Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A religion I can get behind

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Look, are there parts of this religion that sound irrational, crazy even?  Yep!  That's how you know it's a real religion.

If I ever decide atheism, rational thought, being amazed at the wonders of the universe, curiosity, critical thinking skills, and my job, family, etc. aren't enough for me, then this might be the religion I try on for a while.

Until then,

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Colorado Baker and Sincere Religious Beliefs

The US Supreme Court stopped short of establishing much of a precedent when they sided with Colorado Baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The basis, they said was that forcing Phillips to violate his “sincere religious beliefs” was an attack on his 1st amendment rights.  What this means is that this case doesn’t exactly absolve all commercial operations from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, since it did not rule that his refusal was a civil rights violation, but that’s what it meant for the original plaintiffs.

I am sincere when I recognize the court’s restraint in their narrowly defined decision, but I can’t help but wonder if, despite this restraint, they’ve still created a fairly broad, potentially dangerous precedent.  Their decision makes me wonder how one proves “sincere religious beliefs,” and thus how far those beliefs might extend when denying business to anyone else.  It also makes me wonder how they know just how sincere Mr. Phillips’s beliefs are.  Did they test him? 

Did they ask him if he would also apply biblical rules to straight couples? 

Here are a few I’d have asked about:

Does Mr. Phillips refuse to take orders from women, since 1 Timothy 12 tells us, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”  And if you don’t like that one, how about, “They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” 1 Corinthians 14:34

If he takes orders from women (violating what we must assume are two of his “sincere religious beliefs” does he only do so when the woman’s husband or father is present, since, a woman’s vow is basically meaningless unless approved by her husband or father. Numbers 30:1-16

Does Mr. Phillips prohibit menstruating women from entering his bakery, or does he allow it to be unclean, as described by Leviticus 15: 19-31? (does the health department know?)  By the way, men sleeping with women is also “dirty” according to Revelation 14, since only the 144,000 men who had never been with a woman were given an early pass to the afterlife.  They were the “first fruits.”  Hmmm. Revelation doesn’t say they couldn’t be with other men.

Mr. Phillips clearly won’t violate his beliefs about gay couples, even though the bible NEVER actually mentions or prohibits them, but is he cool making a cake for a rapist as long as the rapist buys the woman from her father, thus making her is heterosexual wife/property like Deuteronomy 22:28-29 advises?  Will he bake a cake for a virgin woman taken as “spoils of war,” and the man who took her?  I’m sure they’re a lovely hetero couple. Numbers 31

What about a little earlier Deuteronomy…the part about how “used wives” should be stoned to death?  Surely he wouldn’t make a cake for any bride who can’t prove her virginity as these verses explain.

What about the dudes?  How does Mr. Phillips de-conflict the Leviticus advice to “not round the corners of your heads, nor mar the corners of your beards” with Paul’s suggestion that men “naturally” have short hair and women have long hair?  What, exactly, do Mr. Phillips “sincere religious beliefs” require of his patrons when it comes to hair care?  Is there a barber nearby Mr. Phillips might recommend?

Is there a dress code at this bakery?  (back to Deuteronomy and Leviticus…) Is it cool to wear clothes woven from two different materials or no?  Does Phillips have staff who check this at the door?  I’m only asking because I don’t want to piss him off.  I’m in a heterosexual marriage and all, but this stuff is tough to keep track of and I don’t want to attack his sincere religious beliefs.

Perhaps it would be easier for all of us, if Phillips’s sincere religious beliefs focused a little more on John 13:34, “as I have loved you, love each other,” because I’m pretty sure Jesus would’ve just baked the cake.  Mark 12:31 helps de-conflict everything: “love thy neighbor as thyself, there is no greater commandment.”  I’d bake a cake for my neighbor.  Mr. Phillips would not.  So how serious are those beliefs?


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Death Penalty, again, really Arkansas?


As Arkansas and Kansas battle each other to be the US sibling we most want to hide in the basement as company arrives, the rest of us should thank them for providing us with a picture of the end result of our collective national stupidity.  These conjoined twin states are fighting each other to be the poster child of amalgamated national dumb. (Wisconsin gets a little time off from this competition for now.) Kansas did it by proving (again, only at a state level) that trickle-down economics is a thinly veiled myth dreamed up to transfer wealth to the wealthy.  Arkansas did it by showing us what killing people (to prove that killing people is wrong) really looks like.

