RSSCategory: Culture

Red Cross seeking donations

November 4, 2011 | By | Reply More
Red Cross seeking donations

I’m in Chicago for a consumer law conference. While walking to the conference site a young woman approached me on the sidewalk, asking me to donate to the Red Cross. I told her that I’m not interested, because too much of the money I would donate would go to over-paid executives. She quickly responded that the head of the Red Cross only makes a bit more than $600,000. I told her that this was outrageous.

She asked, “So you would never give to a charity where the person in charge makes $600,000?”

I said, “Never.”

The Red Cross is not alone in paying huge salaries to its executives.   Here is a list of the salaries of some of the executive salaries of some of the biggest charities in the United States.   Many of these charity leaders earn less than $200,000.

I know a lot of teachers who work every bit as hard as any executive, yet they are paid a pittance compared to $600,000. I know many people who believe in a cause enough to work untold hours for the cause for no pay at all. It seems to me that charities ought to work harder to find leaders who believe in the cause enough that they will do it for outrageous salaries. For comparison, the salary of members of Congress is $174,000 per year. A justice on the United States Supreme Court earns $223,000 per year. Ralph Nader lives off of $25,000 per year.  The average chief executive (charity and non-charity) in the United States earns less than $300,000/year.

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Succinct bio of Robert Rubin

November 4, 2011 | By | Reply More
Succinct bio of Robert Rubin

At Truthdig.com, Robert Scheer offers the following condensed bio of Robert Robin, one of the architects of too-big-to-fail banks. It puzzles Scheer that, while Bernie Madoff is sitting in prison, Rubin, whose actions have caused far more damage than Madoff, remains out and about, after having served as an Obama advisor. Here’s the an excerpt from the bio:

Rubin’s tenure atop the world of high finance began when he was co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, before he became Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary and pushed through the reversal of the Glass-Steagall Act, an action that legalized the formation of Citigroup and other “too big to fail” banking conglomerates.

Rubin’s destructive impact on the economy in enabling these giant corporate banks to run amok was far greater than that of swindler Bernard Madoff, who sits in prison under a 150-year sentence while Rubin sits on the Harvard Board of Overseers, as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and as a leader of the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project.

Rubin was rewarded for his efforts on behalf of Citigroup with a top job as chairman of the bank’s executive committee and at least $126 million in compensation. That was “compensation” for steering the bank to the point of a bankruptcy avoided only by a $45 billion taxpayer bailout and a further guarantee of $300 billion of the bank’s toxic assets.

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Fines for barking dogs in LA

November 2, 2011 | By | Reply More
Fines for barking dogs in LA

A recent story in the LA Times addresses a topic near and dear to me, because in years past I suffered the aural assault of five neighborhood dogs barking excessively. I even bought the neighbors (two of my neighbors) no-bark collars for their dogs, but they refused to use them. Eventually, the neighbors (who were all otherwise pleasant people ) moved away, taking their dogs with them.  I’m talking about barking that began at 6 am right below my bedroom window and continued off and on until midnight. It would penetrate right through closed windows and closed doors.  It would be as loud inside our house as we listened to the TV set.  The problem is that some people are not at all adverse to noise, but I am admittedly sensitive. Barking dogs at close range keep me from thinking, playing the guitar and sleeping.  The barking dogs to the west were a different kind of nuisance from the cat loving lady to the east (she had more than 20 stray cats, and also had an indoor 50 pound African serval that ate one of her other indoor cats).

From the above article in the LA Times, we learn that the city of Los Angeles is taking this problem of barking dogs seriously. Owners of excessively barking dogs will be fined. What is excessive barking?

A dog’s barking would be considered excessive if it continued for 10 minutes or more, or intermittently for 30 minutes or more within a three-hour period . . .

The fines are hefty, as I believe they should be:

Under the changes, dog owners would face fines starting at $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third if a hearing conducted by the Department of Animal Services determines that a dog barks too much.

I’m not against dogs. My family has one, and you will occasionally hear her bark a couple of times, but that’s usually it (except when a possum sits on the fence).  I am happy for the people of LA who will now have a better chance of enjoying the lack of barking.

