Sunday, May 13, 2012

We're Killing Ourselves

The second amendment to our constitution reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The NRA and its lobbyists have successfully used it as justifying the possession of handguns by the hundreds of millions That certainly was not the intent of our forefathers. They meant to prevent the federal government from passing laws that would disarm the state militias that were made up of ordinary citizens who served as part-time soldiers. After all, there were no established police forces, National Guard nor a standing army when our county was founded.

These militias were regulated by the state governments. Keeping people in line and bringing a sense of safety were essential, but establishing workable boundaries went along with this. The militias were required to be "well-regulated." Without such behavioral boundaries, a frontier mentality might have ruled supreme for decades. It seems to be returning!

The result of the current distorted interpretation of the second amendment is that well over 120,000 Americans have been killed in non-terror related homicides since 9/11/01. That is about 40 times as many as were killed at the World Trade Center and nearly 25 times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, 70,000 have been injured but haven't died, with 3,000 of those being children.

There are over 280 million guns in this country. We don't use them to maintain a well regulated militia. We use them to kill each other. Isn't it time to grow beyond the outmoded mindset of having a right to keep and bear guns as citizen soldiers? A real shift in a fundamental attitude is required. Rather than arming ourselves to be able to kill, we would be safer if we developed a culture dedicated to the fostering of our innate qualities of cooperation along with the ability to resolve conflict without violence 

Shifting our focus from violence to peace will require dedication and hard work. Isn't the effort worth the saving of thousands of lives here at home and millions killed by American arms around the world?

I had some input from C. Fisk of Gloucester while formulating this article. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethical Behavior

What is ethical behavior? For me, it is actions and words that reduce human suffering, facilitate cooperation for the general good of people here and abroad, and promote broadening the range of possibilities for everyone.

While we do what we can to follow these guidelines for family, friends and neighbors, what we can do individually is limited. Helping more of our fellow human beings requires collective action, much of it by governments, national, state, and local. So, for me, politicians' ethics involves how they behave with respect to the criteria listed above. Here are some examples:

Since WW II, the US government has killed, wounded, or driven from their homes many millions of people, and continues to do so. For example, its drones are bombing buildings believed to contain ”suspected militants”, regardless of who else may be inside. To me, politicians who support such savagery are behaving unethically.

The disparity of income in the US is the greatest in the developed world, and is greater than even in places such as Tunisia and Libya, where it has led to revolution. Poverty abounds in the US. Many children lack food and medical care. To me, politicians who support laws to make the super-rich even richer and to deny help to those in need are behaving unethically.

Millions of Americans suffer from disease because they cannot afford adequate medical care, especially preventive medicine. To me, politicians who oppose measures to give all citizens access to adequate health care are behaving unethically.

Education contributes to productivity, an informed electorate, access to opportunities, and a richer life. To me, politicians who work to limit educational opportunities for all Americans are behaving unethically.

Civilian injuries and deaths result from the use of weapons such as land mines, cluster bombs, and torture. Others result from small arms trafficking. The US has refused to join the international community in controlling such evils. To me, politicians who oppose such cooperation are behaving unethically.

Until recently, this country continued to improve civil rights for its citizens. In recent years, however, our government has imprisoned citizens without trial and tortured them. Its repression of dissenters is becoming more like that of the police states that we abhor. Now, our government has announced a justification for killing citizens on suspicion, without a hearing. To me, politicians who support these invasions of civil rights are behaving unethically.

Our planet is threatened by global warming, pollution, lack of water, and other aspects of a deteriorating environment. The US has dragged its feet with respect to both domestic environmental protection and refuses to cooperate with the rest of the world to protect our planet. To me, politicians who oppose reasonable measures to protect the earth’s environment are behaving unethically.

America could easily afford to take the ethical path if the super-rich and the military didn’t consume such a large fraction of our GDP.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Big Scam

Over and over, we hear politicians say that the way to prosperity is to cut out regulations so as to unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit. Even a brief glance at history reveals what nonsense that notion is. What cutting government regulations is really intended to do is to unleash profiteers to grab an even bigger share of what working people produce.

