23 Oct

Interesting article on Libya: 2 years in


“Yet in spite of this, for motives that vary widely, Western views of post-Gaddafi Libya range from disinterest to disaster. This despite the fact that Libya, as divided by historical grievance and tribal manipulations as any artificially drawn former European colony, has held together a good deal better than the supposedly more mature Arab societies of Egypt and Syria to the east.

So as you read the hand-wringing diatribes about ‘Libya on the brink’ in this anniversary week, keep things in perspective.

The wars that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet empire raged for decades in places like Tajikistan, Moldova, Georgia, Dagestan and Chechnya.”

(Via Analysis: Jury’s out on Libya? At least it’s not Syria | GlobalPost.)

11 Oct

Slippery slope of unrestrained profit engines

This blog post at Sociological Images just firmed up something in my mind that’s been bugging me:

“I sometimes would disagree with Tommy about the talents or behavior of some celebrity — a rock star or an actor.  Today’s equivalent might be Ke$ha or a Kardashian. Tommy’s response was usually, ‘He’s makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.’  And that settled the issue as far as Tommy was concerned.  A huge income trumped just about anything.”


I thought of Tommy and values today when I read the transcript of a CNBC interview with Alex Pereene. Pereene has recently gone on record criticizing Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan. That bank currently faces an $11 billion fine for having dealt in shoddy mortgage-backed securities. JP Morgan can afford it, of course, but $11 billion begins to be real money. The question on CNBC was whether Dimon should continue as its CEO.

Pareene says no. The CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo then says.

Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?

Or as Tommy Fiedler would have put it, “His bank is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.”

(Via Is Profit the Ultimate Value? On JP Morgan’s $11b Fine » Sociological Images.)

I’m happy to live in a capitalist society, but as I pointed out to someone the other day when they said ‘profit is the *only* motive’ and goal, I asked if they then supported slavery. Much sputtering later, my point was to say that if profit is all that matters, then they’re suggesting that America transform itself into something profoundly different than it has been for the last decades. I mean, if you get rid of minimum wage and squeeze it all the way down as far as you can, you have slavery or indentured servitude.

If you believe profit is the ‘only’ important thing to focus on, then you’re on a slippery slope.

Capitalism is an engine. A powerful one. I believe it’s the most powerful. Profoundly. But the question isn’t ‘which engine is more powerful’ but ‘what are you using that engine for?’

I believe it’s powerful enough to run a society that makes decisions about where the engine is taking them.

I had a strong jolt when reading about an academic who reported on the language used by capitalists from the 1800s who were slave owners:

The research: Caitlin Rosenthal pored over hundreds of account books from U.S. and West Indian plantations that operated from 1750 to 1860. She found that their owners employed advanced accounting and management tools, including depreciation and standardized efficiency metrics, to manage their land and their slaves. After comparing their practices with those described in the account books of northern factories, Rosenthal concluded that many plantations took a more scientific approach to management than the factories did.

The challenge: Did historians get the genesis of management wrong? Professor Rosenthal, defend your research.

Rosenthal: I was surprised by what we uncovered in these account books. The mythology is that on plantations, management was crude and just amounted to driving enslaved people harder and harder. These documents show that plantations used highly sophisticated accounting practices more consistently than many contemporary northern factories, which are often considered the birthplace of modern management. In some ways the conditions of slavery permitted a more scientific approach than the factories did.

Advanced Accounting
HBR: How so?

In the factory books, you see lots of turnover. But slaves couldn’t quit. While factories were worrying about filling positions and just keeping things going, plantation owners were focused on optimization. They could reallocate labor as they saw fit. I found real quantitative analysis in their records. They were literally looking at humans as capital.

This interview is going to make people queasy. I’m already cringing.

It should make you cringe. This is not an easy topic. People tend to think about the positive with regard to management and capitalism. With our modern lens, efficiency is good. Here it was equal to the brutal extraction of labor from oppressed people. But it’s important for businesspeople to read unvarnished history, not just the happy stories.

In other words, capitalism was taken to its logical endpoint once. It was morally problematic.

The question we need to interact with more is… where are we steering this engine, and what is driving?

I face a similar dilemma when I talk to people about alternative energy. “But it’s expensive,” they say, and therefore a country’s economic engine shouldn’t be choked by the drag.

