Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chomsky Discusses Prison Industrial Complex

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fruits of Inequality

In the US as most everyone knows inequality is pretty extreme.  We've become much more unequal during the last 30 years.  The right wing tells us we shouldn't be concerned.  These are the incentives that lead the Horatio Alger's to pull themselves up by their own boostraps and make something of themselves.  True enough, fear of poverty probably does drive a lot of people to succeed financially.  But let's not forget the downside.  Inequality has a huge effect on the way justice is administered.

Aaron Schwartz probably committed a crime when he downloaded scholarly articles in an effort to make them available to the poor so that the knowledge might improve their condition.  OK, it's a crime, and if the justice system wants to punish him for it I guess I think that would be wrong, but whatever.  Fine him and let's move on.  Well, it didn't work that way.  He was looking at 35 years in prison for it.  This for a crime that the victims (JSTOR, who he took the articles from) didn't think he should be punished.  Ultimately Schwartz committed suicide and his parents tell us basically the prosecutors pursuing this kind of sentencing drove him to it.

That's justice for one rung of our society.  What is it for bankers?  Our banking system crashed our economy and the economy of most of the world by doing a combination of legal and illegal things.  They got super rich doing it.  The rest paid the price.  In this excellent Frontline documentary we learn about how the Obama justice department simply shielded top level banking executives from justice.  Even Reagan prosecuted upper level officials during the Savings and Loan crisis, which caused less damage.  Even that limited justice is a thing of the past.  Notice via Greenwald that the Obama administration is livid that any media outlet would do actual journalism and investigate it's abuses, so they've vowed to never work with Frontline again, which is all the more reason PBS needs our support.

More recently HSBC was revealed to have been laundering money for terrorist organizations.  The consequence?  They paid a fine and moved on.  Is that supposed to be a disincentive?  If I engage in massive crimes but the company I work for has to pay the consequences, what do I care?

But this is exactly what you should expect in a country as unequal as the US and I suppose that's pretty much what you get in other countries that have similar levels of inequality.  Martin Luther King said that peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice.  Justice shouldn't be expected in our country, and so we aren't surprised that it isn't present.  Of course this has been going on for a long time.  There's a reason half the prison population is black even though their crime rates aren't much different from the rest of the population.  But we can see that it gets continually more extreme.  For the rich laundering money for terrorists or crashing the world economy doesn't even merit a slap on the wrist.  Sharing knowledge with the poor which was paid for a public expense?  For that you get 35 years.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

We Are Legend

Are you familiar with the alternative ending to the movie "I Am Legend".  If not, watch it here.

OK, that's makes a lot more sense than the original ending in the film.  Apparently it also more closely aligns with the book.  Throughout the movie you are carried along thinking Neville is acting noble.  You don't consider the story from the perspective of the beings that he is capturing, performing experiments that lead to many deaths.  These creatures are intelligent.  They created an elaborate trap that snared Neville.  You never think about the horror they feel when they wake up in the morning and discover that Neville has captured another family member, or perhaps driven a stake into a loved one's heart.

In the final scene where the creatures descend on his home, it's not because they are hungry and want to eat him.  They want to save the woman he has captured.  Neville is legend because he is their bogeyman.  He is the one that comes and snatches them when they sleep, then kills them.  This is the whole point of the book.

Coming to this fresh realization of what the whole story was about reminds me of the realization I came to about US interventionism.  I thought of Muslim terrorists as zombie like crazed savages that can't be reasoned with.  Thinking about things from their perspective as they watch children starve in Iraq, or as dictators were imposed on them that murdered them freely, just didn't occur to me.  The US is Robert Neville, bravely doing experiments on others to fix them in the way we think they should be, and the pain endured by the people that need the fixing is not really a consideration.

Will our country be the stuff of legend in a few centuries?  Was there really a country that actively attempted to undermine any means of curbing environmental catastrophe all so certain insanely rich people could be even more rich?  Did they really impose dictators throughout the world so corporations could send enormous profits to stockholders while preventing the people that did the work from getting more than 31 cents an hour?  Did their justice department really drive people to suicide for daring to provide information freely to impoverished people free of charge and at the same time wine and dine banksters at the White House that funnel money to terrorists and enrich themselves by crashing the overall economy?  Did they refuse to punish tortuers and punish exclusively the people that tried to inform the public of the torture?  Later generations will find it hard to believe.

