Little Hoovers should ask: Are we in a Second Great Depression?

February 23, 2011

Stalking America and haunting the shadows of every capitol building in America today are people who would profess, if asked, that they fashion themselves in the mold of Herbert Hoover.  Little Hoovers, we might call them.  Unlike Hoover, and unlike the friendly “Little Hoover” phrase we might apply to them, the welfare of America is not their concern.  We might worry about that.

President Harry Truman in 1947 appointed former President Herbert Hoover to head a commission on how to reform the federal government.  I do not know of a high school history text that even mentions this effort today.

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Hoover’s commission made 273 recommendations that were taken to heart, then taken to Congress.  Many were enacted into law.

Several states followed the example, as in Utah and famously in California. These groups were often called “Little Hoover” commissions.  In no case that I have found did any of these commissions ever recommend stripping union collective bargaining agreements out of any situation.

But again, this history is mostly lost.  Hoover is remembered today for his failure to stop the Great Depression, for his seeming unwillingness to do what was necessary in great enough effort to relieve the nation’s serious hurts.  That’s too bad, really.

Herbert Hoover was not opposed to government action to fix the depression on most counts.  In his correspondence with Franklin Roosevelt, especially after Roosevelt replaced him in the presidency, Hoover often complained that Roosevelt’s actions were in the right vein, but too much.

We should remember this.

Are we in a Great Depression?  Economically, technically, our nation is in “recovery.”

Realistically, our nation is teetering on the brink of great financial disaster.  Sadly, most people ignore the lessons of history, and consequently, actions of many governmental units today seem driven to push the nation over the brink.  Home prices have not recovered.  Millions are out of work — millions of highly-trained workers cannot find jobs with pay adequate to support a family.

We appear not to have learned these lessons that should not have been forgotten:

  • Stimulus from the government creates demand, which fuels manufacturing recovery, and more jobs.  Tax cuts, such as Hoover’s 1932 tax cut for the wealthy, drive us deeper into recession.
  • Labor unions form vital components of a healthy manufacturing segment; they stand up for worker health and safety, for fair pay and work conditions that spur productivity.  When we ignore or fight unions, we damage economic productivity.  When we work with unions, we make progress.
  • Cracking the whip may get a temporary reaction from workers that looks good.  In the long run, if not immediately, such actions damage productivity and creativity.
  • Unions do not make the big financial decisions that cripple industry.  Unions don’t decide the products to be produced.  Unions cannot gamble a company’s future on ill-advised acquisitions or switches in corporate focus, usually.  Union demands for restrooms improve the sanitation and health of our food supplies.  Union demands for limited work hours lead to productive workers, better safety, and better products.
  • In almost every case where foreign corporations compete successfully with U.S. companies on high-tech and high-skill jobs, and take away U.S. jobs, the government of that foreign nation provides health care for all citizens, so that health care costs are not a cost of business.  In the case of most industrial nations, foreign pension laws are much stiffer than U.S. laws, stiffer in protecting generous benefits for pensioners.
  • All workers benefit when unions gain, traditionally.  It wasn’t Andrew Carnegie who invented the two-week vacation.
  • Workers can do more for consumers when they are treated well and listened to by company management.

I’m depressed at the nasty actions in so many places, in so many ways, designed to thwart progress to good ends, and instead drive our nation into mediocrity.  I find it difficult to post when there is so much disaster looming in so many places.

When political movements from the right go after one group with hammer and tongs, we might do well to remember the old, wise words.  With a full-on awareness of Godwin’s Law, we might do well to remember the words attributed to Martin Niemöller,  and the moral of that story:

“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.”

What has Scott Walker done for anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year, anyway?  So you should ask:  What has Scott Walker ever done for you, or your family?  If the bargaining rights of any union are removed, anywhere in the U.S., who will speak up for your vacation, pension, health care benefits, and job safety?  OSHA?  Are you sure?

