Tag Archives: government

The “Nothing To Hide” Defense — A Not Altogether Thoughtful Position That Forfeits Freedoms In An NSA Age

Or… How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Stasi

Sometimes I become so frustrated with a circumstance or a discussion/debate/argument that I have to continue to play it out by writing out the conclusion. I become frustrated when what should be a simple intellectual joust in pursuit of understanding or clarification devolves into confrontation. I’m always unsatisfied with that outcome, and I have to play out the scenario to its end. Thus follows…

It was a cold, brisk, wintery-rainy evening this past Saturday set alight by a Holiday Party amongst friends. For an hour, I wandered the crowd hugging, kissing, and smiling. Eventually I completed my rounds and found the food table filled with gourmet treats. While contemplating the choices, I overheard one of my more genteel friends pronounce an opinion robustly and openly. She, an always tanned, world traveler and cruise fanatic, was discussing with one of my more intellectual friends, an international businessman.

“Well, I’ve got nothing to hide, so I really could not care.” I instantly knew the topic and the position she had taken… and to me this was like hearing the starting gun for a thoroughbred at the Belmont Stakes. “What!,” I retorted uninvitedly. “You have got to be kidding; having nothing to hide has nothing to do with your right to privacy and your freedoms!,” I quipped. And, I was off!

image.w174h200f3The topic, of course, was about the recent revelations of the NSA snooping on American’s cellphone calls, international calls, world leader’s calls, etc. And the comment was a defense of this government snooping activity: the “Nothing To Hide” defense.

It was a very frustrating and disappointing “conversation.” It has to be in quotes because it wasn’t a conversation, not a discussion, not even a debate. You must both listen to each other and refute the stated points for a discussion to occur. “Oh, come on, I don’t want to hear it,” was the greeting to my comment.

I asserted, “Freedom is risky. If you want total security, you want to have a totalitarian society.” “That is absurd,” came promptly. “You don’t mind having your calls monitored or tracked because you think you have nothing to hide, which misses the point, but that’s the mentality of Russia and the former Soviet Union… that if you’re innocent, then you have nothing to hide, that one is guilty until proven innocent, while here we are innocent until proven guilty. If you are presumed innocent then no one has a right to track you and your calls or monitor you until you become suspected of engaging in illicit acts and a court order has been obtained.”

“We are talking about Terrorists for God Sake! Not some intellectual rant about Russia,” shot my way. To which I responded, “Yes, you want to be safe, but you are willing to give up your freedoms for security, and I happen to agree with Eisenhower when he said,” and I was halted in my tracks with a loud interruption. “Listen dear we are talking about protection from horrible terrorists.” “Yes, but that’s my point, and I still refer to what Eisenhower said when he,” and I was again stopped in my tracks. “You just don’t get it.” “I do, but I want to make my point with what Eisenhower said.” “We have been harmed by terrorists and must do what must be done to protect ourselves.” “Well, Eisenhower said…” “Oh! Enough, who cares?” “ Well, I do, and I want to make my point.” Another interruption, “How can you justify not taking precautions?!” “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Another interruption. “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Interruption. “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Interruption. “So, you really aren’t going to let me make my point?” “No, I’m not. Who cares what Eisenhower said. He wasn’t dealing with terrorists!”

“Ugh, you’re just being a Liberal!” was lobbed as an insult grenade as she turned on her heals and angrily darted away and into another small group where she ranted promptly about me, in what I was informed was a rather uncomplimentary complaint, to a fellow conservative (former advisor and aide to our recent republican governor) — ironically enough, one who knows how to discuss such matters respectfully without relinquishing her position. As she turned and ran, I rejoined sufficiently loud, “It’s not a matter of being Liberal or conservative; it’s just that I value my freedoms and rights. You may not deserve your freedoms, but I deserve mine.”

We made amends, though, as friends do. Yet, the situation still ate at me with disappointment. I will and do assert my views strongly, but I also enjoy hearing an opposed view and even more so their reasoning. I especially enjoy the back and forth attempt to understand or make one’s point in an attempt to convince. Sometimes that can be an energized or passionate attempt on my part, but it is never dismissive or rude. I may not give ground, but I don’t attempt to seize it, either. That is an important difference in “conversation.”

