Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
I’m getting really tired of certain Christians claiming that their religious liberty is under attack in the USA. Or worse, that they are being prosecuted for their beliefs. Right. The above illustration is Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. When was the last time Christians were rounded up and killed in the USA? Their churches systematically destroyed? Their faith being illegal to practice? Never. And no one has proposed anything even remotely like that, at least outside the lunatic fringe. The chances that a nation that is overwhelmingly Christian would start persecuting Christians is essentially zero.
Yet that didn’t stop certain quarters from claiming that, for example, the veto of Arizona’s anti-gay law was the “new Jim Crow” and telling Christians to “move to the back of the bus.” Let me see if I get this straight, a law that would have allowed Christians to discriminate against anyone they perceived as gay was about religious liberty? If one’s religion says don’t be gay, then don’t be gay. It doesn’t give one the “right” to define how other people live their lives, nor does it give one the “right” to discriminate against them. One’s religion may give one the “right” to be a bigot, it doesn’t give one the “right” to practise that bigotry in public commerce or enshrine their bigotry in public law.
And we are talking about bigotry here. Gay people are just that, people. The scientific evidence is in, and its overwhelming. As anyone who ever actually got to know gay people would know. Whether it is a lifestyle choice or biology is irrelevant, there’s nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about being gay. There have always been gay people, there always will. The only difference now is that our society is maturing (we don’t burn witches, keep slaves, or sell daughters into marriage anymore) and gay people and their allies think it’s past time that they came out of the closet and enjoyed the same rights and privileges as everyone else. Gay people are our friends, our family, our neighbours, our siblings, our co-workers. Over a third of them have children. That’s right, 37% of gay people have children. And they want those children to have married parents like everyone else.
Frankly Jesus said that the Old Testament no longer applies, and he said nothing about gay people. So people who are selectively hating on gays because “the Bible says” are simply using the Bible as cover for their bigotry. The Old Testament also says that adultery, lying about virginity, eating shellfish, and working on the Sabbath all merit the death penalty. Yet the Biblical gay bashers don’t get all hot and bothered about these or any of the other few dozen things prohibited by death in the Old Testament. And no, gay people are not out to “convert” anyone. In fact the only way a straight person could even think that was possible if they were gay themselves and in deep denial about it. Nothing could make me find men sexually attractive, I’m just not wired that way.
The so called Christians who are all about persecuting gay people and driving them back into the closet are on the wrong side of history. Gays want the same rights as everyone else, because they are everyone else. They are no more going to go back in the closet than blacks are going to agree to be slaves again. And this is a good thing. Sadly the Old Testament Christians don’t see it that way. They want to go back to an America where they got to define social institutions for everyone. In other words an America where Christians could freely persecute people they disproved of. That’s not Christian, that’s Satan doing his finest work in the name of Christianity. (It’s also an incredibly weak faith if the mere sight of people who don’t adhere to its Bronze Age proscriptions is a problem.)
And of course, what about God? Let’s see, Canada has effectively had gay marriage since 1999, and gay marriage in every respect since 2004. God has had over a decade to punish Canada for this terrible transgression against his purported wishes. Have plague, pestilence, and God’s wrath descended on Canada? Not that I’ve heard of. Have gays taken over, forced millions of Canadians to be gay, promoted paedophilia, or outlawed heterosexual marriage in Canada? Again, it doesn’t appear to be making the news. In fact the only thing that has happened is that they don’t call it gay marriage in Canada any more. They just call it marriage.
Frankly these Old Testament selective moralists give me the creeps. I don’t mind them having their Bronze Age prejudices, but I’m damn sick of them thinking they still get to define morality for everyone by their own outdated standards. Hopefully most of them will get over their umbrage as the calamities God is going to heap upon us for marriage equality don’t manifest. At the very least they hopefully will be consoled by the fact that they won’t be forced to be gay married, won’t be forced to attend gay weddings, and just in general if they want to close their eyes, they won’t see gay people at all. Hell, the Duggar daughters already signal their dad and brothers so they can avert their gaze in case a pretty woman is on the street, now they just have to come up with a “gay signal” so that their dad and brothers don’t see some gay person on the street. Problem solved.
Tomorrow, the insanity of redefining marriage.
(The above image dates from the nineteenth century and is public domain under US copyright law. It’s called “The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer” by Jean-Léon Gérôme 1824–1904. It’s a tradition that Christians were fed to the lions in the Colosseum, not historical fact. Some Christians have always been obsessed with martyrdom and persecution, I guess that natural for a faith that worships a dead guy nailed to a stick. Jesus wept.)
This is not a complicated situation. We have the ACA, aka Obamacare. It was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and survived a Supreme Court challenge. It’s the law of the land according to the US Constitution, and is being implemented as I type. The Tea Party refuses to pass a budget for government operations, insisting that the ACA be delayed a year before they will agree to do so. And now large parts of the government have shut down because Obama and the Democrats refuse to even consider such. Dafuq? This is indeed screwed up, and is easily the worst government crisis since the decades preceding the Civil War.
