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In a much discussed dairy I authored yesterday, I included a very informal poll asking kosacks who they favored in a hypothetical democratic primary. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton.

If you ask me, Warren should really consider getting into the 2016 contest. I also think Hillary needs to do a better job connecting with key democrats on important progressive economic issues.

Discuss
January 2, 2014. Manhattan. When Goldman Sachs invites you to a party, you go, especially if you have your sights set on a Presidential run in 2016. And that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton did two weeks ago. Speaking to the exclusive crowd of millionaires and billionaires, the former Secretary of State let them know in no uncertain terms that another Clinton White House would once again be on Wall Street’s side in America’s culture war.
Poll

Who would you vote for in a Democratic Primary

18%52 votes
66%188 votes
3%9 votes
11%33 votes

| 283 votes | Vote | Results

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It’s tempting to view the results of last week’s European elections as a populists backlash against the forces of globalization and broader institutional integration. After all, a string of nationalist parties – from France’s far-right Front National, to Britain’s anti-European UK Independence Party, to Denmark’s Danish People’s Party, to even a neo-nazi party in Greece – all enjoyed impressive electoral victories. Similarly, many political pundits and those in the press are likewise heralding the surprise victory of several newer, far-left political parties as further evidence of a pan-european rejection of the globalization project. As Nouriel Roubini writes in Project Syndicate, “the backlash against globalization has arrived.”
“This new nationalism takes different economic forms: trade barriers, asset protection, reaction against foreign direct investment, policies favoring domestic workers and firms, anti-immigration measures, state capitalism, and resource nationalism. In the political realm, populist, anti-globalization, anti-immigration, and in some cases outright racist and anti-Semitic parties are on the rise.”
And it’s not just Europe seeing a worrying rise of far-right nationalism. Across Asia, for instance, a number of countries, such as Japan, India, Turkey, and Russia, have increasingly seen their politics dominated by more nationalistic (and in many cases, more authoritarian factions). The same can also be said of South America, as well as right here in the United States, were a once insurgent TEA Party has now successfully wrestled ideological control of the Republican party away from the party’s more moderate political elements.

At the heart of this backlash, according to Roubini is an “anemic economic recovery,” which has provided a populist opening for parties pushing protectionist economic policies, while playing on xenophobic fears. At face value, Roubini’s analysis that a poor economic recovery is to blame for the rise of radicalized nationalistic parties appears strong. That is, however, until you consider the fact that in many important respects, the anemic economic recovery which Roubini speaks of, is in fact a fantasy. If we were to look at performance of the stock market, for instance, we would see that not only have the losses from the 2008 crash been regained, but additional stock value has likewise been added.  Similarly, corporate profitability is at an all-time high, as are the capital holdings of many multinational conglomerates.  

Indeed, from the perspective of the 1% – and perhaps more accurately, from the perspective of the 1% of the 1% – times have never been better. Of course, for the rest of us, the past 6-years haven’t exactly been times of plenty.

Thus, it is not a poor economic recovery that is to blame for the rise of radicalized nationalism, but rather the unequal distribution of economic spoils. And on this point, globalization should not be blamed for growing economic disparity, or for that matter, for growing economic insecurity.  At its core, globalization is merely the shrinking of space and time. Or put differently, globalization is the process through which the world becomes a global village. Unfortunately for globalists, the economic policies so often attributed with the phenomenon of globalization have nothing to do with globalization specifically, and are instead the result of a growing global embrace of neoliberal capitalism. Globalization is merely the vehicle through which neoliberal capitalists further enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of the globe.

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Should we abandon the capitalist project?

53%25 votes
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| 47 votes | Vote | Results

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Apparently Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Charlie Baker, forgot to register his domain name. Fortunately, I snagged it up.  

Now mind you, Baker is running a fairly competitive race in liberal Massachusetts.  As such, he’s taken pains to paint himself as a moderate.  Of course, the 7 or so TEA baggers we have in Massachusetts aren’t exactly pleased by this.  So I figured, let’s do a little PR for Baker...you know, really help him expand his appeal to the lunatic right.

While we’re at it, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea getting www.charliebaker.org as popular as we can, particularly with popular search engines.