Update: It’s not paranoia when they are coming after you with more ill-will than you can imagine — see this Mother Jones update. It appears some people didn’t learn anything from the Tucson shootings.


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Cover of Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism:  How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century

A book you should buy: Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century


Obama’s cabinet: Neal Boortz spreads hoax smear, months after debunking

July 23, 2010

Neal Boortz, the Georgia-based radio broadcaster, goes beyond irresponsible journalism.  After we caught Boortz spreading false tales about Hilary Clinton last year, I proceeded to ignore him.

Traffic links pointed to Boortz this morning — now we find he’s spreading a hoax about Obama’s cabinet’s qualifications, months after the guy who started the false story caught his error and retracted it.  [July 4, 2011 – If that link doesn’t work, try this link to Boortz’s archive.]

That’s not just irresponsible and sloppy:  Boortz clearly has a grudge and will tell any falsehood to push his agenda of hatred.

Birds of a feather:  Texas deficit champion Rick Perry with Neil Boortz, who tells whoppers about Clinton and Obama

Birds of a feather: Texas deficit champion Rick Perry, who refused to talk about his $18 billion deficit in Texas, with Neil Boortz, who spread a hoax about Hillary Clinton in 2008, and now spreads old hoaxes about President Obama.

Boortz posts this at his site, probably as a warning for what his philosophy of reporting is:

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that justifies it.”

Frederic Bastiat

Just before Thanksgiving last year, a J. P. Morgan official wrote a humorous piece of conjecture for his weekly newsletter — a week when most of the markets in the U.S. were closed, and so there was little news.  Michael Cembalest, the chief investment officer for J. P. Morgan, without serious research wrote a piece wondering about what he saw as a lack of private sector experience in Obama’s cabinet in those positions in Cembalest’s view that are concerned most with job creation.

The spin meisters at American Enterprise Institute abused Cembalest’s rank conjectures as a “research report,” created a hoax saying Obama’s cabinet is the least qualified in history, and the thing went viral among otherwise ungainfully-employed bloggers (a lot like Neil Boortz).

Cembalest retracted his piece when he saw, in horror, what had happened (but not before I was too rough on him in poking much-deserved holes in the AEI claim).

Cembalest called me before the end of that week, noting that he’d retracted the piece.

Nearly eight months later, full of vituperation but bereft of information, today Neil Boortz resurrected the hoax story on his blog (on his radio program, too? I’ll wager Boortz is double dipping with his false-tale telling . . .).

Here’s a series of falsehoods Boortz told:

Last year J.P. Morgan thought it might be interesting to look into the private sector experience of Obama’s Cabinet. America, after all, was in the middle of an economic disaster and the thought was that the president might actually look to some people with a record of success in the private sector for advice. So a study is done comparing Obama’s Cabinet to the cabinets of presidents going back to 1900. secretaries of State, Commerce, Treasury, Agriculture, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Energy and Housing and Urban Development were included. The J.P Morgan study looked at the percentages of cabinet members with prior private sector experience, and the results were amazing.

The presidential cabinet with the highest percentage of private sector experience was that of Dwight Eisenhower at around 58%. The lowest — until Obama — was Kennedy at about 28%. The average ran between 35% and 40% … until, as I said, Obama. Care to guess what percentage of Obama’s cabinet has prior private sector experience? Try 7%.

Here’s a start at the truth — try 11 times the experience Boortz credits:

All totaled, Obama’s cabinet is one of the certifiably most brainy, most successful and most decorated of any president at any time.  His cabinet brings extensive and extremely successful private sector experience coupled with outstanding and considerable successful experience in government and elective politics.

AEI’s claim that the cabinet lacks private sector experience is astoundingly in error, with 77% of the 22 members showing private sector experience — according to the [standards of the] bizarre chart [from AEI], putting Obama’s cabinet in the premiere levels of private sector experience.  The chart looks more and more like a hoax that AEI fell sucker to — and so did others.