The merits and faults of the ACA aren’t relevant here. That many in the media are portraying this situation as a “standoff” or a “disagreement” doesn’t actually make it a disagreement. It is a faction of a minority party claiming it has veto power over any existing law. The Tea Party is basically refusing to accept that the ACA is law, and insisting that it’s “my way or the highway.” This is the antithesis of democracy or constitutional government. And the Democrats and Obama are correct in holding the line, allowing a party who controls one house of congress to effectively veto any existing law would be a disastrous precedent to set. This is extortion, not government.
For its part the media is all over the map reporting on the government shutdown, mostly regurgitating the talking points of their targeted markets. The Tea Party is counting on this, I know hard-core Republicans who are still claiming the shutdown is because Obama refuses to negotiate. And they have plenty of voices in the right wing media to back them up. Many of them actually seem to believe that the ACA is some horrific draconian law that is going to turn the USA into a dictatorship. Five years of the extreme right wing press claiming Obama is the anti-Christ, a secret Muslim, and unAmerican seems to have really affected some people, they are living in a fantasy bubble world. Maybe it’s not charitable, but I guess if one believes in talking snakes and zombie prophets, well, the sky’s the limit. In any event, my point here is that our mainstream media is almost as dysfunctional as our government, it’s not helping.
This whole mess highlights the dangers of dogmatic ideology. A party that can’t or won’t compromise is a terrible threat to anything resembling democratic government. And giving them any sort of concession will just make them make more demands. In normal situations a party like this would be dooming itself, but these aren’t normal times. Sometimes in history parties like the Tea Party have gotten into power. That was Hitler’s secret, no compromise. One powerful politician after another aligned themselves with Hitler’s nascent party to improve their political position, only to find out too late that Hitler wasn’t going to compromise on anything and that Hitler was using them, not vice versa. And when Hitler’s party got strong enough, he simply disposed of his former rivals. I’m not comparing the Tea party to the Nazis, yet, but the fact that they are willing to do anything to get their way should scare anyone.
In some very real ways the Tea Party is carrying on the legacy of the Confederacy and the KKK, these are people who have still not accepted that the South lost the Civil War. In recent decades people like this have been a fringe group, but not any more. I don’t know what the end result of the shutdown is going to be, but the last time a political minority refused to compromise no matter what, the results weren’t pretty.
Yes, I am using extreme examples, and I certainly don’t think, yet, that we will see anything like the Civil War or the rise of Hitler. I use extreme examples because what the Tea party is doing is extreme. It’s a minority party willing to hurt millions of Americans and gut constitutional government to get their way. I urge the Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Obama to hold the line. The ACA is not on the table. If the Tea Party gets their way, the Republic will pay a terrible price.
(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law as it was painted around 1865. Credit: Watercolour. The Burning of Richmond, Alexandre Thomas Francia, Circa 1865. It’s the burning of Richmond at the end of the US Civil War. Another extreme example, but the Tea Party is an extremist party. One can only wonder what other countries think of this mess.)
Americans mostly don’t realize it yet, but a tidal wave of unemployment is building on the horizon. This is because a second wave of unemployment due to industrialization is going to roll over the USA. The first wave was in the 19th and early 20th centuries when factories and tractors put countless millions of workers out of work in traditionally labour intensive occupations like weaving and farming. The result was a massive growth in cities around the world, and ultimately what we call the “modern world” in the west. While huge numbers of jobs were lost in fields involving manual labour, the growth of factories and the rise of the middle class ensured that ultimately industrialization was a good thing. At least until the 1980s when the middle class started losing ground, but I digress. It’s going to get much worse in the USA with tens of millions of jobs disappearing in the next few decades:
- Driving. The robotic car is now a reality. It won’t happen overnight, but virtually all occupations that involve driving are going to go. Truck drivers and bus drivers will be the first to go. Delivery people, taxis, and pretty much all other driving occupations will follow. Trains and airplanes won’t be far behind. Why pay a chopper pilot and a news guy when a drone can do the same thing?
- Clerks/checkers/baggers. Automatic checkout lines are becoming common in the big chain stores, this trend will only increase. Toll booth operators are soon to be a thing of the past. Basically any time a customer hands someone money, that job is at risk.
- Farming and landscaping applications. Tractor drivers and just in general people who operate equipment will slowly be phased out. Robotic lawn mowers are already being used on golf courses. Machines to robotically weed fields are in development.
- Answering phones. This is already well underway, but soon enough all phone calls will be handled by software. Even the guys in call centres in India will be out of work. And sales calls will eventually be replaced by robots, especially the low grade ones where they are targeting seniors and such. If someone’s job is to make or take phone calls, their job’s days are numbered.
- One can add to this list things like prisons, schools, and the Post Office … all of which will likely be privatized within the next decade. And cutting staff is the first and last thing that happens when corporations take over a private function.
