Archive for the ‘Purple Ketchup’ Category

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10 Points Marginally Related to Universal Healthcare

2010.November.10

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

#1) TARP isn’t going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the end. Almost all the money given out is getting paid back and all we’re going to end up being on the hook for as taxpayers is the administrative cost of the program. This is not the huge source of debt/spending that we’ve been led to believe.

#2) The stimulus spending isn’t a good idea. However, again, it’s not going to cost as much in the long-haul as we’ve been led to believe. Every job it saves is taxable income that the government doesn’t lose. No, it’s not going to be cost-effective in any measurable way, but a lot of the infrastructure projects that are able to go forward because of it are sorely needed. Who wants to have to wonder every time they cross a bridge whether it’s going to collapse before they can get to the other side? Things like that are savings that can’t be measured, and that’s exactly why some of these projects have never gotten off the ground — if you can’t show how it pays for itself, the people don’t want to pay for it.

#3) America can’t afford to NOT have some form of Universal Healthcare. The healthcare and insurance industries are slowly choking off the rest of the economy. Who cares if you make $200K a year if you pay $190K a year to your insurance/docs, and believe me, that’s where things are headed if these companies aren’t reigned in, and I mean tightly. Taxes are already a drop in the bucket compared to what a lot of people pay for insurance alone, let alone their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even if we go with socialized medicine and everyone’s taxes double because of it, most of the middle-class will be far better off than they are today in their cost/benefit ratio (and the poor will be protected, as well).

#4) A lot of people like to say that healthcare reform is about the government being able to control the people. Personally, I don’t see a single industrialized country that uses it that way. I also don’t see where socialized medicine has negatively affected the economy in the U.K., France, Netherlands, any of the Scandinavian countries, or anywhere else, for that matter. Where socialism gets dangerous to the economy is when the government tries to control all means of production and to plan an economy without the flexibility to change when the times change. Even the most ambitious socialists in the U.S. don’t think we should take things in that direction — at least not if they’re smart; it’s a direction that’s been proven NOT to work.

#5) If we eliminated every bit of government spending outside of the military and defense budgets, we’d save a whopping 15% of the total expenditures of our government. Not a single one of these Tea Party or even the oldschool conservatives is going to suggest we cut defense or military spending, even if we weren’t involved in two “wars”.

#6) Eliminating the “War on Drugs” could pay for healthcare for every individual in the U.S.. The way the insurance companies drive up premiums is by using a divide and conquer strategy. Premiums are based off risk amortization on what’s called a “pool”. The smaller the pool, the fewer people there are to foot the bulk of the risk, and thus higher premiums. One option that’s far short of socialization is to force insurance companies to consider the entire population as the “risk pool” when they calculate premiums for ANYONE. Another option would be to outlaw for-profit healthcare providers (the logic for this is simple: people’s health is too valuable a resource for this country to trust it to people who aren’t concerned with care before profits).

#7) There is a whole lot of “fuck you, I’ve got mine” going around in the U.S. right now. People forget that there were people there when they were struggling to lend a helping hand, or that they received benefits or, with even more irony, forget that their Social Security and Medicare benefits come from the government already. People are not just uninformed, they are being willfully misinformed. It’s my opinion that someone (Rupert Murdoch for starters, and we can go on and on from there) should be held responsible for that. Journalism is an art where objectivity is sacrosanct, and the companies that try and turn a profit on “news” are all guilty of letting their “sales” get in the way of their integrity. MSNBC, FOX News, CNN, all of them. There are still good journalists out there, and when you find one, they’re usually hanging onto their jobs by the skin of their teeth. It’s very difficult in the current market for people with the sort of integrity that the title of “journalist” implies to keep both their integrity and their jobs. This is why we have things like the “March to Restore Sanity/Fear” — it was as much about drawing attention to the media twisting things, slanting things, and dividing the people so it’s easier for the corporations to remain in power (make no mistake, the corporations “own” the majority of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle) as it was about any sort of partisan statement.

#8) Debt. Debt. Debt. Borrow your way to prosperity has been the American anthem for a long time now. It’s finally starting to bite us in the ass, and it’s going to be painful to work our way out of it. Does that mean we should sacrifice the future and security of the republic to do so? I think that would be a terrible mistake.