Boortz is eight months late, and the whole truth short.  Shame on him.

Not just false stuff — old, moldy false stuff.   Atlantans, and all Americans, deserve better reporting, even from hack commentators.

_____________

Coda:  Sage advice, but . . .

Boortz includes this warning on his website:

ALWAYS REMEMBER
Don’t believe anything you read on this web page, or, for that matter, anything you hear on The Neal Boortz Show, unless it is consistent with what you already know to be true, or unless you have taken the time to research the matter to prove its accuracy to your satisfaction. This is known as “doing your homework.”

Great advice — but no excuse for sloppy reporting.  He should follow his own rule.  On this piece, Boortz didn’t do his homework in any fashion.  He’s turning in somebody else’s crap, without reading it in advance, it appears.


Texas standards: Students in the dark about “capitalism”

March 19, 2010

Tony Whitson from Curricublog made the killing observation:

BookTV [C-SPAN] this weekend has Steve Forbes talking about his new book,

“How Capitalism Will Save Us.”


With these new Social Studies TEKS, TX students won’t know what such a
book is about.

Small bit of humor from a truly sad situation.  One of the leaders of the Texas State Soviet of Education defended the evisceration and defenestration of social studies standards saying they didn’t need to listen to liberal college professors.

In economics, the professor was a conservative, well-respected economics professor from Texas A&M University, one of the most conservative state universities in the nation (with a Corps of Cadets numbering in the thousands and tradition deeper than Palo Duro Canyon and broader than the Gulf of Mexico).   Calling these people “liberal” is tantamount to complaining about the communism espoused by Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower — that is, it demonstrates a divorce from reality and rationality.

In the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge problem, but it’s more than a trifle.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully comprehend market economics in the U.S. without understanding what capitalism is, and how it works.  Teachers will be left to find their own materials to explain “free enterprise” and, if the students ever make it into a real economics course in college, they will discover “free enterprise” is a quaint, political term that is not discussed in serious economics circles.  Texas students will, once again, be pushed to the hindmost by Don McLeroy’s odd views of America and what he doesn’t want Americans to know.

For example, look at the Council for Economic Education — while “capitalism” is not the only word they use for market-based economies, you’ll have a tougher time finding any definition of “free enterprise.”  Or, more telling, look at the Advanced Placement courses, or the International Baccalaureate courses.  AP and IB courses are the most academically rigorous courses offered in American high schools.  The Texas TEKS step away from such rigor, however (while the Texas Education Agency rides Texas schools to add rigor — go figure).  IB courses talk a lot about enterprise, but they don’t censor “capitalism,” nor do they pretend it’s not an important concept.

At the very conservative and very good Library of Economics and Liberty (which every social studies teacher should have bookmarked and should use extensively), a search for “free enterprise” produces 77 entries (today).  “Capitalism” produces almost ten times as much, with more than 750 listings.

Which phrase do you think is more useful in studying American economics, history and politics?

Teachers will deal with it.  It’s one more hurdle to overcome on the path to trying to educate Texas students.  It’s one more roadblock to their learning what they need to keep the freedom in America.

Warren Buffett, Businessweek image

Capitalism - Warren Buffett - BusinessWeek image

Bernie Madoff (photo credit unknown)

Free Enterprise - Bernie Madoff

The real difference?  Literature on capitalism frequently address the issue of moral investments, and the need for some regulation to bolster the Invisible Hand in producing discipline to steer markets from immoral and harmful investments.  The essential history politics economic question of the 20th and 21st centuries is, can economic freedom exist without political freedom, and which one is more crucial to the other?  We know from every period of chaos in history when governments did not function well, but bandits did, that free enterprise can exist without either political freedom or economic freedom.  I think of it like this:

Capitalism

Free Enterprise

Adam Smith Blackbeard the Pirate
Warren Buffett Bernie Madoff
Investing Spending
Building institutions Taking profits
Retail Robbery
Wholesale Extortion
Save for a rainy day debt-equity swap
Antitrust enforcement to keep markets fair Don’t get caught, hope for acquittal
Milton Friedman P. T. Barnum
Ludwig von Mises Charles Ponzi
Friedrich von Hayek Richard Cheney, “deficits  don’t matter”
Paul Krugman Kato Kaelin
Stockholders Victims and suckers

OK Go – copyright, industry change, culture and technology, and great music

March 13, 2010

You’re internet and culture savvy — you probably already know all about this stuff.