For most of our history, we had little government regulation. A nation of small farmers didn't need it. Then, as the country industrialized, we had monopolies, frequent economic "panics", tainted food, snake oil, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and unmitigated suffering of the poor. It culminated with the wild, speculative "roaring '20s" that led to the great depression.

Something obviously had to be done, and was. Unscrupulous profiteering was curbed. Unsafe banking practices were eliminated. Social Security was established to provide a modicum of security for those too old or unable to work. Labor laws were enacted to give a fairer shake to workers. There ensued four decades of unparalleled growth, the emergence of a thriving middle class, and relative freedom from the destructive economic ups and downs.

Then came deregulation and a return to unmitigated profiteering. In the three decades since the late '70s, as the government dismantled  its regulatory structure, the income of the top 1% went from about 9% of all income to 23%. Economic instability again reared its ugly head. That led directly into the Great Recession, from which we are only now beginning to recover. What deregulation actually unleashed was the predatory practices and profiteering of the financial community and giant corporations. 

Now, the rich and powerful are calling for less regulation and lower taxes. They have already succeeded in getting the top tax bracket reduced from over 90% in Eisenhower's day, when the economy was booming, to 35% today. With all their money, they have funded a propaganda campaign that has been so successful it has persuaded millions of victims of their scam that they benefit from the rich taking an ever-growing share of our national income, even as the incomes of the less affluent have declined.

Now, with the Citizens United decision, and large corporations and billionaires spending hundreds of millions to elect minions to help them become even richer and more powerful, the ordinary working people are being taken to the cleaners. The end result may be the death of the middle class or worse.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


When we can't afford another war, we use sanctions - anything to demonstrate our power to force other countries to do what we tell them to do!

For 50 years, we have been imposing sanctions on Cuba. They have had an effect! They have impoverished the Cuban people and have entrenched the Castros in power. Where else in the Western Hemisphere has a single family been in complete control for half a century? The Cuban market for American goods that might have been never happened. And they still have Communism! 

We have done the same to North Korea. The results were similar. The people are impoverished and the Kim family is still in control. And they now have their nuclear weapons in spite of our sanctions.

We are using the same futile method that failed in North Korea to deny a nuclear capability to Iran. The people there are suffering as a result and the government uses the US  as a scapegoat to stay in power. People who know Iran says that there is a lot of opposition to the government, but that the US sanctions stifle it. If we aren't careful, we'll stumble into yet another useless war.

Tens of thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars have been spent demonstrating our power. What has it gained us? Our leaders tell us that we are fighting to preserve our liberty. What nonsense! We are fighting because our leaders enjoy their power games, and find that creating enemies gets political support.

No wonder that the US ranks Number 82 in the Global Peace Index!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Breaking Say's Law

French economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) is best known for “Say’s Law”. One simple formulation is “Supply creates its own demand”. What that means is that the amount paid to produce something for labor, raw materials, services, taxes, and profit goes to people who will spend it. Thus, supply and demand will be in balance.

In our present economy, we are breaking Say’s Law. The result is a depressed economy and high unemployment.

Currently, about a quarter of all income goes to the top 1% of our people. They cannot possibly spend all their billions. For example, Sam Walton bequeathed about $72 billion to his children, representing money that he accumulated rather than spending it. According to the Forbes survey, by last year, the childrens’ fortunes had grown to $84 billion, another $12 billion not spent. When the super-rich accumulate more money than they can spend, demand is reduced, representing a drag on the economy.

The rich argue that their wealth is necessary to fund investment to put people to work. The generalization the investment is needed to create jobs is certainly true. However, corporate America is awash in cash, as profits have soared with increased productivity and lower wages. They aren’t investing because there isn’t enough demand for their goods. With the decline in income of working people, that is not surprising. Where M. Say went wrong is in assuming that all the money spent producing things would be spent in turn, creating its own demand. He couldn’t imagine the kind of enormous wealth that today’s super-rich have.