The beauty of Arkansas’s twisted desire to kill 8 people (to prove that killing people is wrong) was thwarted by their own (and the nation’s own) hypocrisy.  In spite of our love affair with guns and how precious they are, Arkansas will only shoot death row inmates as a last resort.  After all, it’s not the killing them (to show that killing is wrong) that’s the problem, that’s inhumane, or cruel and unusual, it’s just HOW we kill them that’s so horrible.  We Americans can’t stand the thought that someone we’ve condemned to death at our hands might experience a few moments of suffering before they actually expire.  What a bunch of pussies.   You can’t take my guns, but you also can’t shoot someone we say must die with them!

And then there are the pharmacy companies and THEIR moral limits.  That’s right, the folks who have made deadly-overdose-leading opiates their number one sellers.  The folks who marked up epipens 700%.  The folks who lobby to keep marijuana illegal while advertising addictive pain killing products directly to consumers with no medical or pharmacy degrees.  The folks who take tax funded grant money to “experiment” with “new uses” of their already highly profitable, market-cornering drugs.  The folks who take and take and take from US consumers, only to move manufacturing overseas to avoid taxes and fair labor and environmental responsibilities, but who enjoyed our stability and military protection while growing rich enough to put that whole dodgy deal together, but who couldn’t bear their civic responsibility when it cut into their cash flow… yeah, THOSE moral kingpins object to their drugs being used in capital punishment! 

I guess it’s OK to advertise and promote addictive drugs that ended up killing 50,000 Americans by overdose last year, but not to use their anesthetics to kill 8 convicted death row inmates.  Makes perfect sense.

So yeah, in a country who loves our guns, and loves believing in the myth of infallible justice, we won’t shoot death row inmates, and only when our Drug Lord Pharmacy CEOs express some misgiving, do we stop and think.  Hmmmm, maybe killing people isn’t the best way to demonstrate that killing people is wrong.

But here’s the bigger point:  if we’re gonna keep the death penalty as a humane option, then we should worry only about the speed with which it happens, not how we do it.  We’re willing to sacrifice anyone who breaks into our home by arming every man, woman, child without a background check, licensing, or even the most basic instruction in how to safely use, store, maintain firearms, but we’re not willing to shoot the people we condemn to death?

What a bunch of spoiled children who can’t think beyond the immediate results of our incompetent misinformed daydreams.  We’ve been so trained by the oversimplification media that we’ve forgotten how to actually think beyond something that sounds good when you first hear it.  We’ve forgotten that arguments continue to build out of premises, that one idea connects to the next, and that eventually a conclusion must arise out of the non-thinking haze.

So here we are in Arkansas, torn between a state trying to prove how committed to justice they are by racing to kill 8 humans, and the moral high ground of an industry that killed 50,000 people with ONE of their products last year, and who continues to hold our nation’s healthcare industry (and elected officials) hostage with their lobby money.

Here we are, a nation who still pretends we believe so much in our justice system’s output that we insist on a permanent sentence (8 of them in one week in Arkansas) while saying with our other face that we don’t trust our government to the point we’ll elect a clown in protest.

Here we are, a nation of gun nuts who lack the balls to use those guns to carry out the death penalty we all insist demonstrates our commitment to the sanctity of human life.

What a bunch of confused, frightened children we’ve grown up to become.



Saturday, December 31, 2016

No wonder you don't trust government!

I’m always amazed at the capacity of humans to learn at any age.  All it takes is a little curiosity and humility – admitting there might still be something out there we don’t know.  Granted, this goes against some of what we’ve learned.  We could look foolish if we open ourselves to learning something new.  We could make ourselves vulnerable, subject to ridicule, or even danger, but hey, that’s how it works.
Of course I’m talking about myself, and something that just occurred to me recently as I try to remain a knowledgeable citizen of the world.

Here it is:  When people say they don’t trust the government is it because in their own narrow-mindedness they assume everyone (public servants and otherwise) is as greedy and self-centered as they are?  If so, I finally get it. No wonder they don’t trust government, or anyone else!

Now before you get your conservative panties bunched up, hear me out.  Let me start with “narrow-mindedness.” What I mean by this is an inability to acknowledge or understand the validity of any perspective beyond one’s own experience.  A good example might be Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s once anti-gay stance.  Because he wasn’t gay, and didn’t know anyone close to him who was gay, he couldn’t believe that someone else might be, that his God made someone that way, unless there was something wrong with them.  It was beyond the realm of his personal experience and so he was convinced that it was just wrong.  (either that or he was flat out lying in order to boost his VP chances)

Then his son came out.