OK Go’s music appeals to many.  The appeal convinced a major record label, Capitol/EMI, to sign the band to a deal.  OK Go worked hard to promote the music of the band, including videos.  Capitol looked at the videos, intensely creative works of art on their own, and pulled in the reins.  Okay to show the vids, the label said, but don’t allow downloads . . .

Minor twist on the old band meets label, band wins label story:  OK Go got out of the contract. They lost the label.

Now they’ve got an astounding new video to go viral, one that simply delights younger viewers and brings in older viewers with whispers of “shades of Rube Goldberg!”  (Who was Rube Goldberg?  Younger readers go here.)

NPR explains:

After the overwhelming success of the video for its 2006 song “Here It Goes Again,” in which its four band members execute a tightly choreographed dance routine built around a handful of treadmills, OK Go has lofty standards to live up to. With roughly 50 million views on YouTube, “Here It Goes Again” stands as one of the most popular music videos of the Internet era.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, the band set about constructing a painstakingly executed two-story Rube Goldberg machine, set to trigger in time to the music for its latest video, “This Too Shall Pass.” Although it starts out small, with a toy truck knocking over some dominoes, the contraptions that make up the machine rapidly get larger and much more complex — pianos are dropped, shopping carts come crashing down ramps, and one band member is launched headlong through a wall of boxes. After assembling a team of dozens of engineers to construct the set, more than 60 takes were needed to get everything working just right during filming.

Toughest part?  EMI, parent of Capitol, didn’t want to allow downloads of the music or video.

The band’s label, EMI, didn’t see things the same way. In an effort to maintain some control over the dissemination of the music video, EMI denied listeners the ability to embed it on their own Web sites and blogs. After receiving a deluge of complaints, the band eventually persuaded EMI to enable embedding. Soon afterward, however, OK Go parted ways with EMI to start its own record label, Paracadute.

NPR’s audio story is six minutes of fun, and learning.  Copyright, embedding and download issues — aren’t these the frontlines of new media legal discussion?

Personal quandary: I’m not sure that I don’t like this version of the song, with the Notre Dame marching band, better than the Rube Goldberg version.  What do you think?

Personal confession: Problems of mishearing lyrics abound.  I listened probably a dozen times thinking the refrain was “When the money comes.”  It makes more sense, and is much less cynical and wooish, with the real lyric, “When the morning comes.”

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Al Gore shows how green investing works

November 3, 2009

Then Vice President Al Gore campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, November 25, 1999.

Then Vice President Al Gore campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, November 25, 1999.

Among the more amusing about-faces in conservative knee-jerk politics is conservative criticism of Al Gore for being a successful investor.

No, I’m not kidding.

Back in April, Gore testified to a House Energy and Commerce Committee in April — one of the committees where Gore was a shining star when he was a Member — and he ran into a challenge from Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blakburn who tried to play bad cop in grilling Gore about his investment work.  Since leaving politics Gore has worked to put his money where his advocacy is, backing green industries and energy efficiency projects. Blackburn is a Republican representing Tennessee’s 7th District. Blackburn appears not to understand how cross-examination works.

In most discussions I’ve had on warming issues over the past two months, advocates for doing nothing almost always bring up Gore as as “profiteer” for investing in green businesses.

It’s as if conservatives and Republicans have forgotten how business works in a free-enterprise system, and they think that free enterprise is tantamount to communism.

