Category Archives: Economics

Tax These Hypocrites

I came across this graphic on Facebook today. It struck me, as the concept has struck me for decades, that this should be part of any truly progressive agenda. I have been an “ordained minister” since the late sixties. I have performed approximately 50 weddings, which was the main reason I became “ordained.” It wasn’t to lead a congregation or even to claim tax breaks, and I claim no special relationship with the universe. In fact, I am an atheist.

One thing I learned early on, though, is the State considers a church a business, an organization, with the lone exception (that I can think of) of taxation. By not taxing religious organizations the State is giving them an unfair advantage over any other type of business and is, in my less-than-humble opinion, violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution by—in fact—making a law respecting an establishment of religion.

Even more egregious is the situation depicted here. Mega churches are nothing more than income sources for their “leaders.” I believe this is Joel Osteen’s “flock,” as well as his home. Why does a follower of Jesus, a poor itinerant, and one who purports to be a spiritual leader, need a house that could probably accommodate the entire village of ancient Bethlehem? If nothing else, these huge and “Osteen”tacious abominations should pay their fair share of taxes on the revenue they get from their “flock.”


How To Be A Patriot

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It seems to me that anyone who really cares about their country, who is a genuine patriot, has to care for everyone. Life is NOT a zero-sum game, where the gains enjoyed by others are a loss to you and yours. No, life and human society are highly complex, interdependent systems where every part has a role to play, and when we don’t provide optimal conditions for the health and well-being of some of the parts, the whole body suffers. Would you want your car’s engine to go without one of its spark plugs? While it would still get you to where you were going, it wouldn’t do it as efficiently, nor as effectively. In the end, it would almost certainly cost more to deal with the results of an imbalance in the engine than it would to ensure all its components were kept in good working order.

Yet many approach life as though they are living on an island. It’s difficult to fathom the level of insensitivity, blindness to reality, and the callous lack of empathy it takes to turn one’s back on people who may not directly affect your life in a way you can feel immediately, but who nevertheless impact the organizations and institutions you deal with all the time.

For instance, by not ensuring all children receive healthcare, adequate nutrition, and early education, we ensure our up and coming workforce will be less prepared than they otherwise could be for the kinds of jobs that will be available in the near future. The net result is we not only handicap those children, we also handicap their families, their friends, and the entire nation. By guaranteeing they need more help for far longer than might otherwise be the case, we add to both their burden and ours.

We hobble ourselves with mistaken, outdated, unsupportable notions that give far more importance to diversity as a bad thing; as something that takes away from our sense of worth, of self. Instead of understanding, celebrating, and taking advantage of all the ways in which we complement and enhance each other, too many of us turn those virtues into imaginary vices and use them to divide and separate us. What a pity.


A Little Lawyer Talk

Most people likely have no idea who John Flannery is, even though he’s a fairly well-known, former Federal Prosecutor. I know him from his frequent appearances on The Beat With Ari Melber. Ari is fond of pointing out that John is a bit of a doppelganger for Robert Redford. If you’re interested, here’s his biography at the firm of Campbell Flannery, where he is a senior partner.

John likes to take walks in the morning and record his thoughts about current events, with his primary focus on politics and the law. This is a short video where he discusses Trump’s attempt to hold on to power, as well as the progress of the pandemic we’re suffering from. I think John’s insights are invaluable and quite interesting. Three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of usefulness. Take a listen.


Are We There Yet?

Will It Come To This?

Nearly 50 years ago I was preparing for a revolution. It was premature, but I was young and brash. Now I’m an old man and, although I’m in reasonably good shape, old bodies don’t lend themselves readily to battle.

Nevertheless, it’s looking more likely to me a revolution will be necessary to defeat Trump and his bootlickers, toadies, and sycophants. They are all inexorably locked into white supremacy and patriarchy and I don’t see logic doing anything to disabuse them of their hatreds and prejudices.

I think there’s a better than even chance Trump and his minions will find a way to steal the presidency. Should we flip the Senate (hardly guaranteed) and retain the House (all but guaranteed) it’s quite possible Trump can be impeached again—a first for the country—and found guilty this time.

I remain hopeful we can keep from descending into a Balkanized mess of a country but, should the populace rise up, I will do everything in my power to support them for as long as I’m able.

At the same time, should Trump manage to pull off an electoral coup, I’m more than ready to support an effort for California and other states to secede. The country I was born and raised in is already becoming completely unrecognizable to me.