Suddenly Senator Portman’s worldview was expanded. Now that he had some up close and personal experience with an actual gay person he was able to see that being gay isn’t some character flaw or choice any more than being born into a Republican household might (or might not) be! …or being born with different colored hair, or skin, or height, or weight, or gender or any other genetic result. Why couldn’t he see this before it was personal to him?  Because he was narrow-minded.  My assumption is that he still is, but he’s learning!

We’re all subject to such prejudices, and to a degree, they help keep us alive and safe, but we also have to constantly question them as we proceed through life or we risk being limited in our contributions and our own personal achievement and happiness.  Senator Portman was unwilling to question his former ideas about homosexuality until it became personal.  That’s what I mean by narrow-minded – the inability to see other’s beliefs, traits, characteristics, ideas, etc. as valid when they differ from our own personal experiences.  Again, we all face this kind of thinking.  It’s a survival instinct, but at some point, as adults, as we develop the ability to think rationally, we have to overcome them and challenge them in order to develop beyond a level of basic, caveman-like survival, and grow to fit into the modern world that exists around us today - where cavemen no longer exist, and where we move beyond basic survival in order to advance socially, technologically, financially, culturally, or in all ways that matter.  If you can’t get beyond the limitations of your own personal experience, you are doomed to never being any better (by any measurement) than you are right now.  THAT is the definition of a miserable life!

OK, so that’s the narrow-mindedness.  It’s important to start with that because, while it is inextricably associated with self-centeredness, particularly in the form of greed, it is a separate characteristic.  Greed, as a specific form of self-centeredness, is a whole other ballgame.  Greed has to do with getting mine, often at the expense of others.  Sure, there’s a lot lacking in that definition, but I’m trying to keep this explanation simple.  I could add that greed requires a lot of false zero-sum mythological economic thinking, probably resulting in the related lack of curiosity, and thus being satisfied with the simplest economic theory one has ever read and then misapplying it to far more complex real life situations simply because one cannot be bothered to apply rational thought to the more complex situation and thus sticks with what one knows – kind of like looking for the keys one dropped in the driveway in the living room because the light is better in there – but that won’t help keep it simple.  (here’s an example of that kind of ridiculous oversimplification:  )

In the meantime, dig into “Economics in One Lesson,” by Henry Hazlitt. It sounds like a snooze but it really is a page turner, and you can download it for free.

(note:  it’s NOT a page turner, and it contains fatal oversimplification errors almost from the very start, which is what makes it such a great example here)
Back to the point: greed sneaks into one’s world view like poison and then clouds one’s thinking at every turn thereafter.  Much like narrow-mindedness, there’s some value in limited doses of greed.  It too can be a survival instinct.  Charity begins at home.  You’re no good to anyone else if you don’t first take care of yourself, etc. and so on, but when one allows greed to taint all other decision making, that’s where the trouble starts. 

Like any other unquestioned dogma (yes, that’s redundant, but people misuse language so much in these “post-fact, post-knowledge” times I figured this post is a good place for otherwise unnecessary emphasis) greed prevents us from thinking rationally in other areas of thinking as well.  Once greed becomes one’s primary motivator, it can block out all possibility of win-win situations.  It actually fools us into thinking that if someone else wins, I must have lost.  We know this isn’t true, but that’s what too much greed does to our thought process.  (We’ve seen this with our president-elect on several occasions.  Those who seem to be able to have real discussions with him must first acknowledge that he is a “winner”…by a landslide…bigly, and only then will he listen to them regardless of their expertise, experience, education or value of their ideas.) 

Greed corrupts our thinking to the point that we assume everyone else is just as greedy as we are.  This false (in many cases, but not always) assumption thus creates competition with others where no competition actually exists.  Instead of being able to work together, greedy people automatically assume they are always competing for something.  Instead of considering the possibility of better results as a synthesis of combined thinking, cooperation, broad experiences and training coming together, greedy folks see only that they might not get all there is to have.  This is the zero-sum myth, especially when it comes to ideas.  (but also when it comes to wealth in most cases)

Like any other pattern of thinking, when you do it long enough it not only becomes habit forming, it becomes who you are.  What’s worse is that it combines with that narrow-mindedness and convinces you that everyone else is the same way.  You assume no one can be trusted because everyone thinks exactly like you do – everyone else, like you, is out to get theirs, and probably at your expense.  When you’re already susceptible to projecting ONLY your experiences onto others, you naturally assume everyone thinks the way you think.

