by Robert Reich
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
God Bless Our Fossil Fuels
In addition to repealing Obamacare for the 457th time, Congress has been busy with a new agenda. HR 4031 will officially make it illegal for President Obama to attend any more climate change conferences. In fact he won't even be allowed to mention climate change in his upcoming State of the Union (SOTU) speech. As part of the Fossil Fuel Enhancement Act of 2015, Governor Jerry Brown of California will be forced to abandon his plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Instead he has been ordered to increase greenhouse gas emissions and to give subsidies to automobile manufacturers as long as they don't convert to electric engines. As part of the Act, subsidies have been increased to ExxonMobil by $5 billion to further encourage them in the fine work they're doing promoting and selling fossil fuels.
The Fossil Fuel Enhancement Act of 2015 would insure that fossil fuels will always be used to generate electricity in the US. The Act specifically forbids any state or other jurisdiction from installing any solar or wind farm apparatus and mandates that any so installed at the present time shall be dismantled. Senators and Congressmen, when asked for a comment, chimed in together that we can't afford to have the American oil industry taken down by a bunch of environmentalists because that would entail losing so many jobs that we would never recover. Also Wall Street, which has invested heavily in fossil fuels, said that without them they might require another bailout. In short it is not worth the threat to our economy to proceed down the line of eliminating the production of energy with fossil fuels. Fossil fuel generating plants are the most reliable and dependable facilities when it comes to providing the American economy with the energy it needs to keep it humming. They keep going even when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. So there.
Mass Transit a Socialist Plot?
Congress has reduced monies for mass transportation as a socialist plot to take away our individuality as expressed in our cars. The American way of life is predicated on the internal combustion engine, and cars are an indispensable part of the American lifestyle. They express our individuality and freedom. The open road beckons - not the transit station. That's the European socialist way of life, and we don't want no part of it.
What would America be without Nasscar and drag racing which are a testament to the glory of the internal combustion engine? How could we be Ford Tough with an electric engine powering our pickups? Or how could a pickup with an electric motor be built Like a Rock. Only an internal combustion engine can give you that thrill of excitement as you accelerate from 0 to 60 or pull an excruciatingly heavy load through mud, ice and snow? We want to discover the Guts & Glory of what makes Ram Trucks so tough. We want tough pickups with internal combustion engines not those namby pamby electric cars.
Mass Murders are as American as Apple Pie
In acknowledgement of the fact that there is more than one mass murder a day in the US, Congress will soon pass a bill regulating mass murders and gun control in the US. With regard to mass murders, the official response will be "thoughts and prayers" only if tomorrow's mass murder involves more than 7 killed. Less than seven and there will be no official response whatsoever. That's the new normal.
Regarding gun control: after every mass murder, a subsidy will be given to gun shops so they can increase advertising and give discounts to all those who will increase the demand for firearms just in case their Second Amendment rights might be taken away. The idea is that every man, woman and child in America should possess at least one gun and hopefully many more. It is suggested by the gun lobby that one room in every house be devoted to the storing of armaments and that every home have at least one rocket launcher and several grenades. That room should always be locked securely so that toddlers cannot gain access and shoot grandma .
Since terrorists are using cookbooks found on the internet to construct pipe bombs and other remote controlled devices, in order to combat this insidious development, the government will issue free of charge the appropriate literature that will allow every American family to construct their own pipe bombs and remote controlled devices on the grounds that the best defense against terrorists is a good offense in which every red blooded American plays a part. Let's face it: we're all part of a well regulated militia so let's get regulated! A well armed constituency will take out any would be terrorist before they can even think about perpetrating a heinous act. We need to fight fire with fire.
Donald Trump tweeted that every time there's a mass murder his poll numbers go up. He has put a new plank in his platform that, if he's elected President, more, not fewer, gun show loopholes will be opened up so that we can all exercise our Second Amendment rights without any noisy interference from the Federal Gubment.
In addition to Trump's sanguine assessment of mass murders, manufacturers of firearms have told Wall Street and billionaire investors that mass murders are good for business:
Behind closed doors, makers and sellers of firearms in the U.S. have told investors and Wall Street analysts that mass shootings are opportunities to make lots of money.
How does this happen? “Following a mass shooting, there is talk of gun control, which the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates attack as an assault on the Second Amendment,” writes Lee Fang at The Intercept. “Notably, gun and ammunition manufacturers often donate, either directly or as a portion of each sale, to the NRA. The fear of losing gun rights leads to panic buying, which brings greater profits to gun retailers, gun companies and their investors.”
So the sale of guns and ammo is a profit center essential to increasing GDP and supporting the capitalist way of life.
In other news all those on the 'no fly' list will be encouraged to buy more guns just in case a Democratic Congress far in the future might close the loophole and prevent those 'no flyers' from owning guns.
Labeling GMOs Would Just Confuse People
Congress has also taken up the GMO issue. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act will prevent all states, cities, counties, and other jurisdictions from passing any law that results in the labeling of GMOs. It is thought that this will increase GDP because people will stop growing their own vegetables and raising their own chickens or even bartering for produce with local farmers. Let's make every transaction a cash transaction because that's the only kind that adds to GDP. If you raise your own chickens instead of buying them at the super market, GDP will go down and this could drive the economy into recession. So by all means buy, buy buy. This will expedite commerce and make sure that large agribusiness will be able to keep their share values up. Labeling GMOs as such would result in a downgrading by financial analysts with a resulting drop in stock prices.
Price Gouging is as American as Apple Pie
Congress has also given much thought to the issue of prescription drug prices which are skyrocketing. They have passed another bill which will make it much harder for generics to compete with patented prescription drugs and to increase the time limit for which patents are in effect from 20 to 50 years. At the same time, they have forbidden any governmental agency from informing the public when a cheaper version of a patented drug is available. It also prohibits the Department of Veteran Affairs, which heretofore could negotiate for lower drug prices, from doing so. This brings it in line with Medicare which was forbidden from negotiating lower drug prices in 2006.
A Congressional spokesman said that price gouging is as American as apple pie, and we can't afford for Big Pharma's profits to recede. If they did, their stock price would suffer and this would possibly lead to a sell-off in the stock market which could induce a repression if not a depression. Although European countries do negotiate with Big Pharma and end up paying half of what Medicare pays, they are socialists who are not doing their part to support research. They're merely parasites living off the noble efforts of US drug companies which have to resort to inversions like Pfizer did when it moved its headquarters to Ireland and merged with Allergan in order to avoid US taxes. Thanks to Americans who pay at least twice as much for drugs as Europeans, the US will lead the world in drug research.
Congress is set to repeal Obamacare for the 876th time next week. Obamacare has become too costly mainly because Medicare can't negotiate for lower drug prices. It must pay whatever the price gougers choose to charge. Congress has further strengthened this law to the extent that there can be no cheaper substitutions for drugs that doctors prescribe even if cheaper drugs are available. Doctors have been known to accept speaking fees and other perks from drug companies who encourage them to prescribe their non-generic drugs. Therefore, Medicare will end up paying through the nose even when cheaper drugs are available.
This was all music to the ears of Martin Shkreli and others who have raised the price of their drugs - in Shkreli's case from $13.50 a pill to $750. a pill for Dariprim. If doctors prescribe it, Medicare must pay for it. Shkreli became known as 'the most hated man in America' for his price gouging prowess. “I believe drugs should be priced relative to the value they confer,” he said. The value Dariprim confers is staying alive for those who need it. After much outcry, Shkreli said he would reduce the price of Dariprim, but then later backed off from that promise. Shkreli said that he should have raised the price even higher because his first duty was to make money for his shareholders.
Republican Congress Puts Presidential Decorum on Agenda
Congress will also next week take up the matter of Obama's dress in the Oval Office. In the 2015 Presidential Appropriate Attire and Decorum Act (PAADA), the President will be forced to wear a coat and tie at all times when he is present in the Oval Office. He will be forbidden from putting his feet up on the desk or from eating snacks. If they could do it and some say it is possible within the framework of the Constitution, they would forbid Obama from taking a shit in the Presidential bathroom which is just off the Oval Office. This is in light of the fact that a past President, a Democrat in fact, was involved in illicit activities there and a future Republican President should not have to have his hands sullied by wiping his ass in such a place. In due respect for future Republican Presidents, it is a known fact that people of Kenyan descent carry a type of germ that is very difficult to wipe clean off a toilet seat even with the use of the strongest disinfectants. Hence the President Forbidden to Use Presidential Bathroom Act of 2015.
Trump in his quest to protect us from Muslims wondered aloud today why Tashfeen and Farook, the San Bernadino shooters, escaped detection as they were posting on Facebook their radical views for two years before the incident. The fact that they weren't on some terrorist list is beside the point. Doesn't the FBI, the CIA and the NSA have the capability of searching for the word "jihad" wherever it might appear on the internet?
On another note Trump said that, if he is elected President, the first thing he'd do is to give the American Medal of Freedom to Charles and David Koch for their tireless devotion and service to the nation.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Income Inequality is Getting Worse
Income and wealth inequality is only getting worse. It's not hard to understand why. Certain corporations have a lock on economic activity throughout the world. Mom and Pop operations have been forced out of business or have merged with the Big Guys. Artificial intelligence, automation, robots and computers have taken over many menial but used-to-be-better-than-minimum-wage jobs like check-out clerks, bank tellers and customer service operators. Other jobs have been off shored to cheaper labor jurisdictions.
The rest of us, college graduates included, have been reduced to being expendable appendages of the large corporate machines to be sucked in and spit out at their pleasure. When our skill sets are outmoded, we will be laid off and fresh talent will be acquired. The job pool is shrinking because the number of necessary jobs is shrinking. Today, there are approximately 1.2 million fewer jobs in mid-and higher-wage industries than there were prior to the 2008 recession, while there are 2.3 million more jobs in lower-wage industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most jobs in the next decade won't even require a college education. They are jobs that can't be done by robots: care givers, nurses, house cleaners, gardeners, retail.
Another reason for income and wealth inequality is that the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing policy screws savers who get zero interest on their life savings while injecting money into the largest Wall Street banks. This money is siphoned off by wealthy investors and hedge funds. It never enters the real economy. It only encourages the average Joes and Janes to take on more debt. Ninty percent of the money supply is created by private banks who loan money into the economy through their policy of fractional reserve banking. As the money supply increases, so does debt.
Wall Street Banking Giants Create Most of the US Money Supply
Fractional reserve banking is a simple concept that has become more complicated and convoluted as it has evolved over the years. In its simplest terms, if a bank takes in a deposit of $100 from 10 people or $1000 total, it loans out $900 of that keeping $100 back as a reserve in case someone wants their deposit back before the principal and interest on the loans start flowing in. Their premise is that not everyone will demand their deposit back at the same time. If, however, everyone does want their money back at the same time, there could be a run on the bank unless the bank can borrow the money from some other entity like another bank or the Federal Reserve
Thus money is created by the bank with a few keystrokes on a computer and is fed into the economy as debt. The banks are at the top of the food chain since they create the money and loan it out on interest. Thus the US economy is a debt based economy. Bad things happen when people all demand their money back at the same time or collective debt becomes so big and untenable that it can't be paid back. This is what happened in the 2008 financial crisis when mortgages were given to people who couldn't pay them back and hence defaulted. Eventually this whole financial structure, which was a house built upon sand instead of a rock, to use a Biblical metaphor, collapsed.
It is to be noted that when a bank creates money, it is not backed by gold. Nixon took us off the gold standard in 1971. Money not based on anything but the government's say so is called fiat money. Thus all money created by private banks is fiat money, and, although the government says it is all good, it is the private banks that actually create it, not the supposedly democratically elected government.
The Federal Reserve has also been involved in money creation recently with a process called quantitative easing (QE). When the government needs money beyond the revenues it takes in by means of taxes, it goes into debt by issuing bonds. Sometimes those bonds are bought by Joe and Jane Average Investor or sometimes by other countries like Japan. However, much of the time they are bought by Wall Street banks. Then the Federal Reserve turns around and pays cash for those bonds taking them off the hands of the big banks. The result is that the banks end up with more money and the loans disappear on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet which is sort of like a black hole. Effectively, the government never has to pay those loans back.
Quantitative Easing for the People
There is another way that money could be created and injected into the economy. It might be called quantitative easing for the people (PQE) as Britain's Leader of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn has termed it. He proposes to give the Bank of England a new mandate to upgrade the economy to invest in new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects. The investments would be made through a National Investment Bank set up to invest in new infrastructure and in the hi-tech innovative industries of the future.
The money creation (or printing if you like) would entail the government issuing a bond that a National Investment Bank would buy. Then the central bank would take that loan on its balance sheet in return for cash that the bank would then use to pay for infrastructure. The end result is that the government would owe the central bank the amount of the loan, but because the central bank is a financial black hole, it would never have to pay.
In Addition to Pocketing the QE, Wall Street Bankrupts Cities
The City of Los Angeles is paying a Wall Street bank $200. million annually in fees just to manage its money. The Huffington Post revealed:
LOS ANGELES, CA- At a lively downtown rally in front of the Bank of NY Mellon in Los Angeles, the Fix LA Coalition unveiled a groundbreaking research report, entitled "No Small Fees: LA Spends More on Wall Street than Our Streets," revealing that Wall Street charges the City of Los Angeles more than $200 million in fees. Coalition members called for action to reduce the high fees and put that money back into neighborhood services. After the rally, Fix LA Coalition members delivered the report to elected officials in City Hall.
In addition LA like a lot of cities that have gone bankrupt (Birmingham, Alabama for instance) has been snookered into interest rate swaps that end up costing much more money than if they had kept the original loan at the original rate. Then to get out of these toxic deals, they have to pay a substantial "termination fee."
Lisa Cody, SEIU 721 Research Analyst and report co-author stated: "Based on what we know, there are some concrete steps we can take to save LA millions. For example, we can start with Mellon Bank to renegotiate a 'swap' deal that was supposed to save the city money, but is instead costing LA almost $5 million a year. To fix this toxic deal, the bank wants $24 million more in fees. In 2012, NY Mellon charged the city $26 million in termination fees for another swap they had sold us that turned out to be a terrible deal for LA."
LA is not the first and probably won't be the last to be tricked into engaging in a fancy derivative deal that was way over the heads of the city employees that were talked into it by Wall Street hit men. If they had formed their own Public Bank of Los Angeles, they could not only have avoided being ripped off, but they could have actually made money and then be in a position to fix all those potholes they've been screaming about. And they could have created their own money supply the way Wall Street does it: fractional reserve banking.
Los Angeles Becomes Largest U.S. City to Take Action on Toxic Bank Deals; Unanimous Vote Requires City to Renegotiate or Terminate Multi-Million Dollar Interest Rate Rip-Off on Behalf of Taxpayers
Unanimous City Council vote sends strong message to Bank of NY Mellon, Wall Street: LA is not your ATM
The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 Wednesday to renegotiate or terminate without penalty a toxic swap deal the City entered into with two Wall Street banks, Bank of New York Mellon and Dexia. The measure, advanced by Fix LA, a coalition of clergy, unions and community groups aligned to restore city services and expand middle class jobs in the public sector, could save the City as much as $138 million. The International Business Times, noting the significance, reported that Los Angeles is now the largest city in the nation "to challenge ballooning Wall Street levies that accompany similar interest rate swap deals throughout the nation."
The motion further calls on the banks to return unfair profits and fees paid since 2008, estimated at more than $65 million to date. The deal costs taxpayers $4.9 million annually.
Los Angeles is now spending $290 million a year in financial fees or more than the entire city budget for maintaining its vast array of streets and highways. LA isn't the only sucker to enter into an interest rate swap in 2007 which was essentially a bet that interest rates would not fall below 2%. Then when the Federal Reserve, with its policy of QE, lowered interest rates to zero, LA and many other jurisdictions found themselves on the wrong end of a bet and were forced to shell out much more than they would have if they had kept the interest rate on the original loan.
The next sucker: Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico ran itself into debt and then tried to make up for it with interest rate swaps. Recent credit downgrades allowed Wall Street to demand hundreds of millions more in short-term lending fees, credit-default-swap termination fees, and higher interest rates. Between 2012 and 2014, Puerto Rico paid nearly $640 billion to terminate swaps in addition to $12 million annual swap payments. As a result Puerto Rico is in the same situation as Greece - borrowing money in order to make debt payments which is the same as borrowing money on one credit card to make the payments on another.
The Chicago Public School Teachers' Pension and Retirement Fund has brought suit against 10 of Wall Street's biggest banks including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America for colluding to prevent the trading of interest rate swaps with the result that it cost the Fund more money.
If these jurisdictions - whether they be cities, counties or states - formed public banks as the state of North Dakota did, there would be no outflow of cash to Wall Street. Money would stay at the local level and could be used to support local businesses and create jobs repairing and building infrastructure.
An Infrastructure Bank Would Mean Good Jobs in a Much Needed Enterprise
If the government creates money and puts it in an infrastructure bank, that money would be spent into the economy by creating jobs to build and repair infrastructure. Thus good jobs would be created at the low and middle parts of the economic spectrum. This money would have a multiplier effect as the job holders would spend their paychecks on the necessities and luxuries of life. American GDP is based on 70% consumer spending so that would go up. Thus the democratically elected government - not private banks - would be in charge of creating the money supply and it would be to the advantage of average workers not high end financiers. Since the big banks are the current recipients of the QE largesse, that money goes into the pockets of billionaires in various ways and drives wealth and income inequality.
Or the government, instead of the private Wall Street banks, could create money itself directly and inject it into the economy in a variety of ways as Abraham Lincoln did when he had the American government create and spend greenbacks into the economy. This money, therefore, does not create debt as money created by private banks and loaned into the economy does. It's a bottom up rather than a trickle down method. Problem is that most money created today does not trickle down into the real economy.
Australian blogger Prof. Bill Mitchell agrees that PQE is economically sound. But he says it should not be called “quantitative easing.” QE is just an asset swap – cash for federal securities or mortgage-backed securities on bank balance sheets. What Corbyn is proposing is actually Overt Money Financing (OMF) – injecting money directly into the economy.
Mitchell acknowledges that OMF is a taboo concept in mainstream economics. Allegedly, this is because it would lead to hyperinflation. But the real reasons, he says, are that:
It cuts out the private sector bond traders from their dose of corporate welfare which unlike other forms of welfare like sickness and unemployment benefits etc. has made the recipients rich in the extreme. . . .
It takes away the ‘debt monkey’ that is used to clobber governments that seek to run larger fiscal deficits.
So the government could just create money and inject it into the economy in one of two ways: directly to the people in the form of a basic guaranteed income or through an infrastructure bank that creates jobs. In the first instance money would be transferred directly to people to bolster consumption. In the second case jobs would be created that would get needed work done. Or a combination of both could be used.
A third way of reducing income inequality would be to redistribute money from the 1% to the 99% through the tax code. This is the method that Bernie Sanders advocates. Taxes on wealth and financial transactions would provide additional monies which could be transferred to the 99% through social programs such as Medicare-For-All, or it could be given directly in terms of a deposit to checking accounts as was done in the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Money was deducted from tax liabilities or deposited directly to American citizens.
The Concept of a Basic Guaranteed Annual Income
The concept of a Basic Income in the U.S. goes back to Thomas Paine, one of the driving forces for independence and reducing inequality during the American Revolution. More recently, it’s been supported by very non-liberal individuals like Fredrick Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Richard Nixon. This would eliminate poverty in one fell swoop. All the anti-poverty programs could be rolled into one with much fewer administrative costs. Just as Medicare-For-All would simplify and reduce medical costs, a basic guaranteed income would amount to Social-Security-For-All. The state of Alaska already has such a program called the Alaska Permanent Fund which hands out money to each resident on an annual basis. In 2015 each man, woman and child received $2,072.00. For a family of four that was a nice basic income of approximately $8000. Sweet!
In the Netherlands a number of cities are experimenting with a basic income after the city of Utrecht announced that it would give no-strings-attached money to some of its residents. Tilburg, a city of 200,000 inhabitants close to the border with Belgium, will follow Utrecht’s initiative, and the cities of Groningen, Maastricht, Gouda, Enschede, Nijmegen and Wageningen are also considering it. A recent study conducted in 18 European countries concluded that generous welfare benefits make people likely to want to work more, not less.
In Switzerland, the necessary 100,000 signatures have been obtained for holding a referendum on whether Swiss citizens should receive an unconditional basic income of €2,500 per month, independently of whether they are employed or not. Other countries such as Finland and Catalonia are also moving in the direction of a no-strings-attached guaranteed income. This would do more to reduce inequality and poverty than perhaps any other measure.
If Tilburg’s basic income project gets the green light from Netherland’s state secretary of social affairs, the town will provide an extra paycheck to a pilot group of 250 people starting in January 2016, Tillburg officials said. The city has not confirmed the amount of the stipend, but in Utrecht checks will range from around €900 ($1,000) for one adult to €1,300 ($1,450).
Although the classic basic income theory proposes universal payments across the population, the two Dutch experiments will only focus on residents who are already recipients of social assistance. Those in the program will be exempt from the severe job-seeking requirements and penalties in Dutch law.
Authorities aim to test how citizens react without that sword of Damocles over their heads. Will the money encourage them to find a job or will they sit on their couches comfortably?
A guaranteed income could be means tested. Why not? Rich people don't need an extra $1000. a month. It would reduce poverty, increase consumption and bolster GDP. Rich corporations would probably increase the price of staples as people had more money to buy them causing inflation. That's why the behemoth world wide franchise operations need to be broken up so they don't collude to raise prices on staples thus defeating the purpose of the basic income. With fiat money entering the real economy instead of the billionaire economy, inflation could become a concern.
Hyperinflation is always a concern when fiat money is created. When that money is spent by consumers, it will still wind up in the hands of a few major corporations, and that would be a problem. They could just keep raising prices. That's why breaking up those large behemoths by using the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is important. Money can also be pulled back by the government by taxation if inflation threatens to get out of hand.
As Ellen Brown says: "Thus there are many ways to recycle an issue of new money back to the government. The same money could be spent and collected back year after year, without creating price inflation or hyperinflating the money supply."
However, when fiat money ends up in the pockets of billionaires as has been the case with QE, inflation is not a concern because it doesn't enter the real economy and prices don't rise. Income inequality though becomes a major concern as does the influence of big money on the political system. Billionaire money has bought and paid for the political system through lobbying and campaign donations with the result that the US is effectively no longer a democracy but a plutocracy.
Trickle Down Economics Trickles Up Instead
As the article The Case for Universal Basic Income states:
What’s really scary is the general acceptance of a status quo in which most people are getting poorer and poorer, even while recent studies demonstrate that so-called “trickle-down” economics actually means an upwards flow of income until it stagnates as hoarded wealth. This stymies wealth creation in the economy, as the Institute for Policy Studies concluded after using standard economic multiplier models to show that every extra dollar paid to low-wage workers adds about $1.21 to the US economy. If this dollar went to a high-wage worker it would add only 39 cents to GDP. In other words, if the $26.7 billion paid in bonuses to Wall Street punters in 2013 had gone to poor workers, GDP would have risen by some $32.3 billion. ...
One of the main advantages of a universal basic income is that it would free people from the tyranny of the job market in which they are mere commodities by guaranteeing the most basic human right of all, that of material existence.
With inequality increasing some way or ways must be found to redress the balance. The alternative is to wake up and find ourselves in a neo-feudal society controlled by a few behemoth corporations employing only a few high level people at good wages. The rest of the population would be employed in low level service type jobs and live in relative poverty. What money they had would be spent in the troughs of the giant corporations and end up in the pockets of the 1%. Even if the 99% were given money to spend, it would still end up there - in the pockets of a few. An infrastructure bank funded by government created fiat money would provide people with decent jobs in which workers could maintain a sense of dignity and improve the quality of the nation's infrastructure at the same time.
In addition recipients of a basic income should have to give something back in terms of creating a better life for poor people around the world. Instead of armies with guns and weapons which have cost trillions and produced mainly negative results, a Peace Army could help poor people around the globe attain at least a minimally acceptable lifestyle in terms of clean water and sanitation, adequate nutrition, energy and education.
Installing solar around the world will not only provide energy for people who don't have anything but the most primitive kind while cleaning up the environment at the same time. The commitment of rich nations to help poorer nations convert to renewable energy could be manifested by funding unemployed and underemployed Americans to help build such infrastructure around the world.
It's not good for people to be idle. If they have no other job, they should at least be required to perform community service. If they have another job so that the basic income is just a supplement, this would be the ideal situation.
Income inequality will only increase as long as Wall Street banks control the money creation process, and the rest of US citizens keep going into debt whether it be with mortgages, student loans, car loans or credit cards. Local jurisdictions should take back the money creation process from Wall Street by creating their own public banks. Then the people will have the say in who gets the QE.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Conflict Between Sunnis and Shiites Goes Back Over 1000 Years
American politicians including George W Bush and Barack Obama have ignored the fact that the Sunnis and Shiites hate each other and have been fighting for 1383 years. Their lack of knowledge and acceptance of that fact has led to their bungling and botching of Middle East policy. There are effectively two religions: Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam.
Understanding the religious composition of countries in the Middle East goes a long way toward explaining why certain countries are fighting other countries or are standing by doing nothing in the fight against terrorism. For instance, why won't Saudi Arabia fight ISIS? The answer is simple. They are both Sunnis. For the most part Sunnis won't fight Sunnis and Shiites won't fight Shiites. But they sure as hell will fight each other. Americans and the western world in general have just been snookered into getting involved in this mess, which has been going on for over 1000 years, starting with George W Bush's ill conceived and immoral invasion of Iraq.
Middle Easterners have long memories. They are fighting battles which started eons ago.This is from an article by Harold Rhode:
When Khomeini arrived in Iran in February 1979, one of the first statements he made to the media on the tarmac was that "he had come to rectify a wrong which took place 1400 years ago." Westerners thought this somewhat quaint and obviously irrelevant. All that interested them was what he had to say about the Shah, America, and Israel. To Westerners, especially Americans, who dismiss things that happened a few days ago, Khomeini mumbling about some event that took place centuries ago seemed irrelevant.
Middle Easterners, however, who never forget perceived wrongs, knew exactly what he was talking about. When the Muslim prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE, a fight broke out among the Muslims as to who would inherit the leadership of Islam. Those who supported their prophet's family eventually became known as the Shi'ites. Those who supported what might be labeled the "establishment" in Mecca became known as the Sunnis.
Rhode goes on to say, "Sadly, Middle Easterners culturally are unable bring themselves to 'let bygones be bygones' – a concept totally alien to Middle Eastern culture. Disputes therefore fester, then erupt when one side perceives the other as weak." And thanks to George W Bush, Americans are embroiled in a 1400 year old dispute involving also perceived grievances experienced in the years since then. Nothing will ever get accomplished until there is peace and reconciliation between the two branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia. And that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon.
If Khomeini was intent on righting a wrong committed almost 1400 years ago, his long memory probably also extends back to the time when the US installed the hated Shah in power in Iran. Again it was all about oil. Iran had nationalized its oil fields under the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, until a US and UK backed coup d'état deposed Mosaddegh and brought back foreign oil firms. In August 2013 the CIA admitted that it was involved in both the planning and the execution of the coup, including the bribing of Iranian politicians, security and army high-ranking officials, as well as pro-coup propaganda. The CIA is quoted acknowledging the coup was carried out "under CIA direction" and "as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government."
Iran got rid of the Shah in the 1979 Islamic Revolution which replaced the US backed Shah with an Islamic republic under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, supported by various leftist and Islamic organizations as well as Iranian students.
85% of all Muslims Are Sunnis
Iraq was a country ruled by a Sunni, Saddam Hussein, in which a majority of the people were Shiites. Potential conflict there? You bet. Saddam, however, kept the lid on this seething cauldron. Getting rid of him took the lid off. Syria has a government led by Bashar al-Assad who is an Alawite, a branch of Shia, who rules over a majority Sunni populace - just the opposite situation of Iraq.
85% of all Muslims are Sunnis. Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, most of the Arab World, and among Muslims in the United States (of whom 85–90% are Sunnis). The country with the highest Shiite population is Iran which is 90% Shia. Naturally, Iran supports Assad, a fellow Shia. Make sense?
American leaders, who don't want to admit the fact that Islam is essentially two religions, fall into the trap of making statements like "ISIS has killed more Muslims than Christians." Yeah, Shiite Muslims. Very few Muslims identify as "just a Muslim" or generic Muslims like American Presidents like to talk about. So ISIS naturally wants to wipe out the Shiites and establish a Sunni Caliphate. If the US had its way and got rid of al-Assad, it wouldn't take long for ISIS to add southern Syria to its Caliphate. They already control northern Syria.
The attackers on 9/11 were Sunnis; the attackers in Paris were Sunnis. Let's be clear about who the terrorists really are, and they are not Shiites. That certainly does not mean that all Sunnis are terrorists.
Getting Rid of Bashar al-Assad Would be as Disastrous as Getting Rid of Saddam Was
How does this relate to what is happening in Syria now and America's role in it? Hezbollah (Iran's proxy) and Iran are naturally supporting Bashar al-Assad because they don't want a Sunni takeover of Syria. Who is America supporting? Sunnis of course. And who are the ISIS fighters who occupy parts of northern Syria? They are Sunnis. When American politicians talk about getting Muslims to put troops on the ground to take out ISIS, who do they think those troops are going to be?
Not Saudi Arabians who are Sunnis and who have supported Wahhabism, an extreme sect that has spawned terrorism. For more than two centuries, Wahhabism has been Saudi Arabia's dominant faith. Wahhabism has been accused of being "a source of global terrorism", inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labeling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir), thus paving the way for their execution for apostasy.
George W Bush kowtowed and pandered to the Saudi princes because he lusted after their oil.The US has been on the side of not what is morally right but on the side of rich American oil corporations. Bush and others winked at their Wahhabist extremism, and they winked back when Bush ousted Sunni Saddam Hussein and supposedly liberated Iraqi Shiites. But it didn't work out that way. Instead Bush Jr opened a can or worms that metastasized into ISIS.
Yet the US sells arms to Saudi Arabia, and, despite its riches, it will do nothing to fight ISIS. Recently, the US State Department has approved the sale of $1.29 billion worth of bombs to Saudi Arabia, as its military carries out air strikes in neighboring Yemen. Why is Saudi Arabia fighting in Yemen's civil war? Because it doesn't want the country taken over by Houthis who are Shiite rebels. Simple as that. It is fighting Shiites to keep Sunnis in power.
Saudi Arabia is the center of the Sunni branch of Islam. It is also the center of the most violent and radical sect of Islam … the “Wahhabis”. But the U.S. has long supported the Madrassa schools within Saudi Arabia which teach radical Wahhabi beliefs.
An article in WashingtonsBlog, The U.S. Is Supporting the Most Violent Muslim Terrorists In Order to Wage War for Oil, on May 2, 2013 states:
Sunni extremists accounted for the greatest number of terrorist attacks and fatalities for the third consecutive year. More than 5,700 incidents were attributed to Sunni extremists, accounting for nearly 56 percent of all attacks and about 70 percent of all fatalities. Among this perpetrator group, al-Qaida (AQ) and its affiliates were responsible for at least 688 attacks that resulted in almost 2,000 deaths, while the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan conducted over 800 attacks that resulted in nearly 1,900 deaths.
I'll state it simply: The US is on the wrong side in Syria. Al-Assad was never a threat to US interests. ISIS is. The western world is waking up to that fact after the killings in Paris. Hollande and Putin and most of the Western World are now determined to wipe ISIS out. So where does Obama stand? He's backing off his position of getting rid of Assad slightly. The neocon policy of regime change has been a huge failure throughout the Middle East and before that in South America and elsewhere.
For instance, The election of Marxist candidate Salvador Allende as President of Chile in September 1970 led President Richard Nixon to order that Allende not be allowed to take office. Following an extended period of social, political, and economic unrest fomented by the CIA, General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in a violent coup d'etat on September 11, 1973; among the dead was Allende.
So now Obama is in the position of trying to save face by sticking to his position that Assad has to go, while Putin, Hollande and the rest of the Western World are aligned in their resolve to get rid of ISIS. You have to give Obama some credit for trying to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That was his game plan; it just didn't work out due to the ongoing struggle for power in the region. Where is Saddam when you need him?
Obama's support for Sunni moderates fighting Assad in Syria was never realistic. If they had been successful in removing al-Assad, they would have installed a Sunni government in Syria. How much time would have to pass after that before their fellow Sunnis, namely ISIS, would have taken over all of Syria? Not much, I think. Remember they already control a large part of it.
Who Will the "Boots on the Ground" Fighting ISIS Be?
Where are the Muslim troops that are going to be the "boots on the ground" that will fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq? On Meet the Press Leon Panetta suggested that the "boots on the ground" could be supplied by Saudi Arabia. Really? They who arguably spawned ISIS are going to take up arms against fellow Sunnis? I don't think so.
They won't be Sunnis, so let's assume they will be Shiites. Where will they come from? Our pals in Iran? Perhaps, but not under US leadership. Even more distasteful to American politicians than allying ourselves with Russia would be to ally ourselves with Iran. However, in a report by Lara Logan on 60 Minutes, it was pointed out that the only thing that has saved Iraq from being completely overtaken by ISIS is Iranian backed "boots on the ground" who naturally have had little if any support from the US.
Even more naive than Leon Panetta is John Kasich. His comprehensive plan to deal with ISIS would include "Arab forces." Which Arab forces, Mr. Kasich? Not Sunnis. Well, then, will it be our pals in Iran? He is proud to see many moderate Muslims willing to stand up and condemn the attacks in Paris. Well, who are these moderate Muslims. Are they the 5% who identify as "just a Muslim" and don't identify as either Sunni or Shiite?
Supposedly, according to Mr. Kasich, these moderate Muslims say that their religion has been hijacked. That doesn't square very well with the documented 1400 year hatred between Sunnis and Shiites. Of course, Sunnis would say it has been hijacked by Shiites and Shiites would say it has been hijacked by Sunnis. Remember there are hardly any generic Muslims, but these guys go on pretending that there are. Naivete abounds!
The US better get its act together and get on the right side of history. Putin has visited Iran recently and Russia and Iran are forming an alliance both to repel ISIS (which has proclaimed its enmity to Iran) and to cooperate economically and strategically. I'm afraid the US is being left on the sidelines as France, Russia and Iran take over the major responsibilities of fighting terrorism. In a way this is OK. Let someone else do the job that the US has fantastically bungled at this point.
In light of the deep seated hatred between Sunnis and Shiites, American political leaders should never again say that Muslims are by and large peace loving peoples. This negates the realities of the thousands of years of hatred and fighting between the two groups. Solving this conundrum would require getting the two branches of Islam to make peace with each other. According to Sunnis, Muslims are wonderful people, but they mean Sunni Muslims are wonderful people, and the opposite holds true for Shiites. So there's no lack of Muslims willing to say that Islam is a religion of peace and love, but they don't qualify it with "if it weren't only for those terrible Shiites (Sunnis)."
The US has supported the epicenter of Sunnis, Saudi Arabia, because supposedly we need their oil. Well, reality check, we don't need it any more. The US needs to convert away from oil and towards renewables to forestall the disaster of global warming but, as far as oil is concerned, the US is self-sufficient. The US needs to realign its Mideastern policy.
What we need is a coalition, a partnership among France, Russia, Iran and the US with France, Russia and Iran supplying the boots on the ground. America's role in that regard has a sorrowful legacy. Let someone else step up. The US doesn't have to be the "leader." The partnership should be equal with the military Chain of Command being comprised of officers from all four countries on a merit based basis.
Eliminating ISIS' nascent Caliphate in Syria and Iraq in terms of lands occupied, however, will not prevent them and others from pulling off Paris style attacks. Those attacks could just as easily have been planned and executed without any help from ISIS outside Europe. They were essentially homegrown European cells that then activated themselves. They were just taking a page out of American domestic terrorists' book (who have no political agenda).
by John Lawrence
CEOs Got a Pay Increase Last Year But No COLA for Social Security Recipients
The Social Security Administration announced that senior citizens would get no increase in their monthly checks because there wasn't any inflation last year as measured by the increase in paychecks for urban and clerical workers. Yes, those workers didn't make any more money, but CEOs certainly did. Why don't they gear their index to the increase in paychecks for CEOs? That was a whopping 3.9%. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (the only Senators who stand up for We the People) are introducing legislation that would give seniors the same increase that CEOs got last year. It has a snowball's chance in Hell of passing, but they get A for effort.
It would provide an emergency payment of about $580—that's equal to 3.9% of the average annual Social Security benefit—which could help some 70 million seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and others meet critical needs. The average CEO compensation for the 350 largest firms was $16.3 million in 2014. While CEO pay is skyrocketing, they are also enjoying a savory loophole which gives them even further gains. That's right, CEO paychecks are subsidized by you, the American taxpayer. As long as the CEO pay is considered "performance based," anything over a million dollars can be deducted from taxes by corporations. If these companies paid the statutory 35 percent corporate income tax rate, their use of the performance-based compensation loophole for just the 20 highest paid CEOs cost American taxpayers $235 million.
CEOs and their corporate lawyers are becoming increasingly savvy about rigging the system to their advantage. And they also have the benefits and the services of lobbyists who write the laws that favor the already rich. “Especially during a long-term recession giving rise to major cuts in public services, and after American taxpayers bailed out Wall Street to the tune of trillions of dollars, it’s unconscionable that we continue to subsidize CEOs’ exorbitant salaries,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
The government has all kinds of rules which nitpick social security checks down and practically force social security recipients into privatized Medicare Advantage programs. If this trend continues, Medicare will be eliminated by the fait accompli caused by transitioning to Medicare Advantage. For example, I started traditional Medicare in 2006. I wanted to stay away from Medicare Advantage on principle. I had no "secondary insurance" or Medicare Part D which is drug coverage. The Advantage programs give you all of the above for the same price as traditional Medicare (for now).
The way I look at it, I saved the government tons of money by virtue of the fact that I didn't take any drugs at all for 9 years after starting Medicare. But this year I had to go on blood pressure medicine. Even though it's so cheap I could pay out of pocket, I figure at this point in my life I need drug coverage and the lack of secondary insurance, which would cost a fortune if I needed to use the medical system at all, forces me onto a Medicare Advantage program. How you might ask does this relate to Social Security? They take $104.90 out of my social security check each month for Medicare Part B. They'll take out the same amount for Medicare Advantage. However, next year they will be taking even more because I have to pay a Medicare Part D penalty for all the years I didn't have Medicare Part D and didn't need or use prescription drugs.
I Will Pay a Penalty for Staying Healthy
So even though I didn't take any prescription drugs for the last 9 years and the drug I'm on now with co-pay will cost the government practically nothing, if I want drug coverage now, I have to pay a penalty of 1% of the "national base beneficiary premium" ($33.13 in 2015, $34.10 in 2016) times the number of full, uncovered months I didn't have Part D or creditable coverage. That comes to almost $40 a month that will come right off the top of my social security check.
But I digress. Two thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. The Republican controlled Congress sets the rules which deliberately advantage their corporate overlords at the expense of average American seniors. The amounts paid out are completely arbitrary. There is no linkage between the amount paid into social security with FICA taxes and the amount ultimately received in the form of social security. While CEOs and billionaires are advantaged by the tax code that Congress sets, when they retire, they also receive social security checks each month taking money away from people who actually need it.
Progressives usually support everyone getting a social security check on the grounds that it is an entitlement, and as such won't be eliminated by Congress the way a "needs based" payout would. Well, guess again. No matter whether you call it an entitlement or a welfare program, conservatives are bound and determined to get rid of it and Congress can do just that at their discretion. There are no individual accounts, and you are not entitled to receive any amount of money regardless of what you paid in. It's all up to Congress and at their discretion.
The only people standing up for senior social security recipients in Congress are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In fact Bernie and Elizabeth want to expand social security benefits which they should be if they don't want seniors eating their cat's food. The Social Security Administration nickels and dimes recipients to death. In addition to the Part D penalty, I actually pay into social security each year a significant percentage of what I receive in benefits because I'm still working.
Ronald Reagan Screwed the Self-Employed
Since I'm self-employed, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan (the Ayn Rand acolyte) came up with a nifty plan which involved making self-employed citizens pay both the employee's part and the employer's part of FICA tax which will be 12.4% for 2016. For example, if I earn $10,000 in 2016 through actual work, I will pay $1240 in FICA (social security) taxes in addition to income tax. But even though I keep paying in, I get only a couple of dollar increase in my social security check each month. The total increase of my social security check each year due to continually paying in to social security amounts to a minuscule percentage of what I actually pay into social security each year.
This year in fact, despite having paid over $1000. into social security in 2014, I received a $1. increase in my monthly social security check. I received a letter detailing these benefits. It says in part: "We increased your benefit amount to give you credit for your 2014 earnings." Hoorayy! The letter goes on to say that they will pay me $10.00 representing the dollar a month increase from January to October. Then from November going forward, I will receive a one dollar addition to my monthly check. Whoopee!! A whole dollar a month extra. That won't even buy a can of food for my cat!
You know what? They could just stop charging me FICA taxes since I'm already receiving social security and then they could do away with the monthly increases for the rest of my life. That would be fine with me. Make sense?
Meanwhile, the fatcat CEOs who made an average of $16.3 million last year only pay FICA taxes on the first $118,500 of that, and they only pay 6.2% not 12.4% like me. Thanks Alan Greenspan and Ronald Reagan who never tired of thinking of ways to bilk the poor while giving advantages to the rich.
Republicans never tire of saying that the Social Security trust fund is running out of money. It would never run out of money and benefits could be greatly expanded if the cap ($118, 500) was lifted and CEOs making an average of $16.3 million paid their 6.2% FICA tax on their entire income. That would amount to approximately a million dollars as opposed to the $7347 they pay now which is simply a rounding error of .045% on the amount of money they make.
"If we do nothing, on January 1st, more than 70 million seniors, veterans, and other Americans won't get an extra dime in much-needed Social Security and other benefits. And while Congress sits on its hands and pretends that there's nothing we can do, taxpayers will keep right on subsidizing billions of dollars' worth of bonuses for highly paid CEOs," Warren stated. "Giving seniors a little help with their Social Security and stitching up corporate tax write-offs isn't just about economics; it's about our values."
Sanders Calls the Lack of a COLA "Unacceptable."
"At a time when senior poverty is going up and more than two-thirds of the elderly population rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, our job must be to expand, not cut, Social Security," Sanders said in a press statement. "At the very least, we must do everything we can to make sure that every senior citizen and disabled veteran in this country receives a fair cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and health care."
by John Lawrence
Peter Sprague brought an extremely talented all star group into Dizzy's last Saturday to play classics from the Golden Age of Rock. Although he's primarily known as a jazz musician, Peter has mastered the essentials of all musical traditions and genres. As a teen-ager growing up in Del Mar, Peter and his siblings were exposed to their father's jazz record collection. But like most teen-agers in their rebellious mode, they were attracted not to the music of their parents' generation but to the sounds that were happening around them and listened to by their contemporarires. That would be rock 'n roll, the music of the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Cream, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. They also condescended to give credence to one of their father's jazz rock albums by Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Peter is such a talented arranger that he took arrangements off these albums and created something wonderful for a septet of marvelous musicians spanning the generations including Leonard Patton and Rebecca Jade on vocals, Danny Green, piano, Justin Grinnell, acoustic and electric basses, Duncan Moore, drums and his brother Trip Sprague on sax, flute and harmonica.
Peter must have a veritable library of arrangements for all the configurations of musical groups that he has created from duo gigs at Roxy's ice cream parlor in Encinitas to symphonic arrangements he's performed on the concert stage at San Diego's Symphony Hall. In addition to local gigs, Peter travels all over the world as a sideman with Diane Reeves and others. From the concert stages of Europe, Peter will come home to do a local gig in San Diego. He's never idle. I guess all that surfing revs up his energy level.
The sell-out crowd at Dizzy's was treated to a melange of classic rock including BST's arrangement of the jazz classic "God Bless the Child" written and performed by the great Billie Holiday. Despite the fact that this song was an arrangement of an arrangement of an arrangement, it retained all the power and soulfulness of Billie's original recording. Rebecca Jade, who was superlative the entire evening, seemingly channeled Billie Holiday whose tragic life was cut short by the racism and police brutality of the 1950s.
As usual Peter's sidemen were the best musicians in San Diego. Duncan Moore, sitting behind a brand new drum kit, anchored the band with his usual aplomb. I was impressed by the musicianship and expertise of bassist Justin Grinnell. As in most rock groups, the bassist plays a key role in setting the mood and revving up the energy. And speaking of energy, this band had it coming out their ears. Peter made his double necked guitar sound like a multitude of different instruments with his synthesizer hook-up. Pianist Danny Green, who contributed some fantastic solos, could also make his instrument sound like everything from a Baby Grand to a Hammond B3.
In addition to his consistently professional sax work, Tripp Sprague covered all the bases as the only horn in the group. Leonard Patton gave voice to Stevie Wonder's historic compositions. Peter can put these arrangements away in his library and pull them out again whenever he is in the mood to assemble a rock group and remember the classic era, the quality of which is not being produced by the rock musicians of today.
I've known Peter for a long time from the days that he would open his guitar case and play on the sidewalks of Del Mar for tips through the days when I was President of the San Diego Jazz Society in the 1980s. Peter was the only musician to take advantage of our non-profit status to send out a monthly newsletter. Today those newsletters are electronic emails, but young musicians should take note of Peter's career to understand what it takes to build a successful life as a musician. It's not enough just to play well. You need to be not only versatile like Peter is but you have to be a self-promoter as well or at least find someone else to promote you. You need to take any gig no matter how humble, and eventually you might make it, as Peter has, from being just a local musician to playing on the world's most venerable concert stages.
Chuck Perrin, proprietor of Dizzy's has been in the business of presenting and promoting musicians for 20 years. Say what you will, but his formula has been successful and has given aspiring musicians, as well as established ones, much needed exposure to San Diego audiences who always seem very appreciative as this audience was. Peter's arrangements and San Diego's most talented musicians gave a performance worthy of the record books.
Chuck is an accomplished writer and performer himself. Korean reissue specialist Beatball Records is preparing to release the most comprehensive collection of Chuck and Mary Perrin’s original folk music yet assembled. The 7 CD box set contains remastered paper package replica versions of their long-sought after Webster’s Last Word LP’s: “Brother & Sister” (1968), “Next of Kin” (1969), and “Life Is A Stream” (1971).
Peter and Chuck are both lucky in the sense that they are doing and manifesting in reality what remains their passion in life. There are some lessons here too for young people just starting out. Contrast this with the jazz club, Anthology, that debuted a few years ago in San Diego's Little Italy. This club had everything: high tech gear up the wazoo, three levels of seating and bars and food nonpareil. A lot of money went into it. But what happened? A couple years later it went defunct. I guess it wasn't the owners' passion; maybe money was.
