We The People Are Losing Our Voice

When I read this newsletter from Robert Reich this morning, my jaw dropped.  Sure, I knew that capitalism has run amok in recent years and that We the People seem to have no value to many of our elected officials, but … even I wasn’t aware to what degree our best interests have been subjugated.  I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to read and ponder Mr. Reich’s words …


Why isn’t corporate America behind the pro-democracy movement?

Time for the biggest companies to step up and protect what’s left of it

Robert Reich, 14 January 2022

Capitalism and democracy are compatible only if democracy is in the driver’s seat.

That’s why I took some comfort just after the attack on the Capitol when many big corporations solemnly pledged they’d no longer finance the campaigns of the 147 lawmakers who voted to overturn the election results.

Well, those days are over. Turns out they were over the moment the public stopped paying attention.

A report published last week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington shows that over the last year, 717 companies and industry groups have donated more than $18 million to 143 of those seditious lawmakers. Businesses that pledged to stop or pause their donations have given nearly $2.4 million directly to their campaigns or leadership political action committees.

But there’s a deeper issue here. The whole question of whether corporations do or don’t bankroll the seditionist caucus is a distraction from a much larger problem.

The tsunami of money now flowing from corporations into the swamp of American politics is larger than ever. And this money – bankrolling almost all politicians and financing attacks on their opponents – is undermining American democracy as much as did the 147 seditionist members of Congress. Maybe more.

Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema — whose vocal opposition to any change in the filibuster is on the verge of dooming voting rights — received almost $2 million in campaign donations in 2021 despite not being up for re-election until 2024. Most of it came from corporate donors outside Arizona, some of which have a history of donating largely to Republicans.

Has the money influenced Sinema? You decide: Besides sandbagging voting rights, she voted down the $15 minimum wage increase, opposed tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, and stalled on drug price reform — policies supported by a majority of Democratic Senators as well as a majority of Arizonans. 

Over the last four decades, corporate PAC spending on congressional elections has more than quadrupled, even adjusting for inflation.

Labor unions no longer provide a counterweight. Forty years ago, union PACs contributed about as much as corporate PACs. Now, corporations are outspending labor by more than three to one

According to a landmark study published in 2014 by Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern professor Benjamin Page, the preferences of the typical American have no influence at all on legislation emerging from Congress.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens. Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Lawmakers mainly listen to the policy demands of big business and wealthy individuals – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns and promote their views.

It’s likely far worse now. Gilens and Page’s data came from the period 1981 to 2002 – before the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in the Citizens United case, prior to SuperPACs, before “dark money,” and before the Wall Street bailout.

The corporate return on this mountain of money has been significant. Over the last forty years, corporate tax rates have plunged. Regulatory protections for consumers, workers, and the environment have been defanged. Antitrust has become so ineffectual that many big corporations face little or no competition.

Corporations have fought off safety nets and public investments that are common in other advanced nations (most recently, “Build Back Better”). They’ve attacked labor laws — reducing the portion of private-sector workers belonging to a union from a third forty years ago, to just over 6 percent now.  

They’ve collected hundreds of billions in federal subsidies, bailouts, loan guarantees, and sole-source contracts. Corporate welfare for Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Tech, Big Ag, the largest military contractors and biggest banks now dwarfs the amount of welfare for people.

The profits of big corporations just reached a 70-year high, even during a pandemic. The ratio of CEO pay in large companies to average workers has ballooned from 20-to-1 in the 1960s, to 320-to-1 now.

Meanwhile, most Americans are going nowhere. The typical worker’s wage is only a bit higher today than it was forty years ago, when adjusted for inflation.

But the biggest casualty is the public’s trust in democracy.

In 1964, just 29 percent of voters believed that government was “run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” By 2013, 79 percent of Americans believed it.

Corporate donations to seditious lawmakers are nothing compared to this forty-year record of corporate sedition.

A large portion of the American public has become so frustrated and cynical about democracy they are willing to believe blatant lies of a self-described strongman, and willing to support a political party that no longer believes in democracy.

As I said at the outset, capitalism is compatible with democracy only if democracy is in the driver’s seat. But the absence of democracy doesn’t strengthen capitalism. It fuels despotism.

