30 April 2011

Spassibo - the Capitalist Effect in Russia

Back in 2009, TIME magazine declared that capitalism had taken root in Russia.  This dramatic conclusion was based on the fact that Premier Putin earned 11% more than President Medvedev.

Back in 2005, the New York Times insinuated that the Russia had finally broken through the transitional doldrums and earned its Capitalist wings as the World Bank declared poverty lessening in the former Soviet Union and income equality growing.   

As one person sitting behind a computer I officially declare the dawn of CAPITALISM on Russia.  This story comes directly from Moscow where the Capitalist Effect has settled in to a stark and harsh new reality.  In the past eight years, the homeless population has risen by 8%.  According to Gazeta.ru, multitudes of people are being evicted from their homes by court order, reported ombudsman Aleksander Muzikantcki (омбудсмен Александр Музыкантский).  "Citizens are being completely denied the right to housing, although they committed no culpable action."

According to the story, people who have been living in and paying for homes for years are losing them because the law allows property to be seized by the legal owner.  The other reason is that changes in housing legislation has negated some spaces for living that are currently being occupied as residential property.  So people are being kicked out of their homes and not provided any other means of accommodation.  As a result of these policies, the streets of Moscow are slowly flooding with vagrants.  The homeless rate has been steadily climbing.

If this situation in Russia sounds eerily familiar, it should.  For the past year, the journal sentinel has reported on Central States Mortgage Co. and the deceptive practices of its founder Richard Jungen.  Central States was back in the news this week because it failed to properly handle the refinancing of a Milwaukee resident.  This Milwaukee resident actually had his house sold at a Sheriff's auction even though he was perfectly compliant with what he thought was his only loan.  Unfortunately what he thought was one mortgage being refinanced with a lower interest rate, it was essentially two loans.  The second loan was intended to buy out the first mortgage.  However, Central States and their affiliate Interim Funding LLC failed to buyout the previous loan, instead paying off other debts.

Whether the picture is of Russian homemakers kicked out into the street or working class people in Milwaukee whose locks get changed while at work, the resulting loss of shelter is a Capitalist Effect.  People have grown utterly devoid of compassion and driven by one thing, profit.

The real problem with the drive to accumulate wealth is in the sacrifice of everything else.  The republican State legislature is bent on building a surplus in the state of Wisconsin.  Most people like the idea of a surplus.  But the idea of building a surplus at the expense of the citizens is not right.  Wisconsinites should not accept it.  Gov. Walker can bandy about his ideas about a surplus but what he should be honest about is that his use of the word surplus is an euphemism for what really amounts to harsh losses for working families.

Just as in Russia where average citizens are being thrown into the street because there is no plan for them once they are out of their homes, Walker has no plan for the future.  How will the State government address the need for health insurance when the hundreds of thousands lose the coverage currently provided by Badger Care and Badger Care Plus?

How will the republicans accept the repercussions that will inevitably be attached to allowing the largest public school district in the State to effectively operate without being fully funded?

This new breed of republicanism spurred on by the zealous tea partyers has no intention on reneging their promise to bring in spending and cut costs all at the expense of the citizens.  Losing teachers and cutting funding for schools will not be felt immediately but will be felt eventually.  The effect of improperly investing in education is revealed a few years down the road as students move through the system with the new changes in place.  What will be the effects on a school like the Milwaukee German Immersion School, which is consistently placed in the upper bracket of successful Wisconsin schools?  According to the Principal, the German Immersion School will lose six people the Phy Ed, Music, and Art teachers, a classroom teacher and two aides because of the cuts in Gov. Walker's budget.  There is no way these cuts won't be damaging.

What Wisconsinites should demand to know is this: how are we all tightening our belts? Is the prestigious Brookfield Academy losing teachers?

The Capitalist Effect creates gaping holes not only in the class structure but in reason.  It allows one group of people to profit while a larger group suffers.  It allows decision to be made on the sole grounds of how much money can be earned.  Russia is waking up to the reality that capitalism is no better than communism and in some ways it is far worse.  There is no space in capitalism for welfare unless the government demands it through  intervention, i.e. regulation.  Whereas the Soviet Union did function as a welfare state, the Russian Federation functions more like a business.  The world is watching our government now as capitalism could see another casualty unless the US can get its house in order.  We could very easily end up like Portugal.
According to the World Factbook, the CIA ranks Russia 52 of 136 countries for distribution of family incomes, the Gini index.  The higher the Gini index, the higher the income disparity in the country.  Russia's Gini index is 42.2.  The US Gini index is 45.0.  The 136th country - the country with the lowest Gini index is Sweden.  Its Gini index is 23.0.
Read about Market Reform in Russia: http://users.polisci.wisc.edu/hendley/PS%20633/Lecture%20PPTs/April%205,%202011.pdf
Read more about Russia's rural poor: http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/2003-816-14g-5-Wegren.pdf
The "New" Poverty of Russia: http://www.soclabo.org/UserFiles/Journal/2010.02/Art_pdf/11_eng.pdf
Read Sergei Shelin: http://www.gazeta.ru/column/shelin/3589305.shtml
Politics of anti-poverty policy: http://www.psa.ac.uk/journals/pdf/5/2008/Mussorov.pdf
Globalisation and the Development of Capitalism in Russia

28 April 2011

Competition and Capitalism

I remember as a child watching the Wild America series seeing three female lions hunt a Wildebeest.  After they killed it, a male lion approached, scared the lionesses away, and started eating their kill.  In both instances, the killing and the stealing, the narrator intoned it was an example of the survival of the fittest.  The footage left an indelible picture in my mind of the fierce competition that exists in the world.

So it was that many of us were introduced to the ostensibly inherent presence of competition.  From the beginning of life, many of us, especially in the US, are taught that the key to success is to win at all costs.  As most Americans head off to school around the age of five, and quickly find that out competition is embedded in every activity from answering questions in class to being first in line.

This idea of competition stands as the centerpiece of the American capitalist machine that ingrains its mantra of rugged individualism and ambition as the certain path to success.  Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations that competition is the result of self-interested individuals vying with other equally self-motivated individuals for accumulation.  Smith argues that the result of open competition will be the production of the goods that society wants, in the quantity society wants, and at the prices that society is able to pay.  For Smith, it was competition that controlled rampant greed and self-interest.  The reason one ambitious person won't get all of the wealth is that there are others who are competing with him/her.  As long as there is competition then the society functions healthily.

According to Smith's theory, the struggle to accumulate wealth keeps production growing and keeps the labor force working.  The natural downfall of the system is when the the capitalists run out of their means to produce, namely the laborers.  In order to combat the loss of laborers, Smith introduced the law of population.  As long as the population grows, there will be more and more laborers to produce. 

In Karl Marx's critique of capitalism, Das Kapital, he paints the picture of a perfect capitalist system that must keep producing so that capitalists can keep accumulating. As Robert Heilbroner wrote, "he [the capitalist] must strive for accumulation, for in the competitive environment in which he operates, one accumulates or one gets accumulated."  In other words, if you aren't taking advantage of someone else, someone else is taking advantage of you.

The flaw in this logic, as Marx illustrates, is that if all of us endeavor to be entrepreneurs and successful capitalists, everyone will strive to accumulate, wages of the labor force will rise, rising wages leads to no profit.  The entrepreneur must introduce time-saving and labor-saving machinery in order to continue earning profits.  This is of course an overtly simplified summary of Marx's criticisms of capitalism.  But what Marx describes as the result of the competition between capitalists is "That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital."  In other words, fewer people have the ability to accumulate the wealth in the system.  Competition effectively eliminates competitors and monopolies rule.  As fewer people obtain more of the wealth and control the commodities, so "grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation."