As I mentioned, this just dawned on me.  How it took me half a decade on the planet to realize it seems rather baffling, but now it all makes sense.  Before this realization, I could never understand how anyone could be so suspicious and pessimistic about his fellow man.  My experience on this planet tells me otherwise. (“Trust, but verify,” a wise fellow one said) Sure, I’ve been burned before, (most often as a result of my own lazy thinking or actions) but for the most part, I’ve found common ground with just about everyone I’ve met in just about every corner of the planet.  It’s been my experience that we have more in common than contrast when it comes to other humans. We all need oxygen …and a nice, clean, private, preferably flushable toilet once in a while is really nice too!  It’s been my experience that two heads are better than one, not something to be feared.  I guess I have been guilty of assuming everyone would want the benefit of that, and so I have projected my thoughts too – that better solutions generally arise when you have as many perspectives and as much information as you can before making up your mind – is what it means to be a grown up. It still seems like a better way of doing anything, but now I understand why greedy, narrow-minded people think otherwise.

So now I understand what people mean when they say they are distrustful of government, or other humans in general.  It’s not that they don’t grasp the concept that in America, WE ARE “the government,” it’s that they simply assume the worst in anyone else, precisely because that’s how they see themselves, and thus they project their own misery, greed, narrow-mindedness onto others.  It also just occurred to me as I write this that the only solution for people who think like this is some sort of authoritarian dictatorship, but each one of them would have to be a dictator, so it would have to be anarchy, with each individual a sovereign entity, but that brings up issues of property rights, which would severely dampen the gathering of wealth, and that’s kind of at odds with the whole selfishness thing. (if there were no government, then how would we establish and record deeds? The real estate market would never work like that!)  I suppose the only way we can make them happy is if they find some surrogate whom they believe can represent their narrow-minded greed.  I guess we’ll see how that works out.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Socialism: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

To be honest, there's a lot about socialism that really does suck. Like not being able to attend a high school football game in Texas because the tyrant in charge is so angry at anyone with an Arab sounding name, he actually thought for a minute that Al Jazeera English flew kamikaze missions into American buildings. It sucks when an elderly man leaves his phone on a table at the Mall of America food court, is later questioned, along with the rest of his American family, by the FBI, and even after the entire situation is cleared, still has an 11-page police report on file with the Minneapolis police as well as an FBI report documenting his "suspicious person" incident at the mall, even though he wasn't even there when his suspicious phone was observed. It sucks when you're told who you're allowed to marry or what kind of birth control you can or can't use. It sucks when the only way to be right, to fly below the suspicion and scrutiny, to not have your patriotism questioned is to just be like everyone else around you...dress like them, pray like them, talk like them, think like them. It sucks to have to wear a uniform and proclaim your allegiance to something lock, stock, and barrel even when you know there are cracks in the gild, aspects you feel could be improved, or things that are just flat out wrong. So, yeah. If that's what you mean by socialism, then it sucks, but that's not socialism, that's tyranny, fascism, or, in the case of those particular examples, an ignorant citizenry run amok in an age of fear, right here in the good old, capitalist US of A!

And what is the target of this fear-mongering of late?  That's right, the evils of socialism, even though most of those trying to spread fear of it seem to have never really known what it means.

Why would anyone fear making the world around you a better place through collective funding and coordination of effort?  It's a lot closer to what the founders of this nation had in mind than the Corporate Republic we seem to have ended up with.  After all, they decided to form a union, collectively.  They knew that a lot of the infrastructure a nation needs is better achieved through collective efforts.  It wasn't about giving away half of anything to anyone who didn't work for it, it was about efficiency and effectiveness.  There are simply some things that don't make any sense for individuals to repeatedly spend their efforts on when they can be accomplished as a group better, faster, cheaper.

 The highway system in this country is kind of cool, and it was, for the most part, a socialist undertaking. Pretty much everyone in America relies on it for supplies, for customers, for their complete existence. Ditto for the railroads.  After years of discussion, no private enterprise was willing to take the risk on such a large undertaking, so our government did.  That's right!  The single biggest influence in the industrial expansion and the tying of a young nation's two separate halves together was the result of Big Government speculation when private industry wanted nothing to do with it.  Of course all our Big Government did was give away land, low interest loans, and further subsidize the endeavor.  And, of course, the minute the recipients of that land and loans and cash started making their own profit from those subsidies, they started complaining about having to pay the loans back, and having to pay taxes on the profits they now only made thanks to that Big Government investment, but hey, who are we to call them hypocrites as long as they use the words "big government" in their whiny complaints?  Ayn Rand seems to have forgotten that "the producers" balked at building railroads on their own for years until government took it on for them. Only after the Transcontinental was built were Dagney and Hank able to forget and exploit the rail and steel industry for their own profit and pleasure.