Despotism is bad for capitalism. Despots don’t respect property rights. They don’t honor the rule of law. They are arbitrary and unpredictable. All of this harms the owners of capital. Despotism also invites civil strife and conflict, which destabilize a society and an economy.

My message to every CEO in America: You need democracy, but you’re actively undermining it.

It’s time for you to join the pro-democracy movement. Get solidly behind voting rights. Actively lobby for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Use your lopsidedly large power in American democracy to protect American democracy — and do it soon. Otherwise, we may lose what’s left of it.

Thought-Provoking Words

Until just a couple of weeks ago, I had not, that I can recall, heard of Umair Haque.  Then, our friend David sent me a piece by him that I found to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I did a bit of research on the man.  Umair is a London-based consultant, and author of at least three books1.  I read several articles by him, in addition to the one David sent, until Medium, where he publishes, told me I had reached my limit of free articles.  While I do not necessarily agree with all he says … after much pondering, I mostly agree.  I have highlighted in red the parts that really made me sit up and take note.  Please read the following and give it some thought.  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.


Umair-Haque

Umair Haque

Here’s a tiny observation. Forgive me. You might not like it.

I’ve seen many countries collapse. Pakistan. Afghanistan. The Soviet Union. Turkey. Iran. Sri Lanka. Egypt. Some, first-hand. Some from afar, through the eyes of friends and colleagues.

But I’ve never seen a country collapse as fast, as severely, and as hard as America is.

America’s collapsing at an unprecedented rate. Light-speed. Terminal velocity. Turbo-charged implosion. I don’t think a country has collapsed as fast as America — maybe not in all of history. Especially not a rich and powerful one. Rome took centuries. The Soviet Union’s took decades, and it’s still rolling on. Maybe only small countries which had never really built strong institutions, barely-democracies, have I seen crash this fast, hard, and badly — but that’s the point. American collapse is something unique in modern history.

Of course, that’s a subjective judgment — we don’t have an objective speedometer for the collapse of societies. But that is what this essay will be about. To show you, a little bit, what leads me to the idea that America’s crashing and burning at light speed. I want to take a moment to share what I see, by pinning down precisely what I mean by collapse.

First, of course, there is political collapse. From democracy to autocracy, kleptocracy, and authoritarianism. America’s political institutions simply don’t function anymore. It’s [sic] democracy doesn’t represent the 70% of people who want functioning healthcare, gun control, education, safety nets — but only the 25–30% of immovable extremists who apparently want to live in the Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984 by way of Mein Kampf. Its rule of law has devolved to mass trials and mass disappearances and mothers being separated from their kids at the border. It’s critical systems of governance are so broken that 5000 people died from negligence after…a storm.

The American polity doesn’t resemble the French or German one — in fact, it looks very much like the Pakistani polity, the Saudi, or maybe the Soviet polity. It is completely and utterly dysfunctional, to a degree that is unimaginable among its rich peers. And all that took perhaps a decade or two.

Then there is cultural collapse — from a culture of thought, reason, and accomplishment, to one of superstition, violence, and extremism . Kids shoot one another in schools regularly. People die for a lack of basic medicines like insulin — and the average American appears not to know that insulin doesn’t cost $1000 a month, but pennies, even in the world’s poorest countries. Why is that? It is because the are misinformed and kept ignorant by a media that feeds them a diet of Ancient Aliens and Paranormal Files. Hence, what should be a functioning culture is now rife with dark age style superstition.

Vaccinate my kids? No way! Never mind that humanity only eradicated smallpox in 1977. But vaccination is the least of America’s descent into superstition: then there is conspiracy theory, “truth” movements, a kind of hypocritical religious fundamentalism that’s quite happy to let kids shoot each other, bigotry, supremacism. And among the professional classes who look down on that, there is a culture of overwork and abuse and greed and cruelty — followed by lowest-common-denominator consumerism as a salve for the wounds of its emptiness. All these things rising are a function of a culture that fails to educate, inform, connect, or bond people together anymore.

A culture’s role is to help people makes sense of the world, as Marcel Mauss once argued — but American culture appears only to drive people into a kind of madness, either a frenzy of violence, a paralytic resignation, or a blind rage of fear and ignorance now. How fast did that happen? Well, it didn’t seem to do that so much even a decade ago, did it?