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LEAP once again points out the insanity of the “war on drugs”

October 30, 2011 | By | 15 Replies More
LEAP once again points out the insanity of the “war on drugs”

The following information is from a mass emailing I was recently sent by LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition):

Late Friday night the White House issued a typical evasive rejection of the several marijuana legalization petitions that collected more signatures than any other issue on its “We the People” website. Even though recent polls show that more voters support marijuana legalization than approve of President Obama’s job performance, the White House categorically dismissed the notion of reforming any laws, focusing its response on the possible harms of marijuana use instead of addressing the many harms of prohibition detailed in the petitions.

One of the popular petitions, submitted by retired Baltimore narcotics cop Neill Franklin, called on the Obama administration to simply stop interfering with states’ efforts to set their own marijuana laws.

It’s maddening that the administration wants to continue failed prohibition polices that do nothing to reduce drug use and succeed only in funneling billions of dollars into the pockets of the cartels and gangs that control the illegal market,” said Franklin, who serves as executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of cops, judges and prosecutors who support legalizing and regulating drugs. “If the president and his advisers think they’re being politically savvy by shying away from much-needed change to our drug policies, they’re wrong. The recent Gallup poll shows that more Americans support legalizing marijuana than support continuing prohibition, so the administration is clearly out of step with the people it claims to represent. President Obama needs to remember his campaign pledge not to waste scarce resources interfering with state marijuana laws and his earlier statement about the ‘utter failure’ of the drug war.

United States spends $52 Billion every year attempting to enforce prohibition, a demonstrably futile endeavor. From a recent article in Esquire Magazine, we get to know the “War on Drugs” by the numbers: “15,223 dead and $52.3 billion spent each year.”  Don’t believe the White House numbers that claim we’re spending more on treatment than law enforcement–those are cooked numbers, and they are shot down by the numbers in the Esquire article. Therefore, the “war on drugs” is, indeed a matter of good versus evil, but not in the way the federal government preaches.  Ken Burns’ recent documentary, “Prohibition,” shines a bright light on every mistake we are now making regarding street drugs. I’ll conclude with a quote by Albert Einstein:  “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

October 29, 2011 | By | Reply More
Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

Tomorrow is Halloween, the day when Americans agree that it’s OK to talk about death, evil spirits and depravity while eating lots of unhealthy food. These traditions seem normal to those of us who have done this October drill more than a few times, but Halloween must seem completely bonkers to outsiders.

I suspect that Halloween serves as a psychological safety valve, allowing us to air out our anxieties about our deepest fears. On Halloween, we talk about these horrible things (dismemberment and other forms of horror) together while laughing—there’s seemingly safety in numbers. And then we make sure that we avoid talking about these things for the remainder of the year. On days other than Halloween, we don’t like to be reminded of the fact that there are skeletons inside of our bodies and that we’re all on a treadmill leading to inevitable death, and that there is no evidence of any afterlife. These things freak us out because there is no cure, no fix, other than working hard to fabricate that everything is OK.  For most of the year, we follow the pattern predicted by Terror management Theory: we cover up the fact that we are mortal animals through the use of elaborate diversions and baubles, pretending that we are Gods with anuses.  I often attempt to do otherwise, and to share my thoughts freely, but I admit that my fear of inevitable death occasionally gets the better of me too. Thus, I do think I understand the need for something like Halloween in a society that heavily discourages free-thinking about disturbing topics. These topics are heavy to me too, though regularly delve into these topics rather than dousing myself in Halloween tradition or seeking comfort by joining a traditional religion. For most people, though, Halloween rituals seem to offer a bit of relief from this admittedly heavy existential anxiety.

Thanksgiving is coming around the corner, and we have ready-made myths to take care of our anxieties related to that holiday too.  Thanksgiving is the time for many Americans to unquestionably repeat the myth that benevolent Europeans were welcomed to American by the Native Americans: “Hello, white people. Make yourselves at home. Take our possessions and our land. Send us to reservations.” One little story about Europeans sharing a meal with Native Americans takes care of thousands of pages of inconvenient history. One little myth kicks in the confirmation bias and invites Americans to believe that they live on a moral oasis, and that it’s OK to strictly filter our history in order to think happy thoughts about how many of us came to be here. Pass the turkey, please.

