It’s Friday, Ya Bastids!

Today between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. I am not to be disturbed.

I will be sitting down during that time to tune in to the final broadcast of The Randi Rhodes Show.

I know, I know; let the snarky comments commence. Randi who? I thought she already quit. She’s still on the air? I thought he was dead. That kind of thing. Feh.

Since her Air America Radio debut, I have been an avid Rhodes listener. During the illegal, immoral incursion into a sovereign nation that was Iraq, Rhodes’ broadcast was indispensable. No broadcaster at the time was able to lay out the facts regarding Iraq in such a comprehensive, irrefutable manner. Rarely did a Randi Rhodes listener come away from her show without original insights regarding the news of the day. Her show was sublime, and I am really going to miss her.

Randi has stated that her departure is her own choice, and to a large extent I think it’s true. I suppose she’ll want to spend more time with The Howard and more time visiting her beloved Costa Rica, perhaps one day to even succeed at banishing the Brooklyn out of her Spanish. Her take was that she can move on to other ways to try to effect a difference. I hope that’s true, and I hope she does.

I think what she’s not saying is that the show no longer pays her. Her renewal earlier this year still seemed tenuous. XM-Sirius dropped her, and she’s sloughed off affiliates. Her only reliable outlet of late was the Internet network IHeart Radio, which does not offer advertising, only horrible music, during the breaks. Her salient observation regarding this is that these days, even talk radio is horribly polarized, and it’s not good for radio. Once upon a time, liberal and conservative talkers could coexist on the same station. No more. Now, it’s not enough to be able to draw an audience; now, you have to fit the format. This development may not be difficult for the cable news stations. For radio, it’s death.

It’s a shame. Of all the available media, radio is the most vital element to a national infrastructure. Think about it. The hurricane hits and your power is out. You can’t watch your television, you can’t surf the Internet, and your newspaper is not as up-to-the-minute as you require right now. But you do have that little transistor radio in that little junk drawer. And, if you’re lucky, someone will be broadcasting information you might find helpful.

This is not hypothetical for me, as I was in Raleigh for Hurricane Fran. My power was out for a week. Where do you think I turned to for my news and entertainment that week?

This is a country that is standing idly by during a severe commoditization of its vital national infrastructure. Bridges and roads are left to rot and fall down, the power grid is iffy, and, as reported last night on TRMS, our transportation industry has for decades been just dandy with sending out railroad cars that have a habit of exploding spontaneously. But media, too, is part of that infrastructure. It’s not just a business to be snapped up by the next media mogul. It is Revere’s midnight ride, and its strongest link, the radio, has been marginalized, to the point where after today, I will be denied hearing one of its best.

12 segments to beer. And that’s it.

Knockers up.

The Middle Class is not ‘Normal’

Editor’s Note: I do not normally lift entire opinion columns and reprint them here. However, I find the following to have been so important and compelling that I think it’s worth pushing the limits of fair use. I just don’t want to lose track of the points Thom Hartmann makes here.

Just so you know, we don’t own this column and have not aksed permission to print. Any eyebrow wiggling can be direted to brady @ kiav dot net.

But I think Thom will be cool with it.  —BB


There’s nothing “normal” about having a middle class. Having a middle class is a choice that a society has to make, and it’s a choice we need to make again in this generation, if we want to stop the destruction of the remnants of the last generation’s middle class. Despite what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or see on Fox News, capitalism is not an economic system that produces a middle class. In fact, if left to its own devices, capitalism tends towards vast levels of inequality and monopoly. The natural and most stable state of capitalism actually looks a lot like the Victorian England depicted in Charles Dickens’ novels. 

At the top there is a very small class of superrich. Below them, there is a slightly larger, but still very small, “middle” class of professionals and mercantilists – doctor, lawyers, shop-owners – who help keep things running for the superrich and supply the working poor with their needs. And at the very bottom there is the great mass of people – typically over 90 percent of the population – who make up the working poor. They have no wealth – in fact they’re typically in debt most of their lives – and can barely survive on what little money they make.

So, for average working people, there is no such thing as a middle class in “normal” capitalism.  Wealth accumulates at the very top among the elites, not among everyday working people. Inequality is the default option. 

You can see this trend today in America.  When we had heavily regulated and taxed capitalism in the post-war era, the largest employer in America was General Motors, and they paid working people what would be, in today’s dollars, about $50 an hour with benefits.  Reagan began deregulating and cutting taxes on capitalism in 1981, and today, with more classical “raw capitalism,” what we call “Reaganomics,” or “supply side economics,” our nation’s largest employer is WalMart and they pay around $10 an hour. 