I wish it were otherwise, but here we are.


Racism and Bigotry

I still believe we are misusing the words “racism” and “racist.”

Racism is institutional, systemic, and structural. It’s insidious and buried deep in every aspect of our society and economy. Bigotry is right out in the open.

And this isn’t whitesplaining on my part. This is what I was taught by members of the Black Panther Party and the Brown Berets in 1973. I was, along with 49 of my closest friends, required to go through about 20 hours of cultural and racial sensitivity training before being allowed to travel to Cuba with the sixth contingent of the Venceremos Brigade.

I keep bringing this up because the public now conflates racism with bigotry and, by doing so, gives people an excuse for not looking closer at how they’ve unknowingly embraced or benefited from racism, by merely pointing out their lack of anger or visible anger/hatred toward people of color. “I don’t see color,” or “I have black friends/relatives.” All that means, at the most, is you’re not a bigot. It doesn’t change the centuries of economic and social injustice deeply baked into every aspect of our society.

We need to understand the differences if we’re going to erase racism and its insidious effects.

One other thing I learned from that education, and that has been reinforced in the intervening years, is that white people need to shut the fuck up and listen to people of color when it comes to understanding their lived reality. Because of racism, you don’t know squat about their experiences. Try it. You might be surprised.


Power to the People

Corporations, conglomerates, and industrial organizations aren’t the enemy, ipso facto. In fact, they make socialism not only possible, but necessary, IMO.

What is the enemy is unbridled greed, rampant cronyism, nepotism and, especially, the codification of deep income inequality. It is not good for a society when individuals can amass fortunes they can’t possibly spend. That they then turn some of that fortune into philanthropy and charitable organizations doesn’t change the fact that it should be criminal for one individual to take that much surplus value from the workforce that made their fortune possible. It’s estimated Jeff Bezos makes (not earns) around $2,500/second. Dafuque does he do, other than own Amazon stock?

I’m not saying inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, etc. aren’t entitled to profit from their efforts, but they shouldn’t be able to continue siphoning profit off an organization that has reached a point where it could easily survive without them. By the same token, intellectual property law has expanded patent and copyright protections way beyond their original intent, creating other avenues of indecent profit-making.

And getting back to what I said about making socialism possible and necessary, without large profitable organizations, we’d all be living off mom & pop’s and craft-making. Many of the products we enjoy, and that provide the grease that skids civilization as we know it, would not be possible without large factories, laboratories, and other institutions. By their very nature, though, they transcend the control and direction of any one individual, and I believe our pay/profit structure needs to take that much more into consideration, providing a larger share to the workers who have helped make the org successful.



Moving Forward

No matter what happens as we are coming out of this crisis, we should never settle for returning to the status quo ante. We need to think of humans and our societies as living organisms; as interconnected and interdependent systems. When some of us are suffering, we must recognize it as an insult to all of us.

“We’re all in this together” doesn’t stop being true when this pandemic is “over.” It remains true except for those idiotic and stubborn people who still believe in rugged individualism as the ideal condition for humans to follow. In my opinion, that model is a recipe for disaster for all but people who live in the woods and, even then—with the exception of people like Ted Kaczynski—if they take advantage of roads, communication channels, and the efforts of entities like the US Forest Service, etc. they’re part of the gestalt that is humanity.

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook. It was posted by someone who I don’t know, and his name isn’t important here, but the quote is useful and is what prompted me to write what I did above:

“Indeed, you have to wonder if the virus is so very different from extractive capitalism. It commandeers the manufacturing elements of its hosts, gets them to make stuff for it; kills a fair few, but not enough to stop it spreading. There is no normal for us to go back to. People sleeping in the streets wasn’t normal; children living in poverty wasn’t normal; neither was our taxes helping to bomb the people of Yemen. Using other people’s lives to pile up objects wasn’t normal, the whole thing was absurd. Governments are currently busy pouring money into propping up existing inequalities, and bailing out businesses that have made their shareholders rich. The world’s worst people think that everybody is going to come out of this in a few months and go willingly back into a kind of numbing servitude. Surely it’s time to start imagining something better.”

~ Frankie Boyle

I was also sent a link to a wonderful essay in The Guardian’s “The Long Read” collection. I recommend it highly, though it is a long read. I’m memorializing it partly because I want to return to it and re-read it, perhaps numerous times. I see it as a booster to help me continue to advocate for fundamental structural change in our economy and our society. Our culture.