I am sure there is plenty I am missing. There’s other factors to be considered. brick and board businesses moving to an Internet base will continue to happen. Lastly, many of the above jobs when they go will also put other people out of work. Robotic truck drivers will only be buying gas at truck stops for starters. A whole history and culture of truck stop waitresses, cooks, and other people providing service to truck drivers will be gone. And of course there will be indirect job losses, every time someone loses a job, they have less money to spend and other businesses suffer. On the flip side, some new jobs will be created building and servicing robotic technology. Even without drivers trucks will still need regular maintenance and repair. Still, that won’t last forever, we’ve had robotic car washes for decades, robotic repair and maintenance facilities will eventually be built.
My main point here is that simply in the natural order of things, industrialization and robotics are going to destroy huge numbers of traditional jobs in the decades to come. This is the elephant in the room that the rich and powerful take pains not to bring up. Because they and their government minions are working very hard to ensure that when these jobs are eliminated, that the salaries get redirected into the ever increasing coffers of the rich. There are plenty of things government and society could do to encourage a healthy middle class, small businesses, and self-employment … but alas the opposite is the case. Instead they have concentrated on convincing people that the destruction of the middle class is because of immigrants, unions, welfare cheats, and the like. In effect convincing people to support policies that are actually making them poorer and the rich richer.
The next few decades are going to be interesting indeed.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is a bread line during the great depression. The men are all obviously welfare cheats and scammers, look, most of them even still have hats and shoes! Democrats no doubt.)
One of the hardest things about trying to keep up with what is going on in the world is that things change. Sometimes very quickly. Yet the model of the world we have in our heads changes a lot more slowly, or not at all in some people. Things that were stable for decades do eventually change, and if we don’t update our mental models to reflect this, our understanding of the world becomes flawed. Frankly most people’s understanding of the world is a more reflection of their prejudices than any true understanding, but still, some of us are trying to make sense out of it all. And in trying to make sense of it all, a huge shift has taken place over the past few years. Illustrated above. That’s the USA from space. See the big lighted splotch near the upper left middle of the image? That’s in North Dakota. How many huge urban areas are there in North Dakota? None. So what the hell is that huge lighted area? That, dear readers, is fracking. More specifically, that’s the Bakken Formation being exploited for oil. Even five years ago the expert opinion was that the Bakken Formation wouldn’t be producing oil any time in the near future, I even blogged about it. Then a breakthrough was made in oil extraction, fracking as it is known, and the Bakken Formation is now a major and expanding oil producer. The lights by the way are excess natural gas simply being burned off.
OK, so what does this mean? I think it means we’re screwed. We were already in trouble, but this is a huge change, and I think it’s going to have some disastrous consequences. First, the huge change part. Remember peak oil? Well, despite decades of expecting peak oil to hit around 2010, it hasn’t. And now, with fracking, peak oil has been put off for decades. And instead of being an oil importing country, the USA will soon be an oil exporting country once again. These are huge changes and futurists must be scrambling to adjust their models and forecasts. Oil is at the centre of modern civilization, so these changes will ripple outwards and affect everything. And yet this huge change in where our civilization is headed is taking place almost unnoticed. That’s a topic for another day, most people miss anything less than sudden catastrophic rates of change. And as a codicil to my following two points, I don’t think much could derail this. Keystone pipeline or no, the fracking accessible oil deposits in North America will get used, they are way too valuable and the oil industry is already the most powerful industry on the planet, weapons possibly excepted. Of course the weapons industry also wants these deposits exploited, since one can’t fight modern high tech wars without oil. And if one is at all familiar with American politics, big oil has huge influence. Not to mention more or less corporate control of the mainstream media, so opposition to massive fracking will be marginalized. Whether we like it or not, oil is going to be the prime mover in the USA for decades to come.
Speaking of opposition to fracking, that’s where the first major problem rears its ugly head. A massive new wave of oil exploitation is going to be the death knell for any serious mitigation of global warming. Just the lights in the image above illustrates that. We’re talking a mind numbing amount of CO2 being added to the atmosphere just from the production of oil in the first place, and then of course that oil will almost inevitably be used in such a way as to also add to the CO2 in the atmosphere. I don’t even blog about global warming any more. The people who are in denial about it are no more rational than people who deny evolution or the Big Bang. Eventually it will get bad enough that maybe something will be done, but by then it will be far too late. Fracking just means it will get worse sooner.
OK, so fracking means global warming is going to destroy civilization even sooner than was feared, there’s something worse than this? Yes, yes there is. War and oil. Or more specifically, it takes oil to build and run tanks. If one has lots of oil, one can build a lot of tanks. Yes, that’s the simple version. Let me try a different approach. The rich of a country come into a huge pile of money. They are urged to spend it on consumer goods or war to make even more money. They already have all the consumer goods they need. War it is! I posit that the USA will do what every imperialistic power in history has done when it came into some profound new source of wealth … go on an orgy or war and conquest. And since the USA has been on an orgy of war and conquest since 1900 at least, it’s just going to get much worse. I think in the 21st century the USA is going to try and reassert western colonial control over the entire world, at the point of a drone if need be. That’s certainly been the path we’ve gone down under Obama.