#9) The Free Market tautology. I hear a lot of people talking out there who think that the Market is some god-like force that can fix anything. God, however, is also a tautology. You’re free to believe in either, of course, but expecting the Market to solve something that it has already failed miserably to solve is (in my opinion) one of the truest marks of idiocy. In the U.S., the government has a track-record of stepping in and providing essential services that the market fails to provide — this is true of roads, police, fire, water, sewer, flood planning, food for the hungry, retirement, medical care for the elderly, medical care for small children, and many other areas as well. In the modern world, the health of the populace is as much a matter of infrastructure as roads, bridges, the power grid, fire and police protection, water, sewers, and so on and so forth. Like I’ve said elsewhere, Universal Healthcare should be looked at in the same way a sanitation law would be viewed. Sure, we wouldn’t need such things if everyone was honest, considerate, and rational, but that’s not the world we live in. Those aren’t the people that share it with us. We share this world with a lot of fuckwads that care a lot more about when they’re going to buy their next new Bugatti than whether or not they’re not trampling on someone else’s rights to do it.

#10) I want to see the U.S. spend as much on education as it does the military. Education is where all these problems started, and where they could all end if we as a people are committed to providing each other with an actual education, instead of providing a glorified babysitter that’s primarily designed to churn out complacent workers. We’ve seen where that leads, and now it’s time that we realize that our collective complacency is what’s put us in this position. It’s also what makes it difficult to face the actual work that would have to happen in order to accomplish this. But if we don’t, this country is going the way of the Romans, and we will have failed every Patriot that has ever given their life, their liberty, or their sanity for this nation.

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Who Else Is Blogging?

2009.January.2

I don’t have a lot of blogs linked to the side there, but I have a long list of political blogs to check out… you know, when I have time.

But blogging is an artform of outliers. There are very few people out there who can blog about one sphere of life without it getting rabid, wonkish, repetetive, boring, self-righteous, or repetitive. Even the good ones have their ups and their downs (a few years back, I would read Tom Tomorrow’s blog on a daily basis, but lately even his comic fails to offer much amusement).

Sometimes you find the rarest gems in unlikely (web)spaces. So rather than try to throw together some half-thought-out entry about my ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (reaching out to Dem opponents and Iraq War supporters is good, but their foreign policy differences are significant), or the distinct differences in which Republicans and Democrats deal with political and sex scandals within their own parties (the Democrats can’t shun their members fast enough, while the Republicans will profess “innocent until proven guilty” as long as possibleunless your sex crime was same-sex, of course), or the sizable gamble of symbolism Obama took on by inviting Rich Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation… rather than discuss any of those topics, I thought I’d toss you a few gems from off the blogosphere radar:

The Sanctity of the Commercial Holiday Season” by Kadair: In this entry, a non-Christian presents a different take on what Bill O’Reilly (and few others) might call “The War on Christmas”. Too bad she wrote it before she learned that these days, you, too, can purchase your very own aluminum (well, wire and plastic) reproduction of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

Untitled” by J: A rebuttal to Bush’s recent statement on KWANZAA and, more importantly, the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to online media articles. Apparently all those snot-nosed kids from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have grown up and gotten real jobs where they have to bum around the Internet on professionally appropriate sites.

DTMFA-a-Thon” from Savage Love: Sex columnist Dan Savage cleared space on his popular and irreverent weekly to digress directly into political commentary. He cross references two studies on teen sexuality to show how ass-backwards (dare I say, literally?) abstinence-only sex education has made your children. Added bonus: it’s hilarious.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

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Who Is this Other W?

2008.December.8

[ETA: MSNBC is airing something about GM tonight, but I can't find the details. It may be an article in a longer program (my guess would be 1600 Pennsylvania) or a special that bumps something else. If anyone knows more, drop me a line.]

When you’re thinking about who should be clearing his desk out in January, there’s one other W to keep in mind: General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner (no, really, he was born with that name). This clever fellow worked his way up to the top job at GM from posts in finance and operations outside the US. He came in young, fresh out of grad school, and had only a few years of domestic experience when he became CEO in 2000 at the age of 47. Between this and previous executive positions with the company, Wagoner oversaw the peak years of the SUV craze, the rise and fall of GMAC, and a 96% fall in the company’s stock value over less than three years (see a thorough bio from better days here). Despite spiking fuel prices over the last three years and the image backlash against SUVs, Wagoner continued to steer his company to depend upon the highly profitable SUVs, which could fetch as much as $10-$15,000 profit per vehicle. (In case you’re curious, the industry average is about $800, but some compact cars are even sold at a loss of several hundred dollars)

Despite the golden goose that laid the Hummer, GM continues to suffer financial woes new and old, some of which predate Wagoner’s taking of the helm; but not even Robert C. Stempel saw such a decline when he was CEO. But he never indicated government funds might be pursued until very recently; as recently as October, GM swore up and down it wasn’t facing bankruptcy.

Now, Wagoner is insisting that if GM doesn’t get an influx of cash this month, that GM will not make it to 2009. They’re even asking their employees, retirees, and car-owners to help lobby on their behalf.