American capitalists will argue that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the victory of capitalism. (It should be pointed out that again the capitalist is winning or losing a competition.)   But capitalists fail to realize that not every system requires competition in order to operate successfully.  Unlike the basic tenet of capitalism, a socialist society is not naturally promoting competition amongst its participants.  On the contrary, a socialist society is more concerned with the collaborative efforts of the whole versus the singular accomplishments of the few. 

A capitalist might argue that without competition, there is no innovation or motivation to create.  Is it possible for a socialist society to encourage innovation?  On smaller scales, there are communities, companies, and villages in the United States that function this way.  Additionally there are countries that function more communally than does the United States.  Japan, Korea, and Finland are just a few countries in which society is more concerned about the whole versus the individual yet offer remarkable innovation.  One of the healthiest countries to be born in is Finland.  In each of these systems, capitalism is at work but it is highly regulated by a central government.  The result is far more cooperation and collaboration and far less income, education, health, and legal disparity.

Looking more closely at Japan provides a good example.  First is Toyota's CEO who earned $900,000 in 2009.  Japan ties the earnings of CEOs to a percentage of the average workers' salary.  Second, in schools, the beginning teacher does not teach full time.  For the first few years, a beginning teacher spends time planning, observing other more experienced teachers teach, and receiving myriad feedback on the effectiveness of his/her teaching.  The focus in the school just as it is in the corporation is how the individual effects the functioning of the whole.  Third, health insurance is far more efficient and reliable than the US system.  When the Japanese establish their health care system, they analyzed many different systems and purposely chose not to follow the US model.

In contrast, in the US in 2009 Rick Wagoner the CEO of GM earned some disproportionate amount of money in the 10 to 20 million dollar range.  In American schools, beginning teachers get thrown into a classroom, told to make sure no students get hurt, receive less books than students, no resources, and get little if any support.  If that teacher seeks help, he/she is placed under scrutiny and suspicion of being an inadequate teacher.   Is it at all surprising to learn that the average beginning teacher today lasts about 4 or 5 years before burnout sets in?  In health care, there was an attempt to establish a national health care service that was denied by conservatives who believe in privatizing the health insurance industry.  The belief being that competition will bring prices down.  It hasn't and it won't.

The differences are startling.  In Japan the community comes together not in a competitive or malicious manner, but in a much more constructive and collaborative manner.  Every citizen has affordable health care coverage.  In the US, the teacher and CEO are thrown into the fire and expected to thrive on his/her own or face replacement, although the CEO is compensated disproportionally, and thousands have gone bankrupt unable to pay for the costs of their own health care.

In Korea, the same illustrations can be drawn.  However, there are indications that the capitalist effect is taking root in Seoul.  Recently protests erupted over concerns about corruption in the government, about some people gathering more wealth at a faster pace compared to the average workers.  The Gini index indicates that income disparity is a growing global trend, even in Finland and Japan and Korea.  The trend will continue as the capitalism thrives on cheap labor.  As the wages of global labor rise, however, corporations will rely on more and more drastic measures in order to accumulate.

The growing disparity in America and internationally indicates that Marx's criticisms of capitalism carry more weight, and perhaps more accuracy, than can be quickly denied.  Trends indicate that the income gap is in no way closing.  Conversely, poverty in America is on the rise while the population of the working (or as in the case of Milwaukee, non-working) class (the proletariat) is growing.  There is some hope that the situations for most of the world's poor may be improving (see Fareed Zakaria) even while income inequality rises.  But America will be judged on how it tends to the welfare of its people.  Smith also recognized this responsibility and noted that "no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable." 

Is this happening in the US?  Are the greater part of the population poor and miserable?  Examples abound, e.g. Detroit, Milwaukee, etc.  It will be interesting to see how the cities hit by the disastrous storms this week rebound from the devastation.  Is this the next Katrina recovery, which has not been handled admirably?

Reflecting on the scene of the lions, what I failed to recognize was the coordinated hunt of the lionesses.  What turns out to be a more accurate observation of nature is not the sense of competition but that animals display a large variety of collaboration and cooperation techniques.  Although life is a struggle, it more often than not turns out to be survival of the most adaptable and the most cooperative. "Despite the depiction of nature "red in tooth and claw," cooperation is actually widespread in the animal kingdom."

Who will adapt to the changing climates of the world markets?

Will America be able to compete in the face of growing disparity and amidst the rise of the conservative base that seems determined not to negotiate and collaborate? 

What will America look like in 50 years?  Will many of the cities be abandoned because of the reckless decisions of current legislators who gave up on public education, public transport, went all in on privatization, and left the poor in the cold?
Read more about Marxism: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/
Read more about the debate between Socialism and Capitalism: http://www.idebate.org/debatabase/topic_details.php?topicID=400
Read about the defense of Socialism: http://www.marxists.org/archive/bax/1898/12/defsoc.htm
Read more about Socialism: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~dmcm/
Read about economics: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/hi/resources/
Read about political science and animal behavior: http://politicalscience.stanford.edu/faculty/weingast/BiologicalInstitutionsManuscript1.pdf
Read more about Capitalism and Competition: http://jparnell.com/blog/?p=254
Alfie Kohn's book on competition: http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/nc.htm

27 April 2011

Recycling in Wisconsin

Kathleen Dunn hosted Jennifer Semrau, President, Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW) and a Recycling Specialist for Winnebago County and Meleesa Johnson, Chair of the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association (WCSWMA), Treasurer, Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW) and a current member of the Solid Waste Association of North America-Badger Chapter. Solid Waste Director for Marathon County.

According to the guests there are 35 landfills in the State that cover between 25 and 80 acres and can be up to 20 stories tall.  Since starting our recycling program in the 90's, we have saved filling of about 20 landfills.

The effect of ending recycling, according to Meleesa Johnson, " ... a couple of things would happen … we'll see an increase in “ditch dumping”, could be an increase in burning of waste, and the other thing is an increase in tonnage that is going to landfills."

Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.

Some information from the website http://recyclemorewisconsin.org/ :

Recycling saves valuable resources such as trees, minerals, fossil fuels, and even water. Recycling also conserves landfill space, allowing more room for our beautiful Wisconsin farms, parks, natural habitat areas, and cities.

Current recycling efforts keep about 1.69 million tons of materials out of Wisconsin landfills and incinerators annually. At this rate, Wisconsin citizens save space equivalent to the size of an average municipal waste landfill every 1.5 – 2 years. Every ton of paper recycled saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.1 We can still do a lot more! In 2005, it is estimated that Wisconsin landfilled more than $100M worth of potentially recyclable materials.1

Every ton of paper that is recycled saves 17 trees. Even though trees are a renewable resource and can grow back again, recycling reduces the need for monoculture tree farms, and saves energy and water.

The production of one ton of aluminum ingot requires 4-5 tons of bauxite ore, which is only found in a few places in the world. However, when aluminum cans are recycled, they become a new aluminum can in as little as 60 days without using up rare bauxite reserves or causing the negative environmental impacts of mining. An aluminum can has no limit to the amount of times it can be recycled, so keep returning them to your recycling container!