So, world war and world climate catastrophe all because of some lights in North Dakota? Yeah, that’s pretty much my theory for today. Earth is a strange planet.
PS: The day after I posted this, I got this link in email: Geologist’s provocative study challenges popular assumptions about ‘fracking’ Who knows?
(The above image is by NASA and is Public Domain under US copyright law. Yes, I’m blogging again after a hiatus due to odd events in my life. Future posts will get back to weird history and such, I’m getting all my negatively out on this post. For the moment.)
In my considered estimation (I have a lot of time to think at work,) the USA has three issues facing it that dwarf other issues of the day. These would be the upwards transfer of wealth, the so called “War on Terror,” and global warming. What do these all have in common, aside from taking place on Earth? Easy, as I’m sure my astute readers recognized, all three were basically completely ignored during the election. Furthermore, they get short shrift in the mainstream media at the best of times. The upwards transfer of wealth is the most ignored, most Americans aren’t even aware that the middle class and poor have stagnated since the late seventies, while the rich got ever richer. Global warming gets some coverage, but it’s lame coverage that claims there is still scientific controversy about the topic. And the War on Terror gets lots of coverage, all of it ranging from sickening adulation to criticism so tepid it’s embarrassing in a so called free society. This is why we’re doomed, the agents of our destruction are running amok, and our national debates are about abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana.
The first of the big three would be the upwards transfer of wealth. This isn’t debatable, anymore than Evolution or Young Earth Creationism are debatable. Since the 1970s the rich have gotten ever richer, while the poor and middle class have stagnated. A process that continues to this day, over 90% of the gains from the last few years of “economic “recovery” have gone to the 1%. This is both a recipe for disaster, and the complete opposite of what made America great in the first place. Sure the richer the rich get, the more they figure out ways to make even more “wealth,” but none of that money goes anywhere. Having trillions of dollars sitting in financial instruments may make the rich very very rich … but it not only does nothing for the economy, it’s a brake on the real economy. This is why interstate banking shouldn’t be allowed, along with a host of other now-gutted laws and regulations that kept money circulating locally instead of piling up in offshore accounts. The Occupy movement at least succeeded in getting more people aware of this, but unless it is stopped, we will eventually (and maybe sooner than later) be a land of poor serfs with a few fabulously rich overlords. History teaches us that this isn’t the road to national prosperity, it’s the road to national disaster.
Then there’s the endless “War on Terror.” OBL gave the people who want to maintain western hegemony over the planet, IE the upwards transfer of wealth on a planetary scale, a blank check. And they have spent it on building a vast “security” state and creating an overt world wide empire. This is crazy on several levels, not the least of which it’s the greatest over-reaction to a threat in history even on the face of its putative rationale. It in essence is a staggering waste of resources that would be far better spent on infrastructure, education, and health care. The US is lagging well behind the rest of the developed world in all three, just to maintain a military larger than the rest of the world combined? A military largely designed to fight a war with a country that no longer exists? And yes, building a giant security state is a threat to our liberties; it’s both unnecessary and will eventually be misused when the wrong person gets in power. Lastly, waging war around the world and the ever increasing use of flying death squads, aka drones, isn’t making us safer, it’s creating new enemies. Look how well that policy has worked for Israel, they live inside of a fucking giant wall in complete isolation from their neighbours, yeah, that’s peaceful co-existence.
And lastly, the elephant in the room so big that it’s started flattening whole states, global warming. The facts behind this are overwhelming, the world is rapidly getting warmer, and human activity is contributing in a major way. Yet the energy industry’s legions of well funded think tanks, not to mention their just plain overt influence on the mainstream media and politics, continue to confuse the issue and create the illusion that there is some sort of scientific debate. And this process is made worse by a religous-political party that is actively denying all sorts of science, not just global warming. And when they aren’t denying it, they are claiming we can adjust. That makes about as much sense as “adjusting” when your house catches on fire. When your house catches on fire, you put out the goddamn fire, you don’t “adjust” to it.
Sadly I don’t see much chance of any of these issues being addressed any time soon. I hope I’m wrong.
(Noah’s Ark, oil on canvas painting by Edward Hicks, 1846 Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since it was painted in 1846, under current US copyright law this image is public domain. It’s a painting of Noah’s Ark, a Bronze Age myth that apparently many adults still literally believe in. I still find it hard to get my mind around the idea that functioning adults believe in the reality of something in the same category as Santa Claus. Kinda scary really. Maybe I should have listed religious fundamentalism as the fourth crisis facing America, but I dunno, in some ways it over-arches all the others. Hell, in some way all of the crises facing America, and much of the world, have their roots in religious fundamentalism. A topic for another day.)
