Posts filed under ‘Economy’

The Best of the Web

"Works Progress Administration Project 19...

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I thought it was time to brag on some other writers and visionaries for a change. There are a lot of other great blogs out there that are doing creative things, making progressive statements, advocating for women, and featuring more important stories than Jesse James’ tragic breakup from Kat von D. I really thought that would last forever. I’m just devastated!

First off, there’s a great cartoon site that I found through WordPress, mostly because she was kind enough to click the “Like” button on one of my posts. The Adventures of Gyno-Star: Fighting the Forces of Evil & Male Chauvinism is a cartoon gem that gets updated twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays. The artist is supremely talented. Her superhero has a sidekick named Little Sappho, and together they fight nemeses like Stay at Home Mommy and Vlad Deferens. Clever fun, and the illustrations are fantastic!

At Rebuild the Dream you can sign a contract for a return to the American dream. Van Jones heads this campaign with the support of many other progressive organizations, most notably MoveOn.org. The idea is pretty simple. Start investing in America again. Update our infrastructure and invest in the future, create jobs to do this and hire Americans to fill the jobs.

What does that sound like? Why, if it weren’t for the green energy component, I think it sounds an awful lot like the Works Progress Administration. The WPA? You don’t say. The brainchild of FDR, a plan to bring us out of the Great Depression, improve our great nation, and feed our families, the WPA is still present in concrete and signs in small and large communities throughout the United States. How do we pay for this? By taxing the rich.

This brings me to another great website. Sometimes people, myself included, like to cast the rich in the role of villain in the deterioration of the American dream and the American economy. But that’s not entirely fair. There are some millionaires out there who are lobbying that their taxes need to be raised.

You can find those millionaires and billionaires on a great website called, Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. These people are true patriots, and their message reminds me that with great wealth comes great privilege and with great privilege, great responsibility. These people incredibly, selflessly get that. They make me proud to be an American.

Speaking of being proud to be an American, some people make me proud to be a Christian as well. John Shore, whose blog I’ve championed before, had a great article about a woman named Kathy Baldock and how she came to form a non-profit called Canyonwalker Connections. Kathy had t-shirts made, and she attends gay functions like Pride parades and wears her t-shirt, offering an apology to any LGBT who’s been traumatized by the bigotry of churches who reject homosexuals.

Here’s a great video I found:

The video is a commentary on how household cleaning products are always marketed to women, using women almost exclusively to sell the products to women almost exclusively. The only exceptions I can think of to this are Orange Glo and Oxy Clean. Mr. Clean doesn’t count since he’s a fictional character who never actually cleans anything anyway. The Tidy-Bowl Man is a tugboat operator; he doesn’t clean anything.

What is marketed almost exclusively to men? Beer. How is it marketed to men? Using scantily clad beautiful women to imply that if only you drink enough beer women will want to have sex with you. Maybe if only the women drink enough beer they will forget that they have to do all of the cleaning and will want to have sex with you. Or, and here’s a novel concept: maybe if a man did his share of the chores around the house a woman might be inclined to have sex more often. Beer is optional.

I found this website by happy accident. Hugo Schwyzer is a Christian and a gender studies professor. He’s written many, many enlightening blog posts about issues relating to feminism and Christianity, including weighing in on the recent controversy over actor Doug Hutchison’s marriage to a 16-year-old child and SeekingArrangement.com’s pimping out of college girls. He writes about his views on porn and even cites Andrea Dworkin. He’s sharp, and he’s a pleasure to read.

Hugo Schwyzer also blogs on The Good Men Project. The Good Men Project bills itself as “a cerebral, new media alternative” to glossy men’s magazines. In other words, it’s the anti-Maxim. There are great articles on gender issues and relationship advice, and something for everyone. This website renews my good faith in men.