The majority of our energy comes from fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal. Fossil fuels formed over millions of years from the fossils or remains of dead animals and plants. Because it takes millions of years to “create” more fossil fuels, we call them nonrenewable resources. Once we use up all of the current fossil fuels, they are gone to us forever! 2

Facts and Figures

• Recycling 1 ton of glass saves the equivalent of 10 gallons of oil.3
• Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves the equivalent of 1-2,000 gallons of gasoline.3
• Recycling 1 ton of newspaper saves the equivalent of 100 gallons of gasoline. 3
• Recycling 1 ton of aluminum saves the equivalent of 2,350 gallons of gasoline. 3
• Recycling 1 ton of paper saves the equivalent of 380 gallons of oil. 3  

1 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
2 U.S. Department of Energy
3 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources PUBL CE-163 2003 Rev

For a ton of information, visit:  http://recyclemorewisconsin.org/

26 April 2011

Wisconsin, America's China

In recent days it has been said that Wisconsin should be run like a business.  Many people all around the state in all walks of life have nodded their heads in assent.  However, there is a fundamental flaw to this reasoning:  Wisconsin is not a business.  The basic purpose of a business is to earn more than it loses, to profit.  The State is not supposed to turn a profit because in essence that money is public, it was generated through the collection of taxes.  Contrary to this line of thinking, the main function of government is to provide for the welfare of the people, not to earn money.

Providing for the welfare of the people is seemingly a forgotten principle.  It has most assuredly been lost in the current biennial budget that Gov. Walker and the rest of the republicans are going to pass in the next few days.  What a whirlwind this must be for advocates of the business sector and the heads of corporations.  Whether people are willing to admit it or not, the republican have pointedly decided to focus balancing the budget by targeting working people of the State.

The current administration proposes to decimate public education while expanding the voucher program so that an upper middle class family that would love to send their children to Brookfield Academy may now do so with taxpayer money.  Thus while the republicans want to defund MPS and further damage some of the most needy among us, they also want to reward those who actually can afford private schools.

The biennial budget will also leave gaping holes in medical assistance programs.  At a listenning session on April 25th held by Tony Staskunas and David Cullen, Rep. Staskunas was asked about what results would come from the recent DHS hearings, "Badger Care Plus will be gone.  Huge cuts to the Badger Care program.  But there is talk that Senior Care will be saved."  So all of the people that attended the hearings and spoke did so for naught, because nothing has changed from a month ago.  1 in 3 Wisconsin children relies on Badger Care as the sole health care insurance.  What solutions do the republicans offer for those children who will no longer receive health coverage through the Badger Care program?  This is the big unknown.  Even the republicans don't know, they may not care, it's tough to be sure.

A severe undercurrent amid all of the rancor is this: the republican led legislature is not interested in negotiation.  They won the election and they will do what they deem necessary - offer thriving conditions for corporations come in to take advantage of the workers, offer little in compensation, and reap huge benefits for the wealthy - who threaten to leave if their taxes are raised.  As is common in our uncontrolled capitalist society, greed (for money and power) and avarice have taken over.  These actions will more than likely promote failure in the State's largest city that is already teetering with high unemployment and large numbers of imprisoned males.  

A society is predicated on and judged by how it manages, encourages, and funds education, health care, safety, and transportation.  As Moises Naim explains regarding the global economy, "If a country is highly unequal it is very likely that a majority of the population will not be well educated and healthy enough to be able to be the workers that allow a country to compete in the more knowledge-intensive industries that are part of the global economy. So the stakes of not making progress in fighting inequality inside countries are very, very high, morally, politically, and economically."  The budget as proposed by Scott Walker fails to fund all of these categories, fails to provide for the welfare of the people, and fails the future of Wisconsin.
It isn't as though there are no other options.  Because the State is a government, there are many ways in which to find revenue.  A more Keynesian approach would be to fund more programs for the needy, ensure education and health care are well funded, and manage the debt but utilize it to ensure that necessary programs are funded.  

The tax structure in Wisconsin is amiss.  The top earners' bracket starts at $221,600.  Any one making that amount or higher pays 7.5%.  If balancing the budget were the prime motivator in the Biennial Budget, a real proposal would include adding another rate at the top.  An additional 1% on those earning $1 million or more per year.  Within this structure, Wisconsin should also reassess how capital gains are taxed.  A small increase in tax on capital gains could alleviate much of our debt.  From the minuscule 5% to a more reasonable 6% is more than fair and hardly noteworthy for the wealthiest among us.
Additionally, the sales tax in the State has remained at 5% for nearly thirty years.  A .25% increase would mean that in most counties a small sales tax of 5.75% would be included in purchases.  

The other and more controversial issue relates to incarceration.  Wisconsin could save millions of dollars each year by changing the way it handles non-violent drug offenders.  Currently, the maximum jail sentence for a second offense of possession of 200 grams or less of THC is a Class I felony.  The result of this failed drug policy is that non-violent offenders are housed with violent offenders, which leads to higher rates of recidivism, families are permanently damaged when children lose parents for years to imprisonment, and the cost in tax dollars is immense.  

Until the State is willing to address these key issues, the underlying problems will continue to develop and businesses will be increasingly frightened to invest in a less educated, less healthy community.  The republicans are not interested in solving problems, they are interested in punishing their opponents into submission, breaking apart unions, and furthering the destructive force of apathy among voters who see no end in sight. 

The subjugation of the worker starts by forcing the workers to submit to policy decisions that will continue to hurt them. Then removing all forms of recourse.  Let's see, we have the tort reform bill, the budget repair bill, and now the budget.  Which working group is next? 

If this sounds eerily like our Chinese brethren, you're right.  Welcome to Wisconsin, America's China.

25 April 2011

All for a profit, but at what cost?

Should everything we do be weighed against what we stand to profit?

One of the mindsets that develops in a capitalist society is that for every action there is either a net loss or a net profit.  The goal naturally is to earn the highest net profit possible.   The effective capitalists find ways to ensure that the chances of net loss are minimized.  The easiest way to achieve minimal loss is to bring down cost while increasing revenue.  The side effect of this view is that the perfect example of minimizing costs is by reducing salaries and wages or the size of the work force.  Historically the most common way to reduce wages is through slave labor and indentured servitude.  They've been a part of our entire civilized human history.  Both have been common practice throughout American history and are common practice today around the world.

Multinational companies find cheap labor in emerging and third world markets.  When more markets need to be created, corporations often enlist the US government to intervene militarily.  Military interventions have occurred regularly in order to allow for regime change more favorable to American business.  Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, James Loewen, Howard Zinn, and many other have written extensively about US intervention in countries like Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.  After regime change, American corporations move in to take advantage of cheap and abundant resources and cheap and abundant labor.  This is currently happening all around the world but the largest players today are India, China, and Indonesia.

Apple's connection to China and Singapore is a well known example.  A computer manufactured by an Apple subsidiary in Singapore for a couple hundred dollars, sold to the Apple headquarters in Cayman Islands for $900, then sold to distributors in America for $1000.  No taxes are paid on the transactions in the Cayman Islands.  Apple only pays tax on the $100 while $700 was preserved tax free in Cayman Islands.  None of this is illegal.

Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc (FCX) is an American mining corporation with headquarters in Arizona and mining operations around the globe.   According to their website (http://www.fcx.com/company/who.htm), FCX "operates large, long-lived, geographically diverse assets with significant proven and probable reserves of copper, gold and molybdenum."  The site also claims that "The company has a strong commitment to safety performance, environmental management and to the local communities where it operates."  The Latest News section shows that profits are up and a declaration of a 50 cent dividend. 