Actually, that’s not quite what he said. He that borrowing money to pay for disaster relief is immoral. He also said that disaster relief should be left up to the states or even privatized. Mr Romney is wrong on several levels, scary wrong in fact. On the top level he is wrong for implying that it’s wrong for the Federal Government to be involved in disaster relief. Protecting the people of America from threats is the government’s job for God’s sake, how can that not include natural disasters? And I am talking natural disasters here, huge events that affect large areas, multiple states in many cases. The whole point of being in a tribe is that the tribe looks out for itself, hell; it’s the whole point of civilization, people cooperating for the common good. I know Mr Romney wasn’t quite saying “disaster victims had it coming, so they can take care of themselves” … but he’s awful close. And he is giving at least tacit support for those that do say such infantile nonsense.
On a more practical level, it’s simply cheaper and more effective to have major federal resources that can be used in the event of a regional disaster. If each state had to entirely take care of its own disaster relief there would be fabulous duplication of effort as each state tried to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Disaster preparedness would also vary wildly between states, they differ greatly in both size, wealth, and prevalence of natural disasters. Again, note I’m not saying that states shouldn’t have disaster relief plans, I’m saying it only makes sense to have preparation and resources on multiple levels. For example a state could suffer a disaster so great that even ample local disaster preparation is overwhelmed. Having a central agency to both send in government resources and coordinate rescue efforts from other states is going to speed up recovery efforts and save lives. I find it hard to believe that some people think the government shouldn’t save lives, even so, simply from an economic standpoint everyone in the country benefits if the affected areas are brought back to normalcy as soon as possible so that normal economic activity can resume. Right? The sooner people can get back to work … the sooner they start paying taxes again. Humanitarian concerns aside, it still makes perfect sense to use the federal government resources to get a disaster affected region back on its feet.
The privatization remark is frankly, somewhere between weird and deceptive. First of all, we have privatized disaster relief. They are called insurance companies, any individual or business that wants to avail themselves of their services is welcome to do so. Since this is the case, I can only assume Mr Romney thinks that federal and state governments, instead of taking care of disaster relief directly, take out insurance policies on infrastructure and such? Really? So in the event of a natural disaster all the president or governor has to do is call an insurance agent? It takes very little imagination to see how that might go wrong. It also means that huge companies will profit from natural disasters. Again, think about some of the implications of that. Privatizing disaster relief isn’t just an impractical idea, it’s downright immoral on some levels. Note I am not saying that governments shouldn’t make full use of private contractors when the need arises for disaster relief, I’m saying that the government needs to be able to do whatever is necessary to save lives and respond to a natural disaster in a timely and effective way, and that it can’t leave such decisions up to private companies motivated purely by profit.
Lastly we come to the idea that borrowing money for disaster relief is wrong. Excuse me? First of all, since the government has been running a deficit for decades, this argument could be used against any government spending. Right off the bat that’s a sign of a weak argument. And it’s also a sign of a failure to understand that borrowing money is how business is done in the USA. An entrepreneur borrows money to build a factory, and if they are successful, they profit and the lender profits. Borrowing money is at the freaking core of capitalism, modern business couldn’t do without it. And the economic payoffs from disaster relief are enormous, getting commerce back on its feet quickly after a disaster is going to increase wages and taxes, a much better return than a lot of other government spending.
In conclusion, Mr Romney’s thinking on disaster relief is either blatantly deceptive, propaganda for insurance companies and other wealthy interests that would benefit from his policies … or it’s alarmingly naive and sophomoric. I see no other options.
(The above image is a shark swimming through the streets of New Jersey flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Poor shark. Of course it’s a fake, though such is possible. Many fake Sandy photos have been circulating, many of them can be viewed here. New Jersey was the site of the original shark attacks in 1916 that inspired jaws, one of which occurred in a creek 16 miles from the sea!)
It’s been awhile since I wrote a “Through Thick and Thin” post. The phrase still and likely always will appeal to me. Partly because it’s a reminder of a more bucolic era, it is an old phrase. Partly because I like running around in the woods and fields myself. I don’t do as much of it as I used to. Moving right along, a lot has been happening lately, so why not comment on several trending events?
Chick-Fil-A. Sigh. This has gone off on so many tangents it’s gotten truly bizarre. Note above image. Conservative black churches tend to be very anti-LGTB. So we have people who in living memory were a terribly discriminated against minority … actively advocating continued discrimination against another minority. It’s images like this that explain why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet. While I respect people’s right to oppose gay marriage, I won’t dignify their opinion by referring to it as a “defence of marriage.” Marriage is not under attack, it needs no defence. In fact, if marriage is such a good thing, why shouldn’t any two adults be allowed to get married? So much silliness though. Tortured explanations from the left as to why it’s OK to use the power of the state to discriminate against Chik-Fil-A. I still don’t think so. Claims by Chick-Fil-A’s defender that this is a freedom of speech issue. No, aside from some rhetoric, no one’s freedom of speech has been threatened. Yet. I’ve seen a mangled Lincoln quote trotted out by LGBT defenders to bolster their cause. Yeah, adopting Faux News tactics doesn’t impress me.
