Nel's New Day

December 31, 2012

Myths, Odd Stories

For the end of the year, a few myths that conservatives have pushed enough to persuade some progressives—and the rest of the populace–in their validity.

  1. Social Security is causing the deficit. No, it doesn’t! Social Security would be self-sustaining for the next few decades if the government would just replace the $2.7 trillion that it took out of the Social Security fund. And it could be permanently self-sustaining if the tax were proportionately raised on the wealthy.
  2. The “morning-after pill” causes abortions. No it doesn’t!  Also known as Plan B, the pill just delays ovulation, the egg’s release, but it doesn’t cause abortions. It works the morning after unprotected sex, not the morning after fertilization. Because sperm takes up to five days to fertilize an egg, emergency contraception allows time for the sperm to die off before an egg is released.
  3. Tax cuts help the economy. No they don’t! Maine governor Paul LePage just found that out—and he’s surprised. After the tax cuts didn’t grow the state’s economy, he slowed payments for bonds. That didn’t work so he claimed more tax cuts would solve the problem. Maine now faces its largest deficit in history and is considered the worst state in the nation for business.
  4. Alan Greenspan is gone. No, he isn’t. The Fed chair behind the great recession during George W. Bush’s terms, the man who ignored the $8 trillion housing bubble because he believed in the “integrity” of banks, may not have an official position in the government but he’s working with “Campaign to Fix the Debt.” This is the group of more than 80 CEOs that has raised over $60 million to lobby to reductions in corporate taxes made up for added costs to poor and elderly, including lessening Social Security payments.
  5. Republicans want to be bipartisan. No, they don’t. If they were, we would have increased the minimum wage to $10; that’s still $.40 under what $7.25 would be if indexed to inflation. We would have had transparency in campaign finance instead of the opaque wall that the Supreme Court created through Citizens United. We would have had a minimum tax on millionaires, a non-discrimination act in employment, a U.N. treaty to protect the equal rights of the disabled, and the Payment Fairness Act to ensure that men get the same pay as men.  

Beyond the myths are the stories that tell how peculiar far-right conservatives are. Possibly the oddest story of the year—and there’s a lot of competition—is the one about Dick Armey’s separation from FreedomWorks after being a co-founder of the ultra-conservative Tea Party group. At first, it appeared to be a difference of opinion with Matt Kibbe, the organization’s president. Freedomworks offered Armey $8 million to leave, and he walked. But the story become even more bizarre.

Washington Post reported that the day after Labor Day Armey went to the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide wearing a holstered gun. Army’s assistance took two top employees off the premises, and Armey suspended several others. The coup lasted six days before Armey was gone, and the ousted employees had returned, thanks to Illinois millionaire Richard J. Stephenson who offered to pay Armey $400,000 annually during the next 20 years if he would leave.

After Armey’s departure, Stephenson put over $12 million into two Tennessee corporations that then fed the money into FreedomWorks’ Super-PAC for a last-minute campaign push. A goodly sum, $1.7, was provided to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), Stephenson’s local congressman, in his disastrous campaign against Iraqi veteran winner Tammy Duckworth . Nobody’s talking, but two watchdog groups have asked the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate these donations.

Add to this, the bizarre story of Washington, D.C.’s police investigation of David Gregory after he help up two empty high-capacity magazines while questioning NRA’s Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press two days before Christmas. Possession of the 30-round magazine is illegal in the city where the program was filmed. But the police did nothing about Armey’s armed security guard carrying a concealed weapon, also illegal in Washington, D.C.

Three federal judges in California, two appointed by Ronald Reagan and the other by George H.W. Bush, have ruled that only publishers have the right to determine the content of newspapers. The case started in 2006 when reporters gave the address of a lot that Rob Lowe, the publisher’s friend, wanted to develop. Lowe complained, and the publisher sent letters of reprimand to the reporter and three editors. The remaining employees joined the union, and the publisher fired them for this affiliation. Yes, wealthy people can purchase the control of the media in the United States.

This is something that should be closed down! A website called “Potential Prostitutes” allows anyone—anyone!—to post a woman’s photo, phone number, and location without her consent. Anyone wishing to be removed from the site must pay $99.95.

Another “blame the woman” judgment comes from Iowa’s all-male Supreme Court. After Dr. James Knight, an Iowa City dentist, fired his female assistant because she was “irresistibly attractive” and a threat to his marriage. Melissa Nelson, employed in Knight’s office for ten years, sued, and lost in what Knight’s lawyer called a home-run for family values. “These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires,” Nelson’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, said. “If [the bosses] get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”  Nelson said, “I wore a long-sleeve or short-sleeve T-shirt and I wore scrubs.” She added that she’s “happily married.”

It’s just a few hours before midnight in Washington, D.C., the time when the 112th Congress can no longer address the fiscal issues of the country. Rumors fly about whether an agreement is close, whether the president is going to cave, whether there will be a disaster because of the stalemate.

“Tomorrow is another day,” as Scarlet O’Hara said at the end of Gone with the Wind 73 years ago. And tomorrow is the 113th Congress.

March 2, 2012

Study Shows Wealthy Less Ethical

After decades of trusting banks, Alan Greenspan finally admitted that he was mistaken: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” Rough translation—he thought that the financiers were ethical. Too bad he didn’t have access to a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the “upper class,” words, are more likely to behave unethically than those of us with less money.

Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues explored the ethics of the upper class and found that they were more likely to break the law while driving, lie in negotiation, and take candy from children. According to Paul Piff, the pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing.” Their experiments suggest that some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial.”

The tests used in the study ranged from studying video to seeing whether people obeyed traffic laws. In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in higher- status cars cut off other drivers at an intersection monitored by researchers, about double those in less costly cars. Additionally, almost half of the more expensive cars didn’t yield when a pedestrian entered the crosswalk while all of the lowest-status cars let the pedestrian cross.

Another test had participants playing a game in which a computer rolled dice for them, for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. Wealthier participants were more likely to lie about their score. “A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year,” said one the study authors. “So why are they more inclined to cheat?” According to Piff, poorer participants must rely more on their community and therefore adhere more to community standards. “Upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self- interested patterns of behavior,” he said.

Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said, “Greed has been on the upswing for 20 years. Wealth or power that comes with high socioeconomic status means you are indeed enabled to ignore other people and might think that rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you.”

The study doesn’t state that all wealthy people believe in one way and all poorer people behave differently. But it does show that many of the rich are more likely to lie and cheat for a small prize. The Wall Streeters who helped crash the economy probably knew they are doing something wrong. Or maybe not, if they this that rules don’t apply to them and greed is good. Earlier research has shown has shown that students who take college economics classes are more likely to describe greed as good.

Alan Greenspan learned his lesson too late for the nation’s well-being. It’s time for the bottom 99 percent to teach the rest of the wealthy this lesson.

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