So Chuck Perrin labors on, a labor of love. Dizzy's in Pacific Beach is a jet ski rental place by day. And if you want to rent a U-Haul, you can do that there too. By night it's a jazz club. The comestibles and aperitifs are somewhat limited - just coffee, hot chocolate and cookies, but the music is an essential part of the San Diego jazz scene.
After listing many metrics showing Americans today are working harder than ever yet facing undue pressures to pay for necessities like housing, healthcare, higher education and retirement, Sanders said democratic socialism means reviving the wisdom and policies behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Rev. Martin Luther King’s call for economic justice.
“Real freedom must include economic security,” Sanders said, quoting FDR’s 1944 speech calling for a second Bill of Rights for economic justice. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. And it is time that we did.”
“People are not free,” he continued. “They are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. They are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. They are not truly free when they are unemployed, underemployed or when they are exhausted by working 60, 70 hours a week. People are not truly free when they don’t know how they are going to get medical help, when they or a family member are sick.”
“So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me,” Sanders said. “It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that, 'This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.' My view of democratic socialism builds on the success of many other countries around the world, who have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, their elderly citizens, their children, their sick and their poor.”
Sanders repeatedly reminded the Georgetown University audience that there was an epidemic of childhood poverty and other unmet needs across America, while the richest Americans are accumulating unprecedented wealth. He said the solutions could be funded by wealthly individuals and corporations paying a fair share of taxes.
What follows are a dozen excerpts from Sanders' speech of what democratic socialism means to him and could mean for the country. It is a vision of a better world that starts with improving the economics and the dignity of Americans at home, which in turn Sanders said would better position America to face challenges from abroad, such as the terrorist threat posed by ISIS, which he addressed in the final quarter of his 100-minute speech.
1. Major political and economic reforms. “Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system which is corrupt, that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy. Democratic socialism, to my mind, speaks to a system, which for example during the 1990s—and I want you to hear this—allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion, over a 10-year period, in lobbying and campaign contributions in order to get deregulated. They wanted the government off of their backs. They wanted to do whatever they wanted to do….
"Then, 10 years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior led to their collapse, what our system enabled them to get bailed out by the United States government, which through Congress and the Fed, provided trillions of dollars in aid to Wall Street. In other words, Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation, and then when Wall Street collapsed, they used their wealth and power to get bailed out. Quite a system!
“And then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, we were told that the bankers were too big to jail. And this is the system. Young people who get caught possessing marijuana, they get police records—and many many hundreds of thousands have police records that have impacted their lives in serious ways. On the other hand, Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy, they don’t get police records, they get raises in their salaries. And this is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he talked about socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.”
2. An end to corporate welfare. “It is time that we had democratic socialism for working families, not just for Wall Street billionaires. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations. It means that we should not be providing huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country or trade policies, which boost corporate profits while they result in workers losing their jobs. It means that we create a government which works for all of the American people, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.”
3. A national public healthcare system. “It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege… I know that there are some people out there who think this is just an incredibly radical idea—imagine, in the United States of America, all of us, having health care as a right. But I hope all of you know this is not a radical idea. It is a conservative idea. It is an idea and a practice that exists in every other major country on earth.
"Not just in Scandanavia—in Denmark, in Sweden, in Finland or Norway. It exists in Canada—I live 50 miles away from Canada; not a radical idea. It exists in France, Germany, Taiwan. All over the world, countries have made the determination that all of their people are entitled to health care, and I believe the time is long overdue for the United States to join the rest of the world… And by the way, what a Medicare-for-all system will bring about is ending the absurdity of the American people paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”
5. A government that creates jobs, not prisoners. “Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to me to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10 percent. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for young people who are unemployed, than to lock them up and invest in jails and incarceration.”
6. A living minimum wage and real family leave. "Democratic socialism means that if someone works 40 hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty; that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage—$15 bucks an hour over the next several years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now sitting in Congress.
“I want you to think about this, and I want you to really see what goes on in our country today. It’s not only that every other major country—I’m not talking about Europe or Scandanavia—virtually every country in the world, poor countries, small countries, reach the conclusion that when a woman has a baby she should not be forced to be separated from that newborn baby after a week or two and have to go back to work. Making sure that moms and dads can stay home and get to love their babies is a family value that we should support. And that is why I want, and will fight, to end the absurdity of the United States being one of the only countries on Earth that does not guarantee at least three months of paid family and medical leave.”
7. Stopping climate change-causing industries. "Democratic socialism to me means that we have government policy, strong government policy, which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet. And it means to me that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and inhabitable for our kids and grandchildren.”
8. The wealthy must pay a fair share of taxes. "Democratic socialism means that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes, innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support.
“It is not acceptable to me that in the period of time, the last two years, 15 of the wealthiest people in this country—15 people—saw their wealth increase, in this rigged economy, by $170 billion. Got it? Two years. Fifteen people, $170 billion increase in their wealth. That is more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated and I quote: ‘We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.’ End of quote.
“In other words, we’ve got to do better than that. It’s not a political issue. It’s not an economic issue. It’s a cultural issue. We have got to stop worshipping people who make billions and billions and billions of dollars, while we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country.”
9. America’s political system must be a democracy. “Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice and environmental sanity. Of course, it does mean that. But it also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote. It is extremely sad—and I hope all of you will pay a lot of attention to this issue—it is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest, most stable democracies in the world, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young people and working-class people have given up on the political process entirely.
“In the last midterm election, just a year ago, 63 percent of the American people didn’t vote, 80 percent of young people did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors, who want to suppress the vote, to make it harder for people of color and old people to participate in the political system, our job together is to make it easier for people to vote, not harder to vote. It is not a radical idea—and I will fight for this as hard as I can as president—to say that everyone in this country who is 18 years of age or older is registered to vote: end of discussion.”
“I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad. I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes—if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally start paying the taxes that they should."
11. Equal treatment by government, not racism. “I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1 percent, but I do believe in equal treatment for African Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that black lives matter. I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, a lot of which we have been hearing in recent months. And I do proudly believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.
“And while I am on that subject, let me say a real word of concern to what I have been hearing from some of the Republican candidates for president in recent months. People can have honest disagreements about immigration or about anything else. That’s called democracy. But people should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate. And if Donald Trump and others refer to Latinos, people from Mexico, as criminals and rapists, if they want to open that door, our job is to shut that door and shut it tight.”
12. Do not become cynical; work for change. “Do not, do not, do not become cynical… I am running for president in order for all of us to be able to live in a nation of hope and opportunity, not for some, but for my seven grandchilden, and for all of you.
“Nobody understood better than Franklin Delano Roosevelt the connection between American strength at home and our ability to defend America around the world. And that is why he proposed a second Bill of Rights in 1944, and said in that very same State of the Union, and I quote again, ‘America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace—lasting peace—in the world.'"
Foreign Policy and the Use of Force
The final section of Sanders’ speech concerned foreign policy and whether the U.S. should use military force abroad. Sanders said, “I am not running for president to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense, or pretenses about dubious battles with no end in sight.”
Sanders said George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and war of choice was one of many examples where a foreign policy decision led to serious unanticipated consequences that unfolded over many years and destabilized entire regions. In that context, he said ISIS must be defeated by military and other policies, but, “we cannot, and should not, do it alone.” He said that could only happen when other Muslim countries in the region, especially wealthy nations like Saudi Arabia, became more involved and see this as a fight for "the soul of Islam," which is not an appropriate role for America.
“While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations—with the strong support of their global partners,” Sanders said.
“Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy,” he said. “It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilization over regions for decades. It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past—rushing to war, regime change in Iraq or toppling Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953: Mossadegh was the president. The CIA and others got rid of him, to protect British petroleum interests. The Shah of Iran came in, a brutal dictator, and he was thrown out by the Islamic revolution, and that is where we are in Iran today.
“Decisions have consequences, often unintended consequences,” he continued. “So whether it was Saddam Hussein, or Mossadegh, or Guatemalan president Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian president Goulart in 1964, Chilean president Allende in 1973—this type of regime change. This type of overthrowing governments we may not like, often does not work, often makes a bad and difficult decision even worse. These are lessons we must learn.”
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).
by John Lawrence
In early October torrential rain flooded almost the entire state of South Carolina. At least 17 people died. The cost of the flooding could top $1 billion, Senator Lindsey Graham said. Interstate 95 was closed for 70 miles. At least 11 dams failed. Another 35 dams were at risk. The rain event set records all over the state, flooding entire towns. For some locations, this historic rainfall qualifies as a 1,000-year rain event, meaning in a given year there is a 1 in 1,000 chance of observing rainfall totals of this magnitude.
They would like to think that floods of this magnitude won't happen again for another 1000 years. However, the truth is that with global warming and climate change floods like these are becoming a much more common occurrence, not unprecedented and historical as some have described them.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration, ordering federal aid to help recovery efforts in South Carolina. The president's action made federal funding available to people in Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland and Williamsburg counties. Forms of assistance are grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover.
Gov. Nikki Haley said about 550 roads and bridges were closed in the state, the results of 2 feet of rain in two days. There was looting and power outages. Haley said there had been 175 water rescues in South Carolina, and more than 800 people were temporarily housed in shelters at one period.
More than 400,000 state residents were under a "boil water advisory" affecting about 16 water systems. In the region surrounding Columbia, as many as 40,000 homes lacked drinking water. Mayor Steve Benjamin said 375,000 water customers will likely have to boil their water for "quite some time." In another image of the storm's otherworldly toll, state officials said caskets had popped out of the ground in 11 instances in six counties. Nine deaths came about from people trying to drive in flooded areas.
4 Feet of Rain in the Phillipines
Typhoon Koppu barreled down on the island of Luzon in the Philippines where it landed as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. Koppu drenched the country's main northern island of Luzon with as much as 43 inches of rain during its slow, meandering journey across the country. At least 48 were dead, and thousands of people were displaced. Thousands were evacuated.
There was nearly 100 percent damage to infrastructure in Casiguran, where the typhoon came ashore. Philippines news website Rappler reported that “Electricity and phone signals remain cut off in the area, making it difficult to get supplies and aid to at least 27,000 affected people.” In Baguio City, home to over 318,000 people, nearly 3 feet of rain were recorded. Over 6 inches of that fell in just three hours.
Power outages were reported province-wide during the height of the storm in Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Apayao, and Kalinga, according to the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The outages affected an estimated 9 million people, or nearly one-tenth of the entire population of the Philippines.
Because it is one of the most cyclone prone coastlines on Earth, settlement along the east coast of northern Luzon is quite sparse. A large part of the coastline is virtually uninhabited, but Koppu crossed the coast south of the most desolate zone and instead hit Aurora, a province of about 200,000 people that hugs the eastern coastline of Luzon northeast of Manila.
Koppu, the second strongest storm to hit the disaster-plagued Southeast Asian archipelago this year, had forced more than 60,000 people from their homes according to authorities. Residents of flooded farming villages in the Philippines were trapped on their rooftops and animals floated down fast-rising rivers.
Storm in California Leaves Massive Mudslides
The storm that slammed into the high desert and mountains of Southern California in October was one for the record books. Intense rain sent massive mudflows onto highways, picking up cars and pushing them into one another. Hundreds of vehicles were trapped in mud up to 20 feet deep. Some motorists were stranded overnight.
In one spot in the Antelope Valley, the storm dumped 1.81 inches of rain in 30 minutes, in what the National Weather Service described as a 1,000-year rain event. Another 1000 year event? Give me a break. More like a 1 year event, thanks to global warming.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. One person was pulled from her car dead. Preview of El Nino?
The warm ocean temperatures — about 75 degrees, at least 5 degrees above normal — produced more water evaporation and higher humidity levels. The storm system combined with the high humidity to create enough instability in the atmosphere to trigger the intense thunderstorms and torrential rainfall.
The storm shut Interstate 5 through the Grapevine and sent a sea of mud sweeping through country roads. One of the most dramatic scenes played out on Highway 58 east of Tehachapi. There, mudslides trapped 200 vehicles including dozens of tractor-trailers and at least two tour buses filled with passengers.
In all, the storm left an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of mud and debris on major roadways, officials said.
Especially hard hit was Death Valley which received another 1000 year weather event. Really? The powerful weather system dropped 3 inches of rain in 5 hours, battering historic structures, chewing through roadways and covering the rugged landscape with layers of mud and rocks. It was the wettest October on record in the region which normally receives only 4 inches of rain for the entire year.
Hurricane Patricia in Mexico
The strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere hit Mexico’s southwest coast, transforming hotels full of tourists into makeshift shelters, shuttering schools, closing airports and sending inhabitants racing to bus stations to flee inland.
Patricia developed into a Category 5 hurricane with wind speeds up to 250 mph practically overnight. Sustained winds were 165 mph. It was not only the largest hurricane in history, but its intensification was the quickest ever seen. This was attributed to the fact that the Pacific Ocean is 6 degrees warmer than what is normal for this time of year. The warmth of the Pacific Ocean is what is responsible for the extreme typhoons lashing the Phillipines and for the El Nino effect that is supposed to bring torrential rain to southern California this winter.
In the final analysis Patricia did not do major damage in Mexico, miraculously. However, Texas got torrential rain and flooding during this same time period from the remnants of Patricia. Some areas got over 20 inches of rain. There was major flooding and over 70 water rescues.
Torrential rains and massive flooding hit Texas in October. As the month ended several million Americans were under flash flood warnings. Six people are known to have died from the storms. Several tornadoes were reported. The state was still recovering from an earlier battering of severe weather, when the remains of Hurricane Patricia swept across the region. The ground was still saturated when the latest storms hit.
Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in Austin on October 30 setting an all time one day record. The Austin airport was battered by almost 14 inches in 6 hours. That's more rain than the city received the entire month of May which was already the second wettest month on record! An inch per hour is catastrophic, but over 2 inches per hour? That's ridiculous. That led to flooding, power outages and cancelled flights.
Flash flooding caused a freight train to derail south of Dallas. Drivers were trapped in their cars. Tropical storm force winds coupled with tornadoes and rapidly rising flood waters damaged vehicles, homes and businesses.
In a square mile one inch of rain is equivalent to 17 million gallons of water. Flash flood warnings covered 75,000 square miles. That equates to 1.27 trillion gallons of water enough to fill 192,000 Olympic swimming pools.
The rain on the last two days of the month delivered as much as one third inch per hour, which fell onto water logged ground, leading to widespread flooding. The Houston Fire Department said it had made more than 130 water rescues on Saturday (Halloween), and some public light-rail and bus routes had to be suspended. The roads were filled with pumpkins carried away by the storm.
Power lines were down. People were evacuated from flood prone regions. 15 million people were on high alert. Interstates were closed down. People were trapped in their cars. First responders couldn't keep up with calls for help.
This will be the wettest October on record for Texas. Only a couple weeks before there was drought and wildfires. Extreme weather is an acknowledged effect of climate change, but it is little acknowledged as such by TV weathermen and ladies. Their job is to get eyeballs glued to the tube for commercial purposes. Mentioning climate change might cause their viewers to actually think, and that would be bad for business which wants passive consumers. Disastrous weather events lately have rivaled murder and mayhem in attracting viewers. That's good for business.
From the San Diego Free Press circa 1969
Reprinted by the OB Rag
Transcribed by John Lawrence
Police patrolmen have apparently shifted their tactics from Field Interrogation type harassment to outright threats and intimidation. Officer McLean told a gathering of youths in front of the In-Between on Newport Ave, "I've been watching you guys ... milling around ... We're just watching, for we're not gonna give you a ticket, but we're gonna take you to jail. All we're looking for is the sacrificial lamb. Any of you guys want to step forward and be first?"
Reactions of the hippies to this hardened police attitude have ranged from anger to desperation and resignation. Many feel that the police are actively trying to make any modus vivendi impossible, and that their real purpose is to drive the hippies out of town, despite token measures of the police public relations department to 'open up ways of communication.' The general feeling is that a mass confrontation between police and hippies is inevitable if the police continue on their present course, and rumors are that it could take place during Easter vacation.
Such a confrontation would be disastrous in its effects, according to many hippies. Said one of them at a meeting at the In-Between at which the problem was discussed: "We're just beginning to establish a certain amount of communication and understanding with local church groups and businessmen, and a thing like this would turn the community entirely against us, thus playing right into the hands of the police."
The situation thus defined, a course of action was decided upon. First the Hinky-Dinky Report, a newsleaflet published by and for Ocean Beach youths, is to be distributed more widely to inform all hippies of the situation and invite them to join in the effort to rally the community to their cause.
Second, it was agreed upon that the hippies are to take the initiative and attempt to gain community support by proving to the more orthodox residents that hippies, also, care about the community in which they live. Tactically, it was decided that the best way to do this was to counter the prevalent impression of hippies as being dirty, etc. by cleaning the streets of Ocean Beach. This is scheduled to take place on Sunday, March 16, beginning at 10 AM with the Newport Ave area from Bacon to Abbott streets. Brooms and food will be provided, and the 0. B. Drum Company is expected to be there. Coordinator for the Street Sweep is Andy McKinney, who may be contacted at the In-Between.
Third, and last, plans are now being made to try to prevent the feared confrontation between police and hippies during Easter by rechanneling the energies brought by the people into a more constructive and peaceful meeting, where grievances are rapped about and solutions sought.
Considering how much politicians of all stripes praise small business as the backbone of America, the crucible of job creation and heart of the economy, what a tiny Washington research group found may surprise you.
Our elected leaders have been throwing massive and growing sums of money at businesses through cash gifts, loan guarantees, property tax exemptions and countless other perks. Five years ago state and local business welfare alone came to $900 for each family of four, an astonishing $70 billion diverted from public purposes to private gain. And then there’s the much larger torrent of subsidies flowing from Washington.
But that money isn’t going to small businesses. In some states big business gets almost every dollar handed out, according to a study of those giveaways that governments disclose in the public record. Other such pork is kept hidden from public view.
The yeoman work was done by Good Jobs First, whose staff dug through mountains of paperwork, much of it written in a dialect I call bureaucratese obfuscata.
Translating the documents into plain English, the researchers scrutinized 4,288 subsidy deals in 14 states. The researchers found that small business gets scraps, while big business enjoys a sumptuous banquet. In some states for each dollar subsidizing small businesses, big businesses got $24.
Given how incessantly politicians intone about “small business” and how much of the presidential campaign and debates have been about taxes, spending and proposals to narrowly redefine what is appropriate government policy by slashing programs for the old, poor and sick, you might think the study would have made lots of news when it was released last month. Sadly, the diversion of tax dollars that the report “Shortchanging Small Business” documents was largely ignored by our major news organizations.
Good Jobs First tells me it reached out to more than a dozen reporters at The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters news services as well as five reporters and two columnists at The New York Times, four writers at The Washington Post, two at USA Today, five at NPR and Marketplace radio and many more.
Coverage? None from the news outlets listed above except for an AP story out of Kansas based on a report in a local business paper.
How many people know that they are being taxed to give billions of dollars to big companies from Apple and Starwood hotels to General Motors, Hyundai and Volkswagen, with bank vaults of public cash going to Alcoa and Boeing.
Funny how the candidates hardly talk about business subsidies, especially since one of them has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare.
But the studied silence by the candidates, and especially the welfare-collecting Donald Trump, may reflect just who benefits these days from public money put to private benefit. Among the beneficiaries are CBS, Comcast, Disney and Fox, parent companies of the television outlets sponsoring various of the debates, leaving them open to challenge if their journalists ask questions about subsidies.
It’s not just the big businesses that benefit. It’s the politicians, too. When they leave office, those who helped give away your tax dollars often land lucrative jobs in subsidized industries.
Giving taxpayer money to support business is almost as old as the Republic, but this welfare was not always aimed at big business.
Congress enacted the first subsidy law in 1792, the subject of a fascinating short book, “The Citizen's Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century,” by three business school professors.
Those 18th Century subsidies helped the American cod-fishing industry, which the British Navy was harassing. The subsidy went only to ships that paid fisherman in shares of the profits under contracts negotiated in advance, which to me sounds like modern collective bargaining. The workers got 62.5 percent of the subsidy, the owners just 37.5 percent under smart rules devised by Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state, to make sure only well-run enterprises got help.
Early federal leaders favored grants or sales of land on favorable terms, but only to yeoman farmers, according to Rutgers professor Joseph Blasi, the book’s lead author.
Just a few decades later the policy shifted to big giveaways that Blasi says the Founders would have opposed. Among the first beneficiaries were companies digging canals and building railroads, infrastructure the nation needed. The rail companies were given vast tracts of land and paid handsomely for laying track. Still, they lied, cheated and stole on a grand scale with no prosecutions for these crimes.
The rail companies were also badly mismanaged enterprises according to Richard White, the Stanford University historian who dug through archives for his book “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.”
One of White’s great insights is that the railroads invented lobbying as we know it today, in which donations, favors and sowing confusion pay off with big gifts from the government and sinecures for the politicians who go along.
Government favors are often more subtle than grants of money or tax exemptions. The federal government helps existing big businesses, and holds back upstart competitors with better products, when it fails to enforce antitrust laws, as explained in journalist David Dayen’s smart piece for The American Prospect on the failure to enforce the laws of competition.
Subsidies of all kinds enable politicians — instead of the market — to pick winners and losers. These favors distort decisions, as companies pursue free money instead of sound long-term investments. And they often go to retailers such as Walmart, which being at the end of the chain of economic value added cannot promote economic growth, though they can diminish retailers not so favored with gifts from government.
There is a way to reform this: sunlight and noise.
You can make this happen, using the kind of citizen power that we just saw at the University of Missouri, where both a campus president and the system chancellor resigned under public pressure.
Demand laws at every level of government requiring full and prompt disclosure of subsidies with annual reports signed by mayors, governors and the president.
Complete details would include company names, sites where the money was used, the dates and amounts of each check or forbearance and the performance standards for those collecting the welfare, that last a policy Thomas Jefferson surely would endorse. How much receiving companies spent on lobbyists and campaign donations and any relatives of politicians they retained on contract or hired should also be disclosed.
How to make that demand? Ask the candidates through their web pages. When their fund-raisers call, tell them you want to hear first what their exact promises are about corporate welfare. And when candidates show up in your town organize people and go demanding full, prompt and transparent disclosure of gifts. Call radio talk show hosts and get them engaged. Write brief letters to the editor. And complain to the networks, major newspapers and wire services about the lack of coverage of corporate welfare.
David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times, teaches business, tax and property law of the ancient world at the Syracuse University College of Law. He is the best-selling author of “Perfectly Legal,” “Free Lunch” and “The Fine Print” and the editor of the new anthology “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Price Gouger Martin Shkreli Becomes Known as 'Most Hated Man in America'
Turing Pharmaceuticals chief Martin Shkreli will face new competition for Daraprim, the drug he recently hiked 5,000 percent in price, after competitor Imprimis Pharmaceuticals said it would market a similar drug for just $1 a tablet. Daraprim is used mainly to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that’s common in AIDS and HIV patients, as well as cancer sufferers.
Greedy buttwipe Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund guy that bought the drug Dariprim and then raised the price from $13.50 to $750. a pill will actually lose his ass on this venture. At these prices the estimated annual cost of treatment for toxoplasmosis, for the pyrimethamine component alone, would be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 132 pounds, and $634,500 for those who weigh more than that. Daraprim is given for at least six weeks to knock out the infection, and then often for a year or even indefinitely to help the immune-compromised patient keep the parasite at bay.
The problem for Shkreli, that he didn't take account of in his lust for speedy profits, is that Dariprim is actually a generic. It's been around for 62 years. That means that anybody can manufacture it. That's exactly what one San Diego drug company did. Moreover, Imprimis intends to come up with cheap versions of other drugs that some businesses sell for far above their manufacturing costs. The trick for Imprimis was to combine pyrimethamine with another generic drug, leucovorin, thus giving it the right to operate as a compounding pharmacy and to avoid a lengthy approval process by the US Food and Drug Administration.
There goes Shkreli's profits right out the window. Adios you greedy bastard. You and your company Turing Pharmaceuticals are going to lose your shirts. In particular you're going to lose all the money you paid for Dariprim. Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the drug from Impax Laboratories in August 2015 for $55 million. Shkreli can kiss that $55 million good-bye.
Imprimis CEO Mark Baum said he hopes his company's action provides a market based answer to exorbitant drug pricing. Yeah, go get him Mark! I love it when the market slays another marketer in the interests of the shell shocked public of whom the weak and vulnerable are being price gouged out of existence. Who but the rich could afford $750. a pill for a life saving drug?
Shkreli: 'I Believe Drugs Should Be Priced Relative to the Value They Confer'
Shkreli expressed regret that he had been a “flippant jackass” instead of carefully explaining the price increase, although he told another Reddit user he didn’t understand how raising the price to $20, for example, might have been more reasonable than a 5,500 percent hike.
“I believe drugs should be priced relative to the value they confer,” he said.
Of course, if somebody sticks a gun to your head and says "Your money or your life," you're going to give him all your money because the value that that confers is sparing your life. Shkreli operates in accordance with the same principal: if you want to go on living and you have a terrible disease for which you need a drug that only Shkreli can supply you with, you're going to give him all your money. There's no difference from the situation in which a gun is put to your head. And that, my friends, is the ethics of capitalism.
But there was one flaw in Shkreli's plan to bilk sick people out of their money. And that is that the drug is a generic. Shkreli has no patent rights over it. But he probably figured that any other company that wanted to market the drug would have to undergo a lengthy approval process with the FDA. The decision to sharply increase the price for an old, generic drug — in other words, a drug that any other pharmaceutical company could also manufacture — is based on a gamble that no other company will be nimble enough to immediately get FDA approval for a generic competitor for Daraprim. That would give Shkreli time enough to make a killing before the other drug came on the market.
There is one other angle that Shkreli is fully prepared to use. He was gearing up to bilk not only individual customers but Medicare itself. The 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act contains legislation that forbids Medicare from negotiating drug prices. That legislation, signed into law by George W Bush, introduced a market opportunity for scumbags like Shkreli. Medicare is forced to pay whatever Shkreli decides the price should be for Dariprim since Medicare Part D is required to cover approved cancer drugs. So even though Shkreli has graciously (no, not really) offered to give the drug away free to certain individuals, he intended to have Medicare pay the full freight thus ultimately putting taxpayers on the hook.
Pharmaceutical costs are a top reason that health insurance companies justify raising their policy rates, and society at large ends up paying for it with more expensive insurance plans, or by contributing a bigger percentage of their paychecks to cover health care costs. And I guess his plan now is to have doctors prescribe his pill, Dariprim, instead of the generic version that Imprimis is making. I hope no doctor falls for this. And Medicare should be on full alert not to pay for Dariprim at $750. when a generic from Imprimis is available for $1.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Shkreli didn't figure on Imprimis being able to avoid the lengthy FDA process by setting up a branch that could be a compounding pharmacy and start marketing the drug immediately. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have spoken out on the ridiculousness of a market system that lets some whippersnapper like Martin Shkreli price gouge needy and vulnerable people. He's become known as "the most hated man in America." Hillary tweeted: "Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I'll lay out a plan to take it on."
Other vulture pharmaceutical companies have pulled the same scam as Shkreli. Daraprim is not the only fairly old drug that’s seen astronomical price increases recently. The price for cycloserine, a medicine used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis, increased to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 in August. Two heart drugs owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Isuprel and Nitropress, saw their prices increase by 525% and 212% respectively this year. Even everyday drugs like antibiotic doxycycline have been affected, with its price rising to $1,849 a bottle in April 2014 from $20 a bottle in October 2013, according to a Congressional report.
A new cholesterol drug on the market from Regeneron, for those for whom statins don't suffice, costs more than $14,000 a year. The drug's name is Praluent. Regeneron CEO Dr Leonard Schleifer, another scumbag, gives the same old "they need the money to do research" crap. It's BS. They sell the same drugs in foreign countries for half what they sell them to Americans for. They're just banking on the Republican 2003 legislation that requires Medicare to cover drugs but forbids Medicare from negotiating a lower price. I wonder whose lobbyists got that legislation passed. Not the lobbyists for We the People. That's for sure.
Wall Street Loves Greedy Profit Maximizing Bastards
Wall Street loves Valeant with its shares hitting an all time high last August. Valeant is something of a role model for Shkreli. They created a network of "phantom pharmacies" to steer potential customers toward their more expensive drugs instead of lower priced alternatives. Valeant bought smaller drug developers and then hiked prices on the medicines developed by those companies. It's profits skyrocketed as it slashed research into new drugs. They and Shkreli justify their price hikes by saying that they need the money to "do research." The truth is they have no intention of doing research. The only approval they are looking for is from Wall Street which will facilitate their stock prices soaring. Money is the only criterion here even if it means price gouging the sick and vulnerable.
The name Turing Pharmaceuticals was no doubt taken from the name of the great mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing who most famously broke the Nazi codes during the Second World War. Turing's name has been unfortunately besmirched by being taken for the company name of a scam artist and profiteer. He's probably rolling over in his grave.
I hope jackass Shkreli loses his shirt on these machinations. And I hope the stupid idiots in Congress will allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the companies that provide them. Otherwise, the Shkrelis, Valeants and Schleifers of the world will seek to profit by raising prices for life saving drugs. Either we as individuals, if we are unfortunate enough as to have one of these life threatening diseases, will pay their outrageous prices or we will pay through increased health insurance costs and increased taxes to cover Medicare's skyrocketing costs which pay for these price gougers' arbitrarily set prices. But they will be laughing all the way to the Wall Street banks. They and Wall Street could care less about people's misfortunes. They only care about money. Greedy bastards!
But a shout out to Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, the company that's going to eat Shkreli's lunch by supplying the equivalent of Dariprim for $1. a pill. I like to give credit where credit is due. See, I'm not totally anti-corporation; just those who are Wall Street toadies who only care about money and not a whit about alleviating the suffering of the unfortunate. Good guys like Imprimis CEO Mark Baum deserve a pat on the back. Hats off to ya, Mark.
by John Lawrence
George W Bush Did Not Keep Us Safe Before 9/11
The Donald just doesn't know how to back up his statement with the actual facts, that's all. Richard Clarke, the CIA's National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, was running around with his hair on fire trying to get George W Bush to listen to him about the imminence of an attack by bin Ladin. Bush blew him off and then demoted him so that he didn't report directly to the President as he had under the Clinton and George H W Bush administrations. Now he had to go through Condoleeza Rice and her deputy who also blew him off. Bush simply was not interested in terrorism; he was only interested in getting the goods on Saddam so he would have some kind of rationale for invading Iraq. He wanted to invade Iraq the worst way so he went about manufacturing evidence that would justify his doing so. In the meantime he totally ignored terrorism and the advice he should have heeded about an imminent attack.
In his memoir, Against All Enemies, Clarke wrote that Condoleezza Rice made a decision that the position of National Coordinator for Counterterrorism should be downgraded. By demoting the office, the Administration sent a signal through the national security bureaucracy about the importance they assigned to terrorism. Instead of Clarke reporting directly to the President, he would now report to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley, and they were hardly interested which reflected their boss's malign neglect.
At the first Deputies Committee meeting on Terrorism held in April 2001, Clarke suggested that the U.S. target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the MQ-1 Predators and take other measures against terrorists. To these suggestions Deputy Secretary of Defense and neocon Paul Wolfowitz responded, "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden." Clarke replied that he was talking about bin Laden and al Qaeda because it posed "an immediate and serious threat to the United States." According to Clarke, Wolfowitz turned to him and said, "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."
The 9-11 Commission turned up the following facts about the days leading up to the 9/11 attacks.
On June 25, Clarke warned Rice and Hadley that six separate intelligence reports showed al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. An Arabic television station reported bin Laden's pleasure with al Qaeda leaders who were saying that the next weeks "will witness important surprises" and that U.S. and Israeli interests will be targeted. Al Qaeda also released a new recruitment and fund-raising tape. Clarke wrote that this was all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge, and the CIA agreed. The intelligence reporting consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a calamitous level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil and that they would consist of possible multiple - but not necessarily simultaneous - attacks.
On June 28, Clarke wrote Rice that the pattern of al Qaeda activity indicating attack planning over the past six weeks "had reached a crescendo. A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July," he noted. One al Qaeda intelligence report warned that something "very, very, very, very" big was about to happen, and most of bin Laden's network was reportedly anticipating the attack. In late June, the CIA ordered all its station chiefs to share information on al Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of cells.
Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States
The headline of a June 30 briefing to top officials was stark: "Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks." The report stated that bin Laden operatives expected near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. That same day, Saudi Arabia declared its highest level of terror alert. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened U.S. security, the planning for attacks was continuing.
At a July 5, 2001, White House gathering of the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, Secret Service and INS, Clarke stated that "something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon."
Clarke wrote that in the summer of 2001, the intelligence community was convinced of an imminent attack by al Qaeda, but could not get the attention of the highest levels of the Bush administration, most famously writing that Director of the CIA George Tenet was running around with his "hair on fire".
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. The brief warned of terrorism threats from bin Ladin and al Qaeda 36 days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The most controversial incident in Against All Enemies deals with the president's eagerness to link the Sept. 11 attacks to Iraq, and comes on the night of Sept. 12. Clarke writes that he saw Bush wandering alone through the Situation Room. The president then stopped and asked Clarke and a few aides to ''go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this.''
Clarke said he was ''taken aback, incredulous.'' He told the president, ''Al Qaeda did this.''
''I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred. . . .'' After the president left, one of Clarke's aides said, ''Wolfowitz got to him.''
Clarke and his communications with the Bush administration regarding bin Laden and associated terrorist plots targeting the United States were mentioned frequently in Condoleezza Rice's public interview by the 9/11 investigatory commission on April 8, 2004. Of particular significance was a memo from January 25, 2001, that Clarke had authored and sent to her. Along with making an urgent request for a meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss the growing al Qaeda threat in the greater Middle East, the memo also suggests strategies for combating al-Qaeda that might be adopted by the new Bush administration.
Within a week of the inauguration, I wrote to Rice and Hadley asking 'urgently' for a Principals, or Cabinet-level, meeting to review the imminent Al-Qaeda threat. Rice told me that the Principals Committee, which had been the first venue for terrorism policy discussions in the Clinton administration, would not address the issue until it had been 'framed' by the Deputies.
Clarke Testifies "Your Government Failed You"
On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. At the outset of his testimony Clarke offered an apology to the families of 9/11 victims and an acknowledgment that the government had failed: "I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11...To the loved ones of the victims of 9/11, to them who are here in this room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."
Many of the events Clarke recounted during the hearings were also published in his memoir. Clarke charged that before and during the 9/11 crisis, many in the Administration were distracted from efforts against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization by a pre-occupation with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Clarke had written that on September 12, 2001, President Bush pulled him and a couple of aides aside and "testily" asked him to try to find evidence that Saddam was connected to the terrorist attacks. In response he wrote a report stating there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement and got it signed by all relevant agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. The paper was quickly returned by a deputy with a note saying "Please update and resubmit." After initially denying that such a meeting between the President and Clarke took place, the White House later reversed its denial when others present backed Clarke's version of the events.
Bush blew Clarke off because he was only concerned about "getting the goods" on Saddam. He was reaching for any tidbit of information that would make it feasible for him to invade Iraq. Bush desperately wanted to be a "wartime President" so he totally ignored the threat of terrorism. According to Bush's ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz, Bush had been obsessing over invading Iraq since 1999. He told Herskowitz, "One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade … if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”
The Donald may be ignorant of the actual history involved here but somehow he has stumbled upon the truth much to the chagrin of Jeb Bush, his erstwhile adversary in the Republican circus of primary politics. Furthermore, the Donald may actually be right about two things: he's with Bernie on taxing the hedge fund managers and their despicable tax dodge called "carried interest."
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
There is a nice little jazz series running in San Diego at the Handlery Hotel's 950 lounge at 950 Hotel Circle North. This has been put together by Holly Hofmann who has been presenting concerts in San Diego for 30 years or more. In addition she plays a helluva flute. Recently I saw Stef Johnson with Rob Thorsen and the week before Gilbert Castellanos and Bobby Cressey. The place has a nice happy hour menu and reasonably priced libations. There is no admission or cover charge. Parking is free with validation.
Jazz does not have that many dedicated venues in San Diego so the jazz loving public has to rely mainly on the musicians themselves to create their own gigs. There are no institutional venues such as classical music has. No Symphony Halls. No billionaire sponsors. For that you have to go to New York City, the epicenter of jazz. We do have a dedicated jazz radio station - KSDS-FM - 88.3. Now we just need a billionaire to step up and underwrite the equivalent of New York's Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center. Holly would make a wonderful impresario for such a venue because her connections in the jazz world are endless and her dedication, nonpareil.
San Diego Has Great Jazz Talent
The talent pool in San Diego and LA is considerable. Many jazz musicians have attempted to make a go of it in San Diego, but then moved on to greener pastures when prospects became untenable. One such was Hal Crook who started a school here and had an excellent big band which performed weekly. Like Hal said about his book, How to Improvise, at a workshop I attended, "My book will explain to you what to play, when to play, how to play. The only thing it can't tell you is where to play." That's the hard nut to crack. Having moved on, Hal is now at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
The aforementioned Bobby Cressey, in addition to playing jazz organ at the Handlery, is also the organist for the San Diego Padres. A man of many hats, in addition to jazz he plays electro, hip hop, dubstep, reggae, classical, rnb, ska, gospel and blues. He currently plays with the world famous DJ Skee’s Skeetox band. I guess one has to be involved in many aspects of the music business these days to make a go of it. But maybe he's spreading himself too thin as a jazz artist. Just sayin.
On the other hand Gilbert Castellanos, winner of San Diego Music Awards artist of the year in 2013, is a full on dedicated jazz musician. His mastery of the trumpet has increased by leaps and bounds over the years that I've been following him. Gilbert honors the history and tradition of jazz with every performance. In particular he played Clifford Brown's composition "Delilah" and Charlie Parker's "Segment." Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker were two of the most important musicians in the development of jazz. Unfortunately they both died young, much too young.
Quincy Jones: Brown Was the Very Essence of Musical and Moral Maturity
Charlie Parker was a heroin addict and died at the age of 34 on the Jazz Baroness', Pannonica de Koenigswarter's, couch. He had multiple organ failures. He created the greatest revolution in any art form in the 20th century. Unfortunately, he couldn't overcome or transcend the racist society he grew up in or his own lifestyle.
Clifford Brown was clean living, hardly even touching alcohol. He was an inspiration to other players who had thought that they had to be high to play well. On going through my old vinyl albums recently, I spent some time reading the liner notes of a few rare Clifford Brown albums which went into detail about that tragic rainy night when Clifford lost his life in an auto accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on his way to the next gig. It was in 1956.
He and pianist Richie Powell were catching some shut eye while Powell's wife, Nancy, was at the wheel. Nancy was known to be an erratic driver. There were no seat belts in those days. Brown and the Powells were all killed instantly after the car hit a bridge abutment. It was Clifford's second wedding anniversary with his wife LaRue. It was her 22nd birthday. Clifford was 25 and, despite having spent a year in the hospital following a prior auto accident in 1950, is a major part of jazz history having only been active for about four years.
Nearly everyone who knew Clifford agree on his likeability and welcoming personality. “To me, the name of Clifford Brown will always remain synonymous with the very essence of musical and moral maturity,” Quincy Jones said. “This name will stand as a symbol of the ideals every your jazz musician should strive to attain.”
After his death, Clifford's wife LaRue remained active in the jazz world establishing in 1994 the Clifford Brown Jazz Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to Brown's memory and inspiring a love for jazz among young people. The Foundation is currently under the direction of Clifford Brown III, Brown's grandson and a respected Bay Area trumpeter and music producer.
Clifford's son Clifford Brown Jr has received the Ampex Award of Excellence as the nation's top jazz Program Director, and in 1996 he received the Beverly Anne Johnson Media Award for his many years of being a "positive Black male role model." Since 1979 Clifford Brown Jr. has been one of the most popular radio personalities in the San Francisco Bay Area and has made the Brown name synonymous with broadcasting there.
So life goes on.
Clifford Brown Is My Ideal As a Jazz Trumpet Player
Clifford Brown is my ideal as a jazz trumpet player and composer - beyond Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie. He adhered to and transcended the tradition of Charlie Parker who pointed the way for others before his young life came to an end. Gilbert Castellanos, Holly Hofman, Rob Thorsen and a few other local San Diegans follow in that venerable tradition while expanding it at the same time. Who knows what heights could have been scaled had Clifford Brown survived that crash that rainy night?
While Pannonica de Koenigswarter was called the Jazz Baroness, Holly Hofmann certainly deserves the epithet: Jazz Empress of San Diego. Holly has presented concerts at Diego's Loft from 1988-90; Horton Grand from 1990-1997; Bristol Hotel from 1998-2000; San Diego Museum of Art from 2002-2009; Birch North Park Theater from 2010-2012 and Croce's First Thursdays from 2015-.
In addition to her impressive resume as an impresario, she placed eighth in the flute category of the Down Beat Critics Poll last year. On her latest CD, "Low Life," made with her husband, pianist Mike Wofford, she plays the alto flute exclusively. Jazz critic Dan McClenaghan says this in his review of the album:
Holly Hofmann, one of the jazz world's premier flutists, explores a deeper-toned territory with Low Life: The Alto Flute Project. Primarily a conventional C flautist—with an impressive discography—Hofmann has broken out the lower tone of the alto flute in her concerts, and occasionally on record. Now it's time for a full length CD featuring her expertise on the instrument....
Hofmann's lone writing contribution to the set, "Lumeiere de la Vie," is a five minute long gold nugget of a tune, a smooth and gorgeous masterpiece, and the CD's closer, guitarist Pat Metheny's "Farmer's Trust" blossoms like a spring flower, a sweet and unpretentious ballad, so delicate and lovely in the hands of this band and flutist Hofmann that it can make a grown man cry.
This Friday, October 30, Rob Thorsen will be at the Handlery with L.A. guitarist Steve Cotter. Steve comes from the Wes Montgomery school of great, swinging guitarists. Fernando Gomez is back on drums.
Upcoming in November:
11/6 Latin Percussionist Tommy Aros with Irving Flores, piano and Dean Hulett, bass.
11/13 Guitarist Peter Sprague with Mackenzie Leighton, bass and Charlie Weller, drums
11/20 Los Travellers: Carlos Vasquez, drums, Ray Briz, piano and Glen Fisher, bass
11/27 Two Guitar Trio: Mundell Lowe, Bob Boss and Rob Thorsen, bass
by John Lawrence
2000 Homes and 200 Square Miles Up in Flames
On September 13 California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa counties. He also had issued a state of emergency in Calaveras and Amador counties. Four firefighters were injured in the fire called the Valley fire. Thousands fled as mandatory evacuations were ordered for the communities of Cobb, Middletown, Harbin Hot Springs and Big Canyon Road.
More than 1,300 people fled Middletown, north of San Francisco, as their homes were consumed by the flames. Main Street in Middletown burned up. 600 homes gone. More than 5,000 were without power. The Valley fire burned 40,000 acres in just 17 hours. On Sept. 13 it was reported that 1000 homes gone. As of October 5, the Valley fire was 99% contained. 1,958 structures were destroyed, 93 structures damaged.
A separate blaze — called the Valley Fire — in Lake County, about 170 miles to the northwest, has killed three people, destroyed nearly 600 homes and burned hundreds of other structures.
As of the middle of September, the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties, about 70 miles east of Sacramento, had grown to 100 square miles. It had destroyed at least 85 residences and 50 outbuildings and threatens 6,150 homes. As of Sunday the 13th fire officials said a blaze that had destroyed more than 100 homes north of San Francisco had grown to 78 square miles.
The Butte fire claimed two deaths. The two killed by the Butte fire — 66-year-old Mark McCloud and 82-year-old Owen Goldsmith — died after rejecting orders from authorities to evacuate, Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round said. As of October 1, 475 residences, 343 outbuildings, 45 structures were burned or damaged in the Butte fire. It was 100% contained as of October 1.
Totals for California for the month of September 2015: 3914 homes and structures burned or damaged. Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate their homes.
Seven people are now confirmed dead and 15 remain missing in the wake of torrential rains associated with former Tropical Storm Etau that dumped unprecedented rainfall on parts of eastern and northern Japan
At least 27 people have been injured across 10 prefectures since floods inundated parts of eastern Japan after a tropical storm, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
Up to 26 inches of rain fell in eastern Japan Sunday through Friday due to Tropical Storm Etau.
In Tochigi, more than 19 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in places, double the amount that normally falls there throughout the whole of September, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
The city of Joso, north of the capital, Tokyo, was hit by a wall of water after the Kinugawa River burst its banks. Helicopter rescue teams have been plucking people from rooftops. More than 100,000 were ordered to leave their homes.
Floods and landslides resulted in 8 dead, 46 injured.
The heavy rain caused additional leaks of radioactive water at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said rain had overwhelmed the site’s drainage pumps, sending hundreds of tons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Workers at the Fukushima plant have had to store huge quantities of contaminated water used to cool melted fuel in three badly damaged reactors in thousands of steel tanks.
Flash Floods in Utah and Arizona Sept. 15
Zion National Park in Utah: Hours after they entered Keyhole Canyon, dark skies unleashed fierce rains that sent water surging through the chasm, sweeping seven people to their deaths. Rangers received a report of a group of seven individuals canyoneering in Keyhole Canyon shortly before the flooding began. Their unoccupied vehicles were located on Monday evening and a search began the morning of Tuesday, September 15, 2015 when it was determined that these individuals had not exited the canyon.
Twenty miles away, in the polygamous community of Hildale, an SUV and van carrying 16 women and children were swept away by one of the biggest flash floods locals had ever seen. Flash floods along the Utah-Arizona border engulfed the two vehicles and swept them into a waterway that is normally dry. Three victims survived, and one was transported to a hospital.
Flash flooding near the Utah-Arizona border claimed a death toll of 20 from the violent rainstorm.
Extreme Weather Has Killed Thousands in 2015
Poorer nations suffering from extreme weather disasters, so much so that their citizens are seeking refuge in safer terrains outside their borders, want rich nations like the United States to pay for reparations and to relocate populations.
Preparatory talks ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to be held in Paris in December has representatives from developing nations asking for more than an already agreed upon $100 billion per year for climate change mitigation measures. They want additional compensation for weather-related disasters as well as a "displacement coordination facility" for refugees. And they want all this to be legally binding as part of the larger anticipated Paris accord.
The U.S. and wealthier nations in the European Union are balking.
Governor Brown Signs Climate Change Bill to Spur Renewable Energy
This just in from the LA Times October 7:
The legislation, SB 350 by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), was amended to remove a third component that would have required reduced gasoline use on California roads. The battle over the controversial proposal dominated the closing weeks of the legislative session last month.
Despite ceding some ground in a tug-of-war with oil companies, Brown and De León have touted the remaining parts of the legislation as significant steps in California’s fight against climate change. ...
The bill will require California to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030, up from the current target of 33% by 2020.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
We live in a sick society where little kids play violent video games, you can't flip through the channels on a TV without seeing drawn handguns, and hunters use automatic weapons to kill innocent animals. It's a culture of violence in movies and TV, a culture of violence in video games and a culture of violence in terms of unending wars and people blown to smithereens every night on the nightly news.