Granted, some of the groups that Chick-Fil-A has been funding (it’s not just their owners, the corporation itself is a big donor) have been designated as hate groups. I find the appellation “hate group” as annoying as “terrorist group.” It’s a label to demonize a group and their opinions. Neither terrorism nor hate is an ideology, so when it comes right down to it, as a descriptive label its misleading as best. It’s an attempt to frame the discussion in such a way that the other side’s concerns can be ignored. That’s not really a good way to resolve an issue. Lastly, after defending Chick-Fil-A’s right to donate to whoever they please, let me say this. They are donating to some groups that are spreading the most horrific lies and falsehoods about homosexuals. Groups that are advocating the death sentence for gays in Africa. Not cool, not cool at all. I won’t be patronizing Chick-Fil-A, and I heartily encourage others not to do so.
Syria. Sigh. I’m writing a post about it, but it’s complicated. Kofi Annan is quitting as UN-Arab League envoy for the Syria conflict at the end of the month, he claims foreign meddling by both sides is making his job impossible. How the UN ever got involved in an internal, not international, dispute is not mentioned. China and Russia support the Assad regime. The USA and the west are supporting and arming the Islamist revolutionaries. Yes dear readers, China and Russia are supporting the secular government of Syria, while the USA is arming Islamist rebels, including Al-Qaeda linked groups. The people who we call terrorists when they are fighting us. As my more astute readers know, supporting Islamist rebels was such a great idea in Afghanistan, how could it go wrong in Syria?
The Mars Curiosity Rover sets down on Mars this weekend. Hopefully. It’s the most amazing rover ever deployed, jam-packed with whiz-bang experimental gear. If it lands OK and functions OK, it will be like the Hubble on Mars. If they forgot to convert English measurements into American measurements, or installed something backwards, it will be a waste of over 2 billion dollars. This is what the old folks called “putting all of your eggs in one basket.” I still think that at a dozen cheaper rovers based on the wildly successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers would have been a better option. I hope I’m wrong.
The Aurora shooting … conspiracy theories abound! This is priceless. Yes, it looks like this will be as good as the Truthers or the Birthers, or maybe it will be a flash in the pan, who knows. It’s a fascinating how some events can trigger conspiracy theories. Scientists are no doubt gathering data and examining this as I type, this is like seeing a supernovae. So much can be learned about the psychology and sociology of conspiracy theories if one watches one actually spring forth. In this case, the current Holmes version is that this was some sort of false-flag government operation to act as an excuse for gun control. And that the person being tried isn’t actually Holmes. Pass the popcorn.
Australia refuses US carrier base. Yes, Australia in no uncertain terms said they saw no need to have a US naval base in Australia. No doubt the USA will punish them for their refusal in some way, but it’s nice to see a bit of sanity in the world. WTF does Australia need with a US base, and all the attendant problems that go with it? World War Two is long over, there is no threat to Australia that requires the presence of an American carrier task force. And why does the USA want a naval base in western Australia? It’s all part of the militarization of the world, apparently we are going to be the world’s policemen now. I’m not kidding, Marine units are now being trained to act as world policemen. There’s so much wrong with this I don’t know where to start, so likely there will be a post on it in the future.
Lastly, a bonus image to share. This made me laugh. Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above two images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Both have gone viral on Facebook, so I think they are pretty much public domain, I have no idea who to credit them too. Heck, I could make an entire blog just from the interesting images that crop up on Facebook daily, I’ll certainly try to post more of them here in the future.)
OK, Facebook’s much hyped IPO was a flop, shares are now selling for less than what they were originally offered for. This means that anyone who ran out and bought Facebook stock as soon as it was offered is feeling mighty stupid now, which most definitely does not include me. There are already claims of improprieties about the whole deal, which may or may not be true. For my purposes this is a lovely little example of how the American financial system is rotten to the core. (A major theme of my last post, I’m on a roll.)
The first thing, and the thing that I would have thought would be obvious, but what, exactly, does Facebook do to make wealth? Well, nothing. They have no products, farms, factories, mines, etc. Facebook doesn’t produce a damn thing, it is merely a vehicle for siphoning money out of millions of people’s pockets via advertising and its unseemly host of related gold mining schemes. Facebook is purely a middle man, and it’s not even an original middle man, it replaces smaller middle men at the very best. It’s what I call a purely parasitical industry, it creates nothing of its own and sucks money from other parts of the economy. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it’s that it was touted as some great new stock, as if it was going to be some prime part of the new economy. An online social network? Really? As far as I can tell, I’m one of the few people who is pointing this out. There was a time in the USA when a prime stock was in a company that actually produced wealth: Auto companies, oil companies, and even on through computer companies, great stock was in company that had a great product. Now a stock seems to be mostly valued by how much it can go up in price. This isn’t value, it’s gambling.