The electrical grid in this country is pretty cool too. As is the stability of our government, the protection of our military, the reliability of police and fire services...and all manner of other socialist endeavors we seem to take for granted when pretending we (meaning some rugged individual) built this.  The truth is, no individual built any of it without the support of collective advantages this nation provides.  We, as a nation, built the infrastructure that so many of us now take for granted.  It made more sense that way.  And whenever WE do something together, it's called socialist.  I don't know what you thought it meant, but it's really not all that bad.  So the next time you want to spread fear about some misguided idea of what socialism is, spread it about that socialist snow plow clearing your street at 4 a.m. the socialist cop walking your daughter to her car after the closing shift, or the socialist EMT saving your loved one's life, or all those socialist troops defending our way of life.

When you really think about it, it's rarely the "socialist" who wants something for nothing.  Socialists understand that taxes pay for all of these things we now take for granted.  It tends to be the so-called capitalists who want those advantages without having to pay for them.  It's capitalists who start a business in the US, where these advantages make it possible, but then move their headquarters overseas in order to avoid paying taxes that paid for the advantages they took for granted and now no longer want to pay for.  The railroad barons were cool with socialism when it gave them cheap loans and land, but as soon as they became wealthy from that government benefit, they started complaining about having to pay back the loans, and pay taxes on the immense wealth the government's investment helped create for them.  They got theirs, no one else should!   It's always private industry who expects government to bail them out when they mismanage everything from their own by-products and pollution to their general finances, but they never want to pay the taxes that allow government to be there for them when it reaches a breaking point.

So the next time you go mindlessly repeating something you heard from Bill O'Reilly about socialists expecting something for nothing, remember that GE paid NO taxes while taking full advantage of the benefits our nation provided.  Remember the next time a school levy shows up on a ballot, that you can read said ballot thanks to the free, public (socialist) education that was there for you, but which you now think is some kind of handout for the rest of the country's kids. Remember that our founding fathers, by "forming a more perfect union," understood that collective (socialist) efforts made a lot of sense and provided advantages for all of us, and that we should all continue to pay for them...not expect them for free!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

It's actually pretty conservative, when you think about it.

The latest bankruptcy of coal giant, Peabody Energy, clashes with conservative claims that Obama is killing the energy industry in the US.  Peabody’s list of reasons for the filing reads like the ingredients of kid’s cereal:  the first one is the one in most abundance; the last one is barely there.  So it probably breaks Mitch McConnell’s heart to learn that Peabody tossed in “tougher regulatory environment” as their last reason for their failure.  It was almost obligatory, and the ranking Peabody gave it indicates as much.
The primary/first reason Peabody gave: the market.  In other words, in Peabody’s own words, they’re getting out of coal because it just isn’t marketable anymore.  Market forces, capitalism at work.  

Sure, we could continue to subsidize the coal industry so the corporations who still employ folks in it can keep those jobs on life support for a while longer, and lot of coal’s money has been spent lobbying toward that end, but subsidies like that sound like big government.  Subsidizing a failing enterprise (no matter how much they contribute toward your campaign) doesn’t sound very conservative at all, except in the sense that it’s just not smart or rational, ignores the facts before its eyes, blames the subsequent mess on Obama.  I guess in that sense it would be “conservative,” but not in any sense remotely related to any actual definition.  On the contrary, for coal, or Big Energy in general to expect such subsidies would seem like they have a sense of entitlement.

But Mitch says it’s all Obama’s fault.  Dear Mitch, Obama picked up the mantle (reality) every modern president before him also carried: the size and scope of our energy needs has grown to the point at which we can no longer ignore ALL of the costs of its production – not just the direct costs of materials and labor and delivery, but the costs of what that industry historically does to the surrounding land and to the planet in general – the cost of cleaning up after itself.  At the core of this idea, it’s a very conservative concept: clean up your own mess as soon as you’re done making it.  Not after you go outside and play with your friends, but AS SOON AS YOU’RE DONE MAKING IT. Put your school clothes away as soon as you’ve changed into your play clothes.  Put the Legos away before getting out Monopoly. Put your tools away when the job is done.  Sweep the kitchen after you’re done making cookies.  Mop up that mess after you’re done changing the oil.  Pick up after yourself.  Don’t squander your (or everyone’s) resources.  There’s really no denying that this is among the most core of conservative principles.  Except for some reason, when asked to apply it to corporations, it becomes liberal, intrusive, nanny-state.  WTF?!