It was disheartening to me to see a few days after the horrific mass murder at Umpqua Community College, pro gun demonstrators protesting the American President as he landed there to give comfort to the families who had lost loved ones. Where were the anti gun protesters? Where were the ones who protested the taking of innocent lives by sick minds who are bolstered every day of their lives by a sick culture, a culture which glorifies and celebrates gun violence. It's ubiquitous. It's celebrated and it's done in order to make money from "entertainment."
That's right. We're entertained by people killing each other with guns. Is there an action movie in which there are no guns? I don't think so. How many video games don't involve the player or shooter not pulling a trigger. We train them up young with hand/eye coordination. Then we send them to schools in which there is no recess so that their energy and anger builds to the point that they feel justified in blowing people away for no justifiable reason.
Let's face it folks. We're more in danger from Americans with sick minds blowing children away than we are from terrorists. Yet we spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year defending ourselves from terrorists and hardly anything defending ourselves from ourselves . As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and the enemy is us."
Why wasn't the FBI monitoring websites for the "involuntarily celibate"? These are the websites that Elliot Roger and Christopher Harper-Mercer telegraphed their intentions on. Why wasn't the FBI tracking them? And why are violent young men, who willingly state online their murderous intentions, allowed to purchase guns regardless of the fact that they've never before been convicted of a crime?
In a recent post on Love-shy.com, a forum for the dateless and sexless, a man wrote, “I am seriously thinking about just getting a gun and shooting everything up. I fantasize about it everyday … that’s how fucked up my mind is.” The truly “fucked up” thing is that this isn’t another newly discovered online posting from Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who went on a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, killing six people. These are just the words of yet another angry man on the internet expressing rage at society — especially women — over his own celibacy.
President Obama should have had a hundred anti gun demonstrators waiting for him when he got off that helicopter in Roseburg. Instead he was met by a bunch of yahoos who all they can think about is their freakin guns. These people are a bunch of angry a-holes who have nothing better to do than to be worried about their guns right after 10 people from their own community, Roseburg, have just been rubbed out, their young lives lost forever, in a hail of bullets. Their answer is to arm everyone? Preachers in pulpits are now carrying guns. Principals in schools are now carrying guns. Anger and guns. They now characterize American society. Oregon is one of seven states with provisions, either from state legislation or court rulings, that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses. How friggin convenient for Harper-Mercer!
Do I have to detail all the tragedies perpetrated by sick individuals who not only had possession of but were even encouraged by their parents to possess guns? There was Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook who fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members. Surely he was affected by a culture of violence which makes it seem "routine" to off people. President Obama has said that mass killing of Americans by Americans has become routine. "Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it ... We have become numb to this," he complained. During his presidency, President Barack Obama has had to deliver statements on gun violence 15 times.
No longer can we "wonder at the gunman's motives" or think this is a"rare occurence." It's routine, folks; it's happening every day. Get ready for the next one. Your children could be next. In fact it already happened just 8 days after the shootings in Roseburg. Gunmen opened fire on campuses in Texas and Arizona. Copycats? Perhaps. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold got the ball rolling at Columbine. They paved the way for the others. That's their legacy. They were first.
The others: Dylan Roof who killed 9 people at a black church in Charleston, SC, Elliot Rodger who killed 6 people in Isla Vista, CA, Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor and former Navy enlisted man, who killed 12 people in Washington, DC, John Zawahri who killed 5 people in Santa Monica, CA, Radcliffe Haughton, a 45-year-old former Marine, who killed 3 people in Brookfield, WI,
Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran, who killed 6 people at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI, James Holmes who killed 12 people and injured 58 others in Aurora, CO, One L. Goh who killed 7 in Oakland, CA, Scott Dekraai who killed 8 in Seal Beach, CA, Jared Lee Loughner who killed 6 in Tucson, AZ including the attempted killing of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Omar S. Thornton who killed 8 in Manchester, CT,
Amy Bishop, a neurobiologist and assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who killed 3, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, who killed 13 and injured 32 at Fort Hood, TX, Jiverly Voong who killed 13 in Binghamton, NY, Steven Kazmierczak who killed 5 in a geology class at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, IL,
Robert Hawkins who killed 8 at a shopping center in Omaha, NE, Seung-hui Cho who killed 32 on the Virginia Tech campus, Sulejman Talovic who killed 5 at a Salt Lake City shopping mall .... And the list goes on.
A rather long sentence, isn't it, the preceding. Many of the perpetrators were students, many were former Marines or Army vets. They all had grudges; they all had violent uncontrollable anger. They all had access to guns. They all purchased their guns legally. They all had Intermittent Explosive Disorder. According to Wikipedia: "Intermittent explosive disorder (sometimes abbreviated as IED [what an apt acronym!]) is a behavioral disorder characterized by explosive outbursts of anger, often to the point of rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand..." There is no need to probe these people's minds any further, to ask ad nauseum "what was the gunman's motive." They were all sick and they all had legally purchased arsenals at their disposal. They all planned their killing sprees. Most of them telegraphed their intentions on social media. Some were even cheered on.
Can we learn nothing from other countries which have strict gun control and far fewer gun deaths than the US? Why is there even a debate as to whether more guns or less guns is the solution?
Does the FBI even read the Washington Post which had a really informative article: "Incels, 4chan and the Beta Uprising: making sense of one of the Internet’s most-reviled subcultures"? Incels are INvoluntarily CELibateS by the way. Maybe society should just get them all girlfriends or sex workers. It might just solve a lot of problems.
The following is from the website, dailymail.com in the UK:
Chris Harper-Mercer wrote the anonymous message on bulletin board 4chan: 'Don't go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest' 9 hours before the killing began. It was written at 1.19 AM yesterday morning and the first shots were fired at Umpqua Community College at 10.38 AM.
Under the disturbing message, many users encouraged the person to go ahead with their threat and even advised the poster on the best ways to kill people. One user wrote: 'I suggest you enter a classroom and tell people that you will take them as hostages. Make everyone get in one corner and then open fire.
'Make sure that there is no way that someone can disarm you as it is possible. I suggest you carry a knife on your belt as last resort if someone is holding your gun.' While another user wrote: 'You might want to target a girls school which is safer because there are no beta males throwing themselves for their rescue. 'Do not use a shotgun. I would suggest a powerful assault rifle and a pistol or 2x pistols. Possibly the type of pistols who have 15+ ammo.' 'If you are suicidal and hate people, then do it. If not then stay away from what will ruin your life,' another user wrote.
A user wrote: 'In this very clearly hypothetical situation you actually shoot people in your high school or college, try to aim for s***** people at least. Spare the kind fools, humdrum druggies, and churchies and go for he whom really terrorises the populous: Chads and Stacies who have scorned many and yourself. The post continued: 'You'll do the world a favour by purging part of the population that only exists to consume resources and act for themselves.' In 2013, 18-year-old student Neil Allan Macinnis shot dead two women at a Virginia college - before the killing he posted on 4chan asking users to 'wish him luck.'
Some of the posters on the site even tried to contact the FBI tip line. Evidently, they were asleep at the switch. I guess they're only interested in foreign terrorists not domestic ones. They better wake up that this is a phenomenon that is not going away. Prevention is the only alternative at this point in a nation that is locked and loaded and ready to pull the trigger over the slightest grievance especially at schools and on campuses.
How many remember San Diego's own mass shooting on campus in 1996? Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the killing that took the lives of three San Diego State professors.
Wikipedia sums it up nicely:
The San Diego State University shooting was a school shooting that occurred at the San Diego State University (SDSU) engineering building on August 15, 1996 in San Diego, CA. Three professors were killed by master's degree student Frederick Martin Davidson. Three months later, a copycat threat flier was sent, with threats against professors and racial insults.
Davidson, the three faculty members, and three other engineering students assembled in the classroom shortly before 2:00 p.m. The three students were there to support Davidson, and to witness a Master's thesis defense. Liang stood, formally introduced Davidson, stated the purpose of the meeting, and sat back down. Davidson then handed Liang a printout of an e-mail, from a prospective employer who was interested in hiring Davidson, that stated that his future employment with the company hinged on a successful Master's thesis defense.
Without time for comment from Liang, and without saying anything himself, Davidson turned to the first aid box on the wall, removed a 9 mm handgun, and immediately started firing. He hit Liang first, killing him while he was still seated at the faculty table. Lowrey and Lyrintzis were also hit. However, Lowrey tried to escape out the only main access door to the room. There were other doors in the room, but only one door led out to the hallway, and other parts of the third floor of the Engineering building.
Davidson was between the main door and the faculty table, and shot Lowrey several times; he died on the floor in the main doorway. Lyrintzis fled from the main door and Davidson, into an adjoining classroom, and hid under a table. After killing Lowrey, Davidson reloaded another magazine into the handgun, and pursued Lyrintzis into the other room. There, he shot and killed Lyrintzis while the latter was still under the desk. Overall, Davidson fired 23 rounds, with 16 rounds hitting the professors.
The three students attending the thesis defense were not shot, and escaped without injury. One of the students made it out through the main doorway, and notified the third-floor students and faculty to evacuate. Davidson later commented that he was not angry at the students, and had no intention of killing them.
After the shooting, Davidson himself called 911. Police arrived to find Davidson in the third-floor hallway still holding the handgun. He was reportedly sobbing and begging for police to kill him. He soon surrendered to police without further incident. Davidson had intended to kill himself after the shootings, but could not due to "pure cowardice". Davidson had left a murder-suicide note in the hallway for the police to find, detailing the location of evidence and computer files in his house.
Guns and angry people. To say they have no impulse control would be an erroneous statement. They had to purchase guns in the first place, laying the groundwork for future misdeeds. They had to work up a head of steam about some real or perceived mistreatment or grievance, and, finally, they had to load up the guns and take them to the killing field. At any point in time along the way, they could have turned back. They not only had a preconceived plan; they probably fantasized about it for months.
Many Americans are so obsessed with the Second Amendment that they can't even imagine that other societies might be doing things differently with much better outcomes. See A Cultural Comparison: Gun Violence in the US and Europe in 3 parts by Frank Thomas and myself for alternatives to the violence and gun ridden society of Amerika and for some alternatives that actually work, that is if we can give up our love affair with guns.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
In Bel Air One Household Used an Astonishing 11.8 Million Gallons
Hey, we're in a drought and people are being encouraged to take shorter showers and only wash their cars sparingly. But that doesn't apply to the rich. They are using millions of gallons of water and neither the state or local water districts are limiting them in any way. The water bill for this 11.8 million gallon user for the 12 months ending April 1 was $90,000. This guy was only charged 0.76 cents a gallon! No wonder he consumed water excessively; it was so cheap! California is in the fourth year of a water crisis, but the rich are using water as if there were no tomorrow.
Mother Jones nailed the zip code data on this although no water district would reveal their excessive users by name. Privacy trumps the public's right to know who these water gluttons are, but it's not hard to guess. They all come from exclusive neighborhoods. Take San Diego, for instance. There are 92 persons or families who have consumed more than a million gallons, mainly in La Jolla and Carmel Valley. The biggest single user in San Diego was someone who consumed 4.6 million gallons in a year. Anybody want to step forward and admit what a scofflaw you are and try to justify your excessive water usage?
The rest of us are encouraged to stop watering our lawns, even rip them out and put in desert plants. (Take a virtual tour of the water conservation garden at Cuyamaca College led by Ms. Smarty-Plants.) But there are two sets of rules, just like in everything else: one set for the rich and another set for the rest of us. While the water districts have mounted a campaign to get us to cut our water use, these big shots continue their wanton and profligate ways. Hey, after all, it's the drought of the century. But that's only as far as poor and middle class people are concerned. For the rich it's business as usual. Don't ask them to rip out their manicured lawns and private golf courses. When the rest of us are dying of thirst, their lawns will still be green.
While the water agencies have fined hundreds of Californians for watering down their driveways or not replacing broken sprinkler heads, the rich go their merry ways indulging their gargantuan appetites for a boundless supply of agua pura. David Wilson got fined $600 for watering his lawn on the wrong day of the week and letting runoff flow into the street.
But you can bet that the richies are spraying their private orchards with the good stuff, not gray water. Only the best for them. Money talks and the rest of us will be fined for disobeying the water agency's silly rules. Here's a rule for you. Limit their water intake and charge a premium for any water use over what the average household uses.
Angelenos can pump as much water as they want said Martin Adams, senior assistant general manager for the water system at the Department of Water and Power. "There's no ordinance on the books in Los Angeles to go after an individual customer strictly for their use," he said.
San Diego Has Some of the Biggest Water Guzzlers
When it comes to million gallon plus users, San Diego is no slouch. San Diego's biggest user weighing in at 4.6 million gallons lives in La Jolla where Mitt Romney and John McCain have homes. Is it one of them? Two other La Jolla residents consumed 4.5 million gallons. 29 La Jollans consumed more than a million gallons in a year, the third highest number of million gallon users in the state. That's a lot of grass kept green. Or maybe they have orchards and vineyards in their back yards. For sure swimming pools and fountains. Luxury knows no bounds. Just go ahead and gorge yourselves, richies. Us plebes will go on conserving water as best we can so you can enjoy your rich lifestyles.
Carmel Valley had 36 customers who used a million gallons or more. Must be growing tomatoes or avocados in their yards. Or maybe it's those half hour showers from 10 Rainfall shower heads. Even Rancho Bernardo weighed in as having the tenth largest number of million gallon users in the state: 12.
During the 1991 drought it was a matter of public record who the biggest water users were, and they could be identified by name. But guess what happened? Rich people got the law changed to protect themselves so their identities could not be revealed in the future. The law was pushed by the City of Palo Alto citing the privacy concerns of Silicon Valley executives. Think the deck is not stacked against you if you're not rich? This is only one small instance of how rich people are changing the nature of democracy to favor themselves. Magnify that small change in the law by a million and you get some sense of what has happened to turn this democracy into a plutocracy.
In The Divide Mat Taibbi details how America has turned into a nation that has one set of laws for the rich and quite another for the poor. Witness: rich people caught using drugs go to rehab. Poor people, especially poor black people, go to jail. Taibbi wrote this book to demonstrate that unequal wealth is producing grotesquely unequal outcomes in criminal justice. Taibbi shows that, just as income disparities are growing ever wider, so are disparities in who attracts the attention of cops and prosecutors and who doesn’t. Strangely enough, the Divide also applies to water usage.
Water Usage of the Rich and Famous
LA has 92 of the top water users in the state. On average LA's mega-users pumped 4.2 million gallons of water per year apiece. They live in the zip codes of the rich and famous: Hollywood actors and moguls, real estate executives, lawyers, plastic surgeons and such. What they pay for water is just a small blip in their portfolios. Maybe they should pay more, a lot more, just as they should pay a lot more in taxes, especially on the billions held offshore that go tax free.
Bel Air harbors not just the biggest water user in the state but four of California's top five with water usage ranging from 7.4 million gallons to 11.8 million gallons. Beverly Hills zip code, 90210, is not far behind. In the 90210 lives the third most gargantuan appetite for water. His or her consumption is enough for 60 normal families - 8 million gallons per year. This exorbitance and extravagance when it comes to water usage reflects the other aspects of their lives. Too much is never enough!
Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting sought information on the biggest users. At most they got information for zip codes. Here are some of the lame excuses they got: "City does not maintain records", "wanted $2100 for 'programming' to produce data", "by law, data is exempt from disclosure", "district does not have an existing list of big users."
So average Joe Schmoes, you better watch your butt if you wash your car on the wrong day or your sprinkler heads are not in good working order. And just jump in the shower, get wet and jump out again before you soap up. Then feel free to turn the water back on, jump back in and wash the soap off. The other guys behind those tall hedges and locked gates don't have to worry about a thing. They can shower at leisure, and who cares if they leave the water running while they take an important phone call. Their water districts are protecting their identities.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Peter Singer has written a book The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically (Yale University Press, 2015). Singer has been called "the world's greatest living philosopher" and is currently a Professor at Princeton so we must take his work seriously. Yet I'm bothered by the implications of his work as condensed in an essay: How You Can Do the Most Good: It's Not as Simple as You Think.
He tells about one of his students who, though caring to extreme about the plight of poor people in the world, nevertheless, chose to go to work on Wall Street when he graduated. His reasoning was that he could help the most poverty stricken by dedicating a large amount of his considerable salary to helping them rather than going to work as a volunteer working directly with them in Africa, for instance. A huge amount of money contributed to the right charities would alleviate the conditions of more people than would be helped by a person of meager resources who devoted his working efforts to their cause.
The utilitarian part of me can't argue with this approach to helping the poor. However, I'm bothered by the fact that this guy went to work for the Evil Empire (pardon my hyperbole) in order to do good for others. This isn't exactly the Robin Hood approach. Robin Hood didn't go to work for the devil; he stole from him. To my way of thinking this is an ethically better approach.
I consider many occupations to be unethical including working on Wall Street. To say that a greater good can be accomplished by taking ill gotten gains after contributing to an enterprise's evil activities can't be justified by saying that, on a utilitarian basis, more good can be accomplished than bad created. Singer is saying that those who go into teaching because their passion is helping children would do better by going into a profession in which they could earn far more money and then using a portion of that money to help the uneducated. This is pure nonsense. When taken to extremes he justifies the sacrifice of some people for the greater good of saving a larger number.
For example, suppose you were faced with the proposition that you could earn a million dollars by killing someone. With that million dollars you could help 100 poor children escape poverty. Does that justify killing one person? I don't think so.
Should One's Life Work Be Ethical?
I consider one's life work to be something that should be considered from an ethical viewpoint. There are jobs and occupations which, although legal, are from my viewpoint unethical. Take for example petroleum engineering. There are very high salaries for college graduates in this field and jobs are readily available. But in an age where climate change is being exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels, I consider it unethical to go to work for the fossil fuel industry.
There are other jobs and professions I consider to be unethical and others that I consider ethical. This is just my own personal assessment. Others would disagree, but I consider working for the military-industrial complex unethical because it supports the war industry instead of putting time and energy and money into the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. I consider working in the advertising industry unethical because it exists to convince people to part with their money for the enrichment of corporations while pretending to be concerned about the welfare of the individuals they seek to influence. It promotes "unbridled consumerism" as Pope Francis has said.
The pharmaceutical industry which charges what the market will bear for life saving drugs is clearly unethical. The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired by a former hedge fund manager. The price was immediately raised to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I consider teaching, care giving, nursing, providing services to the local economy such as those provided by tradesmen or craftsmen to be ethical. Factory farms I consider to be unethical; organic farms I consider to be ethical. I could go on creating two lists: ethical and unethical jobs and occupations but I won't.
Other people can make up their own lists. Most Americans would probably consider any legal job or occupation to be ethical. I disagree obviously.
Here is Singer's very persuasive argument:
I met Matt Wage in 2009 when he took my Practical Ethics class at Princeton University. In the readings relating to global poverty and what we ought to be doing about it, he found an estimate of how much it costs to save the life of one of the millions of children who die each year from diseases that we can prevent or cure. This led him to calculate how many lives he could save, over his lifetime, assuming he earned an average income and donated 10 percent of it to a highly effective organization, such as one providing families with bed nets to prevent malaria, a major killer of children. He discovered that he could, with that level of donation, save about one hundred lives. He thought to himself, “Suppose you see a burning building, and you run through the flames and kick a door open, and let one hundred people out. That would be the greatest moment in your life. And I could do as much good as that!”
Two years later Wage graduated, receiving the Philosophy Department’s prize for the best senior thesis of the year. He was accepted by the University of Oxford for postgraduate study. Many students who major in philosophy dream of an opportunity like that—I know I did—but by then Wage had done a lot of thinking about what career would do the most good. Over many discussions with others, he came to a very different choice: he took a job on Wall Street, working for an arbitrage trading firm. On a higher income, he would be able to give much more, both as a percentage and in dollars, than 10 percent of a professor’s income. One year after graduating, Wage was donating a six-figure sum—roughly half his annual earnings—to highly effective charities. He was on the way to saving a hundred lives, not over his entire career but within the first year or two of his working life and every year thereafter.
Should One Sell His Soul to Wall Street in Order to Do Good?
So Singer apparently considers working for Wall Street a more ethical job than being a professor. I don't think so. He doesn't stop to consider the ethically corrupting influence that Wall Street will have on Wage himself who may at any time decide his money will be better spent on his own noncharitable predilections or may decide that selling his soul to Wall Street, even for a good cause, is something he can no longer do.
He doesn't stop to consider how much evil Wage will be participating in simply by doing his job. He doesn't consider the corrosive influence that working in a toxic environment will have on Wage's soul. He doesn't consider that Wage might not be able to tolerate working in that environment for more than a short time like many young people who went to work on Wall Street right after college. In short Wage is selling his soul for a mess of pottage, pottage to be sure that he intends to give away to help others, but pottage gained by losing his soul, his humanity and his integrity nevertheless.
Singer's argument suggests that it's up to rich people to save the world. In fairness rich people do a lot of good through their charities. But it's not an unmitigated good. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done much good in the world which wouldn't have been possible without the success of Microsoft Corporation. The Gates Foundation is not without controversy, however, including their support for GMOs and charter (privatized) schools. Gates and other rich people who have gotten rich off of technology naturally feel that there's a technological solution for every problem.
So is it up to billionaires to do the most good in the world because they possess the most resources? We also must consider that not all billionaires are up to doing good with their money. Many of them use their considerable resources, instead of helping people, to maintain a system of oppression over people lest those people take their resources away from them. That's why we can't trust that billionaires are going to save the world. Many of them are up to making it worse, particularly the plight of the least well off.
An article in Salon says it better:
As H.L. Mencken writes, "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule. Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve." While some philanthropists support good causes (like Bloomberg’s fight against Big Tobacco), other pet causes are not so humanitarian. While we may applaud the work of Bill Gates, many philanthrocapitalists, like the Adelsons and the Kochs, have decided that their philanthropic venture will be empowering the Ted Cruzes of the world to wreak havoc. Wealth is power, and concentrated wealth is concentrated power. The most benevolent inventions are also the cruelest.
A better approach might be to limit the economic power that can be accumulated by corporations which then ends up in individual hands. Some billionaires do a lot of good in the world; some do bad, but not everyone can be a billionaire. Everyone can aspire to working in an ethical job or occupation. A system that results in the accumulation of economic power by the 1%, no matter how much resultant good comes with it, is not ethical especially when that means that the plight of the lower classes worsens from year to year. A good society would distribute economic well being more equitably and democratically. Then we all wouldn't be so dependent on the noblesse oblige of the rich.
Charity is Good But What About Justice?
Some make a distinction between charity and justice. Charity deals with the immediate needs of desperate people. Justice deals with setting things up so that they don't become desperate in the first place:
Justice directly confronts the challenge of preventing people from ending up in vulnerable situations. What causes over 15 million children in the U.S. to go to bed hungry each night? Why don’t we have universal public health care? Why aren’t public colleges and universities tuition-free like high schools in the U.S. and [colleges in] most western European countries? Why are our public works crumbling and creating unnecessary obstructions for disaster relief (reaching people stranded after hurricanes)?
It is advocacy promoting justice that seeks the prevention of the causes that lead to so much misery, institutional harm, poverty, and the loss of human life and potential. Repairing the wreckage of wars places huge demands on charity. Waging peace and negotiating arms control agreements places huge demands on justice.
Singer says, "Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place." You can't argue with that, but that applies to everyone in the economic spectrum not just to rich people. And many are so hobbled economically that they don't have any spare resources. They need an inflow of charitable or societal resources just to make ends meet. They should not be contributing to charity at all.
If society provided more opportunities for people to do good i.e. by transferring resources from the war machine to the Peace Corps for instance, more people could work in ethical occupations and pull themselves and others out of poverty at the same time. Too often, however, what the American society provides is opportunities to work in unethical occupations which are rewarded handsomely while working in ethical occupations is rewarded minimally or not at all. If the budgets of the military-industrial complex and those of the Peace Corps were transposed, a massive movement of those working in ethical occupations would provide a greater force for good than the combined forces of ethical billionaires.
Reliance on billionaires to do good in the world is a return to feudalism where kings were the only forces for good or bad in the world depending on whether they were enlightened despots like Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great or just plain despots like Ivan the Terrible or Caligula.
We must consider whether a society which creates "opportunities" for some people to become obscenely wealthy, even though they can then supposedly turn around and use their money to do good, is as good a society as one which creates opportunities for most people to work in ethical occupations and do good at the same time.
Singer's world view is one where everyone is well off and gives to charity without sacrificing any of their own self-interest at all. They needn't do that because after all they are billionaires and have much more money than they ever could spend on themselves. It's not the real world. It applies to a small fraction of rich people - those who want to use their money for good purposes. They barely, if at all, offset the rich who use their money to perpetuate bad purposes.
Perhaps Wage will find out that he cannot sacrifice his own soul to gain the world even if he gives half of it away.
In an article in Salon Sean McElwee says : Charity is great, but it won't bring real change — and worse, it perpetuates the myth that we need the ultra-rich:
Think of the planet’s best human being. Who are you thinking of? Pope Francis? Your parents? Justin Bieber? According to Business Insider, it’s Mark Zuckerberg. Why? Because he’s planning to donate $1 billion (less than 5 percent of his massive fortune) to charity. While it’s certainly welcome, philanthropy is far more insidious than it appears at first sight. It tends to lead to fawning press coverage, but little in the way of good reform. Worse, it perpetuates the myth that society’s problems can be solved by the rich and powerful. ...
There’s a very real sense in which it would be hard for Zuckerberg to have done less for the poor. After all, he and his rich Silicon Valley friends regularly use their wealth to lobby for policies that would make them even richer — even if in the guise of social responsibility.
Billionaires Do Not Always Use Their Money for Good Purposes
And that's the rub. The rich in addition to their charitable endeavors also use their money to perpetuate the system that made them wealthy in the first place even if that system fosters subjugation and oppression for the vast majority. McElwee writes: "In charity, the rich approach the poor not as equal citizens but rather [as] benefactor and serf. It perpetuates a class society, where the poor and middle class are dependent on the wealthy."
We must also consider the rationale and ethics of a society that makes some people insanely wealthy for inventing things of questionable and even trivial value. For instance, take Snapchat. Snapchat has made its corporate owners, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy fabulously wealthy. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps after which Snapchat claims they will be deleted from the company's servers.
The main purpose of SnapChat is so users of the application can take pictures of their "junk", send them out and then not have to worry that a prospective employer might view them. In June 2013, Snapchat raised $60 million in a funding round led by venture-capital firm Institutional Venture Partners. According to Forbes, Snapchat’s chief executive Evan Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy, have made it to the 2015 Forbes 400 list. Mr. Spiegel, who is 25, is now the youngest billionaire in the world and currently his net worth sums up to $2.1 billion. Don't tell me that we live in an ethical society when a piece of crap like SnapChat can raise $60 million, make Spiegel a billionaire and poor kids go hungry.
In addition it turns out that Spiegle didn't even invent SnapChat. It was invented by former "friend", Reggie Brown, who was subsequently shut out of the company. This is reminiscent of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who shut out the Winkelvoss twins, who actually invented Facebook, and later settled with them for $65 million, a large amount to be sure, but not the $35.7 billion Zuckerberg is worth. Long story short, people screw their friends over huge amounts of money. This is an ethical society when things like this can happen and people can make huge amounts of money for crapola?
On May 9, 2013, Forbes reported that Snapchat photos do not actually disappear, and that the images can still be retrieved with minimal technical knowledge after the time limit expires. The Electronic Privacy Information Center consequently filed a complaint against Snapchat with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that Snapchat deceived its customers by leading them to believe that pictures are destroyed within seconds of viewing.
Snapchat eventually settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations it deceived users over the amount of personal data it collected and was responsible for a security breach that impacted 4.6 million customers. It will face privacy monitoring for 20 years.
That's the story in a nutshell. Unethical people making huge sums of money in unethical enterprises while the poor and people striving in ethical professions such as teaching and caregiving starve to death. Capitalism, especially as it is currently conceived, manifested and practiced, is unethical. Make no mistake about it: capitalism is not some absolute thing-in-itself that has always existed from time immemorial. It is a moving target, continuously being reinvented and updated to advantage the already rich with every new wrinkle that some financial expert can come up with.
In other words, it evolves and not necessarily in benign ways. Its original purpose, to develop pools of money that could be used in enterprises which would benefit society, has long been forgotten. It allows for despoiliation of the environment, the granting of huge rewards to insiders who come up with stuff that only degrades the culture and the complete neglect of the kinds of enterprises that are necessary to make peace in the world and build a better and stronger society.
by Frank Thomas
Middle Eastern states are breaking down in an endless escalation of civil wars where Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq are near collapse. Deeply complex, sectarian conflicts, historically long in the making, have evolved in a region acutely divided along Sunni vs. Shiite lines. The instability and power vacuums created are exploited by military factions and radical jihadists, like ISIS – igniting sectarian wars and threatening most of the Middle East. Ironically, Iran has evolved as one of the most effective regional opponents of ISIS whose original funding came from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
U.S. counterproductive regime change interventions – by military engagement, funding, training insurgency groups, supporting coups d’etat, protecting regional dictatorships – have intensified instability and conflagrations in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan. Emerging relatively unscathed in these interventions, the US then leaves the wreckage behind and goes on to the next trouble-spot intervention.
On the positive side, Iran’s recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) accord – signed with China, France, Russia, UK, US plus Germany (P5+1) – presents a good chance to improve Middle East security and make it a safer place. While not perfect, this nuclear weapon non-proliferation accord sets exacting constraints on Iran’s nuclear programs. But distrust and fear of Iran’s nuclear intentions and striving for regional hegemony are triggering counter-reactions by the Saudis and others.
Nuclear Considerations Complicate Things Even Farther
Arab states and Saudi Arabia now feel pressed to provide existing and new civilian nuclear power plants with a "latent" nuclear weapon capability for clandestine military nuclear programs. All to create a nuclear deterrence and military balancing of power with Iran. As one Middle East authority stated, Iran must know that the Gulf states and US will not allow the JCPOA accord to become a cover for Iran’s own aggression. But tragically this is giving rise to relying on nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee of existence – which seems counter to strategic logic knowing that ISIS is the Common Enemy.
But the only answer is a credible, workable strategy that contains nuclear weaponry proliferation and reins in the growing sectarian wars in the Middle East. This will require exceptional restraint, judgment and cooperation. More military destruction, human mutilation and slaughter is not the solution. Four years of Western bombs have not stopped the Common Enemy - ISIS.
If Syria falls, ISIS will likely take it over. It has no limits on targets. Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Israel, Europe, and the US will be next. This raises the question, should Assad’s regime and ISIS be removed to restore Middle East stability as some suggest? Of course, Russia, China and Iran would have to agree – a reminder of just how complex the Syrian apocalyptic development is.
Russia militarily supports the amoral dictator, Assad. America bombs ISIS in Syria and wants to get rid of Assad. What is the lesser evil? It’s the dilemma faced at onset of WWIl – do we fight with Stalin (Assad) against Hitler(ISIS)? America did just that back then. The Syrian mayhem is so catastrophic for everyone in the region and the world that that question should be asked.
But Vladimir Putin’s words this week surprisingly hit the nail on the head: "Healthy common sense and responsibility for global and regional safety demand a united effort from the international community against the threat posed by ISIS." What’s critically vital is to spark debate of counter-arguments that force engagement of alternatives to quell the unending Middle East civil wars. (see: "U.S. Policy Towards the Middle East After the Iranian Nuclear Agreement," by Kenneth M. Pollack, 07-05-2015)
Iran's nuclear uranium enrichment program started in the 1980s. A facility in Natanz was built to install 50,000 centrifuges. Under the Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran was legally bound to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about this program but did not do so. In the past, Iran often lied about its nuclear weapons work and was not forthcoming about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Iran's clandestine centrifuge program at Natanz was exposed in 2002.
This started Arab states and Saudis on a path of soliciting bids from the US and France for nuclear power facilities. Gulf states could live with Israel's concealed nuclear weapon capability, but they were fearful of nuclear weapons coming into Iran's hands and disturbing the balance of power. Since 2002, Washington and Paris have been providing nuclear power plant infrastructure know how and aid to Arab states and the Saudis. Nuclear power technical assistance has also been sought from China and Russia and provided. Both countries are seeking strategic footholds to counter US hegemony in the Middle East. Russia helped Iran complete its Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Increasing Arab investments in nuclear power are telling Iran that Arab states and the Saudis can also convert civilian nuclear power technology to nuclear weapons – thereby holding Iran at risk should it be caught enriching uranium in violation of the JCPOA accord. The accord reduces Iran's installed centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000. For 15 years, it limits uranium enrichment to 3.67% and ceases enrichment at the Fordow facility. Iran has agreed to make changes at several facilities to prevent them from being used to create nuclear weapons.
But are there still some weak conditions in the accord? Yes. These include:
Iran can continue running nuclear centrifuges at an underground site once suspected of housing illicit activities.
Iran says inspectors will be removed if they try to enter sites Iran considers "sensitive".
Iran is permitted to keep many of its controversial military sites closed to inspections.
Iran can delay inspections of disputed facilities for at least 24 hours which gives time to sanitize the site.
Iran can only use IR-1 centrifuges but has begun using IR-8 centrifuges that enrich uranium 20 times faster than IR-1 centrifuges.
Can Iran still cheat?
Yes. Will it inevitably be detected in time? Yes. Why? Unlike North Korea which China now reports has 20 nuclear warheads – a tough regime of IAEA inspections plus close observations of US and Israel make it highly improbable any cheating by Iran is not spotted in a timely manner. Will the repercussions for cheating be severe? Yes. To avoid (or greatly limit) a regional nuclear arms race, is it worth the risk to test whether Iran will abide by the JCPOA accord, restricting Iranians to civilian nuclear power and conventional weapons capabilities? Yes.
Why is it that Iran is inciting a major counteraction of Arab civilian nuclear power proliferation when Israel - the arch enemy of Arab states in two major wars – started developing nuclear weapons and an atomic bomb 40 years ago and has since had an active military posture without inciting a counteraction?
Arab states are now accelerating investments in nuclear power plants and modern, longer range ballistic missiles to compensate for their conventional military shortcomings and to deter Iran from violating the JCPOA accord. The upsurge of Arab interest in nuclear power plants creates a latent nuclear weapon capability. The spread of plutonium produced by civilian nuclear power reactors produces latent nuclear weapon proliferation – the ability to technically transition quickly to deliverable nuclear weapons. The more nuclear power plants and plutonium produced, the more latent nuclear weapon proliferation is produced. The dangerous downside is undermining regional non-nuclear proliferation and enhancing the risk of small nuclear wars and/or nuclear terrorism.
So again, why is Iran's civilian nuclear power program seen as a more acute future threat than Israel's nuclear weapons program and atomic bomb capability?
A key reason is that Israel's nuclear weapon capability was initially seen and is still seen as being a deterrent strategy and for defense only, not for aggressive expansion of its territory. So the bombing of Iran’s nuclear power facilities, the ongoing occupation of West Bank, the wars of 2008-09 and 2012, the Gaza slaughter, the buying of US Arrow ballistic missiles, Iron Dome anti-rocket systems and possibly cruise missile submarines all qualify as self-defense for Israel. On the other hand, Gulf States and Saudis automatically see the JCPOA accord as inherently dangerous and opens the door for Iranian territorial aggression and hegemony in the region.
Iran's support of Shiite factions in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq spawns Saudi Arabia’s overstated fears of being permanently encircled by Iran – that Iran is on plan to 'take over' Yemen on Saudis' southern border and Iraq on Saudis' northern border. But, as most experts agree, Iran is not controlling events in the region. It is mostly reacting to them. Like the US, it is filling trouble spot holes but not with the intention of taking over territory.
Nevertheless, Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia view Iran as a potential military and nuclear weapons aggressor despite following deterrents:
recent non-proliferation accord prohibiting Iran (under strict protocols and inspections) from undertaking uranium enrichment or reprocessing technology
added security measure of Arab states and Saudi Arabia to match the dual-use feature of Iran's civilian nuclear power capability that could serve as an intermediate step to nuclear weapons capability in the distant future.
Can Saudi Arabia Be a Deterrent to Iran?
As noted, the civilian nuclear power push by Iran's Arab neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, is a security hedge to provide a means for nuclear weapons if Iran does not cease its uranium enrichment activities – thus a latent nuclear weapons deterrent. This hedge helps counterbalance Iran's regional influence and any aggressive attempts at extended territorial reach. Iran will realize it cannot achieve a unique civilian nuclear power status – that produces latent nuclear weapon capability – without being regionally challenged.
Given these countervailing forces, why would Iran be so recklessly stupid as to invite unfathomable military destructive retaliation if caught covertly developing nuclear weaponry or an atomic bomb capability?
The JCPOA accord prohibits uranium enrichment by Iran for 15 years. If no such 'cap and constrain' deal had been reached, Iran might indeed be emboldened to risk developing a nuclear weaponry deterrent.
Despite the "death to Americans" propaganda by Iran's radical right groups, Iran's 'must-priorities' now are to renew its infrastructure and spur broad economic growth. But resurgent Iranian competition, wealth and economic progress, supported by vast oil reserves, add to fears of Iran's increasing regional hegemony – bolstering Gulf States and the Saudis to match Iran's latent nuclear capability, thereby bolstering their own political and economic influence in the region.
Arabs states and the Saudis are the world’s largest importers of armaments. University nuclear science and engineering programs are being offered for talented people to run nuclear reactors and keep pace with Iran. Gulf states are relying on France, US, China, Russia, among others for technical assistance to install their civilian nuclear power facilities and make them operational. As stated, the technical competence subsequently acquired makes it possible to redirect nuclear power technology to the military – should that for security reasons become a necessity.
Nuclear plant equipment and weapon sales are commercially booming, profitable businesses. American, French and other foreign firms have been selling their nuclear power wares for billions of dollars annually to Middle Eastern states for years. The West, notably the US, has been aggressive in selling high performance aircraft that can be adapted to carry nuclear warheads. The Pentagon has just completed a $1 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.
China and Russia are capable of offering modern ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Russia, like Iran, is strengthening its military presence in Syria. This might lead to setting up missile defense systems against invading Western aircraft missions. Will Russia or China be lured to break international restrictions and provide cruise missiles with nuclear warheads if Arab states and Saudi Arabia show interest?
US regime change policies and Western weapon inflows have exacerbated the falling apart process in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, not to mention Afghanistan. This strategy has invariably backfired and facilitated the rise of ISIS. The Middle East destructive violence epidemic has forced 11 million Syrians to flee their homes, over 4 million of whom have fled their country, escaping to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and in huge waves to Europe. Refugees are not welcomed nor admitted into Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the very countries originally funding ISIS's birth, but now know the world monster they have helped create.
Upgraded military weapon flows and contiguous civil wars are bringing the Gulf States closer to seeing nuclear weapons as the ultimate security guarantee of their existence – Israel’s long-held position.
But plowing ever more sophisticated military weaponry into the Middle East chaos, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, risks precipitating a human Holocaust of calamitous global dimensions. Einstein warned, “I know not with what weapons WWIII will be fought, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Hopefully, the potential for a subtle, slow wave of nuclear weapons proliferation and a widening arms race can be contained. The US, China and India acknowledge how dependent they are on Middle East stability to ensure the free flow of oil. Amazingly, good things could happen if these and other great powers, e.g. Germany, UK and Gulf state producers came together to secure regional stability by other alternatives than 'scorched earth' military bombing missions mainly exterminating innocent families and children.
Following are words from a speech made before the Middle East Policy Council: “Responding to Failure: Reorganizing U.S. Policies in the Middle East,” by former Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), March 10, 2015.
"The results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failures but catastrophic failures. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Frankly, we have done a lot better at selling things, including armaments, to the region than we have at transplanting the ideals of the Atlantic Enlightenment there. The region’s autocrats cooperate with us to secure our protection, and they get it. When they are nonetheless overthrown, the result is not a democracy or rule of law but a socio-political collapse and the emergence of a Hobbesian state of nature in which religious and ethnic communities, families, and individuals are able to feel safe only when they are armed and have the drop on each other. When we have engineered or attempted to engineer regime change, violent politics, partition, and ethno-religious cleansing have everywhere succeeded unjust but tranquil order. One result of our bungled interventions in Iraq and Syria is the rise of Daesh (ISIS). This is yet another illustration that, in our efforts to do good in the Middle East, we have violated the principle that one should first do no harm.
Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and forswore ideologically motivated hectoring and intervention. No one willingly follows a wagging finger. Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.
In the end, to cure the dysfunction in our policies toward the Middle East, it comes down to this. We must cure the dysfunction and venality of our politics. If we cannot, we have no business trying to use an 8,000-mile-long screwdriver to fix things one-third of the way around the world. That doesn’t work well under the best of circumstances. But when the country wielding the screwdriver has very little idea what it’s doing, it really screws things up."
A graduate of Bowdoin and Dartmouth colleges, for many years I was an independent management consultant and entrepreneur working with Dutch international shipbuilding and offshore oil/gas contracting firms. In past years up to recent retirement at 77, I have been a trainer for firms such as ING, DSM, Siemens, the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs and Justice in the Hague and also a teacher/lecturer at The Hague University and NTI University in Leiden. Subjects covered have included finance, commercial law, legal writing, report writing, presentations, etc. All my time now is devoted to research for writings on grave national and global issues.
I’m an independent-minded Mainer, a liberal-conservative. Over time, I have come to loath the mind numbing indoctrination inherent in the “ideological-pure and money talks” political culture poisoning and grid-locking our national dialogue on extremely serious structural societal problems. Such times of volatile change call for a fusion of the ‘brightest and best’ ideas/reforms that ensure a prudent, fair balancing of legitimate public interests, concern for the common folk’s progress in concert with a thriving market-innovative capitalism. Frank Thomas – 09-23-15
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Regime Change Was Their Common Theme
Obama wanted it to be part of his legacy that he ended two wars, those in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were started by his predecessor, George W Bush along with his vice President Dick Cheney. Only it's not working out entirely as he planned, and he's coming in for a lot of criticism from, among others, Cheney himself. In a new book, Exceptional, Why the World Needs a Powerful America, written with daughter Liz Cheney, Cheney criticizes Obama while defending his own legacy. Cheney has been in full self-rehabilitation mode ever since he stepped down as George W Bush's brain.
The criticism now is that Obama left Iraq too soon and thus created a power vacuum that ISIS has filled. No doubt ISIS stepped into the vacuum created by the departure of Saddam Hussein, but the part that Cheney is missing is that his administration took out Saddam for no valid reason whatsoever and created the power vacuum in the first place. As long as Saddam was in power, no group such as al Qaeda or ISIS could possibly have gained a foothold in Iraq.
As Colin Powell said recently on Meet the Press, and I paraphrase, you can't take out the guy at the top if there is no structure beneath him to support a stable government and expect good results. Certainly neither George W Bush, who wanted to create western style democracies in the Middle East using war as a means, nor Barack Obama, who wanted to do the same thing by encouraging the youth to rise up after getting rid of despicable dictators, have achieved the results they were hoping for.
Powell also mentioned that all sixteen US Intelligence Agencies concurred in the fact that Sadam had weapons of mass destruction. It was a massive exercise in self delusion and self deception on a national basis and giving the Boss the results the Boss wanted because the agencies knew what the Boss wanted to hear. There was no integrity or ethics in the massive intelligence apparatus of the US government and the massive deception it perpetrated on the American public, not to mention the rest of the world.
Bush's perfidy was signaled two years before 9/11 when he told his ghostwriter that he wanted to be a wartime President:
HOUSTON -- Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade...if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency." Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow.
Sadam might have been a bad guy, but he was a bulwark against instability in Iraq. There is no way that al-Qaeda or ISIS could have gained a foothold there as long as Sadam was in power. Part of his effectiveness as a dictator is that he kept the religious tensions bubbling just under the surface in check. When Sadam was gone, religious factions came to the fore and destroyed Iraq's secularism under Sadam. Part of the problem is that no effective successor to Saddam has materialized, one who can put the lid back on the cauldron.
The only leaders of Iraq in the interim have been incompetent and ineffective. Obama has been too rosy in his assessment of the possibilities for reform in the Middle East. Perhaps a brutal Saddam-like leader is about the best they are capable of in those countries at the present time.
Obama encouraged young Egyptians to reform their country to become a democracy, and that too has been an abysmal failure. Egypt went from being controlled by the military through a couple of iterations, a couple of moves on the chess board, and back to being controlled by the military again despite the "Arab Spring," the youth revolt and the Internet. You can't blame Obama for trying to make a better world by relatively peaceful means.
Do Bad Dictators Serve a Useful Function?
The only problem is that that doesn't seem to be in the cards for some countries whether for historical or cultural reasons. Surely it's not for a lack of successful models including the US and the European Union, which despite their problems are still light years ahead as civilizations than the likes of Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. The simmering cauldrons of religious animosity and hatred boiled over once there was no strong and brutal leader to hold them in check. The key to modernizing these societies is first to secularize them.
In 2011 Obama pressured Mubarek to resign and encouraged the protesters, all to no subsequent avail. In a one on one conversation by telephone with Mubarak on February 1, Obama told the Egyptian president nearly point blank to resign, and Mubarak refused. Obama told Mubarak: “It is time to present to the people of Egypt it’s next government.” Mubarak replied: “Let’s talk in the next three or four days.”
Subsequent Egyptian governments were hamhanded and incompetent. The Muslim Brotherhood's government under Mohamed Morsi turned into a fiasco. Eventually, the military which had run Egypt for years stepped back in and ousted Morsi who found himself on death row while Mubarek who had been on death row got a reprieve. It's a topsy turvy world. So it's back to square one in Egypt with the military in control and no reforms evidently taking hold. The "Arab Spring" was a bust. It turned to winter pretty fast.
Despite Obama's peaceful intentions, as contrasted with Bush and Cheney's warlike ones, Obama's meddling in the middle East has had negative results. In Obama and Egypt’s Revolution Obama was quoted:
“It is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear—and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak—is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
“To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.”
It's clear Obama told Mubarek to leave and encouraged Egyptian young people to create a new society. Trouble was they didn't know how to do it. They weren't capable of doing it, and they had no historical or cultural precedents for doing it.
The Road to Hell by Good and Bad Intentions
Even in Libya, which was at least a stable country under Gaddafi, the lack of stability and power vacuum has been exploited by the likes of ISIS. The irony of the situation is that Gaddafi as well as Sadam were aging dictators who were mellowing toward the West. Obama's good intentions have led us down the road to hell just as resolutely as Bush and Cheney's nefarious ones. Now Cheney's advice somehow seems relevant again after attempts at reform in the Middle East have fallen flat. The road to hell has been paved with Obama's good intentions just as they were by his predecessor's bad intentions.