This is what President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in regards to the pursuit of extreme security in a free society:

“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

I should have also offered this Eisenhower quip:

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

I said correctly that “The War On Terror Is America’s Mania” in my July 22, 2013 posting to Faustian urGe, “Freedom Is Not Free — Risk In The Age After 9/11 & The Snowden Revelations.”

The above encounter and this topic, specifically, came at an interesting time, as more revelations from the Snowden NSA release showed that while it had been publicly admitted that the NSA recorded contacts and length of calls and locations of Americans on US soil, the truth is that American phone calls are being monitored for content, etc while they are traveling internationally. It was revealed that NSA monitors and records such calls in a vast net of internationally based calls and inevitably ensnares US citizens’ phone calls when they travel internationally. We are to be assured that these are syphoned out upon learning that a US citizen is the one being monitored. Really? OK.

917_05_015729

We Deserve Our Freedoms Even If We Have Nothing to Hide

Even I, the “Liberal,” can appreciate the wisdom of Ronald Reagan when he said to us,

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Today, it seems that many Americans have forgotten this important lesson. And nowhere is the lack of knowledge and common sense of the American populace more apparent than as regards our collective response to the NSA revelations.

One retort to my genteel woman friend above I would have liked to deliver in response to, “We are talking about Terrorists for God Sake!,” would have been to the effect of: Terrorists are about terrorizing and thereby winning. Which is to say that if they instigate self-immolating fears that prompt a society to take actions harmful to the self, then they have won. That is the focus of terrorism. They cannot win by military defeat such as Germany triumphing over Poland in WWII, so they act in a manner that makes a “Poland” destroy itself. Or here, to make the US forfeit its most cherished quality: Freedom.

Thus, when Americans act out of fear and retreat to “security” as their overriding concern, they risk forfeiting many of the hard-won freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Americans will tolerate “snooping” and clear invasions of privacy and reduction of rights and freedoms because over privacy, rights, and freedoms, they are afraid of losing life (terrified).

Once upon a time, Americans would have said, “Give me Liberty or give me death!”

Today, the American mantra seems to be, “Give Up Your Liberty Or We’re All Gonna Die!”

Today, we seem to meekly yowl, writhe in painful fear, and willfully and willingly hand over our freedoms for a promised sense of safety.

I find this reaction disappointing and unacceptable.

As was said of those taking the “Nothing To Hide” argument regarding NSA activities,

“These fellow citizens of ours don’t care about their constitutionally protected freedoms because they don’t understand them or the consequences of losing them. And if you don’t care about a freedom, you’re sure to lose it.”

— Floyd Brown, a political appointee in the Reagan campaigns and consultant to the Bush, Dole, and Forbes presidential campaigns

The terrorists have won. And we have helped them to defeat us.

A handful of terrorist thugs destroy some of our iconic buildings and tragically kill three thousand people, and we willing trade away our rights because we have not the fortitude to earn and defend our freedoms, as freedom entails risk. Exposure to to risk is the cost of freedom… it is the deeper truth behind the trite cliché that “Freedom Is Not Free.” Indeed. And that was the point of my original post about risk in the age after 9/11. The point isn’t that we should not respond by taking precautionary measures. Risk and security must be balanced to achieve safety while preserving freedoms, not just as many as we can but all our freedoms.

We defeat terrorism by not succumbing to it.

Every single year more than 11,000 firearm-related homicide deaths occur in the United States. Each year! Yet, we mightily protest that restrictions cannot be legislated because this would intolerably infringe on our constitutional rights! Yet, after one single (and yes, horrific) attack in which less than a third of these casualties occurred, we toss away our rights and freedoms… seemingly, glibly. I find this disturbing and beneath a great society.