Then there is social collapse — from a modern society of broad-based prosperity, to something more like a dystopian caste society, where each stratum bitterly resents the next, and tries to pull it down, no one lifting anyone else up. The structure of American society is not that of a healthy society any longer. A once prosperous middle class has imploded into a new poor — while a tiny number of rich grew ultra rich. American society now resembles something more like Latin America in its darker times, Egypt, or Pakistan, perhaps. But even that understates the issue, because in America, trust imploded. People don’t trust institutions. They don’t trust society. They don’t trust their neighbours. Social bonds have completely imploded — predatory capitalism’s dream of a disintegrated society of atomized human commodities has finally come true.

As a result, of social bonds imploding, norms and rules no longer appear to work at all in America. Kids shooting each other? Ah, that’s terrible — but what can you do? Shrug. Every day brings a fresh scandal — this TV star is a supremacist, that celebrity is a bigot, that politician is a wife-beater ,and so on. How far have norms of decency shattered? There is an open pedophile and rapist running for public office.2 I don’t think that has happened anywhere in the modern world, ever, so far as I know. Not even in Pakistan, Iran, or Rwanda. And it would have been unimaginable even in the America of the 2000s.

Then there is economic collapse — from modernity’s rising living standards to a new kind of poverty. America has pioneered a new kind of impoverishment — precarity, living at the knife’s edge, in constant anxiety and panic and trauma. The average person has less than $500 in emergency savings. His or her income has been stagnant for decades — and even that economic “number” vastly understates the issue, because while their parents had jobs with benefits, pensions, retirements, protections, they have none of those things. Meanwhile, the price of the basics of life — healthcare, education, finance, food, housing — has exploded, skyrocketed, gone supernova.

How much? So much so that just the hospital bill for having a child costs half of median income. Who can afford to live a decent life in a society like that? Not even in Pakistan, Iran, or Afghanistan does having a child cost so much. Not even in severely broken countries do relatively well off people face so constantly the plight of living every day right at the razor’s edge — there, they have, at least, informal safety nets, family support systems, communities to shield them, and public goods to protect them. But Americans have none of these — because predatory capitalism has reduced them to prey.

For all these reasons, the average American has no optimism left in the future. He doesn’t believe that his children will live a better life. He is right, sadly. And that is because America is now collapsing at terminal velocity — faster than any society in history, as far as I can tell.

And I think that while Americans have a sense things are breaking down around them, they don’t really understand — because they aren’t often told — that a) this is the real thing, genuine collapse b) it is happening not slower or better than elsewhere, but in fact far faster, worse and harder, and c) because it is happening so fast, there is added to the constant stress of predatory capitalism, the heart-stopping turmoil of all these kinds of collapse, political, cultural, social, and economic.

Terminal velocity. So what happens when a society hits the ground? Usually, like anything, it shatters, breaks, and explodes.

Umair
June 2018

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1 The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business (2011); Betterness: Economics for Humans (2011); Why Are Europeans (So Much) Happier Than Americans? (2019)

2 The pedophile and rapist running for office was Nathan Larson, who in 2018 was running for election to Congress from the 10th congressional district of Virginia, an election he lost by a landslide.  Larson served 14 months in prison for the felony of threatening President George W. Bush’s life.

The Birth Of Capitalism

I first came across this poem over on Nan’s Notebook a week or so ago, and it struck a chord with me. It is short and simple, but a more concise explanation of capitalism has never been written. This is rather the concept of “All for one, and one for all”, only with a twist … think of it as “All for one, and one for himself”. Thank you, Dave Henderson, for your generous permission to share your words!

A Humanist's perspective

By the strangest of circumstances,
A group of ten previously unknown,
Were deserted in a far off sea,
A tropical isle they now commonly owned.

We must work together, said one;
And together erect ten huts.
If we will only cooperate,
Then we won’t find ourselves in a rut.

We must also gather food,
So each one of us can eat.
We will share what we gather,
At an appointed place we will meet.

Most everyone agreed,
Yet as plans were underway,
A certain man stepped forward,
He had something he wished to say.

Everyone was silent,
As this man made his case,
He said equality is wrong,
Then he volunteered to run the place.

He explained that their plan,
As pleasant as it might seem,
Was actually Socialism,
Contrary to the American Dream.