So even though the “regulatory environment” was the last reason cited for Peabody’s failure, all it really means is after years of not cleaning up their own mess while they were making it, they’re now being forced to.  After years of failing to factor in the cost of cleaning up after themselves, they suddenly legally compelled to. (Blame big government all you want, but if you refuse to live up to your responsibilities on your own, and expect someone else to take care of your mess for you, then the law must make you.) After years of letting the rest of American taxpayers pay to restore what Big Energy has destroyed, the rules now force them to take care of it themselves – as they should have all along.  (and the move to that direction, fortunately, started well before Obama was elected) The messes our energy industry has made, but have left for others to clean up, range from negligently dangerous work environments killing off heads of households in the form of black lung, cave ins, explosions, etc. to the complete destruction of the tops of mountains, to spill sites, to poisoned rivers and entire watersheds, to abandoned pit mines left dangerously open.  If Peabody made messes like that, (messes inherent to coal) why are they surprised that they should have to clean them up?  Why did they not factor in the cost of cleaning up after themselves all along? Expecting the rest of the nation to clean up after them so as not to infringe on their profits is the ultimate example of entitlement!

So as we listen to Senator McConnell pin this latest example of capitalism at work entirely on Obama, remember what your mom would tell you if you asked if you could go out and play while your school clothes and all your toys were still scattered all over your room.  If that’s all on Obama, then he’s pretty conservative.  He and Mitch McConnell should get along a lot better than they do.



Saturday, April 09, 2016

Things Republicans Say

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.
It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . .
It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes
me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war,
corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places
will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong
its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth
is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety
of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

From a letter from President Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864.

Unfortunately, it appears as though Lincoln’s suspicions have not proven groundless.  Not only was Lincoln right about the aggregation of the “money power of the country,” but he was dead on in how it came about; “corruption in high places…working on the prejudices of the people.”  In our current presidential race, the top three establishment candidates are products of this very aggregation cycle.  They are created by and therefore programmed to perpetuate it.  Clinton and Cruz may as well be twin siblings whose mom can only tell apart when one wears a red lapel pin and the other blue.  They couldn’t break this cycle if they wanted to because breaking it would mean breaking themselves. And the orange man has been eugenically created in the image of Lincoln’s biggest fear – born with money, on third base, selling himself as though he made his own bat from the oak tree out back and taught himself how to hit home runs.  All three of these folks (and most of those trailing them) are products of this aggregation of wealth.  The question is, what has it gotten the rest of us?

In other words, how is this whole trickle down thing working for you?

Economists often argue that they can’t really test a theory because there’s no way to run any kind of meaningful, controlled experiment in a living economy.  We’ll never actually balance a federal budget.  We’ll never lower taxes significantly enough to truly test the trickle-down theory without wiping out programs the nation – its individuals AND its corporations – have come to rely on.  But we’ve basically been trending toward trickle-down economics since the Reagan era, and all it’s done thus far is exactly what Lincoln, America’s most universally beloved Republican, most feared: “until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands.”  In case you’re not following, those few hands are America’s top 1%...or the top percentile of income earners who, in this country, currently hold almost 40% of its wealth (according to, last August,) as Lincoln predicted it might.

So the experiment in trickle-down economics, in spite of all of the detracting uncontrolled factors, has worked to do exactly what Lincoln predicted. It has aggregated money power into the hands of very few.  Proponents may argue that it hasn’t actually trickled down yet only because taxes STILL aren’t low enough, or because there are STILL too many regulations on these people and their industries, but it sure seems like the regulations we’ve done away with have worked to the advantage of that top 1% (and no one else.) In other words, it’s worked to make the rich way richer, even during our recent recession…so why haven’t they invested in capital or hired thousands of employees? …and actually boosted the economy that’s now working solely to their benefit? If they’re still consistently and wildly rich, then why hasn’t anything trickled down yet?  Imperfect experiment, indeed.