Now, don’t get me wrong about the loss of life on 9/11. I watched the second plane hit the tower live on television, and I wept as I saw the close up images of people jumping and falling out of the World Trade Center. At the time, I sat on the Board of Directors of an organization based in New York City, and I cried on the phone with my employees as they relayed to me what they saw outside their office windows, as they watched their friends and associates dying just down the street in the crushing inferno.

But in the scheme of things, this is what happened. We reacted… and overreacted. We invaded a country that never threatened us and killed more than 100,000 innocent civilians. We fearfully forfeited some of our highest freedoms that are constitutionally guaranteed. World War I started from a simple terrorist assassination of a European royal, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. An overreaction occurred. An entire continent went to war. Sometimes events cause reactions far out of proportion, and we must be on guard to measure ourselves and our actions.

We may simply look at history to understand why…

1011715_516459741740947_1021234393_n

“I’m not worried about NSA. Got nothing to hide & want to stay safe.” This is the sentiment of millions of Americans who sincerely believe they have nothing to worry about. They don’t think they’ve committed a crime, and therefore they’re comfortable allowing the NSA, Barack Obama, the CIA, and the FBI to know their whereabouts, personal email, text conversations and more.

I get it. None of us want to be blown up by al Qaeda.

The operational specifics of Prism and other NSA programs are still mostly classified. We have little knowledge of how the government snooping machine actually works. They claim to not listen to cellphone calls, but can we be sure? Machines can listen to millions of calls and report to humans. Government claims not to be reading emails, but we know they collect the emails… to be read later? Only the most naive believe the government doesn’t lie.

Americans, or citizens of any free society, have a right to know what information their government is collecting about them, and we should have the opportunity to correct mistaken information.

The Founding Fathers Agree

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Today our email and documents saved in “the cloud” and our cellphone conversations are the modern equivalent of our “papers and effects.” We have the right to expect that they’ll be protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

I am not happy to let these long-protected and universally-understood civil liberties disappear with hardly a whimper or protest. Even if I have nothing to hide, I cannot forfeit freedoms for which generations of Americans fought and died just because I refuse to stand up and protest… even when standing in front of a valued friend.

triumph-of-evil

Privacy Matters

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a02_0n_qp_respect-childs-right-privacy-800x800Privacy is a basic human need: Implying that only the dishonest have need of privacy ignores a basic characteristic of the human psyche and creates a built-in conflict. Humans have a fundamental need for privacy. I lock the door when I go to the men’s room, despite the fact that nothing secret happens in there. I have a fundamental need to do so, and any society must respect that fundamental need for privacy. In every society that doesn’t, citizens have responded with subterfuge and created their own private areas out of reach of the governmental surveillance, not because they are criminal, but because doing so is a fundamental human need.

Less than fifty years ago, if you were born a homosexual, you were criminal from birth. If today’s surveillance level had existed in the 1950s and 60s, the lobby groups for sexual equality could never have formed; it would have been just a matter of rounding up the organized criminals (“and who could possibly object to fighting organized crime?”). If today’s surveillance level had existed in the 1950s and 60s, homosexuality would still be illegal and homosexual people would be criminals by birth. It is an absolute necessity to be able to maintain privacy for society to progress and question its own values, in order to learn from mistakes and move on as a society.

On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss the nothing-to-hide argument: Everybody probably has something to hide from somebody. Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.

Canadian privacy expert David Flaherty expressed a similar idea when he argues: “There is no sentient human being in the Western world who has little or no regard for his or her personal privacy; those who would attempt such claims cannot withstand even a few minutes’ questioning about intimate aspects of their lives without capitulating to the intrusiveness of certain subject matters.”

Such responses attack the nothing-to-hide argument mostly at its extreme form. In a less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument refers not to all personal information but only to the type of data the government is likely to collect. In most cases, very few persons will see the information, and it won’t be disclosed to the public. Thus, some might argue, the privacy interest is minimal, and the security interest in preventing terrorism is much more important. In this less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument would seem to be a formidable one. But, it only seems that way.

The nothing-to-hide argument stems from faulty assumptions about privacy and its value — that privacy is about hiding bad things. Privacy is also about the “good things.”

