Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TAKING STOCK - December 30, 2010

As we come to the end of the first decade of the XXI Century, it is time to see where we have come in recent time and to compare it to the accomplishments of the preceding 50 years. The comparison should be humbling, and to indicate where we have failed in building the world to be occupied by our children and grandchildren. 50 years ago we had just barely seen the first of the Sabin vaccine, hard on the heels of the Salk, and the trip to the moon was still sci-fi. Indeed, the Sputnik launch was still wet behind its ears, having appeared from seemingly nowhere to shake the hubristic dream of American scientific dominance. But these triumphs were small compared with the results that were to follow in the half century that marked US superiority in science, in culture, in industrial engineering and in many cultural and educational areas. US measured things in dollars, so the polio vaccines actually lost GDP in lowering the costs expended in the fear, cost and danger of the plague, which far outweighed the relatively trivial expenditure on the vaccine itself. Today we do not value in dollars any of the benefits of clean air and water, or of the vast blooming of graduate education here. The benefits we see in the science of the XXI Century are most evident on the wonderful mobile telephones and computer games, many of which feature simulated extermination. Lo, how the mighty have fallen. The major benefit we have from the abandonment of the effort to build the civilization is a modest reduction in taxes and a shrinking in our expectation for the lives of our descendants and a huge blooming in the prizes swept up by the members of the proprietor classes for nearly no accomplishment on their parts. The kept press keep telling us that we are much richer. Well, not richer in hope and certainly not in expectation. As long as we continue to follow that siren song, we will show the weakness in democracy, wherein the blandishments of the sirens of the rich make us all a lot poorer, through the seduction of the naïve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SECRETS - December 23, 2010

When I took a course in Constitutional Law, the discussion spent some time on the Jeffersonian view that the First Amendment to the Constitution was a prevention against secretive government and was the basic guarantee of freedom in a democracy. In the period just after the American Revolution, all the empires of Europe subsisted on the secrets of the royal houses and their hereditary power centers, even the British, which was the least bad of the lot. To the extent possible, it spoke to a world in which there were no governmental secrets, so that the People could know what and whom they were actually voting for. Of course, there would always be secrets, but these would have to be limited to things held close to the vest by a few people, and not be the recognized legal property of the ruling forces. At the same time, the Fourth Amendment guaranteed the right of the People to be secure in their persons, papers, houses and effects. A corollary of this statement is that personal secrets could only be penetrated by officials when a legal order attested to specific knowledge recognized by due process requiring certain officers to penetrate the Amendment’s shield of private life. In today’s world, these two conflicting injunctions have been stood upon their heads. The government spies on the People, as by telephone taps, whenever it wants to, and the intrusion of individuals into knowledge labeled sacrosanct by the simple stamp of SECRET is promoted to a crime, even up to the constitutionally defined offense of treason. In Britain, the Thatcher government prosecuted Clive Pontyng for violation of the Official Secrets Act for revealing that Thatcher had lied to Parliament in the matter of the sinking of the Argentine battleship Belgrano during the Falklands War. A British judge was willing to direct a verdict of guilty, but that was too much even for Thatcher. The jury gave the judge a lesson in due process by acquitting the truth-teller. It is a lesson that the US public no longer cares about, if we ever did.

DEBT, AGAIN - December 16, 2010

There is a peculiarity about many peoples and debt. One gets the feeling, in the debates on it in DC, that US do not think about debt as a burden commanding the debtor to take the measures necessary to discharge it, like undertaking the sacrifices to collect the assets to attend to it. Rather, the response is rather like debt being an alternative to paying. We who see the way our college students deal with the credit cards that have been sold to them every September understand that reality, as do the banks that irresponsibly handed out the cards in the hope of attracting interest-bearing balances. And the press accounts about the many who think that making the minimum payment each month is all that they need do sustain that same attitude. Endless preaching about the mountainous interest seems to wash off their backs. Eventually we hear about parents being threatened with permanent blacklisting of their irresponsible children and forced to pay the usurers their ransom. The same casual bearing of debt manifests itself in the debate over the deficit, in which the Class War is reflected by groups seeking to load the problem onto others than their members. On the one hand, we see demands for austerity, which amount to meeting the shortfall by slighting the civic programs by which the poor are able to evade the most horrendous consequences of their condition, as well as the demands that the bulk of the costs should be borne by the members of the class whose members seem to have profited so fully by fleecing those who have been seduced into thinking that they can expect to eat their cake and have it too. If we expect to be able to borrow, it is necessary that our prospective creditors see that those who have the means to pay it off will in fact be tapped to do so. Otherwise, we will more likely slough off the sacrifice onto the weak and powerless, whose suffering is already beyond the limits of toleration, and those who claim to lead those people had better figure out how they will put the onus where it belongs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

FILIBUSTER - December 9, 2010

Now that Obama has dishonored his pledge and given in to the conservative agenda on taxes, the fight is yet far from over. At least one senator has pledged to prevent the deal until the middle class gets its tax cut back. And that senator is not subject to Obama’s dictum, since he is openly a Socialist and has pledged to use his senatorial privilege to prevent the renewal of the tax swindle for the richest 2% of the country, those who have overwhelmingly profited by the larceny of the Cheney raid on the Treasury. Further, we can hope that other principled senators, like our Feingold and possibly Schumer and others, will stand alongside and not leave this kind of obstructionism as a tool of solely the GOP and the renegade Dems. It would be interesting to see whether Obama will turn all the force of his strategic sense against the principled faction of the Senate, having not fought for the establishment of his own oath. I have seen this movie before, it seems. In UK, Gordon Brown joined with Tony Blair to eviscerate what used to be called the Labour Party, and this May many of those who have always voted Labour discovered that they had plenty to do rather than travel to the polls to vote for those that had betrayed them. The result was that they got an even worse captain for their Government, just as US did when they found that their only champion was Gore, and later Kerry. I predict that if Obama’s surrender stands, the horrors of US in the next few years will have him ejected from the WH even though standing by his pledge might have proven unpopular also. Many who neglected to vote for his ostensible cause this year would surely fail to run out to vote for the lesser evil and he would share in 2 years the fate of Gordon Brown, making us all the losers for his lack of integrity. I wonder whether he would fight fairly with Sen. Sanders or have the gall to attack him as a Red. The abandonment of decency makes strange bedfellows.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

STRATEGY - December 2, 2010

I have been wavering these past few weeks between the positions that Obama is a fool and the equally unpleasant conclusion is that he has deceived all of us who cheered for him in 08, taking us for the asses we might well be. There remains a third option, one that is hard to believe but at least offers a ray of hope. It is manifest to me that his best strategy for dealing with the GOP is to let the tax giveaway expire and then move the reduction for the working and middle classes before taking up anything for the millionaires who profited so thoroughly from the Bush-Cheney raid on the Treasury. If the GOP are so stupid as to take the bait, then he has the text for his counter-attack on their abuse of the general population. I don’t think he can count on the GOP doing that, but if they do not, he will have what he promised us in 08, and re-election to boot. On the other hand, if they fail to vote the middle-class tax relief, we will at least be free of their pretense to represent the little people. But he is showing every indication of preparing to extend the raid on the Treasury and sticking the vast public with the bill for his cowardice. He seems to want to yield on the issue of doing what the GOP demands, even though he has the upper hand strategically. Or else his dithering is merely further posturing to lure them into his trap. That seems too hard to believe, but he may be a better tactician than I have given him credit for. On the other hand, my left wing friends might be right when they declare that he is owned by the bankers who financed his presidential campaign and is merely stalling until he can manage to give them what they want. We all know he has given them more already than they seem to realize, and he might even believe in the Gospel according to Larry Sommers and the neoliberal financiers. I must admit that I cannot really believe he is fooling them, but maybe it is easier for him to fool me, which is not so hard to do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SACRIFICE - November 25, 2010

