Socialist Test

Are you a socialist? Take the test….

A 2011 study yields surprising results.

The word “socialist” was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity since, oh, 2008 or so. The thing is, since we hadn’t had any real socialistm for awhile, our understanding of what the term means has gotten a little fuzzy.

So the question is, how socialist are you really? Maybe none at all, maybe a whole lot, and maybe somewhere in the middle. Let’s find out. Continue reading

Two reasons why the new CREDO Action petition to limit CEO salaries wouldn’t work

There’s a new petition going around – maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook. It points up our growing rich-poor gap and asks Congress to cap CEO pay, which is obscene in many cases.

The ratio of CEO pay in the United States has ballooned to 380 times that of the average worker. Pass legislation to limit the salary of CEOs to 50 times as much as the average employee at their company.

The petition notes the recent viral video highlighting wealth inequality in the US, and argues that “a major driver of this inequality is pay disparity, with CEOs in Fortune 500 companies now making 380 times as much money as the average worker. This is a massive increase from 1980, when CEOs were making 42 times as much as the average worker.”

The proposed solution?

To help rectify this problem, Congress needs to pass legislation that caps the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay at 50 times. CEOs can still be very well compensated, but this will help to drive down the massive disparity we’re facing right now.

I don’t disagree with either the statement of the problem (although there’s more at work than CEO pay), nor do I have any moral or ethical problems with the solution, in concept. At some point the accumulation of material wealth becomes a pathology, and no society that hopes to thrive can allow itself to be held captive to the sickness of its elite minority.

But this petition is a waste of time. Two reasons.

The first is obvious. You can call on Congress all you like, but you won’t find ten votes for this bill in Washington. A good many of our Representatives and Senators are rich themselves and are unlikely to be interested in limiting their own future earning potential. As of two years ago 47% of Congresspeople were millionaires, and those who aren’t hyperwealthy themselves are in the pocket of the 1%. If you’re a fair-minded Rep and you vote for this bill, you may as well announce that you won’t be running for reelection while you’re at it. Dr. Denny has written about this dynamic a number of times, most recently here.

Of course, I suspect this petition is less about expecting actual reform and more about driving public awareness.

The second reason is important in understanding how corporations actually work. Even if this law were passed – even if you let CREDO, the petition’s sponsor, word the bill themselves – it wouldn’t make a scrap of difference. Faced with such measures, corporate boards would simply respond by boosting their outsourcing programs. They’d decide how much to pay the CEO and then they’d draw a red line just above the employees making 1/50th of his/her salary. They would hire a contract management firm and terminate all the employees below that line, who would then be hired by the contracting firm to keep doing the same jobs in the same ways they were before.

Given my experience a few years back as an employee of such a firm, my guess is the end result would actually be worse for the affected workers, as contracting firms lack the market heft when it comes to negotiating benefits with health care providers. So if you’re one of those outsourced employees, even if you make the same salary you probably lose ground on benefits.

This is just the start, of course. There are all kinds of accounting gymnastics that a corporation could engage in when building compensation packages, and the way Congress works these you start with loopholes and then weave the illusion of reform around them.

I appreciate what CREDO is trying to accomplish here, but I can’t imagine meaningful reform issuing from our congenitally corrupt system.

Terry Pratchett and the 99%: A reply to Gavin Chait

When we were putting S&R together in 2007 I hunted down Gavin Chait and begged him to join us. He’s one of the smartest guys I know, a relentless, good faith thinker and someone you can count on to hit you with a perspective you hadn’t thought about. He wrote our very first post and also penned at least one of our absolute very best posts.

We don’t always agree, though. (Which is good – how boring would it be if we did?) In a recent post, Gavin addressed the topic of the latest Discworld novel in a post entitled “Terry Pratchett and the redemption of the Orcs.” If you review the post and the comment thread you’ll see that I take Gavin to task for misrepresenting Pratchett. Gavin’s reply (@2) neatly gets to his overarching point: Continue reading

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

Fourth in a series

As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognoscente.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Continue reading

Postcard from the End of the Earth: Nosara, Costa Rica

I am on the way back from Costa Rica, in Miami Airport, dodging posses of young Christians on their way to or from “missions” in the Caribbean or Latin America. They wear bright matching tee shirts printed with slogans that range from the patronizing to the scary. They give each other inaccurate travel tips in loud voices, and periodically cluster in tight groups and sing songs that involve lots of clapping. In Dallas on the way down, we saw more of these neo-missionaries. Doing some quick math, there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these Jihadi for Jesus, pudgy young girls (who will someday become pudgy young women) gazing adoringly at decidedly effeminate teen age men. Continue reading

The American Parliament: our nation’s 10 political parties

Part two in a series.

Forgive me for abstracting and oversimplifying a bit, but one might argue that American politics breaks along the following 10 lines:

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives Continue reading

A simple country boy's solution to the budget "crisis"

Some conservatives see all these fact-laden critiques of our various GOP manufactroversies (see Ryan, Paul) and wonder where are the Democratic plans to solve the financial crisis? (I have been asked this, quite vehemently, myself.)