In fact, at the time of the 2011 NATO intervention, Gaddafi had made nice with the West, given up his nuclear weapons program, and was providing the United States good intelligence on Islamist terrorists. However, because Gaddafi had long been demonized, France and the United States just couldn't resist taking advantage of the Arab Spring revolt against him to get rid of him for good.
Yet there are still people who argue that toppling Gaddafi was needed for the symbolic goals of standing with the NATO allies and siding with Arab Spring revolts, even though the latter didn't turn out to be very democratic after all. However, such symbolism is trumped by the harsh reality that, if anything, U.S. security has been eroded by Gaddafi's weapons being spread around the Middle East and by the resulting internal mayhem in Libya, which in turn has led to terrorist training bases and ISIS strongholds in that country. Even these developments could probably be overstated as threats to the United States per se, but security-wise the United States was still better off when Gaddafi kept things under control in Libya.
Another case in point is Syria. Obama took a stand that Bashar al-Assad had to go. He said that Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people was a game changer. He had crossed a red line. "To use weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line in terms of international norms and laws," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. In 2011 Obama called for al-Assad to resign after months of his violent crackdown on protesters. The rhetorical escalation was backed by new U.S. sanctions designed to undermine Assad’s ability to finance his military operation. Obama said there was a "red line" in Syria if al-Assad used chemical weapons. It was an empty threat.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Result: he's still in power and millions of Syrian refugees are risking death and besieging western Europe. Talk about good intentions backfiring. Hindsight is making Dick Cheney look good and seem relevant again.
President Obama first declared that it was time for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down in August, 2011, five months into the uprising against his rule. Since then, it’s been the consistently stated position of the White House that resolution of the civil war in Syria requires Assad’s departure. This has remained true even as the focus of America’s attention has shifted to Assad’s enemy, ISIS, and as worsening chaos in Libya and Yemen have led many to reconsider the wisdom of overthrowing dictators in countries riven by sectarian violence.
As long as Sadam was in power in Iraq, Mubarek in Egypt and Gaddaffi in Libya there was no power vaccuum and the liklihood of an ISIS like movement being successful was nil. The fact that al-Assad is still in power in Syria is cold comfort due to the fact that the civil war in that country has destabilized it and created millions of refugees. In the world today there are some 50 million refugees many of them barely clinging to life. It's a worldwide crisis, and a crisis for western Europe because they're all determined to get there in order to have a chance at a sane, useful and happy life.
The Arab Spring Was a Total Bust
As of September 2012, governments have been overthrown in four countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The Arab Spring came to nought. All the demonstrations in Tahir Square, all the high hopes and ambitions for a better life, all the sophisticated use of the internet to organize young people, all the Facebook - it all came to nothing despite Obama's encouragement. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this.
The Arab Spring was supposed to bring peace, democracy and stability to not only the nations where it took root, but also others around it in the Middle East and North Africa. It was supposed to usher in an end of violence and heavy-handed government tactics, just like it ushered out entrenched leaders. In short, it was supposed to mean a brighter future.
Not more instability, not more violence, not fewer freedoms.
But that's what happened, even if the level of unrest hasn't been even or universal. Some countries, such as Jordan, instituted reforms without really roiling their societies. Others, such as Iraq, never saw a popular uprising, but have seen burgeoning violence. And now, Yemen is on the brink of civil war as it battles a rebel group that has overthrown the government and seized parts of key cities.
And now Cheney's new book gives him the chance to say "I told you so." Forget about the fact that he and Bush started the whole thing with the removal of Saddam.
Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College is the author of several books, including "Arab Spring, Libyan Winter" and, most recently, "The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South."
There’s a very dangerous game going on here, both from Hillary Clinton, from the Republicans, from Tony Blair. They want to make the case that the Islamic State is a child of the Syrian war. They want to deny the fact that the Islamic State has its roots fundamentally in the destruction of the Iraqi state by the American invasion in 2003. You know, it’s very easy to destroy a state. It took the Iraqi people over a hundred years to build institutions; that was destroyed by the Americans in an afternoon.
Once you destroy the state, you create a vacuum. For the first time on Iraqi soil, one saw al-Qaeda groups come in, and that was in 2004, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was a Jordanian militant, comes into Tal Afar and creates al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. You know, even bin Laden found him to be a bit unpalatable, because he was deeply sectarian and extraordinarily violent. The Americans tried to crush al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, but by 2006, despite the big surge, despite the bombing of Fallujah, Ramadi—you know, names that the American public now are quite familiar with—despite the razing of these cities, the Islamic State was born in 2006. It’s not yesterday’s creation. This was a product of the Iraq War.
In his book Cheney says, “Those who say the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake are essentially saying we would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power". Well yes, the world would be immeasurably better off if Bush and Cheney had never invaded Iraq and Sadam was still in power. Bush and Cheney had to make their case as strong as possible that Sadam was a threat to the world because he possessed weapons of mass destruction.The real reason is that Bush lusted after being a wartime President with all the "political capital" that would accrue to him.
Regarding Bush the road to hell was paved with bad intentions. As far as Obama is concerned the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Both led to similar results. Removing bad guy dictators created a power vacuum, destabilized several middle Eastern countries and led to the rise of ISIS. We would all be better off if the bad guys had remained in place. The US has been directly responsible for destroying billions of dollars worth of real estate, killing over a million people, mostly civilians, ruining millions of people's lives forcing them into refugee status and destabilizing Europe because of it. This does not even count the hundreds of billions of dollars the US military-industrial complex has spent on war and the weapons of war, money that has not been spent on creating peace around the world and taking care of pressing social and infrastructure problems at home.
The US has sown acrimony and tension in the Middle East thus insuring resentment towards the US and the west and continued war for the next hundred years unless the US immediately apologizes, turns away from spending billions on war and instead puts that money into peace building efforts in the Middle East. Money should be transferred from the war machine to the Peace Corps and similar efforts. But US war efforts sustain a self-fulfilling prophecy guaranteeing that the military will have to be used ad infinitum to tamp down the tensions and resentments that it has created in the first place. All those making money off of war should be delighted.
The problem is that Obama is still in the thrall of the neocons whose mantra is regime change. Robert Parry in How Neocons Destabilized Europe has nailed it: "The neocon prescription of endless “regime change” is spreading chaos across the Middle East and now into Europe, yet the neocons still control the mainstream U.S. narrative and thus have diagnosed the problem as not enough “regime change.”"
The refugee chaos that is now pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey – started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle East and other parts of the world through “regime change.”
Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing – such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.”
by Frank Thomas from the San Diego Free Press
But Ongoing Exponential Growth Of Global Co2 Emissions
California continues its remarkable legislative breakthroughs in going green under the SB 350 Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015. Legislation just passed sets two goals for 2030: 50% of state utility power from renewables and a 50% increase in energy efficiency of buildings. The provision for a 50% reduction in petroleum use for cars and trucks failed to pass as did the SB 32 bill that sets GHG emission targets for 2030 and 2050. Still, the sweeping new mandates passed call for DOUBLING energy efficiency and using renewables for HALF of California’s electricity generation by 2030. It is uncertain how fast and to what extent transportation electrification will proceed
California's aim to step up its commitment to clean energy acknowledges the scientific reality we humans don't have the luxury of lots of time to transition FAST to renewable energy and much improved energy efficiency. California, Germany, and Scandinavia are not being complacent about the critical need to act in big and little ways to counter Earth's energy imbalance that's intensifying global warming, recurring destructive drought and flooding weather events of scale – the huge costs of which are not included in the gasoline price.
California’s electricity generation from renewables and overall decarbonization rates were an impressive 26.6% and 36.6%, respectively, in 2013. Wind energy and biomass played a major role. The renewable share can be increased significantly by solar PV applications and electrification of vehicles bringing further improvements in California’s decarbonization levels.
Without a near term, effective, safe way to capture and bury carbon, Germany and Scandinavia are phasing out of CO2 pollution-intensive coal production. Germany is doing the same with nuclear. California, Germany and Scandinavia have resisted temptation to consider renewable energy as supplemental rather than the dominant contributors to energy consumption and energy security.
We are all affected by proliferating global CO2 emissions no matter what regions they come from. TABLE 2 shows the dramatic, near “exponential” growth of CO2 emissions since 1850 and particularly since 1950.
TABLE 2 forecasts CO2 emissions at only a 1% increase per year. This results in 52.8 billion tons of CO2 being emitted by 2050, leading to disastrous temperature rise of 3-4C. Many aspects of climate change will continue for some centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped.
This is because up to 40%, some scientists say 80%, of emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 800 years or more. This spells a substantial multi-century climate change development caused by past, present and future CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions must decline 6% annually starting in 2016 to have any hope of averting a 2C rise by 2050.
It's difficult for humans to comprehend the concept, 'exponential,’ or ‘exponential function'. This is a process where, for example, there's a period of slow growth in global warming and ice melt that can then change to an accelerated build up at a 10 or 20 year doubling rate, intensified by various positive feedbacks.
In 1970, humanity was pumping 40 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere EVERY DAY - or 14.5 billion tons annually. In 2015, CO2 emissions will almost triple to 110 million tons EVERY DAY - or 40 billion tons annually. This astronomical growth has led to an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 400 ppm today and rising. This is 40% higher than the 280 ppm level over two centuries ago, a stunning 30% higher vs. 1960's concentration level. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher today than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years. America with 315 million people has highest per capita emissions. China is 2nd highest with 1.3 billion people.
Human-induced carbon emissions are becoming ‘exponential,’ contributing also to a much faster rise infuture sea level (see: Global CO2 Emissions 1751-2010 CDIAC and (see: http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/2015/04/07/exponential-sea-level-rise-within-three-generations/). Recorded history has never seen the CO2 atmospheric concentration rise so much in such an incredibly short time frame. In prior ice ages, such an increase would have taken thousands of years excluding an ultra-unique, massive natural event. The change since 1970 is so extraordinary that it overwhelms all natural forces including the sun (see: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/).
Dr. James Hansen's recent study, which must still be peer-reviewed, projects a 10 foot sea level rise before 2100. This is based on evidence that ice sheets that come in contact with warming oceans are vulnerable to a 'non-linear' as opposed to an assumed 'linear' melt down. Rising air temperatures are the main cause of recent dramatic disintegration of ice shelves. But Hansen's study suggests that the warming of oceans may be playing a more significant role in destroying the ice shelves ... as various positive feedbacks amplify the exponential rate of ice melt.
In contrast to Hansen's calculations, the IPCC's projected 3 foot sea level rise excludes ice sheet melt. The Greenland, West and East Antarctica ice sheets are evidencing considerable instability and rapid loss of ice mass in recent years. NASA has just announced that a sea level rise of 3 feet is already LOCKED IN - thus can't be avoided by the younger generation and future generations.
Hansen concludes this all means the IPCC's 2 degrees Celsius maximum target by 2050 is unacceptably high. We actually are now on a CO2 emissions trend leading to a 3 to 4 degrees Celsius increase by 2050 - driving the CO2 concentration to well above 500 ppm and thereby drastically escalating the Earth's existing dangerously high energy imbalance. To avert this disaster scenario, global CO2 emissions must be rapidly reduced on average about 6% yearly to achieve at least a 350 ppm atmospheric concentration by 2100. (see: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26243-world-on-track-for-worstcase-warming-scenario).
The evidence of man-made CO2 emissions and correlation with global warming is obvious in the melting of glaciers, ice mass loss, multiple extreme weather events, acidic oceans, ecological disasters. It is unambiguous that the increase in CO2 concentrations is human-induced. We also know the human sources of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, cement production, agriculture, deforestation contribute half of the emissions that lead to an increase in atmospheric concentrations. The other half of the CO2 emissions is absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere. This is making the oceans more acidic and threatening sea life.
The reality is that “disruptive” technologies, lifestyle changes, stronger regulations and incentives, among other actions, are critical to achieving a “green friendly” capitalism … before Earth’s rising heat content and temperature become irreversible.
Congratulations California for recognizing the moral, social and economic necessity to exit out of fossil fuel CO2 emissions as rapidly and effectively as possible ... including ambitious actions to improve energy efficiency. Congratulations California for recognizing that half measures won’t suffice in face of the most severe life-on-Earth risk the world civilization could ever imagine.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
The Pope is visiting the US this week to make the case that we should take climate change seriously and start doing something about it. He is really making the case that we should change our paradigm from one of individual self-fulfillment to one of "we're all in this together," from individual salvation to collective salvation of our earthly home. This has far reaching implications. We need to be concerned about what's happening to the earth as a whole, to humanity as a whole, and not just to our own family, town, state, country.
The Pope doesn't mince words. Far from being the conservative head of a 2000 year old bureaucracy, he is using his moral megaphone and authority to speak out on the major problems of our day - global warming and capitalism - and the two are interrelated. You can't have the entire sum of people on the planet involved with saving the planet from runaway climate change without getting involved with the collective plight of all those people in their daily lives. The Pope is putting the emphasis and focus on the plight of the poor, which is really what Jesus was all about. Finally.
How many look at the refugee crisis and compare it to Jesus' parable about the Good Samaritan? The phrase "Good Samaritan" means someone who helps a stranger, whether he or she be an "illegal immigrant," a refugee or whatever. We are all in this together; we are all human beings. We put the plight of the poor, the defenseless, the destitute before the worship of money. Capitalism turns that ethic around. Wall Street and its minions worship money.
Is Capitalism the Dung of the Devil? The Pope Says So
The Pope, himself, has labeled capitalism the "dung of the devil" since doing things naturally the capitalist way results in exploitation of the environment with a consequent worsening of the climate change situation. That's how profits are made. So the Pope is calling on us to stop being capitalists, to stop exploiting the environment for personal, selfish gain. The Pope blames "unbridled capitalism" for ruining the earth and immiserating the poor. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners said, "How we decide the morality, the integrity, the righteousness of an economy is not how the wealthiest do but how the poorest do." That is even more radical than communism or socialism.
The Pope has written, "Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, a market that does not take into account the fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged." The capitalist economy is for the "best and the brightest," the entrepreneurs, the college graduates, those who start with nothing and make a billion dollars.
And devil take the hindermost, meaning those who aren't the best and the brightest, but the Pope, as did Jesus before him, speaks for them, those who are left behind by capitalism: the homeless, the mentally ill, those who cannot cope, those who aren't the sharpest blades in the drawer, in other words - the hindermost. Capitalism promotes the ethic of valuing the richest and the smartest, who are perfectly capable of fending for themselves. Is it any wonder that there is runaway wealth creation at the top of the social spectrum? A good thing? I don't think so.
Right wing pundits want us to admire and emulate the rich. They want us to be in favor of policies that promote the rich. We too can be rich some day if only we are willing to work hard. We can all aspire to be Donald Trump and fly around in a helicopter with our name emblazoned on the side. The Pope takes the opposite tack. We should be in favor of policies that help the poor and middle: the 99%.
As I wrote previously:
... the Pope’s words are very important because he wields enormous moral authority. Would that the leading moral authorities from the world’s other major religions had the gumption to stand up and add their voices in the fight against climate change.
The Pope blames human greed for exploitation of the environment and an economic system that is geared to profit making rather than to rational development of natural resources which would benefit all mankind rather than just those at the top. The Pope’s 184 page encyclical is a radical statement: a condemnation of business as usual and a call for a restructuring our political and economic priorities.
To Save the Planet We Must Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground
To be absolutely clear, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and convert to renewables as quickly as possible, not in a leisurely fashion. But this mindset obviously has not sunk in yet as corporations and countries seek to exploit the latest opportunity which has been provided by climate change itself: drilling for oil in the Arctic region at the top of the world. Global warming has proceeded twice as fast there as anywhere else with the result that the ice cap is melting, the Northwest passage is opening and drilling opportunities are presenting themselves. In addition shipping companies are lusting after the opportunity to shave miles off of shipping routes. Has anyone stopped to think about what an Exxon Valdez magnitude oil spill would mean in that pristine environment?
Whole communities in the Arctic are going to have to leave their traditional way of life and move elsewhere or be wiped out. The town of Kivalina, Alaska may cease to exist because the sea ice is melting making it too dangerous to hunt the whales which are their traditional source of food. In addition waves now wash across their town because there is no barrier protecting them any more. "Global warming has caused us so much problems," said Joseph Swan, Sr., a Kivalina elder. "The ice does not freeze like it used to. It used to be like 10 to 8 feet thick, way out in the ocean."
Meanwhile, corporations and countries are forging ahead to exploit Arctic resources seemingly totally oblivious to the need to leave the fossil fuels and the profits in the ground. The planet still holds vast reserves of fossil fuel that could be extracted economically. However, according to a new analysis, a third of the world’s oil, half of its gas, and 80 percent of its coal reserves, worth trillions of dollars, must remain unused if we are to have a good chance of avoiding potentially devastating climate change.
That means that a whole lot of people are going to have to squelch their primal urge to get rich and realize the capitalist and American dream of creating wealth for themselves. Leaving the exploitable profits behind is the anti-capitalist mindset that needs to be adopted if humanity is to survive. The lust for profit has characterized capitalist mentalities from time immemorial. Just one example: the "conquering" of the New World in the Age of Exploration in the 16th century. The explorers were after gold and other resources, and they didn't hesitate to kill indigenous people to get them.
How Do We Change the Capitalist Mentality When That is Essentially the American Dream?
So how to change that mentality and get people to cooperate and distribute the earth's resources more equitably, instead of seeking to gain selfishly, in order to save the planet and humanity as a whole? Will the US government's "slow as you go" reductions, which seek to reduce carbon emissions from US power plants, targeting a 32 percent drop from 2005 levels by 2030, be sufficient? Will the "cap and trade" approach which lets corporations continue to pollute if they pay other corporations for "credits" work? Will selfish capitalistic appeals to selfish interests work?
Naomi Klein doesn't think so. The author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, and one of the Pope's advisers, despite being a secular feminist, thinks that we have to change our selfish, capitalistic mentality if the earth is to remain habitable for human beings. Pope Francis agrees. The Dalai Lama agrees. Who doesn't agree? Capitalists and Republicans who want to maintain the "traditional way of American life." We should all aspire to get as rich as Donald Trump. You see America is based on capitalistic exploitation. It's traditional. If you changed that, America wouldn't be America any more.
So what do we need in order for Americans to listen and take this thing seriously? An American Pope? Someone in the position of authority to say we need to cooperate to save the West from burning up and consuming more and more financial resources just to fight fires? How much money will go to recover from Hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy? Do we need to convert the trillion dollars spent annually on the military-industrial complex to fighting fires?
This is money that needs to go to the prevention of these climate disasters in the first place which means money that needs to go to converting to renewables post haste not by 2030 or 2050. At the rate that climate disasters and extreme weather are manifesting themselves, major disasters requiring major amounts of money will be happening by 2030. Climate change refugees will be migrating from all over the world. The current European refugee crisis is just a harbinger of things to come. Wars will be fought over resources.
Who's going to pay for fighting wildfires - private corporations? The fossil fuel industry? I don't think so. All of us pay through taxes. Would you rather pay taxes to fight fires and house refugees or would you rather pay taxes to convert to renewables and leave fossil fuels in the ground? Of course there's another way to generate the money to convert to renewables at a faster rate.
It's the way Abraham Lincoln used to fight the Civil War, build the transcontinental railroad and construct the land grant colleges. He printed greenbacks, the 19th century version of quantitative easing that bypassed Wall Street and benefited all of America not just the rich. Today the government could just print the money with a few keystrokes on a computer, and, instead of giving it to Wall Street banks as it has done with its quantitative easing policy, it could just use it to create jobs converting to renewable energy at a faster rate. All dollars are fiat money meaning they aren't backed by gold or anything else. It's just that the current US policy of printing fiat money gives that money to the rich. It could just as well print fiat money and give it to the poor and middle instead: quantitative easing for the 99% instead of for the 1%.
Greenbacks could be printed again and used to put people to work converting our power plants to renewable solar on a massive scale. Subsidies could be given to get fossil fuel burning cars off the road and get people into electric vehicles in the same way that Obama initiated the "cash for clunkers" program. Well now, every gas burning internal combustion engine is a clunker that needs to come off the road. The government could make this happen if people were subsidized to the necessary extent. Electric vehicle production plants would be humming putting people back to work making good wages.
Caring More for the Earth and One Another Than Caring for Money
In The Leap Manifesto: A Call for Caring for the Earth and One Another Naomi Klein and others say:
We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the opportunities of this transition are designed to eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.
Sound good? Bernie Sanders is calling for much the same thing. Of course this whole Ronald Reagan, Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches American dream of starting with nothing and becoming a billionaire will have to be seen for the sham that it is. None of these high tech billionaires, not Elon Musk, not Richard Branson, not Bill Gates, not Irwin Jacobs are going to come up with a technological solution that is magically going to "fix" the environment while keeping capitalism in place. Capitalism was never benign. And technology can be part of the solution, but it can't solve the inhumane basis of capitalism because it is part and parcel of it.
And what Bernie is talking about: if medicare-for-all, free community college, a financial transaction tax, raising taxes on the rich to where they were under the Republican Eisenhauer administration, if these measures are socialism, then count me in.
Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru in order to steal its gold from the Incan empire. He captured the Incan chief, Atahuelpa, and demanded a ranson of a roomful of gold. After taking the gold he killed Atahuelpa anyway. This is the legacy of capitalism. Regarding money more than human lives. The veritable worship of money for money's sake. This is the Wall Street mentality. Who cares about the earth? Sissies that's who. Real men are conquistadors. They conquer. All is fair in love and war. I guess that means that rape is fair because that happens in love and war.
Last year, 2014, was the hottest on earth since record-keeping began in 1880 underscoring warnings about the risks of runaway greenhouse gas emissions and undermining claims by climate change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.
Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Records were set across large areas of every inhabited continent. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except near Antarctica providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.
But don't look over here. Keep you eyes on the antics of Donald Trump who wants to build a wall along the Mexican border. Note to Trump: with regard to immigration, you haven't seen anything yet. You could follow Hungary and build a wall, but what is the world going to do with all the refugees otherwise known as illegal immigrants - put them in concentration camps? Climate change refugees are already on the move. This is only the beginning. All the capitalists and billionaires in the world cannot solve this problem within the constraints of capitalism and American fundamentalism.
Some hopeful signs: in July 2015 anti-fossil fuel protests swept Vermont and Maine. The actions, along with others across the United States and Canada, were staged in remembrance of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster on July 6, 2013, when a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town. "Fossil fuels are harmful and violent to communities along every point of production, from extraction to combustion," said Meaghan LaSala, a member of SEEDs for Justice in Maine. "We’re here to say that we’re not going to let the oil be transported by train along Lake Champlain any longer."
I will close with a quote from my collaborator, Frank Thomas, whose erudition on this subject is nonpareil:
"The risks to Mother Earth are simply too great to gamble on a "life as usual" acceptance of a potentially massive ecological and human extermination event – especially knowing the speed and scale of the CO2 and CH4 pollution trend line we are now on. Placing all bets and blame on cycles and natural variability for the obvious human disproportionate disturbance of nature’s environmental balance on the only planet known to harbor human life … is a bet we should all pass on for the sake of our children’s children and their children’s children."
From the original San Diego Free Press circa 1968, we reprint the rundown on Qualcomm Stadium
Transcribed by John Lawrence
Hi, sports fans. Big Jim here.
Well, fans, there is a big spat brewing in major league San Diego and from this experienced observer's view the losers in this main event are going to be the city's middle- and lower-income taxpayers.
This whole new controversy is revolving around that great concrete muskmelon in Mission Valley, the San Diego Stadium.
As the Free Press goes to the printers, the news is out that the City of San Diego is suing the San Diego Chargers for one year's back rent (more than $200,000). The Chargers apparently have decided that they don't want to pay rent, at least not for the next seven years.
But that is just one of a long series of rubs - one of the first rubs in how that stadium got there in the first place.
Who Wants It?
The San Diego Stadium holds 50,000 people. The city of San Diego holds nearly 800,000 people. This means that 750,000 people in San Diego couldn't use the stadium on a day that everyone decided to see a ball game. But that doesn't mean that these 750,000 squabbling over a knot hole in the stadium's wall, are not paying for the place.
The stadium and its accoutrements cost $27.75 million, ostensibly. Actually, after interest is paid on the stadium's bonds, the total cost of it is at least $52.4 million.
The stadium is the brain child of local millionaires, who euphemistically call themselves "sportsmen," who emphatically pointed out to the public that property taxes would never be used to pay back the principle and interest on a the stadium bonds.
Instead of using property tax, these sports czars explained, the City would pick up the tab with the sales tax it received back from the state, along with some other revenues (which ultimately proved to have originated as sales tax, too).
The local media played the sports czars' tune with feeling, assuring the public that the stadium would cost little more than a "Yes" vote on the Stadium proposal on the November, 1965, general election ballot. And 100,000 of the 140,000 voters that turned out swallowed the bait.
No economist would argue against the notion that sales taxes are the most regressive form of tax we have. That means that the middle- and lower-income families are the hardest hit and carry the heaviest burden of sales taxes, while the wealthy are hardly scathed.
On the other hand, equitably administered property taxes put the brunt of the cost on the people most capable of bearing it and who ultimately benefit most from projects like sports stadiums - the wealthy.
(Even though equitably administered property taxes only exist in Camelot, they are still less burden on the middle-and lower-income families than are sales taxes. Dubious homeowners should sit down one day and figure how much they pay in sales tax compared to property tax each year.)
But the people have been conditioned to believe (by corporate media and those corporations who exercise control over them through advertising) that property tax is their ultimate bugaboo — and 100,000 of more than 600,000 San Diegans voted "Yes" on the stadium proposal.
So let's take a look at the old score board and see who's winning in the final quarter.
Sports czars ahead!
This far in the game, the middle- and lower- classes seem to be trailing. About 17 percent of San Diego's 1965 population committed the people of San Diego to pay $144 million annually for the next 35 years. People's score: minus $52,4 million.
Local and out- of- state contractors, architects and building suppliers hauled in $15.5 million on the stadium's construction and about another $12.3 million in trimmings. Construction companies' score: $27.8 million.
Two Chicago bond houses won the stadium bond issue at 3.94126 percent interest. Chicago financiers' score: $24.7 million of tax-free profit.
Motel and restaurant interests in San Diego anticipated an increased annual take of $24.9 million because of stadium visitors. Motel and restaurant interests score: $24.9 million annually.
The San Diego Chargers, whose annual revenue has risen from $660,000 in 1962 to $2.1 million last year, are demanding that they be allowed the use of the stadium rent tree for the next seven years. If they get away with this, they will augment their already mounting earnings by an estimated $2 million for those years. A great deal of their earning power was directly a result of the stadium. Chargers' score is difficult to determine but in the neighborhood of $3 million annually.
The San Diego Padres baseball team has worked out a [indecipherable] deal with the City administration. For the next seven years they will pay eight percent of their ticket sales to the City as rent.
The City estimates that this will amount to $500,000 annually. But then the City turns around and pays the Padres (going under the name of the San Diego Stadium Management Company) $306,000 each year to manage the stadium.
This will make the Padres actual rent about $194,000 per year. The Padres score, by the City's own figures: slightly over $6 million gross.
How does that grab you, sports fans? It looks like San Diego's "sportsmen" have learned something from San Diego's defense industries about government subsidy.
Welfare for the Rich
In 1965, when the designs were laid for the San Diego Stadium, the city manager, then Tom Fletcher, admitted that the stadium would not be an earning proposition. He estimated that with just a major league football team the stadium would make about $120,000 annually. If the City were to pick a Major league baseball franchise, the figure might be boosted to $340,000.
What Fletcher forgot to tell us was that the City would lose property tax revenues on the 166 acres on which the stadium stands. In 1965, the land was valued at $4.1 million. At present property tax rates, the City is losing between $100 000 and $120,000 each year. As Mission Valley property values soar in the next decade, these losses will be compounded.
Defenders of the stadium argue that in 35 years the stadium will be all paid off and be a "real moneymaker" for the people of San Diego.
In 35 years- - considering our present rate of architectural and technological growth -- the San Diego Stadium will look to us like the Whaley house looks to us now.
There will be groups of "sportsmen" wanting to tear it down and set out on another publicly subsidized project (unless, of course, today's revolutionary groups haven't changed all that by then), and there will be groups of monument minders who will want to preserve the structure for historical reasons.
Who Let the White Elephant in?
Why did such a beast ever get by the voters? Because there was no critical media. There was no scrappy little newspaper like the San Diego Free Press. There were only corporate mass media intent on getting a piece of the action.
James Copley, owner-publisher of the San Diego Union-Evening Tribune, certainly wasn't going to torpedo the stadium. He owns about a million dollars worth of the Chargers.
That's about all for this issue, sports fans. Next issue Big Jim will really lay some heavy facts on you about who, how and how much on that concrete muskmelon. There should be some really interesting playbacks on the San Diego sport czars.
In the meantime, Big Jim is going to see about opening up a jock strap factory and having the City of San Diego subsidize me, because, after all, "It's not whether you win or lose that counts; it's how your capital gains!"
How Our Stadium Saved Hilton's Ego & Other Chuckles To Cry Over
by Jim Knastick (Part 2 of a 3 part Article)
Hi sports fans. Big Jim, again.
Well, fans, last issue - - when we looked into that great muskmelon in Mission Valley - - we found a bill for $52 million addressed for the little taxpayer in San Diego and nothing but profits for local sports czars (your druggist knows them as merchants, financiers and industrialists).
Current vignette, fans: Taking Care of Barron.
The Boys Club
The story of our stadium goes back to late 1959 when Lamar Hunt, son of the right-wing zealot billionaire H.L. Hunt, Bud Adams, Jr., son of the chairman of the Phillips Petroleum company, and Barron Hilton, son of the hotel magnate Conrad, pitched together several million dollars to create the American Football League.
Hunt was suffering a rebuff by the National Football League that had just refused to grant him an NFL franchise for Dallas. So he threw in with Adams to form his own league.
Hunt took a Dallas franchise, Adams took one for Houston and they set up six others. The Los Angeles franchise went to Barron Hilton.
As head of the Carte Blanche credit card company, Hilton decided to call his team the Los Angeles Chargers in hope of stimulating business.
In its first year of operation the AFL had a combined loss of $4.5 million. Hunt bore the heaviest losses - - $1 million, and Hilton ran a close second at $900,000.
It took Hilton less than a sing [?] to draw only 11,000 people in the LA Coliseum, which holds 101,000. The day they won the AFL’s Western Divisional Championship they drew 9,900.
It took Hilton less than that year to decide that his AFL Chargers were no competition for the LA Rams. He found it very embarrassing to draw only 11,000.
Hilton knew he had to do something. His old man couldn't bail him out; he was too busy trying to keep Castro from taking over the Havana Hilton.
Then young Hilton smelled a fish to the south: San Diego. The local sports czars (though still would-be) also smelled a fish: the public. The "civic leaders" of San Diego fell all over themselves to get the Chargers to move to San Diego, which they eventually did - - but not before Hilton got a promise from the City government to make some improvements in the Chargers' future home, the Balboa Stadium.
Hilton wanted the Balboa Stadium's seating accommodations increased from 22,000 to 34,500 seats at the City's expense.
The City followed Hilton's bidding. The cost was estimated at $800,000 originally. By the time the work was done the cost was $1.5 million. Then the Chargers' rent was waived for the first year and only a pittance was paid in successive years.
During a series of preseason exhibition games, the largest audience the Chargers could draw was 13,000 paid admissions. Charger stock, which had sold at $3 a share when the team first moved to San Diego, dropped to $2.25. It slowly inched back up to its original price after the Chargers had a winning streak during the regular season. Even then their games did little better than draw an average of 30,000 spectators, and Hilton began to feverishly look for buyers.
Enter Sports Czars
As Hilton was trying to find himself (or whatever else he was trying to find in San Diego), a group of 200 San Diego "sportsmen" organized the Greater San Diego Sports Association (GSDSA).
These men, heads of banks, bottling companies, contracting and construction firms, stated the aims of the Association as: 1. seeking a major league baseball franchise for San Diego. 2. boosting the Chargers, and 3. getting an all-purpose stadium built.
George Kirksey, the man who ramrodded a $22 million bond issue in Houston for the Astrodome, was the keynote speaker at the GSDSA organizational meeting. A. B. Polinsky, the head of the San Diego Coca- Cola Bottling Company was named as the acting president.
From the time of its inception the GSDSA had been bucking for a multi-purpose stadium. It came as no surprise in December, 1963, when Mayor Curran appointed GSDSA president, Paul Carter, to preside over The Mayor's All-American Stadium Committee, another group of "sportsmen" that was delegated the responsibility of determining the feasibility of the stadium.
The Committee was authorized by the City to spend $100,000 on the study. When the announcement was made, City officials said that they hoped private funds would be used. Apparently almost the whole amount came from the public's purse.
Other members of the All-American Stadium Committee included William Black, president of the Bank of La Jolla; William Elser, president of the Elser Elevator Company; Kenneth H. Golden, head of the Kenneth H. Golden Construction Company and a director of the City Bank of San Diego; A. B. Polinsky, head of Coca-Cola here; and Harry Sugarman who ran his own investment company. (These are among others about whose sports interests Big Jim wonders.)
Bailing Out Barron
Rumors have it that by 1964, Barron Hilton was spending more time knocking on the doors of prospective buyers for his team and franchise than he was with his team. He was also threatening to move the team to another city.
Should he actually move the team to another city, all justification for building a stadium (replete with lots of tasty profits for the czars) would be lost. So once more Paul Carter made another unsurprising entrance. This time it was before the City Council in August, 1964.
The deadline for putting issues on the ballot was drawing near, and Carter told the Council, "We have to place something on the ballot now or we are cooked for another year." That Carter's committee was still waiting on the $35,000 stadium feasibility study that wasn't due until October, might make Big Jim think that Carter was in something of a hurry.
But the cooler heads prevailed, to both the chagrin of Paul Carter and Barron Hilton. A general obligation bond issue would have required approval by 2/3's of San Diego's registered voters.
William Quirk, president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce at the time, told the Council that Carter's proposal "reflected poor timing" because there wasn't sufficient time to "mount a campaign that will guarantee passage of the bond issue." If the bonds lost November, 1964, Quirk explained, the stadium measure would be set back for years. Besides, he added, the bond issue could jeopardize other ballot issues. (Other ballot issues included pay raises for Council members and the Mayor.)
Hilton was dejected when the Council announced that it wou1d not act to put the bond issue on the November ballot.
It was about then that Hilton, who knew little about the odd machinations of San Diego's fine establishment, started to sell his team to C. Arnholt Smith, a local industrialist (and owner of the San Diego Padres) who knows plenty about the machinations of San Diego's establishment. The sale price was set at a pitiful $750,000, which would just start to cover his first year losses in Los Angeles.
Then, apparently, someone put a bug in Hilton's ear, and he dropped the idea like a hot football.
All through 1965, San Diego "sportsmen" waged a super campaign. Their theme was that the stadium would be a boon for local tourism, which they stressed was some kind of panacea for the San Diego economy.
Tourism's appeal is based on the remembrances of the '50s and the defense layoffs. Obviously, explained the "sportsmen," the stadium would bolster tourism and take San Diego's economic emphasis away from defense. (Well, fans, tourism accounted for about 6 percent of San Diego' s gross income last year, while the 11th Naval District made up 25 percent. San Diego's 5 largest corporations are General Dynamics Convair, Ryan, Rohr, Solar and National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. San Diego is the same old war baby it has always been.)
Despite the chest beating of stadium boosters, public support wasn't really very strong during the campaign (or at the polling places for that matter).
The Citizens for a Stadium, the only campaign committee for the stadium, reported only receiving $932.25 in contributions of $10 or less (if each, of all those contributions in this category, gave only $1, that's only 932 and 1/4 people.
The $11 to $25 contribution category amounted to $660. Considering that the total contributions were $39,617.09, small contributions only accounted for 4% of the committee's backing.
All contributions over $25 were listed by the contributor at the City Clerk’s office, and, fans, let Big Jim tell you that they're interesting. Surprisingly, the GSDSA was the second largest contributor. They only contributed $10,000. But what's more interesting is the first and third highest contributors, The Associated General Contractors of San Diego County and The San Diego County Rock Producers Association, respectively.
The General Contractors describe their Association as an organization of local "heavy construction contractors, the builders of freeways, airports, dams and high rise structures." They contributed $12,500.
The Rock Producers Association is an organization of 18 local transit mix concrete companies, cement and sand and gravel companies. They donated $4,000. Rancho Bernardo, Inc. contributed almost $3,000, and the San Diego Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company (then headed by the late Frank Alessio) put $500 on the line. A Schlitz-Burgie and Lucky Lager distributor put up $1,000. And the list goes on, with many $50 contributions from all sections of the White-Power-Structure.
By the registration deadline, September, 1965 there were over 244,000 registered voters in San Diego. Only 140,000 voters showed at the polls in November. According to Big Jim's slide rule, that’s about 58 percent of the registered, and only 100,000 voted "Yes" on the stadium proposal – that’s 41 percent of the city’s registered voters.
But, then, the average fan is asking himself, how did the stadium get built?
Well, fans, the City wanted to simplify the administration of the bonds, according to the City. So it did an appendectomy on the "general obligation" bond (like Big Jim said, that would have required a 2/3’s vote of all registered voters) and changed it into a City charter amendment (which requires only a simple majority of people voting).
The charter amendment proposed to form a "joint power agreement" between the City and the County governments to administer the stadium, hold title to it and to issue bonds for its construction.
After the election, all the City’s czars were beating their chests, bragging about the "72 percent landslide victory". Home safe, a local sportswriter said that he wanted to "make it clear once and for all" that what the public voted on wasn't a general obligation bond issue, but a charter amendment. Big Jim felt badly that the sportswriter (who has been described as the richest small town sportswriter in the country and was a member of the GSDSA) didn't tell his readers that before the election.
The charter amendment's bond wording leaves the so-called Stadium Authority an open-ended power to issue bonds. So the idea that they will only issue $27 million of bonds ain't necessarily so. If they wanted to, they could issue bonds from now through the next 50 years.
Barron Is Back In The Saddle
After the new stadium was approved, Barron Hilton was a new man. During a half-time ceremony in Balboa Stadium, Hilton walked onto a platform before thousands of San Diegans and signed a ten-year occupancy agreement, saying that the Chargers would pay 10 per-cent gross of all ticket sales at the new stadium and receive a third of all concession and parking profits.
Less than a year later (to show his gratitude to San Diego), he sold the controlling interest of the Chargers to two Los Angeles tycoons for $10 million. Quite an improvement over $750,000 eh, fans? Well, fans, Big Jim is running out of newspaper faster than he's running out of facts and other historical curiosities. So I guess Big Jim will stretch this out one more issue after this one so we can take a look at how the contracts were awarded and where those profitable bonds went.
Until next time, fans, this is Big Jim with a few late scores off the sports wire: $3.5 million to $329,000; $275,000 to $578,000; and $20.1 million to $1.95.
Big Jim Says: ‘Let’s Put the Lid on Her, Sportsfans.’
Part Three of a Two Part Series
Hi, sports fans. Big Jim, King of the Sport Freaks, here.
Everybody in the press box is getting upset with Big Jim taking up so much newspaper, so I’m going to wrap up the stadium thing, PDQ.
When construction bids were open for the stadium, the lowest bidder was from a group of three companies: Alex Robertson and W. D. Larsen companies of San Diego and the Donovan Construction Company of St. Paul.
Their bid was $14,082,240. The other two bids were about $15.4 million and $15.8 million, therefore the Robertson, Larsen and Donovan bid was accepted.
But, alas, the City Manager of that day, Tom Fletcher, exclaimed at what a bargain that was -- such a bargain that he and the City Council approved an additional $1.5 million worth of keen 'additions,' including some extra elevators, escalators, a restaurant and such.
That put the final cost above the bid of the next highest bidder.
Not that the costs stopped there, either.
By the time the actual edifice was completed, the Robertson, Larsen and Donovan people had submitted about 50 changes in cost to the City Council for approval. The City was free with its approval. The cost changes amounted to $620,433 above the $15,546,891 figure - - totaling $16,167,324.
That is more than $2 million above the original bid and almost $400,000 above the highest of the three original bids. How does that grab you, sales tax fans?
Robertson-Larsen-Donovan wasn't the only company submitting price changes. All in all there were probably several hundred cost changes by people who had one kind of contract or other on that silly stadium.
Then there is the question of the bonds that were issued to pay for the stadium.
The latter part of 1965 and early 1966 were excellent times for selling municipal bonds. People were looking around to jump on the next issuance of bonds and interest rates were low.
Today, tax-free municipal bonds are getting interest rates as high as 5.1 per cent. In the days of the stadium bonds, they were only getting about 4 per cent -- that means there were a lot of people interested in getting hold of the bonds. So one might ask, "How do we assure ourselves that insiders involved in the issuance of the bonds don't take unfair advantage of their knowledge in making a bid?"
Two Chicago bond houses submitted the lowest bid on the bonds: 3.969847 percent. That amounts to $24,672,203.74 of tax-free profit over a period of 35 years.
There are a lot of Chicago interests in San Diego and vice versa. So, Big Jim asked himself, "Where did that money go?"
Big Jim called the City Treasurer’s office and asked who received the bonds. The people there said they didn't know. They thought it went to two Chicago bond houses. "Sure," said Big Jim, "but they are only middle-men. Do you know where they went after that?"
"No," said the City, "All we care about is that we got the money."
Big Jim then learned that Southern California First National Bank (SCFN) was the trustee for the stadium authority. So Big Jim called their trust department and they were unaware (or so they said) as to where the bonds went.
(Little vignette, fans: You may already know that the Foodmaker Company - -Jack-in-the-Box - - owns a controlling interest in Southern California First National. According to the recent Patman report on bank trust departments, SCFN has 73 percent of all San Diego's trust funds and one of its directors, Richard T. Silberman, is head of the Stadium Authority, the people authorized to spend stadium money.
Rumor has it that SCFN branch drive-thru windows are serving Bonusburgers to anyone with one hundred or more dollars in their checking accounts.
That's enough for now, sports fans. But remember, this week is International Eat the Rich Week, paying tribute to one of the fastest growing indoor sports in the world.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
While Other Countries Ban GMOs, US Congress Endorses Them
Scotland has banned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within its country. "Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment—and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status," said rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead. Here in the US the fight is just for the right to know that a food product should be labeled as GMO, and that's not going so well.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. This is BS, of course, since the bill's real purpose is to preempt the rights of state and local governments to pass laws requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to overturn GMO labeling laws already in place in several states, and to prevent the passage of any federal mandatory GMO labeling law in the future. So there is no free speech insofar as knowing what's in something we are eating is concerned. The law's attempt is to suppress truth in labeling.
GMOs were developed primarily to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup so that Roundup could be sprayed directly on crops and only the weeds would die. So whether or not GMO corn and soybeans are good or bad for you, the presence of poison sprayed on them can't be too good for human consumers when they eat such crops. Especially crops such as grapes and apples which have very thin skins and are vulnerable to soaking up the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on them.
The GMO process starts with the seeds only available from Monsanto which grow into the Roundup resistant corn and soybeans which must be purchased on an annual basis from Monsanto. Farmers who save seeds from the current crop are subject to lawsuits by Monsanto which claims the GMO seeds as their intellectual private property.
Food activist Vandana Shiva has been delivering a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
Ever increasing amounts of Monsanto's poison are being sprayed on crops that American consumers are eating as super weeds have adapted to the stuff and are growing bigger than ever requiring more and more Roundup to kill them. The only rational solution is to go back to natural organic ways of dealing with weeds and pests as Monsanto's GMO crops are not sustainable. The only rationale for using Monsanto's GMO seeds and herbicides is that the farmers can get a larger crop yield per acre and thus make more money. But quality rather than quantity is what savvy American consumers are demanding more and more. So the market for organic food is growing. Organic food is non-GMO food that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. With regard to animals they haven't been fed GMO corn or soy and haven't been given antibiotics or hormones.
San Diego Loves Roundup
San Diego is spraying Monsanto's Roundup (generic name - glyphosate) all over its freeways, public lands and waterways exposing San Diegans to this poison whenever they are driving or boating. In a letter to the editor of the San Diego Union, Susan Trump of North Part said this:
San Diego is liberally using Roundup, glyphosate, on public lands and waterways.
Entire countries such as France, Sri Lanka, Brazil and South Africa are banning the substance. We are past the age of ignorance. We understand the consequences and it is generally known that Roundup is not safe for humans, plants, insects or animals, yet its use continues to the extent that it is now in the food supply.
San Diego has just sued Monsanto for similar reasons. This must stop.
This month a French court confirmed Monsanto was guilty of chemical poisoning. Also in September 2015, Latvia and Greece Kicked Monsanto Out and Opted to Ban GM Crops!
San Diego Dr Robert J Rowen says:
What does your grocery shelf and San Diego’s bay water have in common? Monsanto and its poisons!
According to the French agency, glyphosate is used in more than 750 different herbicide products and its use has been detected in the air during spraying, in water and in food. Experts said there was "limited evidence" in humans that the herbicide can cause non-Hodgkins lymphoma and there is convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause other forms of cancer in rats and mice. IARC's panel said glyphosate has been found in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, showing the chemical has been absorbed by the body.
Monsanto, which produces the glyphosate-containing herbicide, Roundup, strongly disagreed with the decision. "All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health," said Phil Miller, a Monsanto spokesman, in a statement. (Did you know that this horrible stuff is routinely found in toxic screening on umbilical cord blood in our babies?)
And what did our own EPA say about this compound? “The EPA's 2012 assessment of glyphosate concluded that it met the statutory safety standards and that the chemical could "continue to be used without unreasonable risks to people or the environment."
About 180 million pounds per year are dumped on your food. It’s a systemic poison for plants, meaning the entire plant takes it up. More is deliberately dumped on “Roundup Ready” soy, etc. They are literally drenched and drowning in the toxic soup. Monsanto engineered crops to be resistant to a chemical it can more readily sell. It’s a win-win for the most evil company on the planet. Make and sell seeds of crops resistant to a poison it sells. And buy the government so that you will not be able to be informed if what you buy is GMO, and where possible get these bought off cronies to spoon-feed the public that your wares are safe. Now an ignorant public will be forced to buy and ingest your Frankenfoods and all the cancer causing poisons that have been sprayed on them. What a tremendous and diabolical scheme.
In a major victory for activists, it was announced last week that the California Environmental Protection Agency is planning to label Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide as a cancer-causing chemical.
Nathan Donley, staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco said that this is a major victory in the fight against dangerous pesticides.
“California’s taking an important step toward protecting people and wildlife from this toxic pesticide. It’s nearly impossible for people to limit exposure to this toxin because it is just so widespread. That’s why we need much tighter controls on its use,” Donley said.
“More than 250 million pounds of glyphosate are used each year in the United States, and the science is clear that it’s a threat to public health and countless wildlife species. It’s long past time to start reining in the out-of-control use of glyphosate in the United States,” he added.