I am getting heartily sick of listening to the paid lobbyists and their hirelings claiming that the various plans being put forward by the representatives of the proprietor class to the effect that we all have to sacrifice. At the worst, this supposed equality of sacrifice does not apply to special provisions protecting the rich and powerful, who get special provisions for themselves in the tax laws. Only slightly less onerous are the provisions, like increases in per capita taxes or per vehicle taxes or tuition charges for the children. Even flat taxes like consumption taxes fall far harder on the poor than on the rich. And the provision that e.g. income taxes on hedge funds are lower than on genuinely earned income, are especially onerous. But even the supposedly progressive taxes are far from the category of equal sacrifice. How much must you take from a billionaire, or even a mere millionaire before it matches the suffering of a worker who has been unemployed for over 2 years, and no end in sight, and has perhaps lost his home, maybe his marriage or his mental health, or possibly even his life, while the President tells him he must bear the losses stoically until the Depression cures itself? Or the stockholder who maintains a fictitious identity and foreign address where his dividends are paid? The charade in that case is especially onerous, as it deprives other people of the opportunity to rid themselves of their deficits accrued over decades of under-taxation that have enabled those debts to be accumulated? The bulk of the US government has been bent in the direction of holding the tax man away from “bothering” the rich while they have raided the Treasury for decades. As Anatole France once famously noted, the law in its supposed equality forbids both rich and poor from stealing bread, begging in the streets and sleeping under the bridges at night. That is the kind of equality of sacrifice that GOP is urging upon us as a substitute for restorative justice.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

COLLEGE - November 18, 2010

In this week’s news, we see the fallout from the program of the Tories in UK to increase the tuition charges in their universities. The students have been protesting all over the kingdom. For many this will inevitably mean their being unable to afford college so long as the Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, remain in power. That could easily last as long as 5 years or even more and for many of the youngsters that will result in a new lost generation, considering how hard it is to pick up the academic mantle after pursuing the exigencies of adult life for a stretch of years. For some of the students, this denial of the chance for a middle-class life is a destruction of the dreams toward which they have worked all their young lives and they are very angry. Some have yielded to that anger to the point where their decorous UK training gives way before the enormity of that vile denial, and they express their rage in breaking things of value to the proprietor class. In response, the representatives of that class, notably those such as the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, who have been raised in the entitled surroundings of Britain’s rich, want to know why they have to break things. They want the demonstrators to carry out their protest in a decorous way where, just incidentally, the rich can safely pay no heed to it, without suffering any loss of any kind. Here in US, Obama announces that there is nothing the jobless can do about it but sit quietly in the corner waiting for the current Depression to cure itself and go away, with the fallout so far being only that so many of the working class make their protest by failing to go to the polls to vote for the Democrats, despite the fact that the GOP are even worse. When things get bad for longer, as they surely will, there will be disorderly protests, like those we see in France. The anger of the jobless, the resulting homeless, the dreamless and the hopeless may get out of order and turn ugly here also.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NEXT - Thursday, November 4, 2010

As we move to pick up the pieces of the 2010 election, we must look at the situation more closely. Mr. Obama seems to remain the sole impediment to a restoration of the Bush policies, but that is too gloomy. He still has the vetoes and will have the votes to sustain them. Of course, if he remains wedded to his fantasy of making peace with the professional GOP by sweet-talking them, he will be left in the same pickle when he comes again to the electorate in 2012. Of course, he can pick up the standard he has let fall these past 2 years, in which case he would have a fight on his hands, which conflicts with his fantasy. Or he can succumb to McConnell’s program of disarming the troops in his left wing, which so many have said accords with his genuine middling strategy. In that case, he will follow Hoover into the history books as diddling while the economy of the US crumbles, and the second Great Depression afflicts the world for most of the rest of our lives. I do believe there is a Cause here worthy of fighting for, even if the outlook is as dismal as McConnell hopes it is. Democracy has always carried the risk that the People will be taken in by charlatans, which Plato thought was a disabling weakness, but Churchill accurately observed that its danger was less than for any other method of government. Perhaps its greatest benefit might be that as long as voting matters, the People can effect a revolution at the ballot box, regardless of the power of propaganda, without having to pick up their rifles. Stranger things have happened, even in regimes that seemed immune to that kind of democratic intervention. In the meantime, it will be a long and difficult period while the People struggle to find their way back to the dream that we called the Enlightenment, with the burden falling hardest on those least able to bear it, many of whom will have joined with others in bringing about their troubles.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DEBT - October 29, 2010

The present brouhaha about debt makes me think about what happens when you switch one kind of debt for another. In this case we are being urged to exchange a naïve debt for a subtle one: the debt inherent in prolonging the maintenance and repair of a valuable asset, like a house, car or bridge. An extreme example is the neglect of the condition of the I 90 bridge in Minneapolis, whose cost in lives, wounds and money far exceeds the cost that would have been involved in repairing it as soon as its failings were uncovered. A less obvious example would be the slacking of the educational effort in the early 1950s, until the launch of Sputnik occasioned a crash effort to beat the USSR to the Moon. Even subtler is the increasing loss involved in slipping from the top of the table of countries’ elementary education to nearly the bottom of industrial nations (in spite of the oft-repeated canard that we are the best in the world). That rot has now reached the high schools and is nibbling at undergraduate universities. A similar invisible debt is found in delayed repairing of roads, hospitals, water and sewage facilities, and other essential civic services. Waiting until the neglect reaches crisis levels, as in the water supply system in London or the potholes in Madison often means urgent repair, in a short time and at an advanced cost. As real estate and automotive dealers know, such urgent repairs come at frequently at many times the cost of doing them when there is time to plan and negotiate. The cost of neglecting maintenance and repair needs are often many times the costs of interest upon debt to fix them properly, when the needs of those repairs are driven by urgency, although the costs of negligence are overlooked in what is seen as a temporary gain. That is true of the austerity budgets in education, health, fire, police, water, sanitation and other civic needs in UK today and in the crisis budgets that the GOP want to impose upon us all in the coming years.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ADVERTISEMENTS - October 21, 2010

As we look upon the use that is being made of the recent decisions by the Supreme Court in the matter of political advertising by moneyed interests, we come to understand the potential of those decisions in licensing of purchasing elections by unaccountable forces. It is possible to place such an ad, even replete with false accusations, without their being traced to any source. It is not even clear that the medium involved can refuse to air the ad without risking suit for violating 1st Amendment rights. If an agent were willing to act for the advertiser, the harm of false accusations would not be fully answerable, especially in the late days before the election. Such a situation might actually apply today in the matter of foreign advertisers and the Chamber of Commerce. They have the foreign funds, and they have been inserting their ads in advancement of some candidacies and against others. They assert that none of the foreign money is involved in the payment for them, but we have only their unsupported word for that. They are not obliged to account for how they spend their money and they, or their cohorts, have voiced their constitutional right to say whatever they please without any obligation to be free of inquiry into the funding of the assertions they might put forth. And since those assertions might be in violation of the laws concerning foreign funding of political advertisements, they might also be protected by the 5th Amendment from having to make any such accounting. The laws on libel and fraud are hard to enforce, and the outcome would be after the election, as they were in the case of the Swiftboat lies against Sen. Kerry in 2004. The only defense against such abuses must be to assume that there is no compulsion to speak the truth, and that any rogue can say anything in the U. S. under the law as seen in the Supreme Court under the present leadership. It is a bitter pill for the People and our Democracy.We should have known this even before. No advertisement is fit for belief.

Monday, October 18, 2010

TRANSFER - October 14, 2010

There is a concept I will call transfer that applies to school boards, legislatures, and other bodies, and does not seem to be commented on. A legislature appropriates a given amount to a school, and the school board must make it work. If not, it is ranked as the failure of the board. The easy way out for the board is to enact a budget that meets the appropriation, or they have failed. In running for election, a candidate may promise that he will make it fit. But the choice does not lie with the board. In theory, they can simply fail to enact the budget, assigning the loss to the legislature. But that rarely happens, if at all. The same applies to all institutions, whether schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, or others. The choice of making an unpopular assignment might be likened by giving an agent an amount of money that is insufficient to meet the price of a social need, and then blaming the agent for being unable to buy it. But in a democracy, the agent has the choice of claiming that he can do it, when he is seeking election, and then substituting an inferior object after being elected. The fact that the electorate continues to return the agent to office shows that they do not take democracy seriously, or that the voters do not really care. It is not really a lie, on the part of the agent. The present decline in almost all public services must be attributed to the acceptance of the inferior performance by the agents and the voters. Public careers are not advanced by agents resigning when the appropriations are insufficient. Instead, the people’s representatives fight over the blame for the inferior performance, never putting the onus on those who can be easily persuaded to accept it and making do. It is said that a strike accomplishes nothing, but when the result, as in a garbage collectors’ stoppage, can be made to hurt those with the power to change things, if they will pay the cost, it often yields results where the alternative is just a lot of blaming for an unacceptable outcome.

