Half-measures won’t fix Social Security

The GOP just isn’t trying hard enough

Today, Robert Reich had this to say on Facebook:

“Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and other Republican hopefuls are already pushing to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 69 – which their big-business Republican donors have been urging for years.”

This is the kind of tepid thinking that lets those lazy olds off the hook way too easily. Continue reading

Hillary announces, Progressives already getting thrown under bus

It’s not even damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s just damned.

Of course you’ve probably heard that Hillary has finally announced, on Twitter no less.

Continue reading

Business

TTP: fast-track disaster ahead

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the opposite of free trade

Like many, I have my share of disappointments with Obama. On balance, he’s infinitely preferable to any of the plausible Republican alternatives—can you imagine what Mitt Romney or John McCain and a Republican Congress would be getting up to these days? Still, there are areas—global warming in particular—where I wish he had been more aggressive. I fully concede the limits of what may have been possible throughout his term, given the implacable opposition he has been facing. But still, it would have been good to see a more deliberate attempt to change the trajectory of things.

The ongoing corporatization of nearly everything would have been another place to start. I suppose the failure to pursue the banks aggressively should have been a tip-off that the Clinton financial people were still running the show. Plus the Obama administration’s unwillingness to try to put Elizabeth Warren as head of her brainchild, the new (and pretty efficient, I gather) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although she has had her payback.) When people start telling me that there’s no real difference between the two parties, in the finance area I tend to agree, with some notable exceptions like Warren. Continue reading

atlas-shrugged

Rereading Atlas Shrugged as South Africa becomes a dictatorship

atlas-shruggedKarl Marx was a brilliant diagnostician. His analysis of the way in which unregulated capitalism can drive inequality was incisive, especially considering the lack of data available to him to prove his point. His solution, on the other hand, was appallingly destructive.

That seems to happen fairly often. People notice a social or economic problem, assess and diagnose its cause with astonishing aplomb, and then suggest a solution of startling naiveté based on cartoonish assumptions about the way people behave.

Sometimes the cartoon solution reflects the cartoon in real life. Continue reading

One more reason to vote for Hillary

If you’re a Republican, that is

From Salon: The return of Larry Summers: Why his ’16 comments should make Dems nervous

However, if you happen to be one of the many lefties who regard the Clintons themselves as conservatives (or just amoral opportunists) in liberals’ clothing, the report is something worse than disappointing. It’s vindication. Because the campaign team the Times describes doesn’t sound like one searching for politically viable policies to fit into its populist economic message. Instead, it sounds like the opposite — a team that’s already settled on politically unviable policies and is now searching for ways to convincingly pretend they fit into a populist economic message.

And: Continue reading

Brisbane-RAW-1200-1

Be human all the time

For New Year’s, confessions of a hypocrite journalist…

I am a pretty liberal guy, but not exactly a vigorous social activist. I maintain for myself, a struggling photojournalist, the comfortable hypocrisy that periodically photographing and reporting on local (and, even more infrequently, Japanese) social issues is my contribution to stimulating compassion and action in others. This hypocrisy gets particularly assertive during the end-of-year Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

So I have a couple of stories here to briefly tell, which I offer as reminders to my fellow Americans that many folks in our country are hurting, and downtrodden, and further away from what’s left of The American Dream than you or me…

First story:

Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Too many people + unbridled consumption = trauma for billions

Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?

Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.

And wars. Plenty of wars.

In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.

Too. Many. People.

When I was born, in 1946, America housed just over 141 million people. Today, the 50 states approach 320 million people. Despite a declining birth rate, America gains a person every 16 seconds, thanks largely to the admission of about 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.

When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support.
Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Defoe’s Moll Flanders: The Economies of Life

What Daniel Defoe depicts in Moll Flanders is the story of a person who lives purely for pursuit of “the main chance”: accruing wealth at the cost of family, friends, self-respect…in the hope that once one has “a stock” there will be time for reflection, repentance, reclamation….

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (image courtesy Goodreads)

I went off the 2014 reading (updated) list(s) for this last “non-holiday” themed book as a result of some comments on the first of my “art and tech” series of essays. An argument advanced by a commenter whose opinions I value and whose friendship I treasure suggested that the only reliable arbiter of human achievement is the marketplace – and argued, at least indirectly,  that economic success = validation of one’s efforts. I freely admit that I find such arguments about how life and life’s work should be valued, and they are numerous in these times, troubling. I find them most troubling because, given the amorphous nature of human culture and its values, this may very well be the view that most people choose to adopt.

When I feel troubled by issues of this sort, I turn, as I have for many years, to literature. When I go to literature I am seeking, not answers of the smug and certain sort constantly promulgated by news outlets both left and right. Instead, what literature gives me is perspective – the perspective of fellow artists as well as in most cases (since my penchant is for classics of the canon), historical perspective. Continue reading

Santa Spendalot

War on Christmas: Let’s chop down the big tree.