Here’s a quote, though there are so many useful ones in this particular essay, it’s hard to pick only one:

The first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected. In fact, disasters, I found while living through a medium-sized one (the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area) and later writing about major ones (including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan), are crash courses in those connections. At moments of immense change, we see with new clarity the systems – political, economic, social, ecological – in which we are immersed as they change around us. We see what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t.

I often think of these times as akin to a spring thaw: it’s as if the pack ice has broken up, the water starts flowing again and boats can move through places they could not during winter. The ice was the arrangement of power relations that we call the status quo – it seems to be stable, and those who benefit from it often insist that it’s unchangeable. Then it changes fast and dramatically, and that can be exhilarating, terrifying, or both.

Finally, here’s a link to the article itself. Read it. You won’t regret it.


Time to be Thinking Hard About Our Future

I wrote and posted the following on my Facebook Timeline and shared it with several groups to which I belong:

The feedback has been positive, with the exception of a few Trump supporters in a local community group known for the number of people on it who are averse to anything negative about their “dear leader.” I posted it there on purpose, just to stir the pot a bit.

As the corona virus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., and people come to grips with how it’s going to affect them, I’m seeing more and more posts from folks outlining just how hard the most vulnerable among us (economically) are going to be hit, even if they don’t get sick at all.

If ever there was an argument for universal healthcare and a strong, resilient social safety net, if not UBI or a socialist economy, I think this might be it. Our fear of socialism is actually a fear of authoritarianism, but the two are not inextricably intertwined. Also, we’re already living under an authoritarian regime and it’s only going to get worse as long as Republicans have anything to say about it.

Donald John Trump, and every one of his brain dead sycophants, represent a clear and present danger to the health and well-being of the people of the United States. Everything he does, every choice he makes, is predicated on assuaging his fragile ego and is aligned with his re-election campaign and his economic interests. Even when he appears to be looking out for the nation’s economy, it is only inasmuch as it affects, and reinforces, his own financial interests. He needs to be gone immediately but, thanks to the greed and avarice of the Republican party, we will have to wait until near the end of next January to remove his worthless ass.

As John Pavlovitz posted on Twitter recently:

This President didn’t create this virus, but he ignored it, denied it, joked about it, weaponized it, politicized it, and exacerbated it. He is culpable for the chaos and the unnecessary illness, and yes, the preventable deaths because of it—and his supporters are too. This is the human cost of the MAGA cult delusion, and we’re all paying for it now equally.

https://twitter.com/johnpavlovitz/status/1238127737031864321?s=20

I have one disagreement with John, however. We’re NOT paying for it equally. The most marginalized of us will suffer far more than those of us higher up on the economic food chain. Since I’m semi-retired and, when I do work, I can work from home, if school is cancelled my youngest, who’s still in high school, will have someone at home to care for her and my oldest, who works with 4th graders through our local Boys and Girls Club, will also have a comfortable home and whatever she needs until school resumes. They will not go hungry, unless we’re forced to stay inside for longer than a couple of weeks.

There are millions of children who depend upon school breakfasts and lunches to get a good, reasonably nutritious meal (sometimes the best meal of the day) and there are lots of parents who cannot afford to miss work should they be required to stay home for a week or two. I have no doubt many on the right see this as a matter of survival of the fittest, but I can’t go along with such a callous view of how we are to function as a society.

We are social animals and we thrive when we take care of each other, recognizing that we are all dependent on our collective strengths to overcome our individual weaknesses. It’s time we recognize this basic reality of our humanity . . . and pay homage to it by lifting all boats, not just those of the wealthy and powerful.

The word ‘equality’ shows up too much in our founding documents for anyone to pretend it’s not the American way.

Martha Plimpton

Why Charity Sucks

When I feed the poor,
they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food,
They call me a communist.

~ Dom Helder Camara

Most of us would agree charity is important. There are, after all, large numbers of people who need a helping hand at times and who, without help, would fall between the cracks of society and suffer needlessly; perhaps perish as a result.

But we don’t seem to ever ask ourselves why charity is necessary; why there are always millions who haven’t enough to get by comfortably. It’s understandable in the face of natural disasters and unfortunate accidents, but more difficult to accept when it’s merely the “way things are.” I haven’t always done so myself.

Shortly after my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I was asked to join one of my city’s local Rotary clubs. I knew many of the city’s leaders were involved in Rotary and I also knew the club I was asked to join held a yearly Cajun & Blues festival on Memorial Day each year that was wildly successful and raised a lot of money for the community.