What kind of myth would extend one’s belief in a moral oasis almost all the way to the new year? If you owned a magic sleigh and you were capable of creating and distributing toys and food all over the world, why would you ignore the children of Africa? The evidence suggests that Santa skips them year after year, even though many of them are dying of starvation and malaria.  Further, this tragedy is something that American children don’t discuss in the context of the Santa

myth. But if you’re magical then, damn it, what’s more important? More iPods for well-to-do American families (it seems like Santa gives well-to-do American families better gifts) or basic food, water and medicine to prevent African children from starving?  Maybe Santa doesn’t care about African children. Or maybe he doesn’t know about the existence of Africa because his Atlas is out of date.  Or maybe he avoids Africa there’s not much snow there. But, again, we don’t discuss the Africa problem with our children when we tell them about the magic and benevolence of Santa Claus, and we are silent because Africa is inconvenient to the Santa story.

The increasingly dominant prosperity Gospel churches preach that Jesus wants us to hit the stores hard on Black Friday because we deserve to have lots of stuff. Many Americans are attracted to churches that advise them that admission to heaven is through faith, and not good works. It’s OK with this Faith version of Jesus that we buy lots of consumer goods rather than saying no to ourselves and sending all of that gadget money to organizations that can truly feed starving African children and provide them with mosquito nets. Year after year, the Santa myth serves as a focus-mechanism of a precious human commodity—attention–that makes certain aspects of the world salient at the expense of downplaying others. That is the general mechanism of all myths. They are colored filters for reality.

In these modern times, our many comforting myths need some serious self-critical analysis, but that is unlikely, because their power is in their uncritical repetition. All of this immediately makes sense when we remind ourselves that we choose our myths—they don’t fall down from the sky.

[http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-santa-in-his-christmas-sled-or-sleigh-silhouette-image20920349 used with permission.  Map of Africa – creative commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg]

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The science of income disparity

October 24, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More
The science of income disparity

In this TED video, researcher Richard Wilkinson discusses real work data based levels of income disparity one finds in “rich developed-market democracies.” As you can see (at 4:11 of the video), nations with low amounts of GNP don’t tend to exhibit aberrant levels of health and social problems. On the other hand, countries that exhibit substantial amount of income disparity (3:44) exhibit high levels of health and social problems.

GNP per capita is thus a poor measure of a country’s well-being.  Further, we should be alarmed at high levels of income disparity. The same relationship (5:01) is apparent when one compares GNP to the UNICEF scale of child well-being. “The national well-being of our societies is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth.” The same tests were run on the 50 states of the U.S. with the same results.

What else suffers along with high income disparity? Trust (5:45), involvement in community life (6:00), mental illness (6:50), violence, percentage of the population in prison (7:40), the percentage of dropouts in high school (8:16), social mobility (poor parents having children who end up poor) (8:24), drug abuse, life expectancy, obesity, math and literacy scores and many other problems (9:10).

Wilkinson sums it up by saying that the countries that do worse—those that have higher social dysfunction–tend to be more economically unequal.

How do the various low income disparity nations and states attain their earning levels? Sweden does it by heavily taxing the rich. Japan has more comparable wages to begin with. Wilkinson’s numbers show, however, that it doesn’t much matter how you get your equality as long as you get there somehow. He adds that it’s not only the poor that are affected by income disparity (12:20). Additional statistics show that the wealthy significantly benefit from general equality, not just the poor.

What is the proximate mechanism for all of these startling numbers. Wilkinson points to the following consequences of inequality:

  • More superiority and inferiority;
  • More status competition and consumerism;
  • More status insecurity;
  • More worry about how we are seen and judged;
  • More “social evaluation anxiety” (threats to self-esteem & social status, fear of negative judgments).

Wilkinson offers an unsurprising solution to countries and states with high levels of social dysfunction: Even out the income, either by offering more opportunities to folks at the lower end of the scale or by taxing the high earners (16:17). The bottom line is that we can improve a country’s overall well-being by reducing economic inequality.

I am not at all surprised by Wilkinson’s findings. It combines many ideas that I’ve previously discussed. No, GNP (and GDP) is a terrible measure of well-being (and see here) and people are deeply compelled to display their self-worth through material acquisitions. And all of this would seem to be exacerbated to the extent that TV and magazines pump images of the haves (and their expensive toys) into the homes and lives of the have-nots, causing all kinds of frustrations and degradations of self-worth among the have-nots. That was my suspicion prior to viewing Wilkinson’s video and now all of this and many other measures of social dysfunction are backed up by Wilkinson’s real-life numbers.