This is how quickly capitalism reorients itself when the brakes of regulation and taxes are removed – this huge change was done in less than 35 years.  The only ways a working-class “middle class” can come about in a capitalist society are by massive social upheaval – a middle class emerged after the Black Plague in Europe in the 14th century – or by heavily taxing the rich.

French economist Thomas Piketty has talked about this at great length in his groundbreaking new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He argues that the middle class that came about in Western Europe and the United States during the mid-twentieth was the direct result of a peculiar set of historical events. According to Piketty, the post-World War II middle class was created by two major things: the destruction of European inherited wealth during the war and higher taxes on the rich, most of which were rationalized by the war.  This brought wealth and income at the top down, and raised working people up into a middle class. 

Piketty is right, especially about the importance of high marginal tax rates and inheritance taxes being necessary for the creation of a middle class that includes working-class people. Progressive taxation, when done correctly, pushes wages down to working people and reduces the incentives for the very rich to pillage their companies or rip off their workers.  After all, why take another billion when 91 percent of it just going to be paid in taxes?

This is the main reason why, when GM was our largest employer and our working class were also in the middle class, CEOs only took home 30 times what working people did.  The top tax rate for all the time America’s middle class was created was between 74 and 91 percent.  Until, of course, Reagan dropped it to 28 percent and working people moved from the middle class to becoming the working poor.  

Other policies, like protective tariffs and strong labor laws also help build a middle class, but progressive taxation is the most important because it is the most direct way to transfer money from the rich to the working poor, and to create a disincentive to theft or monopoly by those at the top.

History shows how important high taxes on the rich are for creating a strong middle class. If you compare a chart showing the historical top income tax rate over the course of the twentieth century with a chart of income inequality in the United States over roughly the same time period, you’ll see that the period with the highest taxes on the rich – the period between the Roosevelt and Reagan administrations – was also the period with the lowest levels of economic inequality.

You’ll also notice that since marginal tax rates started to plummet during the Reagan years, income inequality has skyrocketed.

Even more striking, during those same 33 years since Reagan took office and started cutting taxes on the rich, income levels for the top 1 percent have ballooned while income levels for everyone else have stayed pretty much flat. Coincidence? I think not.

Creating a middle class is always a choice, and by embracing Reaganomics and cutting taxes on the rich, we decided back in 1980 not to have a middle class within a generation or two.  George H.W. Bush saw this, and correctly called it “Voodoo Economics.”  And we’re still in the era of Reaganomics – as President Obama recently pointed out, Reagan was a successful revolutionary. 

This, of course, is exactly what conservatives always push for. When wealth is spread more equally among all parts of society, people start to expect more from society and start demanding more rights.  That leads to social instability, which is feared and hated by conservatives, even though revolutionaries and liberals like Thomas Jefferson welcome it. 

And, as Kirk and Buckley predicted back in the 1950s, this is exactly what happened in the 1960s and ’70s when taxes on the rich were at their highest. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the consumer movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement – social movements that grew out of the wealth and rising expectations of the post-World War II era’s middle class – these all terrified conservatives.  Which is why ever since they took power in 1980, they’ve made gutting working people out of the middle class their number one goal.

We now have a choice in this country. We can either continue going down the road to oligarchy, the road we’ve been on since the Reagan years, or we can choose to go on the road to a more pluralistic society with working class people able to make it into the middle class.  We can’t have both.  

And if we want to go down the road to letting working people back into the middle class, it all starts with taxing the rich. The time is long past due for us to roll back the Reagan tax cuts.  

Visit and please, listen to The Thom Hartmann Program every chance you get. 

Shinseki – Sterling

Eric Shinseki has served since 2009 as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Many of us remember him fondly as the then Army Chief of Staff what testified to the Senate during the run-up to the invasion of a then-sovereign Iraq that Iraq post-invasion would require “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.”

This ran counter to Donald Rumsfeld’s estimate, which was, officially, “seven Marines and a slingshot.”

Shinseki was later fired.

It sucks to be right.

Now Shinseki is being leaned on to resign due to revelations that the VA in Phoenix cooked the books regarding veterans’ represented access to care versus the real numbers. Lack of access, it is said, has killed 40 veterans. The American Legion says he should resign. Even our friend Paul Rieckhoff is asking IAVA members to chime in with a poll of confidence.