I’m open to any ideas and would love any help.

Any interest?

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It's no secret that some American evangelicals have been behind recent legislative pushes in Uganda and other African countries to criminalize homosexuality.  These legislative efforts, which enjoy broad support among many so-called "religious leaders" in Africa, have directly attributed to a rise in violence against African LGBT communities.

Fortunately, not all religious leaders are buying into the hate.

Despite facing grave personal dangers, Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, and Anglican priest who has subsequently had his salary withheld for his support of LGBT rights, continues to speak out.

For ministering to homosexuals, Senyonjo has become estranged from Uganda's Anglican church. He was barred from presiding over church events in 2006 when he wouldn't stop urging his leaders to accept gays. The parish that he once led doesn't even acknowledge his presence when he attends Sunday services there, underscoring how his career has suffered because of his tolerance for gays in a country where homosexuals —and those who accept them — face discrimination.

"They said I should condemn the homosexuals," he said, referring to Anglican leaders in Uganda. "I can't do that, because I was called to serve all people, including the marginalized. But they say I am inhibited until I recant. I am still a member of the Anglican church."

As violence and persecutions continue to mount in Uganda, Rev. Senyonjo bravery in the face of such terrifying evil is truly inspiring.  

Though I am not personally a religious man, I do believe in God, and I believe God smiles upon Rev. Senyonjo and his much needed ministry.

For those of you who haven't yet seen it, please spare the two-and-a-half minutes it takes to watch the trailer for "God Loves Uganda."  It's truly a powerful message.

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Don’t be fooled.  Conservatives aren’t in love with America or its constitution.  They’re infatuated with a dangerous and misleading fallacy of small government, and committed to hollowing out the nation-state.
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40,000 conservative evangelical Christians attend a "prayer" held by The Response shortly before the 2012 election.
Is Rick Perry God’s Chosen Warrior For President?  America’s New Conservative Evangelical Movement Certainly Thought So Once, And It Increasingly Appears Rick Perry Hopes They Will Once More.
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Is the Christian Right in decline?

50%15 votes
23%7 votes
26%8 votes

| 30 votes | Vote | Results

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Electrical device funded in-part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) helps paralyzed men move legs.
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A few years back, some progressive Democrats were sitting around talking about important issues facing both Massachusetts and the United States more broadly.  Tired of mere talk, this group of committed social activists decided to do something about it, and thus Progressive Massachusetts was born.

For those of you unfamiliar with Progressive Massachusetts, they are hands down, one of the finest examples of what grassroots mobilization can achieve.  In just a few short years, they have emerged as the progressive voice here in Massachusetts and are well worth emulation in other states.  

In the last year alone, Progressive Massachusetts has:

Collected more than 17,000 signatures for ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage and provide earned sick time for all workers.
Successfully stopped regressive welfare reform from passing on Beacon Hill.
Lobbied for the most progressive election laws in the country (this legislation is expected to soon pass).
Provided key endorsement of progressive candidates in contested Democratic primaries.

But Progressive Massachusetts isn't looking backwards, nor is it resting on its laurels.  Moving forward, Progressive Massachusetts:

“Believes that Massachusetts should lead the nation in protecting working families and expanding the middle class, while reducing poverty and inequality.  We have the economic engine, creative and intellectual capital, environment, historic models, energy and inspiration to reinvest in, re-create and grow a true Common Wealth.”

FIVE YEAR AGENDA

Quality, Free, Publicly-Funded Education:
Within Five Years:  Free, publicly funded education available for all residents, from pre-K through community, vocational or four-year college.
A First Step:  Universally, publicly funded pre-K available for all residents.

Quality, Affordable Health Care:
Within Five Years:  A Single Payer system, similar to Medicare for All.
A First Step: A Public Option which enables any resident to pay into an enhanced MassHealth system.

Affordable, Decent House, In Safe, Vibrant Neighborhoods:
Within Five Years:  Universal access to housing that costs no more than ⅓ of your household income.
A First Step:  Increased funding for rental assistance programs.
Jobs That Pay a Living Wage:
Within Five Years:  Every job pays a living wage, of at least $15/hour, and everyone has access to safe and reliable public transportation.
A First Step:  Enact Raise Up MA - Increased minimum wage indexed to inflation and earned sick time.