The Women’s Media Center is a non-profit that seeks to make women more visible and women’s voices more audible in all forms of contemporary media. Their website features a Sexism Watch. They sponsor conventions and leadership panels and encourage women to produce films and documentaries that tell women’s stories. They are fighting to see women represented more in the news and on political commentary shows. Check it out.

August 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

The 99%

Classic General Electric neon sign, in Willaco...

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An article in Vanity Fair from the May edition (the one with Rob Lowe on the cover) talks about income disparity in America. I’m sure it’s nothing that people in America don’t already intrinsically sense, but just in case you missed it: 1% of the people in America make 25% of the income, and the same 1% own 40% of its assets.

Instead of being the land of opportunity it dreamily advertises, America is on par with Russia and Iran in terms of the disparity between its haves and its have nots. This only addresses the top 1%: the wealthiest of the wealthy. Income and wealth distribution in America is much more unfair when you factor in divisions amongst the remaining 99%.

Once upon a time in America, this was a land of opportunity. Our founding fathers and subsequent leaders wanted to ensure an equality of opportunity (or at least as much of one as possible) and fought to keep America from becoming like a feudal European state. Part of the point of having a graduated income tax and estate and capital gains taxes and anti-trust laws was to keep the wealthy from, in effect, owning the country and then having those wealthy pass it on to their children. And so on and so on and so on, in perpetuity.

Now the rich get around these laws with special tax breaks for big corporations and the wealthy. I’m not anti-business. I’m not even anti-big business. The problem is when I hear that multi-billion dollar behemoths like General Electric paid no federal taxes last year. That’s something I take issue with.

The problem is when I see executives that make millions of dollars a year go unscathed after they make unethical decisions that cost “regular” people their jobs and their homes. That they haven’t been prosecuted is something I intend to remember in the next Presidential election.

The 1% elect other members of the 1% to represent the 1% and the interests of big business (not surprisingly, how much of the 1% makes its money). The 1% funds the campaigns of the 1% it elects. They fund the lobbyists who barrage the lawmakers with their requests on behalf of the 1%.

But there will be a day of reckoning. Make no mistake about it. I hope that day of reckoning will just be a day at the polls. One day the 99% will wake up and see what’s going on, and I only hope that the 1% make adjustments towards greater equality before that happens. I hate to think about what else could happen. Read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ask Anistasia. Ask Marie Antoinette.

Now, since I sometimes criticize certain conservative politicians for bitching about problems without solving them, I would like to propose some prospective solutions. For one thing, we have laws in place to protect consumers in this country. It’s time we started enforcing them. Let Elizabeth Warren head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and give her the power and influence necessary to carry out her job instead of being a mere figurehead.

Take away all the special tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy. Who are the wealthy, you might ask? Well, that probably depends on the size of a person’s family and the number of his dependents. However, I think most people in America would consider themselves very fortunate to make a six-figure income. Certainly, if you are making $250,000 a year, then I don’t care if you’re the Duggards or the Browns of The Sister Wives, you couldn’t possibly have enough children to be hurting on a quarter of a million dollars a year. No “special” tax credits for you.

With 401(k) plans, the government makes employers conduct something called nondiscrimination testing on an annual basis. If the rank and file workers in a company are making a disproportionate percentage of income compared with a company’s officers and upper management, then the upper management doesn’t get to sock away as much money on a tax free basis. These people received distributions from their 401(k) plans, and they are taxed on them at the normal rate…or they have to find other tax loopholes created for the wealthy. I have no doubt that there are some.

How about doing nondiscrimination testing on salaries as well. Establish a percentage that seems reasonable, and then for every dollar they make above what’s considered a fair amount, tax the hell out of it at a higher percentage rate. It’s unconscionable that executives, officers, and managers at a corporation should make well over 10, 20, or 30 times the salaries of the typical worker.