Do a Google search for FCX and it may be difficult to turn up negative stories about them until the 18th or 19th page when more stories start to crop up.  Search Jakarta news sources and stories abound.  Recently FCX was in the spotlight (albeit a very dim one) when one of their mines in Indonesia collapsed killing two people.  Since the mine's founding protests have been staged, workers assaulted, and several people have been killed.  According to the Jakarta Globe, "The mine has been a frequent source of friction in Papua because of its environmental impact, the low share of revenue going to local Papuans and the legality of payments to Indonesian security forces who help guard the site."

Freeport has had its share of problems in Indonesia ranging from injuries and deaths to paying the government for military protection.  And although they are the largest private taxpayer in Indonesia and one of the largest employers, they employ very few Papuans and those receive lower level jobs.  In the US, FCX has been in the news as the company's stock has risen 1.8% and profits by 59%.  You would think that this would have incredibly beneficial effects on Timika's local economy but you wouldn't be surprised to learn that it hasn't.

Timika Marketplace
Unfortunately for Papuans even though negative news has been widespread, FCX is too big to face earnest prosecution or face ardent reparations.  The destructive pattern that FCX follows has continued for the past 40 years.

What is both astonishing and deplorable is how advocates of a free-market system cry for less government regulation because, the argument goes, the free-market will correct itself.  What will it correct, pricing, injury to workers?  Apple and FCX are evidently lousy examples of self-correction in free-markets.

The myth of self-correction in the free-market should be disputed with vigor.  The Capitalist Effect eliminates correction because it eliminates morality; capitalism is itself an amoral system.  The only morals and ethics that are applied to capitalism are created and imposed on the it through governance.  Much to the workers chagrin, capitalist motivated governments seem uninterested in regulating how corporations garner wealth.  And so, CEOs are multi-millionaires and billionaires, leaders earn profits, shareholders seek profit driven companies, and yet the common workers can barely afford the products they produce.  The Papuans employed at the Freeport mine probably don't earn enough money to buy one share of FCX.  Additionally the environment suffers beyond repair.  As it goes, all of this exploitation barely begins to satisfy, if at all, the open greed and apathy of the Plutonomy, who after ravaging one community will simply pack up and find another ripe free-market to exploit for personal power and wealth.
Read more about FCX:



Environmental impact: http://www.westpapua.ca/?q=node/124
Corporate Watch report:

Read about Apple: http://business.globaltimes.cn/world/2011-01/615066.html

23 April 2011

The hyprocrisy of America or Why the journal sentinel doesn't deserve to be capitalized

Milwaukee's most expensive local newspaper today decided that the contract extension signed by Ryan Braun was the biggest story of the day.  It's hard to deny that it's a not big story since we're all still paying for the stadium.  But is it the biggest story of the day?  Earlier in the week, the editors decided that self-praise was more important than any other news item of the day; they also decided that no real reporting would go on and simply relied on reporting that had already been done; they plastered the announcement of five j.s. reporters winning the Pulitzer Prize on the front page.  Obviously well done reporting but kind of tacky to praise it - sort of like basking in your own glory, boasting a little over-zealously.  This daily journal has taken the news out of newspaper.

Other than the nonsense of trying decipher what the real news is in the j.s., there are some international wire reports and A.P. reports, it's interesting trying to pick out stories that ought to have been fleshed out more.  Today the paper printed two highly juxtaposed but related stories.

The first featured a large printed headline at the bottom of the second page: Pakistani Supreme Court frees 5 accused of gang rape.  The story is about Mukhtar Mai who in 2002 was raped as reparation for her brother's "relationship" with a woman from a wealthier family.   A lower court had originally found 6 of the 14 suspects guilty.  The Supreme Court overturned the convictions of 5 of the accused rapists.  The story clearly illustrates the atrocities and obstacles we face every day around the world.  Many readers will see this story and the knee jerk reaction will be the curse Pakistan as backward, barbaric savages.

The second story was hidden in the Nation/World Briefing section.  It's the story about Recy Taylor who was gang raped in 1944 in Alabama.  According to the story in the j.s. paper, the Alabama Legislature has officially apologized.   Ms. Taylor, now 91, said, "I think that's nice."  And the article ends.

The story leads us to believe that in the US everything can get eased, paved is more like it, over because of our greatly superior political system. While in Pakistan, they live as barbarians, but they're improving.  But that isn't the whole story at all.  The real story, digging a little deeper, about two minutes on the web, the whole story of Recy Taylor and Mukhtar Mai become eerily similar.

For Recy Taylor and her family there has not been a satisfying resolution.  Her rapists never served prison time, painted her as a prostitute, and denied the heinous criminal assault ever happened.  Seems like it's not all hunky dory.

The stories have more in common than is clearly related in the paper.  The idea that the apology from Alabama resolves the problem only indicates the perceived superiority of legislative affairs in the US.  But this is hardly true.  The Capitalist and Television effect have taken over our newspapers, which leads to cheap consumerism news.  The dumbed down nature of reporting lessens any risks of uprisings and as conflict subsides into obscurity, the status quo presides, and people meekly acquiesce to the will of the plutonomy.     

The hypocrisy of America is in the idea that the US is the greatest country, that we have all the solutions to the world's problems.  The case could be argued that the US causes most of the problems, which might be why the US should have the solutions (see sarah palin as a good example). 

As this blog continues to try to point out, the US has not really been the model superpower.  And for us news hungry citizens, we have limited paper resources in Wisconsin because the largest state paper is arguably worth much less than the paper it's printed on.  The stories about Recy Taylor, Mukhtar Mai and the main sheadline about Ryan Braun are indicative of the frivolous and irresponsible nature of reporting in the j.s.

What do you think?  Is the journal sentinel deserving of capital letters?  If it is not a source of news, what is it?  A tabloid?

Welcome to the brave new world.
Read more about Recy Taylor: http://www.thegrio.com/black-history/why-1944-rape-case-still-reverberates-for-blacks.php


Read more about the incredible work that Mukhtar Mai is doing:



21 April 2011

The Capitalist Effect on our failed drug war

If you have been sitting in your armchair wondering about which politicians are being on the level about deficit spending, you can be rest assured that none are.  There are only three things that will reduce our deficit spending, 1) raising individual taxes and cutting credits for the wealthy 2) slashing spending on the military complex and the various wars we are fighting 3) cleanup social and educational programs to make them more efficient.

On the war front, this week the Government Accountability Office published their findings on immigration incarceration.   "The number of criminal aliens in federal prisons in fiscal year 2010 was about 55,000, and the number of SCAAP [State Criminal Alien Assistance Program] criminal alien incarcerations in state prison systems and local jails was about 296,000 in fiscal year 2009 (the most recent data available), and the majority were from Mexico."

The report details the types of crimes illegal immigrants are being taken into custody for, "About 90 percent of the criminal aliens sentenced in federal court in fiscal year 2009 (the most recently available data) were convicted of immigration and drug-related offenses." The drug war our country has been waging for the past 20 years is the unmentioned, non-debated war our enforcement agencies are fighting everyday and not winning.

At what cost does the prison system house criminal immigrants? The GAO estimates that "costs to incarcerate criminal aliens in federal prisons and SCAAP reimbursements to states and localities ranged from about $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually from fiscal years 2005 through 2009"

The GAO estimated that selected operating costs (i.e., correctional officer salaries, medical care, food service, and utilities) associated with incarcerating criminal aliens in our nation’s state prison systems totaled $7 billion from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2009. These costs ranged from about $736 million in 2003 to $1.1 billion in 2009, about a 56 percent increase.

