheated on his wife with call girls and he probably downloads porn all the time, so how could he possibly respect women?. Turns out, my first impressions can be wrong:

As a life-long feminist, I’ve often been struck by the lack of insight in the political realm into a simple fact: So-called “women’s issues” are everyone’s issues.

When women have access to reproductive healthcare, when they are supported in the workplace, when they can enjoy a dignified retirement, when they are protected from Wall Street predators, when they are economically secure, everyone wins.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

I was hooked already, but of course she goes on:

Enter a candidate for New York City Comptroller who has an outstanding record on all of these issues. One who has shown an unmatched enthusiasm for challenging Wall Street abuses that disproportionately impact women, one who has championed women’s workplace rights and access to healthcare — and one who even publicly calls himself a feminist.

Incredibly, some women, like NOW New York president Sonia Ossorio, have chosen to actually team up with business leaders to spend $1.5 million to skew the election and defeat Eliot Spitzer in his bid for office.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

OK, now I want to kiss the woman. Calling out progressive leaders who don’t even serve the narrow agendas of their organizations, much less a generally progressive philosophy, would be a full-time job. This is a textbook example. Parramore goes on to name several reasons why Spitzer qualifies as a feminist. From my perspective, they’re excellent reasons for most women to support him. When it comes right down to it, legislation that mandates family leave time or abortion rights ought to count for more than what the guy does in his free time.

Ms. Parramore doesn’t stop there, though:

5. Wall Street Watchdog: What does Wall Street have to do with women? A lot, actually. Wall Street predations and reckless activities have cost millions of women their jobs, homes, and pensions. Swindlers in business suits have triggered massive funding crises in cities across America by charging outrageous fees, setting up harmful financial deals, and other shenanigans.

Women pay disproportionately for all this. They endure cuts to the social services they rely on to keep themselves and their families afloat in times of need.

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

Now I want to have her baby. Why in the world isn’t this the default position of every women’s organization, not to mention just about any cause that could be considered progressive? Yet, as she already observed, this is clearly not the New York NOW’s position. When do progressives wake up to the idea that the organizations they send money to and do volunteer work for should be pursuing an agenda that benefits the society and the world that we all live in, rather than just their own interests?

The inability to realize that in many ways our prosperity and how that prosperity is gained and distributed among us affects just about all those quality of life issues women, and men, too, come to think of it, care about is something that progressives seem incapable of understanding. To me, the widespread support for Hillary Clinton by women and feminists has been a case in point. Clinton has been very vocal and has done many things in support of women’s rights, it’s true. Unfortunately, she has never shown any more interest in fixing the undemocratic and increasingly unfair distribution of wealth and income in America any more than Barack Obama has. When we finally become the feudal economy that the New Democrats appear to want as badly as any Republican, I don’t think women’s lives will be looking any too shiny. I keep pointing this out to Clinton supporters, and have yet to be told about something she did that indicates otherwise.

Labor’s handling of the Affordable Care Act is yet another. They thought they could cut out their own little deal that would exempt their workers and their profitable health care networks from extra taxation, and supported the ACA even though it was clearly not good for either their workers or the public generally. Then Obama and the congressional Democrats screwed them. I didn’t notice any heads rolling among the unions after this, even though there should have been.

This, I’m afraid, is the fundamental reason progressives can’t get ahead. Their tone deafness and their inability to understand the reality of politics doesn’t help, but this is perhaps the most fundamental reason no one with any sense listens to them. They don’t recognize that they benefit from the things that benefit us all. Instead of hanging together, they each get boned separately.

Still, every once in a while there’s a progressive who reminds me that we aren’t all that stupid. I’d like to thank Lynn Parramore for doing that today.

Saturday Entertainment: Lewis Black On Economics

It’s a standup routine from a few years ago, but Lewis Black made more sense here in eight and a half minutes than a typical American economics reporter does in a typical year:

Of course, Keynes didn’t really say that we should just build “a big fucking thing”, nor did he mean that having folks dig holes and fill them up again was the best plan. What he was saying was that it’s a better plan than not employing people.

There are plenty of things that need doing in America. If you can’t think of at least two things, I’d say you’ve really not been thinking about America for a while. Employing people to do those things would be a much better plan than either stimulating the banks through Quantitative Easing or its ilk, or pointless tax breaks for the rich.

Wikipedia describes Keynes’ ideas:

Keynes developed a theory which suggested that active government policy could be effective in managing the economy. Rather than seeing unbalanced government budgets as wrong, Keynes advocated what has been called countercyclical fiscal policies, that is, policies that acted against the tide of the business cycle: deficit spending when a nation’s economy suffers from recession or when recovery is long-delayed and unemployment is persistently high—and the suppression of inflation in boom times by either increasing taxes or cutting back on government outlays. He argued that governments should solve problems in the short run rather than waiting for market forces to do it in the long run, because, “in the long run, we are all dead.”

Keynesian economics (Active fiscal policy)

The current depression, AKA the “Great Recession”, serves as proof that Keynes was right. Five years after the initial crash, the economy shows no real signs of recovery. None of the endless tax breaks and spending cuts by federal, state, and local governments has reversed that trend, nor would anyone with a functioning brain think it would. We’ve been cutting taxes and spending for decades. At some point, you really do start cutting bone, and we started seeing the white dust a long time ago.

Tutti A Roma

Some interesting developments are going on in Italy right now. Last night, Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected president:

Giorgio Napolitano, an 87-year-old political veteran who had been planning to embark on a well-earned retirement within weeks, has become the first Italian president to be re-elected to serve a second term, after squabbling and discredited party leaders who had failed to agree on his successor begged him to stay on “in the higher interests of the country”.

In an unprecedented move which observers said raised Italy’s chances of seeing the formation a broad coalition government, the widely-respected former Communist was re-elected with cross-party backing that included Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Freedom People (PDL) party and the centre-left Democratic party (PD).

Giorgio Napolitano re-elected as Italy’s president, prompting relief and protests

Napolitano was one of the Italian leaders responsible for ushering in the recent austerity measures that have threatened to make Italy the latest economic basket case in Europe. Needless to say, he is less popular with ordinary Italians than he is with the folks who run things there.

A few hours ago, Italian comedian turned politician Beppe Grillo sent out this Twitter message:

Twitter message from Beppe Grillo, Apr. 20, 2013

Twitter message from Beppe Grillo, Apr. 20, 2013, prior to start of march on Rome.

Google translate renders the text as this in English:

I’m going to Rome. I will be before the House tonight. We must be millions:

Within hours, people were marching on Rome, as this article illustrates:

Marchers on Rome, Apr. 20, 2013 photo via  @_0Marco0_

Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

Dear people,

It’s going down, right now, in Rome.

Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.

The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening.

Tutti a Roma!

As an update to that article, along with a video link make clear, things are just getting started there. Italians are used to dysfunctional government, but if ever there was an example of what the phrase “re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic” implies, it’s this political situation.

Since I know almost nothing about Italian politics, I have no idea how this will turn out, but it’s at least a hopeful sign that people there are determined to make things change, despite their alleged leaders’ inability or unwillingness to have those changes come about.