When the recession hit, the federal government initiated a $700 billion stimulus package “to jump-start” a recovery. Unfortunately, that amounted to only about 5% of annual GDP, and was spent over the course of more than one year. It may well be that the money going to the top 1% and not spent was greater than the stimulus package, completely cancelling it out.

The income of the top 1% is roughly $3 trillion per year. If that income were taxed at 67%, it would yield $2 trillion, about three times the size of the stimulus package. It would be more than the entire federal deficit, and still leave the top 1% with an average of over $3 million per year to scrape by on. No one would suffer and we would have enough left over to invest in education, in our decaying infrastructure, and to provide health care to all.

The fundamental problem is the disparity of income in the U.S. It is not only greater than in any other industrialized country, but also greater than in such countries as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. If incomes were distributed more evenly, Say’s Law would apply, more would be spent, demand would increase, and people would be put back to work.

Unfortunately, the rich have acquired so much political power that the disparity in incomes is growing. They have managed to get the top income tax bracket reduced from 92% under Eisenhower to 35% today, with proposals to reduce it to 25%. The tax on huge estates has been reduced from about 50% under George Bush to 35% today. Meanwhile, the real incomes of even those lucky enough to have a job have fallen over the last ten years.

Increasing taxes on the very rich so that the middle class could have more would increase spending, increase demand, and create jobs.
But if we continue to break Say’s Law, the unemployment problem may continue to be with us indefinitely.

Give 'em an inch . . .

After 2 1/2 years of futile efforts to compromise, Obama just doesn't get it. The rich and powerful see no need to compromise: they are on a roll! Since Eisenhower's day, when the top income tax bracket was over 90%, they have gotten it down to 35%. In the late '70s, the top 1% got less than 10% of all income. Now they get about 25%. The estate tax, which used to be about 50% is down to 35%. And Obama is trying "to compromise" by offering them even more.
And they do want more, much more! They propose cutting the maximum income tax bracket to 25% (for now), cutting the estate tax and the capital gains tax to zero, and doing awa y with Medicare and Social Security as we know them. As the rich and powerful have grabbed an ever-increasing share of GDP, middle class incomes have been declining so that just surviving is a challenge, to say nothing of coping with major health problems or sending their kids to college. And when the middle class has no money to spend, the economy tanks.
With their money, effective propaganda, and a pliant president, the super-rich continue to increase their share of what others produce. Since Obama won’t do it, the voters will have to wake up to what is happening and put a stop to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When George Washington Lay Dying

When George Washington lay dying, he instructed an employee to bleed him. When the doctor arrived, he bled him some more. When that did not help, the doctor removed still more blood so that Washington lost about half of his blood supply in the course of a day. The more that bleeding failed to do any good, the more they bled him. Then he died.
For over a century, the American economy was unstable, afflicted by repeated financial “panics”, ending in the crash in 1929. Under FDR, tight regulations were imposed on the financial system. Establishing what economists call “automatic stabilizers” in the form of Social Security and Medicare followed. For 30 years after the end of WWII, our country enjoyed financial stability and unprecedented growth. The middle class thrived.
Then, deregulation set in and instability returned. There was a “Savings and Loan Crisis” in the 1980s and 1990s. Under President Bush, deregulation proceeded even further, along with a reduction in the top income tax bracket to only 35%, contrasted to over 90% under Eisenhower. Middle class incomes declined. Then came the crash in 2008 and the worst recession since the Great Depression. 
Like Washington’s doctors, politicians are trying to cure the economy by using the same counter-productive remedies that have consistently failed to work before. They are pursuing further deregulation and still lower taxes on the super-rich. They are attacking the automatic stabilizers that keep money flowing to those who will spend it even in a downturn. They have even threatened to violate the Constitution by making it impossible for our country to pay its debts.
Will the next election spell the end of the American middle class? Or, did the last one?