Shop Organic for the Sake of Your Family's Health
So shopping organic and buying from local farmers makes more sense if you want to protect your family's health. GMO crops won't kill you immediately. Glyphosate won't kill you immediately. That's safe to say. But cancer rates are going skyward for all segments of the population as toxic chemicals permeate our diets and our lifestyles. There is no proven link between GMOs and cancer, but common sense dictates that unnatural chemicals as part of our diet aren't good for us regardless of the lower prices for such foods. It's better to pay a little more and protect your family's health. Like cigarettes, GMOs sprayed with glyphosate won't kill you immediately, but cancer will eventually get you. Monsanto's role is to deny the link between the two as long as they possibly can.
To be sure GMOs allow for more food production per acre if you want to call it food. It's actually Frankenfood. But the demographics of the growth of human population are indeed scary:
The global food supply is indeed in danger. Feeding the expanding population without further harming the Earth presents one of the greatest challenges of our time, perhaps of all time. By the end of the century, the world may well have to accommodate ten billion inhabitants—roughly the equivalent of adding two new Indias. Sustaining that many people will require farmers to grow more food in the next seventy-five years than has been produced in all of human history. For most of the past ten thousand years, feeding more people simply meant farming more land. That option no longer exists; nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy per cent of the Earth’s freshwater.
But we shouldn't panic and conclude that GMOs are the only way to go. There are natural methods to produce more food. One way is to reduce the production of beef and encourage a more vegetarian diet. Beef cows consume tremendous amounts of grains in order to produce one pound of meat. If humans consumed the grains directly, more could be fed and more water would be available for human consumption rather than the vast quantities required for animal production.
In addition beef cows are fed tremendous amounts of hormones and antibiotics in order to fatten them up and grow to maturity faster. Whatever animal protein humans consume should be organic for the same reasons that vegetables need to be non-GMO and organic if one's family's health means more than the slightly increased dietary costs. Money can be saved by not eating out which costs about five times as much as the same meal prepared at home, and what's more most restaurants are serving GMO and non-organic foods. Most restaurants are serving GMO foods and animals who have consumed them unless stated otherwise. Their whole trip is to make foods taste good without regard to whether or not those foods are good for you. So you pay through the nose and get a dose of poison to boot.
If you need more reasons to avoid GMO foods, here's a few:
1. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GMO) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.
2. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in "superweeds," resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
3. Most of the health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments' superficial regulations and safety assessments. The reason for this tragedy is largely political. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn't require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency.
Their justification was the claim that they had no information showing that GM foods were substantially different. But this was a lie. Secret agency memos made public by a lawsuit show that the overwhelming consensus even among the FDA's own scientists was that GMOs can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. They urged long-term safety studies. But the White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, and the agency official in charge of policy was Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former attorney, later their vice president. He's now the US Food Safety Czar.
Will the US be the Last to Ban Monsanto's GMOs?
Many other countries are not falling for Monsanto's corporate nonsense and are labeling or outright banning GMOs. As I wrote previously:
Russia is considering legislation to criminalize GMO foods describing GMO food producers as terrorists. France, the largest agricultural producer in Europe, is preparing to restore a GMO maize ban in their country. Twenty-six countries, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy and Mexico, have a total or partial ban on GMOs. Significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about sixty other countries.
Why does the US insist on doing the opposite by passing legislation that prevents states from banning or even labeling GMOs?
Even supposedly healthy restaurants like Subway are purveying meats from animals that have been factory farmed. This means they have been fed vast quantities of pesticide and herbicide sprayed corn and soy. They have been given huge amounts of antibiotics and hormones. Then they are made into sandwiches that people eat.
This is from an article by Reynard Loki, How Subway Sandwiches Are Fueling a Major Public Health Crisis:
Subway's slogan is, "Eat fresh." But while the company may have established itself as the "healthy" fast-food alternative, many people don't realize that as the world's largest fast food chain, it is also contributing to a serious public health crisis, animal cruelty and environmental damage due to the company's use of meat from factory farmed animals. These filthy and inhumane operations cause an incomprehensible amount of animal suffering, poison our air, land and water, and give rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that impact human health.
"Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result," according to a 2013 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "In addition to the illness and deaths caused by resistant bacteria, the report found that C. difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use, causes at least 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths every year."
“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of WHO. “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”
The antibiotics used to fatten animals are hastening the day when they won't be effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria and humans will die from minor infections as they used to before antibiotics were invented. And this is all so that factory farmers can make a few more dollars by bringing animals to market in less time.
Unless Americans wise up to where their food is coming from particularly restaurant foods, they are putting themselves at risk for diseases for which there aren't proven links to toxic substances in the food supply. These toxicities are put there so the corporate food giants and corporate farmers can make more money than they would have if they had supplied food products which hadn't been sprayed with toxic substances or had toxic foods fed to animals which are then butchered and fed to humans. As long as the link between these practices and actual human disease remains hazy, these corporations will continue to get away with it much as the cigarette manufacturers got away with selling a product that it took years to prove that it was cancer causing.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Wildfires swept through the states of Washington, Idaho, Oregon and northern California in a record setting conflagration. Thousands of firefighters from all over the world tried to protect houses, but, nevertheless, hundreds burned. A call went out for volunteers and thousands have responded.
Thousands have been evacuated. The cost is soaring past what state and Federal budgets can afford. The choice is to let the West burn up or bankrupt state and national budgets. The Forest Service is spending $10 million a day to fight wildfires.
In 1995 16% of the Forest Service's budget went to fight forest fires. Today it's 52% with 70% predicted in the next decade if present trends continue. US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "No one wants our Forest Service to become one large fire department," but that is exactly what is happening. Vilsack said the federal government has spent more than $1 billion fighting this year’s deadly wildfires
Wildfires across the U.S. have burned a massive 8 million acres so far this year, an area larger than the state of Maryland. It's the largest total for the same period over the last decade, but more than 5 million of those acres have been in rural Alaska. This year a total of 3,382 fires have burned in Oregon and Washington with 93 categorized as large fires. Four new wildfires sparked to life near the end of August, bringing the total acreage scorched this year in Washington and Oregon alone to just over 1 million acres, according to the national Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
According to the Washington Post, there are only six other years that have seen more than 8 million acres burned — 2012, 2011, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004 — based on National Interagency Fire Center records that date back to 1960. It is hard not to notice that all of these years came since the year 2000. The United States remains at wildfire preparedness level 5 — the highest level — where it has been since Aug. 13.
Fires weren't the only the disruption of normal life that was of concern. Almost the entire state of Idaho was under an air quality alert as ash and particles from fires blew downwind, creating health hazards for those outdoors. Large swaths of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and western Montana were under similar warnings. People with asthma and other breathing problems were at high risk.
Air sensors in some portions of central Idaho around the Nez Perce tribal reservation showed the air quality index reaching “hazardous” levels — the highest possible designation — with values higher than 300 on the scale, the worst in the state. That's the level at which officials urge residents not to do any physical activity outdoors.
A 400 square mile group of wildfires was called the largest in Washington State's history by officials. This was the Okanogan Complex which killed three firefighters, injured four and burned 200 homes. This fire began with a lightning strike on August 15. More than 1,200 firefighters and support personnel were battling the Okanogan Complex fire. Firefighters battled 17 major blazes burning across more than 400,000 acres in Washington. Residents in the popular recreation centers in Twisp and Winthrop in the scenic Methow River Valley were forced to evacuate.
The Chelan complex fire in Washington state covers about 100,000 acres. To date it is only 65% contained. 21 residences have burned. The cost so far is $13.9 million. There have been 9 injuries. Crews secured the fireline around Hungry Mountain. The fire spotted over the line in a few places on its northwest tip, and crews worked to contain those spot fires.
A hotshot crew assessed the area northwest of Rainy Creek, looking for opportunities to directly suppress the fire. However, the difficult-to-traverse terrain makes the area too dangerous for firefighters. They continue to use aircraft to hold the fire within established lines as they develop a sound strategy for the area. Structure-protection crews continue to defend structures. 9 crews, 48 engines, 6 dozers, 22 water tenders and 4 helicopters battled the fires which continue to burn.
Tens of thousands of firefighters battled to get the upper hand against dozens of large blazes across the West and Northwest. In California, the Summit fire in the San Bernardino Mountains near the resort community of Big Bear Lake burned 100 acres, threatened hundreds of homes and caused most area schools to be closed.
Inciweb, an aggregating website for U.S. wildfires, reported 40 active fires in California alone. The largest to date is the Happy Camp Complex Fire which scorched over 134,000 acres and is currently listed as being 100% contained, but there are scores of other fires in California that are burning 30, 40, and 50 thousand acres at a time. There are 11,000 firefighters on the front lines in California alone. A good portion of the state is currently on fire.
As of August 24 Oregon had 19 ongoing active wildfires. The largest reported is the Cornet-Windy Ridge Fire which had grown to 103,887 acres. This fire began on August 10 with a lightning strike and is currently 80% contained. The immediate danger with all wildfires, even those seemingly contained, is the shift in winds or the change in weather. Bad weather with lightning, little rain, followed by hot, dry conditions contributes to fires that, once considered under control, spark to life again.
Lightning strikes are the most common way that fires begin. This could be the reason why the Northwest and not the Southwest has seen the largest conflagrations this year. In southern California lightning strikes are relatively more rare.The ones not started by lightning are usually started by arsonists.
And as August ended most fires were still only 50% contained. Southern California still hasn't entered its usual Santa Ana wind driven fire season which usually comes later in the year.
Huge wildfires are being driven by climate change according to recent studies:
The risk of so-called “very large wildfires” could increase as much as six times in the U.S. by mid-century as a result of man-made global warming, researchers concluded in a study announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Very large fires” are defined as the top 10% of fires based on acreage. Such blazes account for the majority of burned acres across the U.S. each year. There are currently 66 large fires burning, a step down from “very large.”
Climate change is expected to both intensify fire-friendly weather conditions – such as heat and drought -- and lengthen the season during which these fires tend to spread, according to the study, which was published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.
Huge sections of the western U.S. would see the risk of very large fires increase by as much as 200% to 500%. The highest risk area includes the Great Basin and Northern Rockies, as well as the Sierra Nevada and Northern California.
Meanwhile in Iran the heat index reached a staggering 162 degrees F forcing Iran to call a public holiday. No one could be expected to work in that heat.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
It has come to my attention that some of my conservative friends think that the American Constitution was chiseled in stone. Well, no, actually unlike the Ten Commandments which were written in stone, the American Constitution was written on parchment. I have a lot of respect for the Founding Fathers who came up with this document based on the best Enlightenment thinking at the time with the help of French philosophes such as Montesquieu who believed in the separation of powers and checks and balances. Unfortunately, the Founders didn't heed the advice of the Marquis de Condorcet who came up with a better voting system than majority rule.
Condorcet and my other friends, Voltaire and Rousseau are entombed in the basement of the Pantheon in Paris where I visited them a while back and thanked them for their efforts in getting the fledgling United States off the ground. But speaking of being "written in stone", did God really hand Moses two tablets or did Moses have a little workshop up on the mountaintop where he meticulously chiseled out the Ten Commandments?
If Moses had handed them out on a piece of paper to his constituents, they would have laughed in his face so he had to make them believe that they were inviolable because they came directly from a Higher Power. That vested them with considerable authority, much more so than if Moses had told his followers, "Here, follow these rules that I came up with for it's really in the best interests of everyone concerned." Human beings will not always do what is the best for everyone concerned as has been demonstrated time and again especially in the mass denial of global warming. Moses knew what he was doing when it comes to human nature.
But I digress. Whatever the case with Moses and the Ten Commandments, the Constitution of the United States was definitely created by Homo Sapiens. No one concerned believes it was handed down by God. So it represents the best thinking up to that time which was considerable. However, I think some of my conservative friends could really go for a rewrite to correct some of its obvious defects. Take the Second Amendment for instance. Now some on the left including myself would just leave it out entirely, but the right would probably seize the chance of a rewrite to strengthen it. You could just leave out all the nonsense about "a well regulated militia" and just go for it - something like this:
New 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: Every American citizen is free to buy, sell and own firearms of any description and any quantity without restriction.
Just think of how this would boost the economy. There would be such a commerce in firearms for people of all ages that guns would be as ubiquitous as smartphones or tatoos. This would add immeasurably to GDP. And the trick would be to come out with new models every year just like the iPhone. People would be induced through advertising to get rid of their old models in order to have the latest. Planned obsolescence would be built in as gun manufacturers planned a few years ahead to add enticing bells and whistles one step at a time.
Already pink rifles are being sold directly to little girls with blue ones reserved for little boys. The .22 caliber Crickett rifle is already being manufactured and marketed. Not only should the market be expanded more to little kids, but special models should be designed for senior citizens as well.
Every resident in the retirement home would be encouraged to own one because you never know when some nut would go in to these mostly unsecured facilities and start shooting. The senior citizen version could have a button installed on it: the Help, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up button. That way there would be no need for any additional, superfluous medallions worn around the neck. The senior citizen gun would cover all the bases.
And speaking of unsecured venues where some nut might just go in with a load of guns and start shooting, there are a number of them that are just accidents waiting to happen. Take hospitals, for instance. There's no security in most hospitals, no metal detectors. That's why doctors and nurses should be encouraged to carry guns. Especially in the operating theatre the Doc should always have a sidearm as he performs surgery. Otherwise, the blood spatters might not end up being just those of the patient. We have already seen how unsecured churches, schools and movie theaters have interested twisted minds. Sports venues by now have been mostly secured with metal detectors, because it's common knowledge that those venues attract a lot of gun nuts.
Of course, principals and teachers should be carrying guns. We've already seen what happens when some nut chooses to take out his anger on innocent school children. Along the same lines, no one attending a movie theater should do so without packing heat. Venues where people congregate are prime targets for nuts with guns which is their right as American citizens according to the Second Amendment as presently constituted. Librarians should also obviously be armed as libraries are an obvious place to mow down defenseless people and shoot up a bunch of offensive books at the same time.
If we are to have a revolution in gun ownership in order to eliminate senseless violence, gun manufacturers need to start getting creative about their offerings. Already video games offer 5 year olds the thrills of vicariously murdering their enemies, but what if they had an actual AK-47 with associated software where you could hook it up to a computer or a Play Station or an X-box with a USB cord? Instead of using a joystick to murder villains and enemies, kids could use a real AK-47 in virtual reality mode of course. A switch on the gun would change between reality and virtual reality modes.
Also information could be wirelessly downloaded to compute the statistics of how many targets the kid had successfully vanquished. Kids could compete online with each one trying to outdo the other in the number of kills in real time. When the gun is taken out in the field, the flip of a switch would take it out of virtual reality mode and back into reality mode so that actual bullets could be fired. Here's another idea: the gun could be fired automatically and remotely from a smartphone!
Guns could be a fantastic component of the Internet of Things that is now all the vogue. San Diego based Qualcomm is looking to be a major player in the Internet of Things that hooks up every household component and device to the internet so that it can be controlled from your smartphone. Guns should be a prominent part of the Internet of Things. myAK-47.com would handle all ancillary merchandise, such as bullets and ammo, which could be ordered from amazon.com and be delivered in two hours!
All the practice of using the gun in virtual reality mode would transfer directly to reality mode with kids developing sharpshooter skills at an early age. Then when they went into the Army, the task of training them to kill actual enemies would be a lot simpler. Some of those kids would have been training for ten years or more at home.
There is a slight problem in that some people would get to the point where they wouldn't know the difference between virtual reality or fantasy and reality so that a few accidents might occur along the way where someone thought he was dealing with virtual reality and in fact the switch was turned the wrong way and the guy was actually operating in real world mode. That is always a possibility, but that is why everyone should be armed with several different types of weapons for several different types of situations. The gun manufacturers shouldn't stop with selling just one gun to every American. There's one gun out there for every American now. The US leads the world with almost one gun per capita. So advertising should be directed in such a way as to make every American a gun collector, not just a (single) gun owner.
There are some that decry violent video games as the source of narcissistic pleasure for those who seek to be famous by committing a violent act:
I’m horrified that Bryce Williams was live tweeting his own footage of his murders within minutes of the story hitting the headlines — that he waited to shoot himself until after his Twitter and Facebook accounts were suspended, that he very directly sacrificed others’ lives and his own for the immediate dopamine rush of getting hundreds of retweets.
I’m horrified that the video is still up and easily findable on Google. And I’m horrified that when I watched the video — I admit it, I’m human — it was shot to resemble the point-of-view of a first-person shooter video game.
I’m someone who loves social media, and who loves gaming. I’ve staunchly defended both in the past, and I would say the negative things about them are symptoms of broader negative social trends, not their cause.
But I can’t ignore anymore the toxicity that comes with the world of social media or that the gaming world is the birthplace of deranged social movement after deranged social movement — so much so that the biggest terrorist organization in the world, ISIS, uses video game tropes as a recruiting tool — and succeeds in getting Westernized middle-class teenagers to join up so they can feel badass.
Every place that people congregate is fertile territory for some gun wielding nut with a grievance against the world. That's why Americans have to follow the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." We shouldn't trust that there are any places that are safe any more. And statements like "No one saw this coming" or "Who could have imagined such a thing happening?" are ridiculous in light of the fact that we are averaging more than one mass murder per day in the US. Mass murders are commonplace. They're as American as apple pie. Now they don't even make the evening news unless they are really spectacular.
Of course, if I had my way, I would replace the Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms, with the Right to Have Health Care. It seems that some societies have gone that route - restricting gun ownership while providing free health care. Somehow that seems more decent, and gun homicides are a rare happening in those societies. Some people have even suggested that a high incidence of gun ownership is correlated with a high incidence of gun homicides. However, you can't get around the fact that if everyone owned a gun, criminals would not be the only ones with guns.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds to his rallies. The American media cannot ignore that. But they will never use the S word to describe Bernie even though that is how he describes himself. Bernie represents those who would tax Wall Street to preserve social security and a host of other common sense proposals. He dares to suggest that college should be free rather than the first stage of a life of indentured servitude and indebtedness.
People are listening - especially young people. Bernie has been saying these things for years but the media for the most part has been ignoring him. Now he has a bigger megaphone. His decision to run for President in order to get his message out there is paying off.
As Bernie himself has said: “the ideas and the points that we are making are reverberating very strongly with the American people.” Whoever would have thought that Bernie Sanders, Socialist, would be reverberating with the American people, the American people who love freedom and think that society should be set up in such a way that everybody has a chance, no matter how small, of getting rich?
On the other hand Bernie points out that social security is not in danger of running out of money. All you have to do is lift the cap and let rich people pay the same percentage of their income into it as do poor people. That is pretty reverberating if you can just get the message out. Bernie is getting the message out.
The media wants to call Bernie a "populist." Well, in this instance populism equals socialism. The notion that rich people should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes as they did during the Eisenhauer administration, that there should be a tax on financial transactions and that taxes on the rich should support programs that aid the poor, is that populism or socialism, or both?
But then Americans have always been hypocritical about socialism. Even when they are enjoying the benefits from it, they don't want to acknowledge it. In an article in the New York Times, Socialism, American Style, Gar Alperovitz and Thomas M Hanna point out that socialism is a way of life in many American states including those that are considered "conservative." Only you can't call it that. That would not be politically correct.
Conservative Alaska is a Hotbed of Socialism
Take Alaska, for example. In this ultra conservative state there is a little socialist program known as The Alaska Permanent Fund. The Alaska Permanent Fund, established by a Republican governor in 1976, combines not one, but two socialist principles: public ownership and the provision of a basic income for all residents. The fund collects and invests proceeds from the extraction of oil and minerals in the state. Dividends are paid out annually to every man, woman and child in the state. Even Sarah Palin's family collects them.
This is from an article I wrote titled The Alaska Permanent Fund: Socialism in a Republican State:
Alaska is a land of rugged individualists - Republicans all the way. However, a little known fact is that Alaska taxes the oil and gas corporations operating there and distributes the proceeds on an annual basis equally among every man, woman and child living in the state. The biggest farce of all is that Tea Party touter, Governor Sarah Palin, slapped an excess profits tax on the state's oil companies in 2008, the year she ran for vice-President alongside John McCain, so that every person in Alaska received a dividend of $3269 that year. That was a pretty good haul for a family of four: $13,076. For Palin's family - husband Todd, sons Track and Trig and daughters Bristol, Willow and Piper - it came to an even better haul - $22,883!
We have also written about the Alaska Permanent Fund here. With global warming heating up the climate, more people will be moving to Alaska, not only in search of a moderate climate, but also to take advantage of the yearly stipend which might grow to the point that citizens of Alaska wouldn't have to work at all especially in view of the minerals that are becoming available due to the melting of the Arctic ice cap. Of course, that oil should stay in the ground if the earth has a chance of not warming up by 2 degrees C and causing widespread calamity.
Political correctness and hypocrisy demands that neither Palin nor any Republican politician mention the Alaska Permanent Fund nor any other socialist program from which money is taken from corporations and redistributed to the people. After all other states might get the idea that, if Alaska can do it, their state might be able to do the same thing. Well, in ultra conservative Texas, they've already figured that out: give lip service to conservative, rugged individualist principles while employing de facto socialist ones.
Texans Don't Mind Benefiting from a Socialist Policy
Texas is another example of conservative socialism in practice. Almost 150 years ago the Texas Permanent School Fund took control of roughly half of all the land and associated mineral rights still in the public domain. In 1953, coastal “submerged lands” were added after being relinquished by the federal government. Each year distributions from the fund go to support education; in 2014 alone it gave $838.7 million to state schools. Another fund, the $17.5 billion Permanent University Fund, owns more than two million acres of land, the proceeds of which help underwrite the state’s public university system.
You'd think that Bernie Sanders would have plenty of supporters in Texas, namely all those who benefit from the Texas Permanent School Fund and Permanent University Fund, but instead they're all supporters of ultra conservative Governor Rick Perry, at least the majority consisting of white Texans are. Again lip service to conservatism while the actual reality they benefit from is socialism.
It's the same with Obamacare. All those southern conservatives who are benefiting from it love the reality while at the same time calling for its repeal. As a Washington Post article stated: "When the political history of the Affordable Care Act is written, Kentucky will occupy a special place in the tale. The implementation of the ACA there has helped produce the second steepest drop in the uninsured rate of any state. Yet even though that’s occurring in one of the most unhealthy regions in the country, the general idea of 'Obamacare' remains deeply unpopular."
Many countries employ the same principles, but without the hypocrisy. These funds are called sovereign wealth funds. Norway imposes a 50% tax on oil extraction which is put into its sovereign wealth fund which provides pensions and benefits for the Norwegian people. There's no talk there of "ending social security" because they don't have the money. Norwegians have plenty of money since they have profited from their co-owned public wealth in the form of oil extraction.
Only in America is there talk about the nonviability of social security. Most people don't even realize that if the rich paid into social security at the same rate as the poor, social security would be overfunded not underfunded and senior citizens could get a nice raise especially the needy ones.
Frank Thomas has written knowledgeably about Norway's sovereign wealth fund here:
The sovereign wealth fund in which Norway saves its oil-gas income is invested internationally primarily in stocks, bonds, and, starting recently, real estate. The strict primary goal is to save for future generations, when hydrocarbons run out. Investing abroad also helps to avoid overheating the Norwegian economy. In 2009, the fund advanced 34% to recover most of the bubble losses.The fund now owns more than 1% of the world’s shares in over 8000 companies. It is Europe’s biggest equity investor. Strategically, the fund takes a 30 year investment horizon. Thus, not surprisingly,the fund is currently investing aggressively in green industries. Helped by the past 30 year petroleum revenues that have been well-invested, Norway has become the 2nd richest nation per capita.
What if California Had Invested in a Sovereign Wealth Fund?
What if California would have taken control of its oil and gas revenues and invested in a sovereign wealth fund? There would be no budget problems today and there would be plenty of money to invest in infrastructure like desalination plants. California would have had the money to deal with its water shortage problems. Instead it became a debt based economy owing what amounts to a mortgage to Wall Street.
Another example: The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, with a market value of more than $7 billion accumulated from mineral extraction, has helped to eliminate income taxes in the state. The basic principle is that the mineral resources of the state belong to the citizens of that state not some private corporation. The idea is that the state should endeavor to enter into a relationship that adequately compensates the citizens for the extraction of their property.
One of the largest “socialist” enterprises in the nation is the Tennessee Valley Authority, a publicly owned company with $11 billion in sales revenue, nine million customers and 11,260 employees that produces electricity and helps manage the Tennessee River system. It seems that some socialist enterprises are not only very successful but are also very popular with the citizens who collectively profit from such enterprises.
Another example is publicly owned utilities. There are, in fact, already more than 2,000 publicly owned electric utilities that, along with cooperatives, supply more than 25 percent of the country’s electricity, now operating throughout the United States. In one of the most conservative states, Nebraska, every single resident and business receives electricity from publicly owned utilities, cooperatives or public power districts. Partly as a result, Nebraskans pay one of the lowest rates for electricity in the nation.
Perhaps the best example of public ownership or socialism, if you will, is the Public Bank of North Dakota (BND). Instead of shipping money to Wall Street, North Dakota uses the profits from its state owned bank to reduce taxes, invest in infrastructure and provide reasonable student loans. Many cities, counties and states are waking up to the fact that the profits that have heretofore been reaped by Wall Street from operations in their states should instead be reinvested in the state or public entity itself. The BND is serving as an example for them to follow. Private profit that goes into out of state investors' pockets is replaced by public profit which benefits citizens locally whether in a state or a city or other public entity.
The American People Should Derive Part of their Income From Public Wealth
As I said in the aforementioned article: Rich people live off of dividends, rent or interest paid to them in one form or other from their accumulated wealth. Public wealth is owned by the citizens of the US collectively. To receive a dividend from their co-owned wealth would tend to ameliorate the growing inequality of wealth ownership in the US and supplement poor and middle class incomes. Every citizen should be in a position of deriving at least a part of their income from co-owned wealth, especially since income from jobs is going downhill due to automation and outsourcing. This would eliminate poverty, provide a basic income guarantee, stimulate the economic system from the bottom up and restore the middle class.
The US is a debt based country which by virtue of the dollar's place as the world's reserve currency can continue to go into debt. Most other countries don't have this luxury so they start sovereign wealth funds which invest in American debt among other things so that their citizens are in the position of being investors while American citizens are essentially debtors for whom the chickens have not yet come home to roost.
Bernie Sanders' message is starting to make good sense to thousands of American people who are fed up with the BS Republicans have been feeding them. They are listening to Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, the Pope and the Dalai Lama and beginning to take seriously the facts of climate change, free public education up to the university level, Medicare for all and a beefed up social security program. Ownership of wealth and assets should not be only for the rich. Socialism provides that public wealth shall be redistributed to the poor and middle class as well.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
A lot of people these days are concerned with getting the money out of politics. That's an admirable goal, but it doesn't solve the problem that's built right into the American political system: a voting system in which the majority rules and there is no minority representation because the winner takes all. At every level the US is divided up into districts whether its state assembly and senatorial districts, US Congressional districts, San Diego city council districts or what have you. Citizens in a particular district can only vote for one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins in that district.
Even states can be considered voting districts and in each state you can vote for two US Senators, just not at the same time. If there are candidates you like outside of your district, you have no democratic decision making process with which to vote for them. For example, I can't vote for Bernie Sanders for Senator because I'm not a resident of Vermont. Similarly, I can't vote for Elizabeth Warren because I'm not a citizen of Massachusetts. The US voting system on every level is archaic.
One of the characteristics of the districting system is that districts can be gerrymandered in such a way that the majority always wins in every district even though the total constituency contains a significant minority. In addition to all the ways Republicans have tried to suppress minority voting such as demanding ID, making voting as inconvenient as possible, intimidation and disinformation such as robo calls misinforming voters about election dates or polling places, majoriy rule within districts is a baked in the cake, structural method of suppressing minorities. It all starts with a system of dividing jurisdictions up into districts.
Let's take gerrymandering which is the attempt to set the boundaries of districts in such a way that the desired outcome of the election is manifested. Lawrence's theorem is that no matter how significant a minority there is in any political jurisdiction, the districts can be gerrymandered in such a way that the majority wins in every district. I'm sure political parties have algorithms and computer programs that produce the desired results.
Let's take an example. As a hypothetical, oversimplified case, lets say a jurisdiction, a city for example, consists of a white majority and a black minority. Let's say all the whites vote Republican and all the blacks vote Democratic. Since district boundaries are usually drawn by the party in power, a Republican administration can draw each district in such a way that it includes a minority of black voters and a majority of white voters even if all the blacks live in one part of the city and all the whites live in a different part.
However, California decides the boundaries of districts in a much fairer way:
Though the process varies from state to state, redistricting is usually a partisan endeavor. In most cases, a state’s district lines--for both state legislative and congressional districts--are redrawn by the state legislature, and the majority party controls the process. [Districts are redrawn every ten years after the census is taken.] Some states require bi-partisan or non-partisan commissions to oversee the line-drawing. However, the state governor and majority party leaders often control who is appointed to these commissions. At the local level, city council presidents and/or council members usually oversee the redistricting process.
Some states are moving toward involving citizens in the redistricting process and creating truly independent redistricting commissions. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 11, a referendum establishing an independent redistricting commission made up of citizens. This commission will draw state legislative districts--though not congressional districts--for the 2012 elections.
However, California's progressivity in this regard is not true of most other states especially southern states with large minority (black) populations. They just gerrymander away with the result that white Republican politicians stay in power year after year with no or very little actual minority participation in governing. No wonder that minorities don't bother to vote.
This is the way that white Republicans dominate politics in southern states even though those states contain significant black minorities. Then the way our majority rule, winner-take-all system of voting works is that one member is elected from each district. Each voter can vote for one and only one candidate, and one and only one candidate wins. As an example, let's say there are three candidates running for office in a particular district - A, B and C and there are N voters. 51% of the voters are white Republicans who vote for candidate A; 49% of the voters are black Democrats who vote for candidate C. No one votes for B. Obviously, A wins and the minority that voted for C are entirely left out of the governing process. Now imagine a voting system in which all voters rank order the candidates.
Then, in our highly simplified example, we find that 51% prefer A to B and B to C and 49% prefer C to B and B to A. If the voters vote approval style, they would give 1 vote to their first place choice and one vote to their second place choice. When the votes are tallied, A would have .51N votes, B would have N votes and C would have .49N votes. The clear winner then would be B since all voters have B as their second place choice. B would win the election, but, more importantly, B would represent both the majority and the minority. Instead of winner take all, a compromise candidate who was acceptable to all voters would be chosen.
Instead of the single member district system, a far better way of deciding political elections would be to have multi-member districts and use proportional representation, a system that guarantees that minority parties are represented in proportion to their support in the voting population. For example, a city could just be composed of one super district and voters could rank all the candidates. The beauty of this method is that voters get to cast a vote on the composition of the entire city council and not just on the candidates running in their district. The elected city council members would more accurately reflect the entire voting population not just the majority. Thus democracy has been augmented.
Many countries elect their parliaments by proportional representation including Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Mexico, Russia, New Zealand and many others. The entire European Union elects its members in this way:
The first week of June should see 500 million EU citizens exercise their right to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The EU does not have a single electoral law for these elections. Many details are decided at a national level, but a basic set of rules has been established in 1999: MEPs must be elected on the basis of proportional representation, the threshold must not exceed 5%, and the electoral area may be subdivided in constituencies if this will not generally affect the proportional nature of the voting system.
Proportional representation allows for the election of many more women and minorities than does the American system. For example, 40% of Sweden's parliament are women. In Norway it's 39%; it's 33% in Finland and Denmark vs 12% in the US. There is also greater voter turnout since the voters have more choices. Many don't bother to vote in the US because they know the majority that does not represent their interests will win in the winner-take-all US system so what's the use?
The American system of majority rule and single member districts effectively eliminates third party candidates. In fact third party candidates end up just taking votes away from the party that they are closest to in political philosophy. They become spoilers as Ross Perot was in 1992 when he took enough votes away from George H W Bush that the election went to Bill Clinton. Considering the fact that, if he wasn't in the race, most Perot voters would have voted for Bush, Perot didn't do Republicans any favors.
The same thing happened in 2000 when Ralph Nader ran to the left of Al Gore and took enough Democratic votes away from him that George W Bush won the election with disastrous consequences in that, if Gore had won, there would have been no lying the US into the Iraq war which destabilized the whole middle East.
If proportional representation were used to elect US Senators and Congressmen, Green Party and Peace and Freedom Party candidates as well as those of other minority parties would stand a chance of being elected and would be able to make their values manifest at the national level in terms of actual governing. As it is Greens and others don't stand a chance at the state or the national level because of majority rule within single member districts.
Proportional representation (PR) voting systems are used by most of the world's established democracies. Under PR, representatives are elected from multi-seat districts in proportion to the number of votes received. PR assures that political parties or candidates will have the percent of legislative seats that reflects their public support. A party or candidate need not come in first to win seats.
In contrast, in the United States the "winner-take-all" single seat districts determine that votes going to a losing candidate are wasted, even if that candidate garners 49.9% of the vote. This leaves significant blocs of voters unrepresented. Voters sense this, and so often do not vote for a candidate they like, but rather the one who realistically stands the best chance of winning -- the "lesser of two evils."
No wonder that, among the 21 democracies in Western Europe and North America, the United States is next to last in voter turn-out, with only about 50% of voters voting in Presidential elections since the 1970s.
An advantage of proportional representation is greater voter turn-out (typically 70-90%) because there are more choices for voters - third, fourth, fifth parties and more, from diverse perspectives, including more women and minorities elected.
The US, compared to European countries which are much older, has the oldest Constitution because the older countries have updated their Constitutions since the US' was originally implemented. The US could rewrite its Constitution too to reflect more modern political science thinking, but prevailing sentiments are that it is written in stone and cannot be changed. It is to be taken literally much as the Bible is in some circles, and nothing newer under the sun stands a chance of replacing it.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
They Will Consider Establishment of Public Banks
At their meeting on June 19-22, the US Conference of Mayors considered the possibility of establishing public banks as an alternative to Wall Street. Instead of spending a fortune in Wall Street fees and interest, a public bank would keep the money right in each Mayor's jurisdiction. Finally, Mayors are wising up. The Mayors Resolution on Strengthening Municipal Finances addresses the millions of dollars in fees that Wall Street banks charge cities and challenges mayors to negotiate with bankers to reduce these fees or to consider the possibility of a public bank.
Public banking is distinguished from private banking in that its mandate begins with the public's interest. Privately-owned banks, by contrast, have shareholders who generally seek short-term profits as their highest priority. Public banks are able to reduce taxes within their jurisdictions, because their profits are returned to the general fund of the public entity. The costs of public projects undertaken by governmental bodies are also greatly reduced, because public banks do not need to charge interest to themselves. Eliminating interest has been shown to reduce the cost of such projects, on average, by 50%.
The Bank of North Dakota is the only public, state owned bank in the US. Their successful model has paved the way for other public entities seeking to follow in their footsteps. Instead of sending money to Wall Street, they keep the money in state where they use it to reduce taxes, give student loans on favorable terms and fund state infrastructure projects without paying the exorbitant interest rates that Wall Street charges for access to financing.
How do cities amass such high banking service fees? A major way that cities accrue debt (and related fees and interest) is through bond issues. Cities and counties issue bonds for everything from fixing roads to building new animal shelters. However, bond issues are not a panacea for all local funding needs. Bond issues allow us to have the services, facilities, and infrastructure improvements we need but can’t fit into the budget, but they carry a hefty long-term price tag. Interest and fees are paid to Wall Street whereas with a public bank they would be paid into the local entity's general fund to defray taxes.
Paying fees to Wall Street has caused many US cities to go bankrupt. When they do, pension funds are raided to pay creditors. That means that retired firemen, policemen, teachers and others may not get their pensions. The city of Detroit went bankrupt after it engaged in a series of interest rate swaps with Wall Street. This amounted to a bet that interest rates would go up, and, when they didn't, Detroit came out on the short end of the bet. The same thing happened to Jefferson County, Alabama, San Bernardino, Stockton, and Orange County, CA. Interest rate swaps played a major part in all these bankruptcies. Wall Street made money. American cities went bankrupt.
NJ Governor Chris Christie Ships State's Pension Fund Money to Wall Street
The state of New Jersey under Governor Chris Christie's tutelage has practically bankrupted the state's pension fund by paying excessive fees to Wall Street. Of course, this is by design because the conservative agenda calls for bankrupting public pension funds and proving that government doesn't work. If they can enrich their buddies on Wall Street, so much the better. The NJ pension system paid more than $600 million in fees to Wall Street firms in 2014, 50% more than the previous year! This is a higher rate than any other state pays for pension management.
It is significantly and massively higher than was paid for management before Chris Christie came into office. In 2009 before Christie took office, NJ spent $125 million in pension management fees, a lot of money to be sure, but nothing like the $600 million in 2014. Since Chris Christie took office, his administration has spent over $1.5 billion of pensioners' money on Wall Street fees. No wonder Wall Street Republicans have contributed so much money to Christie's campaign funds!
For this amount of money spent on management you'd think that the performance of NJ's pension fund would be phenomenal, but that, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact it has lagged behind other similar pension funds and also the S&P 500. In other words NJ could have put their pension fund on autopilot, paid zero management fees and the fund would have performed better! To make up for shortfalls in the pension fund, Christie has called for reductions in payouts to NJ retirees and also a reduction in their health benefits. He did NOT call for any diminution of payouts to Wall Street in management fees or perhaps a change in management so that fees would be more in line with other states. No wonder Wall Street loves this guy!
So good old boy and everyman surrogate Chris Christie tells NJ cops, firefighters, teachers and other public employees that "there is no alternative" to reducing their benefits because the pension fund is strapped for cash! Fuggedaboudit. The only alternative is to vote Chris Christie and his politically corrupt practices out of office and initiate a public bank in the state of NJ. A public bank would keep the money in the state's pension fund instead of shipping it to Wall Street.
One glaring example of oppressive city debt is the City of Los Angeles, which pays $204 million per year in Wall Street bank fees; this is 30% more than it spends to fix the streets. (Read a detailed report about LA here.)
And it's not just simple interest that cities and states pay to Wall Street. Interest rate swaps are fancy derivatives sold by Goldman Sachs and other large Wall Street banks that have resulted in huge amounts of money being owed to Wall Street. A deal involving interest-rate swaps that Goldman struck with Oakland, California, more than a decade ago has ended up costing the city about $4 million a year, but Goldman has refused to allow Oakland out of the contract unless it ponies up a $16 million termination fee—prompting the city council to pass a resolution to boycott Goldman. When confronted at a shareholder meeting about it, Goldman CEO Blankfein explained that it was against shareholder interests to tear up a valid contract.
Small local banks which make far more loans to local businesses than do the large megabanks have been fading away except in North Dakota. This is from Local Banks Have Vanished Since 2008. Why We Should Treat It as a National Crisis:
Local banks are not fading away in every state. They are numerous in North Dakota, where they hold over 70 percent of deposits. The state's rural geography and robust economy partly explain the difference, but the main reason is the 96-year-old Bank of North Dakota (BND), the only state-owned bank in the nation.
BND bolsters the capacity and competitive position of local banks by partnering with them on loans and providing wholesale banking services. The impact is significant. North Dakota not only has more banks per person than any other state, but the volume of business and farm lending they do is markedly higher (see this analysis), as is the share of mortgages held in state (which ensures that mortgage interest paid by residents benefits the state's economy, not Wall Street).
Public Bank of North Dakota Is Model for Cities and States
A few states and cities - including Colorado, Santa Fe, and Seattle - are now studying BND as a possible model for their own public banks, while Vermont and Oregon have taken initial steps in that direction. Oklahoma legislators are also studying the possibility of creating a state owned public bank. Eventually cities and states will wise up and stop shipping money to Wall Street.
Arizona is also looking into the public bank scenario. Arizonans for a New Economy (AzfNE) met with the board of directors of the Arizona Bankers Association (ABA) on April 15th in Tucson at the invitation of the ABA. Pamela Powers Hannley, co-director of AzfNE, presented slides to the board members showing banking trends in Arizona over the last 15 years. What their research showed is that the state has sent more and more money to Wall Street while small local banks and their assets have dried up.
Between 2005 and 2006 some $63B in assets left the balance sheets of banks operating in Arizona. In 2005 Arizona banks reported $80,451 M in assets. Of these $75,135 M were held in nationally chartered (“Wall St.”) banks while state chartered (“community”) banks held $5,316 M. By the end of 2006, the Wall St. banks held $11,782 M while the community banks held $6,180M. The Wall St. banks asset loss was 84% while the community banks had a 16% gain of assets.
Ellen Brown got the ball rolling for public banks with her book The Public Bank Solution. The big Wall Street banks seek to profit from their relationships with cities and states while a locally owned public bank would return all profits to the local economy by depositing them in the general fund.
While infrastructure projects at the national level are not currently being considered, they take place every day at the local level. In order to finance these projects huge amounts of interest are paid to Wall Street banks. In the case of California, its long awaited new Bay Bridge span was recently completed at a cost of $6.4 billion - over 400% over its initial projection. What most Californians don't realize is that the total cost of the bridge will eclipse $13 billion when interest payments are considered over their life. 50% savings is not an aberration - it is pretty much a standard calculation for what municipalities can save by issuing their own loans for critical infrastructure from their own bank.
Robert Reich details how Santa Cruz County has refused to do business with the big megabanks because it considers them a bunch of crooks. Santa Cruz County's board of supervisors just voted not to do business for five years with any of the five bank felons including JP Morgan Chase and Citicorp. The county won't use the banks' investment services or buy their commercial paper and will pull its money out of the banks to the extent that it can.
"We have a sacred obligation to protect the public's tax dollars, and these banks can't be trusted," said County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty "Santa Cruz County should not be involved with those who rigged the world's biggest financial markets." Supervisor Coonerty says he'll be contacting other local jurisdictions across the country, urging them to do what Santa Cruz County is doing.
San Diego School Districts Drink Wall Street Kool Aid
I wrote previously about how San Diego school districts are being hoodwinked by Capital Appreciation Bonds:
One fantastic advantage of these loans was the “buy now, pay later” aspect. School districts could get their money now and not have to raise taxes on current residents. Easy money. There would not have to be any payments made for 20 years. Current residents would be off the hook. But their children and grandchildren would enter an era of crushing debt when the bill became due.
And Wall Street is patient, very patient.
The ticking time bomb could cause crushing property tax increases for later generations or even bankruptcies by municipal governments. For example, San Diego County’s Poway Unified will have to pay $982 million for a $105 million CAB it issued. Poway has a payback ratio of $9.35 paid for every $1 borrowed. The final payout will be almost $1 billion.
This is payday lending for school districts. They end up with shiny new auditoriums and gymnasiums but then the same old cramped classes and underpaid teachers since CABs only apply to capital improvements, not current expenses.
The San Ysidro school district also swallowed the Kool-Aid. They got a CAB to build the Vista Del Mar elementary school virtually fro free. Only problem is that starting in 2041 the district will pay, on average, almost the full cost of Vista Del Mar each year for a decade. By 2050, the San Ysidro School District will have paid out $228.9 million, almost $15 for every $1 the district borrowed. From 2041 to 2050, the district will pay, on average, $22.9 million each year.
Republican administrations will almost always favor Wall Street banks because they give generously to their campaign funds. But Democrats are not far behind. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup were among the largest contributor's to President Obama's campaign in 2008, but not, however, in 2012. They voted with their dollars overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in 2012. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Credit Suisse were numbers 1 through 6 in terms of top campaign contributors to Romney while giving nada to Obama. I guess they hedged their bets in 2008 and bet on the wrong horse in 2012. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010. Wall Street was not amused. However, they rebounded with their lobbyists and lobbied the bill to death.
by John Lawrence
As July drew to a close 8000 firefighters were battling 18 large fires in the state of California. A lot of people are being forced to evacuate their homes. In fact evacuations are becoming a way of life. Triple digit temperatures, bone dry vegetation and gusty winds are spreading fires everywhere.
A fast-spreading wildfire north of San Francisco has torched homes and is threatening more than 450 structures. At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. 23 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, have been charred.
A separate fire near the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta burned six or seven mobile homes. Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate last Thursday.
Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley were making progress last Friday, more than a week after it started. The blaze has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa's wine county, and vineyards are not threatened.
Crews continue to battle a fast-spreading wildfire in Lake County, which has grown to 18,000 acres and forced additional evacuations last week. The Lake County Sheriff's Office issued a mandatory evacuation order for the Jerusalem Valley area, east of Soda Creek.
Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency for California's fires. "California's severe drought and extreme weather have turned much of the state into a tinderbox," Brown said.
Record Heat on Three Continents
The month of July had barely started when all kinds of weather related records began to fall. Brutally hot conditions fried portions of three continents during the first three days of July, and four nations have already set all-time July national heat records this month: the Netherlands, the U.K., Thailand, and Colombia. The temperature in Maastricht, the Netherlands, hit 100.8°F on July 2, setting an all-time July heat record for the nation. According to data from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, only two other hotter temperatures have been recorded in the nation: 101.5°F, on August 23, 1944 at Warnsveld, and 101.1°F, on June 27, 1947 at Maastricht.
On July 3, the mercury hit 106°F at Kamalasai, Thailand, setting a mark for the hottest July temperature ever recorded in that nation. On July 1, Urumitia, Colombia beat that nation's all-time July national heat record, with a 108°F reading. Urumitia also set Colombia's all-time June heat with a 107.6°F mark. In Europe, the hottest temperatures were over Central France, where Clermont Ferrand hit 104°F.
Here at home an unusual rain storm which recorded over an inch of rain hit San Diego on July 18. San Diego rarely gets more than a trace of rain in July. By 5 PM San Diego's Lindbergh Field had recorded 1.03 inches of rain, which is more precipitation than the city had received during the entire month of July dating back to 1902.
The storm left trees down on houses in Tierra Santa, one of which was rendered uninhabitable. The trees toppled while a couple and two young children were inside one house, but they got out safely. Power outages impacted neighborhoods in Logan Heights, Mountain View and Lincoln Park, with approximately 3,918 residents without power.
In parts of Ocean Beach, Midway District and Lindbergh Field, nearly 2,100 customers were without power. In Coronado, power was knocked out for about 1,700 residents.
In San Diego County, the hardest-hit area was in rural Ramona east of Escondido, where streets flooded, several cars were half-submerged, and some homes were flooded.
The unstable air generated more than 500 lightning strikes, one of which started a small brush fire in Del Mar's Crest Canyon. Another lightning strike at the same time caused a small grass fire at Marion Bear Memorial Park in Clairemont. Fire crews had to back off for a short time when lightning struck four more times nearby and power lines were downed, a San Diego fire dispatcher said.
Elsewhere in Southern California a washed-out bridge on Interstate 10 cut off a vital shipping route with Arizona. There were mudslides in Moreno Valley and freeway traffic was snarled from heavy weekend rain on July 18-19. The weekend storm that washed over the region was not only remarkable for its timing - July rain storms are rare events in Southern California - but for its strength, the National Weather Service said.
