Friday, August 30, 2013

The Sound of One Hand Typing

You would think with only one hand operating (minor surgery, nothing to worry about) I'd have some extra time on my hand (<-- see what I did there?) to write. Reality is never what we think it is, is it? Nevertheless, I'm going to put something to paper blog here.

I'm currently reading a biography on William Jennings Bryan: A Godly Hero.  I'm struck by how much I like him and the policies he espouses.  Well, until we start talking about "free silver" and how much he injects religion into politics.  But listen to this passage:

"In big cities, the private charities ran short of bread and clothing, and sympathetic local and state officials could muster more creativity than cash.  Detroit's mayor, Hazen Pingree, a Republican reformer, invited the hungary to grow potatoes on vacant city land.  By late fall, thousands of immigrant workers were sleeping under bridges and in city parks. 
Others tramped along highways and railroad tracks and listened to speakers such as Jacob Coxey, a wealthy Ohioan with a social conscience, who vowed to lead them on a march to Washington, "petitions with boots on", to demand federal jobs and an eight-hour day."

Forget that is sounds a lot like today.  Many will think it was the Great Depression, but it was actually the Panic of 1893.  You see, before FDR implemented a lot of financial reforms, we had "panics" on a regular basis.  After FDR, we had a relatively quiet (economically speaking)  period for some 60 years. And we remember who undid those reforms, right class?  Well Reagan undid a lot of them but the straw that broke the camel's back (in my opinion) was the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act.  And while it was a Republican Bill, the guy that signed it was a Democrat -- Bill Clinton.  (If you're interested in all that, you need to be interested in Robert Rubin.)

The more things change the more they stay the same.  In the 1896 election (McKinley vs. Bryan), John D. Rockefeller gave the Republican party $250,000 from Standard Oil profits.  According to my handy-dandy inflation calculator, that would be $6,790,596.24 in today's dollars.  That's 3 times what the Koch brothers donated to beat President Obama in 2012.  Well, that's 3 times of what we know about.  If you add up what we don't know about, the Koch brothers may have spent 10 times what Rockefeller spent

Do you understand why people obsess about the Citizens United decision now?  Fortunes are being spent to buy votes.  And with that much money buying, you can bet somebody is selling.

But let me end this with a twist.  With all the coverage on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Rachel Maddow had an interesting, little-known story. Before the march, when Bull Connor was locking up black people in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King and company were running out of cash to post bail for that many people. Enter a Rockefeller, this time by the name of Nelson.  He dropped $100,000 in cash on MLK's lawyer to pay the bail.  You don't want me to spoil the whole story.  Watch it when you have time.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don Brown
August 30, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

He's Reading Again

"There are two types of government..."

"There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below.

The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them."

William Jennings Bryan -- 1896

From Michael Kazin's book A Godly Hero.

1) I'm using Blogger to write this because I'm in a hurry. (And I hate it.)

2) History is a great place to learn something.

3) I consistently learn more from reading a book than I do surfing the internet.

(Really Blogger? I can't figure out how to turn the bold and italics buttons off in 3 tries? POS.)

Enough of the trickle down.  Let's try some trickle up.

Don Brown
August 17, 2013
(So much for saving time.)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

My Podcast List

About a month ago, I asked for some suggestions on podcasts from my Facebook and Twitter followers. The response was underwhelming. All is not in vain. I now have something to write about.

I'm not going to go to a lot of trouble linking these things. I assume everyone has a different way to get podcasts. I use a program on my iPhone called Downcast and I'm guessing you don't. I'm sure you'll figure out how to get these on your device.

The Rachel Maddow Show -- Still, far and away my favorite daily podcast. Rachel will occasionally drone on a little too long on the gay thing, but she's usually right about whatever it is she's droning on about. And if she's wrong, she admits it with a wit, sense of grace and honesty that is all too rare. Basically, I don't always agree with her but I like her even when I think she's wrong. And she isn't wrong very often. She's usually ahead of the pack.

MarketPlace -- Kai Ryssdal is my idea of the perfect host. I don't know why. He just has a great voice and a great style. He's normally LA-laid-back but he can bite when someone deserves it. I'm not really into money but I know I should keep up with it. Kai makes it easy. He's also an ex-Naval aviator. If you listen close, you'll occasionally hear it.

Fareed Zakaria's Global Public Square -- Now we're starting to get a little more serious. Fareed's expertise is foreign affairs and he interviews people from all over the globe. It's what I love best about his show -- he brings in experts from other countries to discuss global issues, including America. He can get anybody -- Henry Kissenger, Bill Gates, Wen Jiabao -- but it's the guys you've never heard of before that fascinate me.