The prison industry, and our war on drugs in particular, is essential a waste of money.  More and more studies indicate that punitive recourse is far less effective than more proactive and reformative processes.  Unfortunately, most conservatives are unwilling to budge when it comes to changing our drug laws.  And most liberals are too concerned about the general perception that liberals are soft on crime to push for an overhaul.  Our economy would breathe a huge sigh of relief by eliminating the prosecution of drug offenders charged with possession of 200 grams or less of THC.  However, the mockery of the three strikes law and truth in sentencing is that the amount of money necessary to fund housing convicted criminals, specifically those who have been convicted of small time possession infractions,  is adding to our endlessly burgeoning budget.

These are serious problems that will eventually need to be addressed and should be sooner than later.  As it is, we live in a sort of blissful ignorance.  The American public refuses to acknowledge that our prison industry is broken.  Until recently, California prison population was growing faster than the system could process them.  As a result, California is releasing inmates early to relieve the stress on overcrowded prisons and jails.  Because of strict federal anti-drug laws, California releases violators of property crimes, such as car theft rather than possession crimes.

There are many alternatives to incarceration.  According to the Urban Strategies Council, "Rather than blindly increasing funding for a correction system that does not work, we need to stop investing in criminal justice and begin investing in community justice. Community justice investments begin by adequately funding the basic needs of children and their families including health, housing, education and training, and youth development programs. It continues by diverting funds from the criminal justice system for incarceration and redirecting them to providing support services needed by young people who do come into contact with the criminal justice system.  Finally, it uses programs, such as transformational mentoring, to provide intensive, community based programs and supports to youth for whom prevention and early intervention have not worked."

One final note: the percentage of 21 year-olds or younger released from prison who do not possess at least a GED is around 25%. The percentage of these offenders to return to prison is an astounding 54%, whereas those offenders earning a GED while incarcerated face a recidivism rate nearer 40%.

"According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there is an inverse relationship between recidivism rates and education. The more education received, the less likely an individual is to be re-arrested or re-imprisoned."  Open Society Institute (1997). Research brief. education as crime prevention, providing education to prisoners. The Center on Crime, Communities and Culture.

Should businesses be capitalizing on crime?  Should private industries receive tax dollars to imprison citizens and essentially function as for-profit institutions?  At what cost does the prison industry function on our society?
Read more about the prison industry:





Voter apathy - why don't we care?

It was a cool late Friday night in early spring.  A group of volunteers was busy labeling fliers for the final targeted literature drops before the Tuesday election.  For the most part the volunteers and paid employees were enthusiastic about the race.  The overall feeling was that voter turnout would be high and that fact would work in favor of their candidate.  "I definitely think we have the momentum," explained the campaign coordinator, "You know the whole thing with Walker is giving us a huge boost."  The fliers showed a picture of Jeff Stone standing seductively near a lecturing Scott Walker.  It had a simple equation "Stone = Walker".

The first Tuesday of April was fast approaching and volunteers were clamoring to get organized.  The polls were gearing up for what had the looks of possible record turnouts.  On Wednesday, the headlines reported those record turnouts at the polls. "Tuesday's Supreme Court turnout in Wisconsin was off the charts", "Huge voter turnout in Spring election," etc.

33% of eligible voters got out the vote on April 5th.  The ecstatic media proudly reported that 1 in 3 eligible voters showed up at a polling station to cast his/her ballot.  While on the surface it may not seem to be a large percentage of eligible voters, bear in mind that the average turnout for a spring election is around 18-20%.  “It was uncommon, it was an extraordinary event,” said Maurice Sheppard, a political science instructor at MATC.

How were so many voters primed to get to the polls? Wisconsin was in the midst of huge protests against a divisive Governor and republican run legislature that had already passed a controversial tort reform bill and had recently passed a bill stripping public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.  On the ballot were candidates in a very heated Supreme court race fueled by outside groups linking David Prosser to the controversial Governor.  It seemed that the arena was ripe for massive crowds, which in a way is what showed up.  But massive is a relative concept.

In the winter of 2010, the congressional midterm elections triggered turnouts nearing 50% (48.51% to be more accurate).  Again, the press and many pollsters praised the high turnouts for a non-presidential election.  But "high", "huge", "massive", or any other adjectives are relative quantifiers.

While voter turnout raged in Wisconsin, in parts of Missouri Kristin Hoppa reported that voter turnout spiked at about 10%.  Gary Colvin, supervisory Republican election judge at Ashland, said he expected more voters. He said at the last election, the church averaged about 100 voters an hour.

"We are averaging about 20 an hour," Mr. Colvin said about noon. "It's voter apathy.

In comparison with the US turnout, keeping our focus in the Americas, Anguilla held elections for 7 parliamentary seats in 2010; over 80% of eligible voters voted.  In Bolivia, in 2009, 90% turned out to vote on a referendum on the size of the constitutional limit on individual private landholdings, to be included in the new constitution, if ratified.  Suddenly the high turnout in the US elections becomes puny.  And while many voices applauded the "high" percentage of  votes cast, not many voices decried the actually quite abysmally low numbers. 

In Canada, turnout has hovered around 60% for the last five elections and then dropped to 58% in 2008.  The percentage drop has raised serious concerns regarding the perceived level of voter apathy and has caused the government to create a comprehensive website designed to encourage university students to vote in the upcoming federal election. (see itsyourvote.ca)

After comparing international voter turnouts, statistics rank the US as one of the lowest of industrial nations (see International Foundation for Electoral Systems).  Whereas many in the US would not be surprised by these conclusions, it should be surprising that not much is being done to try to elevate the numbers of participants.

Voter apathy occurs when citizens believe their votes don't count, it won't matter anyway, nothing will change so there is no reason to vote.  Why is there such a high level of voter apathy in the US and such little concern about raising the numbers of participants and relieving disbelief in our democratic process?

In 2008, Tony Dokoupil was interested in discovering why so few male voters turned out.  The Case of the Vanishing Male Voter explores why male voters have been turning out in fewer numbers in elections recent to 2008.  Dokoupil reported that since 1964, the percentage of men voting has dropped from 72% to 56%.  The article claims that high female voter turnout and low male turnout helped to elect former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Reasons cited include the fact that men tend to be more isolated, a shift in which educated women outnumber educated men, and a higher rate of male criminals who are barred from voting.  Of the 5.3 million convicted felons in the US, more than 80% are males. 

The article illustrated reasons for lower male turnouts and higher frustration with voting policy. These conditions could lead to higher voter apathy. While higher incarceration rates accounts for smaller numbers of voters, is it directly related to voter apathy?  Much like the stock market, voting apathy can be affected by seemingly insignificant factors.  Losing a parent or spouse to the prison system can cause depression and condemnation of the entire system as being unfair. 

In An Exploration of the Effects of Negative Political Advertising on Political Decision Making, Bruce E. Pinkleton, Nam-Hyun Um, and Erica Weintraub Austin conducted a study with 236 students who were exposed to different types of advertising.  "Participants exposed to negative advertising found it less useful for political decision making and were more negative toward political campaigns than were participants exposed to positive advertising."  Although the study showed a correlation between negative advertising and levels of disgust with political campaigning, the study did not conclude that negative advertising would lead directly to "citizen apathy."

So, what causes someone to consciously choose not to exercise his/her right to vote?  Why do so many who can vote choose not to?  It has been argued by many that people are only motivated by their own welfare and comfort.  Chris Hayes has argued that greed, envy, and corruption shattered our financial system.  Could this possibly be a cause of such rampant voter apathy as well?