The threat of lightning strikes forced authorities to close 70 miles of Los Angeles County beaches as well as the popular Santa Monica Pier on Saturday afternoon. An LA Angels baseball game was canceled because of rain for the first time in 20 years.
Wildfire Torches Vehicles on Freeway Between LA and Las Vegas
On July 18 a wildfire spread over the I-15 freeway in California's Cajon Pass torching some 20 vehicles. 60 to 70 cars were abandoned on the road. The fire quickly grew to 3,500 acres and shut down the freeway in both directions. The fire destroyed 44 vehicles and seven homes, and bore down on mountain communities. At least 50 homes were threatened, officials said.
Cars, trucks and even a boat went up in flames on the freeway. Heavy winds mixed with dry chaparral and grass created a dangerous combination. Shortly before the fast-moving blaze jumped the freeway and the cars caught fire, officials had to halt water drops because of a recreational drone flying nearby. There were 5 drones in all, and they delayed the firefighters for a crucial 26 minutes before the skies could be cleared.
A Northern California wildfire raced through more than six square miles of drought-stricken timber on July 25, threatening at least 150 rural homes in the Sierra Nevada, authorities said. The blaze erupted at around 2:30 p.m. and forced evacuations of some communities in and near Nevada County, about 45 miles northeast of Sacramento.
In Montana, a wildfire is still burning in Glacier National Park. The Reynolds Creek Fire is up to 3,166 acres and is 10 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said. In addition to heat waves, flash flooding, tornadoes and wildfires, this year has been the deadliest season in years for lightning strikes There were 732 strikes in 15 minutes in North Carolina around the beginning of July.
So far this year 5.6 million acres have burned in the US, an area bigger than the state of Massachusetts. Its the worst wildfire season in 25 years. Even in Alaska 4.7 million acres have been scorched. The sad part is that one in five fires are started by an arsonist.
Wait, There's More - Torrential Rain and Flash Flooding in Ky
Around the middle of the month there was torrential rain and flash flooding in Kentucky. Four were dead and several others were missing. 60 homes were damaged or destroyed. There were 373 reports of wind damage, 37 reports of hail damage and 5 tornado reports. More than a dozen homes were destroyed in western Illinois. Thousands were left without power.
by John Lawrence
Are you angry that Developers, Big Money Contributors and Lobbyists get what they want from City Hall while Our Neighborhoods are often ignored or sacrificed?
Wouldn't it be nice if money didn't influence who gets elected and what they do after they get elected? The Clean Elections Initiative aims to get money out of politics so that one vote will truly equal one vote like it's supposed to in a democracy. Right now money controls elections and lobbyists have too much influence over elected officials which are in turn dependent on rich donors for their campaign funds.
The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is being sponsored by Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, a grass roots coalition that is aiming to place the Clean Elections Initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative, which is also supported by Common Cause, will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge: The pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources and that they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign.
Voters in Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and Albuquerque, NM already have Clean Elections. Why not here in San Diego? We know that neighborhoods are getting shorted while Big Money interests like developers and hoteliers get what they want from City Hall. They even get what they want despite City Hall. When the City Council came up with a plan to clean up Barrio Logan in the interests of the people who live there, Big Money used the referendum process to overturn their democratically arrived at decision. They did the same when the City Council wanted to raise the minimum wage. They proved that they can buy off the electorate and get any result at the polls they want by simply putting enough money into TV ads. They can also buy off politicians because without big money to pay for TV campaign ads, politicians don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting elected.
If a candidate agrees not to accept private contributions or use his or her own money, they would receive a limited amount (75 cents per resident) of public funding to be used exclusively to campaign. Clean Elections will cost every San Diegan $6 per year, a small price to pay for Clean Government.
"Clean Elections is designed to break the conflict of interest between campaign contributors and candidates," explained Michael McQuary, chair of Neighborhoods for Clean Elections. "San Diego city government is broken. Developers, lobbyists and special interests get almost everything they want because they grease the palms of the politicians with campaign cash. As a result neighborhoods and ordinary citizens are often left out of the political process. Clean Elections will help clean up San Diego City Hall."
The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is modeled after Clean Elections laws already on the books in several cities and states. Maine and Arizona have Clean Elections for state candidates and the City of Albuquerque has implemented Clean Elections for local candidates. Under the Clean Elections model, candidates who pledge to "run Clean" need to qualify for funding. The idea is to eliminate "crank" or marginal candidates in favor of those who can demonstrate community support. In San Diego a "Clean" candidate would be required to collect $5 from 500 voters in his or her district to qualify for funding, and those proceeds would go into the city's Clean Elections fund.
The San Diego Chapter of the League of Women Voters Endorses Clean Elections
The San Diego Chapter of the League of Women Voters has announced its endorsement of the San Diego Clean Elections Initiative, chapter co-President Ann Hoiberg said. "Clean Elections would make a fundamental difference in San Diego politics. We need to get money out of San Diego politics and return political power to people and our neighborhoods," she said.
Candidates would be funded based upon a formula linked to population. These amounts would be on average, less than half of what sucessful council candidates have spent in recent elections. Clean Elections is a voluntary system — candidates who do not wish to opt in may still choose to run under existing rules, collecting funds from private contributors and spending their own funds. "With Clean Elections, candidates can spend their time knocking on doors and meeting the voters they wish to serve," Hoiberg said. "They won't spend all of their time catering to the donor class. We will get candidates who owe their election to their constituency, the voters, instead of their contributors.
It would be nice if we could have publicly funded elections at the national level, but that would be a lot more complicated to bring about. However, it is a real possibility to get money out of politics at the local level and that is what the Clean Elections Initiative is all about. Getting this initiative on the 2016 ballot would be the first step towards a true democracy that would serve the people instead of what we have now - government which is sold to the highest bidder.
For more information or to help get his important initiative on the ballot, please contact John Hartley at 619-299-8870 or email@example.com. Their website is www.sdcleanelections.org.
by John Lawrence
Add Pope Francis to the world's leaders who are calling for immediate action to combat climate change. In the Pope's own words the earth has become a pezzo di merda, a piece of you know what. He has also described unbridled capitalism as the "dung of the devil." Popes are not often given to scatological imagery to describe the predominant American economic system. However, the Pope's words are very important because he wields enormous moral authority. Would that the leading moral authorities from the world's other major religions had the gumption to stand up and add their voices in the fight against climate change.
The Pope blames human greed for exploitation of the environment and an economic system that is geared to profit making rather than to rational development of natural resources which would benefit all mankind rather than just those at the top. The Pope's 184 page encyclical is a radical statement: a condemnation of business as usual and a call for a restructuring on political and economic priorities.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, blending a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.
The vision that Francis outlined in a 184-page papal encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He describes relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment and says apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness are to blame.
The most vulnerable victims, he declares, are the world’s poorest people, who are being dislocated and disregarded.
The Pope places most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity, while warning of an “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us” if corrective action is not taken swiftly. Those mostly responsible, the developed, industrialized countries, are obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis.
Some see the Pope's encyclical as an attack on capitalism. There is no doubt that it is exactly that. Unless there is a moral and spiritual impetus to renunciation of profit making enterprises that despoil the environment, there is no hope for a habitable earth for our children and grandchildren. Already, lives are being destroyed from extreme weather events. Thousands have died in India and Pakistan from extreme heat. Hurricanes and tornadoes have destroyed entire towns in the US. Flash floods have immiserated and inconvenienced thousands.
The Plight of the Poor Should Be Considered First, Not as an Afterthought
Catholic teachings (full disclosure: I am not a Catholic) are not afraid to take on the economic system we live in and point out its moral and spiritual inadequacies. They teach that economic development, to be morally good and just, must take into account people’s need for things like freedom, education and meaningful work. And they don't just mean the upper 1%. The "preferential option for the poor" means that the intersts of poor people must be taken into account first and not just as an afterthought. Isn't this what Jesus taught? The Pope is merely interpreting Jesus' words in a literal manner. If Christianity has any meaning at all, it means that society must help the poor and vulnerable not as an afterthought but as part and parcel of that society's bedrock philosophy.
By the same token the interest of sustaining a planet Earth that nurtures life must be given top priority. Technology is not something that can fix the planet after it's been raped and exploited by profit seeking corporations who dump their waste into the environment and don't bother to clean it up. For instance all kinds of animal excrement is stored in "ponds" where it leaks into rivers and ground water. "Pork is cheap and cheap to produce in large factories because they don't pay for cleaning up the Des Moines water supply and they don't pay for the asthma neighbors get, they don't pay for polluting downstream water that used to be potable and they don't pay for the loss of property values," said Steve Wing, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill epidemiologist.
Citing the scientific consensus that global warming is disturbingly real, Francis left little doubt about who's to blame. To name a few: "big businesses, energy companies, short-sighted politicians, scurrilous scientists, laissez faire economists, indifferent individuals, callous Christians and myopic media professionals." Scarcely any area of society escaped his withering criticism.
The Pope's encyclical recycles some of the now-familiar themes of his papacy: an abiding concern for the poor, a scorching critique of the idolatry of money and a facility for using evocative language to describe complex conundrums. The problem is that capitalism extolls the value of money above all else. Wall Street demands that the bottom line is the sine qua non of business activity. Nothing else counts for anything. In Christian terms that pretty much makes Wall Street the devil.
As the first Pope from the developing world, Francis brings a moral vision shaped not in the seminaries of Europe but in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Francis calls for a drastic change in "lifestyle, production and consumption" from unsustainable habits to more mindful means of caring for "our common home."
What Kind of World Do We Want to Leave to Our Children
"What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" Francis asks. "The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal." Nothing short of a "bold cultural revolution" can save humanity from spiraling into self-destruction. Our care for the environment is intimately connected to our care for each other, he argues, and we are failing miserably at both.
"We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social," Francis writes, "but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental." The rich and powerful shut themselves up within self-enclosed enclaves, Francis argues, compulsively consuming the latest goods to feed the emptiness within their hearts, while ignoring the plight of the poor.
The problem is "aggravated," the Pope said, "by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels." If present trends continue, Francis argued, the changing climate will have grave implications for poor communities who lack the resources to adapt or protect themselves from natural disasters.
His most stinging rebuke is a broad critique of profit-seeking and the undue influence of technology on society. He praises achievements in medicine, science and engineering, but says that “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”
Many will be forced to leave their homes, while the economically and politically powerful "mask" the problems or respond with indifference, the Pope said. The poor may get a passing mention at global economic conferences, Francis says, but their problems seem to be merely added to agendas as an afterthought. "Indeed, when all is said and done," the Pope said of the poor, "they frequently remain on the bottom of the pile."
"We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that the problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals," he said. What's more, the Pope called the idea that the "invisible forces of the market" can adequately regulate the economy the "same kind of thinking" that leads to the "exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests."
In one particularly searing section, Francis compared laissez faire economists to mobsters, drug lords, illegal organ harvesters and human traffickers. All are part of a "throwaway culture," the Pope argues, that treats human beings as just another commodity to exploit. The Pope's attack on the "myth of progress" is more surprising. But he connected his critique to a "worshipping of earthly powers," where humans have usurped the role of God, imposing our own laws and interests on reality with little thought to the long-term consequences.
Pope Francis has criticised capitalism as a system that sacrifices "human lives on the altar of money and profit." It was the second time during his trip to South America that Francis used a major speech to excoriate unbridled capitalism and champion the rights of the poor. In Paraguay, the Pope called on world youth to rise up against global capitalism. The address marked the end of Pope Francis' week-long pilgrimage to Latin America, during which he also assailed the prevailing economic system as the "dung of the devil," saying that the systemic "greed for money" is a "subtle dictatorship" that "condemns and enslaves men and women."
California Governor Jerry Brown met with the Pope on July 21 at a Vatican conference on climate change. He blasted climate change deniers, called them "troglodytes." Brown threw his weight behind Pope Francis’s encyclical in which the pope linked poverty to creeping climate change and urged action to alleviate both. He said he had no faith in Congress and urged Mayors to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Brown and the other local leaders signed a declaration stating that ”human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity."
The Dalai Lama Speaks Out on Climate Change
The Dalai Lama has also added his voice to the need for taking action to combat climate change. On July 6, in a celebration of his 80th birthday, he joined prominent climate change scientists and activists in a panel discussion at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on "The Effects of Climate Change and Taking Action to Resolve this Global Issue."
This is from the Buddhist Climate Project:
The Dalai Lama told US diplomats last year that the international community should focus on climate change rather than politics in Tibet because environmental problems were more urgent, secret American cables have revealed through Wikileaks.
The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the "political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau" during a meeting in Delhi last August.
"Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that 'cannot wait', but the Tibetans could wait five to 10 years for a political solution," he was reported as saying.
Though the Dalai Lama has frequently raised environmental issues, he has never publicly suggested that political questions take second place, nor spoken of any timescale with such precision.
Roemer speculated, in his cable to Washington reporting the meeting, that "the Dalai Lama's message may signal a broader shift in strategy to reframe the Tibet issue as an environmental concern".
The Dalai Lama has endorsed Pope Francis' speaking out on climate change and said more religious leaders ought to do so.
Several Republican politicians have criticized the Pope for speaking out about environmental and economic issues, including Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and James Inhofe. But at the Glastonbury panel on climate change, the Dalai Lama said Pope Francis was “very right,” and he appreciated him releasing the papal document. The Dalai Lama called on fellow religious leaders to “speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind.” He also called for increased pressure on governments around the world to stop burning fossil fuels, end deforestation and transition to renewable energy sources, reports The Guardian.
The Dalai Lama has also proclaimed himself a Marxist:
The Dalai Lama called himself a Marxist in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt in 2009, asserting:
I still believe I am a Marxist monk. I don’t see a contradiction here either. In the Marxist theory the focus lies on the just allocation of wealth. From a moral perspective this is a correct claim. Capitalism, on the other hand, values the accruement of wealth – the allocation of it doesn’t matter here initially. In a worst case scenario the rich will keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer.
He reiterated his claim that he is a Marxist in 2015, stating, “As far as socioeconomic theory, I am Marxist … In capitalist countries, there is an increasing gap between the rich and poor. In Marxism, there is emphasis on equal distribution.”
Now that the Pope and the Dalai Lama have chimed in, it is time for other religious and moral leaders to do the same. In particular religious leaders should emphasize not only the need to stop extracting fossil fuels and speed up the conversion to renewables but also they need to condemn a political/economic system that produces great wealth for some and poverty and misery for most. Great minds must come up with alternatives to capitalism, systems that distribute the world's wealth in a much more equitable measure and at least do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the majority of the world's population including the 50 million refugees who barely have a life worth living.
by John Lawrence
1915 was a very good year because three giants of twentieth century music were born that year: Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and Billy Strayhorn. This year is the hundredth anniversary of their births. By far the best known is Frank Sinatra, born in Hoboken, NJ to a middle class Italian family. His mother, Dolly, was a real go getter who became a political force in Hoboken. She secured Frank his first real job as a singer with the Hoboken Four, and got her husband hired by the Fire Department. When they told her they didn't have any openings, she told them, "Make one." They did. Frank's stories of growing up poor were so much BS. The Sinatra family moved into a $13,400. house in Hoboken in the middle of the Depression, an astronomical sum in those days. She had befriended so many people in Hoboken that, when the Democratic machine needed votes, Dolly could deliver them. She also had a thriving business as a midwife and an abortionist. Unfortunately, she died in a plane crash, a plane that Frank had chartered to bring her from Palm Springs to Las Vegas for his opening at Caesar's Palace.
Frank got his first major job as a singer with trumpeter Harry James and his band. From there he went with Tommy Dorsey's band. He created a sensation with the "Bobby Soxers", teenage girls that moaned and swooned over him at the Paramount Theater in New York. Little known is the fact that his press agent, George Evans, paid a few girls to instigate the exuberance and before long many others joined in making Frank the first singing superstar in the 1940s. His following was similar to that of Elvis Presley in the fifties.
Later Frank gravitated to Hollywood and made some unmemorable movies. His career flagging in the early 50s, he begged for the part of Maggio in the film, From Here to Eternity, based on the eponymous novel by James Jones. His ex-wife Ava Gardner put in a good word for him with the producer and the rest is history. Frank won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and his career, which had been on the skids, rebounded.
Although he made over 50 movies altogether, he was best known as a singer who recorded for Columbia, Capitol and Reprise records. As a vocalist he had over 2000 recordings. Although he couldn't read music and was a ninth grade drop-out, he recorded almost every song ever written for the Great American Song Book and made a fortune with his investments in Las Vegas casinos. In a symbiotic relationship with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, the Sands became the House That Frank Built. Frank brought in the customers, was paid $400,000 a week, and everybody made money. He also had an investment in the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe.
There was only one song he had problems with though: Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life. Reports are that Frank stomped out of the recording studio in frustration over not being able to master this song. Billy Strayhorn wrote it as a 16 year old teenager living in the Pittsburg, PA ghetto. It is widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated and difficult songs in twentieth century American music. However, Lady Gaga didn't have any problems with it in her recent recording.
The lyrics have references to world travel and the French language from a 16 year old who had never been out of Pittsburg. "A weekend in Paris will ease the bite of it. All I care is to smile in spite of it." The song's opening words are:
"I used to visit all the very gay places
those come what may places
where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
to get the feel of life
from jazz and cocktails"
This song was from an era where "gay" had completely different connotations from what it has today. Nevertheless, Billy Strayhorn was a closeted gay man. He eventually became Duke Ellington's right hand man composing much of the music that Ellington was known for as Strayhorn stayed in the background. When Ellington invited him to come to New York City to meet him, he gave him the directions: Take the "A" train to Sugar Hill in Harlem. In honor of that meeting he wrote the tune that became Ellington's theme song, Take the "A"Train, or as Lawrence Welk later announced it, "Take a Train."
Some of the other Strayhorn compositions and my favorites are the following:
Chelsea Bridge, Day Dream, A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, Passion Flower, Raincheck, Satin Doll, Something to Live For and Upper Manhattan Medical Group.
Billie Holiday had a tragic life dogged by racism and addiction. As it says on biography.com: Billie Holiday was one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. She had a thriving career for many years before she lost her battle with addiction. Her autobiography was made into the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross. In 2000, Billie Holiday was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billie was not only a singer but a songwriter too. Among her compositions are "God Bless the Child", "Fine and Mellow" and "Don't Explain." Although she didn't write it, she became identified with the song "Strange Fruit" about black lynchings in the south:
"Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."
She starts out her autobiography with: "Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three." After being raped as a child, she became a teenage prostitute in her mother's bordello. She escaped the poverty and misery of her life by listening to the jazz of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. Around 1930 she started singing in local New York City clubs.
At the age of 18, Holiday was discovered by producer John Hammond while she was performing in a Harlem jazz club. Hammond was instrumental in getting Holiday recording work with an up-and-coming clarinetist and bandleader - Benny Goodman.
Holiday toured with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937 where she met lifelong soul mate, Lester Young, who named her "Lady Day." In return she called the tenor saxophonist "Prez." Artie Shaw signed Billie as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated south. Promoters objected to Holiday—for her race and for her unique vocal style—and she ended up leaving the orchestra out of frustration.
Touring the U.S. in the 1930s meant running head-on into racial discrimination. While with Basie in Detroit, a theater manager insisted the light-skinned Holiday blacken her face so the audience would not mistake her for white and get angry she was performing with black musicians. While touring with Shaw's mostly white band in the segregationist South, it was difficult just finding a restaurant where the band could eat together.
After she left Shaw's band, she went back to New York City where she performed at the liberal Cafe Society, the first racially integrated night club in the United States. She first sang "Strange Fruit" there. At owner Barney Josephson's insistence, she closed her set with this song, leaving the stage without taking any encores, so that the audience would be left to think about the meaning of the song.
Billie Holiday was one of Frank Sinatra's favorite singers bringing the three cats born in 1915 full circle. Billie Holidays's records and Billy Strayhorn's compositions will never go out of style. Nothing classic ever does. In addition Frank has left a lasting legacy as he has a whole channel on Sirius satellite radio devoted to his music. They also play Billie's records and Strayhorn's compositions there. Just the other day I heard Lady Gaga singing Lush Life on Sirius.
Some last thoughts on Frank Sinatra. Frank, despite his personal foibles and peccadilloes, was a force of nature unlike any other major entertainment figure of the 20th century. He was a movie star, but, unlike other movie stars who could only make money from making a movie, Frank could go out and perform on a weekly basis and make $400,000 a week in Las Vegas and around the world similar to Peggy Lee or Lena Horn. He also had invested in Vegas casinos and made lots of money that way even when he wasn't performing. He got a check for $1,000,000. from Jack Warner to merge his Reprise records with Warner studios.
Frank liked associating with those at the pinnacles of power whether it was President Jack Kennedy or Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. As a very generous and gregarious guy, he fixed up both Jack and Sam with the same woman - Judith Campbell. He had a lifelong vendetta against gossip columnists, particularly female gossip columnists including Barbara Walters, because, like most celebrities, he felt his private life should remain private. Unfortunately, there was such a gigantic spread between Frank's public image and his private reality that the likes of Kitty Kelly who wrote "His Way, the Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra", could not resist scandalmongering. His valet, George Jacobs, corroborated most of Kelly's writing but did so in a much more affectionate manner in his book, "Mr S: My Life With Frank Sinatra".
Frank experienced his share of tragedy including the death of his mother in an airplane crash (into San Gorgonio Mountain that also claimed Dean Martin's son), the death of his best friend, Jilly Rizzo, in a fiery car crash in Palm Springs as well as the deaths of his Rat Pack buddies, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin and his songwriting buddy Jimmy Van Heusen. Ever the survivor Frank outlived them all and is buried in Cathedral City in Desert Memorial Park along with his parents, Jilly, and many of his friends. His fourth wife, Barbara, still maintains a home in Palm Springs and is involved with the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center for abused children.
In any event his life is a life to ponder and his legacy in music will remain for all time. He had tremendous luck and good taste in his arrangers - Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, Axel Stordahl and others who had a huge hand in making his albums the classics they are. Frank associated with the best musicians and arrangers in the business. Of course he had the money to hire the London Symphony Orchestra and pay them triple scale for an all day session if he had wanted to. His pianist, Bill Miller, accompanied Frank for more than 50 years and played the excellent, timeless barroom piano intro to Frank's classic saloon song, "Make it One for My Baby and One More for the Road."
by John Lawrence
Singer-songwriter-trombonist Natalie Cressman brought her quintet to Dizzy's Jazz Club Saturday, July 11. Natalie has been creating quite a stir lately with her 8th place finish in the trombone category of the Down Beat critics' poll, Rising Star division. Her band has a very contemporary sound, sort of a jazz-rock groove. And groove they did.
Natalie wrote most of the songs. I'm assuming she did the arrangements too which were fantastic. She made the most out of two horns - trumpet and trombone - and a killer rhythm section consisting of Mike Bono on guitar, Michael Mitchell on drums and Adam Goldman on bass. I particularly enjoyed the drummer although he stayed in the background the whole time. There was an energy to this band especially when they cut loose on the last number.
By my count they did 15 selections, a lot of high quality music for one set. Plenty of solo space was allotted to trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg who also did the photography for her album, Turn the Sea. The trumpet-trombone ensemble sections sounded at times like an entire brass section. Since Josh also sang, there was a lot of versatility in the arrangements which had vocal as well as instrumental duets and voice cum brass sections. I was surprised at the sophistication and attention to detail in the arrangements. Natalie sure has a lot of writing chops and the musicians were all well rehearsed and of the highest calibre.
A song called "The Unknown", according to Natalie, was about young adults just starting out trying to find their way. Since she is in her early twenties, the song was about her real world reality although she has made great strides in just a few years. Trey Anastasio, front man of jam band behemoth Phish, called the 23 year old about five years ago with a job for her: playing trombone and singing backup in his eponymous solo group.
Born in San Francisco, Cressman attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York City where she currently resides. She comes from a musical family. Cressman’s parents are Jeff, also a trombone player, and Sandy, a jazz vocalist with a particular interest in Brazilian music. Her father is a longtime collaborator with Santana, and once played a tour behind Anastasio.
A song called "Radio Silence" showcased the precision and musicianship of the group. There was a mini set of duos with guitarest Bono. One of these, "Where We Started," featured her beautiful voice with the lyric "I don't want to be the prize that you always win. I wish we never started. Living brokenhearted." Reminded me of the words from a song by the New York Voices Now That the Love is Over with the line "Why did the loving ever have to start." Mike wrote Goodbye Lullaby, a very pretty tune.
The duos were nice, but the energy level dropped precipitously. I could have done with a couple less of these. When the band finally came back they grooved totally taking the energy level back to an exciting pitch. Mike Bono cut loose and the excellent rhythm section proved they could really cook even in a nontraditional jazz framework and without the amped out pyrotechnics of typical rock.
Called a "velveteen-voiced brass-blower" by the Denver Post, Natalie has stretched across stylistic boundaries with every project she takes on and has manifested the depth of her musicianship and versatility while blending seamlessly into so many different musical settings. Enamored with the music of Brazil, Cuba, India, along with the American jazz and folk traditions, Natalie's wide ranging enthusiasm for new music has propelled her into a richly diverse musical career.
I bought a copy of Turn the Sea at Dizzy's after the show, recorded in 2013, and I must say I much prefer the live performance to the album as good as it is. The energy and musicianship of the band members combined with Natalie's arrangements give the band a contemporary jazz-rock feel while the album had more of a jazz-folk feel, ala Joni Mitchell. It was nice to see though that the album involved the band's family members, about the best kind of collaboration a young musician could ask for.
If it weren't for Chuck Perrin, proprietor of Dizzy's, young aspiring musicians such as these would have no venue in San Diego. Thanks to him, San Diego still has one jazz club where they can perform and contribute to the cultural diversity without which San Diego, albeit a surfing paradise, would be a cultural backwater. These young musicians, many of whom are products of the Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard and other prestigious institutions deserve to be seen and heard. Chuck Perrin has been their host at Dizzy's for 15 years now. For him it's a labor of love more than anything else.
by John Lawrence
Pakistan's heat wave took a toll of more than 1200 dead, the deadliest heat wave on record. Power outages added to the misery, leaving many without fans, water or light at the beginning of Ramadan, when many Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. More than 14,000 people were hospitalized in Karachi, the nation's largest city. The heat wave came just weeks after torrid temperatures caused nearly 2,200 deaths in neighboring India. This devastating weather is being seen as the effects of human-caused climate change. The Pakistan heat wave will join the heat wave in India as one of the 10 deadliest in world history.
Observant Muslims, who make up the majority of Karachi's 20 million residents, were abstaining from food and water during long summer days. A single sip of water invalidates the fast, but Muslims are discouraged from fasting if they are sick or if doing so would cause physical harm. "The deadly heat wave that has killed several hundred people in Karachi, Pakistan, is clearly a harbinger of things to come with the changing climate," said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and a prominent climate scientist.
Powerful Storms Inundate Midwest and East Coast
On June 24 powerful rain storms wreaked havoc on the midwest and east coast. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Multiple tornadoes hit Illinois and Michigan. Power was knocked out to thousands of people. More than 50 homes as well as churches were damaged in Portland, Michigan. In Sublette, Illinois 5 people were hurt and one hospitalized with serious injuries when a tornado with winds of 135 mph hit a campground.
More than 90,000 homes remained without power in Michigan four days later. To the south, more than 30,000 were without power in the Fort Wayne area alone, and crews said it could be days before the lights come back on for everyone.
In Ohio, there were reports that a nursing home had to be evacuated on Sunday, June 28th in Deshler as the floodwaters rose.
"An unusual storm for late June began to crank up in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes late Friday, before sweeping into the Northeast by Sunday," said weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce. "The storm brought a swath of heavy rainfall that resulted in flooding across parts of Indiana and Ohio late Friday into early Saturday. The area of low pressure associated with the storm also caused strong winds in the eastern Great Lakes. In Detroit, winds gusted over 30 mph much of Saturday, peaking at 40 mph."
Wind gusts topping 60 mph blew down scores of trees in and around Fort Wayne, contributing to power outages for about a fifth of Indiana Michigan Power Co. customers in Allen County. The utility company said it had more than 600 separate outages in the Fort Wayne area and that it could take several days for complete restoration.
Northwest Sets Heat Records
A torrid heat wave has broken June record highs in at least 10 cities in the Northwest. Additional June or even all-time high-temperature records were in jeopardy across parts of the Great Basin and Northwest. Furthermore, the extreme heat was predicted to last well into early July and may end up breaking records for longevity as well. Walla Walla, Washington, hit 113 degrees. Boise, Idaho, topped out at 110 degrees. Boise also tied its all-time record streak of 100-degree-plus highs on July 4, a string of nine straight days. Spokane, Washington hit 105 degrees. Seattle is likely to shatter its record streak of 90-degree-plus highs - five straight days in 1981 and 1941 - early this week.
In the case of this heat wave, nearly every major weather observation site in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, northern Nevada and the Sierra Nevada (California) set a daily record high on June 27, and many of them set records on several other days in late June. A slew of Northwest cities set new records for the entire month of June. Some cities broke their previous June records two or even three days in a row.
On June 26 residents of two California towns were under mandatory evacuation orders for wildfires. The fire in the San Bernadino mountains was among scores of wildfires raging along the West Coast from Alaska to California. Nearly 1000 residents were ordered from their homes in Santa Clarita as a wildfire spread across 350 acres in a couple hours.
Pope Says Earth Becoming a "Pile of Filth"
Pope Francis has said that what we've done to the Earth is to create a "pile of filth." He's called for radical change in our political and economic systems in order to keep the Earth habitable for future generations. Hopefully, the world's other major religions will take a page out of the Pope's book and come forward demanding radical change as well. How about it Protestants and Jews?
Celebrating his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama has followed in the Pope's footsteps calling for action to mitigate global warming and climate change.
We'd be better off walking and biking instead of driving automobiles. This is from an article by Linda Rudolph and Tracy Delaney, Climate Change a Threat to Health:
Shifting from automobile use to walking, biking and public transit will not only reduce carbon and air pollution, but the accompanying physical activity will also yield huge reductions in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers – not to mention improvements in mental health and well being. We need swift and robust investments in infrastructure to make active transportation in our communities easy, affordable and safe.
To ensure that our cities are prepared for more frequent and severe heat events, especially in low-income areas surrounded by concrete and asphalt, we need to create more green spaces, such as parks and trees. These spaces cool down city temperatures in “urban heat islands,” and they also improve mental health, reduce air pollution and storm water runoff, and improve the capture of precious rainwater in our groundwater aquifers.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
With over a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, young college graduates are being forced to take jobs they hate in order to pay them back. Their futures consist of debt peonage for as far as the eye can see. Some are opting out of a lifetime of death-in-debtorhood and choosing instead to start over living the life that they foresaw when they enrolled in college in the first place. Such a one is Lee Siegle whose June 6 opinion piece in the New York Times laid out his rational for defaulting on his student loan.
His decision was made based on choosing life over death:
Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.
I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.
As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.
Student loan debt is the only form of debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. It will follow one for the rest of his or her life. Miss a couple of payments and penalties can add up to the point of doubling or tripling the amount owed. This debt is relentless and unforgiving. It is a trap unanticipated by the young person trying to better him or herself by getting a college education. A whole generation of debtors has already been created - debtors who will not be able to get married, take out a mortgage or have any freedom in their lives. Their freedom has evaporated by virtue of having signed on the dotted line. They have effectively sold their souls to the devil, the devil being the big Wall Street banks and/or the US government.
Siegle goes on to say
Forty years after I took out my first student loan, and 30 years after getting my last, the Department of Education is still pursuing the unpaid balance. My mother, who co-signed some of the loans, is dead. The banks that made them have all gone under. I doubt that anyone can even find the promissory notes. The accrued interest, combined with the collection agencies’ opulent fees, is now several times the principal.
What is little known is that the Federal Government is actually making money off of student loan debt. They are as culpable as any Wall Street loan shark or payday lender. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next decade. That's right - instead of subsidizing students, the government is profiting off them. This infuriates liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tend to regard the idea of a profitable student loan program as fundamentally indecent. “It’s billionaires or students. Where do we want to make our investment?” Warren asked a Washington audience recently.
Siegle has some advice to give to those who decide as he did to default on their student loans. For one thing their credit will be ruined so it's smart to anticipate that in advance and take some defensive measures. He recommends getting as many credit cards as you can. Since credit card debt is dischargable in bankruptcy, it might make sense to get as many cash advances on those credit cards as possible, pay off your student loan and then go bankrupt which would get you out of paying off the credit cards.
Just because one defaults on a student loan does not mean that the creditor will stop trying to collect on it. For one thing they can garnish your paycheck. Since Congress controls how much your paycheck can be garnished there's nothing to prevent them from raising the legal limit up to around 100% which would turn the worker into an actual debt slave. So the defaulter would probably have to go to an all cash personal economy and get paid under the table. Otherwise, the IRS could give you problems. They are even garnishing the social security checks of people in their 80s.
If people groaning under the weight of student loans simply said, “Enough,” then all the pieties about debt that have become absorbed into all the pieties about higher education might be brought into alignment with reality. Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education. There are a lot of people who could learn to live with that, too.
Most European countries guarantee a free college education up through graduate school. The US has a better idea: turn students into debt slaves. But don't be a dummkopf. As a foreigner you can go to college in Germany for free and take all your courses in English. Check out this article in the Washington Post: 7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free):
Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they've done the opposite.
The country's universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens -- and even of foreigners.
What's more, Americans can earn a German undergraduate or graduate degree without speaking a word of German and without having to pay a single dollar of tuition fees: About 900 undergraduate or graduate degrees are offered exclusively in English, with courses ranging from engineering to social sciences.
Some other countries that also offer free or almost free college educations in English: Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Brazil and Slovenia.
Siegle makes an interesting point though. The conventional wisdom is that a college education will elevate your position in society. That combined with the temptation of easy money and a "that's the way it's done" mentality combine to lead young people down the primrose path, promising them that if they only mind their own business and work hard, they will have a wonderful future. But this is really snake oil and bullcrap. Instead of a rosy future, student loan debtors are finding out that the only ones with the rosy future are the Wall Street bankers they owe their money to.
A better alternative is to forgo college altogether and learn a marketable trade, something that produces revenue based on work in the local economy, something that is useful to society unlike many of the vocations that a college education prepares you for which are, supposedly, to "compete in the global economy". In fact the only reliable job market for college graduates is in financial services, fossil fuel production and the military-industrial complex. All of these jobs could be considered unethical in terms of their ultimate goals of predation, destruction of the environment and murder of innocent civilians. If you want an ethical profession, become a carpenter or a plumber (Albert Einstein's choice if he had a do-over) or an electrician. At least you would be creating and servicing something that addresses valid human needs.
In March Republican Senators blocked Elizabeth Warren's plan to lower interest rates on student loans:
Warren's amendment would have allowed people with college loan debt to refinance at interest rates from the 2013-2014 academic year. The Massachusetts Democrat ... said the move would allow undergraduates to refinance their loans to a 3.9 percent interest rate, with a "slightly higher" rate for graduate students.
According to Jarvis, if you decide one day to stop paying your federal student loans, after 270 days the loan will default, at which point the government will start garnishing your wages, seizing tax refunds, and intercepting government benefits (like social security) without a court order. The government may also sue if they think it will give them access to your assets.
"They can and do — literally do — pursue debtors to their graves," Jarvis said.
Ouch. It might not be a good idea to be on the Federal Government's shit list for the rest of your life. It would entail going to an all cash economy and risk being jailed for tax evasion. Having your social security check garnished would not be fun, but you wouldn't even have a social security check if you never paid into it.
The only rational solution to this problem is to not go into debt in the first place. If that means that you don't go to college, so be it. Tons of successful people never graduated from college including high tech billionaire Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and inventor of the Square, a mobile credit card payment tool. In the tradition of other computer science billionaire entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Dorsey dropped out of college before receiving his degree.
I did a blog once on 10 Reasons Not to Go to College. A college diploma does not guarantee you a job. It's a ticket of admission only. You're putting your economic future in the hands of some corporation which is only interested in you if you can add value to that corporation. When more recent college graduates can add more value, you're gone. How does that feel if you're 50 years old and nobody wants to hire you?
If you're going to go into debt, you're better off doing it in order to start a business rather than in pursuit of a college degree which in the long run is just a worthless piece of paper. At least, if the business doesn't go well, that debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy and you can start over again debt free.
Be the first in your family not to go to college at least not in the US. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a plan: a plan for remunerative work and a plan for improving your mind. In fact I maintain college will obstruct and obfuscate both of those things. You will be better educated than most college graduates if you just read one good book every month. In fact the debt based college solution is a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantasmagoria, a mirage. Don't fall down the rabbit hole.
by John Lawrence
Why Don't Corporations Contribute to Charity Instead of Hitting Up Their Customers?
Do you find it annoying to be hit up for a donation every time you make a purchase? You're out buying groceries or cat food or mouthwash and you get asked to make a donation to some charity. "Would you like to contribute a dollar to help homeless dogs?", the check out person asks. I'll tell you what. Why don't you reduce my total by $1.00 and contribute that to charity? Do you think Walgreen's or Petco could afford that? Give me a dollar off my freakin' bill. I just scraped enough money together to make sure our cat is adequately fed and doesn't go homeless.
I really think I am capable of making my own decisions about what charities I want to donate to. I don't want to be prompted every time I buy something. And is Walgreen's CEO who made over $13 million in 2013 contributing anything in this campaign? Heck no, and neither are the Board of Directors who make tons of money in stock grants for attending a few meetings per year.
"If there's a bunch of people in line behind me and the cashier asks me to make a donation, it makes me feel so trapped and judged, especially if it's for the troops," said Jennie Blackburn, who frequently gets solicited at Walgreens and Publix. "It's a lot of pressure."
Joe Loveland says "It feels like the glaring checkout person is judging while customers are craning their necks to see what kind of sociopath would deny hope to the homeless puppies, cancer battlers or wounded warriors." What the other customers don't know is that the person not contributing at the check out line might prefer to contribute to another charity and would prefer his or her dollars to go there.
Let's have matching contributions from the CEO and Board of Directors and then I might feel better about contributing something. But they take nothing out of corporate profits to contribute to charity. "CVS and Walgreens, which owns the Duane Reade drug stores in metropolitan New York, said that they pick up the administrative costs of the campaign and send every dollar donated to the charity. The companies said they don’t typically match consumers’ contributions ..."
Are they just dunning their customers while they use their customers' charitable contributions as a tax write off? Do I really have to get badgered every time I go to Walgreen's? Where's the "no hassle" check out line? Target has a sign outside that says "No Soliciting." It's supposed to guarantee a "hassle free shopping experience". Well then, why do they hassle you inside the store?
According to CBS San Francisco, Donating At The Checkout Counter, Where Does The Money Go?:
Whole Foods Market and Petco are among the many companies that collect donations at the checkout counter. At Petco, donations all go through the Petco Foundation, which keeps less than 10 percent for administrative overhead. The rest helps thousands of local animal groups like Gimme Shelter, which rescues abandoned cats.
“We have great success with our customers. They are open hearted, they want to give, they want to help animals in the community,” said Lori Morton Feazell, Petco’s Director of Animal Care and Education.
Is Petco or Walgreen's Matching Their Customers' Contributions?
So Petco is taking 10% of customers' charitable donations to pay some administrator? They can't even contribute that? Are they giving anything out of their considerable profits or is it just their customers they're trying to shame into giving?
And whether the customer is rich or poor, they all get hit up the same. I'm for charitable giving for those well enough off to do it, but I don't think poor people who need the money for their basic expenses should be donating to charity. Petco doesn't care. They're equal opportunity dunners.
I'll state it emphatically. Poor people and those with less than six months expenses in savings should not contribute to charity. Charity begins at home. Do you have enough in savings to support yourself in retirement? Then you have no business contributing to charity. Contribute to your own retirement account or savings account instead or you may end up being a charity case yourself.
Are your kids' financial futures secure? If not, you might end up being their charitable contributor of last resort. Philanthropy i.e. charitable contributing is something that the rich should feel obligated to participate in, but dunning the poor and lower middle class at Petco and Walgreen's is a cynical exercise to make the corporations look good at the expense of people who should not for the most part be contributing to charity.
Rich people should be doing their own research to see what charities are worthy of contributions, but often they are only interested in legacy contributions i.e. something that they can get their name on for posterity. If the charity is keeping more than 20% of contributions for administration, advertising or fundraising, you are participating in a scam by contributing to them .
For instance, Paralyzed Veterans of America spends almost 70% of contributions on administrative and fundraising expenses. They spend only 32.5% of donations to actually help paralyzed veterans. You be the judge.
The comedian, Lenny Bruce, went door to door wearing a cleric's collar asking for donations to some charity that he made up. Most of the money went right in Lenny's pocket, but he did keep his nose clean with the IRS by writing a small check to the purported victims he was supposedly trying to help. Check out a charity with a website such as Charity Watch which rates charities A to F before donating.
What About CEOs Who Make Millions Without Matching Customer Contributions?
San Diego based Petco's CEO is James M. Myers. He's donated money to his alma mater, John Carroll University, but to homeless pets? I don't think so. The website ceopaycut.org contacted CEOs including Mr. Myers asking them to pledge to take a pay cut in order to spread the wealth. "Jim" Myers was one of the CEOs contacted. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So far it's been 3 years and there has been no response from Mr. Jim Myers.
But he's just typical of most. None of the others contacted has responded either. Mr. Myers is also on the Board of Directors of Jack in the Box Corporation from which he has received a bunch of generous stock grants. But youth wants to know: has "Jim" matched his customers' contributions to help homeless pets? I doubt it. If he had, we'd hear about it.
Petco's Jim Myers, while manipulating customers into donating for homeless pets, has also been responsible for sickening pets that do have a home. In January 2015 Petco pulled Chinese made cat and dog treats off their shelves after reports that they had sickened their customers' pets. They also have stopped selling a boozy treat meant to calm dogs as of January. They have taken the Good Dog Pet Calming Supplement off their shelves after some protested over the alcohol content of the product. The product contains an astonishing 13 percent alcohol.
According to Daily Mail.com:
The ASPCA has previously warned against the ingestion of alcohol by animals, saying even the smallest amount can be fatal.
This comes just two weeks after the San Diego-based company removed all Chinese-made dog and cat treats from its website and stores over fears they were linked to 1,000 dog deaths since 2007 - and an unknown number of animal illnesses.
The illnesses and deaths were linked to a number of treats, including chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky.
'We know some pet parents are wary of dog and cat treats made in China, especially Chicken Jerky products, and we’ve heard their concern,' said Petco CEO Jim Myers in a statement last May.
As of 2009, Jim was making over $800,000 in salary and bonus not including stock options. His nonvested stock options were valued at $734,550. This doesn't count all the stock granted due to his position on the Board of Jack in the Box.
But how much has Jim given for the sake of homeless pets? For all I know he may be using his customers' charitable contributions as a tax write off for Petco. There is no stated policy in this regard. I would feel better if customers' donations were matched by those of CEOs and owners.
Walgreen's at least, unlike Petco, donates 100% of customer donations to charity. They absorb the administrative costs themselves. Many companies match their employees' gifts to charity. Not Walgreen's. Let alone customer donations. No way they're matching them. They have no problem dunning employees and customers, but mum is the word regarding corporate profits.
Gregory D. Wasson President and Chief Executive of Walgreen's until 2014 made $13,632,741 for fiscal year 2013. He is also a Director of Verizon. How much did he donate to match his customers' charitable donations? After his departure Stefano Pessina took over as CEO. Walgreen's has other fish to fry than worrying about matching their customers' charitable donations.
Recently they were considering moving their corporate headquarters to Switzerland to avoid paying US taxes. Barry Rosenstein, founder and managing partner of New York-based hedge fund Jana Partners pushed for Walgreen's to move its headquarters to Europe to slash its tax bill, an idea that Walgreen's backed away from in August following a firestorm of public controversy and congressional backlash.
Walgreen's, in addition to bilking its customers out of charitable contributions, also lets its employees contribute to charity while not making any matching charitable contributions itself:
The Charity Choice program allows Walgreens employees to donate to four organizations aimed at improving health and wellness -- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and United Way. Each pay period, employees elect the amount they choose to donate.
These corporations are all for their customers and employees contributing to charity while neglecting to do so themselves. I for one will contribute to the charity of my choice myself without using some noncontributing corporation as a middleman. I don't need any prompting from some commercial profit making enterprise, thank you.
If you do want to donate at the check out line, make sure that your sales receipt shows the amount. That's the only way you will be able to use it as a deduction at tax time. The least they could do after tracking each transaction with their "points" program is to provide you with a year end print out of all the charitable donations you've made. But I guess that is asking too much. It might knock a few dollars off of corporate profits for them to do that.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Several Qualcomm Employees Caught With Their Hand in the Cookie Jar
Some guys just can't resist the temptation to score an extra couple of hundred thousand bucks by using their position inside a company such as Qualcomm and the information they are privileged to know in order to buy and sell stock before the public has access to that information. Such a guy was Derek Montague Cohen who knew about Qualcomm's plans to buy Atheros Communications in 2011.
He knew that Atheros' stock value would go up after it was publicly announced that Qualcomm would buy them. So he bought Atheros stock before it was announced publicly and before the stock price went up. After the announcement and the resultant surge in Atheros' stock value, he sold the stock making a tidy $200,000 profit. But he was not the only one. Several other Qualcomm employees did the same thing. Now Cohen faces jail time, something that rarely happens in white collar crimes.
Cohen's lawyer argued that he shouldn't have to serve jail time because of his age, health problems and the lifestyle he's become accustomed to. He said, "It's a terrifying prospect for him to face prison at this point in his life." As Jay Leno would say, "Ahut. Ahut. Ahut." Poor baby. If you don't want to serve the time, don't commit the crime.
But Cohen, age 52, should thank his lucky stars that he lives in the good old US where white collar criminals are usually just given a slap on the wrist. In China they are routinely executed for less. Take the case of Zhou Yongkang, age 72, who was found guilty of accepting $118,000 in bribes. He was sentenced June 11 to life in prison. And Cohen's lawyer will still probably get him off after appeals and other legal machinations. Let's face it - America does not like to jail its white collar criminals. Look at all the bankers who have been found guilty of fraud, bid rigging and everything else; yet not a one of them has spent any time in jail.
In most of these cases the insider(s) get away with it. Who's tracking this kind of thing anyway? Cohen and the other blokes were just unlucky, that's all. Of course if they didn't think they were going to get away with it, they never would have done it which is the rationale for most crimes. On May 29, U.S. district Judge Janis Sammartino sentenced Cohen to six months in prison and 1000 hours of community service.
Cohen spent about $430,000 on stock and call options. U.S. Attorney Eric Beste took a dim view of Cohen's dealings. "This is a crime of opportunity being committed by people of education and experience, and there's a significant amount of discretion. These people choose to cheat, and they can be deterred."