Privacy creates a safe sphere in which we may engage in the machinations that create free democracy and diverse opinions. Without that safe sphere of privacy extended to its fullest, we are likely to grow more inhibited from full expressions of our selves, our views, and our values… for fear that if not now, then eventually this may be turned against us in the future. As the computer-security specialist Schneier aptly notes,

…the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.” Surveillance, for example, eventually inhibits desirable and lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.

We_are_watching_you_0

Total Information Surveillance of Society Is Problematic…

  • A potential problem with the government’s harvest of personal data is “exclusion.” Exclusion occurs when people are prevented from having knowledge about how information about them is being used, and when they are barred from accessing and correcting errors in that data. This kind of information processing, which blocks subjects’ knowledge and involvement, is a “due-process” problem — and we are all constitutionally guaranteed due process under the law. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions and creating a power imbalance between people and the government. To what extent should government officials have such a significant power over citizens? Especially in this age when information is often more powerful than money or arms. This issue isn’t about what information people want to hide but about the power and the structure of government… and the balance of power between the governed and those who govern.
  • Yet another problem with government gathering and use of personal data is “distortion.” For example, suppose government officials learn that a person has bought a number of books on how to manufacture methamphetamine. That information makes them suspect that he’s building a meth lab. What is missing from the records is the full story: The person is writing a novel about a character who makes meth. When he bought the books, he didn’t consider how suspicious the purchase might appear to government officials, and his records didn’t reveal the reason for the purchases. Should he have to worry about government scrutiny of all his purchases and actions? Should he have to be concerned that he’ll wind up on a suspicious-persons list? Even if he isn’t doing anything wrong, he may want to keep his records away from government officials who might make faulty inferences from them. He might not want to have to worry about how everything he does will be perceived by officials nervously monitoring for criminal activity. He might not want to have a computer flag him as suspicious because he has an unusual pattern of behavior.
  • Then we have the problem of “accretion.” Privacy is often threatened not by a single shocking act of overreach or abuse, but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts. In this regard, privacy problems mimic certain environmental harms that happen over time through a series of small acts by different persons and entities. Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of sources creates worse problems, especially when taken as a whole.

Privacy is rarely lost all at once. It usually erodes over time, dissolving almost imperceptibly until we eventually start to notice how much has been lost. Each step we lose our rights and freedoms may seem incremental, but after a while, the government will be watching and knowing everything about us.

“My life’s an open book,” people might say. “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But the truth is that now the government has large dossiers of everyone’s activities, interests, reading habits, finances, and health.

  • What if the government leaks the information to the public?
  • What if the government mistakenly determines that based on your pattern of activities, you’re likely to engage in a criminal act (as warned in “Minority Report”)?
  • What if it denies you the right to fly?
  • What if the government thinks your financial transactions look suspect or just odd—even if you’ve done nothing wrong—and freezes your accounts?
  • What if the government doesn’t protect your information with adequate security, and an identity thief obtains it and uses it to defraud you?

Even if you have nothing to hide, the government can cause you a lot of harm.

Is The Free Selection Of Our Future Leaders Threatened?

More prescient and disturbing, is the possibility — nay, probability — that this information will be used by government interests (or in the interests being served by government) to derail the rising political aspirations of an individual perceived as undesirable by those controlling the information or by those for whom the information holders are serving.

  • Don’t like a rising Bill Clinton? Easy to gather the info at hand and create a scenario desired and release the info through surrogates to destroy any candidacy before they are even the candidate.
  • Want to stop a Tea Party rising star like Ted Cruz? Sabotage him with gathered info…even if none of it reveals illegal activity or information per se.
  • Or just gather all the Facebook postings of anyone younger than 30 to be able to reveal in any one of our future leaders all kinds of embarrassing personal pictures or comments made in youth or before maturation or that’s just really no one else’s true concern or right to know.
  • But the government can also harm people inadvertently, due to errors or carelessness., and this powerful fact must not be borne lightly.

The nothing-to-hide argument speaks to superficial problems but not to the prescient others. It represents a singular and narrow way of conceiving of privacy, and ignores consideration of the other problems often raised with government security measures.