When the tort reform bill passed in Wisconsin very few eyebrows were raised by liberals, progressives, or centrists or any Wisconsinites.  When collective bargaining was put on the chopping block, protests erupted.  The tort reform is far more reaching and may prove to be far more detrimental in the future to employees and citizens than the budget repair bill.  The tort reform affects everyone but not immediately - cases will arise.  The budget repair bill affects people immediately.  As soon as people felt their interests threatened, people became motivated to act.

Is there a way to clearly align voter's interests with election results and voting whenever an election is held?  What's mildly surprising is that there is not a lot written about voter apathy's causes.  Maybe journalists and politicians don't care if more people are involved in the process; if so, this would more than likely be due to electoral bias and apathy.  What's also interesting is that the US gets high numbers of voters for presidential elections but very low turnout for local elections - the local elections carry a greater impact on our daily lives but are not as sensationalized.

My hypothesis is that there is a connection between voter apathy and television.  So much of the information spreading through the glowing box is designed to numb our senses, sell sensationalized bits of data, and make us feel like inadequate consumers unless we buy something.  There must be some consequences to the abundance of entertainment we are exposed to.  One repercussion is a general sense of apathy.  News broadcasts inform us that polls reveal the race to be close or not close at all.  Either way one vote, goes the reasoning, won't matter.  In broad national elections, it's hard to pinpoint one vote.  But, in local elections, one vote can determine the outcome.  And most of us know this and can walk through this chain of reasoning, but television provides an easy excuse to recline and let our minds wander effortlessly.  The idea of going to a polling station becomes an overwhelming burden.

There are also indications that Americans don't know enough about candidates to feel reasonably comfortable enough to vote.  In the US television is the news source for most of the people.  But news programming is not designed to provide informative, in-depth candidate coverage on the issues.  PBS handles in-depth coverage better than any other channel but is still lacking.  In the last gubernatorial election, many Wisconsinites felt they had no idea what each candidate stood for.   

What do you think? Are you an apathetic citizen who chooses not to vote? Or do you have any suggestions on the causes of voter apathy?  How can we get more citizens to vote or be more involved?
Read more about voter apathy and voter turnout:

Case of the Vanishing Male Voter Dokoupil, Tony, Newsweek; 10/27/2008, Vol. 152 Issue 17, p14-14, 3/5p, 2 Color Photographs, 1 Graph

An Exploration of the Effects of Negative Political Advertising on Political Decision Making, Bruce E. Pinkleton, Nam-Hyun Um, and Erica Weintraub Austin Journal of Advertising Spring 2002



System Failure: It's Not Just the Media -- the Whole Political System Has Failed; David Miller


18 April 2011

We don't need no stinkin' taxes or Big deal it's only revenue; and our very 1st visit to the new #1 ranked city

So it's spread around the web faster than Tim Pawlenty's premature announcement that he's running for president.  Faster than Sarah Palin can embarrass herself, which is extremely fast.  Take for instance her recent: "We're flat broke, but he [Pres. Obama] thinks these solar shingles and really fast trains will magically save us. So now he's shouting 'all aboard' his bullet train to bankruptcy." If you haven't memorized this quote, you will soon since she has only said it at every stump speech over the past week.   She is very fond of this sentiment and she has been announcing it over and over and ... right - (1) driving home by endless repetition, a few simple points, and using catchy slogans or war-cries - (See propaganda.)

A brief aside that apologetically can not be passed up.  While the conservative neo-cons and tea partyers are blabbering on and on about the costs of alternative energy and the abundant expenditure of high speed rail, China has opened the Beijing to Shanghai train line.  The ride takes about 4 hours.  That's about the same as traveling the distance from Chicago to New York in time for an early lunch meeting.  Imagine getting up in the morning, boarding a train, doing business on Wall Street or the Mercantile Exchange, and returning home to the North Side or Manhattan in time for a late dinner out.  That same business trip today is at minimum three days.  If that isn't putting the Chinese ahead of us ...

So, what's spreading faster than smallpox in a 16th century Taino encampment?  Bernie Sanders' list of 10 companies that paid no taxes in 2010.  While this may constitute important news in a time of "fiscal crisis", is it really that unique or surprising?  And, what's going to happen now?

The fact is that the companies on the list don't mind being listed on that list.  There is very little that can or will be done to them because they have not done anything illegal and the contributions they've made to political campaigns give them added protection.

We can argue about mending the tax code and that's a good start, but the real problem is that there is no methodology in place to address the new global market.  At one time, tax havens were secretive accounts hidden in humidity controlled cellars of Swiss banks.  Today, tax havens are no secret.  The Cayman Islands, a small three island nation in the Caribbean, is the fifth largest banking center with assets of well over $500 billion dollars as reported in William Brittain-Catlin's well written exposé, Offshore : the dark side of the global economy.  According to Brittain-Catlin, a third of the world's wealth is held offshore.  Half the capital in the world's stock exchanges is "parked" offshore at some point in its life.

Tax havens are no longer the places for secretive spy-like transactions from a 007 novel.  They are utterly commonplace.  When Mr. Obama was elected to office, he blatantly addressed the off-shore banking industry, "You've got a building in the Cayman Islands that supposedly houses 12,000 corporations," he said during a Jan. 5, 2008, debate in Manchester, N.H. "That's either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record." The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report detailing the business proceedings of the Ugland House, a five story quiet looking building, that houses over 18,000 registered business headquarters.  The report made no recommendations but concluded, "The Internal Revenue Service has several initiatives that target offshore tax evasion, including cases involving Cayman entities, but tax evasion and crimes involving offshore entities are difficult to detect and to prosecute."

At the time, some financial analysts were initially concerned over the attention so-called "tax havens" were receiving by Obama and then British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown (cf. The Offshore Myth, Simon Brown).  Since then, Gordon Brown has been replaced, and Pres. Obama has his hands full with budget cuts, three wars, and a constant barrage of accusations from the far right wing.

Since 2008, how much more money has been collected from global transactions?  It's hard to know for certain but one reasonable guess could be nothing, $0.  The US is having a hard enough time regulating internet transactions.  Big business has nothing to worry about.  So ten companies with no taxes, big deal.  How many Senators pay no taxes, Issa, Kohl, Kerry, etc.

So while it is appreciated that Senator Sanders has compiled this fascinating list, it is purely didactic.  Until the people stand as a united front, the economy will be run be the few.  While US congressmen and women are some of the wealthiest people in the country, expect very little to change.  In the interim, those of us bottom feeders ought to try to find a way to gather the scraps of the wealthy and save and invest.  Money will always be able to find a home in the global plutocracy.  The question is can you provide a roof and four walls for some of it?
AS promised we're off to Milwaukee, the newly crowned most segregated city in the United States today.   That's right Milwaukee is finally number one at something again.  For many years this was Brew town America.  Today, the big breweries have gone but culture is the city's new allure.  Over the next few weeks, Agora Metaphora will be busy seeking out answers to our very ordinary questions about this so-called #1 most segregated city in the country.  This week we travel to the north side of Milwaukee to scrupulously ascertain the answer to this question: "How many white folks you seen today?"

Otis Wilson is an independent salesman who lives on 15th Street just north of Center Street on Milwaukee's north side.  We caught up with him while he worked the street corner selling bottles of ice cold water for a buck apiece to cars waiting for the light to change.

"How many I seen today?  The real question is: Have I seen a white dude here at all?  Shit the only white folks I ever seen around here are cops, them election day dudes or them dudes in suits and ties preaching about Jesus or some shit like that."  He laughed a real snarly gurgled laugh.  "I suppose white folks ain't got a real reason to come into this neighborhood."

A.M. "So you don't see very many white people in this neighborhood?"

O.W. "What the hell any white folks want coming here.  What's you?  You a cop?  What you pushing?

