CATEGORY: UnitedStates

Another Fourth, another episode of blissful national blindness

No red, white, and blue adorn my flagpole. No patriotic bunting arches over my front door. No fireworks await their flaming demise. I no longer enjoy the nation’s formal parting from Great Britain (which was on July 2, anyway).

2f45d-free_wallpaper_patriotic_eagle_american_flag_background-1-1024x768I suppose, at one time, July Fourth carried great meaning to all Americans. After all, because of the acts of the Continental Congress and subsequent versions of it, I can (and do) criticize my government without fear or favor. I can own a weapon. My home and person cannot be searched or seized without cause. I am not obligated to incriminate myself. I can practice the religion of my choice — or decide not to — without government coercion. I can peaceably assemble with others to protest almost any damn thing I want to. I can vote to select who will govern me. And Congress cannot prevent me from owning a press in which I tell others what I see and what I know and what I feel.

I love my country because of the ideals inherent in the Constitution and especially in the Bill of Rights.

But lately, I have come to dislike this overwrought holiday. 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.

Are you proud to be an American? I’m not.

by JS O’Brien

Doubtless, the title of this piece made you think I was about to launch into a blame-America-first jeremiad on this July 4. Not the case. This is about pride; what it is and why it makes sense, or doesn’t make sense, to have it.

I grew up around adults who had a regional greeting when they shook hands: “Proud to meet ya!” I thought that was strange at the time, and I still do. Why would anyone be “proud” to meet someone? I suppose, theoretically, if you’d accomplished something really spectacular that got you into a meeting with someone powerful and famous, you could transfer your pride in accomplishment to that meeting, but that’s a bit roundabout, eh? More likely, it’s one of the manifestations — along with the phrase, “Proud to be an American” — of sloppy thinking and misplaced values that are an un-American as terrier pie. Continue reading

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

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.'” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Cuban: "the most patriotic thing you can do"

Mark Cuban is rich. Really, really rich. And like a lot of rich people, he has an opinion on all this talk about government and taxes. A snip:

I’m not against government involvement in times of need. I am for recognizing that big public companies will continue to cut jobs in an effort to prop up stock prices, which in turn stimulates the need for more government involvement. Every cut job by the big companies extracts a cost on the American people in one way or another.

So be Patriotic. Go out there and get rich. Get so obnoxiously rich that when that tax bill comes, your first thought will be to choke on how big a check you have to write. Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #103: Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse

“To take people from the music world and give them the same kind of credibility that you give me, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker—that’s like an aberration. I know there’s some young actor sitting in New York or L.A. who’s spent half of his life learning how to act and sacrificing to learn his craft but isn’t going to get his opportunity because of some ‘actor’ who’s been created.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #101: Your Pal, Mike S.

“The guys who are shooting films now are technically brilliant, but there’s no content in their films. I marvel at what I see and wish I could have done a shot like that. But shots are secondary for my films, and with some of these films, it’s all about the shots. What’s the point? I’m not sure people know what points to make.” Who said it? 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

Nota Bene #97: toDwI'ma' qoS yItIvqu'!

“To be truly free, and truly to appreciate its freedom, a society must be literate.” Continue reading