As it turns out, Cohen was ratted out by another Qualcomm exec who also had his hand in the cookie jar. Robert Herman, who worked as a regional sales director in San Diego, pled guilty to insider trading in July and was sentenced to a $50,000 fine, 1,500 hours of community service and three years probation. He got out of jail time by cooperating with authorities, i.e. he ratted out Cohen. After getting a call from Cohen, Herman bought about $148,600 of stock in Atheros. Later that day, after the news went public, Herman sold the stock and made a $29,000 profit. Cohen, who had earlier pled not guilty, was the fifth person to admit guilt in connection with the deal, according to court records. Among the other members of this motley crew was Michael Fleischli who pled guilty to netting about $3,000, prosecutors said.
Insider Trading, Front Running - Stock-In-Trade for Corporate Low Lifes
Insider trading is similar to front running in which a trader has knowledge that a stock will probably go up or down. Then he can buy or short the stock depending on circumstances before the surge or drop happens making a quick profit once the stock pops or dips. In this business advance knowledge of any trend can be used to make a profit. And that's how most hedge funds make their money. If you don't have access to special knowledge in this business, chances are you'll be left behind or left out.
But wait there's more. Two San Diego stockbrokers, Chad E Wiegand and Akis Eracleous, pled guilty to insider trading on June 9. The guy supplying the info was Michael J Fefferman who was a high ranking executive with Ardea Biosciences, a San Diego biotech company. He tipped off the other two that Ardea was going to be purchased by AstraZeneca in 2012. With that information in hand the two stockbrokers bought a ton of Ardea stock. When the public announcement of the merger was made, shares of Ardea stock shot up 51% in one day. They then made a tidy profit selling the stock they had just purchased at a much higher price. These guys also make money by knowing in advance of public announcement that certain clinical trials went off rather well or were a total dud. In any event it's information in advance of what the average Joe Schlub has access to that makes these guys their money, and only a few ever get caught.
The Yin and Yang of Insider Trading
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary. Theses forces seem to be at work at Qualcomm Corporation where criminal activity and a stellar reputation as San Diego's largest employer seemingly go hand in hand. From a philosophical perspective these seem to be the contrary forces that are actually complementary.
Jing Wang, a former executive vice president and president of Qualcomm’s global operations, pled guilty to insider trading and money laundering in July, admitting that he made $240,000 from trading Atheros stock through a secret brokerage account. His stockbroker, former Merrill Lynch vice president Gary Yin, pled guilty to money laundering. Wang’s brother, Bing Wang, is also charged but believed to be at large in China. Good thing they didn't pull this stuff in China or they would be looking at life imprisonment at the very least along with their countryman, Zhou Yongkang, but more probably they would be executed. Unlike the good ole US, China has no qualms at all about executing white collar criminals. Bet Qualcomm rues the day when it hired the Bing and Jing show.
So San Diego, America's Finest City, with America's Finest Corporations, turns out to have America's Finest White Collar Criminals. It's the Yin and Yang of business - the grimy underbelly complements the gee whiz image. What else is new?
By Dr. Carol Carnes
There seem to be two Americas. There is the America of lilt and swing and there is the America of march and control. These are musical references which show how our culture has been influence by the Puritan European reigning in of nature and the African freedom with its joyful expression of all that is natural. It is the contrast between ballroom dance with its precise foot-steps and free style movement which celebrates the whole body.
The young tend to lilt and swing and to rebel against march and control until they discover that lilt and swing do not usually produce a good income! Not in this culture. These references were part of a talk by the late Alan Watts, but I have often thought myself that if we did not have the influence of our Black rhythm culture, we would be marching in lockstep, forever trying to defeat Nature. Racism is the tension between the two impulses: as Watts said, there is a distrust of African American culture in those people who fear freedom. This goes back to old time religious notions of sin and retribution. Of course, today we are all one big American family, but the distinctions are still being made.
Lately I have seen more clearly than ever, the destructive effects of Institutionalized religion which equates with institutionalized masculinity, which has robbed men of the joy of feeling whole and fulfilled. Designed to reign in the people, to control them and to get them in line to march into domination over nature, it has done its job well. As we used to say, it has done a number on us! This is not to denounce devotion, reverence and the very real feeling of a responsive universe. There is a natural spirituality in us that will always come to the forefront as we live in accord with Nature. My stance on religion is about superstition and dogma which have no basis in truth. This is about our fear of being alive and responsible for our experience. We blame a made up evil power for our violence or attribute the cause of suffering to the will of some male God in the sky. Our hearts have been co-opted and our minds have been corrupted.
The feminine aspect of our true nature belongs with the lilt and swing camp. Our hips sway, our bodies are fluid and in tune with the moon. The Feminine is free but she is not out of control. She is in charge of the environment. She is the organizer of families. She is the keeper of the flame. She will dance to the drum, but she is fierce when called to defend her brood. She is desperately needed in our world view, in our policy making, in our decisions for our future. She is desperately needed in our men. Without her, the sacred masculine cannot emerge.
For more about the Sacred masculine check out the writings of Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality.
Dr. Carol Carnes: Keynote speaker, meditation teacher, mother of two, grandmother of two, member of the Leadership Council of the Association for Global New Thought. Spiritual teacher of Science of Mind. Honorary member of the Board of Preachers at Morehouse College, MLK Jr. School of Divinity. Co-convenor of three Synthesis Dialogues with HH the Dalai Lama and other world leaders in various disciplines. www.carolcarnes.com
by John Lawrence
Then Why Haven't You Put Any Restrictions on Big Oil and Big Ag?
Governor Jerry Brown is leading the nation and perhaps even the world in his efforts to do something about climate change and global warming which is causing epic drought conditions in California. He has mandated that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 15 years. Brown called this the most aggressive benchmark enacted by a government in North America. All well and good. In addition to getting more electric cars on the road and making power plants get their energy from renewable sources, Brown has also addressed California's water crisis. With the Sierra snowpack virtually nonexistent, California is having to get creative about where it gets its water supply.
“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached — for this generation and generations to come,” Mr. Brown said. These efforts come as this state has been struggling with a drought that Mr. Brown has said is, at least in part, exacerbated by global warming.
With Green House Gasses (GHGs) reaching the benchmark level of 400 ppm for the entire month of March 2015 for the first time in world history, actions to reduce those levels to a sustainable 350 ppm have been lagging behind. Meanwhile, severe weather such as the recent extreme floods in Chile and Australia, daily tornado watches in the US and the early advent of hurricane season are pounding into our consciousness the extreme seriousness of the global warming threat.
But the Governor, formerly know as Governor Moonbeam, has done little to refrain Big Oil and Big Ag from using most of the water in the state. The large population of California only uses 10% of the total water; agriculture uses 80%.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 80 percent of human-related water consumption in the state. Much of that comes from large-scale farms in California pumping billions of gallons a year of fresh groundwater to keep producing thirsty crops and animal products for supermarkets across the country—a "case study in the unwise use of natural resources," the New York Times wrote last month.
Meanwhile, cities and water agencies will be required to implement 4 to 36 percent cutbacks, depending on the area. San Francisco must reduce its usage by 8 percent, Los Angeles by 16 percent, San Jose by 20 percent, and Sacramento by 28 percent. Failure to meet those targets could result in fines against water agencies of up to $10,000 a day. State legal advisers will review the rules before they are implemented.
The idiocy of this policy is that water intensive crops like almonds and rice are grown in the middle of what amounts to a desert instead of in vast areas of the nation which are literally saturated with water. At 1.1 trillion gallons per year, almond farms alone consume 10% of the state’s water, or as much as the entire city of Los Angeles. With agriculture pumping huge amounts of groundwater which is not being replenished, the question naturally arises when will this water run out and what will farmers do then?
Every day we are subjected to TV commercials from the oil and gas industry that tell us how proud we should be that the US is now number one in the production of natural gas and soon to be numero uno in the production of oil thanks to the miracle of fracking. They say little about the fact that we are number one in the production of materials that will increase the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere and hasten the destruction of the planet. These fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and not be pumped or fracked out, but the fossil fuel industry is insistent and adamant about doing so and our free enterprise economy allows them to do so. In this case it would be better if free enterprise wasn't so free.
California's oil and gas industry uses more than 2 million gallons of fresh water a day to produce oil through fracking, acidizing, and steam injections, according to environmental estimates. In 2014, California oil producers used up nearly 70 million gallons of water on fracking alone, state officials told Reuters on Thursday.
While that number is lower than projected, fracking and toxic injection wells must not be given "a continuing license to break the law and poison our water," Zack Malitz, an organizer with environmental group Credo, told Reuters.
"Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest uses of water in California," he added, "but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest."
Governor Brown needs to get his ducks in a row by imposing constraints on Big Oil and Big Ag. If he wants California to lead on environmental issues, he needs to step up to the plate and convert the state to renewable energy production as quickly as possible while at the same time imposing restrictions on the gas and oil industry. Governor Cuomo of New York has banned fracking in his state. Governor Brown needs to follow his lead and ban fracking in California.
Renewable energy can be used in the conversion of sea water (of which the state has an abundance) to fresh potable water. The state needs to get behind a massive project to do just that. For too long California has depended on the snowpack in the Sierra Mountains and on water from the Colorado River, a river that is shared with several other states. Building desalination plants up and down the California coast would not only give California a more dependable source of fresh water but would provide a lot of jobs that would be good for the economy.
So where would the money come from to build all these desalination plants? A Public Bank of California could provide the money interest free by creating and spending it for this purpose.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
It's Either Global Warming or a Flood of Biblical Proportions
The Blanco River overran its banks sweeping houses and people in its course. At least 41 people have died in the severe weather over the past several days, from either tornadoes or flooding brought on by epic rainfall. Those deaths include 29 in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven people have been missing for a week. In Mexico at least 13 people died in a tornado that hit the border city of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. At least 200 homes were destroyed.
I'll bet you one thing: no one in the media will mention the words: GLOBAL WARMING. But what else can you say when 11 inches of rain fall in six hours? With that much rain in such a short time, any river is subject to flash flooding.
It was the first time in recent memory that a major city, Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, was hit by a weather related disaster. Some 1,400 structures in Houston suffered severe damage. At least 2,500 abandoned vehicles were scattered across Houston roadways after drivers sought higher ground. About 530 water-related calls were handled by Houston emergency crews. The flooding in Houston affected virtually every part of the city.
On the last day of May heavy rain caused minor flooding inside Minute Maid Park as the Houston Astros hosted the Chicago White Sox. Thunderstorms have been battering areas of rain-weary Houston with heavy downpours and small hail. The city's primary electric provider, CenterPoint Energy, reported more than 18,000 customers without power as the late afternoon storms moved through. Outages primarily have been immediately to the west of downtown Houston and in the far north and northeast sections of the city.
A dam ruptured in Bastrop, Texas, sending an unrelenting wave of water downstream, flooding roads and forcing water rescues to be conducted. A tornado struck a drilling rig in Canadian causing several injuries. At least three people were taken to a local hospital.
Hays County and the town of Wimberley were especially hard hit. The Blanco River rose 28 feet in an hour and a half. It's still rising and expected to crest at more than 50 feet. A house with eight people inside floated down the river. In Parker County, Texas, west of Fort Worth, authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for 250 homes along the Brazos River. The Colorado River crested at 42.5 feet Saturday at Wharton, 3.5 feet above flood stage.
In Oklahoma City the month of May set a record for the wettest on record with over 17 inches or precipitation. The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, had issued 70 flash flood warnings so far this year, a total higher than the last four years combined. Several highways were closed.
This is from EcoWatch:
With at least a dozen people dead and the raging high waters described as having “tsunami-type power” in Texas over the Memorial Day weekend, the latest example of extreme weather in the U.S. is being tied to a global pattern of increasingly volatile events that are claiming lives and costing billions of dollars in damage each year. [...]
“So far in 2015—as in preceding years—weather-related disasters have destroyed or disrupted millions of lives and livelihoods,” said WMO [World Meteorological Organization] Secretary-General Michel Jarraud ahead of the meeting. Citing devastating events like Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, major droughts in India, California, and Brazil, and the kind of flooding that recently struck Chile and now being seen in Texas, Jarraud said the “list of extreme events is long and there is growing scientific evidence that at least some of them would have been unlikely without human-induced climate change.”
With the next round of UN climate talks slated for later this year in Paris, Jarraud affirmed that the WMO’s efforts will be aimed at addressing the threat of increasingly extreme weather caused by global warming. “It is a pivotal year for action on behalf of future generations,” he said. “We have more than a responsibility. We have a moral duty to take action to limit climate change. If we don’t do it we will be judged by our children and our grandchildren.”
A large portion of a highway in Dallas will be closed for a week due to flooding and rain. Morning rush hour was brought to a halt. More than seven inches of rain slammed the area. More than 200 people needed emergency rescues after flash flooding submerged cars.
The National Weather Service said Friday that 16.07 inches of rain fell across the Dallas area in May. That easily eclipsed a 1982 record of 13.66. Austin similarly beat its May record for rainfall with 17.59 inches, besting a high of 14.10 inches that had stood since 1895.
A state of disaster has been declared in 70 counties in Texas. Meteorologist Dennis Cain in Dallas says other areas have set all-time recorded highs, such as Gainesville, near the Oklahoma border, and Corpus Christi, along the Gulf of Mexico. Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle is in its second-wettest month on record.
Hundreds Dead from Heat Wave in India
118 degree F heat caused over 2200 deaths mainly from heat stroke. Heatwave conditions have prevailed since April. Most of the deaths occurred in older people or people working outdoors. Temperatures reached 113 degrees in New Delhi. Commuters can't drive because the roads are melting. Climate change is a likely factor, according to Benjamin Cook, a research scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
About two-thirds of India's 1.2 billion people have access to electricity. That would mean that in India alone about 400 million people do not have reliable access to air conditioning and refrigeration.
This is from Common Dreams:
According to officials quoted in the Hindustan Times, most of the victims have been construction workers, the elderly or the homeless. In regions across the subcontinent this week, temperatures have sweltered populations with thermometers pushing towards 50°C (or 122°F) and high levels of humidity stifling air quality. In response, India's Meteorological Department has issued what are called "red box" warnings for various states where the maximum temperatures are expected to remain above 45°C.
"This year, the heatwave condition is unprecedented and there has been a large number of deaths. The Health Ministry is likely to come up with an advisory soon for all the states and common people," a senior health Ministry official told the Press Trust of India (PTI).
As with ongoing flooding in Texas and Oklahoma in the United States this week, the extreme heat in India has been attributed to the convergence of seasonal weather patterns beset by the El Nino in the Pacific Ocean and the overall impact of increased global temperatures due to human-caused climate change. According to the International Business Times:
Experts say an El Nino, which leads to a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, triggers scorching weather across Asia.
However, even without an El Nino the global warming in the last few decades has potential for damage.
"On account of 0.8 degree warming during the past hundred years, one must expect more heat waves even without an El Nino. El Nino will increase the atmospheric temperature and hence add to the problems created by global warming," J Srinivasan, chairman, Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science told IB Times UK.
Additionally, as the Times of India reported earlier this week, a recent study by the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned that specific areas [in] India, including highly-populated urban enclaves like Hyderabad, can expect more hot days in the future thanks to the global warming.
If you think the heat wave this year is the worst, prepare for tougher times ahead. Hyderabad is likely to get hotter in the next few years, with the average number of severe heatwave days increasing.
Generally the city suffers a maximum of five heatwave days' in a year. According to experts, this number will go up to as many as 40 days per year in the future. [...]
A heat wave' day is when the temperature is five degrees Celsius or more than the average temperature recorded on that particular day over the last three decades. For example, the temperature recorded on Saturday was 43.6 degrees Celsius against a normal maximum temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius recorded on the same day in the last few years. According to the Met officials, this is five degrees Celsius more than the normal temperature.
Are Texas Floods a Consequence of Global Warming?
Texas has been hit with almost continuous storms for the past two weeks. The wettest area has been from Dallas-Fort Worth to the Red River, where some places have gotten more than 20 inches of rain in May. More than 35 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in Texas in May setting a record for rainiest month ever. That's enough to cover all of Texas in eight inches of water. President Obama signed a disaster declaration for Texas. More rain fell during the last weekend in May. May set records for wettest month in both Texas and Oklahoma.
Nobody in Texas will even admit that this recent extreme weather might be due to Global Warming. You will never see a TV interview with one of the victims in which global warming is ever mentioned. Major media organizations have managed so far to keep it out of the news altogether. They will cover only the disasters because they are spectacles and people like to gawk. It's the same with murders and riots. However, rational inquiry into the cause of the disasters doesn't sell and doesn't attract viewers; therefore, they don't do it.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Wall Street's Stranglehold on Greece
How to figure out the ongoing crisis that is Greece? What exactly is going on there? As per usual it's another chapter in the strange saga that involves Wall Street's stranglehold over the world economy. What happened to Greece is similar to what happened to American mortgage holders after they were encouraged to go in over their collective heads borrowing more money than they could reasonably expect to be in a position to pay back. Greece did the same.
Will Greece default soon? Will they stay in the Eurozone or be ejected out of it. These questions have been hanging in the air for what seems like an interminably long time. Is Greece having a liquidity crisis or an insolvency crisis? That is the question. If the former, a short term loan should be able to get them over the hump. If the latter no loans or bailouts of any kind will ever solve their problem.
It all started when Goldman Sachs assisted Greece in lying their way into the Eurozone in the first place. They really didn't qualify for admission but Goldman hid that small detail under a heap of trompe l'oeil, sleight of hand and financial shananigans that got past the critical eyes of the European ministers. They manufactured a highly questionable derivative scheme involving a currency swap that used artificially high exchange rates to conceal Greek debt. Goldman then turned around and hedged its bets by shorting Greek debt just as they had done with the mortgage crisis in the US. Predictably, these derivative bets went very wrong for the less sophisticated of the two players, namely, Greece. A 2.8 billion loan to Greece in 2001 became a 5.1 billion debt by 2005. In the US mortgage fiasco they packaged subprime loans in portfolios, after having loaned money to people with questionable ability to pay back the loans, and then bet that they would default. Goldman made tons of money that way.
Now this operation on the part of Goldman should come as no surprise to those familiar with Goldman's shenanigans leading up to the debt crisis of 2008 in which they packaged a bunch of mortgages that were designed to fail into collateralized debt obligations, sold them off to unsuspecting investors and then turned around and placed bets against them. Such a deal was the Abacus fund designed by John Paulson who made billions on it. The American government then bailed out the too big to fail Wall Street banks while leaving the underwater mortgagees to dangle from a fiscal rope.
They did the same thing with Greece. They loaned Greece big bucks for its 2004 Olympic Games. Greece also borrowed a lot of money for its military. In retrospect it was foolish of Greece to borrow all this money. It never got a return on its investment from the Olympic games which it thought would encourage tourism. The Olympic site essentially became a heap of trash and rubble.
While Greeks Suffer, Big Banks Are Made Whole
With Greece owing tons of money to Wall Street, the European Central Bank (ECB) stepped in with loans ostensibly to the suffering Greek people but not really. Instead the borrowed money went straight to Wall Street to pay off Greek debts to them. The debt never really went away. Instead it was converted to debt owed to the ECB. Private debt was converted to public debt with the Greek people left hanging just as American mortgagees were.
Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, is a former employee of Goldman Sachs. So he represents Wall Street interests. It's in Wall Street's interests that austerity be imposed on Greece and that Greece be forced to sell off public assets to private investors at fire sale prices. Draghi was vice chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International from 2002 to 2005 so he is a natural to protect Wall Street interests, not the interests of the Greek people.
Just as a poor person who cannot pay his debts is forced to sell off his assets at fire sale prices, Greece has been forced into what is called a debt deflation spiral. Greek assets and bank collateral get deflated meaning they decrease in value making it even more onerous to make debt payments or borrow new money. Interest rates for Greece go up because the deflation of assets makes their situation even more precarious. Finally, the poor person having sold off all his assets hits the road and becomes homeless. This is also the prospect for Greece.
There is one ray of hope for Greece, however. It's primary balance - meaning its financial situation before debt and interest payments are taken into account - has become positive in the last couple of years. The Greek government is actually taking in more in revenues than it's paying out in expenses which means it is no longer in recession. There is positive GDP growth. That means that if Greece repudiated or defaulted on all its debts, it would actually be in the black. When debt payments are taken into account, however, the situation is hopeless: Greece is insolvent.
Since the ECB is not designed to do fiscal policy ala John Maynard Keynes, who believed in deficit financing to prime the pump of a down and out economy as ostensibly happened during the Great Depression when the US government borrowed money and spent it into the economy in order to get it moving again, Greece is left in the position that a) it can't borrow any more money at reasonable interest rates and b) it can't print money and spend its way out of debt. It is in the position of the average household which must balance its budget and pay its bills. If it can't pay its bills, its creditors will demand that its assets be sold.
The question is, if Greek debt were nullified by default, would Greece be in a position to have a functioning economy in which government revenues would be sufficient for it to pay its bills? Evidently, the answer is yes because Greece has a positive primary balance. In that case Greece would not be insolvent. But when Greek debt is taken into account without it being written down by the ECB which is highly unlikely, Greece cannot pay its bills and is, therefore, insolvent.
Greek taxpayers have been notorious for not paying taxes. The ECB will not and should not let Greece become a money pit for the rest of the Eurozone countries. Having no central bank of its own and the inability to just print money like the US does, Greece is stuck between a rock and a hard place. For sure it needs to start collecting taxes especially from the rich who should be prevented from taking their money out of the country and putting it in secret Swiss bank accounts like rich Americans do.
The anti-austerity Syriza Party, that took control of Greece recently, has not been able to convince the ECB to cut Greece a break by writing down its debt to a level that the Greek government could manage. The ECB is holding most of the cards. Therefore, Syriza will not get any further than its predecessors did with the ECB. The EU, however, must consider the implications of a Greek default either within the Eurozone or one in which they leave the Eurozone completely and perhaps become aligned with Russia, something that the US would not be too happy about either.
The ECB has been reluctant to print money as the US Fed does except to bail out Wall Street. Controlled basically by Germany which underwent hyperinflation in the 1920s, the ECB is reluctant to risk that happening again. So they are on the horns of a dilemma. From Greece's point of view, it might make more sense to default on its loans, exit the Eurozone and start over with structural reforms it imposes on itself. It could obtain liquidity financing elsewhere like Russia or China. But it wouldn't have the heavy foot of the ECB standing over it and almost guaranteeing that Greece will become a perpetual debtor.
Hit The Road Jack
The noose around Greece's neck is this: the ECB will not accept Greek bonds as collateral for the central bank liquidity all banks need until the new Syriza government accepts the very stringent austerity program imposed by the troika (the EU Commission, ECB and IMF). That means selling off public assets (including ports, airports, electric and petroleum companies), slashing salaries and pensions, drastically increasing taxes and dismantling social services, while creating special funds to save the banking system. Just as the person who loses his job and cannot make his mortgage payment must hit the road, the Greek people through no fault of their own are being told to hit the road. Many young Greeks are doing just that and emigrating.
This could all have been avoided if Greece had a public central bank not beholden to Wall Street or the ECB for money. A public bank can create its own money and spend it into the economy thereby avoiding paying interest to Wall Street or the ECB. This gets people back to work and gets around the predicament of having to borrow money to get the economy running again as Keynesian economics would necessitate.
Greece doesn't have the luxury of Keynesian pump priming.
Germany’s Bild newspaper claims that Athens is planning a special tax on the country’s 500 richest families. Bild says the measure is included on the Greek finance ministry’s list of reforms, which also includes a luxury tax on items such as expensive cars and trips to Greek islands, and higher taxes on workers earning over €30,000 per year.
This is a step in the right direction no doubt. It's a conundrum facing the US as well: how to tax the wealthy in order to help out the poor and middle class. Syriza probably would not mind forcing austerity on the rich. It just doesn't want to balance its budget on the backs of the poor by cutting their pensions and the minimum wage any more than they've been cut already.
The Financial Times reported on May 6 that Greece will rehire 13,000 civil servants whose jobs were cut in an overhaul of the public administration agreed with bailout lenders. Clearly, Syriza will not be bullied by the Troika. Hopefully, Greece will get its house in order by balancing its budget on the backs of the rich not on those of the poor.
There is additional possible cooperation between Russia and Greece and even the possibility of Russia providing financial assistance. And where there's financial assistance, military association would not be far behind. Military cooperation would not only be a thorn in the side of the EU but one also in the side of the US which has only one military base in the Greek island of Crete. Financial and military cooperation go hand in hand as we have recently seen with the Obama championed free trade deal know as the TPP. It's as much about reducing China's influence in the Asian sphere as it is about economic cooperation.
This is from Business Insider:
In fact, the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras even said in early February: "Greece and Cyprus can become a bridge of peace and cooperation between the EU and Russia."
So this part of the world could soon become very interesting — and a huge pain for Europe.
The EU has to consider the implications to a Greek default which might not only be a harbinger of future defaults for other weak EU states such as Spain and Portugal, but might increase Russia's influence in countries surrounding the Eurozone which are becoming increasingly friendly with Russia. Could China be far behind as well in offering financial help?
By Frank Thomas from the San Diego Free Press
Greece’s Solvency Problem
The Western world is moving out of a public debt-deflation crisis of the worst sort … and Greece is still in the middle of it as the worst example of a dire fiscal crisis in a weaker member country that can destabilize the entire euro zone.
Greece is simply de facto insolvent …as was Lehman Brothers in the recent Great Recession and the U.S. at the start of the Great Depression. The Troika (ECB [European Central Bank], IMF [International Monetary Fund], EU Commission) has been mistakenly treating the Greek bailout debt problem as a liquidity issue – optimistically hoping this in combination with tough reform measures would enable Greece to achieve debt sustainability and economically grow out of its debt problem. That’s failed … so far.
It’s not a liquidity issue. It’s an immediate and long term solvency crisis – an inability to generate adequate tax revenues and asset values (whether pledged or sold) to repay debts, especially those due in short term. Having just met a euro 750 million debt payment, Greece’s cash chest is empty. By June, two debt payments are due of euro 1.6 billion and euro 7.0 billion. Debt default is on the horizon.
Most of the euro 240 billion ‘bailout’ funds went to foreign creditor banks, not to fund Greek government operations. Even if Greece had ongoing access to ECB’s Emergency Liquidity Funds temporary funds, this wouldn’t solve underlying problem of excessive debt obligations and overall deficits after debt service, intensified by austerity measures aimed at improving the country’s competitiveness. During 2009-2014, wage, pension, and spending cuts shrunk GDP 26% . This and higher debt skyrocketed the debt/GDP ratio from 130% of GDP in 2009 to 175% in 2014. Greece’s tendency to be in budget deficit and debt troubles started long before the 2008-2013 great recession. This history and the great recession have pushed Greece into a disastrous “over-indebtedness, deflation and insolvency trap.”
Over-indebtedness and deflation are the two dominant drivers in recessions and depressions. Disturbances in debt and purchasing power trigger disturbances in most other economic variables. The spiral process develops along following lines: over-indebtedness leads to liquidation and stress selling of assets, leads to contraction of deposits and velocity of money circulation, leads to price deflation, leads to decline in net worth of businesses, leads to bankruptcies and lower business profits or losses, leads to a reduction in output and employment to cut losses.
When over-indebtedness does not reduce prices or deflation rises from other than debt causes, then the resulting cycle will be much softer or much less destructive. But, when the debt and deflation diseases occur together, as is happening in Greece, they act and react on each other. Then over-indebtedness leads to deflation and deflation leads to more debt owed – the more debtors pay, the more they owe. (See: “Debt-DeflationTheory of Great Depressions,” by Irving Fisher; “Falling Into a Liquidity Trap?” ECO-Societe Generale, Dec. 2013).
The more Greece cuts fiscal spending and hikes taxes, the more growth gets hit and deflation expands, the harder it becomes to meet ECB deficit and debt targets … leading to more debt required. The combination of extreme over-indebtedness and a policy of internal devaluation of assets, wages, pensions and other costs leads to deflation. Unchecked so far, this has brought Greece to insolvency where debts cannot be met by assets, even if sold.
When over time an economy with a rising high debt level has been depressed 26% by an internal devaluation, then the debt/GDP ratio will go UP, not DOWN … as is Greece’s story. It’s not just recession and deflation that push up debt. The existing huge public debt overhang acts as a drag on the economy. This is the circular debt and deflation economic stagnation Greece is stuck in. An economy caught in such a trap doesn’t easily return to a growth path and healthy debt/GDP ratio as Japan has demonstrated.
What Is Historical Origin of Greece’s Fiscal Troubles?
Greece has had a long history of fiscal trouble – an economy constantly burdened with excessive debt, budget deficits, bureaucracy, restrictive regulations, poor transparency, flaky statistics, and rampant corruption. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rigoff in their book, “This Time is Different,” a history of financial crises, conclude Greece has spent half of the past two centuries in default.
Since WWII through 1998, Greece had hardly a balanced year without relying on heavy subsidies from abroad. Greece entered the euro zone in 2001 – using falsified debt and deficit numbers ignored by the banking establishment. During 2001-2007, the door opened for long term funds at low interest rates and under-pricing of default risk (supported by Germany’s credit worthiness). Thus, a sharp reduction in debt service costs gave Greece some fiscal space to reduce its debt burden. Instead, Greece went on a spending and debt splurge that placed its debt burden on an unsustainable path – where the primary budget deficit soared to over 10% of GDP in 2009 and the debt/GDP ratio jumped from 100% in 2001 to 130% in 2009.
Adding fuel to the fire, in 2002 investment banks like Goldman Sachs were offering complex, secret derivative products including cross currency swaps used to guarantee government revenues from bond issues in foreign denominations. These specially designed swaps provided a hedge against exchange rate oscillations using a fictional exchange rate, allowing a country to exchange its dollar (or Yen) loans into a greater number of euros. In Greece’s case, this hedge transaction created a credit (covert loan) of nearly $1 billion to the Greek government. Reporting of the credit in the balance sheet was not required by European accounting rules.
Since these swaps weren’t registered as debt, the Greek government and other EU governments were enticed to spend beyond their means. Greece exploited cross currency swaps presumably to help avoid the huge fines levied under the Maastricht Treaty for violating the 60% debt/GDP ratio limit and the 3% overall budget deficit limit.
The Greek people were neither aware of nor a party to the financial risks their government officials were exposing them to. Yet they, as taxpayers, are responsible for paying the price of a euro 240 billion European bailout debt. Social costs stemming from the government’s fiscal mismanagement have been excruciating – a 26% joblessness, massive homelessness, an educational system in shambles, a serious brain drain, a generational dead-end future for many.
Why Wasn’t Keynesian Pump-Priming Utilized?
One reasonable answer to this question comes from a Eurobank Research report: (See: Eurobank Research, “Is Deflation a Risk For Greece?”)
“Avoiding monetary and/or fiscal contraction during the recession and allowing automatic stabilizers to work, as suggested by Keynesian thinking, was not an option. Greece has purposefully implemented internal devaluation in order to reclaim price competitiveness losses against trade partners. Even if this was not the case, participation in a Monetary Union (i.e., loss of autonomy in the exercise of monetary policy) implies that the country would be unable to combat inflation via monetary means. In addition, given the huge size of public deficits and the explosive path public debt had embarked on, a fiscal expansion would only enlarge the fiscal crisis and the ensuing collapse of output. Loss of access in international capital markets meant a fiscal expansion was not feasible anyway. Instead, the country had to implement a draconian fiscal consolidation program which led to a contraction of the primary budget balance from a deficit of -10.5% in 2009 to a primary surplus of 2.1% in 2013.” (Editor’s note: 2.1% excludes huge 10.1% one-time recapitalization cost; primary budget surplus was 1.7%% in 2014 and a 2.9% primary surplus is expected in 2015).
An important point to stress here is that for the first time in more than a decade Greece is on a path of reporting a primary budget surplus (before debt payment) for the years 2013, 2014, and an expected surplus in 2015. After 6 years of a deep recession and 26% GDP decline, Greece appears to be emerging slowly out of the recession. Its economy grew 0.8% in 2014 and is forecast to grow more than 2.5% in 2015.
TABLE 1 shows Greece’s impressive fiscal adjustment i.e. significant improvement in its primary budget balance since 2009:
SOURCE: (“Should Other Eurozone Programme Countries Worry About A Reduced Greek Primary Surplus Target?” - Feb. 2015 Forecast of the European Commission)
The structural primary balance excludes both one-off measures (e.g., bank recapitalization costs) and impacts of the economic cycle. Greece’s 2009-2014 primary balance improvement of 11.9 percentage points from a -10.2% primary deficit in 2009 to a 1.7% primary surplus in 2014 is astonishing enough. A 2.9% primary surplus is expected in 2015. The structural primary balance improvement of 16.1 percentage points – is even more astonishing. It’s TWICE that of Ireland, Portugal and Spain. To stabilize Greece’s debt situation, the ECB and IMF believe the country must achieve a debt-stabilizing primary surplus target of 4.5% of GDP. This, however, does not negate fact Greece is insolvent and will still need constructive debt relief to reverse its debt-deflation spiral and spur economic growth.
Greece has two ills propelling insolvency: the Exceptional Scale of its Debt and the Weak Quality of its Assets supporting that debt. A state of insolvency occurs when an entity’s debts (liabilities) exceed its assets making it almost impossible to raise funds to meet financial obligations or to pay debts as they come due – regardless whether assets are sold or mortgaged. Greece’s Finance Minister himself has said, “Greece is bankrupt.” Mention of the ‘insolvency’ word makes creditors nervous and complicates ECB’s task as it’s apparently illegal to extend Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to an insolvent country. Greece is cash-strapped and can’t meet upcoming heavy debt repayments in July/August. So desperate is the situation, consideration is being given to tapping into the euro 1.5 billion reserve funds of local municipalities to stay afloat until end of May. Even temporary use of pension and social security funds is being reviewed.
And funding crunch pressures could get much worse. For example, a staggering outflow of over euro 20 billion of bank deposits has occurred since last November. Where will the funds come from to match this outflow? Another potential money pressure is that four big banks hold a huge euro 18 billion of capital in the form of Deferred Tax Assets and Deferred Tax Credits owed by the Greek state. If the banks request this money, it must be provided in cash, not government bonds. So over 50% of the Greek banking system – which is owned largely by the Greek state – is in the form of a cash IOU from the Greek state. This tight interconnectedness between the Greek state and its banks, operating under a “patronage” culture rather than a meritocratic system, has long magnified Greece’s gross mismanagement of its finances.(See: “ECB Asks: Are Greek Banks Solvent,” by Raoul Ruparel, Feb. 20, 2015)
Continuing an all-out austerity program to return Greece to a sustainable fiscal path needs to be rethought. Persistent deflationary pressure could hurt the country’s fragile debt sustainability now at 175% of GDP (vs. 130% in 2009). I believe internal deflation and enormous size of Greek debt make it impossible to grow out of that debt. Accepting more loans to meet debt service obligations worsens matters by further squeezing income and increasing debt. Still, despite 5 years of severe austerity, Greece’s broad economic picture is getting better, but life is much worse for most Greeks.
An excessive public debt curse constrains government actions by the need to service debt – which seriously compromises or crowds out critically vital investments in infrastructure, education, health care, child welfare, etc. The negative financial and social impact would have been much more disastrous without the bailout funds.
If a government is running primary budget deficits, it needs to borrow money to continue running. That has been the Greek government’s argument to its citizenry, namely, austerity is necessary to keep bailout funds coming to fund basic services like infrastructure, education, health care.
However, if a government is running primary budget surpluses as Greece now is, it’s much easier to get by without access to foreign debt markets. This depends on the timing and amounts of debt that must be paid to official creditors who are not about to accept a ‘haircut’ on the Greek debt owed them.
If Greece can raise recent trend of primary surpluses to 4.5% target of GDP, it will be able to finance its current level of consumption and investment, including government and private spending, without depending much on foreign capital inflows. That surplus will cover an interest cost of 4% of GDP, leave some fiscal space for economic growth incentives, for unforeseeable adverse cost events but not for high one-time costs which occur often in Greece. And it leaves little fiscal space to reduce debt principle and no space to meet large debt payments.
Where Are We Now?
Greece’s problem is insolvency, not a temporary liquidity shortfall. Funds are being lent to Greece to meet current debt service obligations on assumption this will bring Greece to renewed growth and income adequate to meet long-term debt obligations. Despite Greece’s weak economy and giant debt burden, 5 years of draconian austerity did produce a 1.7% primary budget surplus in 2014. BUT, the debt level still expanded to 175% of GDP from 130% in 2009.
This dramatizes how serious Greece’s insolvency problem is. Tough austerity measures and a huge euro 240 billion bailout injection of ‘liquidity’ funds – of which +85% went to creditor banks, not to fund Greek operations (except freeing up funds for basic social services) – can’t solve the over-indebtedness and deflation and insolvency trap. A crisis of distrust prevails, pitting debtor and creditor against each other. Many feel official lending by ECB and IMF is only worsening crisis and insuring a certain default and “haircut” for creditors.
ECB President Mario Draghi has laid down the financial ‘Maginot Line’ to Greece regarding bailout funds. In essence, his message to Greece is move fast on concessions and key reforms (e.g., inflated pensions, huge tax evasion, accounting irregularities) or you are on your own. In latter event, an ‘orderly default’ and ‘friendly exit’ from the euro currency zone, but not necessarily the EU, is the only recourse.
The ECB has cut off Greek access to the normal lending process where loan risk is divided among the 19 euro zone countries. For years, Greece has failed to meet a very important lending provision, namely, that the supporting collateral must be sound. In the ECB’s opinion, Greek bank collateral is not worth much. Accordingly, the ECB has stopped accepting Greek bonds as collateral. In essence, access to capital markets by the Greek government and Greek banks has been closed down.
In prior bailouts, the ECB waived the collateral provision. But, upon hearing of Premier Tsipras’ refusal to continue with key reforms, the ECB has withdrawn its waiver. Greece now only qualifies for Emergency Liquidity Assistance which the ECB is tightly limiting. ELA comes at a higher interest rate, and the Greek Central Bank assumes formal risk liability, not the euro zone countries. But, if something goes wrong, the euro zone is the ultimate backup.
According to Draghi, ELA support will be given providing Greek banks have adequate collateral and are solvent – two conditions that are not being met. A slowly developing bank run has brought the financial backup level of Greek banks below the peak-crisis level in 2012 – driving the interest rate on 3-year Greek securities to 30% range. In Draghi’s words, “Collateral is being destroyed.”
Greece’s interest payments are relatively low thanks to a low 2.2% average interest rate on its outstanding debt. If Greece had to borrow at the 8% market rate for its 10-year government bonds, its overall budget deficit would explode to over 15%. Despite the low 2.2% interest rate on public debt, total interest payments are still a substantial 4.0% of GDP due to Greece’s extravagant debt build-up.
Generally, a country’s national debt grows by the size of its overall budget deficit or surplus and strength of its economy. If Greece can consistently achieve a positive 2-4% primary budget surplus, its debt burden as a % of GDP will eventually decline so long as the GDP growth rate exceeds the average interest rate (now 2.2%) on government debt. (See: Martin Feldstein, Harvard Prof. of Economics – “The Greek Budget Myth,” Nov. 2013)
But, the Greek economy remains weak, not helped by severe austerity measures. Unless Greece can increase its rate of annual growth +2% and stabilize deflation, its overall budget deficit after debt payment will be high and the current 175% debt/GDP ratio will hardly change.
Where To Go From Here?
Greece’s acute insolvency is not being solved by spending and amassing debt far beyond its means and ability to grow itself out of the interest and principal debt payments. Result? Since the 2009 crisis, Greece has been forced to borrow more and more from the EU in an ‘ad hoc manner’ in emergency situations.
Daniel Gros and Thomas Mayer deftly address the problem of balancing of moral hazard by sharing EU support and risks vs. relying purely on financial markets to resolve an “excess debt-insolvency” crisis like Greece is experiencing.(See: “How To Deal With The Threat of A Sovereign Default in Europe,” March/April 2010; “Debt Reduction Without Default?” Feb. 2011). In Gros and Mayer’s opinion:
This ‘ad hoc manner’ (piecemeal liquidity) approach is unsatisfactory. The European Monetary system should be made robust enough to minimize the disruption caused by the failure of one member. The drafters of the Maastricht Treaty failed to appreciate that, in a context of fragile financial markets, the perceived (and real) danger of a financial meltdown makes a ‘pure’ no-bailout response unrealistic … The EU needs to design a scheme capable of dealing with the threat of sovereign default and capable of organizing an orderly default as a last resort … The strongest negotiating asset of a debtor is always that default cannot be contemplated because it would bring down the entire financial system.
For a Greek type of insolvency crisis, Daniel Gros and Thomas Mayer propose an innovative, fair market-based debt reduction option without a formal default. The concept shows promise for vastly mitigating disruption in financial markets caused by a foreign sovereign default. An orderly debt workout framework would help prevent a taxpayer bailout of a sovereign. Also, contagion effects would become very limited since market participants could estimate ex ante their maximum risk exposure by lending to another country. Some variation of the Gros-Mayer market-based debt reduction concept deserves reexamination by ECB authorities, if that has not already been done.
Greece is locked into a debt, internal deflationary economic stagnation that has all the ingredients of lasting as long as Japan’s 20 year economic stagnation! The ad hoc manner of accepting more loans to pay current debt service obligations only makes matters worse … as does an ongoing crushing austerity on the Greek people.
As to what to do now, I would give first priority to quickly and decisively restructuring Greece’s debt, including upcoming euro 1.6 billion and euro 7 billion payments.
The restructuring should provide real debt relief that allows Greece fiscal space to resume productive investment while also executing reforms selectively aimed at systemically poor tax collection, restrictive and regulatory labor practices raising the cost of doing business, inflated pension funds, absence of financial transparency and discipline, lack of confidence in statistical data, a governance and banking system functioning under an egregiously dishonest culture of ‘patronage’ rather than ‘meritocracy.’
The task is finding right balance between debt relief and limited austerity while not losing momentum with reforms, not increasing moral hazard or disrupting Greece’s real economy. The overall aim should be to improve Greece’s ‘economic model’ for responsible growth and access to capital markets.
Restructuring can take many forms, combinations: implementing a variation of the Gros-Mayer market-based debt reduction concept, swapping a portion of existing debt for bonds, linking interest payments to future economic growth as proposed by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, replacing Greek debt owned by the ECB with “perpetual bonds,” adopting a new Greek currency but keeping Greece in euro zone, rolling debt over, extending debt maturities or deferring debt payments.
If at the end of the negotiating process, parties cannot agree to an acceptable civil, humane, debt restructuring, debt relief and reforms in everyone’s best interest, then an orderly, friendly well-managed EXIT of Greece from the euro is the only option … leaving responsibility to Premier Tsipras’s government to resurrect an economy sunk in a sea of bureaucracy and debt.
An exit will hurt. Greece will eventually gain a more competitive currency, but this will not come cheaply without contagion impacts and some concrete costs. The current ECB euro 240 billion bailout averages euro +-600 per person for euro zone countries. How much this rises depends on the debt restructuring actions and reforms undertaken and how sound the exit process is risk-controlled. In this regard, the ECB has made a commitment to do “whatever is necessary to protect the euro.”
But, If Greece’s exit is judged a ‘least-worse’ scenario, what to do if the Portuguese, Spaniards, and Italians want a similar divorce? Greece out of the euro zone – given its geostrategic position at the crossroads between East and West – brings some indefinable risks.
Besides the economic issue, there’s a fundamental political issue … HOW IMPORTANT IS GREECE STRATEGICALLY TO EUROPE?
Frank Thomas May 18, 2015 The Netherlands
by John Lawrence
My daughter was entering the freshman class at UCSD in 1992 and the plan was for me to move out of our condo where we had lived for 18 years and in with my girlfriend. Renting out the condo would bring in $1000. a month and let me pay for a good share of my daughter's college expenses. After about a year when the relationship didn't work out, I decided that rather than rent an apartment which would cost me what I needed to pay my daughter's expenses, I would go homeless instead. It wasn't that I was desperate; I could have rented an apartment. I just decided I'd rather collect rent than pay it, and not only would I be saving $1000. a month in rent, I wouldn't have a cable bill, an internet bill or an SDG&E bill either. Such a prospect appealed to the Scotsman in me.
I had a Ford E-150 work van which was set up sort of like a camper. The rear window popped out for adequate ventilation with the front windows open a crack. I had 4 inches of foam on the floor covered with indoor-outdoor carpet. It was quite comfy with my double sleeping bag and two pillows. All the comforts of home as far as I was concerned. I got a tension rod and some curtains to seal off the back compartment and added double layers of tinting for the side and rear windows for privacy.
I called my vehicle a WSUV - Work, Sleep, Utility Vehicle. It functioned well for me for all those purposes. I chose my night time sleeping spots very carefully. I scouted them out. First of all the road had to be level; second it had to be in a place that would not attract attention. I chose to be among other parked vehicles in good neighborhoods. There was nothing about my vehicle that would identify it as anything other than a work vehicle with ladders on top. I had preselected spots and wouldn't pull in till 10:30 PM when the neighbors were hopefully asleep. Then I was up and out of there by 6 AM. In a year of doing this I only got rousted out by the cops twice, and once was my own fault for getting cocky and disobeying my own rules. I parked on a cul-de-sac with no other vehicles around me and attracted the attention of a neighborhood watchman. After making me stand on the street by the hour, the cops finally let me go. I went a couple miles to a more secure parking place.
I googled homelessness and found a blog by a guy who called being homeless "distributed living." The concept was simple. Instead of doing everything under one roof, you did different things in different places under different roofs. That was exactly what I was doing. It's also called urban camping. When I pulled out of my parking place at 6 AM before my fellow citizens had gotten up (except for a few dog walkers which I always had to keep an eye out for), I headed for the YMCA where I did my morning ablutions - shaved, brushed my teeth etc. Then I swam my laps, showered and started my day with a juice from the case of Kern's juices I carried with me and some vitamins. Then I headed over to Starbucks for my morning coffee. A few years later, after I had stopped using that particular Starbucks, I went back and one of the girls remembered my name. Amazing.
After my juice, vitamins and coffee I headed over to 7-11 and picked up a bag of ice for my cooler. In it I had cold water, Pepsi and other stuff that needed refrigeration like stuff for sandwiches. I had Tiger's Milk bars for lunch and fresh fruit that didn't require refrigeration.
Then I went to my my first window cleaning job. Most of the time I did two jobs in a day or, if it was a really big job, I only did one. I was able to keep in contact with customers and schedule jobs thanks to the miracle of the cell phone which allowed me to dispense with a landline as well as a fixed residence and expedited my "distributed living." After work, if I was really sweaty I headed back to the Y for a shower. Then I settled into my evening "home" where I did what I usually did if I had a real house to live in. I read, listened to music and blogged on the internet. Sometimes I did research on my project on Social Choice. I found the best place that suited all these multifarious activities was the San Diego State library, mainly because it didn't close till 10 o'clock at night and had free Wi-Fi. The city library closed too early to accommodate my schedule. I took my back pack with my books, laptop and CD player which I listened to with ear phones and spread out on a table hopefully where it was quiet and there were not a lot of students kibitzing over their homework assignments or other less dutiful activities.