A.M.  "No, no, I'm a pretend reporter."

O.W. "You lookin' thirsty, how about a water, a little H 2 O?"

So there it is.  Next time we'll venture into the near south side and find out how Latinos answer "How many white folks you seen today?"

By the way, anybody out there need any bottles of water?  Agora Metaphora has recently acquired a cooler full of 16 oz bottles of pure artesian ... partially sealed ... tap water.
Read more about the Cayman Islands: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08778.pdf
Read more about the Cayman Islands:
Read about avoiding taxes (thanks to Slim Macho): http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/5637-how-to-pay-no-taxes

17 April 2011

A Fear of the Known: The Link Between Debt and Taxes


What seems to be the matter in the United States today?  It is likely many things, depending on whom you ask.  Most agree that a particularly urgent challenge is our dangerous and potentially crippling debt.  We seem poised between Scylla and Charybdis, yet this is no myth: without continuing credit, we stand to lose the way of life we’ve come to expect; but by amassing ever more debt, we move away from independence and closer to insolvency---or worse.

How might we begin to address this problem?  What direction should we take, and what role should the government play, if any?  Quite often, those with an opinion invoke the Constitution, and this is a sensible place to start.  In political debate today we often hear the refrain, “It is time to return to constitutional principles.”  So what does our Constitution say about debt?

The first mention of debt in the Constitution is in Article I, Section 8, which enumerates most of the powers of Congress.  It provides, inter alia, that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes . . . to pay the Debts . . . of the United States.”  In all, the Constitution identifies three reasons for taxation: the common defense, the general welfare, and the payment of debt.

Notably, the Articles of Confederation did not provide any central authority for taxation.  The natural conclusion is that it was deliberately added to the Constitution to cure a defect in the Articles, as revealed by our experience during the ten years following 1777.  By 1787, a clear power to tax was built into our founding document and specifically coupled with the issue of debt.

Taxes are a constitutionally provided means of dealing with debt; but who is responsible for paying?  To be fair, anyone reasonably able should contribute.  Currently, some wealthier members of society pay less in taxes than others, either in absolute or proportional terms, due to favorable rates (e.g., capital gains) and other loopholes.  A recent article from the Associated Press observes, “The super rich pay a lot less taxes than they did a couple of decades ago, and nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.”

It is now fashionable, again, to justify this special treatment with a theory called supply-side economics: reduce taxes on the rich and they will, as if by instinct, use the surplus to create new jobs and businesses.  The theory's cheerleaders maintain that doing otherwise is un-American: it is un-American to raise taxes, and it is the same to oppose tax cuts, particularly when they benefit the well to do.

But this is not necessarily consistent with the intellectual origins of the United States.  Take, for instance, a thinker like Adam Smith, the eighteenth century social philosopher and author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).  In Book V, Chapter I, of The Wealth of Nations---on the costs of defense and supporting the sovereign---Smith states, “It is reasonable, therefore, that [these expenses] should be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society, all the different members contributing, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities” (emphasis added).  That is, those who have more should pay more, particularly with respect to the costs of defense.

A bit later, in a section entitled Of Taxes (Book V, Chapter II), Smith writes: "The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.  The expence of government to the individuals of a great nation is like the expence of management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate" (emphasis added).  Those who benefit most from society are responsible---indeed “obliged,” in Smith’s words---to contribute to the commonwealth in an amount corresponding to what they enjoy.  In short, the price of civilization is taxation.

Taxation alone will not solve our problems; we must also substantially cut and control spending, in many areas of the budget (including defense and subsidies).  But the most effective way to address our debt is to attack it from both sides: by reducing spending and paying more towards it.  Cutting spending is a necessary but insufficient approach to our debt; tax revenues, as provided in the Constitution, must be a significant part of the solution.

The idea here is not to punish the wealthy or necessarily have them pay a greater proportion than others in taxes.  Rather, the point is that we should not endeavor to lower taxes on the wealthy while we are deep in debt, and we ought not use tax policy to unfairly privilege those types of wealth traditionally held by the elite (e.g., estates and capital gains).  This is not a case of “us against them.”  To the contrary, it is about all of us shouldering our financial responsibilities under the debt.  To argue that taxation is off the table in the budget debate is to shirk our obligations as citizens---and lawmakers---and conveniently ignore a significant part of the Constitution.

16 April 2011

What's missing in the current debate? How about serious discussion

Imagine a world in which politicians represent their constituents, where people hold meaningful discussions and debates in open forums, and citizens (notice, not consumers) are involved, informed, and optimistic.  If this sounds like someplace you would like to live, you'll have to wait until you die and pray to the mighty yahweh that there is a place for you in heaven, 'cause there ain't no place like that here in the US of A, schlimazel.  If you were lucky when you were born, you're reading this online.  If you were even luckier, you live in Europe, or in the US earning over 100k per year.  Unfortunately even our friends up in Canada have had their share of troubles recently, but they still know how to hold effective debates and discussions while also producing some of the most boring television.  I wish the US market were more interested in the same type of boring programs.  That's what PBS is for - thank you Frontline and Independent Lens.

Besides the fact that everyone in America should raise hell about being branded a taxpayer or a consumer, maybe Americans should be just a bit more attentive to where our money actually is going.  Currently, the US is fighting three wars.  These demand an inexorable amount of resources.  Not one republican nor democrat seems too interested in bringing this up.  End the wars, save trillions.  It doesn't matter who got us into the wars, it matters how we get out. 

Another key sponge is, of course, health care costs.  Medical assistance consumes much of our revenues.  Yet, what no politician is willing to talk about is where all the money is going.  No regulations have been introduced to limit the big 6 health care companies' CEOs from raking in millions of dollars a year (see Sick For Profit) while at the same time raising premiums and deductibles and allowing millions of citizens to go without insurance or under insured.  This is a national travesty that needs to be addressed.  The more uninsured individuals there are, the greater the cost to those who buy insurance.  Isn't health care part of the welfare of the public?

It seems to me that the welfare of the people is one of the government's main jobs.  If the proposal of a central health insurer is such a lousy idea, ask yourself why all of our politicians have government health plans and government retirement packages.  Why aren't Americans asking for the same coverage?  All Americans should have the same plans!

Now, I don't know how much stock the average American puts into the papers that established our government called The Constitution, but that bit of tapestry declares, "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States."  Again, the job of congress is to collect taxes and ensure the general welfare.  It isn't socialism if there is a government health provider - it's a working society that all citizens buy into for the general welfare of that society.  Just imagine no fear of bankruptcy if your kid gets sick, no worries about affording the antibiotics you need to overcome the slight infection you have before it gets worse and they have to operate. 

Health care is a large part of our general welfare, and, there's no affordable health care without health insurance.  So it makes sense that we should all buy into the government's health care system that is ostensibly good enough for Issa, Kohl, Kerry, and the other millionaires.  That's right you're paying for health insurance of millionaires.  You won't hear politicians talk about that!

Maybe what America needs are more renegade doctors willing to go it alone without the burden of insurance companies dictating policy if the government refuses to make the necessary changes.

Another tremendously expensive part of our economy that has been laboriously and persistently absent from all conversation, politically it's even more deadly than chattering about raising taxes, is our prison industry.   No one wants to be seen as soft on crime.  But our policies have ripped apart families, crowded our jails, confined non-violent criminals with rapists and murderers, and created a nether world of slavery, assault, and recidivism.  The US currently houses more prisoners (over 2 million) than any country in the world, witnesses some of the highest recidivism rates (54%) in the world, and has basically resorted to punitive measures rather than reformative investments as a way of handling crime.

