Archive for August, 2011

August 28, 2011

Hurricanes, Earthquakes & Why We Need Government

Some Americans seem to want to eliminate  our government, promising adamantly that the private sector can do it all! I am sure that businesses could figure out how to provide for-profit education and health insurance at ridiculously high prices, but there are some things they can’t do – and that is care about the basic well-being of American citizens. Why? Businesses are entities that create profit – and protecting and caring for citizens does not accomplish this goal.

The reason we have a government is to make sure that the basic needs of our people are met, that they are protected from other countries and mother nature, and that we are provided a voice against large interest groups (such as corporations). This is because we the people believe that we stand stronger united as one.

We don’t seem to understand that corporations don’t care if we live or die unless of course they are making a profit off our life or death (e.g. Rick Perry’s “Dead Peasant Insurance“). Corporations don’t care about the well-being of US citizens, and why should they? It is the government’s job to look out for the people’s basic needs and safety. Things like FEMA, meteorology, the army, prisons, education and health care simply can’t be provided only by the private sector – as, again, caring and profit often get in each other’s way. Infrastructure, too, is something that is difficult to profit from. Bridges, tunnels, roads, and trains are all extremely expensive to build, yet don’t bring in a whole lot of cash. Profit isn’t, and can’t be, the only driving force for a nation.  As we recuperate from hurricane Irene and the recent earthquake, lets celebrate the fact that we enjoy having, and desperately need, a functional government!

August 19, 2011

Jon Stewart on Income Inequality: US Between Ivory Coast and Uruguay!

Watch the Daily Show video here.

August 15, 2011

The Brain Finds Paying Taxes Pleasurable

The prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science published a paper by University of Oregon researchers who found that paying taxes was associated with pleasure in the brain. Though the article was published in 2007, their findings are interesting, and appears to have relevance to political issues today (especially the part about egoists).

A cognitive psychologist and two economists placed subjects in an magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) machine after giving them $100. While participants watched their money go to the food bank through mandatory taxation, researchers scanned their brain activity using functional imaging. After paying taxes, participants could choose to voluntarily donate more (charity) or keep the remainder for themselves. Voluntary giving brought the most pleasure, but mandatory giving also significantly increased activation in the pleasure circuit.

The surprising thing to scientists is that mandatory giving brings reward. And even though charity is more pleasurable, the researchers warn against a higher reliance on charitable giving. One of the authors points out that in a voluntary environment, lots of people free-ride and donations fall. The authors report to Science Daily :

“Paying taxes can make citizens happy. People are, to varying degrees, altruists. On top of that they like that warm glow they get from charitable giving. Until now we couldn’t trace that in the brain. Neural activation from mandatory taxation helps predict who will give. We could call the people whose brains light up more when money goes to charity than to themselves altruists. The others are egoists. Based on what we saw in the experiments, we can use this classification to predict how much people are willing to give when the choice is theirs.”

The same pleasure circuit is activated in response to food and sex. So want to feel some pleasure while making the world a better place? Pay your taxes and donate a little extra voluntarily. Now what to do about all those egoists…

August 11, 2011

Stephen Colbert’s First SuperPAC Ad for Rick Perry

In the past few months, Stephen Colbert has been setting up his own SuperPAC.  You know, those strange entities that, after the Citizens United v FEC decision, serve as funnels for unlimited corporate funding for campaigns?  Well yeah,  it appears he’s set on using it to  wreak absurd havoc in the Republican primaries.

August 11, 2011

Why not a JOBS Super-Committee?

The government recently assigned 12 members of Congress to the debt ‘Super Committee’ with the goal of slicing $1.5 trillion in federal deficits over the next 10 years.

Yet, we see no ‘Super Committee’ for job creation.

What do you think is more important to our long-term success: reduced debt or more jobs?

Corporations are making record profits right now. They have continuously made record profits over the past 30 years. They prefer debt reduction because it keeps the middle class from gaining power. They don’t want to lose their amazing and never-ending perks such as continuously shrinking taxes and regulations.

Increasing employment opportunities will help move the economy in the right direction. It will not only increase investor confidence, but will also increase purchasing power of the middle class. We may not be able to get  unemployment to zero percent, but shouldn’t a team be assigned to try?

As our tax dollars are paying for a group of 12 to ponder how to cut more of the people’s few remaining benefits – shouldn’t a group also be assigned to address the core issue behind our puttering economy?

August 10, 2011

Social Class and Social Behavior

Why, George… you’re worth more dead than alive.”

Mr. Potter’s famous line from It’s a Wonderful Life was indicative of him being a greedy, selfish man, although anyone who has seen the movie does not need to hear it to have formed that impression of him.  Mr. Potter wanted to foreclose on cash-strapped home-owners.  He stated that providing assistance to the less well-off would create “a discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class”.  He did what he could to profit and benefit from the people.  All were means to prop up his greed, an end that would not and could not be sated.  He became the perfect example of what Americans hate about the rich and what the socially-conscious rich have tried not to become.