Cooperation is a liberal plot,
And sharing lacks the appeal,
Of good old fashioned competition,
Then…

View original post 182 more words

We’re Not Laughing Anymore …

George Monbiot is a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, known for his political and environmental activism. I’ve often found his column insightful, and in today’s column he makes some very astute observations about what we’ve been calling the “populist” movement, how and why the world seems to have suddenly turned upside down on its axis.


From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are on the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs

The ultra-rich are benefitting from disaster capitalism as institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode

George-Monbiot @GeorgeMonbiot

Fri 26 Jul 2019 06.00 BST

 

Seven years ago the impressionist Rory Bremner complained that politicians had become so boring that few of them were worth mimicking: “They’re quite homogenous and dull these days … It’s as if character is seen as a liability.” Today his profession has the opposite problem: however extreme satire becomes, it struggles to keep pace with reality. The political sphere, so dull and grey a few years ago, is now populated by preposterous exhibitionists.

bolsinaro-trump

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro at the White House with Donald Trump. ‘A host of ludicrous strongmen dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage.’ Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

This trend is not confined to the UK – everywhere the killer clowns are taking over. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and a host of other ludicrous strongmen – or weakmen, as they so often turn out to be – dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage. The question is why? Why are the technocrats who held sway almost everywhere a few years ago giving way to extravagant buffoons?

Social media, an incubator of absurdity, is certainly part of the story. But while there has been plenty of good work investigating the means, there has been surprisingly little thinking about the ends. Why are the ultra-rich, who until recently used their money and newspapers to promote charisma-free politicians, now funding this circus? Why would capital wish to be represented by middle managers one moment and jesters the next?

The reason, I believe, is that the nature of capitalism has changed. The dominant force of the 1990s and early 2000s – corporate power – demanded technocratic government. It wanted people who could simultaneously run a competent, secure state and protect profits from democratic change. In 2012, when Bremner made his complaint, power was already shifting to a different place, but politics had not caught up.

The policies that were supposed to promote enterprise – slashing taxes for the rich, ripping down public protections, destroying trade unions – instead stimulated a powerful spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation. The largest fortunes are now made not through entrepreneurial brilliance but through inheritance, monopoly and rent-seeking: securing exclusive control of crucial assets such as land and buildings privatised utilities and intellectual property, and assembling service monopolies such as trading hubs, software and social media platforms, then charging user fees far higher than the costs of production and delivery. In Russia, people who enrich themselves this way are called oligarchs. But this is a global phenomenon. Today corporate power is overlain by – and mutating into – oligarchic power.

What the oligarchs want is not the same as what the old corporations wanted. In the words of their favoured theorist, Steve Bannon, they seek the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. Chaos is the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which the new billionaires thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend. The chaos of an undeliverable Brexit, the repeated meltdowns and shutdowns of government under Trump: these are the kind of deconstructions Bannon foresaw. As institutions, rules and democratic oversight implode, the oligarchs extend their wealth and power at our expense.

The killer clowns offer the oligarchs something else too: distraction and deflection. While the kleptocrats fleece us, we are urged to look elsewhere. We are mesmerised by buffoons who encourage us to channel the anger that should be reserved for billionaires towards immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims, people of colour and other imaginary enemies and customary scapegoats. Just as it was in the 1930s, the new demagoguery is a con, a revolt against the impacts of capital, financed by capitalists.

The oligarch’s interests always lie offshore: in tax havens and secrecy regimes. Paradoxically, these interests are best promoted by nationalists and nativists. The politicians who most loudly proclaim their patriotism and defence of sovereignty are always the first to sell their nations down the river. It is no coincidence that most of the newspapers promoting the nativist agenda, whipping up hatred against immigrants and thundering about sovereignty, are owned by billionaire tax exiles, living offshore.

As economic life has been offshored, so has political life. The political rules that are supposed to prevent foreign money from funding domestic politics have collapsed. The main beneficiaries are the self-proclaimed defenders of sovereignty who rise to power with the help of social media ads bought by persons unknown, and thinktanks and lobbyists that refuse to reveal their funders. A recent essay by the academics Reijer Hendrikse and Rodrigo Fernandez argues that offshore finance involves “the rampant unbundling and commercialisation of state sovereignty” and the shifting of power into a secretive, extraterritorial legal space, beyond the control of any state. In this offshore world, they contend, “financialised and hypermobile global capital effectively is the state”.