The trade off between privacy and security is a false one…false at our founding and false today.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide,” many people say, “you shouldn’t worry about government surveillance.” Others argue that we must sacrifice privacy for security. They base their position on mistaken views about what it means to protect privacy and the costs and benefits of doing so.

The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly as a zero-sum game in which we are forced to choose between one value and the other. Why can’t we have both? Protecting privacy isn’t fatal to security measures, but it does involve proper and adequate oversight and regulation.

no-right-to-privacy

Advertisements

October 1st 2013 — A Day Of Infamy

October 1st 2013_A Day Of Infamy


What’s The Big Deal About Chained CPI? — Obama vs Social Security

Robert Reich on Chained CPI (Obama’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits)

In an effort to assuage Republicans and entice them to sign on to long-term deficit reduction with increased revenues, President Obama proposes to throw under the bus the generation he lauded in his inaugural address.

Apparently, President Obama quickly forgot his own inaugural words:

We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.”

Reich established this petition to the President:

Mr. President, the chained CPI is a cut to Social Security benefits that would hurt seniors—it’s an idea not befitting a Democratic president. If you want to reform Social Security, make the wealthy pay their fair share by lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.

If you agree, please sign this petition, then share with your friends.

http://signon.org/sign/mr-president-please-do-1


A Conciliatory Note To Deflated Republicans

Republicans, I know you’re disheartened and that you can’t fathom that citizens voted for that dolt, Obama. I know you actually fear for your country’s future (because some of my conservative friends have said as much).

Don’t worry. This fellow, Obama, whom we re-elected is really a moderate Republican.

Yeah! Go figure.

Sure, I know that sounds a bit far-fetched. Barack Obama is a Democrat, after all. What you need to know is that — even though for five years, conservative politicians and media told you he was a raving socialist — Obama’s actions are that of a moderate Republican. His policies are the policies of a moderate Republican. Truth is that Obama stands where the GOP used to stand… you just forgot what that was like.

Fixing A Broken Economy Like A Republican

Yes, Obama began his presidency with bailouts, stimulus, and borrowing. Who started the bailouts? Republican George W. Bush. Bush knew that with the economy imploding, bailouts… necessary, spending stimulus… required, the stimulus of additional tax cuts… an absolute.

Once the economy started growing, Obama offered a $4-trillion debt reduction program cutting $3 to $6 of spending for every $1 in tax hikes. That’s a higher ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes than republicans were found wanting in a Gallup poll and far more than the ratio George H. W. Bush accepted in 1990.

During last year’s debt-ceiling talks, Obama proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in exchange for more revenue that didn’t even come from higher tax rates. Currently Obama is proposing to lower corporate tax rates, and Republicans are ranting that he cut too much from Medicare when Obamacare passed. Not much of a socialist!

Market-Based Approaches To Regulations

Yes, Obama imposed an individual mandate to buy health insurance. So did Governor Romney. Where did this provocative idea come from? The temple of free marketeer conservatism, The Heritage Foundation. Yes, it’s true that personal responsibility—requiring citizens to purchase private health insurance so the rest of us are not stuck with their bills for emergency rooms and hospitals—was a Republican idea.

Wall Street reform? Same. Republicans were not going to allow financial institutions to gamble with the nation’s money in schemes that would require us to bail them out again.

Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal mimicked the market-based emissions-control policies of the 1990 Bush administration and the 2008 McCain campaign. When the EPA proposed a new air-pollution limit last year, Obama betrayed environmentalists by halting the effort as it might jeopardize the recovery.

Strength Through Military Defense

Democrats derided George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. Obama copied it in Afghanistan. Obama also found that he liked the use drones, too, and escalated the program. He sent Navy SEALS into Pakistan take out Bin Laden. He teamed up with NATO to remove Gaddafi. Obama failed to honor his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. He put together a globally enforced regime of sanctions bringing Iran’s economy to a practical halt.

No sensible Republican president would have done things differently than Obama.