I think Fareed works a little too hard to stay in the center of politics but I respect him for it. I don't see a false equivalence that you hear so much about. I perceive that he works very hard at not letting the crazies enjoy any legitimacy.

Bill Moyers & Company -- Embrace your inner liberal. Bill Moyers (for the young folks) was LBJ's White House Press Secretary. Seriously, how liberal can you be if you were working for a guy from Texas 50 years ago? And yet, Bill is considered one of the true liberals of our time. I consider him great. He appeals to our better angels and he's very, very good at it. I hope you'll give him a try. These other podcasts will make you smarter. Bill Moyers will make you better.

NPR: TED Radio Hour Podcast -- These are radio versions of the famous TED talks. I'm not sold on the format. But I'm sold on TED Talks. The podcast isn't a bad way to find out about them.

The RSA -- Pay dirt. These are my new favorites. The RSA is The Royal Society of Arts (and various other things.) I'd bet this is where the idea for TED Talks came from but that's just a guess. The talks are very British so they may be a little tough to follow. But it's a very smart audience and they act as if liberals are as natural as the Sun rising in the East. I've already picked one out for you to try.

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History -- It's the history they should have taught you in high school and college...except you didn't know enough to appreciate it. It's seriously fascinating stuff and the guy is really into telling a story. But I'm a history nut. Some folks may be overwhelmed with 4 hours of Cuba/USA relations. I thought it was great.

This American Life -- It's only the most popular podcast is America. As I've said before, I'm a slow learner. It's quirky. It's brilliant. You'll like it. Everybody does.

I've got a few others I'm trying out but I'm running out of time. I rarely listen to the radio anymore. I now listen to podcasts when I'm driving. Or walking. Or just waiting around. If you've never tried them, I encourage you to do so. They cover every topic under the sun. And best of all, most are commercial free.

Don Brown
August 7, 2013

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Swans Swim in the Sky

Swans Swim in the Sky by Get The Flick
Swans Swim in the Sky, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

Who knows, typing isn't too bad with my hand bandaged up so maybe I'll get to write something.

Don Brown
August 6, 2013

Friday, August 02, 2013

RSA -- The Austerity Delusion

For those that follow my Twitter feed (embedded on the right side of this blog) you already know about the RSA. For those that don't, the RSA is the Royal Society of Arts. Properly, it is the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Since the demise of Talk of the Nation, I have been casting about for a new podcast. I've struck gold in the RSA. I think of it as the United Kingdom's version of TED Talks.

I've been listening to various podcasts for about a week now and I just finished listening to this particular one a second time. That's right, I've listened to an hour-long podcast about economics a second time. Here's why.

The speaker is Mark Blyth. He's a Scot so the accent is troublesome when you're trying to listen to a podcast. But on top of that, he talks at warp speed and doesn't take a break. He puts forth an idea that just blows your mind and -- without pausing -- proceeds to the next idea, which is just as big. You're still trying to process the first one and he's already halfway through the next one. As I told those on my Twitter feed, it's like listening to Scotty give Spock a lecture on engineering (except we're talking economics.) He knows his audience is smart (except for folks like me and I've got a rewind button) so he doesn't have to dumb it down, slow it down or water it down.

And it's that last part I want to tease you with. To me, this is Professor Blyth's greatest strength; He is blunt. He is to the point. He doesn't even bother with the "straight to the". Him -> point. For instance:

"The United States could run 200% debt and everybody else would have to just shut up and deal with it."

(If you'll listen to the podcast, you'll understand the aircraft carriers. But, then again, the aircraft carriers make the point don't they?)

(Yes, you've seen this before.)

When an audience member asked about the gold index he replied dismissively,

"Look -- Gold is a fear index. Just stop. Anybody that talks about gold...take them outside, give them and drink and send them home. There's nothing there. One third of the gold in the world is around the neck of Indian peasants, right? It doesn't mean they're a rich county."

These quotes are from the Question & Answer period. In other words, he's thinking on his feet and speaking with a clarity that is rare even when one's remarks are prepared in advance.

Set aside some time and listen.

As you might be able to tell, I've become addicted to podcasts. I encourage you to find some you like. You'll enjoy this more if you're listening on your iPhone or whatever. But if you're confused by all this, click here, and you can listen to it on your computer just like any other .mp3 file you're used to.

I'll leave you with a plea to visit the RSA's archive and listen to something that grabs your attention. They cover every topic under the sun so you ought to be able to find something.

Don Brown
August 2, 2013
(You know what that makes tomorrow, right?)