T. Boone Pickens used to be a favorite witness for Republicans to call at Congressional hearings.  Pickens was, and still is, a staunch advocate of free enterprise, and he advocates a lot less regulation than most Democrats want.  Then Pickens’s investments, especially his vulture investments in dying companies where he’d sell off the assets and put the company out of existence, were touted by Republicans as indication that Pickens is a genius.

A hard look at Gore’s investments shows him to be nothing more than a free-enterprise advocate who leads the way in green investments.  He has made huge gambles in businesses that warming skeptics claim won’t work — and his investments have tended to pay off, to the great consternation of warming do-nothings who understand markets.

This story in the New York Times suggests just how well Gore has done, and how much his leadership in investing might benefit us.  It’s worth bookmarking for your next discussion on what we should do about global warming — because you know somebody will try to make it about Al Gore.  It just galls the heck out of conservatives and anti-science folks that Gore is right so often, and that he is such a practitioner of the Scout Law.

Anti-pollution is good business.  Reducing the dumping of poisons into the air and water makes sense, and it makes a better economy in the long run.  Sometimes it makes a better economy in the short run, too.  Gore stepped into the marketplace, a very capitalist act.  His investments paid off, demonstrating that markets do work, and demonstrating that green business is smart business.  What are Republicans and conservatives thinking in taking after Gore’s business success?

Oh — Boone Pickens? He used to have an office in Trammell Crow Tower when our offices at Ernst & Young LLP were a floor or so away.  We shared elevator rides many times, and he is in person as gracious and smart as he appeared in those Congressional hearings years ago.

His money today?  He’s investing in wind power, because he thinks we need to act now to reduce dependency on oil imports.

Maybe Republican anti-green politics is coming home to roost.

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Naomi Oreskes: The lecture Lord Monckton slept through, which he hopes you will not see

October 23, 2009

Here’s another example of where historians show their value in science debates.

Naomi Oreskes delivered this lecture a few years ago on denialism in climate science.  Among other targets of her criticism-by-history is my old friend Robert Jastrow.  I think her history is correct, and her views on the Marshall Institute and denial of climate change informative in the minimum, and correct on the judgment of the facts.

You’ll recognize some of the names:  Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, S. Fred Singer, and William Nierenberg.

Oreskes details the intentional political skewing of science by critics of the serious study of climate warming.  It’s just under an hour long, but well worth watching.  Dr. Oreskes is Professor of History in the Science Studies Program at the University of California at San Diego.  The speech is titled “The American Denial of Global Warming.”

If Oreskes is right — and I invite you to check her references thoroughly, to discover for yourself that her history and science are both solid — Lord Monckton is a hoaxster.  Notice especially the references after the 54 minute mark to the tactic of claiming that scientists are trying to get Americans to give up our sovereignty.

Nothing new under the sun.

“Global warming is here,  and there are almost no communists left,” Oreskes said.

Nudge your neighbor:

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No AT&T phone service for three weeks now . . .

October 3, 2009

I saw a story on the earthquakes in Indonesia yesterday that said in one city they had telephone service back in operation in a few hours.

We’ve gone without AT&T telephone service at our home for three weeks now.  Odd that repair service in Indonesia, with an earthquake, is better than repair service in Dallas, with  . . . rain?  Sunshine?  I’ll bet you can call Padang or Pariaman, Indonesia, before you can call our home in Dallas.  I fear that will be the case.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to telephone AT&T or contact them by e-mail — they ask a lot of information entered that most people won’t have handy before they respond at all (I don’t know the three mystery numbers in some odd corner of our phone bill, for example, and I don’t want to go rummaging through the files just to tell the company that their service doesn’t work, especially since I’ve already told them that three times — if I’m calling from a different phone, the bill isn’t even in the building, okay?).

If the customer can’t complain, AT&T doesn’t have any complaints to worry about, right?

“AT&T phone service held hostage, 21 days.”

How many more?  I wonder if they’ll make ransom demands.


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