It’s immoral when these executives take all of the credit for a company’s success and none of the risk or the blame when it fails. A company’s success or failure depends on all of its workforce. I’m not advocating equal pay for everyone regardless of risk, stress, education, experience, and competence level. What I am saying is that it’s wrong for a few men to make billions of dollars while the men who work hard to keep his company afloat have to apply for food stamps and Medicaid when the company flourishes and get pink slips when it doesn’t.

I don’t expect that this post will get much traffic or inspire much thought or change. I expect things to remain in the status quo, right where they have been for the most part since Ronald Reagan was elected. I had hoped that Obama might accomplish change, but apart from his health care plan, I see little that has changed. And the health care plan hasn’t taken effect yet. If the Republicans and Tea Party revelers have their way, it never will.

http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105

July 1, 2011 at 1:44 am 1 comment

Slavery: Not Just in Egypt Anymore

President Barack Obama views the Emancipation ...

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Remember the old bible stories about Joseph and his coat of many colors? Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Then he rose to become the right hand man of the Pharaoh himself. Several generations later, his ancestors and the descendants of his brothers were slaves. Moses led them out of the land of Egypt, parting the red sea with his staff.

Then, remember how several years later a bunch of immoral white men in Europe and the United States kidnapped, mutilated, tortured and killed many Africans on big seafaring vessels? Remember how the ones who survived were later sold off to plantation owners in the South who then treated them abysmally? Maybe you don’t. Do yourself a favor and read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roots. Remember how Abraham Lincoln set those slaves free with a little document we like to call the Emancipation Proclamation?

Slavery is alive and well in America and throughout the world. Only now slavery is not defined by your religion or the color of your skin. It’s dependent upon your gender and your social status. Women, girls, and the poor are slaves, not just in the rest of the world but here in this country. Undocumented workers are smuggled into this country at the mercy of unscrupulous traders.  Then they are either sold into slavery outright or dropped across the border with a debt owed to their smugglers that they will never repay in their lifetimes: the new indentured servitude.

It’s happening to our young girls, as young as 13, courted sweetly by men whose future plans are to sell them in prostitution. The same sweet guy who treated these young women like princesses later rapes, beats, and drugs them. And rap music sanctifies and glorifies such behavior for whole new generations of young men, with its tales of pimps working hard to manage their bitches and hos. Yeah, it’s hard out there for a pimp. So hard, in fact, that we gave the men their own Academy Award winning anthem.

Our own military, in its efforts to reduce military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, have contracted the work of its non-essential personnel to civilians. These civilians are recruited by firms who contract with companies that contract directly with the Pentagon. Who knows just how many channels the money is laundered through until it gets to the hands of the slave traders? But if you’re an American, your tax dollars are paying to buy slaves.

Poor men and women are promised big money in exotic locations only to find out that they will be forced to Iraq and Afghanistan against their will, kept in sub-human conditions, abused and sometimes sexually battered. They will dodge bombs, shells, missiles and bullets on a daily basis. They will be hungry. They will not be allowed to leave. Almost all of them will not receive the pay they are promised. Some will not be paid at all.

Yes, slavery is alive and well and living in America. The new slave is poor and foreign or female and young. And America is buying.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2011/05/sex-trafficking-201105?printable=true

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/06/06/110606fa_fact_stillman

June 29, 2011 at 11:44 pm 3 comments

Inside Job

Great Depression: man dressed in worn coat lyi...

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Inside Job starts off with a cautionary tale about Iceland. Iceland’s economy was, for a time, almost entirely based on finance. Economists from America (who were paid by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce) penned scholarly articles on the health and stability of Iceland’s economy. Turns out it was a house of cards.

The movie is a documentary film by director Charles Ferguson, narrated by Matt Damon. It explains and tracks the events of the global recession that ushered in the Obama administration. It explains the roots of the problem, tracking all the way back to the Great Depression and the Glass-Steagall Act and its appeal during the Reagan administration and the savings and loan scandals of the ‘80s. It explains it in pretty plain language in a way that ordinary Americans like you and me can understand.