Today’s billionaires are the real citizens of nowhere. They fantasise, like the plutocrats in Ayn Rand’s terrible novel Atlas Shrugged, about further escape. Look at the “seasteading” venture funded by PayPal’s founder, Peter Thiel, that sought to build artificial islands in the middle of the ocean, whose citizens could enact a libertarian fantasy of escape from the state, its laws, regulations and taxes, and from organised labour. Scarcely a month goes by without a billionaire raising the prospect of leaving the Earth altogether, and colonising space pods or other planets.

Those whose identity is offshore seek only to travel farther offshore. To them, the nation state is both facilitator and encumbrance, source of wealth and imposer of tax, pool of cheap labour and seething mass of ungrateful plebs, from whom they must flee, leaving the wretched earthlings to their well-deserved fate.

Defending ourselves from oligarchy means taxing it to oblivion. It’s easy to get hooked up on discussions about what tax level maximises the generation of revenue. There are endless arguments about the Laffer curve, which purports to show where this level lies. But these discussions overlook something crucial: raising revenue is only one of the purposes of tax. Another is breaking the spiral of patrimonial wealth accumulation.

Breaking this spiral is a democratic necessity: otherwise the oligarchs, as we have seen, come to dominate national and international life. The spiral does not stop by itself: only government action can do it. This is one of the reasons why, during the 1940s, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. A fair society requires periodic corrections on this scale. But these days the steepest taxes would be better aimed at accumulated unearned wealth.

Of course, the offshore world the billionaires have created makes such bold policies extremely difficult: this, after all, is one of its purposes. But at least we know what the aim should be, and can begin to see the scale of the challenge. To fight something, first we need to understand it.

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Something to Ponder …

In this day where everyone seems to have to wear a label – democrat, republican, moderate, liberal, conservative, neo-conservative, snowflake – David Brooks is hard to pin down.  He has been dubbed a moderate, a centrist, a conservative, and a moderate conservative.  He has even been called “one of those Republicans who want to ‘engage with’ the liberal agenda” {gasp!!!}, “not a real conservative” or “squishy”.  To me, labels can mean whatever one wants them to mean at the moment, or nothing at all.

David Brooks is a Canadian-born American who is currently a columnist for the New York Times and commentator on PBS NewsHour.  Along with The Washington Post’s George Will and a couple of others, he is among the conservative writers who gets my attention, commands my respect, whether I agree with him or not.

Mr. Brooks’ column of March 11th  is, I think, worth reading and giving some serious thought to.  This particular piece is neither right nor left, conservative nor liberal, but it is, rather, a statement of our ‘techno-society’, for lack of a better term.  Give it a glance, then give it some thought.  Are we walking straight into the mouth of the giant alligator?  Your thoughts?


If Stalin Had a Smartphone

Suddenly technology has a centralizing effect.

David-BrooksBy David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

I feel bad for Joseph Stalin. He dreamed of creating a totalitarian society where every individual’s behavior could be predicted and controlled. But he was born a century too early. He lived before the technology that would have made being a dictator so much easier!

In the first place, he’d have much better surveillance equipment. These days most interactions are through a computer, so there is always an electronic record of what went on.

The internet of things means that our refrigerators, watches, glasses, phones and security cameras will soon be recording every move we make. In 2017, Levi Strauss made an interactive denim jacket, with sensors to detect and transmit each gesture, even as minimal as the lifting of a finger. Soon prosecutors will be able to subpoena our driverless cars and retrieve a record of every place they took us.

And this is not even to mention the facial recognition technology the Chinese are using to keep track of their own citizens. In Beijing, facial recognition is used in apartment buildings to prevent renters from subletting their apartments.

One Chinese firm, Yitu, installed a system that keeps a record of employees’ movements as they walk to the break room or rest room. It records them with blue dotted lines on a monitor. That would be so helpful for your thoroughly modern dictator.

In the second place, thanks to artificial intelligence, Uncle Joe would have much better tools for predicting how his subjects are about to behave. As Shoshana Zuboff wrote in her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” when you are using Google, you are not Google’s customer. You are Google’s raw material. Google records everything you do; then it develops models that predict your behavior and then it sells those models to advertisers, which are its actual customers.