Now, you as a conservative might take issue with his Supreme Court justice appointments or his plans for immigration and the Bush tax cuts. It’s safe to say, then, that you likely would have had similar issues with republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. Obama operates like these fellows.

So don’t despair. Your country didn’t vote for a socialist on November 6th.

The country voted for the candidate of traditional Republican moderation. The problem is… that’s no longer your party. What should concern you, terrorize you, and lead you to think about the future of your party is that Obama wasn’t your party’s candidate.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

Truthout — Why Mitt Lost: He couldn’t separate himself from the Republican Party’s growing extremism.

What ought to pain Republicans most about Barack Obama’s victory is that 2012 was entirely winnable for them. Economic conditions in the United States — where an unemployment rate of 8 percent is highly correlated with trouncing of the incumbent party — pointed to Obama’s certain defeat.

Moreover, Obama himself had proven a disappointment to many of his supporters — like me, an actual liberal — going from an adored symbol of generational and social change in 2008 to a detached, distant, and remote figure with limited ability to touch an emotional chord and lead the nation to “Real Change.”

That Mitt Romney lost nonetheless is, indeed, attributable to his own weaknesses as a candidate — Romney was on the defensive early about Bain Capital and making money by shipping jobs oversees and shutting down US businesses, and he never could escape it.

And, yes, the Republican nominee committed multiple and horrendous gaffes. Plus, he organized a horrible, chaotic GOP convention. He never found a way to talk about himself or his agenda such that middle-class voters could buy into. He never made clear sense of any of his plans.

Still, even an awkward candidate might have beaten Obama if not for one element: the GOP’s growing extremism.

The Republican strategy of making the election a referendum on the president’s handling of the economy was perfectly sound. The problem was that the Republican Party couldn’t pass the sanity test itself. For many voters disenchanted with Obama, it still was not safe to vote for his opponent.

Simply look at how the nomination process was dominated by candidates with views far outside the mainstream.

  • Rick Santorum rejected the separation of church and state.
  • Newt Gingrich challenged the notion of judicial supremacy.
  • Michele Bachmann claimed the government had been infiltrated by radical Muslims.
  • Donald Trump refused to recognize the validity of Obama’s birth certificate.
  • Rick Perry wanted to take down more parts of the federal government than he could successfully name.

In the debates, the country saw the GOP sounding like a bizarre fringe party, not a responsible and sane governing one.

Romney is not a right-wing extremist, but in order to win the nomination, he feigned being one — appearing to embrace extremism and relinquishing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of the nation’s most liberal state. Romney had to gain acceptance of his party’s right-wing on taxes, immigration, climate change, abortion, and denial of gay rights.

Many of his statements on these issues were notably insincere, and this insincerity and flexibility (let’s call it “flip-flopping”) made it highly unlikely that he would stand up against the GOP’s hyper-partisan congressional extremists once elected.

Even though he should have ignored the right wing because they had no where else to go, fear that the radicals would sabotage his campaign kept Romney from tacking to the center once he had secured the nomination. That fear motivated his running-mate selection of Paul Ryan, a popular figure with the Tea Party radicals.

When Romney tried eventually to move to the center, Republican Senate candidates, like Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, kept spewing disgusting reminders of the GOP’s retrograde views on gender issues. For women, Latinos, and young voters considering abandoning Obama, the “real” Romney might have been a plausible alternative. The “candidate” Romney was too risky a choice. According to exit poll results, Romney lost among women by 11 points—too large a gender gap to be overcome.

Demographic change and better economic circumstances stand to make the Republican road back to the White House an even steeper climb in future years. Simply put, the party has to present a more conciliatory and reasonable face to sell itself to swing voters. To do that, it must take on moderate voices, ostracize its theocrats, and liberate itself from the dictatorship of the Tea Party Taliban.


PROUD: Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law!

Finally, U.S. Begins Movement Toward Universal Health Care Access – A Right Of Citizenship In Every Other Civilized Nation

In a dramatic victory for President Barack Obama, the Supreme Court upheld the 2010 health care law, preserving Obama’s landmark legislative achievement!