I can’t help wondering if he isn’t rushing the matter, because he knows that under Obama and the next Congress, there is likely to be much more oversight and stipulation attached to any welfare checks (that’s right, I said it–Richard Wagoner is a corporate welfare queen!). Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is already calling for Wagoner to be replaced at GM, with others calling for the rest of the board to go as well.

In case you haven’t heard, Wagoner’s big plan to save GM-and-therefore-the-American-economy includes laying off another 30,000 workers (33% of current workforce, but that’s after other recent layoffs and buyouts pared it down by at least 50,000). I know, I know, omlettes and eggs, right? But with unemployment already getting uncomfortably high, do we really want to see that many more GM employees out on the streets, to say nothing of all those domino-effect jobs from peripheral automotive industries that rely on GM?

It’s not a pretty picture. There are already indications that the mortgage industry is about to undergo a second wave of defaulted mortgages (not that the first has passed) because so many prime (as opposed to sub-prime) mortgage-holders have lost jobs.

This is what you call a downward spiral.

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What Is the Relationship Between the Economy and the Military?

2008.November.22

Has anyone else noticed that after the US, whose defense spending outpaces the rest of the world combined – the next two largest single-nation economies in the world are former Axis Powers with exceptionally limited military power?

Germany has only been allowed to involve itself in international affairs since reunification, back in 1990.

Japan is only this decade beginning to take a role outside its own borders, and that hasn’t gone so well.

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What’s with Corporate Capitalism?

2008.November.20

Back in grade school, even high school, capitalism seemed like a pretty straightforward concept: If you made a decent product that people needed and sold it at a decent price, you’d make a good living for yourself.

The simplicity seemed to encourage long-term strategy and thoughtful improvements. Specialization was important. You wouldn’t cut back on quality unless you had to, because the name on that product was probably your name or the name of someone whom you respected and you didn’t want to see it tarnished. Customers would know their role in this system.

But that isn’t really how American capitalism works, now, is it?

The rule of the day is corporate capitalism, since those small businesses politicians love to court account for less than half of private payroll in the U.S. (and keep in mind that payroll does not even include investment income).

Corporate capitalism makes money for investors by doing whatever makes the most profit. It doesn’t have to be a product, sometimes it’s not even much of a service. Profit cannot be allowed to level out, it must increase each year, by leaps and bounds, to remain competitive. That means unrestrained, unyielding growth. Specialization means you’re not thinking big. Brand names are frequently exploited to promote something unimpressive, and if you’re not growing fast enough, you use advertising to create the demand. Urgency encourages short-term strategy and artificial innovation to fix what ain’t broke. Good products are lost because the business model is not sound, or they get corrupted by overreach and their quality declines. Market share is more important than customer satisfaction, and if you can’t beat your competitor, you should buy them.

And in case you haven’t picked up on this little nuance yet, for most publicly-traded companies, you are not the customer. Many corporations actually have it in their mission statements that making money for their stockholders is a higher priority than most, if not all, other goals. These guys believe strongly in spending money to make money, so it’s the investors’ money they’re after, not yours. The investor is the customer. You are the product.

Well, what’s wrong with all that? Unhinged growth can’t be all that bad, can it? Well, let’s just ignore the moral ambiguities about how much (money, debt, conspicuous consumption) is too much and ask ourselves, logically, where does it end? How big is too big? If the goal of every company is continuous growth, eventually that company could (in logical extreme) eventually reach every human being on this planet and sell them more than they possibly have time and energy to use. Unless we find extraterrestrial life by that point (and they’re big on bling), where does the market go? Sure, the market will correct itself; businesses will fail, people will lose their jobs, and good products with bad business plans will get lost.

In more realistic terms, every market has a limit (it’s the law of supply and demand), and you can only push it so far artificially before it stalls. The larger any institution becomes, the slower it is to respond to change, even though that’s how growth happens. Business models that depend on new funding get into trouble when the new funding isn’t coming fast enough. An economy based on continuous growth can’t just slow down. Deceleration is negative growth; it’s shrinking your profit margin and maybe even losing money, so your stockholders sell. Deceleration is death.

The reason so many people get angry at corporations is that the people most vulnerable in a situation like bankruptcy will be those who were furthest from the planning. Enron was the exception, not the rule, for sending a couple of executives to jail for clear violations of the law. Our country is usually forgiving to money-masters who can afford a good accountant and twelve good lawyers. They just get a bonus and an offer for another corporate leadership position – it doesn’t even have to be in the same industry! – and the rest are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, not ask for unemployment or non-corporate welfare, and get out of the way of those who are still living the American Dream.