An Equitable Tax System:
Within Five Years:  Constitutional amendment to implement a graduated income tax.
A First Step:  Enact legislation that raises $1 billion in new revenue from the wealthiest residents and closes corporate tax loopholes.

Who We Have Heard From Already...And Who Is Yet To Come :)

Already, Progressive Democrat, Congressman Jim McGovern as addressed the conference, and later, delegates will hear from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, as well as several of the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Discuss
Discuss

In their book, Why Nations Fail, authors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson ask what one might think is a rather simple question: namely, why are some nation’s poor and others are not? Over the years, a number of leading economists and social observers have sought to provide greater clarity to this question by advancing various theories, which among other things have identified colonialism, environmental degradation, geographical disparities, and divergent culture attitudes as possible culprits.

Dissatisfied with these explanations, however, Acemoglu and Robinson began investigating this question for themselves and in the course of their research discovered a striking pattern. Notably, the authors identified a direct and cyclical causation, or what they characterize as a “strong synergy” tying the political and economic institutions of a country with its overall level of prosperity.

As Acemoglu and Robinson note, “countries differ in their economic success because of their different institutions, the rules influencing how the economy works, and the incentives that motivate people.” As an example, the author point to the stark differences between teenagers living in North Korea South Korea.
   

“Those in the North group up in poverty, without entrepreneurial incentive, creativity, or adequate education to prepare them for skilled work. Much of the education they receive at school is pure propaganda, meant to shore up the legitimacy of the regime; there are few books, let alone computers. After finishing school, everyone has to go into the army for ten years. These teenagers know that they will not be able to own property, start a business, or become more prosperous even if many people engage illegally in private economic activities to make a living."
By contrast, teenagers in South Korea are significantly more likely to receive “a good education, and face incentives that encourage them to exert effort and excel in their chosen vocation. South Korea is a market economy, built on private property.” But equally important to this equation is the fact that the South Korean state likewise “supports economic activity,” and has adopted a number of inclusive so-called “inclusive economic institutions, which foster broad-based economic activity and prosperity. “To function well,” Acemoglu and Robinson further argue, society also needs public services, such as “roads and a transport network so that goods can be transported; a public infrastructure so that economic activity can flourish; and some type of basic regulation to prevent fraud and malfeasance.” In sum, the authors conclude, “inclusive economic institutions need and use the state.”

Supplementing the activities of economic institutions are those of political institutions. Here too, Acemoglu and Robinson note that the most prosperous countries are those that adopt inclusive political institutions to complement their inclusive economic institutions. As Acemoglu and Robinson state:

“Politics is the process by which a society chooses the rules that will govern it. Politics         surrounds institutions for the simple reason that while inclusive institutions may be good         for the economic prosperity of a nation, some people or groups...will be much better off         by setting up institutions that are extractive. Where there is a conflict over institutions,         what happens depends on which people or group wins out in the game of politics—who         can get more support, obtain additional resources, and form more effective alliances. In         short, who wins depends on the distribution of political power in society.”

In societies where political institutions are tightly controlled by an elite ruling class, or what Acemoglu and Robinson dub 'extractive political institutions', economic institutions are, rather unsurprisingly, designed to disproportionately benefit those at the top. Conversely, political freedoms and individual liberties are often severely restricted in societies where prosperity and economic opportunity are narrowly vested. There is of course good reason for this. After all, economic growth is not simply the “process of more and better machines, and more and better educated people,” producing ever more valuable goods and resources. Economic growth is a transformative and often times, socially destabilizing process, rendering older, less socially useful goods, services and technologies obsolete, thus disrupting established vested interests (be it a manufacturer, or a banker, or whoever). This process, or what famed economist Joseph Schumpeter called 'creative destruction' is almost always opposed by those with a vested interest in the losing, less resourceful good, service, or technology. “Growth thus moves forward only if not blocked by the economic loser who anticipate that their economic privileges will be lost and by political losers who fear that their political power will erode.”