The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who held that the law was a valid exercise of Congress’s power to tax.

The decision came as sharp repudiation to congressional Republicans, many of whom had expected the court to strike down at least some parts of the law.


SHOCK: “President Obama Must Be Defeated” — So Says Obama’s Former Harvard Professor

“HE HAS FAILED TO ADVANCE THE PROGRESSIVE CAUSE IN THE UNITED STATES”

— Robert Unger, Harvard Law School

Unger said that Obama must lose the election in order for “the voice of democratic prophecy to speak once again in American life.”

He acknowledged that if a Republican wins the presidency, “there will be a cost … in judicial and administrative appointments.” But he said that “the risk of military adventurism” would be no worse under a Republican than under Obama, and that “the Democratic Party proposes no new direction.”

“SUPERMAN” Has Faded

The professor’s complaints:

  • “His policy is financial confidence and food stamps.”
  • “He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices.”
  • “He has delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money.”
  • “He has disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice.”
  • “He has reduced justice to charity.”
  • “He has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunity to the important but secondary issue of access to health care in the mistaken belief that he would be spared a fight.”
  • “He has evoked a politics of handholding, but no one changes the world without a struggle.”

THOUGHTS

The professor is correct in his complaints, but wrong on his prescription. While I maintain a similar disappointment in President Obama’s leadership and course of action, the damage that a Romney presidency represents is the danger of empowering Tea Party adherents who will corral him.

In the choice between 1) some damage caused by Obama’s compromises and lack of dynamic proposals and 2) dramatic damages of untethered conservatism/libertarianism,…I will choose the “faded hero I know.”


Transmission Problems With The Economic Engine Of Prosperity For All

Several decades ago, as I completed earning a university degree in Economics, I contributed to a white paper for the White House and detailed in several newspapers the fact that U.S. living standards were only being maintained because most households had two earners, and I lamented this fact signaled the decline of America’s ability to provide generation after generation with a steadily improving life — that it signaled a sputtering in the economic engine of progress.

Back then, I believed that a monetarist policy at the Fed combined with a supply-side policy instituted by the Reagan administration would be just the right formula to clean out the engine valves and boost the octane fueling the economic engine.

Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, it requires well more than two earners working to equal the wages of a one-income household of 40 years ago. In fact, wages have plummeted so low that a two-income household is now (on average) 15% poorer than a one-income household of 40 years ago.

Wages & Standards

With the year 2000 as a base, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. The average worker today earns $8.50/hour — more than 57% less than real earnings in 1970. Moreover, as the average wage directly determines society’s standard of living, it may accurately be said that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by more than half over the last 40 years.

The green line shows average wages, discounted by inflation calculated with the same methodology for all 40 years, properly comparing any data over time… applying identical parameters to it each year.

Then, there is the blue line: showing wage data discounted by the “official” inflation rate. Why two inflation deflators? What’s the problem? The methodology used by government to calculate inflation in 1975 is different from the method used in 1985, which is different than the method utilized in 1995, which is different than the method of 2005.

Technology & Standards

To be certain, technology has improved such that the “standard” has shifted and provided a lifestyle unimaginable or unattainable in the past; i.e., today, nearly all persons of age have a personal cell phone and internet access (hence access to instant communications); access to music proliferates on numerous mobile devises (not just families able to afford large stereo systems, or further back, their own music chambers); and the list goes on.

As they say, though, all things are relative. And, thus, to say that one has access to “absolutely” more of something now, or to something that never previously existed, is not to say that they have access to more or better… relative to what their predecessors had relative to their own time. Standards change.

If the death rate from cancer devolved back to that from 1960, would it be correct to say that’s acceptable because even then it was better than the survival rate from the 18th century? Of course not. Standards improve, and if the average person in a period can’t maintain their relative position over time in that moving standard, then we have declined as a society. Here is where America rests today.