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Why Protest?

2008.November.17

I know a lot of people who attended Proposition 8 protests last weekend. Time will tell how effective they were, but I think it would be helpful to remember what could or could not be accomplished by them.

No protests outside of California (and arguably, not even there) were going to undo the initiative there, and certainly not directly. It’s not like the legislature can renege a public initiative based on out-of-state rally turnout. The first goal of protesters, I think, should be to show solidarity with Californian activists and encourage them for what will be a prolonged fight. Events like Saturday’s protests increase connections, brainstorming, and a sense of community, and you can be sure new plans emerged from the day.

Secondly, U.S. protesters may have been flexing their numbers in each locality, reminding their lawmakers that the issue is not dead and (depending on the state) either discouraging lawmakers from passing similar initiatives or standing in defiance of initiatives that had already passed. A distant third possibility I can’t overlook is the gathering of information. Information is just as important for political movements as it is for marketers and militaries; if and when nationwide action is needed, Saturday provided an excellent dry run AND sizable contact lists.

Compare this with the Iraq War protests in 2002 and 2003; the threat of an invasion of Iraq triggered the largest international protest ever, with one European city alone surpassing 3 million in attendance. The cities with the highest attendance were those participating in the invasion coalition and many supporting nations have reduced their participation since – but none pulled out immediately after the protests. As for the US, despite several huge rallies in Washington and other major US cities, the protests did not seem to slow the march toward war.

A colleague of mine is of the opinion that the Vietnam War might have actually ended a little sooner if protests in that era had not been so fractious and antagonizing. He is a trainer of activists and has always stressed that when the goal is to be seen and convince a national audience that you have the moral high ground, your message must be simple and consistent and your messengers must be perfectly behaved.

Of course the most effective use of rallies and protests in US history came during the Civil Rights Era, but they did not come overnight. Marches during the 60′s were only the latest steps in a long, gradual climb dating back to Rosa Parks’ bus defiance in 1955. Direct actions from sit-ins and boycotts helped spark outrage because of the violence police often used against nonviolent protesters. Doing the right thing wasn’t enough reason for many Americans until they saw the consequences on their TVs. While it would be a bit much to say organizers wished for the violence, they did plan for it rather than planning around it. In contrast, violence and suppression at marches over the last ten years or so have been much more sporadic and less extreme.

In the 60′s, boycotts were very effective locally – but again, it didn’t happen overnight. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted just over twelve months – no small duration for a service many people counted upon daily.

With Prop 8, there is discussion of boycott as well, but so far nothing definitive. Individual merchants have been targeted, but the scope of corporate power has altered the landscape of business since the 60′s. While a handful of household names will stick their necks out to support progress, none will allow themselves to be caught opposing it.

So would you boycott a particular company, large or small, over the politics of its founder, even if those politics are not directly related to the business at hand? Here’s a nice, juicy, complicated example:

Although the extent of the support has at times been overstated, the founder and CEO of Curves International (one Gary Heavin, with some credit also given to his wife Diane) is an outspoken ally and financial supporter of pro-life organizations. Yet his company has provided a service, helping women to live healthier lives and even develop camaraderie along the way. Kind of sticky, isn’t it? Is he all evil? All good? Somewhere in-between?

OK, so most men are off the hook on the boycott question, because most of the gyms are women-only, but here’s a further complication to keep you involved: Curves is allied with General Mills to produce cereal bars and possibly other food products bearing the Curves name.

If you are a pro-choice voter, how would/does this color your business with Curves and/or General Mills?

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What Is Fair Tax?

2008.November.9

If there was any battle that was doomed from the start in 2008, it was Mike Gravel‘s bid for the presidency. He stole attention in the Democratic debates by raising questions that Democrats aren’t supposed to ask, but showed less than 1% in every poll and primary that bothered to include him. Then he said that was just a springboard for his big goal: the nomination of the Libertarian Party, where Gravel came in fourth in a field of eight. The Libs ended up with Republican Bob Barr; apparently even Libertarians have to side with name recognition once in a while.

I don’t know enough about Gravel to say whether he would have been a good candidate, but he definitely had some interesting ideas. How many Libertarians do you know who want single-payer healthcare? One that has gotten my attention is FairTax, an initiative that would eliminate the IRS and address funding needs with a simple sales tax on new goods and services. It is largely supported by Republicans, but Gravel saw it as an important piece of his larger interest in direct democracy – returning government to the people.