Thanks to this business model, some of the best minds in the world have spent tens of billions of dollars improving tools that predict personal consumption. This technology, too, has got to come in handy for any modern-day Stalin.

Third, thanks to big data, today’s Stalin would be able to build a massive Social Credit System to score and rank citizens, like the systems the Chinese are now using. Governments, banks and online dating sites gather data on, well, everybody. Do you pay your debts? How many hours do you spend playing video games? Do you jaywalk?

If your score is too low, you can get put on a blacklist. You may not be able to visit a museum. You may not be able to fly on a plane, check into a hotel, visit the mall or graduate from high school. Your daughter gets rejected by her favorite university.

Back in Stalin’s day, social discipline was so drastic. You had to stage a show trial (so expensive!), send somebody to the gulag or organize a purge. Now your tyranny can be small, subtle and omnipresent. It’s like the broken windows theory of despotism. By punishing the small deviations, you prevent the big ones from ever happening.

Fourth, you don’t have to go through all the trouble of staging a revolution. You just seduce people into a Faustian bargain. You offer to distract them for eight hours a day with animal videos and relatable memes, and they surrender their privacy to you and give you access to their brains.

As online life expands, neighborhood life and social trust decline. As the social fabric decays, social isolation rises and online viciousness and swindling accumulate, you tell people that the state has to step in to restore trust. By a series of small ratcheted steps, you’ve been given permission to completely regulate their online life.

This, too, is essentially what is happening in China.

As George Orwell and Aldous Huxley understood, if you want to be a good totalitarian, it isn’t enough to control behavior. To have total power you have to be able to control people’s minds. With modern information technology, the state can shape the intimate information pond in which we swim.

I don’t want to pretend that everything will be easy for the Stalin of the 21st century. Modern technology makes it easier to control people, but it also creates a mind-set in which people get much angrier about being controlled.

When people have a smartphone in their hand, they feel that they should have a voice, that they should be broadcasting, that they should have agency and dignity. When they discover they are caught in an information web that is subtly dominating them, they react. When they realize that ersatz information webs can’t really create the closeness and community they crave, they react.

Angry movements and mobs arise spontaneously. What you get is a system of elite domination interrupted by populist riots.

Human history is a series of struggles for power. Every few generations, just for fun, the gods give us a new set of equipment that radically alters the game. We thought the new tools would democratize power, but they seem to have centralized it. It’s springtime for dictators.

Reward For A Job Poorly Done?

richard-smithRichard Smith was the CEO of Equifax … until Tuesday when he stepped down from his position.  Or was asked to step down.  The investigation into what happened in the Equifax security breach that was made public earlier this month is ongoing, and there is no word whether Mr. Smith, and the two others who also stepped down were responsible.  143 million U.S. adults’ personal and credit information was hacked during May thru July.  But now here is what sticks in my craw …

Smith will receive a pension of $18.4 million.  $18.4 MILLION!!!  Plus … he stands to gain an additional $5 million IF he is found guilty of some wrongdoing!!!  As it stands, he is leaving by ‘mutual agreement’, and as such is not eligible for the $5,000 severance payout.  But, if the investigation should provide evidence that Smith was in the wrong in some way, then Equifax would change the status of his departure to ‘terminated’, and then he would be eligible for severance. Chew on that one for a minute or two while I go fix myself another cup of coffee …

wine

Coffee

And in addition to the above, the company is still considering certain other awards that could, potentially, end up with Mr. Smith receiving as much as $90 million.  I think we need look no further than this to figure out at least one of the things that is very, very wrong with capitalism, at least as it is practiced here in the U.S..  $18.4 million is obscene, under any circumstances, but when there is a strong likelihood that this man had at least some role in exposing nearly every adult in this nation to broad theft, he should not be getting a penny, let alone tens of millions of dollars.

I was curious about CEO severance packages in recent years, so I went in search of … and I think your jaw will drop when you see these …

  • Jack Welch, General Electric, 2001 – $417 million
  • Lee Raymond, Exxon Mobil, 2005 – $321 million
  • William McGuire, United Healthcare, 2006 – $286 million
  • Edward Whitacre, AT&T, 2007 – $230 million
  • Bob Nardelli, Home Depot, 2007 – $223 million

Compared to these, Richard Smith must feel like quite the pauper.

money-2Admittedly, I do not know any of these men, so I cannot speak of their character.  But speaking broadly, it is my firm belief that there is no one human being on the face of this earth who is worth that many millions of dollars.  My other point would be that … what the Sam Heck does one do with that much money?  I tried to find out if Jack Welch gives anything … anything at all … to a legitimate charity, but I can find no evidence that he does.  Interestingly, his net worth as of this year is $750 million.