Veterans’ issues have been a bone of contention for liberals for quite some time, and it is among the most worthy of issues. However, I would ask that every time you hear it suggested that a member of the Obama cabinet resign, you should hear a little bell ringing.

If Shinseki resigns, President Obama will have to replace him. Candidates must endure Senate hearings. This administration is already anticipating confirmation hearings for HHS. If these conservagoats can strong-arm more cabinet staff into resigning and make it appear as if there is some disgrace regarding it, mo’ better for their constant, active sabotage machine.

Look for more calls from the right for more folks to resign. In the meantime, it is hoped that Shinseki can get to the bottom of this and implement the proper, robust reforms.

Nearly two weeks since the NBA banned him for life, Donald Sterling is apologizing and asking for forgiveness in his first public interview after a leaked recording showed him making racist comments in a phone call with his reported girlfriend.

Sterling recorded an exclusive interview with Anderson Cooper – which will air at 8 p.m. Monday on CNN – where he said “I’m a good member who made a mistake and I’m apologizing and I’m asking for forgiveness.”

“Am I entitled to one mistake, am I after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again,” 80-year-old Sterling said.

I’ll say it again: This problem ain’t that Sterling disparaged African-Americans. The problem is that Sterling said the he, the owner of an NBA team, doesn’t like X group of humans attending NBA games.

As you may be aware, game attendance = dollars. I think he could have said he didn’t want polar bears attending NBA games and he’d be in hot water (assuming that polar bears buy tickets to basketball games). Not as much. But some. The guy can apologize all he wants for racist comments. It doesn’t address that his comments were in tandem potentially business-killing. That’s the real reason the NBA chose to punch the guy in the windpipe rather than to slap his wrist.

Sal. Trust me. Just put some brothers up on the wall.

That Deficit Spending Bullshit

The big lie told over and over again becomes truth. This was an observation of Herman Goebbels, and a lesson learned well by Ronnie Raygun, Roger Ailes and their heirs commanding the current right wing lie machine.
The biggest and most effective of the Raygunner’s many lies is the mythic evil of deficit spending.  This notion is now accepted as gospel by nearly every purveyor of conventional beltway wisdom. NPR loves it, NBC News courts it, and no one is heard to question its value who expects any respect on Sunday morning television… Paul Krugman excepted, although it is not clear how much actual respect he gets.

The deficit lie is a particularly pernicious and especially suited to the purposes of the GOOP. After all, if the government is forced to balance its budget it cannot spend in an economic downturn, and it cannot effect the programs it needs to carry out its most important missions. Infrastructure spending, maintenance of the social safety net, and most important for the GOOP… regulation.
The best lies work because they carry some kernel of truth that the masses can identify with… such as the notion that a government budget should be like a household budget. Doesn’t every responsible household balance its budget? People think they do because frugality is among the bedrock common sense values of the USA… and all bedrock common sense Americans honor it. The problem is this is not true.

Since the beginning of modern times, deficit spending has been the secret to accruing wealth in the middle class. It is access to credit, and the educated use of it, that makes the middle class. People who do it well join the club… people who screw it up are the people right wingers didn’t want the government to help with their mortgages back in 2009.
The financier Felix Royhatyn is said to advised young couples to buy a house they could not afford and plan to grow into the debt. Indeed, the heart of the middle class portfolio is the family home, still the engine of the economy and still acquired by deficit spending. Like the government, betting that someday, if necessary, the money can be raised to manage the debt, the middle class family bets it will always be able to manage the thirty-year motgage. Indeed, smart families take on more debt, buying additional real estate, laying it off on accruing equity over time. The more real estate you manage, the more middle class you become.

As I have already pointed out, this can get you into trouble. Just look at the recent real estate mess. None-the-less, and liberals hate this… the loans that got people in trouble were taken out by people who should not have been getting them. They were the work or sharpers and fraudulent sellers and mostly banks that would steal from their grandmothers. Still, people who were not naive found better lenders, bet on a rising market and managed to get out before the bubble burst , made money.  Deficit spending will make you rich if you know how to do it. That’s how family fortunes, some big ones, but mostly small, carefully cultivated ones, are grown.

One advantage that the government has over the average homeowner, of course, is its ability to boost its income any time it wants to. Raising taxes is unpopular, but RESPONSIBLE governments have done it many times over the years to pay for wars, for example, build infrastructure and do the other things necessary. Of course, people who believe we need to “balance the budget” do not believe in responsible government.