What's also hard to believe is that at the time so many people cheered this on and genuinely thought it was the right thing to do.  They praised the sweatshop owners, the economists that provided the intellectual foundation for banksters and third world dictators, and said that the real villains were the people that tried to make the planet hospitable for future generations, or the people that work to prevent the wars.  We will be legends.  It's so depraved future generations may conclude that really it's all a myth.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Record Profits/Falling Wages

An article from the NY Times on falling wages in America.  And it's worse than the data show for ordinary Americans because even the reduced wages paid out are paid at a higher and higher share to the CEO and other already highly compensated individuals.  For the middle class and poor it's really falling off.

If wages aren't going to go up even when profits are at record levels, when will they?  The answer is they won't go up until workers figure out a way to strengthen their bargaining position.  It doesn't matter that profits are high.  What matters is management has workers isolated, and so they are going to continuously press to reduce compensation regardless of the profits.  They'll use low profits as an excuse to cut wages, and then when profits return they just won't give wages back, or possibly will continue to cut.  They can, so they will.  That's natural.  If you stand alone you can't resist their concentrated power, and workers today stand alone now that unions have been mostly undermined. But if you join together you can resist them.

It's the only way to stop the trend.  Organization.  And that's why unions are demonized so extensively in corporate sources (media, right wing think tanks), and why people who so desperately need unions hate them regardless and perceive them to be the problem.  Unions are a threat to the short term profits of investors, so the propaganda apparatus is paid to criticize them.  The propaganda has been very effective, even with the very people who need unions most.

We know unions work.  Unions ended child labor, created weekends, created safe working conditions, created the 40 hour work week, all things that don't exist in the third world where right wing anti-union policies have been imposed for so long.  These weren't gifts from above.  People organized and fought for them.  Why should the owner want to spend money and create a safer environment?  He's not going to give it to you.  You have to demand it, and to do that you have to organize.  It's the same pattern I see not only in the US, but in every other country I've looked to.  You have to give the owner an incentive to make a concession.  Threaten his revenue stream.

Our choices are to sit back, fail to organize, and watch things continue as before or organize, fight back, and once again see ordinary people share in the wealth generated in this country.  There's really no other alternative.

Heritage Index of Economic Freedom Update

I've blogged in the past about the bogus Freedom Index from the right wing think tank The Heritage Foundation.  These people are just paid liars on behalf of wealth.  They do tremendous damage.  I think one could argue that the economists at these right wing think tanks have more blood on their hands than a lot of the dictators frequently decried as horrible.  There's the cases many of us know about, such as Pinochet's concentration camps and so many of the other Latin American brutalizers.  The right wing economist provided the intellectual justification for the brutality.  Same in the former Soviet States and elsewhere.

Heritage has an update, and it's good to see that some others are starting to notice.  Isn't it odd that the so called freest states all have heavy government involvement in health care?  Up is down at Heritage.  We know the countries that really pursue right wing economic policies are hell holes.  These polices are usually enforced at the point of a gun, because stupid voters don't want them.  So the right wing economist has gotten most of what he's wanted in these locations.  Since they are the worst places in the world to live it's necessary for the right wing Heritage Foundation to distance themselves from it.

As a side note, I'd like to at some point take a closer look at Hong Kong, a favorite example for people like Milton Friedman and other right wing economists.  Prosperous as measured by per capita GDP, but I'm curious if perhaps inequality means life is not the greatest for ordinary people.  I just stumbled across this set of pictures depicting the homes of many.  Here's more shots of the exterior of these dwellings.  Frankly it's a bit scary.  I'm for simple living, but this looks like a horror movie.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Warmest Year in US On Record

If you were paying attention you expected this, but with the year closed we can officially say that this is the hottest year that's ever been recorded in the US. We're in this predicament due to capitalism's never ending requirement for increased consumption and profit.

Check out this interesting commentary which discusses, among other things, the behavior and mindset of the rich.  A recent survey of rich people, 1000 people with an average net worth of $3 million, reveals that a quarter of them feel they would need another $5 million before they would actually feel wealthy.  So the never ending drive for profits continues on behalf of these millionaires that think what they have is not enough.  We are quite literally making the planet inhospitable in our effort to satiate the never ending consumptive requirements of people that already have more than they need.  As referred to in the article Karl Marx predicted that capitalism contains within itself the seeds of it's own destruction.  We're watching it slowly unfold before our eyes.