Back to Mr. Smith … if he was in any way responsible for putting almost every adult in this country at risk of financial jeopardy, why should he benefit by a single penny, much less millions of dollars?  There is something very wrong with this picture, at least in my mind.  Apparently living above those ‘glass ceilings’, living in the bubble of wealth, robs a person of his conscience.  It makes me appreciate people like Bill Gates who worked hard to actually earn their money, and then use it to do good things for people less fortunate.

This is the problem I have with capitalism today.  So many have wealth beyond what they could ever use, while so many on the other end of the spectrum barely survive.  I have little, but enough to meet my needs, so I am happy.  I do not wish for millions, although I would wish for the wherewithal to help people more.  My conscience does not tap me awake at night … I wonder if Mr. Smith’s will?

The Family and Civil Society

How many times do we hear someone say, “I just don’t know what’s the matter with people today”, or something similar? Everyone, it seems, has a theory: too much television, not enough discipline, they are too liberal, everybody expects things to be handed to them, or some variant of those. I have no answers either, but blogger-friend Hugh Curtler, who is a much deeper-thinker than I, wrote a thoughtful and thought-provoking post today that may point us in the direction of an answer as to why civil society has changed so much in the past century. Please take a few minutes to read his post … I promise you will come away thinking … and if enough of us think, perhaps there is hope for solutions to be forthcoming. Thank you Hugh for this post and for always allowing me to share!

hughcurtler

At the very core of what used to be called “civil society” sits the family. This is where the young are taught such things as civil discourse, self-discipline, responsibility, and the restraint that eventually becomes what we call “character.” There are those who insist that the family so described is no more. In 1942 Joseph Schumpeter, a Harvard economist who spent forty years writing Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (once regarded as a “must” read and now simply becoming musty on the forgotten shelves of university libraries) predicted the dissolution of the family and eventually of civil society. This would result, Schumpeter insisted, from the success of capitalism — not the failure, as Marx would have it. This is because capitalism breeds a culture of calculation focused upon self-interest and short-term thinking. But above all else, it breeds a temper opposite to the temper that insists upon self-sacrifice for the needs and goods of…

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Democratic Socialism – The Next Red Scare

Sometimes it simply is not necessary to “re-invent the wheel”.  I began working on a post for this blog several days ago, attempting to define the term “Democratic Socialism”, in hopes of putting to rest the many misconceptions that surround the ideology of Bernie Sanders.  It has been a struggle, as there are as many ways of defining it as there are Skittles in a pack, and my post de-railed when I realized that I had written over 3,500 words and still not quite made the point I was trying to make!  Then I discovered an article on http://www.egbertowillies.com, an “alternative news” website that provides as good an explanation as any I would write, so what follows is a “slightly condensed” version of that article. I have shortened it from the original and added a few of my own comments for clarification (italicized). If you prefer to read the entire article, I have included the link below.  Please note the site does contain ads and funding requests.

Source: Democratic Socialism – The Next Red Scare

Democratic-Socialism

The Red Scare over the success of Bernie Sanders’s campaign has begun. Sanders and his supporters are now expected to explain on a regular basis why it is that socialism isn’t going to destroy America and how any of his policy proposals will be paid for. Oddly, none of the Republicans running for president or their supporters are expected explain how they will pay for all of the wars they apparently want to fight or how all of their tax plans that include enormous tax cuts for the wealthy won’t add to our deficits and debt.

Because Bernie proudly wears the “democratic socialist” label to describe his political philosophy, people now equate his policy proposals with socialism as an economic system. The most basic definition of socialism, taught to secondary students across the country, is that socialism is an economic system where the means of production (and distribution) are publically owned by the state whereas in a free-market system the means of production are privately owned by individuals. Only one of Bernie’s proposals involves the government taking over a private, for-profit industry, and that is health care insurance. The doctors and hospitals would still be privately owned, but the payment method for medical services would be a single-payer Medicare for All program.