The Glass-Steagall Act was a piece of legislation passed in 1933 in response to the Great Depression. It established the FDIC and made it illegal for conventional banks to offer speculative investments. It also basically banned insurance agencies and investment services firms from merging with traditional banks.

That all changed, beginning in the 1980s, and the Republicans, and later, Bill Clinton, helped to pass laws that removed the regulation and controls that the Glass-Steagall Act had put into place for the protection of ordinary Americans. Not only were the laws changed to accommodated a laissez faire attitude, the laws that remained in place were blatantly disregarded and unenforced. Under the influence of Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand‘s former lover and protege, free market was good, regulation bad.

The movie explains how the housing bubble, CDOs and derivatives worked together to cause a global catastrophre. Everyone gets in on the blame: Wall Street traders, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, politicians, lobbyists, ratings agencies and insurance companies. The individual greed of these people works in a kind of synergy to provide a perfect storm of collective immorality.

Everyone is out for his own piece of the pie. Everyone thinks he’s entitled to receive something for nothing. One thing in the movie that’s especially shocking is when the increase in the average Wall Street employee’s salary over the last forty years or so is tracked on a line graph. If you weren’t angry about the bailout before you saw this movie you certainly will be afterward.

Why and how did these people escape prosecution? An entire nation has been defrauded of billions of dollars, and not one single person has been jailed for it. Instead, they got bonuses or millions of dollars in severance pay and a McMansion in the Hamptons. It’s a travesty. And if you are an American, and you don’t stand up and let your outrage be heard, well, you should just be ashamed of yourself.

You owe it to yourself to see this movie. If I can read Too Big to Fail and watch Inside Job and understand complex finance geek speak, then you can, too. Do it. And remember next time you vote for a President what was done or not in order to right this situation. You can bet that I will.

April 29, 2011 at 12:49 am Leave a comment

Aging Italian Lothario

Silvio Berlusconi in a meeting

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We all know that I like to read. I was reading last week’s issue of The New Yorker when I came across an article on Italy and Italy’s Prime Minister, Sylvio Berlusconi. And you thought the title of Italian Lothario was going to be a puff piece on George Clooney! Berlusconi is currently the European leader who’s been in office the longest but not consecutively.

He’s embroiled in a controversy that involves a sex scandal, a divorce, allegations of government corruption, and sex with teenage girls. In Italy the age of consent is 16, but paying for sex is illegal. It’s alleged that Berlusconi, in his 70s, paid for sex with underage girls.

The article that I read in The New Yorker made it sound like Berlusconi’s sexual exploits are not only tolerated but virtually approved. It sounds like in Italian culture the primary qualification for public office might be the ability to get an erection. Maybe if both candidates have access to Levitra, they measure penises in order to find out who will be the better leader. Okay. That’s an exaggeration but not much of one. It is a heavily sexist, machismo culture.

Berlusconi describes his politics as moderate right, and he hangs on to the number of votes he needs to retain office by the skin of his teeth and with the help of another political party called the Northern League. The Northern League is dedicated to making the money in the North stay in the North and tends to be divisive. However, they say if Berlusconi will back what they term “fiscal federalism,” they’ll stand behind him.

But I gotta wonder why this guy is Prime Minister. Clinton couldn’t keep it in his pants, either, but at least our economy thrived while he was in office. And as far as I know he wasn’t playing the cigar game with teenage girls. He also wasn’t objectifying women or rewarding political positions to women that are basically based on whether or not he wanted to nail them.

Sure enough, if you can ignore the allegations of paying for sex or paying for sex with underage girls, then there’s the problems of this yahoo’s mismanagement. Corruption (in the form of bribery) abounds. The unemployment rate is high, particularly amongst young people, and those that are employed are mostly underpaid. They are second only to Greece in terms of debt ratios of European Union Nations.