Fair Tax also rebutts the shared Democrat and Republican mythos: Democrats tax more! Repulicans spend less! There’s this notion that if you might ever need government assistance for anything, you should support Dems because they’ll pay for it, but if you ever wanted to be rich (and who hasn’t at some point?), you should support Republicans because they’ll let you keep more of it. Americans for Fair Taxation mention the contradiction on their website: “Indeed, the tax code is manipulated by both parties in Congress alike with reckless abandon to punish enemies and reward supporters…”

The Fair Tax would tie taxation directly to consumption, holding more of us accountable to our own spending habits and making sure that wealthy Americans pay their share (but are not saddled with more). Visitors to our country would also pay the consumption tax, so one’s visitation or immigration status would no longer exempt them from paying taxes.

There are drawbacks, mostly tied to any transition from the existing system. There would appear to be a price hike of 30%, since proponents insist that the sales tax should be included in all quoted prices, but the bigger concern would be the entire segment of industry that would be completely eliminated. Accounting as we know it would be decimated, and an entire skill set that applies to every single sector would become obsolete. No small issues, these.

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All Over But the Voting

2008.November.1

Early voting has ended here in Texas. I cast my ballot Friday morning on a flat digital tablet resembling an oversized Game Boy. I have reservations about electronic voting, but as I will be working the polls all day Tuesday, it was an absolute necessity.

For the curious, I voted on 17 races. Here was the breakdown:

  • 10 Democrats
  • 5 Libertarians
  • 2 Republicans

I do not vote in uncontested “races”, because they are undemocratic. Why put them on the ballot at all? If you include them, at least allow a referendum on the incumbent. It is another consequence of the pendulum swing of partisan politics – when the pendulum swings far to one side, the other side just stops bothering to show up until the party in power screws up and reap the electoral rewards. How is that a healthy discourse on the direction of our republic?

More importantly, I did not vote straight ticket. It wasn’t just a matter of supporting good candidates regardless of their party affiliations (which I did) or encouraging third party candidates wherever it seemed reasonable (and in Texas, sometimes Dems are the third party)… it is foremost to me a move that conveys accountability to those powers that would woo my vote. Ideologically, yeah, I have a lot in common with the Democrats. Or, I should say, they support my values more often. But a political party is an apparatus of communal convenience, and convenience is the modern enemy of freedom. As a party shifts (and all objects in motion stay in motion), I will find that some positions shift away from my own values, and other positions hold little water once in office. As its leaders attain and maintain success, the party grows lazy, corrupt, and/or desensitized, and the pendulum will inevitably have to swing back the other way. Think of it as a market correction for our political development. Just as with the stock market, a volatile political scene should be considered undesirable, even when you are the one who (temporarily) profits – because extremes are another correction waiting to happen. True progress comes from slow and steady growth.

Voters who opt for straight-ticket voting (especially those who do so consistently, and not as part of a specific statement on a party’s platform) are falling in line without asking questions, without hearing all options, and without asking themselves tough questions. Not only do you take the party’s worthiness (and dare I say infallibility) for granted, but you invite that party to take YOU for granted. If you let yourself be permanently defined by one label or one issue, you are opening the door for a party to undermine every other value you might otherwise have and your power loses much weight.

Parties never waste time vying for the support of its staunchest straight-ticket voters (well, almost never). Often, when a party realizes that its sheep are beginning to stray, they will bring forth a wedge issue to corral the base for another four years. But eventually real issues come to the fore and the pendulum swings once again. Freed from their haze of ignorance, voters will look back and say, “Wow, how did we let that last bunch in? Let’s stick with these other guys instead!” and forge a new generation of blind attachment.

Straight tickets also run the risk of promoting candidates who are not actually qualified for their offices. Let’s face it, somewhere in every town or state, there is some nut who runs for some office every two years, just to build up some name recognition and catch a partisan wave down the line. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are any more guilty than the other. Swinging back is necessary for balance after a period of extreme partisanship (such as the last eight years), but no reasonable Democrat can guarantee you on November 5th that each victorious candidate with a D by his or her name was the best qualified. Someone will ride the coattails and be in the right place at the right time with the right letter on the ballot.

If you didn’t early vote, do some research. Visit your local county’s election office (most have great websites) and get a good look at your sample ballot. Google each name and read the media recommendations (watching for slant – most newspapers are sadly just as guilty of partisan opinions as the rest of us) and write down the names of each candidate you support. And you know what? Even if you decide that each Democrat, or every Republican, or every Christian-Green-Anarcho-Libertarian is truly your candidate and warrants your vote, check them off individually. Because the parties track every tick on the ballot, and while they will not know how you as an individual voted, they will know how many ballots took the shortcut and how many took the long way. They must know the limits of their own power in your precinct, because every American citizen deserves to have candidates fight for your vote. Every time.

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