If you ask someone who knows anything about Europe, they will tell you either a) that Bernie’s “socialism” is nothing to be afraid of, or b) that Bernie really isn’t even a socialist, but more accurately a “social democrat” similar to those who belong to Britain’s Labour Party, France’s Socialist Party, or Germany’s Social Democratic Party. Most Americans do not understand that all of our Western, democratic, capitalist allies from Canada to Australia to Western and Central Europe, have a major party whose political agenda is identical to Bernie’s. Most Americans do not understand that all of our Western, democratic, capitalist allies already provide health care insurance to all of their citizens, highly subsidize higher education, Pre-K, and child care, and guarantee paid family leave and vacation time. These countries have what could rightly be called “socialist” or “social democratic” programs within a regulated, free-market, capitalist economy. Enacting Bernie’s ideas does not change the economic system of the United States, it simply shifts taxing and spending priorities towards the middle and working classes.

Will taxes have to be raised in order to pay for these programs? Absolutely. Will taxes have to be raised on middle class families, as well? Absolutely. Will taxes have to be significantly raised on the top 1%? Absolutely. But, let us be clear. If we choose to raise taxes to pay for new programs that doesn’t mean that we no longer have a free-market, capitalist economy or that we have lost our rights and freedoms.

Who is more free: the person whose [sic] loses their health care insurance when they lose their job, don’t have any health care insurance through their employer at all, who can’t realistically change jobs because of the changes to their health care insurance, or the person whose health care insurance stays the same regardless of their employment?

Who is more free: the person who has to choose between quitting their job in order to have children, paying for full-time daycare, settling for part-time work, or the person who can stay home with a newborn, receive a portion of their income, and then return to their job?

Who is more free: the person whose parents dictate where they can go to school and what they can study, the person who cannot attend college at all due to cost, the person who must take out enormous loans that will saddle them (with) student debt for years after they graduate, or the person who can attend trade school, community college, or a university tuition free?

For equal opportunity and the pursuit of happiness to be a reality, individuals have to come together and pay for the programs, services, and opportunities that enable people to pursue their goals. In the globalized, competitive economy of the 21st century, where middle class wages have not been able to keep pace with the rising costs of child care, health care, and higher education, it is now time for the United States to enter the third phase of constructing a social welfare state that enables individuals to develop their potential and live fulfilling lives (and thus have the capacity to add value to the nation).

The first phase was FDR’s New Deal and the creation of Social Security. The second phase was LBJ’s Great Society and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. The third phase began under Barack Obama and should continue under Bernie Sanders with the creation of paid family leave, publically-funded higher education, and expansions of Social Security and Medicare. The Republican Party argues that we should cut social spending, privatize existing social programs, and cut taxes in order to achieve economic growth. The problem with this approach is that no amount of economic growth will increase wages enough to enable working class and middle class families to pay for child care, Pre-K, and higher education on their own. (highlighting added by Filosofa)

The choice that Americans face is whether they think the free-market can be trusted to create the conditions within which individuals can provide everything for themselves, or whether it makes sense given new economic realities to begin publically-funding important programs in order to guarantee equal opportunity. The economic pie can obviously still grow, but it is unclear whether the gains from that growth are naturally distributed in such a way that working and middle class families can succeed.

Recent history, not simply the recovery from the Great Recession, but fiscal and social policy since the 1980s, indicates that without government programs that consciously direct economic gains towards child care, health care, and education the working and middle classes will struggle to afford those things that make live [sic] enjoyable while a small minority amasses more income and wealth than they could possibly ever need or spend in their lifetimes.

Bernie’s “democratic socialism” is about rebuilding the middle class that used to exist before tax cuts and spending cuts shifted more wealth towards the top and more costs onto working and middle class families. It’s pretty simply, those at the top have become wealthier than ever while everyone else struggles to pay for the things that they used to be able to afford while still saving money for retirement. The American Dream has been under attack for awhile [sic] now. Those who benefit from this redistribution of wealth towards the top will try to scare you away from the solutions to the problems facing us by arguing that “socialism” will destroy our economy. Tell them that the “socialism” of Franklin Roosevelt, or even Dwight Eisenhower for that matter, sounds just fine to you.