Friday, October 8, 2010

CERTAINTY - October 7, 2010

In the matter of teacher competence, it is upsetting to see how partial is the evidence on which important people rely, and the ease with which they take devastating action in the absence of what we would ordinarily think of as due process. This applies not only to almost every school administrator, but even infects the thinking of the President. There are tests that are taken to be fully indicative of understanding. Some of these apply to difficult subjects like geometry and Physics, to name the outstanding failures of testing in US high schools. But even in subjects where there is less certainty about deep motivational understanding, the failure of these tests to be more than an educated guess of the test-takers knowledge is well known. There is a wide gap in the depth to which the tests probe understanding. Yet the schools, and the local, state and even federal governments will take on this shabby thinking to inflict permanent joblessness on those who do not come up to the standards of the administrators. If the roles were reversed, and teachers’ union officers could remove administrators on their own very partial beliefs, we would all recognize the injustice inherent in the situation. It is as though being hired in the supervisory role invests them with the ability to say definitively what is true. Teachers’ unions do not require categorical certainty in matters of competence, but do require the application of due process in such cases. When the sloth of the accusers does not allow them such a degree of certainty, they demand the power to take final action on just their own opinions or, worse, on the beliefs of their advisors. Such practices take away from teachers one of the pillars of their belief in the justice of their profession. The school administrators and boards that act without due process always want the power to act on just their guesses, often wrong, about who is doing a good job. Where will they find the substitutes for those they discharge so casually? Would the administrators survive the application of similar standards on their own work?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

LAST CHANCE - September 23, 2010

The key to the coming election, if there is one at all, is that this is the last chance for the populace to avoid the devastating consequence that would attend a GOP control of the US Congress. While I fully agree with the dismay of the People over the leadership of the Dem Party offered in this time of desperate crisis by Barack Obama, the imposition of the consequences upon the People of that failure of the Enlightenment’s ability to foresee and manage the affairs of the nation would be ruinous not only for the next 2 years, but for however long it would require to resuscitate the economy after that. We have seen how hard it has been to make any improvements after the catastrophic Bush-Cheney regime, and the legacy imposed upon us in the form of the manic Supreme Court will only grow worse. The People can punish Obama for failing to remedy things quickly without their support, but it is we, not he, that will bear the burden of joblessness, homelessness, and despair if we put things back into their hands. The starkness of that choice must be made clear to them right now. Another month of nursing our disappointment and annoyance will fall, unfortunately, on those seeking revenge for the slowness of response that seems to have eluded Mr. Obama’s dream of securing consensus for the methods of recovery that match his bipartisan hopes. Unfortunately, little people like me have no means to stand against the power that the SC has conferred on the wealth of the plutocracy to deliver the mechanisms of persuasion to a somnolent populace. The only voice loud enough to be heard, not to say credited, is that of Obama, not only President, but also said to be the leader of the Dem Party. It is we, the People, who will bear the true costs of having our precious Economy degenerate into a peculiar form of plutocratic servitude if it falls into the half-witted control of the unthinking mob that is the Tea Party. It is now over 2 millennia since Plato, and his ghost of the future is facing us today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TRUMPET - Thursday, September 16, 2010

It is possible that Obama has issued forth the trumpet that will never call retreat, though in any case, it is an uncertain trumpet, and late at that. In any case, there is the hope that it will not be like W’s trumpets. That one was full of promise after promise and those were all that we were offered, while his owners in the proprietor class were satisfied aplenty, due to the ministrations of Cheney. Still, it was a lesson in how easily the US people could be satisfied by talk, if it seemed full enough. But if one is going to play very hard ball, there are positions that Obama has the power to take and which would confirm his alleged concern with the vast majority of the people at the center of the income pyramid.It has been abundantly obvious from Election Day 08 that the GOP strategy was one of total obstruction, aimed at delivering a record of uselessness for the Dems. And once that was seen, the strategy of seeking to seduce them with sweetness and compromise was as dead as it could be. If the Dems could not be rallied to confront venom with anger, then that has given us the impasse we confront today. And if they will not take advantage of the fact that they have a lot of power left, in both the veto and the power of appointment, then they become the owners of the impotent mess that half-measures and failed compromise cannot cure. If that is their destiny, then it is possible to commit themselves to battle, sound the trumpet and let slip the dogs of war, to mix the metaphor. It is better to go down fighting for a worthy cause than to allow the hirelings of the plutocracy to bring a decent offer of participation to degenerate into a policy that will allow one’s self to be nibbled into impotence. There are still troops ready to fight the good fight, if one can believe the leader’s devotion. But the promise of compromise has proven to be a door to failure in this case, and we should not see Obama beaten by relying on a dream of decency from GOP.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

TRUMPET - September 9, 2010

It is possible that Obama has issued forth the trumpet that will never call retreat, though in any case, it is an uncertain trumpet, and late at that. In any case, there is the hope that it will not be like W’s trumpets. That one was full of promise after promise and those were all that we were offered, while his owners in the proprietor class were satisfied aplenty, due to the ministrations of Cheney. Still, it was a lesson in how easily the US people could be satisfied by talk, if it seemed full enough. But if one is going to play very hard ball, there are positions that Obama has the power to take and which would confirm his alleged concern with the vast majority of the people at the center of the income pyramid. It has been abundantly obvious from Election Day 08 that the GOP strategy was one of total obstruction, aimed at delivering a record of uselessness for the Dems. And once that was seen, the strategy of seeking to seduce them with sweetness and compromise was as dead as it could be. If the Dems could not be rallied to confront venom with anger, then that has given us the impasse we confront today. And if they will not take advantage of the fact that they have a lot of power left, in both the veto and the power of appointment, then they become the owners of the impotent mess that half-measures and failed compromise cannot cure. If that is their destiny, then it is possible to commit themselves to battle, sound the trumpet and let slip the dogs of war, to mix the metaphor. It is better to go down fighting for a worthy cause than to allow the hirelings of the plutocracy to bring a decent offer of participation to degenerate into a policy that will allow one’s self to be nibbled into impotence. There are still troops ready to fight the good fight, if one can believe the leader’s devotion. But the promise of compromise has proven to be a door to failure in this case, and we should not see Obama beaten by relying on a dream of decency from GOP.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

DUE PROCESS - September 2, 2010

It is interesting to see how the processes of law impact differently on people of differing social positions and resources. I am looking today at the behavior of the legal process in the cases of ex-Governor Blagojevich of IL and ex-House whip Delay of TX. In the one case, he was overheard bemoaning that it was not possible for him to cash in on a unique opportunity to profit from his political position, as so many others had done before him, and in the other, he was proven to have profited from his own. The apparent logic seems to be that Blagojevich was revealed to be greedy, though unavailing, while Delay was shown to be successfully corrupt, if possibly not proven beyond reasonable doubt. In the one case, Blagojevich was shown to be a Bad Man, and the federal attorney has promised to have him punished for the moral lapse, while the other managed to get his case dismissed by the Department of Justice (?) because doubt about its legal certainty hangs on a thin thread. Of course, Delay comes from TX, a state almost as widely considered morally corrupt as IL, except that he found a way to collect his booty with support from those who share his degree of exemption from the fingers of the Law. In fact, the situation of those exposed as morally corrupt is that they can be punished without any such due process, while “solid citizens” can often get away with open flouting of the law. TX conservatives, of course, are considered solid citizens, and their Party stands behind them, so Obama’s administration turns them free. Meanwhile, the US Attorney has made himself the agent of the Wrath of God, so that anything so strict and formal as certainty is not required when harassing a Democrat of working class roots. In this administration, the nature of one’s persona might be sufficient to respect the façade of a GOP grandee, while Obama’s regime might otherwise extract vengeance in a case of bare suspicion.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SAVING - August 19, 2010

As a recent retiree who has a certain concern about savings for possible necessities, I find it distressing to consider the options that I see as a saver and to consider that in contrast to the options available by others more affluent and by those who are in a position to profit from the rules for lending money to the US government. For various reasons, this nation gives special benefits to those lending us money from abroad, even when that money has its origin in domestic earnings and loses its identity when shunted through the labyrinth of foreign banks and institutions. It does not seem unreasonable that our treasury should look to domestic savings as a prime source of borrowed funds, especially if that should result in economic gains for our financial situation. The middle-class saver is treated as an unwelcome supplicant when it comes to federal borrowing, while foreign companies and even nations are courted with the best rates and freedom from income taxes. Indeed there are several dimensions on which our economies would profit from the unexpected consequences if our treasury would pay private borrowers the same rates available to strangers, and as tax-free as apparently alien funds. Such a change would free us from the need to borrow as much from overseas, even not counting the fees paid to the agents that maintain the foreigner fiction for us. Also, more of the interest would be spent on domestic products, which might even help in the cause of recovery. Finally, the extension of the existing benefit to Americans might make domestic borrowing enough better so that the interest paid on that borrowing would decrease. Is it possible that this obvious result has not been seen by the supposed scientists who advise our government, or is it the case that these are again a recital of the benefits that the rich and the powerful rain on each other and that are denied to those of us who scrape by as best we can?