I was happy to join and discovered one of Rotary International’s projects was to eradicate Polio—a worthy endeavor in my estimation. I became fairly active in my club, taking on the responsibility of using social media to promote our activities and volunteering for many of the club’s activities, including providing a full Thanksgiving meal at our senior center, assembling bicycles to give to children for Christmas, and spending an entire weekend (sometimes more) during the Cajun & Blues festival.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the realization that quite a few of the members of my club were uncomfortably conservative; some of them clearly harboring deeply bigoted concepts of entire groups of people I felt were undeserving of their scorn. After all, I live in Simi Valley, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and also known for the acquittal of the police officers who beat the crap out of Rodney King.

I celebrated my fourth anniversary with the club in October of 2016, though I had been attending breakfast meetings for nearly six months prior to becoming an official member (there was some kind of SNAFU that held up my membership.) I had long been uncomfortable with a large segment of the members and, after the election of Donald Trump, I decided I needed to use my limited discretionary funds for something other than rubber chicken circuit breakfasts and a glossy magazine I seldom had time to read.

I tendered my resignation in December and immediately started monthly contributions to five advocacy groups I felt were more aligned with the direction I wished to see society go in. Those organizations included Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal & Defense Fund, MALDEF, and the Standing Rock Water Defenders. The last of these stopped accepting donations when they were unceremoniously kicked off the land, and I replaced them with my local Democratic club, of which I had also become a member.

So . . . my point here is that, while charity is important because many are struggling and need a helping hand, it is also an indication (a powerful one, IMO) that something is wrong with our society. Why does such a wealthy nation have such a large population of people living on the razor’s edge of existence? Why are people like Jeff Bezos allowed to amass fortunes in the billions while others are left to starve on the streets? I know it’s the logic of capitalism, but I don’t think it makes much sense from a systems or holistic view of humanity and society . . . even of economics. At twice the national poverty line (~$50K/yr) Bezos’s worth of $110,000,000,000 would bring a reasonably comfortable level of income to 2,200,000 families of four (that’s approximately 8,800,000 people.)

Many are beginning to realize income inequality is deeply hurtful to a society. Large segments of the population can’t possibly contribute as much as they’re capable of when they’re struggling to stay alive and healthy. I’m of the opinion we have a hard time understanding this because we are not conversant in the language of systems; we don’t see the interconnections between all of us and our actions and how such large segments of our population who are under stress is stressful to our society as a whole.

Whether it’s Universal Basic Income or a shift to a more socialistic economic system, I believe something needs to be done to allow as many as possible to reach closer to their full potential as contributing members of our society. Until such time, I don’t see how we can truly call ourselves “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The status quo is anything but freedom enhancing, and its acceptance is hardly an act of courage.


Socialism is NOT a bad word!

Capitalism means money (specifically investment, not wages) is society’s primary consideration. Socialism means people (workers, humans) are society’s primary consideration. I know what I prefer. How about you?

Sure . . . there are thorny issues of ownership and incentivization, what deserves to be nationalized and what can remain in the private sector, but they will be addressed with people, not capital, foremost in mind. And don’t come at me with that tired old trope that socialism has been tried and it’s failed. That’s not even close to the truth. Most examples given are usually of a country that attempted to go straight from feudalism to socialism, without experiencing capitalism at all.

If Karl Marx was correct, and I believe he was, economies need to develop and evolve through various stages, and attempting to circumvent one of those developmental stages isn’t a good idea. This is why I believe the U.S. economy is ripe for becoming socialist; it already is to some extent. Our economy is, if not the most advanced, one of the more advanced capitalist economies in the world. Yet, many of its sectors are—or have been—treated as worthy of receiving benefits in the form of subsidies, grants, and tax breaks that are tantamount to them being socialized.

Most importantly, many larger sectors of the economy are highly developed, with a few being in nearly monopolistic control of their market. This is what Marx called late-stage, monopoly capitalism. It suggests that larger industries, which have become monolithic, are ripe for worker ownership and a more equitable distribution of their profits to the people who actually make those profits happen.

Let’s stop treating the concept, let alone the word, of socialism as if it’s still some sort of disease or bogeyman. The forces of reaction and fascism have long told us to be afraid . . . be very afraid . . . of socialism, but they’re crying wolf and their arguments are dishonest and disingenuous. That is to say, they’re fucking liars and can’t be trusted. They don’t care about you and me. Don’t expect them to be helpful, unless they’re helping themselves.


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