It begs the question of how an effective businessman can manage to run his nation’s economy into the ground while he’s busy throwing parties to rival Hugh Hefner. Berlusconi has escaped criticism so far because he actually owns all 3 television networks in Italy. That’s not a conflict of interest. Not at all. It’s like if Rupert Murdoch ran for President, if Rupert Murdoch also purchased ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. I shudder to think.

Berlusconi works to make sure that his country sees only positive images of him. He squashes anyone who protests or opposes him in the court of public opinion. Mostly, the message is that anyone who criticizes him must be partisan and leftist, as well as disloyal to Italy.

The tide is turning. Some Italians are finally tired of this guy’s nonsense. Guess who’s one of the groups leading the charge. Just guess. Feminists. They recognize this dick for just what he is. In case you were inclined to feel sorry for this dirty old man, just keep in mind that this is a man who also calls Muammar Ghadafi his dear friend.

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/silvio_berlusconi/index.html

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/12/13/world/europe/1247466111431/an-attack-on-silvio-berlusconi.html?ref=silvioberlusconi

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/20/berlusconi-italian-women-backlash

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/04/11/110411crat_atlarge_parks

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/feminists-for-the-italian-future/

April 21, 2011 at 11:13 pm 1 comment

Save Texas Schools

Texas State Capitol

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I’m about a month behind, but better late than never. About a month ago over 12,000 people marched on the state capital of Texas to protest a decrease in state funding for public education that will put many teachers out of work, as well as countless peripheral staff such as school bus drivers, guidance counselors, cafeteria workers, teacher’s aids, etc.

Rick Perry, our governor, says that he’s not firing teachers. He doesn’t have any influence over hiring and firing decisions. Talk to the superintendents and school boards of your local school districts. But if the school districts are getting less money from the state, then they are forced to make cuts. So, make no mistake, Rick Perry and the Texas state legislature are firing schoolteachers and school workers all over the state of Texas. With that many people out of work, how is that going to affect our economy?

This doesn’t have to happen. Texas has a rainy day fund. Supposedly, the state of Texas was so economically healthy a few years ago that Texas didn’t need any incentives that were offered by the federal government. In my opinion, not being able to provide a quality education for our children counts as the kind of emergency that requires a rainy day fund.

Texas is a state well known for big money and big business. There’s no excuse for being at the bottom of the barrel in terms of how much we spend per student on our students. Excuse me. I’m sorry. We’re not actually at the bottom. I think Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas might spend less. That thought is comforting.

The state lottery supposedly funds education. Things are tough all over. Our media is saying that the federal government may experience a shutdown. However, in times of economic downturn the lottery traditionally does well. People still spend money on lottery tickets when things are tight. In fact, they usually spend more money on lottery tickets. Where is all this lottery money that supposedly goes toward education actually going?

If you live in Texas and you think education and our state’s children need to be a priority, then you can let your governor and state legislators know. They will listen. They want above all other things to be reelected. If they know that you will not vote for them unless our state’s children receive the education they deserve, then they’ll find that money somewhere. Trust me.

I’d rather you not vote for Rick Perry at all, but this is a Republican state, and Perry has great hair so as long as he wants to be governor he’ll probably remain so. But we don’t have to let him know that. Call him up and tell him that you want your kids to have teachers and you won’t vote for him unless he sends money for teachers. Or write him or whatever. He doesn’t have to know that you really vote for him because you think he’s hot. That will be our secret.

http://savetxschools.org/

April 8, 2011 at 3:17 am 3 comments

I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke

The recent political unrest in predominantly Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East has seemed like a stack of dominoes falling. The dictatorships of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya: they all fall down like toy soldiers. Of course, some people in the United States have been terribly alarmed at these turns of events. It is disturbing, but it’s also refreshing, isn’t it?

These people have been under the rule of brutal regimes in some cases. In all cases they have been subject to economic hardship that maybe even the poorest of those of us in the United States would not be able to comprehend. The countries are overpopulated, and their young people cannot find work. In fact, I’ve read recently that the Muslim population of the world is the fastest growing population in the world.