Monday, August 16, 2010

SOLAR VS. NUCLEAR - August 12, 2010

In a stunning article in the International Herald-Tribune recently, it was revealed that the cost of a kwhr in NC has dropped (to 16c) below that for nuclear, which continues to rise. And this is in NC, not AZ. That puts a seal on the question of what we can do to rein in the peril of disasters like that at Chernobyl. Because the true cost of solar is just what was reported, while the cost of nuclear does not satisfactorily reflect the total insurance cost that should be paid by nuclear to protect the public from that kind of industrial disaster. The US law simply lays the bulk of the risk on the populace, which makes losses over a certain level unrecoverable. And we have recently seen new developments that further reduce to cost of solar panels. Indeed, a prize of Eu 800k was given by a Eu foundation for a new way of building these more cheaply, and promises transparent panels in window panes. That makes glass houses a new way of dealing with that placement problem. So the new differential will continue to grow, and we should be able soon to decommission the old nuclear reactors as the new solar ones continue to grow cheaper. It is a genuine change in the nuclear game to the advantage of the human race. Thus, the atomic age, which promised for over 65 years to deliver unlimited power, both military and electrical, to the people is now over. The new technology leaves us only with the question of how to deal with the detritus of the existing atomic works. Of course, that problem has never been solved, and we are now at least saved from having to consider what we can do to protect ourselves from the shadow that continues to hang over our future as the electrical issue clouds that one from the consideration of nations that claim that their nuclear efforts are economic in nature, while the sun continues to offer a better answer to that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

GOVERNMENTS LIE - August 5, 2010

Years ago, I learned from my friend I. F. Stone that governments lie. Not that they always lie, or even most of the time, but they have no strong tendency to tell the truth. In fact, the only thing that we can conclude from a statement of fact from one of them is that they would rather we believe it than not. This injunction applies especially when they give us a reason for undertaking fierce action or even going to war. When we remember the Alamo or the Maine, we are very likely to be seduced into doing something that we would otherwise not do. In more recent memory, that applies to the sinking of the Lusitania or the USS Maine, or the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin or the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Today, we are being told of the long chain of events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which up until now had apparently escaped the notice of the US or UK governments. And to the extent that the leak is not exactly what the government in question wants us to believe, the revelation in question is claimed as a government secret, and we are told that deep consequences would follow if the facts in question were known. Thus is a democratic populace denied the facts on which its welfare, or even survival, is dependent, we are told. Today the issue is how we view our ally Pakistan who are, according to what we see, either supporting our needs in Asia or plotting with the Taliban to murder our soldiers there. And we have been told that that the facts in question are so dangerous for us to know that no official body can be told them without endangering us from who knows what. And this about an allegation that could engage us in a war, even an atomic one. I do not know when we shall know the truth about this, or about so many stories that have led us into a century of world wars, but we vote every so often based on what we have been told.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

TERROR - July 29, 2010

This weekend, I went to see Danton’s Death by Georg Buechner. It was a scorching play by a contemporary and supporter of the French revolution who was highly critical of the Reign of Terror, like Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson before him. It lasted 3 years and claimed the lives of 2500 people. Mark Twain, in A Connecticut Yankee, called it the little terror, comparing it with the Great Terror which lasted over 1000years, taking the lives of many hundreds of thousands and consuming those of many millions more. Still, many compare its excesses to the beastliness of a dog that has been turned wild by prolonged extreme mistreatment and whose behaviour is the result of its suffering , possibly not in its deep nature. Buechner obviously felt deeply for the agonies of the revolutionaries and even more for the suffering of the moderates for whom he spoke. It was hard not to see comparisons for our own time, as we move ever closer to the possibility of devastating war with Pakistan, with claims of virtue on both sides. The American and French revolutions were testing grounds for the theory of the Enlightenment, with the American managing to keep it alive and the French going overboard in what must have appeared to their ideologists as an excess of zeal. It never made sense to me, but in a speech from the play about Marat and Sade, Peter Weiss gives us some understanding of why it failed under the rubric of “Everybody wants to bring something with him through a revolution, a souvenir of the time before.” It has appeared to me for a long while that a society in which the ruling caste feels itself secure against revolution becomes steadily worse to those who are thought to have no option, while an actual revolution consumes all civility in its path. I fear I am about to live through such a time. Again!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TAXES - July 22, 2010

In last week’s Times, Paul Krugman alerted us to a change in polemic on the part of GOP. Abandoning their fixation on the debt, they have decided that it is more important to re-enact the Bush tax cuts for the rich. By the time this comment reaches them, they will have in their heads in their argument that the debt is unimportant, and will be pressing for the recovery potential of the tax cut. They are so deep into their hubris that they cannot see what a wonderful opening they have left for the Dems. I recommend that Obama and co. should go for a tax cut themselves, but in the form of a cut in 5G of taxable income from the bottom of the tax table. It would be a straight out tax cut for every taxpayer as against a restoration of the Bush giveaway to the rich. It would mimic the action of the Tories in GB in a simple act of money for the rich against money for everybody. And as recovery it would be surer that the taxes saved would go into consumer goods than into stock market gambling. It would be easier to enforce and cost less in income manipulation. In addition, it would be on a field where a simple veto could block the GOP move if it failed to persuade the ordinary voter that they would rather have the saving for themselves than pass it on to the banksters and their gang. If the Dems will not take this initiative, then there is 0 to be said for them, and if the voters will not respond to this choice, they become the authors of their own victimization. It has always been easy for slick lobbyists to get the voters to support the fat cats rather than themselves, but in this plan, it is tax cut against tax cut, us against them, and if the Dems will let this opportunity get away from them, then they would be as worthless as some of my left-wing friends tell me. I hope that Tammy Baldwin will take up this stratagem and pass it on to Sen. Feingold.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ENDLESS WAR - July 8, 2010

For over 60 years, we have been hearing about war syndromes, as though these were in some sense individual and accidental errors, all different. Actually, they are all aspects of the same problem, which has been haunting US for the past 6 decades, and as it reappears, we act as though it were unique, something we had never seen before except for the fact that the most perceptive among us see it as a reflection of the past immediate instance, but not as a chronic weakness that threatens to afflict us until it finally brings the US experiment to a crashing ruin. In capsule, it arises from the belief that US military and diplomatic superiority is so huge in comparison with the resources of underdeveloped countries and movements that it is required only to rattle the saber to bring compliance from a force that DC considers inimical to their orders. It reflects what we imagine was the history of the late XIX and early XX centuries as we see it was still in effect. That was a history in which the disjunction between the advanced countries and their colonial servants was settled by confrontation between Gatling Guns on one side and sharpened sticks on the other. Them days is gone forever, and good riddance. Even the Spanish Empire was easier to confront than the Philippine guerrillas that fought for independence when the European masters were gone. And we have been learning over and over what it means to be arrayed against a domestic resistance movement that swims like a fish in the sea that is the population. After the Greek resistance and Tito’s Croatian socialists, there was the armies of Peru, Chile and Argentina against their people, the conquest of Guatemala by its colonels, the overthrow of the elected governments in Iran and Chile, and always the same script with new antagonists, always at a disadvantage our rulers never imagined.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DUMB WAITER – June 24, 2010