When the library closed, I headed out to one of my preselected parking spots, and, if everything was kosher pulled in unnoticed by the local denizens. I did make some special arrangements for my situation. If I couldn't make it to the Y in the morning before peeing, I had a bottle for that purpose. Before leaving the library at night, I always made sure I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. My sleeping accommodations were comfortable providing the neighborhood was quiet. Occasionally, I was awakened by a motorcycle blasting through the neighborhood at 3 o'clock in the morning. I had spent years sleeping in a sleeping bag when I was in a domiciled situation but that's another story. Sleeping in a regular bed is not all it's cracked up to be despite Jerome's commercials.
During this period I took my daughter out to eat once a week to keep up with how she was doing in college. I got together with friends. I even dated. In fact there was nothing I couldn't do that I would have done if I had been living in an apartment. I was a contradiction in terms - a homeless landlord, a worker who was also a capitalist - and I was happy about all the revenue that was coming in both from my work and from the return on my investment (ROI). I had paid my mortgage off years earlier so the rent I was collecting was almost pure profit minus taxes, insurance, maintenance and HOA fees. Some friends said that I should have rented an apartment. I guess that was what you were supposed to do, but I was used to not doing what you were supposed to do. My unconventional life suited me.
I had distributed my living situation among my WSUV which I used for sleeping and work, the YMCA which I used for showering and swimming, and the San Diego State library which I used for relaxing and edification. I was living off "the fat of the land" as was George and Lennies's dream in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." I was using public roads not only for commerce (getting me to and from jobs) but also for sleeping, public or semi-public facilities like the YMCA and the library at San Diego State which was open to the public. I also used these same techniques when I traveled having researched libararies and YMCAs in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle where I spent a fair amount of time. In San Francisco I parked my WSUV near the Stonestown mall and bought a transit pass using public transportation for getting around. My Y card was good at the Stonestown YMCA and any other YMCAs when I was away from my home base.
Living off the fat of the land, or in other words public amenities, was something I endeavored to be good at. In Scandinavia they have a law called allemandsretten which means that you can camp out anywhere you choose even on private property so long as it's not right in someone's garden. This represents the fat of the land, public rather than private amenities. It's all good. No need for a motel. In my case allemandsretten was finding a parking place on a public street for my WSUV. It had to be level of course.
Eventually, I found a good deal on an office for $150. a month in the heart of downtown Encinitas right above Roxy's Ice Cream. It was an office which also afforded me living accommodations. I even teamed up with Joe on satellite TV. All the comforts of home. I took my dates downstairs to Vigilucci's for Italian food. With what I was saving on rent, I could well afford to.
by Robert Reich
On Friday, President Obama chose Nike headquarters in Oregon to deliver a defense of his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It was an odd choice of venue.
Nike isn’t the solution to the problem of stagnant wages in America. Nike is the problem.
It’s true that over the past two years Nike has added 2,000 good-paying professional jobs at its Oregon headquarters, fulfilling the requirements of a controversial tax break it wrangled from the state legislature. That’s good for Nike’s new design, research and marketing employees.
Just before the President spoke, Nike announced that if the Trans Pacific Partnership is enacted, Nike would “accelerate development of new advanced manufacturing methods and a domestic supply chain to support U.S. based manufacturing,” thereby creating as many as 10,000 more American jobs.
But that would still be only a tiny fraction of Nike’s global workforce. While Nike makes some shoe components in the United States, it hasn’t assembled shoes here since 1984.
Americans made only 1 percent of the value of Nike products that generated Nike’s $27.8 billion revenue last year. And Nike is moving ever more of its production abroad. Last year, a third of Nike’s remaining 13,922 American production workers were laid off.
Most of Nike’s products are made by 990,000 workers in low-wage countries whose abysmal working conditions have made Nike a symbol of global sweatshop labor.
In other words, Nike is a global corporation with no particular loyalty or connection to the United States. Its loyalty is to its global shareholders.
I’m not faulting Nike. Nike is only playing by the rules.
I’m faulting the rules.
In case you hadn’t noticed, America has a huge and growing problem of inequality. Most Americans are earning no more than the typical American earned thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation – even though the U.S. economy is almost twice as large as it was then.
Since then, almost all the economic gains have gone to the top.
The President is angry at Democrats who won’t support this trade deal.
He should be angry at Republicans who haven’t supported American workers. Their obduracy has worsened the potential impact of the deal.
Congressional Republicans have refused to raise the minimum wage (whose inflation-adjusted value is now almost 25 percent lower than it was in 1968), expand unemployment benefits, invest in job training, enlarge the Earned Income Tax Credit, improve the nation’s infrastructure, or expand access to public higher education.
They’ve embraced budget austerity that has slowed job and wage growth. And they’ve continued to push “trickle-down” economics – keeping tax rates low for America’s richest, protecting their tax loopholes, and fighting off any attempt to raise taxes on wealthy inheritances to their level before 2000.
Now they – and the President – want a huge trade agreement that protects corporate investors but will lead to even more off-shoring of low-skilled American jobs.
The Trans Pacific Trade Partnership’s investor protections will make it safer for firms to relocate abroad – the Cato Institute describes such protections as “lowering the risk premium” on offshoring – thereby reducing corporate incentives to keep jobs in America and upgrade the skills of Americans.
Those same investor protections will allow global corporations to sue the United States or any other country that raises its health, safety, environmental, or labor standards, for any lost profits due to those standards.
But there’s nothing in the deal to protect the incomes of Americans.
We know that when Americans displaced from manufacturing jobs join the glut of Americans competing for jobs that can’t be replaced by lower-wage workers abroad – personal service jobs in retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, child care, and elder care – all lower-skilled workers face downward pressure on wages.
Jobs being lost to imports pay Americans higher wages than the jobs left behind. Government data show wages in import-competing industries (e.g. manufacturing jobs) beat those in exporting industries overall.
Without a higher minimum wage, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, affordable higher education, and a world-class system of job retraining – financed by higher taxes on the wealthy winners in the American economy – most Americans will continue to experience stagnant or declining wages.
Instead, the Trans Pacific Partnership – which includes twelve nations, including Vietnam, but would be open for every nation to join – would lock us into an expanded version of the very policies that have failed most American for the past twenty years.
No doubt Nike is supporting the TPP. It would allow Nike to import its Vietnamese and Malaysian-made goods more cheaply. But don’t expect those savings to translate into lower prices for American consumers. As it is, Nike spends less than $10 for every pair of $100-plus shoes it sells in the U.S.
Needless to say, the TPP wouldn’t require Nike to pay its Vietnamese workers more. Nikes’ workers are not paid enough to buy the shoes they make much less buy U.S. exported goods.
Nike may be the perfect example of life under TPP, but that is not a future many Americans would choose.
STEP #2: MAKE WORK FAMILY FRIENDLY
No one should have to choose between providing for your family and being a good parent. Yet “family-friendly” work is still a pipedream.
Today most parents are also wage earners, whether in a two-parent or single-parent household. Politicians talk a lot about the importance of family, but must do a better job delivering.
– Require that women receive equal pay for equal work.
– Require employers provide predictable hours so workers can plan to be home when their family needs them.
– Provide universal childcare – pre-school and after-school – financed by employers and taxpayers.
– Require that employers offer paid family and medical leave.
The richest nation in the world should enable its workers to be good parents. Family-friendly work isn’t a luxury. People who work hard deserve to make more than a decent living. They and their families deserve a decent life.
MAKING THE ECONONY WORK FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW. STEP #1: RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE
A basic moral principle that most Americans agree on is no one who works full time should be in poverty, nor should their family.
Yet over time we’ve seen significant growth in the “working poor” – people working full time, sometimes even 60 or more hours each week, but at such low wages that they remain impoverished.
What to do?
One step is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is winnable. A powerful movement is fighting for $15 an hour and they’re winning new laws in cities and states, and forcing companies to raise wages.
If the minimum wage in 1968 had simply kept up with inflation it would be more than $10 today. If it also kept up with the added productivity of American workers since then, it would be more than $21 an hour.
Some opponents say minimum wage workers are teenagers seeking some extra pocket money.
Wrong. Half are 35 or older, and many are key breadwinners for their families.
And don’t believe scaremongers who say a $15 minimum will cause employers to cut employment.
More money in people’s pockets means more demand for goods and services, which means more jobs not fewer jobs.
Studies also show that when the minimum is raised more people are brought into the pool of potential employees, giving employers more choice of whom to hire. This reduces turnover and helps employers save money.
Finally, employers who don’t pay enough to lift their employees out of poverty are indirectly subsidized by the rest of us – who are paying billions each year in food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and welfare, to make up the difference.
The minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour. It’s the least that a decent society should require.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
April Showers Turn Violent
As April drew to a close, drenching rain expanded across the Southeast states, bringing the threat of flooding and travel delays. Strong thunderstorms were also a concern for Florida. April has been a particularly wet month across the Southeast due to several slow-moving storms that soaked the region over the past several weeks. Mobile, Alabama, has been one of the wettest cities in the entire country last month from a series of storms - recording over 13 inches of rain. This is nearly three times higher than their normal rainfall for the month. Their ground is saturated leading to the possibility of flooding if any more rain occurs. According to the National Weather Service, there are still dozens of river gauges across the Southeast that are in either minor flood stage or near flood stage.
April started with a bang. Hail as big as baseballs pelted 8 southern states breaking car windshields and causing assorted other damage. There were more than 130 reports of hail. 60 mph winds caused more damage. In April tornadoes were recorded almost every day of the month.
On April 2, the worst rainfall and flooding in Chile's history wiped entire towns off the map and killed 24 with dozens missing. It will cost at least $1.5 billion to rebuild.
April 3 brought a huge flood emergency with millions on high alert for tornadoes in the US. A mother and child in their car were swept away in Kentucky and are still missing. A massive industrial fire in Louisville may have been sparked by lightning. There were more than 160 water rescues. Near Lexington one woman was killed in a campground after a large tree fell on her tent. A tornado touched down in Kansas in a region also pummeled by hail. Wind gusts were up about 60 mph with 2 inch in diameter hail.
April 7: A fast moving storm dumped 3 and a half inches of rain in 40 minutes in the Saint Louis area flooding streets. Hail the size of golf balls saturated some areas. There were mudslides. 5 inches of snow blanketed Michigan. A funnel cloud was seen near Sacramento, CA. Hail near Lodi, CA.
April 8-9: A two-day severe weather episode affected parts of the Great Plains and Midwest. Several EF0 tornadoes occurred on April 8 in the south central part of Kansas, including some to the northwest of Wichita. An EF1 tornado caused moderate damage as it struck the town of Potosi, Missouri that evening as well. Several tornadoes were also reported from Texas to Illinois on April 9. A multiple-vortex EF1 tornado struck the towns of Clinton, Iowa and Fulton, Illinois, and an EF2 tornado near Mount Selman, Texas snapped and uprooted numerous trees, damaged outbuildings, and removed the roof and collapsed a few exterior walls at a frame home.
The most significant event of the outbreak was a violent, long-tracked, very high-end EF4 wedge tornado that moved along a 30.2 mile-long path across several counties in northern Illinois, killing two people and injuring another 22. Hail the size of grapefruits was reported in Kansas and Missouri. 95 million Americans were in the threat zone stretching from the Great Lakes to Texas. Winds up to 70 mph were reported.
April 10: A deadly outbreak of tornadoes. A tornado killed 2 people and left the town of Fairdale, Illinois totally destroyed. There were frantic efforts to save those trapped underground. Buildings were ripped from their foundations and vehicles sailed through the air. The tornado plowed a 50 mile path of destruction a half a mile wide with 200 mph winds. Rochelle, IL also was hit by EF-4 tornado.
April 16: Tornado and severe thunderstorm watch in Texas. Large hail expected. Snow in Denver. Accidents and pile-ups on I-70.
April 17: 10 tornadoes touched down in Texas overnight. I-70 in Denver shut down after 2 semis, a motorhome and 2 busses overturned. At least a dozen people hurt. Another pile-up on I-80 in Wyoming involving more than 40 vehicles including a tanker carrying hazardous material that erupted in flames.
April 18: Several inches of rain in Houston led to flooding. Severe thunderstorms in Wichita and Oklahoma City caused to flash floods.
April 19: Raging wildfire near Los Angeles. Millions in south under threat of severe storms. High winds derailed a freight train in Alabama. Tornado and severe thunderstorm watches throughout the south. Winds up to 60 mph with flash flooding.
April 20: Major east coast cities under tornado watch cross 9 states. Philadelphia, Washington DC and Baltimore among them. 70 mph wind gusts up and down east coast.
April 22: Violent weather threat including tornadoes all the way from Texas to Connecticut. 22 million people at risk.
April 25: A multi-day outbreak of extreme storms blew 18 wheelers on their sides in Louisiana. Tornado warnings and watches were in effect across several southern states. 32 million were at risk for severe storms. Reports of damaging winds, torrential rains, flash flooding and large hail.
April 26: A mile-wide tornado touched down in north-central Texas as a storm system swept through with large hail and damaging winds, the National Weather Service said. The storm knocked out power to more than 60,000 people in Texas, according to online reports compiled from local power companies. Numerous trees were either snapped or uprooted causing downed power lines. Minor damage to barns and outbuildings was recorded. In Johnson County near Dallas at least 50 homes were destroyed. Torrential rain, heavy winds and softball sized hail pummeled the area.
April 27: More than a dozen tornadoes tore through the south over the weekend. Storms pounded the Dallas area tearing apart homes. At least three were killed in a sailboating regatta off the Alabama coast. Three are still missing. 10 boats capsized. 40 people had to be rescued. Thunderstorm winds blew several railroad cars off the Huey P. Long Bridge in Metairie, Louisiana. Major flooding shut down highways and roads. Power was also knocked out at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Wind gusts of up to 71 mph were measured at the airport during the storm.
On April 29 severe storms pummeled parts of eastern Texas with softball-sized hail, damaging winds and tornadoes. A tornado struck Rio Vista, Texas, about 40 miles south of Fort Worth. Local emergency management reported overturned trucks and various building damage, including the local high school. After surveying the area on Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported the damaged aligned with an EF0 tornado. Earlier that night, additional tornadoes touched down near Stephenville and Glen Rose, Texas.
On April 30 damaging storms swept through southern Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Over 60 million people were under threat as high, near hurricane force winds and heavy rain permeated the Gulf Coast. Storms with drenching rain also reached the western part of the Florida panhandle. Elsewhere, the roofs of several homes were damaged in Thibodaux, Louisiana. A tornado was spotted in the area by law enforcement. More than 150,000 Entergy Louisiana customers were without power during the midday hours.
The Thunder Down Under
In Australia four were killed as severe storms lashed New South Wales. An 86-year-old woman was killed in the Central Hunter region when her car was swept into flood waters, police said. Two men and a woman were found dead in Dungog north of Sydney, one of the worst affected areas, where homes have been washed away by flooding. Dungog was among 12 communities declared a natural disaster area by emergency services. Residents in the capital Sydney have been urged to evacuate after days of heavy rain have put more than 200 homes in the south-west of the city under threat from rising river levels.
200,000 homes in the state were left without power. Parts of the region experienced more than one foot of rainfall, wind gusts of more than 60 mph and waves reaching record heights of 50 ft. Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales said, "To give you a sense of the size and scope - in Dungog ... there's more rain that has come down in the last 24 hours than they have seen in a 24-hour period for the past century."
It's That Old Devil Global Warming Again
Man-made global warming is responsible for about 75% of all hot-temperature extremes worldwide in the past 100 years, according to a study published Monday in the British journal Nature Climate Change. It is also responsible for about 18% of heavy rainfall, the study said. Even worse, climate change will cause higher percentages of extreme weather in future decades. For example, by the middle of this century, if temperatures continue to increase, about 95% of all heat waves — and about 40% of precipitation extremes — will be due to human influence.
Man-made climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil, which release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, warming the globe to levels that cannot be explained by natural variability. The study's scientists used 25 climate computer models to test their theories. Lead author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, said the models "agree remarkably well on the change in heavy rainfall and hot extremes at the global scale."
"The idea that almost half of heavy rainfall events would not have occurred were it not for climate change is a sobering thought for policymakers seeking to mitigate and adapt to climate change," wrote Peter Stott of the United Kingdom's Hadley Centre in a commentary that accompanied the study.
Governor Brown Toughens California Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets
In an executive order, Brown called for the most aggressive cuts to carbon emissions in North America. The order establishes that California "must cut the pollutants to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030, more than a decade after he leaves office," the Los Angeles Times reported.
“California is taking the most aggressive steps to deal with pollution and the effects of climate change,” he told a roaring crowd at a climate-change conference in California.
As Bloomberg notes, in order to achieve this new target, the state will have to "require utilities to get more electricity from low-pollution sources, compel industries to cut smokestack emissions further and encourage greater numbers of cleaner cars on roads." One likely upshot is that California's efforts are going to impact businesses and utilities in other states, making the Golden State's policy a meaningful factor elsewhere in the country.
With alarming reports about water shortages and the state's warmest-ever winter, Brown has successfully folded the issue of the drought into a broader slate of ambitious environmental reforms. But even as he puts together billion-dollar relief packages and labels climate-change opposition "immoral," he does so without explicitly linking the drought to global warming.
Even though reports from agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have refrained from laying the historic drought at the foot of global warming, Brown has used the general sense of crisis to move ahead on climate-change issues. Brown's efforts are not only affecting California, but the rest of the country as well.
by John Lawrence from the San Diego Free Press
Qualcomm Sucks Up To China
Qualcomm has been fined almost a billion dollars by China for violating its antimonopoly law. China has the world's most internet users and the largest smartphone market so Qualcomm has to tread gingerly with the authorities there since it doesn't want to be booted out of the world's most lucrative market. The fine will knock 58 cents a share off Qualcomm’s earnings for the year. Qualcomm CEO Steven M. Mollenkopf thinks paying the fine will make Qualcomm better positioned to cash in in the future.
This could be another front in the brewing economic conflicts between China and the US. To sweeten the pot Qualcomm has offered China deep discounts on licensing its patents for certain systems and agreed to partner with Chinese companies. But all this could be construed as a bribe in order to get access to the Chinese market.
Since half of Qualcomm’s revenue comes from China, there is a need to be China's "friend" as Chinese internet czar, Lu Wei, pointed out. And that doesn't just mean on Facebook. China has considerable leverage over Qualcomm and a host of other American corporations who are all eager to make money in China. China knows this and is flexing its muscles in an apparent show of economic nationalism.
Although regulation is a bad word in the US, not so in China. China's regulator is the National Development and Reform Commission aka the N.D.R.C. It is getting more aggressive in giving out fines. This could correspond to China's push to develop its own chip market so it won't have to import them from companies like Qualcomm. Since Qualcomm makes most of its money from licensing its patents, the future looks ominous for the San Diego chipmaker. China hasn't always shown the greatest respect for foreign patent holders, and will probably have many patent workarounds up its sleeve.
The Qualcomm Drama: Rich People Fighting Other Rich People Over Who Gets a Bigger Slice of the Money Pie
By now it's conventional wisdom that the ratio between CEO pay and the pay of the average worker has reached astronomical proportions. Huffington Post reports:
The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950, according to data from Bloomberg. Today Fortune 500 CEOs make 204 times regular workers on average, Bloomberg found. The ratio is up from 120-to-1 in 2000, 42-to-1 in 1980 and 20-to-1 in 1950.
“When CEOs switched from asking the question of ‘how much is enough’ to ‘how much can I get,’ investor capital and executive talent started scrapping like hyenas for every morsel,” Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, told Bloomberg.
Scrapping like hyenas for every morsel aptly describes the plight of Qualcomm management and Qualcomm shareholders. In an earlier article I wrote about how retiring CEO Paul Jacobs gave his employees a homework assignment last March: go home and tell your wife and family to tell Congress to give Qualcomm a tax break. It seems that Qualcomm has a lot of money parked offshore which should be obvious since they do most of their business in China. Before they can "repatriate" that money, they have to pay taxes to the US government on it so they lobby Congress for a tax break in order to bring it home tax free or almost tax free.
The so-called tax holiday has been tried once before with CEOs promising to use the money to build new plants and create new jobs in the good ole US of A. It never happened. Instead CEOs used the money to buy back their own stock thereby raising its price. The idea is that this benefits shareholders who can then sell their stock at a higher price and cash in.
However, a new wrinkle has emerged in the stock buyback business. Instead of it raising the price so shareholders can cash in, Qualcomm has figured out a way to raise the price so CEOs can cash in and leave shareholders grasping for thin air. The U-T reported "Instead of duly enriching the shareholders who own Qualcomm, its executives have leveraged dominance of the world’s smartphone technology to enrich themselves."
As the price of Qualcomm's stock went up, the hyenas - meaning outgoing CEO Paul Jacobs and incoming CEO Steven Mollenkopf - figured out a way to channel the increased largesse not into shareholder profit but into executive pay for themselves. Investors holding large blocks of Qualcomm stock like Jana Partners were not amused.
The U-T reported:
As overall executive compensation jumped 180 percent last year, Qualcomm gave special stock grants worth $95 million to just two executives. Paul Jacobs, the co-founder’s son who gave up the CEO job way back in March 2014, got $45 million that vests over five years.
The new CEO, Steve Mollenkopf, received a staggering $50 million over five years. President Derek Aberle received grants worth $26.6 million.
Jana Partners, a hedge fund, was founded in 2001 by Barry Rosenstein. Jana, which manages more than $11 billion, is known for buying stakes in companies and then seeking to work with management as it pushes for change. In other words they are a thorn in Qualcomm's side. They've been pushing to break up Qualcomm into two companies - one being the chip making operation and the other being the patent licensing part.
Qualcomm has a huge target on it from Jana Partners. They want to shake up the company in an effort to make shareholders more money and raise the stock price. Jana has invested about $2 billion in the company so it thinks it has the right to boss it around.
$45 Million for Three Months' Work - Not Bad, Eh?
So Paul Jacobs, failing in his quest for a tax holiday, nevertheless, creatively figured out a way to make $45 million for himself while stiffing Qualcomm shareholders. This was all done by means of stock grants. Qualcomm can grant its executives as many stock shares as it wants to. This means that there are more outstanding shares of stock which dilutes the price per share. So Qualcomm's trick was to buy back some of its stock thereby decreasing the number of outstanding shares and increasing the price per share, and then to turn around and grant stock to those three executives so that the final result was that the exact same number of shares, more or less, were outstanding as there were before this maneuver took place.
The U-T opined "Instead of using buybacks to give owners more of the company over time, Jacobs has effectively recycled shareholder profits into executive pay."
So three hyenas in the form of Jacobs, Mollenkopf and Aberle swiped the money off the table before another hyena in the form of Jana Partners could get to it. Had Jana Partners been successful and gotten to the money first, its rich shareholders could have reaped the profits instead of Qualcomm executives and CEO pay would have decreased. Getting back to the obscene ratio between CEO pay and worker pay, in neither case would workers have benefited even if in this instance CEO pay had diminished. The benefits would have gone to another set of rich hyenas, Jana Partners.
Ironically, workers have no leverage in this scenario whatsoever. Even if executive pay decreases, the only likely beneficiaries are other rich people - shareholders - not workers.
Last week Qualcomm cut its earnings forecast for the second time this year after reporting that its past quarter’s earnings dropped 45 percent from the prior year. Samsung is not going to use its Snapdragon chip this year, but Qualcomm is optimistic. Samsung has invited them to produce their next chip in Samsung's own factory. Like a moth to a flame, Qualcomm will let Samsung oversee its chip making operation. I wonder what could go wrong with that? As other companies rev up their own chip making operations, Qualcomm will not only lose the chip business, but its patents, from which it gets most of its income, will be rendered worthless as Samsung and others devise workarounds to Snapdragon.
China is also revving up its chip making operations which will result in less of a need for Qualcomm's Snapdragons. They are afraid Qualcomm has built in a "back door" which would allow the US to spy on Chinese officials. Maybe Paul Jacobs got out just in time.
by John Lawrence
Green Capitalism: A Contradiction in Terms?
Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, debunks the idea that all we have to do is to cooperate with the extractive industries and urge them to get greener. We do not have to go to extremes, but can phase in renewable sources of energy gradually. The gradualist approach is the essence of green capitalism. This will not work Klein says:
[The] bottom line is ... our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it's not the laws of nature.
The gradualists are the ones that insist that our response to global warming can be painless, that we don't need a "war on carbon", that we can coexist and cooperate with the fossil fuel extractive industries, that we can gradually phase out fossil fuels and phase in renewables in such a way that job creation remains constant in the switchover and ExxonMobil's and Koch Industry's stock values need not plummet.
This is from Politically Fashionable Carbon Gradualism vs. Reality by Michael Hoexter:
The carbon gradualist ideal contained within the idea of carbon pricing as the leading edge of energy transformation is not simply born out of too studious acceptance of neoclassical economics’ worldview but also out of the fantasy of a non-disruptive, non-wrenching transition from a fossil fuel run economy to one that is run entirely on renewable energy and perhaps some as yet undiscovered nuclear energy. Politicians and political actors are not eager to join the fight against the fossil fuel industry as well as confronting our societies’ fossil fuel and “cheap” energy addiction overall. The notion that there must exist a gradual transition away from fossil fuels is preferable to a sharp turning away from them because of the consequence that political leaders would have to stage a bitter fight with fossil fuel interests, and would need to fight to assume, in most cases, complete regulatory control over the fossil fuel industry.
There is no gradual way to change over from fossil fuels to renewables without experiencing the disastrous effects of extreme weather events, droughts, food and water shortages and all the rest. The changeover must be abrupt and disruptive in order to forestall the worse effects of global warming.
It's not going to be easy to get Americans in particular to renounce a way of life that goes back to the founding of the United States at least. As recently as 2007, Americans, when asked to rank their political concerns in order of priority, ranked climate change last. They are more concerned about having good paying jobs which the extractive industries in a steady march of TV ads keep promising if only the American people will get behind them. Additionally, the promise of US energy independence from foreign oil if only we continue fracking, mining and drilling is an enticement that appeals to our sense of patriotism, and one that Americans have only recently started to relish. Now in order to combat global warming, Americans are being asked to give up jobs, energy independence and a whole way of life, really, in order to leave untapped wealth in the ground. Many are not buying it, and the extractive industries are going all out in order to insure that the American people will not buy it.
Climate Change Deniers Not Ready to Give Up on Capitalism
The Heartland Institute is one of the institutions devoted to climate change denial. They fear that what is necessary in the war on carbon that environmentalists are advocating is a back door to socialism. The call for mass transit and high density affordable housing near transit terminals is the antithesis of the free market alternatives they advocate. And forget about subsidizing poor countries in their efforts to create a middle class without polluting the planet in the process.
Conservatives will fight efforts to combat global warming because those efforts presuppose lifestyles that they are ideologically opposed to, namely, lifestyles not dependent on greed as a motivator and competition as an economic stimulus or even a market based economy in which GDP growth is the sine qua non of American government policy. A return to local economies, cooperative endeavors and self-subsistence is a reversal, a regression, if you will, to an economy that existed 100 years ago and gradually disappeared with the urbanization of the middle class.
Heartland regular James Delingpole has said, "Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation." Heartland president Joseph Bast is even more blunt: "Climate change is the perfect thing ... It's the reason we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway." They can't fathom the enormity of abandoning the American way of life in order to pursue what they consider a will-o'-the-wisp because the implications of that reality are just plain unthinkable for them. The network of climate change deniers is fueled by millions of dollars from US billionaires. A February 2013 report in the Guardian revealed that they had donated $120 million to "groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change ... the ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change."
From The Age of Disbelief in National Geographic:
Last fall the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of scientists operating under the auspices of the United Nations, released its fifth report in the past 25 years. This one repeated louder and clearer than ever the consensus of the world’s scientists: The planet’s surface temperature has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 130 years, and human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels, are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century.
Many people in the United States—a far greater percentage than in other countries—retain doubts about that consensus or believe that climate activists are using the threat of global warming to attack the free market and industrial society generally. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most powerful Republican voices on environmental matters, has long declared global warming a hoax.
The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another. It’s very clear, however, that organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.
Some Environmental Organizations Not So Green After All
In the old days (in the 1800s) as many as a million Attwater's prairie chickens made their homes along the Texas and Louisiana coast. But as "progress" ensued and the oil and gas industry took over those areas, Attwater's prairie chickens started to vanish. A major environmental group, The Nature Conservancy, the richest environmental organization in the world, sought to do something about Attwater's poor, endangered prairie chicken.
As luck would have it, in 1995 Mobil Oil announced that it was donating land where the Attwater's chicken nested to The Nature Conservancy (TNC). For all appearances this was a successful cooperative effort between a major oil company and a major environmental group, and hopes for Attwater's chicken ran extremely high. It was going to be a "top priority" to keep them from going extinct.
Then in 1999, The Nature Conservancy did something that was a major disconnect for nature lovers in general and for fans of Attwater's prairie chicken in particular. They commissioned an oil and gas operator to drill a new gas well inside the preserve, the rationale being that with the money so gained from the project, they would be able to do even more good work to save the environment although Attwater's prairie chickens would be given short shrift in the process. They had done the very thing that its supporters and members thought they were there to prevent. They started making money by extracting fossil fuels from the preserve. The spot where they authorized drilling turned out to be very close to where the endangered birds nested.
In 2002 the LA Times exposed the drilling. For traditional conservationists this was a little like finding out that the ACLU had sponsored the building of a new prison complex. "They're exploiting the Attwater's prairie chiken to make money," exclaimed Clait E Braun, a leading expert on prairie chickens. Of course The Nature Conservancy maintained that they could do their drilling without harming in any way the Attwater's chicken. They managed to sound like any other fossil fuel extracting company. While claiming to protect the environment, they ended up exploiting it to make money. Although TNC is a non-profit, that doesn't mean that its management and officers aren't profiting handsomely in terms of their salaries. It just means that at the end of the year, there's no money left over that the government might consider to be profits.
TNC, seeing the error of its ways, announced that they wouldn't do any new drilling, but that did not mean that they wouldn't continue to extract gas and make a profit on the gas well it had already drilled in the Texas nature reserve. To this day they are still doing it even after the story broke that caused considerable outrage much to the detriment of the beleaguered Attwater's prairie chicken.
The Demise of Attwater's Prairie Chicken
And then the unthinkable happened. In November 2012 the Attwater's prairie chicken went extinct. The whole purpose of the Texas City Prairie Preserve was to prevent that from happening, but under TNC's watch it did happen, while they profited from millions of dollars in revenues from drilling and pumping gas and oil. Under TNP stewardship, the largest environmental nongovernmental organization in the world - boasting over one million members, with assets of over $6 billion and operating in 35 countries - had completely wiped out an endangered species. In a strange disconnect from reality, TNC's website continues to boast that the "land management techniques the conservancy utilizes at the preserve are best practices that we export to other preserves." All I can say is God help the other preserves.
The denouement of this whole situation is that the environmental movement has failed catastrophically to battle the interests behind soaring carbon emissions. Instead they have become part and parcel of them. And TNC is not the only one to have formed such partnerships. Conservation International and the Conservation Fund have received donations from Shell and BP. The World Wildlife Fund has a long relationship with Shell as does the World Resources Institute. Conservation International also has partnerships with Walmart, Monsanto, BHP Billiton (a major extractor of coal), Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and McDonald's.
Not only that but some of these major conservation groups have invested in coal, gas and oil companies further entangling themselves and doing business with the major corporations responsible for the global warming crisis. As many of their supporters have recently found out, the organizations they thought were fighting the polluters are instead in bed with them, and I'm sure their executives, managers and officers are making out very well pretending to help the environment while profiting handsomely behind the mask of a non-profit organization.
There are other organizations, however, like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which never took a donation from an oil or gas company and who never invested in one. They have track records of going head-to-head with Big Oil and Coal. Rainforest Action Network has been at the forefront of the international campaign against Chevron for the disaster left behind after the profits had been extracted from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Food & Water Watch has helped to get big victories against the fracking industry. 350.org launched the fossil fuel divestment movement, and has been at the forefront of the national mobilization against the Keystone pipeline.
All this is to say that "market-based" solutions to the global warming crisis have done nothing more than to aid and abet the fossil fuel industry itself. The continual purring in TV ads about how "green" the oil and gas industry has become and how many jobs they've created and will create is doing less than nothing to combat global warming. In fact they're helping to perpetuate it. As Naomi Klein says, "[Large foundations and green organizations] succeeded in taking what began as a straightforward debate about shifting away from fossil fuels and put it through a jargon generator so convoluted that the entire climate issue came to seem too complex and arcane for nonexperts to understand, seriously undercutting the potential to build a mass movement capable of taking on powerful polluters."
In other words the powerful coal, gas and fracking industries, fossil fuel extractors all, have succeeded in buying off many but not all organizations claiming to be protecting the environment. They have become in cahoots with those whose activities are increasing global warming and the climate change situation so that well meaning people who want to do something to help negate global warming are confused into thinking they are helping the movement when in fact they are working against it. In short what is required is intervention in the market mechanism not how to develop complex financial mechanisms to help the market fix the problem.
Large fossil fuel extractors will continue to suggest a gradualist approach to the amelioration of global warming. Basically they are trying to slow down the movement to replace fossil fuels with renewables because their profit margins depend on the continued use of fossil fuels. They will co-opt as many conservation organizations as they can and schmooze viewing audiences with their TV ads in which they portray themselves as concerned good guys who are only trying to help. Their approach is completely self serving, however, and will do little if anything to change the dynamics of increasing greenhouse gases. What is required instead is a repudiation of the fossil fuel industries and a realization that market approaches will not work. Increasing GDP at all costs will only make climate remediation a secondary concern. This will not be sufficient to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees C which is the limit beyond which human civilization will be severely challenged.
In a great article by that name Richard Smith summarizes the situation succinctly:
As soaring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drove global CO2 concentrations past 400 parts per million in May 2013, shell-shocked climate scientists warned that unless we urgently adopt "radical" measures to suppress GHG emissions (50 percent cuts in emissions by 2020, 90 percent by 2050) we're headed for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius before the end of the century. Four degrees might not seem like much, but make no mistake: Such an increase will be catastrophic for our species and most others. Humans have never experienced a rise of 4 degrees in average temperatures.
But our ancestors experienced a four-degree cooler world. That was during the last ice age, the Wisconsin Stage (26,000 to 13,300 years ago). At that time, there were two miles of ice on top of where I'm sitting right now in New York City. In a four-degree warmer world "Heat waves of undreamt-of-ferocity will scorch the Earth's surface as the climate becomes hotter than anything humans have ever experienced. ... There will be "no ice at either pole." "Global warming of this magnitude would leave the whole planet without ice for the first time in nearly 40 million years." Sea levels will rise 25 meters - submerging Florida, Bangladesh, New York, Washington DC, London, Shanghai, the coastlines and cities where nearly half the world's people presently live.
Freshwater aquifiers will dry up; snow caps and glaciers will evaporate - and with them, the rivers that feed the billions of Asia, South America and California. The "wholesale destruction of ecosystems" will bring on the collapse of agriculture around much of the world. "Russia's harsh cold will be a distant memory" as "temperatures in Europe will resemble the Middle East. ... The Sahara will have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and be working its way north into the heart of Spain and Portugal. ... With food supplies crashing, humanity's grip on its future will become ever more tentative." Yet long before the temperature increase hits four degrees, the melting will have begun thawing the permafrost of the Arctic, releasing vast quantities of methane buried under the Arctic seas and the Siberian and North American tundra, accelerating GHG concentrations beyond any human power to stop runaway warming and sealing our fate as a species.
Smith goes on to say that most climate scientists and activists have not come to terms with the implications of what must be done to prevent a catastrophic rise in Earth's temperatures. It would mean a contraction in economic activity, a lowering of GDP, for the entire world. It would mean huge job cuts in advanced economies.
CEOs and corporate boards are not beholden to society; they are beholden to the bottom line. Profits are their be all and end all even if it means the ending of all the earth. They are interested in the short term not the long term. Wall Street demands it. No corporation will give up its competitive advantage in the market place for the sake of saving the earth.
Smith states: "I claim that profit-maximization is an iron rule of capitalism, a rule that trumps all else, and this sets the limits to ecological reform - not the other way around, as green capitalism theorists had supposed."
But then is socialism or communism any better? China, despite being an allegedly communist nation, has as much of a growth imperative as the capitalist west. The world's largest gas and oil corporation - even larger than ExxonMobil - is the China National Petroleum Corporation with 1,668,072 employees. In fact the world's largest corporations in terms of employment are oil and gas corporations and gas guzzling automobile manufacturers.
Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Saudi Aramco and Volkswagon are in the top ten of the world's largest employers. The top twenty includes Total, Toyota, Chevron and Phillips 66. These are all oil and gas corporations or automobile manufacturers. The top 30 includes four more oil and gas corporations and three more automotive corporations.
The world economic situation is fragile enough without causing a major disruption and depression that global warming mitigation would entail. Any cutbacks we have to make to save the human species in the decades and centuries to come can come only at the expense of massive layoffs for the humans in the here and now. As is almost certain, given the choice, humans will not sacrifice the quality of their present lives in order to preserve the quality of life for unborn generations. They will not give up a definite in the present tense to support an indefinite in the vague distant future.
As Smith contends, "Given capitalism, they have little choice but to focus on the short term, to prioritize saving their jobs in the here and now to feed their kids today - and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow."
by John Lawrence
On Thursday April 16, there was a panel discussion at San Diego State with the title: Crisis in American Democracy: Answers Beyond the Two Party System. There were three people on the panel representing three political parties. The Socialist Equality Party was represented by Mr. John Burton. Dr. Matt Zwolinski spoke for the Libertarians, and the Green Party was represented by Dr. Ellen Brown.
The promo said: "The content of the event will be a debate about their solutions to the problems facing American Democracy today." The event allowed 15 minutes per person for initial discussion. After the initial discussion, the event was open for public comment and questions. Then there was time for closing statements and rebuttals from each speaker.
After the initial introductions, Dr. Matt Zwolinski spoke first. A political philosopher by trade, he pointed out that he was not a member of the Libertarian party. His stated goal was a search for truth. Libertarianism is a model, in my opinion, far removed from the real world. Some of its goals are noble such as anti-war. Some of them are shared by most other enlightened parties and some are unrealistic. Libertarianism is a philosophy about what the state should and should not do. It shouldn't manage the economy. Government should play the minimal role of keeping peace. It should not control what people drink, smoke or who they have sex with. This most parties would agree with in principal at least. We should be free to live our lives however we see fit as long as we honor the rights of other people to do the same. Libertarians are champions of the free market as if one really exists or ever really existed in the world.
Well, who isn't against war? The problem is this is a doctrinaire position. Some wars are necessary, for instance, the Second World War. Should Hitler have been allowed to take over Europe and kill all the Jews? Decidedly not. However, other wars are unnecessary, for instance, George W Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which destabilized the whole Middle East and led to immense misery for many in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Ultimately Bush's wars have their legacy in the rise of ISIS today which is inflicting even more misery.
Zwolinski said "Free markets are something to be aspired to, not as conservatives maintain a lost treasure of our utopian past". He even maintained that class struggle was necessary to create and maintain free markets. That was quite a stretch as far as I'm concerned. It's one thing to aspire to a world in which nobody is ill housed, ill clothed or ill fed. Quite another to make the free market your dominant goal.
Libertarianism is basically a model of a perfect world, one in which, even if it could be attained, says nothing about providing for those who cannot provide for themselves. It's a cold model devoid of sympathy or empathy for anyone incapable of playing the free market competitive game, one in which the inevitable winners will hold economic sway over those who are ill equipped to play in the big leagues. He closed with the rallying cry: "Workers of the World Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains."
Next up was Ellen Brown, champion of the public banking movement although in the role primarily of speaking for the Green Party on whose platform she ran for State Treasurer in the last election. She noted that our winner take all political system makes it virtually impossible for third parties to win especially in light of the fact that it takes big money to participate in the political process today. In Europe, where they have proportional representation, it is possible for third and fourth parties to gain seats in national legislatures. The American Constitution, methinks, needs an upgrade particularly in view of the political gridlock which it manifests today.
Ellen maintained: "The American system is not a democracy but a plutocracy." It doesn't respond to the will of the people but to the will of those with big money. In Greece and Spain third parties came out of nowhere to win in the polls and elect a third party President. But here in the US, if you can't afford TV ads, there is no way to get elected even at the state level. However, she got 6.6% of the vote and this opened some doors for her. She has had some meetings with the State Treasurer so that's an opening for her pet project of establishing public banks at the state, municipal and district level.
According to Ellen Brown, there is hope for electing third party candidates on the local level. Richmond actually elected a Green mayor, Gayle McLaughlin. Chevron, the largest corporation in Richmond, used their Big Money to fight her election all the way, but to no avail. In her time as Mayor she got a very sizable tax settlement from Chevron. She has also gone up against the Big Banks with her plan for refinancing underwater mortgages in the city. She can do the will of the people by going up against big corporate interests because the Greens don't take any money from them.
Big money is in control of government so how are you going to get the laws changed to get money out of politics? In 2008 Goldman Sachs was a major contributor to the Obama campaign. In 2012 they switched to Romney and were a major contributor to his campaign. Other major contributors to Presidential campaigns were mostly billionaires including local billionaire Irwin Jacobs who contributed to Obama.
Ellen asserted that we have delegated the power to create money to the privately owned banks. Money creation is a function assigned to Congress by the Constitution and should be a government function, not a function of Wall Street. Banks create the money supply so they have the power to control the political system. The Federal Reserve is privately owned by the Big Banks so its policies bailed out the privately owned Wall Street banks, but have not benefited the people. Wall Street got bailed out; Main Street got sold out. If we take back the power to create money, we could do things like infrastructure development and student loans at reasonable rates.
The Bank of North Dakota, the only public bank in the US, survived the Great Recession because it has the power to create its own money which it loans out to students and local enterprises at low interest. If cities did the same thing, they could use revenue deposits for the benefit of the local economy instead of for the benefit of Wall Street bankers. The current US society is debt based in the sense that economic activity is fueled by private debt: student loan debt, mortgage debt, automobile loan debt, credit card debt. Public banking means that economic development need not be fueled by debt creation.
For more on public banking which has been extensively covered by the San Diego Free Press click here.
My first impression of John Burton was that of an old line Marxist: Workers of the World Unite. You Have nothing to lose but your Chains. At first I thought this is a tired old slogan. Does it have any relevance in today's world? Then I thought: Yes it does. Most of the jobs in today's economy are service jobs - fast food workers, retail workers. McDonald's and Wal-Mart are two of the largest employers in the US and in fact in the world. All those workers are working in menial, minimum wage jobs which hardly pay the bills. Most of them are on some kind of Federal or state assistance as well.
Walmart had 2.1 million employees as of 2012, third largest in the world after the US Defense Department and China's People's Liberation Army. By 2013 Walmart was number 1 with 2.2 million employees spread all around the globe. Yum Brands, parent corporation of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, was number 2 in the US with McDonald's third. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that those occupations with the most job growth in the next decade will be those that don't require a college education. Such jobs as personal care aids, nursing assistants, janitors, food preparation/servers and retail salespersons are high on the list.
After disparaging the charges against the Atlanta teachers caught up in a cheating scandal, Mr. Burton went on to say that the real criminals are the financial parasites who have manipulated the market creating phony mortgage bundles that crashed the market in 2008. Those criminals have never spent a day in jail and the government bailed out their wealth while the American people have not been bailed out. How could justice be so skewed? Where is this coming from? His party has a theory and concept about this: fundamental Marxism. Their position is not about reform, not about ideas. Thy think that the problems originate in the very foundations of society.
They reject the libertarian position because it's impossible to live autonomously in the modern world. You have to interact with society in order to eat. How are you going to get your housing? We exist in incredibly complex relationships. Political parties are the expression of these relationships in society. That's their starting point. These complex relationships are precisely why it would be inadvisable if not impossible, contrary to Burton's position, to bring the whole house crashing down and start all over again from scratch. It's been tried before with negative results, and in a national security state like the US, it is not likely to get very far.
What Burton's party wants to do is to understand and articulate the position of the vast majority of people, the working class, those who live from paycheck to paycheck as opposed to the capitalist class which lives on the return on investment (ROI) which comes from ownership of the means of production. They are against private ownership of the means of production.
Socialists are for government ownership of the "commanding heights" of the economy - such things as energy, telecommunications and the highest of all - banking. This is the commonality with Ellen Brown's position. Another possibility is a more democratic distribution of the ownership of wealth as opposed to the Marxist position that all wealth should be owned collectively by the society with all the participants in that society being workers. Thomas Piketty in his book Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century pointed out the unequal distribution of wealth in the world today. If private ownership of wealth were more equally distributed, there would be no need for government to own all the wealth.
Ownership of telecommunications by the government creates freedom of speech and mass propaganda problems so I don't think that would work in the US. Our political liberties, such as they are, are important. Government ownership of the distribution of electricity, however, might be a good idea since it is a part of the national infrastructure just as interstate highways are. The energy infrastructure needs to be integrated nation wide in a super grid, particularly if we are to replace fossil fuels with renewables.
There was a lively presentation of ideas from three different viewpoints followed by a lively Q&A session after the three speakers gave their initial talks. All in all a productive two hours with some interesting questions from the audience. It was an exercise in free speech which is what colleges should be all about. Thank you San Diego State.
John Coltrane: One Down, One Up
Monk and Coltrane: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
Best album of 2005 (*****)
Doug Ramsey: Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
This is a great book! Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck formed the heart of one of the best all time jazz groups. Paul was the quintessential intellectual, white jazz musician. A talented writer, he never published anything. However author, Doug Ramsey has collected Paul's letters here. How ironic that now his writing in the form of letters to his father and ex-wife, among others, is finally published showing another window on the mind of this talented person. A sideman, for the most part, his entire life, the Dave Brubeck Quartet might never have happened at all due to the fact that Paul had managed to offend Dave to the point where he never wanted to see him again. It had to do with a gig that Paul actually was the leader of. Paul wanted to take the summer off to play another gig, and Dave wanted Paul to let him take over the gig at the Band Box in Palo Alto, CA. Paul wouldn't let him and Dave, married with two children, proceeded to starve. Due to an elaborate publicity campaign, when he realized the error of his ways, Paul managed to worm himself back into Dave's good graces. The rest is history. This book is remarkable for the insight it gives into a working jazz musician's mind, wonderful pictures and interviews with the significant figures in Paul's life. Author Ramsey, not a remarkable penman himself, has nevertheless done a magnificent job of assembling all these various materials. Unlike a lot of jazz authors, he doesn't overly idolize his subject with the result that you get the feeling that you have met a real person and not a idealized version. That's high praise indeed for any biographer. (*****)