According to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Wisconsin’s prison population is projected to increase 25 percent by 2019 at a taxpayer cost of $2.5 billion."  The study concluded that a reduction of the incarcerated population by 10% would save over 40 million dollars.  In short, the prison industry is not just big business, it's huge business.

We won't hear Scott Walker or any of our state legislators, with the exception of Lena Taylor, discussing the prison industry and we definitely won't hear any discussion of it on a federal level.

That's three large pieces of the pie that are missing from the budget talks.  That's three more reason why the budget won't actually get balanced and the deficit reduced.  This post doesn't even mention raising taxes or the costs of a failing education system that is pouring more and more American tax dollars into private sector schools.  Those are two more conspicuously absent subjects.  And yet another two reasons why no one is really serious about balancing the budget and tackling our debt.  
Read more about the costs of prisons in Wisconsin: http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/archives/2011/03/wisconsin_gov_s.html
Read more about the Big Business of the Prison Industry: http://fdoc.us/CorrectionalCapitalism.pdf
Read about the different businesses affected by the prison industry:  http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2006/12/01/8394995/index.htm
Read about incarceration: American Furies, by Sasha Abramsky
Read more about prison costs: http://www.economist.com/node/13702846
Read the UW Madison study here: http://www.familyimpactseminars.org/s_wifis29c05.pdf

15 April 2011

Thank you for being such a Ham

When it seems that the world is getting you down, maybe Obama didn't address ending the wars or our unbelievably out-of-control incarceration rates (the largest prison population in the world), or maybe you're just depressed and apathetic about the whole ball of wax - including the Czech kleptomaniac and the fact that some kid just got sentenced to a prison term for possession of a dime bag while Willie Nelson paid a 100 shmackels, played a song, and got off, it's Ken Ham, the Haminator, time.

So here's something to cheer you up.  Step on in to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  Your host Ken the hammer Ham - where people are constantly Hamming it up with the Ham man.

These folks just confirmed what they'd already known for years - that the earth is 6000 years old, that dinosaurs lived with people, how we hunted them to extinction, and now they can tell everyone who Cain's wife was.  They look pleased as punch, by golly.

The Hammer man would like you to understand that the first humans were just as smart as we are today.  Looking at this picture, I can only agree with the Hamster on this point.

So what's got the Kenimator up in arms this week?  Seems like one of his own, an Eastern Nazarene College professor, has tossed some criticism at the Creation Museum.  Evidently not everyone shares the same knowledge with the first homo sapiens.  Some modern humans think that the earth is billions of years old and that woman did not come from the rib of the first man. 

Evidently there are some Christians who believe that the creation story is mythical.  Naturally this bit of conjecture bites off a bit more ham than the Haminator is willing to let get bit off.  And the Hammer man lays in:  "To claim that Genesis is just an ancient story that “began as an oral tradition for a wandering tribe of Jews” is to attack the Word of God, and thus it is an attack on the Son of God, who is the Word."  The professor got the Hammer's pork all barbecued (I admit it, I have no idea what this even means).

The professor goes on to write that "Evolution does not contradict the Bible unless you force an unreasonable interpretation on that ancient book.  To suppose, as the so-called young earth creationists do, that God dictated modern scientific ideas to ancient and uncomprehending scribes is to distort the biblical message beyond recognition. Modern science was not in the worldview of the biblical authors and it is not in the Bible."

Kenny won't let this blaspheming mock christian prof get away with the rhetoric of a sinner - he calls the professor a liar (pretty harsh stuff).  Then he adds this damning string:  "And where do you read in “the book of nature” that the world is billions of years old and that life evolved? You read this in man’s fallible books, as fallible man who “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1), as Giberson is doing, then imposes this story (and that’s what it is, a made-up story) on nature."

Sweet lamentations! That's some lickety splitin' arguin' there K.Ham running around and around in circles until no one knows what's up or down.  It's a thing of beauty to see the Haminator getting worked up in a fury. 

Dizzying feats of illogical banter are always reasonably inexpensive entertainment when the world's got you down.  Go check out the K.Ham website - it's priceless or worthless - but always good clean fun without utensils.
You can visit the Ham's site by clicking on the link to it on this page under the blog links.

13 April 2011

David Prosser Sucks, Leah Vukmir Blows

I was recently reminded of an episode from Family Guy in which Lois Griffin runs for mayor of a small town. At first she provides detailed and well considered answers to questions.  She explains everything very thoroughly, and bores the pants off the townspeople.  Her son then explains to her that the undecided voters are the dumbest in the country.  So she resorts to short answers often non-sequiturs, such as “9/11” and “terrorists”.  She easily wins the election.

Sound bites rule the information age.  The essential ability to possess today is agility – the ability to react quickly, what Bill Gates calls “velocity”.  Gathering sound bites means putting our celebrities on the spot, getting them to say something that could be misconstrued, and then applying a snippet of what they said as a general principle describing them. 

How a reporter frames his/her questions is more important than prior research and preparation for an interview.  Let’s say you want to interview David Prosser.  And you want to be able to come up with a catchy way to characterize him without getting yourself sued.  So you frame the question.   

“(Former) Justice Prosser, let’s say you have a soda and you want to drink it through a straw, what would you need to do in order to get the soda up through the straw and into your mouth?”

“I don’t understand the relevance of that question.  What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, sir, it’s just to loosen things up.  What do you do? Do you suck on the straw?"

“Sure, I suck.  That is how you utilize a straw.”  And now Mr. Prosser has provided us with great fodder for a sound bite just by a little editing.  Like this, “David Prosser admits he sucks.  The verdict is in, David Prosser sucks.”

Another method of gathering sound bites is to ask questions and deduce the answers.  In this method you may not get a precise match but you can reconfigure your conversation to arrive at the conclusion you had predicted.

“Ms. Vukmir, do you know how to whistle?”

“Excuse me, well, sure”

“I don’t, could you tell me how?”

“Put your lips together and blow.”

“Is that what you do to whistle?”

“Yes, I do.” 

“So, do you blow?”   

“Excuse me?”

“Thank you, Ms. Vukmir”  

And thus we have the sound bite we need.  “The stunning report that Leah Vukmir admits she blows.”

This is quite a useful propaganda tool that has been exploited for years by dictators and corporations as advertising.  The ruthless nature of propaganda has been utilized, especially since the First World War, by various cultures for various reasons.   In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler explains in great detail how to manipulate the populace using propaganda.   As R.W. Jepson explains in Clear Thinking:

“Such an ambitious, far-reaching aim could only be accomplished by seizing and monopolizing all the means for the dissemination of propaganda—platform, hoarding, press, radio and cinema: and once in undisputed possession of all these, Hitler proceeded to turn on and keep running a steady and constant stream. 

He tells us himself the ways in which he hoped to achieve his end, and they can be briefly summarised thus:
(1) driving home by endless repetition, a few simple points, and using catchy slogans or war-cries;

(2) playing on the herd instinct, and appealing always to groups or to the mass—never to individuals;

(3) avoiding rational argument, and concentrating on securing instinctive reactions, especially to the primary feeling of fear.”

 With the incredibly vast amounts of money pouring into political races these days, it will become more and more difficult to find substantive debates or discussions.  Instead we will hear more about “socialism” and “higher taxes is stealing” and “public employees are getting rich off of you, the taxpayer” and “glass doesn’t need to be recycled, there’s sand everywhere”, etc.

So, grab your hats and cover your mouths folks, campaign mode is all day every day all year long.