Barely a month into the new coalition, the Tory government has shown its true colors, and the Liberal Democratic leader is being exhibited as bought off for a wooden medal in the form of the title of Deputy Prime Minister. The price for this empty title seems to be a total jettisoning of the entire Liberal Democratic agenda, including the items whose inclusion in the Government’s promises were an integral portion of the ostensible agreement founding the present ruling majority. The Liberal leader says nothing while the Tories rake over the earnings of public servants and working people generally, taking their past earnings in the form of their pensions, and their present and future earnings in the form of cuts in salaries and wages, essential welfare support and public benefits, and the continuation of programs in housing, education, and health, including even the costs of school lunches for indigent children. These are all things that New Labour had predicted and which the Tories had sworn to protect, though in truth the New Labour scammers would have done also, but not as much and not as blatantly, rather like the New Democrats in USA. Housing is understood by its supporters as destined for the lowest level of public support since 1924, university tuition caps are understood to face increases from 3G/year to 5G or 7G, and even 10G is mooted in the press. The children of working people would be largely excluded’ with the places being “sold off” to those who can afford the tariff, with much less emphasis on proven academic ability. And the dumb waiter sits in silence, delivers the votes when those are called for, taking the worthy defeat of Gordon Brown as full payment by the party always representing the interests of the rich and powerful. And short of a denunciation by the Liberal Democratic Party, these will have tolerated their full political castration.

Friday, June 18, 2010

BANKSTERS AGAIN - June 17, 2010

For the past few years, the quiet resentment that thinking US have carried in the direction of the banks, the large corporations, and enormously wealthy robber barons have displayed have all boiled up as the people who used to love to call themselves the “masters of the Universe” carried this nation to the very brink of another Great Depression and quite possibly over it into ruin have wrung all believability out of the pernicious lie that “greed is good”. As long as there appeared to be much prosperity around, it was easy to bury one’s doubts and fears, but we are now at the beginning of the avalanche and we can hear the call to save the people if not the system. Yet some of our political leaders are still dancing to the tune of their corporate owners, and these include at least one Democrat whom so many of us had desperately hoped to see elected as President. They are still at bat to preserve the unjustified tax loopholes for the richest plunderers of the economy, even holding hostage the desperate needs of unemployed US to maintain their form of highway robbery. It is no wonder that those of us who do not worship the gospel of greed and predation have lost essentially all of the unjustified hope we had carried for what was once the party of FDR. And the faint expressions of distaste we get from Obama are no match for the terrible signs on the road ahead. We have no place to look for hope in the next six years, certainly not from the possibility that the false representatives of the “little people” might be replaced four years hence by the minions of the US version of the Tories. There is no hope to be obtained from the possibility of revolution, and equally little from the knowledge that nothing short of it will end the permanent robbing and impoverishment of the People.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

OIL - June 10, 2010

It seems like decades that the US populace has been pummeled by nonsense out of the mouth of Grover Norquist. He is amply paid by the corporate Robber Barons to deliver the line that the US citizen can spend his money (which would otherwise go to taxes) better and more wisely than the Government can. As for emergencies, the very rich would be able to afford them out of their tax avoidance. Among the most enthusiastic disciples of this vicious doctrine have been the substantial majorities in the Gulf states. Not all as vociferous as the gun-slinging imitation cowboys of Texas, but the others are not far behind in their attachment to the doctrine of tax-free self reliance. And they have also been devotees of drilling for oil in the oceans, down to about a mile below sea level and contemptuous of those who have argued the tremendous risk. But as some have said, it is easy to be cavalier about the Government until one suddenly needs a Big Favor, like keeping one’s job or business or not being evicted from one’s home. And suddenly, the dark cloud on the horizon turns out to be BP slipping out from underneath their obligation to make good on the costs of their negligence as a rogue oil well on the rampage threatens to wipe out the life’s investment of thousands in those same Gulf states. And suddenly we hear all kinds of unfamiliar voices demanding that Uncle Sam make good in case the corporations they have always trusted as more upstanding than the hated Government squeeze out of the responsibility by quoting laws their lobbies have paid to have enacted. And not even a word of “oops” or contrition for having participated in leading he electorate astray. Suddenly out of the rat-holes come the hirelings of the trusted corporations demanding that the taxpayers of the nation cough up hundreds of billions to secure the security of welfare that the tax avoiders voted against time after time after time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

IDEAS - June 3, 2010

In the early days of the mid-XVIII Century, the US colonies were a hotbed of ideas, with many of these finding their way into the forming nation. In the XIX century, the flow of ideas through the US gave rise to an international reputation for Yankee ingenuity, and that lasted until the mid-XX. But increasingly in the XX Century, the control of industry passed from technical invention to the growth of sales and thence to the manipulation of money. The few people who approached difficulties in the economy or technology as problems to be solved like crosswords were swamped by Robber Barons who were responsive only to sure things in the market. Someone with an invention, even a simple one that was a sure thing, had a difficult time with the control of the economy, whether by public or private by deciders who were largely un-arithmetic or unschooled in even elementary science, and who paid attention only to thoughts promoted by lobbyists or other channels of power, excluding those for which there were no rewards for the middle-men or their paymasters. Even inventions that had been tried elsewhere and whose benefits had been recorded in journals like Distributed Energy were routinely consigned to the circular file by office-holders and executives that simply did not have the training to measure their worth, and had no close subordinates that could evaluate them. The management of money was all those officers could think of. No less an established genius like Thomas Edison could not get a hearing from the supposed risk-takers of Wall Street when he wanted them to support electric lighting for that area until he got the ear of J. P. Morgan, who proceeded to create the Edison General Electric Company and then used his wiles to squeeze Edison out of it. And that was Edison. More modest inventors, like me, have it much harder to reach the ears of power brokers that could improve their corners of the world, but don’t.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

PRESIDENTS - May 27, 2010

It is genuinely sickening to see the US President parading in the role of Emperor of the World, especially when any decently informed person knows that the leadership of the Cold War alliance has made him the apologist in chief for some of the most unattractive tyrannies on the planet. The case that should bring this issue up today is the reception of Obama for the appointment of Filipe Calderon by the Fox government in 2006 in the face of universal reports by the international press of the overwhelming exit polls indicating the victory of Lopez Obrador then. Of course, that election was held in the regime of Cheney, untrusted by hardly anyone on the world stage. To see Obama embracing him and honoring him is like a page out of history when corrupt popes pronounced blessings on corrupt monarchs. I don’t know whether it is worse that Obama knows better and lies about it or that he is blind to a fact evident to the world during his brief tour of legislative power. It is almost as bad as Reagan’s embrace of Ferdinand Marcos and his conferring upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And Calderon has lived down to the dirty events of his installation, presiding over the criminal civil wars taking place in Mexico today. All this, and the pontificating over the election in Iran, where no evidence beyond suspicion indicated the true result of the recent election. In addition, the deciding of which nation must speak the truth about its atomic bombs and which is above that level of decency, and who must be believed when he professes civilian motivation for atomic power. So while US commands respect for its supposed fiscal power, the deep honor that went with our early embrace of the Enlightenment has been eroded by the Cheney regime and the embrace of their filthy hands by Obama leaves us in the position of honoring one of the most worthless corrupt governments while our president poses for holy pictures.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MIRANDA - Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last weekend, I was watching the US A G being grilled on NBC regarding the giving of “Miranda rights” to people he described as terrorists. He told us that he knew they were guilty, and assured the world that his department would do whatever they needed to assure that these guilty men would not be set free even if they were somehow acquitted by a jury of Americans acting under civilian or military law, whichever was necessary to get the job done, with or without evidence under the standards of military or civilian due process. He assured us that the application of Miranda would not stand in the way of executing or imprisoning them, lifelong if necessary, since apparently he was convinced that they were all guilty, with or without usable evidence. Since he had not seen their alleged crimes, we must understand that he was relying on a chain of evidence linking them to the criminal deed, probably a chain of hearsay without any documentation. The talking point reads like this: We all know the accused is guilty, sworn for by the Dept of
Justice (meaning the result of a star chamber-like trial) so why give them the benefit of Miranda? There is no sense in this that the US has a vested interest in being sure of the due process if it results in a conviction and punishment. I always thought that was the point of due process, the fear of unjust conviction being traditionally thought more onerous than that for an unjust acquittal. But since the press has told us that they are all guilty, we need no more cause to deny them the protections of US justice, according to the AG. And they may well be treated as though their guilt were proven by the standards of our Law, since the secret process carried out in the offices of the AG, outside the range of Due Process protections, has condemned them to any level of Justice that they may have been accorded originally by the Cheney regime.