It gets worse. Doesn’t anyone remember what stock used to be in the old days? In the 1960s and before? The stock market, as it was originally conceived, was a way for companies to attract investors so that it could expand its operations. And by ‘expand its operations,” I mean build things, hire people, and just generally be a productive part of the economy. This was how it worked, this was capitalism, and it was a wonderful thing. This isn’t how the stock market works anymore. For one thing, it can’t, because the wealth of the country is owned by a tiny handful of families. Capital can’t be raised by selling stock to the masses anymore, because for the most part the masses don’t have any money. And what was Facebook going to invest all the money it raised in? Nothing, the whole idea was for the stock to rise rapidly in value, and a tiny handful of people would have become fabulously rich. Again, this isn’t capitalism, it’s gambling.
Except of course in most gambling, the game isn’t rigged. There’s one more gambling example. Ever heard of day trading? That’s where people buy and sell stock over the very short term and try to make a profit. Think about this, how, exactly, does it benefit a company having someone own some of its stock for a few hours? It doesn’t that I can see, and this is a perversion of what the stock market is supposed to be. And who profits from this? The brokerage houses that handle the buying and selling of stock. In fact they make a profit no matter if the day traders win or lose. And the day traders are gamblers, make no mistake about it. So basically the people running the stock market turned it into a casino. This is madness. And this is the sort of mind set that came up with ever more complicated financial shenanigans that made the people at the top wild wealthy on paper, and destroyed the economy and gutted the poor and middle class in the process.
And this all happened slowly, over decades. Even as a teenager I remember when all of a sudden in the early 1970s Savings and Loans sprung up on every corner. And I couldn’t help but think, gee, these are some expensive buildings, who is paying for this? And it’s gotten worse since, and it’s clear who is paying for it. The only thing that I wonder about now is when the American people are going to wake up and realize that they’ve been had by both parties for decades.
I hope I’m here to see it.
(The above image is from Wikipedia and is reproduced under a GNU Free Documentation License. It’s a casino. And Wall Street. At least in casinos they don’t pretend its anything but gambling. The rise of legalized ambling is also part and parcel of the rot infecting America, topic for another post there for sure.)
I know I have discussed many of these before some of them at great length. There are several aspects to this list. For one thing, each of these ten items is something that has occurred since or was a radical departure from America in the 196os. An America whose schools, infrastructure, health care, and middle class were the envy of the world. And each of these things has been an epic fail, something that has cost the nation staggering sums of money and/or blood while simultaneously making the situation worse. And lastly, it’s the sum total of all of them that is alarming. Any one of them is a national calamity, with all ten of them (and likely a few more I didn’t cover,) its beyond me how the future can be anything but bleak. In no particular order, and there is some overlap:
1. The War on Drugs. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent, whole police forces, armies and even governments corrupted by drug money, countless lives ruined, tens of thousands dead … and drugs are as cheap ana available as they ever were. In fact the only drug that has seriously declined in use since this prohibition madness began … is tobacco. Americans in the 30s were able to understand that prohibition was creating more problems than it solved, not so much today apparently.
2. Public Education. In the 1960s the USA’s educational system was the envy of the world. It was actually possible for people to work their way through college. And the whole point of the educational system was to produce well rounded peopl who would be enlightened and productive citizens. Now it produces standardized tested drones designed to be cubicle workers for corporate America.
3. Prison Policy. California illustrates that nicely. In the 1960s CA had an incredible prison system that concentrated on rehabilitating prisoners. And the recidivism rate was the envy of the world. Since then California has gone to a prison policy of “punishment only,” and the results are predictable. Prisoners are dehumanized by prison, and completely unprepared for society when released. So the recidivism rate has gone through the roof, and huge numbers of people are imprisoned at vast public expense. It’s literally insane.
4. Afghanistan and Iraq. Trillions spent, tens of thousands of Americans dead and maimed, and the only thing we have to show for it is we are more hated than ever. Even ARVN (South Vietnamese) troops didn’t kill our GIs, Iraq has allied with Iran, and our Afghan allies kill and wound our troops almost daily. And Obama with a straight face says both invasions are both “victories.” Right.
5. Health Care. France provides its citizens, every one, with cradle to gave health care that is the envy of the world for about 11% of their GNP. The USA spends 16% of its GNP on health care and provides its citizens with the worst health care in the developed world. Not only are Americans paying through the nose for the shittiest health care in the developed world, many of them are deluded into thinking its the best health care in the developed world.
6. War on Terror. Staggering sums of money spent, the largest expansion of government since the 1930s, government power to intrude on American’s lives expanded and still expanding … to defend against a threat that is so small it is statistically zero. That’s right, an American’s chances of being killed by terrorists have remained the same forever, essentially zero. As threats to our lives terrorism is not even on the radar.
7. Infrastructure Fail. Again, in the 1960s America’s infrastructure was the envy of the developed world. And since then spending has been diverted into the military, and what spending does get made on infrastructure is so rife with corruption that mind numbing amounts of money get spent to accomplish very little. And we are now two trillion dollars in the hole.