This phenomenon, according to Acemoglu and Robinson, helps to explain why many dictators and political tyrants are often so diametrically opposed to market innovations and technological advancements which could otherwise improve the overall economic conditions of the people they rule over. After all, even in the most dire economic nations (such as North Korea for instance) the political leadership enjoy rich and prosperous lives. The risk then of loosening their economic grip is perceived by many in positions of power as being too great irrespective of how lofty the potential monetary gain might be. Acemoglu and Robinson dub this the 'vicious circle.' The synergistic relationship which exists between extractive economic institutions and extractive political institutions introduces “a strong feedback loop,” whereby “political institutions enable the elites controlling political power to choose economic institutions with few constraints or opposing forces.” This same feedback loop similarly enable the political elites to structure subsequent changes to future political institutions and practices. “Extractive economic institutions, in turn, enrich the same elites, and their economics wealth and power help consolidate their political dominance.”

Admittedly, a stronger synergy exists between extractive economic and extractive political institution, than between their inclusive counterparts. This is so, as when “existing elites are challenged under extractive political institutions and the newcomers break through,” the newcomers are subject to few constraints (sounds eerily similar to what happened in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution). That said, not all feedback need be negative. The 'virtuous circle' as Acemoglu and Robinson call it, is consequently the result positive feedback, whereby citizens enjoy a more equal distribution of wealth, broad political empowerment, and more-or-less a level playing field.

Inclusive economic institutions are thus forged “on foundations laid by inclusive political institutions, which make power broadly distributed in society and constrain its arbitrary exercise.” Under these inclusive political regimes, it is incredibly difficult, though not impossible, to usurp power, or otherwise undermine the very widespread values and adopted characteristics of the inclusive economic and political order. Likewise, “those controlling political power cannot easily use it to set up extractive economic institutions for their own benefit,” as the democratic polities of such societies are naturally inclined to oppose such power grabs.

“Similarly, inclusive economic institutions will neither support no be supported by extractive political ones. Either they will be transformed into extractive economic institutions to the benefit of the narrow interests that hold power, or the economic dynamism they create will destabilize the extractive political institutions; opening the way for the emergence of inclusive political institutions. Inclusive economic institutions also tend to reduce the benefits the elites can enjoy by ruling over extractive political institutions, since those institutions face competition in the marketplace and are constrained by the contracts and property rights of the rest of society.”
For years, the United States served as a prime example of how the combination of inclusive economic and political institutions bred more prosperous, happy populations. But this is no longer the case. Today, the United States is a highly stratified country, and fact which is growing, not retreating. Our population is either increasingly rich, or increasingly poor. Our middle class is in shambles while the promise of the American Dream goes unfulfilled for far too many. Our political system is not only highly dysfunctional and seemingly incapable of working for the greater public good, but rather appears hellbent on extracting substantial harm on the American people, be it for partisan and ideological reasons, or out of simple want and greed. Daily, Washington showers the affluent and well-connected with corporate giveaways and tax breaks, all while obsessing over ever dwindling and inefficient entitlement spending and public services.

The breakdown of America’s political and economic institutions are very serious matters.  They are not easily fixed, but the longer the injustices perpetrated by this breakdown go ignored, the more worrisome one should grow.  After all, it was Victor Hugo, a man not wholly unfamiliar with social strife and stratification, who wrote:

“Suffering engenders passion; and while the prosperous blind themselves, or go to sleep, the hatred of the unfortunate classes kindles its torch at some sullen or ill-constituted mind, which is dreaming in a corner, and sets to work to examine society. The examination of hatred is a terrible thing.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
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Two days ago, World Vision, which employs more than 26,000 people and enjoys an annual budget of more than $2 billion, announced that they had decided to hire "gay Christians."  Predictably, the Christian Right freaked out, and now World Vision has seen the error of their way and has reversed course.
"The last couple of days have been painful," president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. "We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision's commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be."

"Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent," said Stearns. "Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we're asking you to forgive us for that mistake."

And then there's also this:
"What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs," said Stearns. "We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position."
It's worth having a read of the story.  It'll make you sad.  And make you wish more so-called "Christian organizations" had stronger backbones.
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