Kansas is probably as good an example of the trickle-down as we’ll ever get in the real world. In his first two years as governor, former conservative Senator Sam Brownback dramatically slashed taxes in the state also known as Koch country.  He promised this would fertilize economic growth that would more than make up for the immediate loss in revenue.  He said it would take time.  Apparently it’s going to take more than the 5 years since because even after narrowly securing a second term, Brownback himself is backpedaling, asking the legislature to slow further planned cuts, and even raising some taxes.  The state is so broke as a result of this experiment, the once pro-education Brownback has been forced to cut the states already basement education funding even further.   Members of his own party are quoted by The Atlantic as saying, "He’s lived and died by this philosophy, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that it is not going to be successful." (Rochelle Chronister, former Kansas Republican state chair per
 But that’s just Kansas, right?  Surely if this theory works, other states have proven it.  Turns out most Republican governors seem to have taken the Kansas warning to heart.  Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Louisiana, and even South Carolina, whose governor, Nikki Haley said specifically, “we’re not going to do what Kansas did,” have taken a far less conservative approach to reducing taxes over time rather than insisting the failed Kansas and Wisconsin experiments have worked. Currently, the Kansas budget woes are trailed only by Louisiana and Alaska.  Economists may not want to admit trickle-down hasn’t worked, or may continue to insist it hasn’t been adequately tested, but sensible Republican governors who have watched Kansas and Wisconsin’s budgets crumble seem to have formed their own conclusions.

So, when it comes to what you want to see in the next four years, you have to ask yourself if it’s more of the same – from a Democrat or a Republican – i.e. handing over even more of the entire nation’s wealth to the top 1%, systematically, by law and tax code, as establishment candidates have led since the Reagan era, or if it’s time to change that system up to avoid furthering what Lincoln feared, and to finally admit that if the market won’t govern itself, won’t allow all that wealth at the top to trickle down, no matter how long or how much we continue to pump cash up there, then we, the people, need to step in and create the necessary adjustments. We need to put some of that regulation back, even out the tax code so that the 1% pays a share similar to what we pay, with no exceptions. If we don’t, it won’t be long before we can’t buy any of the products our corporate overlords are making and selling anyway – and I’m pretty sure that won’t be the trigger to start the trickling!  You have to ask yourself if you want to keep on loading 16 tons only to owe your soul to the company store.



Friday, March 11, 2016

Why “Not Feeling The Bern” (for these reasons) is misinformed, at best

Some Facebook friends of mine shared this brief article about why some dude is "Not feeling the Bern" and I wanted to reply there, but Facebook just ain't the place for real conversations.  The following is a little more info than you're likely to hear on Fox, or in a 140-character-limited exchange.  I've quoted the dude's headings, then added my response.

“I’m not a Socialist”
Bernie’s not a Socialist, either.  He’s a Democratic Socialist.  It’s a lot like the system of government our founding fathers had in mind wherein some pursuits just make more sense to manage collectively: military, police, fire, roads, eventually railroads, power grids, water and sewer…these are all "socialist" provisions of our current system.  Even  the economist Adam Smith, oft-cited by conservatives, clearly made the case for pursuits best handled by government, not for profit.  At its simplest distillation, why form a nation at all if you don’t agree there are some things worth doing as a society?
Sadly, the system our founding fathers established has been twisted into something more like a Corporate Democracy wherein our government serves corporations rather than people.  The establishment candidates from both parties perpetuate this system because the money they need to campaign comes from those corporations.  Bernie is the first guy to make a legitimate challenge to that system.  He embodies the non-violent revolution our system so desperately needs.