Friday, May 7, 2010

IMMIGRANTS - May 6, 2010

The argument over immigrants is another of those battles of extremes. They stand guard over the positions that attract the most opposition with the threat of condemnation for anything that does not separate the sheep from the goats. In the Right corner the drumbeat is essentially for the application of draconian law, to the extent of cruelty, in fortified borders, military patrols, arrests of illegal entrants with imprisonment and deportation even when that entails breakup of families. On the Left, no one claims that everyone in the world has the natural right to permanent residence in US, barring only criminality and human rights offenses. In fact, there is a much less cruel law now in effect that would ease the attraction to US of people from countries of middling prosperity in which the People stand for predatory government. A simple action that would put more of the onus where it belongs is a strict program of fines for companies (like some meatpackers) that seem often to hire people with questionable social security numbers. It would be reasonable to require the employers to obtain from holders of such numbers data on the date and place of birth, the parents’ names, the names and locations of the schools attended and a full schedule of alternate names and their spellings. Also the employers should be required to vouch for the use of English by workers who claim to be born and raised in US. Fines for employers that are habitual offenders should be stiff and escalating. Demanding such questions in the allegations by those with a genuinely unlikely story would be merely a way of maintaining the Social Security system. The dogged refusal of government after government to press the issue of who is using a bogus SS number is not racism, does not entail arrest or deportation, but would stem the flow of people fleeing the depredations of their ruling economic elites, into the arms of ours.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CUSTOMERS - April 29, 2010

The cities, pension funds, universities, and other charities that have been ruined by the fall in the stock market (also called the economy) are looking for a place to put their anger. As in all such exercises, no one wants to acknowledge any fault for himself. As in the subprime mortgage mess, the easiest place to put it is on the borrowers, since they own no TV stations, newspapers or magazines. Even the fact that they were misled, or even lied to, does not erase all of their own participation in their losses. But the roots run deep. It is a fundamental belief of the brand of civics and economics we take in as children that the pursuit of self-enrichment by the rich and powerful will make us all into prosperous citizens. It is amazing how much contrary evidence there is to that creed, but it remains a pillar of the18th century movement called The Enlightenment. The Free Market, we are told, is what has made us rich in the XX Century, and can be relied upon to continue to do it. An extreme case is seen in Goldman Sachs. Many of their customers thought that they would never betray them for their own profit, even though the charter of The Enlightenment had no evidence for the belief that honesty is the best policy and Goldman would do best by being best. Actually, the Chicago school of economics claimed that Game Theory had proved that unbelievable statement. Still, it appears that many of us believe that the smoothest road to riches lies in being a junior partner to a successful crook. Every con man knows that the royal road to a scam lies in convincing the mark that they will together cheat a third person or, better yet, a company or a state. And so it was with the marks who bought the toxic assets, and in a sense that applies also to those who were induced to believe that they could buy without risk into a rising tide of house prices, based on lies about their ability to carry the loan. Goldman’s customers learned otherwise, to their cost.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

PAYING - April 22, 2010

The tories, known as republicans, keep saying that they really favor wide-spread health care, but they insist that they want it to be paid by cutting federal benefits rather than adding to the debt. In this, they imagine they are presenting the face of fiscal restraint, rather than throwing the poor to the wolves. They keep hidden the idea that the bulk of the cost should be paid by those who have benefitted disproportionally from the changes of the past ten years and the cutting of high-level taxes. This cutting benefitted from tory politics and these were pursued relentlessly, with no concern for the enormous growth in the debt. It is clear that a reasonable policy would be to load the bulk of any rise in the cost of health care on the class that has benefitted so greatly and so irresponsibly from that dereliction of duty. However, the liberals have not answered that the reasonable source of the money would be from the richest quarter of the labor market, who have collected all the prizes in the past 40 years or more. Yet, oddly, the liberals do not make this argument in defense of fiscal responsibility, probably because of a sense that the idiots who have argued that taxes are optional and that taxing the rich might impede the recovery from the threat of Depression, these demagogues have hoodwinked the People to the degree that they are not about to mount the electoral barricades in defense of this kind of fiscal sense. The liberals are not even willing to rest on the example of B Clinton, who did raise taxes to clear away most of the debt until Cheney came along with his passion for what he must have imagined as world-dominating war. As long as they are silenced by the hypocritical claptrap from the right, they are abandoning the responsible route of taxing to pay the cost of a decent society. If they will not stand up for making the rich pay their some of their luxuries as the cost of health care for all, maybe the People will throw them out of Congress.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

PUNISHMENT - April 8, 2010

The news this week concerns a 14-year old immigrant in a US HS, who was harassed and tortured by her classmates to the point that she just killed herself. The question of who was to blame and what is to be done about it highlights the role of punishment as a way of dealing with social disruption, and more basically the role of winning or losing as the dominant features of free market thinking, most especially in the US. Because the construction of individual failure or success continues to be treated as an indicator of personal worth, it is a way of deflecting any consideration of social organization as a shaper of individual lives. This elevates the status of competition in economic and social structure and plays down the role of cooperation, which is denounced as inefficient, as socialistic, and thus as leading to the gulags. In the meantime, personal achievement, even when accidental, is lauded as worthy through the powerful voices of those who have gotten money, even by the accident of birth or the workings of chance. In the case of the suicide, one is struck by the inadequacy of harsh punishment for those who have driven her to this action, and the equal meaninglessness of dismissing their viciousness as the actions of children. To lay the response at the door of competitive life is to run afoul of the rejection of social responsibility and the lauding of personal selfishness as the engine of progress. But we do know today that where personal competition and inequality are least, personal happiness, as reported by the people, is maximized. And in those countries, there seems to be the least need for punishment as a supposed deterrent to crime and antisocial behavior. In this time of trouble, there are ways to minimize the total of destructive self-castigation and share the available jobs to maximize the total well-being of the People, but those obsessed by the doctrine of personal worth or worthlessness will not hear of them. Then we must all live with the consequences.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TESTING - April 1, 2010

Judging teaching or learning by set examinations is a terrible way of learning what has been transmitted in the classroom, and everything else is worse. The mantra of accountability dictates that we need to know what students actually learn, and the result of a brief test, particularly one for which the students are deliberately crammed, is a poor predictor of how much remains months or years later if the need for it arises. Yet the mechanics of preparing the learner is an ancient practice, and often is a substitute for the kind of internalization of knowledge that is the desired result of the exercise. This applies most especially where the depth of the teacher’s knowledge does not go beyond the surface material that is the most usually the content of the test. The Continental approach, in which the examined student must reach the memorized material by an intuitive and searching extraction of the subtle material to realize how the memorized process is applied to the instant question is generally criticized for demanding insight, which is generally not teachable. A very simple example of this issue is found in what is known by various names, including “word problems” or “story problems”, in which the students is required to puzzle out how the questions are related to the processes of arithmetic. One approach is to have the same insight embedded in several different circumstances, and the true test of understanding is in ferreting out the arithmetic question from the story, if that is one in a new configuration, as where the problem of filling a swimming pool is seen to be essentially the same as the digging of a ditch or the rate of accumulation of a resource. These can be basically the same in form, but if the frame is not a practiced one, most examinees are found to be at a loss. It is there that the body is really buried. But if that form is not familiar drill, the heart of the learning is usually complained of as not having been taught that way.