What’s worse is that in many of these countries our government has been complicit in keeping these people under the thumb of tyranny. We’ve supported inept, corrupt leaders who were guilty of countless human rights violations in order to ensure that we had someone in power who supported American interests.

A lot of things I’ve read recently have been coming together for me with a click. I’ve read about our government’s enslaving poor nations into crippling debt. I’ve read about Arab people all over the world having economic difficulties. I’ve read about political unrest in predominantly Muslim nations. How much of the political unrest do you think comes from political and economic oppression?

I’ve read about people in these countries demonstrating for democracy, for the right to be heard and for their concerns to be validated. I’ve read about many of these people being women, and there’s been more than one article written about the feminists in Tahrir square, as well as how the Muslim Brotherhood held hands to form a bond of chains around the women so that they could protest alongside the men safely.

I read an excellent Newsweek article on Hillary Clinton and her tenure as Secretary of State and how she champions women’s rights globally. I saw an interview with Melinda Gates about how empowering women in third world countries provides further opportunities for both women and men alike. I read Half the Sky where women who were the benefactors of microfunding produced profits for their investors and themselves. They became entrepreneurs and created income for others. There’s no reason why the same model, with maybe a few tweaks, can’t work for men as well.

I read an article in The New Yorker about Mo Ibrahim, a multi-billionaire Sudanese Muslim businessman who made his fortune in the cell phone industry. He retired to start his own charitable foundation that now bestows a prize to any leaving African political leader who has made a significantly positive contribution to his society. For the last two years it’s been awarded to no one because no one was deemed worthy of the prize.

Ibrahim’s foundation keeps records on African countries and their rulers. The Ibrahim Index assigns a numerical score based on human rights, gender, sanitation and access to clean water, corruption, and economics among other categories. It then judges Africa’s leaders’ effectiveness based on these criterion.

China, India, and, indeed, all of Asia is undergoing enormous change. Economic opportunity abounds. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades. We’re on a cusp now of a real revolution in Africa and the Middle East as well. We can help these people flourish and encourage them in their efforts to define democracy for themselves. Or we can do what we’ve done in the past. We can covertly support their poverty and enslavement.

In the past the Western world has been reluctant to invest in this part of the world because it’s unstable. But is it poor because it’s unstable or is it unstable because it’s poor? Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

Most of these people don’t actually hate Americans, you know. They’re not really fond of our government – with good reason, I might add. But I think we might find, like Greg Mortenson did when he was nearly dying on the descent down from a mountain climbing expedition, that people are people.

We can win the war on terror, and we can win gender equality for women in countries where there is none. But we aren’t going to be able to win the war on terror with weapons. Remember that old saying? Kill them with kindness? We need to change our foreign policy, both as a government and as individuals. We need to invest in these countries and these people.

We need to throw our economic and political support behind the countries that meet a certain standard on the Ibrahim Index and withhold our support from those that don’t. We need to forgive the debt of African countries. We need to work in tandem with these people to create a sustainable environment of prosperity and invite women to participate. When men in these countries see tangible results from the efforts of women, when these results benefit them and result in more economic opportunities for them, then they won’t protest so loudly anymore.

I know this argument has a tendency to sound oversimplified, and no doubt it is greatly oversimplified and idealistic. But there’s something to the old Southern saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. We can’t just buy the world a Coke and teach them all to sing, but if someone bought you a Coke would you then be inclined to blow him up with an improvised explosive device? I wouldn’t.

 

http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/en/section/the-ibrahim-index

http://www.opportunity.org/blog/tag/half-the-sky/

http://www.newsweek.com/2011/03/06/the-hillary-doctrine.html

http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/life/melinda-gates-on-work-life-balance-empowering-women-her-marriage-and-more-2464037/

http://www.johnperkins.org/

March 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm 3 comments

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