8. War on the Poor and Middle Class/Upwards Transfer of Wealth/Legalized Corruption. This is a big one, in some senses the biggest one of all. From the end of World War Two until the late 1970s rising tides did lift all boats, and the American middle class was the most prosperous the world had ever seen. Since then the rich have gotten richer while everyone else has lost ground, and this has been very deliberate and systematic. This is trillions of dollars that has been taken out of circulation an invested in offshore bank accounts, if such a word like investment can properly be used.
9. War on Science. In the 1950s and 1960s everyone knew that science and scientists were one of the core things that had led America to greatness. Not so much anymore. And a huge percentage of our science infrastructure is now devoted to military research, or simply devoted to subsidizing corporate research in what were once public colleges and universities. This has impoverished us all from any number of perspectives.
10. Theocracy in America. I don’t know what else to say, a significant minority in the USA is bent on turning the USA into a Biblical Theocracy. This is crazy on so many levels, the first of which is that biblical prinicples fail as any sort of social policy. In the Bible punishment and prohibition are the only social policies, both of which are demonstrably the least effective social policies.
I could go on. And these all tie together in horrible ways. One of the most obvious is that there are powerful institutions and forces working very very hard to make sure that none of the above change. The prison lobby isn’t interested in rehabilitating prisoners for example, they want as many prisons and prisoners as possible. And they’ve succeeded, with 5% of the world’s population we have about 25% of the prisoners. A staggering waste of money and resources when it comes right down to it.
That’s the crux of it: staggeringly wasteful spending that doesn’t create any wealth whatsoever, but it enriches a tiny number of people who fund powerful lobbies to keep it so. Often with horrific unintended consequences on the side as well. This is no way to run a nation.
And most Americans are oblivious. Or worse.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. It’s from the History Channel program Life After People, a show that I heartily recommenced and encourage people to watch.)
I was planning posting a post about the Iraq War today, but alas it’s not finished. And it’s a post I want to be fairly polished before publishing, a war only ends once so I have to get it right. So … quick random burblings about whatever comes to mind in the hour before I have to head out into the rain to fix people’s plumbing. It’s going to be easy, becasue the world is going to hell in a hand basket, lots of bad news to choose from.
Things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan. Hard to decide what is more disturbing, the media and government completely misrepresenting the situation, or the republicans almost gleefully using it to score political points against Obama. If chortling over American deaths can really be called scoring points, the republican party didn’t lose their moral compass, they are using it backwards. We may be forced to leave soon, it’s becoming clear that they all hate us, we didn’t have South Vietnamese troops turning their guns on Americans in Vietnam (not that I recall at least,) but it’s almost a daily occurrence in Afghanistan now.
Moving right along, the Republicans as part of their “abandon all morals ye who enter here campaign,” have more or less declared war on women, introducing new and increasingly misogynistic laws on almost a daily basis now. It’s about putting women back where they belong, in the homes breeding and raising children. Newt even just came out and said that women who use birth control are sluts. Same ol same ol, a guy who sleeps around is a stud, a gal who sleeps around is a slut. There’s even a holocaust denier and former American Nazi Party member trying to get on the Republican ticket in one state, though at least so far the Republicans aren’t going that far. Small comfort.
North Korea has agreed to stop enriching Uranium, allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities, and stop missile testing in exchange for food aid. It’s a good sign. I suspect the USA will put so many other preconditions on the deal that nothing will come of it, but who knows. I keep thinking that maybe somewhere in the primitive lizard brain that is now Washington is the dim perception that we can’t afford to police the whole world and that we need to actually dial back some of our overseas confrontations. What can I say, I’m the eternal optimist.
Syria is basically close to civil war at this point, peaceful demonstrations having given way to armed insurrection. Again as in Afghanistan, what a mess. Like all dictatorships in nations that don’t have a real national identity yet (it takes more than just drawing a line on a map to make a nation,) the rulers are very much all from the same religious and ethnic faction. So it’s as much a fight for the majority trying to get their share of the pie as it is a fight for freedom and democracy. I’m not even going to guess as to how it’s going to end, but I think it’s safe to say it isn’t going to be pretty.
And I’m pleased to end on a good note. All those bailouts and the stimulus plan have worked. Yes, the stock market is back to where it was before the crash! Isn’t that great, the people who destroyed the economy by accumulating ever higher piles of funny money at the top of the pyramid have all gotten their money back. And of course with the rich being super rich again, surely the trickle down theory will finally kick in and they will re-invest this wealth in America and we will all have good paying jobs again soon! Yes, the American dream still lives.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s all over Facebook so I think I’m good. I don’t know who holds the copyright but the speaker is Anne Hathaway at the 2008 Human Rights Campaign Dinner. YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZuIdQVEVY0. I posted it because it illustrates a point about the gay marriage “debate” that numerous judges have now based their rulings on, the only objections people have to gay marriage are predicated on Biblical teachings. Prejudice is not a valid reason to deny people their rights. If gay weddings bother you, don’t go to them when invited.)