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Ostracized no more: America’s disenfranchised 99% begin to form their own group.

October 23, 2011 | By | Reply More
Ostracized no more: America’s disenfranchised 99% begin to form their own group.

Two years ago, I was excited to see Barack Obama elected President because I had listened closely to his campaign speeches and I assumed that I would now have a meaningful voice in how my government was being run. I assumed that we would see an immediate decrease to America’s warmongering, domestic spying and fossil-fuel dependence, for example. Since that election, though, I’ve witnessed Mr. Obama cave-in to right wing demands on numerous major issues. I’ve seen Wall Street “reform” that allows bigger “banks” than ever. I’ve seen health care “reform” that shoved single payer under the table and consisted of a sell-out to for-profit monopolistic insurers, without any meaningful price controls. Government spying and secrecy are more prevalent than ever. I’ve seen big business spend more money more flagrantly than ever to purchase politicians, including Barack Obama.

As all of this has transpired, I keep being reminded of George Carlin’s words, (at the two-minute mark) that there is a “big club . . . and ain’t in it. . . . You and I are not in the big club.”

[More . . . }

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Dylan Ratigan to Barack Obama: Fire Timothy Geithner

October 20, 2011 | By | 15 Replies More
Dylan Ratigan to Barack Obama: Fire Timothy Geithner

This is part of a mass emailing I received from Dylan Ratigan today:

In my last piece, I talked about how Tim Geithner’s job over the past five years has been to (a) print money, (b) give it to rich friends, and (c) deny everyone else legal and financial rights. This shows up everywhere, from the 0% you get on your savings account versus the insider information the rich get, to your lack of access to the Fed discount window. It’s a symptom of bought government, which I try to expose on our show every day. . . . I find it laughable to hear President Obama’s spokesperson talking about how his campaign represents the 99%. For starters He’d have to fire Geithner, to prove he’s not the leader of a bought government. After all, it is Geithner who took a system indirectly rigged to profit the 1% at the expense of everyone else, and institutionalized and formalized it during a crisis.

The article Ratigan wrote at Huffpo reads like a long detailed indictment of Wall Street, but the word “indictment,” when used in the context of Wall Street, is always and only metaphorical, as Ratigan points out:

It’s not the scandals that matter, or rather, it’s that the scandals are the new norm that matters. The larger context here, what the Occupiers are protesting, is that Tim Geithner formalized a financial elite and gave them special rights they had not previously had, notably a government guarantee for their investing, rights which ordinary people don’t get. You can see this in bank borrowing spreads; large banks get a subsidy of $34 billion of dollars a year, simply because investors think their bonds are backed by the US government. This is now written into law – Dodd-Frank requires regulators to draw up a list of systemically significant firms. These are pretty explicitly firms that are too big to fail. Behind these investing advantages are legal advantages. No elite bankers have been prosecuted for the financial crisis, or the foreclosure crisis. NONE.

For Barack Obama to regain some of my trust, yes, he should immediately fire Tim Geithner and replace him with someone who will make Wall Street scream. And then Obama should do everything in his power to see that the big banks Ratigan describes as being on the “systemically significant firms” list are thoroughly investigated by funding hundreds of financially sophisticated investigators.  To top it off, Obama should do everything in his power to effect thorough annual audits of the Federal Reserve. If he will do all of this, I’ll start listening to Obama once again, though it will still be with considerable apprehension.

And for all of you tried and true “Democrats” out there who still believe that Barack Obama is a President that is on your side, it’s time for all of you to closely consider the damage this President has done to our country (by judging him the way you would judge him had he been a Republican) and to start spending some time on the streets with the Occupy protesters.

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George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

October 19, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

Linguist George Lakoff has set forth frames for American conservatism:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Versus that which appears to be the frame of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one’s family, community, country, people in general, and the planet. The role of government is to protect and empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on. Nobody makes it one their own. If you got wealthy, you depended on The Public, and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work, and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life. Corporations exist to make life better for most people. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private.

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