The informed reply goes something like this:

  1. The crisis isn’t real. It’s been fabricated by the neo-liberal politicians whose goal is to eliminate all taxes on rich people and bust structures like unions that afford the non-hyper-wealthy with some leverage in the American political economy. It. Isn’t. Real.
  2. You’re blaming the wrong people. Continue reading

Welcome to the neighborhood, Saif

Dear Saif—

Hey, it turns out that we’re neighbors! Isn’t that great? Not really neighbors, exactly, like living down the street or something, but we do live in the same part of London. We’re in more of a low rent part of town, but still, it’s nice to know that we have the same taste in real estate. Which must be some comfort for you these days, considering the fact that many of your countrymen don’t appreciate your leadership qualities, or those of your father, for that matter. It’s hard to find a decent place to live in London these days, I have to admit, and to have all these other problems too—it makes me feel better knowing that you have this peaceful retreat to come to if, for whatever reason, you may feel the need to leave Libya. Although I have to say there are some issues for you to deal with here in London as well. First there’s the fact that the London School of Economics is now investigating whether you actually wrote your own dissertation. And then there’s that pesky little issue of the large donation to the LSE from your foundation. Of course, things at home look a bit complicated as well, and probably not helped by the support of the Arab League yesterday for a no-fly zone. And boy, what’s with France recognizing the rebels as the government of Libya? What’s that all about? You’ve got a lot on your plate there, Saif! Sometimes it seems like the whole world is against you, doesn’t it?
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PhilanthroCapitalism – Why giving won't save the world

You’ll recall how, when George W Bush stood for re-election as US president back in 2004, outraged Europeans organised petitions and marches to demand that Americans vote for someone else.

And then, in 2009, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was trying to steal the Iranian presidential elections, millions of people around the world turned their web pages green and fired off thousands of Twitter posts to call for free elections.

Or how about when, in 2007, George Clooney went to Sudan to demand that the international community do something to stop the genocide taking place in Darfur.

As you’ll also remember, Bush lost to John Kerry, Ahmadinejad went into exile and Darfur is now peaceful and prosperous.

Oh, wait, no, none of that happened. Continue reading

Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010

This is the future – people, translated as data. – Bryce, Network 23

The future has always interested me, even when it scares me to death. I wrote a doctoral dissertation that spent a good deal of time examining our culture’s ideologies of technology and development, for instance (and built some discussion of William Gibson and cyberpunk into the mix). I once taught a two-semester sequence at the University of Colorado in Humanities and the Electronic Media, where I introduced the concept of the “Posthumanities” to my students. A few years back I talked about the future of retail and described the smartest shopping cart that ever lived. Continue reading

Constitution 2.0: money talks and bullshit walks

Bad attitude and strange bedfellows at the dawn of the Reich, and What Would Hunter Do, anyway?

Ever since five members of the Supreme Court declared the Constitution unconstitutional yesterday morning I’ve been in something of a snit. Along the way, I’ve said a variety of things that struck me as insightful, pithy, even witty. Others, however – bitter, lonely misanthropic types simmering in their own humorless bile – seem to be finding me mostly snarky and cynical.

So here are a few samples. You be the judge. Assuming you’re a corporation with enough spare cash that your opinion matters, that is.

  • Early on, my S&R colleague Brian Angliss lamented that this is how democracy dies, or something to that effect. My reply: “From where I sit democracy has been dead for some time. This is more like vandals pulling over the headstone.” See? Wasn’t that clever? Continue reading

Take a tea partier to bed to save American democracy

Never thought I’d invite a member of the Tea Party to join political forces with me. But it’s going to take an odd and broad coalition of folks who comprise “We the People” to fight back against today’s U.S. Supreme Court action granting stunning new power to corporate America to buy our government. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, rolled back all limits on the rights of organizations to spend money to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Overturning key provisions of McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and flouting a century of precedent, the decision opens the floodgates to a torrent of spending by banks, insurance companies, energy companies, automakers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, chemical producers, agribusiness giants and media oligopolies — both domestic and foreign – to sway races by buying candidates. And to trash American democracy in the process. Continue reading

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy's ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Continue reading

Democracy & Elitism 4: equality, opportunity and leveling up the playing field

Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.

Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Continue reading

Holiday gifts that make a difference: Good Gifts and Farm Africa

One of the things we have done in Christmases past is to check out the Good Gifts catalog here in the UK. And it turns out that you can do this online as well. Good Gifts basically is a clearing house for good deeds—the give you all sorts of worthy groups and charities to donate to at the holidays, and they’re all worthwhile. These range from the local—helping out Cumbria flood victims—to the global—a year of schooling for an African child, for example, or a project to clear cluster bombs from recent war zones, or bicycles for midwives in developing countries. All are worthy goals, and you get to send an attractive card (or e-card) on your behalf. And you can order on-line.
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