99 To The One

Back to the chart; inflation for the last 40 years has hidden the 57% collapse in the standard of living for the average person. Nonetheless, if you’re fortunate enough to be at or successful enough to have earned a place at the top of the income charts, the situation is significantly reversed in your favor. While average American workers have seen their wages plummet by 57% over the past 40 years, in just 15 years (1992-2007) the 400 wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by 700%.

Now we have the complete picture: wages crumbling steadily lower year after year, decade after decade for “The 99%,” while earnings skyrocket for “The One Percent.” Is that acceptable? I don’t know… is going back to the cancer death rates of 1960 acceptable to you because that’s still better than it was in 1700?

Transmission Problems

Suffice to say that even after our massive economic/financial collapse of 2007/2008, our economic engine is running strong as the economy has fully recovered… as an engine (output and profitability exceed the high before the collapse). However, as could be observed after recovery from the 2000/2001 recession, ours is no longer an engine of economic progress broadening prosperity. The problem it seems is with our transmission, as the power of the engine is not distributed to improve the standard of life for all — or even just the majority — of Americans.

To this point, the causes of our transmission problems are equally obvious in terms of categories, although the actual analysis of those causes is more complex and beyond a simple blog post.

1) Taxation repression. As has been noted in this Presidential runnup, Romney’s 15% income tax rate because he doesn’t “earn it” though work but through investing his funds in the right slot machines on Wall Street is inherently unjust and inequitable. Billionaires now maintain the largest fortunes in history — while ordinary people who “earn” their income have been turned into “the working poor” paying significantly higher tax rates than the slot machine winners on Wall Street.

2) Systemic/structural unemployment. Technology always eliminates jobs faster than it creates new opportunities. With time though, technology tends to offer up more and better jobs, historically, given a long enough time horizon to adjust to the technological leap. In the meanwhile, gaps and dislocations occur. Given contemporary, unceasing acceleration in technology, our economy is in effect “permanently” reducing jobs (and creating structural unemployment). Today, the technological change and productivity increase is nearly continual…along with job redundancies.

 In our past, we as a society offered up income support and training programs to assist in the transition. Most importantly and effectively, we dealt with this structural unemployment by shortening the work week every few decades…until our current time. The basic work week at the Dawn of the Industrial Revolution was 7 days a week, 12 hours a day — an 84-hour week. For 200 years, our government steadily shortened the work week to our current 5 days a week, 8 hours a day — a 40-hour week — and our society grew steadily more prosperous.

Refusal of our government to shorten the work week (which is really voters’ economic and historic memory lapse put into practice by the reps they elect) is a systematic path that maintains massive unemployment — the strongest downward driver of average wages. Voters support and reinforce this process with a mantra of less government and hopeful/naive belief in the sanctity and divination of unfettered “free markets.” I’ve read other columnists and economists in Europe refer to their own version of this mantra as “Merkel’s Economic Taliban.”

3) Oligopolies. It is elementary (meaning basic Econ 101) capitalist theory that monopolies and oligopolies are cancers to be prevented. By definition they are caustic and anti/non-competitive — they have absolutely no productive place in any capitalist economy. Yet today, the global economy is overwhelmingly enmeshed with gigantic, non/less-competitive oligopolistic entities…the revered multi-nationals. Diminishment of our societies is an inevitable result.

4) Indebtedness. Most Western governments are well past the Rubicon in indebtedness. Nonetheless, it makes no sense to completely hollow-out and starve economies with some form of Milton Friedman-Hayek/Mises Austrian Economics Austerity (as done in Greece and Spain and Italy) — only to end up with an even larger default in the end. Had bond vigilantes accepted a 50% haircut at the beginning of Greece’s debt-crisis, Greece’s economy would have remained intact, and they would have salvaged a larger share of their debt obligations (rather than the 75% default with which they ended). In the end, around the world, all sovereign debt bond holders will take a haircut. It’s a fact. Reality. OK. Build up reserves and get ready for it. Once done, we can implement a proper system of running surpluses in good years and deficits in economic down years…and we the people will have to accept that this is as it must be.

It is time to address and correct this tragedy of the collapse in our standard of living…time to address the transmission problems with the economic engine of prosperity for all.