  1. "College shouldn’t be free" ("education is not an entitlement")
By most state charters (after the first 13 colonies) education IS an entitlement.  The founding fathers knew the value of an educated electorate and they specifically included state-funded education in the conditions for statehood.  When states fail to meet these requirements, the federal government must step up. 
In addition, up until our parents’ generation, a high school diploma was sufficient to earn a family a decent living, but that standard is outdated.  Today, an associate degree, or a technical school certificate is the bare minimum required to join a professional workforce.  Bernie is not the first candidate to propose community colleges find ways to make this bare minimum achievable to all, he’s just saying we finally accept the reality of it and raise the bar officially…and stop pretending the free education public schools provided for everyone up to this point is sufficient in stopping at 12th grade.
2.      " Please don’t raise taxes"
Bernie won’t, at least for most Americans, and certainly not for Criminal Justice majors, as you note. Only those who have seen a dramatic decrease (since the Great Depression) in the taxes they pay will see them go up.  I know there are candidates (usually Republican, but not always) who like to say they won’t raise taxes, but they all have.  Reagan did.  Bush 41 did after promising he wouldn’t.  The average middle class citizen pays around 20%.  Shouldn’t the folks with the most to spare contribute at least that much as well? The only taxes Bernie will raise will be on those who have played our corporate-leaning system to NOT pay that share.  The rest of us will pay the same or less than we've always paid, and we should demand more for our money, not less. (for real - read his plan...and notice Trump still doesn't have one available, and for pete's sake, stop getting your info from Facebook!)
3.        "I don’t like big government"
Neither does Bernie, and he wants it to stay out of your life as much as possible, but your argument here is basically a repeat of your item 2 (taxes).  Again, only the absolute wealthiest, whose teams of lawyers and tax accountants can’t show they’ve reinvested that wealth into capital or labor, would ever pay the 52% you cite.  (remember that idea about reinvesting wealth into capital and labor – it will be important later) Seriously, Addison, have you ever read anything about New Hampshire or Vermont?  They don't like big government either, and they've elected Bernie for a looooong time.
4.      " Social Security shouldn’t exist in the first place…"
Social Security Insurance is insurance.  Why should insurance not exist?  If properly managed, it will be there for you.  Most who propose doing away with it don’t want to do the work of managing it.  That’s no excuse.  Others prefer the management of it go to for-profit entities wherein chunks of the premiums end up in already rich folks’ pockets, making it even less likely that the fund will survive. (because when profit is the #1 priority, you are not)  This is simply another case of something that makes more sense as a non-profit, collectively, in order to serve the interest of all.  Social Security is a minimum insurance program.  You’re free to invest in commercial insurance or retirement programs that go beyond this minimum, but this one provides a safety net for those who were disabled, or for their widows/widowers or orphans. Tell me again why the richest country in the world shouldn’t provide this self-funded, bare-minimum insurance for its citizens?
5.     "  I don’t believe in wage regulation."
How then should wages be established?  Before you answer, keep this in mind: since the Great Depression, the minimum wage, if left to its own market devices, adjusted for standard inflation, should/would currently be hovering somewhere between $15 and $20 per hour.  That’s IF LEFT TO THE MARKET, “unregulated” so to speak.  So how has the minimum wage remained so artificially low?  Government doesn’t LIMIT wages, so the de facto cap must be coming from somewhere else.  If the market wage hasn’t borne itself out, and government hasn’t regulated a cap, then some other force must be “regulating” wages.
What could that force possibly be? Here are some observations: some of the same companies who posted profits during the 2009 recession laid off thousands of workers.  When these companies “recovered” (even though they posted profits throughout) they hired back these skilled laborers, but at drastically reduced wages.  Skilled technicians who lost $20/hour jobs are now lucky to get them back for $10/hour.  Same jobs, same consistently profitable corporations, lower wages.  That doesn’t sound like market forces.
In addition, since President Reagan fired those air traffic controllers for trying to negotiate their wages and conditions (eliminating one natural force in a free market) more and more lobbyist-written legislation has been passed by politicians (whose campaigns were funded by the employers of those lobbyists) resulting in the biggest attack on and subsequent decline in union membership in our nation’s history.  Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all fell to lobbyist influence and legislated away the rights of state employees to negotiate their wages and conditions.  The trend is obvious – labor’s input is no longer a factor, no longer a market force in establishing labor’s wages. The vast majority of Americans lost their voice. This leaves large corporations an artificially large influence in “regulating” wages.  An individual can either accept the offered wage, or be unemployed.  (any other job an individual accepts will also be for an artificially low wage due to the standard set by corporations, so “get another job somewhere else” doesn’t change the equation)  If labor can’t negotiate as a group against the corporations whose lobbyists now write the laws, then INDUSTRY REGULATES WAGES.  (oh, and for those of you with short attention has done so by shrinking the expense of labor!  A day's work used to be worth a day's wage, but it's not anymore, according to these companies who still manage to pay their CEOs 7 figures)  These companies claim that taxes have eaten into their profits, so they can't afford to pay decent wages anymore, but most of them find ways to pay NO taxes at all.  (in case you forgot)  Can you or I do that?  Wanna know a great way to avoid paying taxes?  Post a HIGHER LABOR EXPENSE, or REINVEST IN CAPITAL EXPANSION AND CREATE JOBS!
Anyhoo...Since you oppose wage regulation, you actually side with Bernie in preventing this artificial regulation of the market in which those wages would otherwise be naturally set.  The establishment candidate from both sides is too wrapped up in corporate money to ever challenge this tilted system.

Look, do I believe Bernie can wave a wand and fix problems slowly created over the better part of the last century?  No, but I do believe he’s the only candidate who might actually try, and most importantly, he will try because he’s beholden to NO ONE…for more than about $35 anyway! He works for US, not his anonymous superpac sponsors.  His fundraising alone has revolutionized our process…even while the wildly inappropriate Citizens United/Corporations are People/Money=Speech=Votes bullshit still stands!  Bernie is running the way ALL candidates for public office should run.

I suppose you could make the argument that Trump is too, but there’s a YUGE difference between using your own money to bully people into supporting you and convincing people with your ideas to support you with their money $25 at a time.