Santa SpendalotAlmost everything you buy in a retail store is made in China. The retail market is cornered. Let’s send the retail stores a message that we want our jobs back. This Christmas, don’t buy any gifts made with slave labor. Look at the tag. You can fight slavery as easy as that. The list of countries where slave labor does not produce goods is much shorter than the list of countries where it does. They are the winners in the history books. Figure it out. Continue reading

The Arts

Art and Tech Pt. 1: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns…

We live these days in a weird era where art and tech are linked in ways which I don’t believe we understand very well and don’t think about enough. Maybe we are in some transition to a culture in which tech is believed to be art and art is believed to be -I don’t know – tech…? Whatever the artist says it is…? Obsolete…?

This started out, as sometimes things do, with a conversation:

Claude Monet, technology freak (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lea, my wife, and I were coming home from one of her art exhibition openings last night and somehow we got on the subject of Claude Monet.  The art opening was part of a series of events in which artists, writers, and craftsmen and women had simultaneously occurring book fest, art exhibition opening, and crafts fair.  This is the sort of event that arts groups hold more and more often in these same days of this our life. Artists hoped that book lovers would stop by the art exhibition, writers that art lovers would stop by the book fest, crafts people – well, people still buy crafts, kinda sorta (more than they buy fine art and books, at least), so the crafts people were likely simply being helpful.

I don’t know how well the whole series of events went off (I didn’t even go to the crafts fair because I – I don’t know – well yes I do: at least half the tables at the “book fest” were selling – crafts – yeah, I know). I hope that the artist and writer friends I ran into at the two events I attended made some sales. But at one point last evening Lea looked at me and noted, “I think everyone at this exhibit is an artist.”

Yeah. I know. This is all too common these days.

And yes, I’m rambling, but I’ll get to something in a minute. Bear with me.  Continue reading

Who is ISIS? Time for an airlift.

So picture this scenario. A leader in a fledgling democracy creates a space for himself, a perch above it all from which to tame the beast. Sounds reasonable? Except, wait. No it doesn’t. Remember when George Washington turned down the crown? Remember when he set the two term precedent? That’s a leader. What we’re dealing with is a king. Let’s hope he’s not a tyrant. Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Waiting for Nothing (More): Tom Kromer’s Singular (and Single) Masterpiece

Kromer’s novel of The Great Depression was his only fully achieved work…

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer (image courtesy Goodreads)

I realize I have been remiss.

Despite two updates to my 2014 reading list (see here and here) I have still more books that I’ve added. So once I finish this essay on a rather singular work of literature from The Great Depression, I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to write a short piece to still further update my reading list.

But writing about the books themselves is ever so much more enjoyable, so let’s get to that first, shall we?

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer is one of those books that rattles around in the halls of academe periodically as a “lost classic.” I first encountered it in my first full time college teaching job back in 1987 at Salem College. A now “lost and by the wind grieved” colleague, Pete Jordan, asked me if I were familiar with the work. When I told him no, he thrust a copy into my hands and told me in no uncertain terms that it was a book I should know.

I took it home and read it in an evening. (That’s not a prodigious feat – the book is more a novella than a novel and the edition I reread for this essay, a very nice remounting by the University of Georgia Press, logs in at only 130 pages). It’s an alternately engrossing and wrenching narrative based on Kromer’s time as a “stiff” (the term refers to the many hobos who spent their time drifting from town to city across the country looking for work during the depths of the economic crisis in the early 1930’s). Continue reading

Politics

The Obama administration’s latest dose of political irony

Campaigned on transparency, had a Bush administration assist, and still drops ball

In 2006, Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. President Bush signed it into law. From the USASpending.gov website, the law:

requires that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish a single searchable website, accessible to the public at no cost, which includes for each Federal award:

  1. the name of the entity receiving the award;
  2. the amount of the award;
  3. information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
  4. the location of the entity receiving the award; and
  5. a unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

USAspending.gov was first launched in December 2007 to fulfill these requirements.

Continue reading

What if we treated our economy like a triage scenario?

$400 billion down the hole on the F-35, and that’s just one tip of one iceberg

There’s been a horrible accident. One patient has a punctured lung. Another one has a grievous wound at the femoral artery and is bleeding out. Another has a serious spinal injury. Three others are milling about with, between them, a bruise, a splinter, and a hangnail. Quick, what do we do?

To listen to the chatter from a variety of news sources, and especially in comments sections all over the place, we should damned well be focusing on the bruise, the splinter, and the hangnail. That femoral artery guy? To hell with him.

Continue reading

A look at America’s most important problem

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Gallup recently released the results of its periodic poll, “Most Important Problem.” Their detailed results can be found at the link. There were two questions:

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [open-ended]

Which political party do you think can do a better job of handling the problem you think is most important — the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?

The results for the first question are shown for the periods April 3-6, 2014, May 8-11, 2014, June 5-8, 2014, and July 7-10, 2014. The results for the second question are shown at the bottom for periods going back as far as 1956.

Continue reading

If corporations are people, what about capital punishment?

Pun intended

It’s about damned time we remembered that corporations are chartered and that charters can be revoked. If they’re actually people, would that be the death penalty? On those terms, I am not opposed.

In aid of that cause, I recommend passing this absolutely brilliant idea by one Mr. Kyle Noonan along to your Congressperson at your earliest convenience. Send letters to your editors. Make a noise. There’s apparently good reasons why our current corporate sanctions don’t work, largely owing to the inability of state attorneys general to recognize the greater need of the nation as compared to their own state revenues and jobs. Continue reading