Monday, March 29, 2010

TAXES - March 25, 2010

In the vise between taxes and debt, there is one fairly evident fact that gets very little attention: the genuine enrichment of one’s life becomes smaller for rich people than for poor as the level of income rises. Indeed, it seems that once the basic needs for comfort and sustenance are accounted for, and the desired education and health care are in good supply as needed, one eventually reaches the point in which the major differentiation is found in comparative display of costly luxuries that attest to the wealth of the owner, inwhat Veblen gave the name of conspicuous consumption. Actually, most of the multi-million incomes wind up in the stock market, competing for the acquisition of paper that is described as “earning money”. Almost none of what is called hot money goes for the funding of new economic enterprise that could legitimately be called investment. When U.S. was deep into World War II and thereafter, the top income tax bracket was 91% and that in Britain was 97.5%. The rich continued a life of luxury, except for the few instances where they faced rationing. After the war, the display of wealth that announced the importance of the user remained the same, except for the few who made millions out of war profiteering. Today, when America is richer per capita than any nation has ever been, we hear the robber barons weeping that millions a year is hardly enough to supply them with the basics of upper capitalist life. And the struggling lower classes are taken in by propaganda that there is not enough money in the economy to clear the debts incurred by decades of living on credit and that taxes on the banksters and other “malefactors of great wealth” would be destructive of the system featuring our worship of money. It is time we paid the debts our Nation has put on the cuff, and time that we secured the money by taxing most heavily the class that has profited most by exploiting a policy of predatory lending.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TERRORISTS - March 18, 2010

In the colloquy surrounding the detainees at Guantanamo, we hear them often referred to as terrorists. In view of this characterization, the claimant argues that we owe them no slack, nothing as arcane as the procedure we call by the name of due process. All we need do is condemn them to the garbage heap as guilty, and only our infinite decency should keep us from having them drawn and quartered without further ado. But the advocates of infinite punishment never question what we actually know about these captives, and seem to think it unnecessary to inquire into that apparently arcane datum. In most cases we know only that George Bush has put his signature to a document calling them that, and maybe less. We know that many were handed over to US forces in exchange for a bounty payment, and can well believe that the accusation was passed up the chain of command without any means of verification until it reached a level where it was no longer available for doubt, all without any addition of substantiating facts. If we decided that we need to assure ourselves that these people were in fact terrorists, we would honor our chosen practices and subject their cases to due process. In fact, we do now know that some were guilty only of something like changing a plane in NYC, and were mistaken for another person with a vaguely similar name or face. Instead of the standard practice we have for inquiry into such things, we often shipped them off to places where they could be tortured into signing a confession that would be taken as proving their guilt. All in seeking to force those we had somehow taken prisoner to be considered proven of the alleged crimes. And in certain civilian crimes, a sensationalist reporter will write that a captive is guilty of a heinous offense, and then the public will decide that he is not worthy of such decency as is to be found in our criminal law. It is the way of the lynch mob, and the public has no appetite for the assumption of innocence or the civilized practice of our Constitution.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CHILDREN - March 11, 2010

The public press thinks they have discovered what to do about the fact that some of our teachers are not up to snuff in the opinions of their students and/or the students’ parents. One school in Rhode Island has fired all its teachers, including the principal. I don’t know where they imagine they are going to get better ones. Some of our teachers are just wonderful, making easy contact with the students and possessed of remarkable stores of valuable knowledge. Others are no better than the poorer ones of those just jettisoned. In the eyes of the school boards, they are at least cheaper than those, if they are new graduates. And maybe we are just looking at what motivates those boards. Certainly there is not a fund of superior teachers floating around without jobs and waiting to be hired by boards that do not know the importance of sticking to their promises, waiting to fire teachers by the platoons and battalions. Just 40-50 years ago, a teaching position looked very good, just waiting for a talented college graduate to come along. Unfortunately this does not look an attractive position for young people, what with a public that imagines they can improve their schools by firing people until they get what they want. Where some college students considered the life of a teacher rewarding, there are fewer who will take on challenging studies and brave getting poor grades to be turned loose in a profession where every parent and every administrator sees firing of below-average ones until everyone in the school is above average, Lake Woebegone style. And so, that profession seems less attractive as a lifetime choice for students who themselves are above average, as measured by college entrance scores. And those who have themselves had teachers who could penetrate arcane studies for them like long division, are trying instead to march off to Wall Street. Try and tempt those into a classroom. Our schools are dying. Firing teachers will not save them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ALLEGIANCE - March 4, 2010

The trouble with Toyota points to a fundamental flaw in our legal and community thinking about what corporate interests owe the public and the stockholders. There is an undercurrent in that thinking that assigns something like a holy mandate to the commitment to the stockholders to maximize dividends, almost regardless of the cost to the People generally, but it seems today that an unusual exception is being made in the case of a successful foreign corporation. We have lived for decades with outrageous behavior on the part of companies, egregiously by the promoters of lead in gasoline, by tobacco companies, by the owners of chemical corporations and petroleum refineries, and even by the US government, acting against the lives and health of the Utah families that had to live for decades under huge fallout from atomic testing. Profits, financial or geopolitical, trumped everything. In automobiles, the Ford company fought like a tiger to defend the explosive location of the fuel tank in the Pinto. Yet the interest, and even the needs, of the public were brushed aside in an appeal to an obsolete principle, the obligation of the company to maximize the return to the stockholders, an understanding that had wide support 250 years ago when the Free Market was new and in its Wild West stage, but one that now belongs to an outgrown earlier stage of civilization. Many of us can remember all the CEOs of the tobacco companies swearing under oath that they believed that cigarettes were not addictive. Many of us remember Bhopal, and now we have the ashes of the TVA running wild down the Tennessee River. But Toyota is a Japanese corporation, so we can demand attention to the needs of the US public that we have long ignored in American and European companies. I don’t approve of the indifference of the public, and I myself drive a Toyota Prius, but it is time for a higher level of civilization.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

OLYMPICS - February 25, 2010

Last week, I had a sudden start when I saw the Russian bobsled at the Olympics in Canada sporting the symbol of the two-headed Imperial eagle. It wasn’t nearly as bad as if the German team had arrived with a swastika on its hood, but the imperial eagle did give me a turn, and reminded me of the time in 1991 when the cousins of the Romanovs showed up in Russia, apparently expecting to be restored to the throne of the Russias. I realize that the symbol of the Tsars means little to the people of nearly a hundred years later, but I am the son of refugees from the ruins of their medieval world, and I could not help remembering the line from the poem “I am an American” by Elias Lieberman: “The history of my ancestors is a trail of blood to the palace gate of the Great White Tsar.” Of course the US was consumed in rejoicing that they had brought down the Bolsheviks, and loyalty to the spirit of the Cold War meant that no one spoke of the fact that the police state, the Gulags and the brutal way of dealing with enemies of the State had been inherited by the Reds from the old empire, to say nothing of the corruption and murderous ways that we can still read about in the Russian literature of the XIX century and the early years of the XX. So now all that is left of their pre-revolutionary history is the memory that the West was so busily shielding their dollars and pounds that they were willing to see almost all of civilization consumed by the various tyrants that the Robber Barons took on to beat the Reds. It is so in almost all of EU. The glamour and triumph of the Old Regime is remembered, whether it is in the Tomb of Napoleon or the victories of Wellington and Nelson. The memories of the grinding, ugly life of the Little People is lost in the nostalgia of people like Edmund Burke, while the excesses of Danton, Robespierre, Lenin and Mao are recited endlessly.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

IRAN - February 18, 2010

I don’t know why it is that I should be so angry at being lied to by the people I have worked so hard to put into government. At least in part it stems from the indignity of being lied to by people who spend their time posing for holy pictures. I resent being taken for an idiot, even if most of the people the liars take me for really are. Obama, who poses as an educated man, and Hillary, who is surely a well-schooled woman, talk about Iran as though they believe that it was not a troubled state even before the Dulles-run fascist puppet was run out of the country. So the 26 years of fascist rule until that time was AOK with them, as were all the fascist allies that were American favorites since the end of WW II 65 years ago. Of course it is in the interest of the Robber Barons that we should despair of a decent government, no matter who is in power, so that Money should rule without any trouble from minor matters like the American Constitution. I must confess that I am much less confused by Hillary than by Obama, so I am satisfied that as bad as he is, she did not actually become president, but this must surely come under the heading of what Alexander Pope described as faint praise. The real blood and sweat come from the fact that American hybris will surely lead us into yet another worthless war, after a standoff in Korea and defeat in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we will not stop pursuing the cheap glory of kicking the butts of weak, impoverished countries until the bright dream of America lies in broken ruins about us.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