Mr. Potter is also an extreme example of the cognition and behavior exhibited by the upper-class.  Well, at least that’s what has been posited by a recent study published in Current Directions in Psychological ScienceThe study, headed by Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, argues that social class involves more than just the quality and quantity of material possessions.  Rather they argue an individual’s social class is a cultural identity that influences how one thinks, feels and behaves.  Although a loud, resounding ‘Duh’ is probably echoing in your head right now, the study does make surprising observations regarding the more subtle aspects of social behavior.

For example, there were observable differences in nonverbal social engagement.  Specifically, when two participants of different social class were videotaped while meeting each other for the first time the upper-class participant showed little non-verbal engagement (ie: playing with their phone, not maintaining eye contact) while the lower-class participant presented in the opposite fashion (ie: responsive head nods, laughter).

It was also observed that upper-class participants were less accurate in judging the emotions of others via facial cues and less likely to be charitable than lower-class participants, who tended to be very empathically accurate and helpful towards others.

What could be the source of these differences?  Well, the authors postulate that it has everything to do with available resources.  Specifically, upper-class individuals tend to have enough resources to ensure a comfortable existence and have thus turned their cognitive focus inward toward the self.  The opposite seems to be the case for lower-class individuals, who tend not to have the resources to ensure survival and thus have to rely on others.  This would also provide explanation as to why upper-class individuals tend to attribute another individual’s problem to their disposition (“those unemployed are just lazy parasites”) while lower-class individuals would attribute the problem to an external situation.

What implications could these have for public policy?  Given the context of this blog, I’m pretty sure you have a good idea of one.  Well, there’s no need for speculation!  Keltner lays is out pretty simply:

“One clear policy implication is, the idea of nobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull.  Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’—this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society—is improbable, psychologically.”

There you have it folks.  Considering that the ideal of noblesse oblige has been the basis of our domestic economic policy for the past three decades, do we really need to ask how income distribution became so unequal?

August 8, 2011

Wisconsin Fights for the Middle Class

A day after the 6th largest drop of the Dow, Wisconsin takes on the fight of the middle class with its upcoming recall elections.

A high voter turnout in Wisconsin is expected, estimated (by MSNBC) to be around 70% of all registered voters.

It is nice that sometimes the people win. If we all get involved and speak up, we can make some real changes around here. Will the recall resonate nationally? The people are becoming angry with the obstructionism in Congress and continued tax breaks for the uber wealthy. The workers are finally speaking up and saying NO! No more hardships on the middle class.

Thank you, Wisconsin, for speaking up and fighting for middle class Americans.

August 6, 2011

Demand Anonymous Political Donations!!

It is becoming painfully clear: our government is becoming more and more dysfunctional and politicians aren’t very interested in creating jobs and strengthening the middle class. Here are 3 main reasons why making political donations anonymous makes sense:

1. If politicians don’t know where their money comes from – it will be more difficult to promote the donator’s interests. In other words, it reduces conflict of interest.

2. Let the Supreme Court make all the rulings it wants!! A company wants to donate all of it’s profits anonymously to a politician or political party? Great! Donate away!

3. Unlike politics, other professional fields actually care a whole lot about conflicts of interest. In scientific research, for example, doctors are required to write out all financial relationships and how they might impact their current research. Thus, focusing on conflict of interest in government makes sense!

Let’s make it the norm that companies and individuals cannot disclose their identity to donation recipients. It may take a little brain power at first, but shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out – others have instated relatively successful systems to reduce conflicts of interest. Here are a few suggestions on how we could get this done:

1. Instate an ethical regulation or law that requires that politicians do not have knowledge of their funders, and if they do, they will be removed from office.

2. Politicians would need to work with a middle-man that manages their contributions, which would keep all identifying information private and only release dollar information.

3. We the people would need to demand that freshman representatives (remember, we do have our votes) will instate ethical regulations, and vote them out of office if they don’t fulfill these promises.

4. In order to keep tabs of who is making political contributions, aggregate data should be released on how much each corporation/person donated above a certain amount without releasing which party or politician in particular benefited from the donation.

We can fight back and demand an equal political voice.

August 5, 2011

It’s all about the Revenue!

Earlier this week Rachel Maddow posted this chart on Maddow Blog illustrating how the debate regarding the debt ceiling has changed over the last 30 years or so. Now that the S&P has downgraded the US credit rating to AA+, possibly due to the political circus surrounding the debt ceiling, we really need to focus on passing real legislation that actually is aimed at increasing jobs, growing the economy, and increasing revenues.

August 5, 2011

US Rating is Downgraded by S&P

This evening the US had its rating downgraded from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s. The US had had its AAA rating since 1941, and has never been downgraded before. Washington is protesting the decision, arguing that S&P made math errors and should be ignored by lenders. This rating reduction will likely have several negative consequences for the already weak US economy.


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