LEADERSHIP - February 11, 2010

The case of Sen. Shelby of Alabama stands out, but it is far from the only one. A defense contractor in his State is being reviewed with a possibility that another one will get the pork. Shelby has sworn to use his Senatorial privilege to bring all Federal activity in the Senate to a halt until his contractor gets the bacon. In his naïve belief that he can do this at no cost, he is behaving like a 4-year-old who is having a screaming fit in order to demand something he wants, who is prepared to make life miserable for all adults within hearing, and who imagines that no one dares to spank him. And Shelby is not alone. The whole GOP caucus in the Senate is sworn to stand united in support of anyone who is threatening to bring Senate business to a halt in an attempt to strangle the presidency of this Dem in the White House. It is time for Obama to take charge and say that the American government is for adults, not spoiled children, and that severe reaction will be the outcome for the child in Alabama, and for the State that seems to support him, as well the States whose Senators want to play this nursery game. It is of course beneath the dignity of Obama, but Emanuel has the reputation of dealing with screaming children who imagine they can take on the world of adults. In truth, Obama’s dealing with some of those in the Democratic party and others might well have encouraged Shelby to think he could get away with it. We have about 9 months to go until Election Day, and it is time for Obama to deal with spoiled children in Congress. That might even result in people believing that the Dem party is a real force to be dealt with, if only they had something worth while that they were willing to fight for. Into this entire equation we find the question of who is capable of leading the Democratic Party. Obama has a good heart, but not much room in it for the desperate plight of the working people, and none of those who might lead that Party seem to have it either.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

OBAMA - February 4, 2010

So here we sit, over a year since Obama came to the Presidency, and still waiting for the supposed salvation. Faced with a President who is far more like Hoover than Roosevelt and being dictated to by the very forces that have impoverished the poorest fifths of the work force and resisted the possibility that a Dem administration could have extracted us from a philosophy of economics that is 250 years out of date. We sit still for a Supreme Court that declares the rights of personhood devolve on every gang of pirates who have come up with a corporate charter. Adam Smith knew better and so did Roosevelt. But the likes of Larry Summers have led us to pawn off our future, but only when the proceeds end up in the pockets of the super-rich. And while Obama does make annoyed noises, he seems incapable of galvanizing even the Dem Party, to say nothing of the whole nation, or even the Congress. It is nice that he can make good speeches, but he does not have the attributes that we know as leadership. Just as GOP keeps telling the reactionaries that they stand for the outlawing of abortion but exert all their efforts in further enriching the super-rich, so does Obama use his rhetorical skills not in passing essential legislation but in immobilizing the liberals while people like the Ford heirs get the nation to tolerate their hold on what they have the nerve to describe as their “hard-earned dollars”. So while we worry about the poor millionaires five generations removed from anyone who can be reasonably described as having “earned” that money, we are immobilized while the banksters rob our children of their health and education, and our Nation crumbles intoeconomic ruin. And while Obama might be up to snuff on the law, there is nothing to indicate that he has learned anything from the Roosevelt Administration’s leading of us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SHOWDOWN - January 28, 2010

The Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of ruling in an issue that no one had asked them to adjudicate. It is plain that a majority wanted to make a law and they have done nothing other than legislating from the Bench. They claim to have used their own
version of the First Amendment in making a free debate between corporate America and the unions. This is something like saying that if a person has a dispute with Exxon, the oil company is free to hire Mike Tyson to fight it out, bare knuckles, with the individual, one on one. They pretend not to note the disparity in power between the Plutocracy and the unions, which has been obvious in American life, and a subject of legislative redress, for over a century. Stripped of disingenuous verbiage, the five justices have decided that it is a matter of constitutional fairness that Big Money should be able to drown out the efforts of talk in paid media by their antagonists. It is a giant step in the Class War waged by the Robber Barons for at least the last 60 years on the remaining shreds of equality between themselves and the People, most especially the working people, in which group I include everyone that lives on less than 100 G and quite a few besides. It has been labeled as obvious by every commentator and is taken to foreshadow domination in future elections by those calling themselves Republicans, though they act more like monarchists with every passing term. It is generally said that this will guarantee the rule of the Robber Barons, to a degree that we have not seen in over 120 years. The only answer is that the representatives of the People must repeatedly denounce every message in the paid media as suspect. For those who do not have the means of separating the sheep from the goats, we must recognize that there is no individual thinking in the Republican party and vote against all their candidates unless we see overwhelming evidence of individual thinking.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ECONOMICS - January 21, 2010

We are having tons of troubles these days with Economics. For at least 50 years, this has been in the hands of professionals who flatter themselves under the caption of the Free Market. This lovely name comes to us out of the Enlightenment, when the change out of the traditional system of Feudal and Guild economics was a notable advancement, and catered to the sense of liberalism of 250 years ago when freedom was in its infancy as a way of dealing with economic reality. Yet even then many of the best thinkers recognized the enormous power of corporations. Even Adam Smith, who advanced the Free Market, was against the monopolistic power of companies like the East Indian and Hudson’s Bay corporations. That was kid stuff compared with the power of world-spanning companies like those we see today. And these corporations use the power of good jobs to tell the business schools what they expect their graduates to believe, and that trickles down to the Economics departments of universities, most of whose students are not genuinely interested in their subject, but are ready to study whatever they are asked as the price for admission to the executive suites of the wealthy corporations. The result is that the beliefs of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman reach us through their acolytes, like Robert Rubin and Larry Sommerfeld, who are now the economic advisors steering Pres. Obama. It is true that they echo the majority view of the most prominent economists, so how can we expect anything else in a president with almost no economic thinking of his own? I have been unhappy with that subject since being exposed to it at the London School of Economics, and we must all live with it as long as it holds sway over the majority of that profession. I do not know how we will get out of it as long as the corporations continue to hold sway over what our schools are teaching as received science.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

SOVEREIGNTY - January 14, 2010

The American public is clearly confused by the threat of terrorism. They are clearly unwilling to accept that when they accept the status of a nation at war, they are likely to have to face up to the possibility of getting killed in the process, particularly when the form that the war takes is one of killing others who get in the way of what DC considers its legal and rightful option to declare the rules of the game. For at least the last 60 years, DC has spoken in terms of declaring what it is that they and other nations may do, and has expected other peoples to adhere to the will of the world, as they propound it. The natural consequence of such an arrogant posture is to assure that some other people will take exception, even violently, to the claim that there is nothing they can do about it, most especially to the most unstable among them, of whom there is no lack in the world. The response that the Greeks, the Romans, and the British took in such situations was to write off the response as natural and tolerable, part of the costs of fighting, and especially of winning, such wars. The United States, possibly alone of such sovereignty-wielding powers, expects to be immune from retaliation and is outraged by counter-attacks, however unsuccessful, by individuals or small groups. A lesson we could take from other imperial powers from the past, is to maintain dignity and accept losses for civilians in this war with the same aplomb that we confer on the killing and maiming of the children that DC sends oversees to enforce its will. If Americans want the fleeting glory of being Boss nation and ruling the World, then the population that glories in that power must expect that those who are unwilling to submit themselves to subservience will, from time to time, get around the rules of conduct set out for the world by DC and declare themselves for action, as Timothy McVeigh did, but it seems we have no stomach for that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

BELIEF - January 7, 2010

It is hard these days to know whom to believe, and there is so much to know that we can not be responsible for making up our minds. For many of us, the question of belief lies in a choice of authorities: whom to believe. So there are many of us that are prepared to trust in Science, but even that has been undercut by the number of people who are peddling special interests disguised as objective scientific fact. This fault is available in all areas, including economics, social policy, and even sometimes in Physics. So there is an understandable willingness to go with the preponderance of opinion in an area of reputable study, but even that has a history in almost every science of denying the truth of some new belief that turns out to be the new truth. We think of people like Copernicus, or Pasteur, or Einstein. Most recently the bulk of opinion in economics, which proclaims itself a science, has favored the dicta of the predator school out of the U of Chicago, which touted the self-correcting forces of the Market, only to be bounced from one bubble to the next until we faced the threat of total economic collapse and were told by one expert after another that we would have to pawn the product of the nation far into the future and put the proceeds into the pockets of the predators. How is a nation to choose when the whole of an established area of study gives its voice to a position that turns out to be a disaster? How is the President to know whom to believe in an area in which he has no expertise of his own? It is easy to say that something is obvious after the fact, but the voices of doubt were few and far between. So when we have some people denying the truth of Global Warming or questioning the benefits to be had from the study of stem cells the evidence is hardly convincing, except to those especially inclined to believe when the scientific voice is strong and explicit. Science, after all, flourishes on doubt.