I have two reactions that response.

1) It completely indicates a lack of trust in the power of capitalism’s engine. The engine can handle the load, I believe in capitalism and its ability to factor around. We abolished slavery, capitalism made a lot of money off it. Capitalism continues to do just fine. We abolished child labor. The engine is still turning. To moan about the ‘end of capitalism’ over these things is to devalue capitalism. (i.e.: capitalism will survive Obamacare just fine, as capitalism continues to be the engine for many nations with all manners of universal healthcare).

2) If profit is the only response to alternative energy, then why doesn’t the person then demand that all cars have catalytic converters yanked out, engines spew black fumes, and coal stacks no longer filters to the point where pollution fog makes it hard to breathe? I mean, that would be cheaper for the energy producers, right?

The truth is, we get to define what’s attached to that engine because the country is not just capitalist. It’s capitalist + representative democracy. C+RD. C is the engine, RD decides what’s attached to the C.

The argument against all this (the argument for unrestrained capitalism) is that a rising tide of wealth raises all boats. But as you can easily see from the GINI coefficient of the US, the rising tide is apparently not lifting all boats because that’s just an analogy and the reality is that although the US is making lots more money, it’s not trickling down, arriving at, or showing up in the pockets of anyone outside the tip top of the pyramid.

The *unrestrained* pursuit of profit is becoming such an ideology that someone one TV literally cannot conceive of someone being a bad leader because they harmed millions of lives, and helped almost crater our economy, merely because ‘they made a lot of money.’

That’s fucked up.

10 Oct

A lack of empathy

I keep thinking about the lack of empathy in a lot of modern conservative thought during this showdown. About Republican leaders who work hard to make life for people who are gay harder, and then only until someone in their family turns out to be gay, do they stop to reassess. The idea that children, who cannot just ‘go get a job’ to get healthcare or food, are being hurt by the slowdown.

It’s a lack of imagination to be unable to understand how horrible things might happen that are outside of a sole individual’s ability to handle.

It’s the same reason I’m stunned when I see conservatives refusing to sign up for ACA (Obamacare) even if it might help their family (I have seen some comments online to that effect), saying they won’t need insurance.

There’s a thread through all that I find interesting.

“The mayor of a Texas town devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion told the Dallas Morning News that the disaster has changed his views on the state’s laissez-faire view of business regulation. Watching his townspeople struggle to hew their lives back together in the six months since the explosion ripped apart the town of West, has given Mayor Tommy Muska a new perspective on government aid.

‘I don’t want government help…but I’m also for the middle-class Joe that just kind of needs a little bit of help,’ Muska said. ‘I don’t know, maybe that’s an oxymoron.’”

(Via Texas mayor: Plant explosion changed how I think about government aid | The Raw Story.)

“For Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the government shutdown is just a ‘temporary inconvenience.’ The libertarian lawmaker is right that the shutdown is temporary, but I’d be hard-pressed to label it an ‘inconvenience.’

Among the people affected by House Republicans’ refusal to fund the government are kids with cancer, who have been refused admittance for clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health; kids in Head Start; women who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); shipyard workers; domestic violence counselors; disease and infection trackers at the Centers for Disease Control; college students on federal work study programs; and hundreds of thousands of federal workers, as well as the communities who serve them.

Republicans have offered measures that fund specific areas—in particular, veterans benefits and national parks—but have had little to say about these other functions of the federal government.”

(Via Of Course the GOP Isn’t Worried About Those Affected by the Shutdown – The Daily Beast.)

Kevin Drum puts a finger on it:

I’m tired of conservatives who suddenly decide that Medicaid should be more generous with stroke victims after they’ve had a stroke themselves, or who suddenly decide gay marriage is OK when someone in their family turns out to be gay. Is it too much to ask that they show a little empathy even for people and causes that don’t directly affect their own lives?

But first reactions aren’t always right. I do wish conservatives could demonstrate a little empathy even for people and causes that don’t directly affect their own lives, but it’s not as if this is an exclusively conservative thing. It’s a human thing. Personal experience always touches us more deeply than facts and figures, and in the case of gay marriage we all knew this was how progress would be made. People would see gay characters on TV and shed a little bit of their discomfort. They’d learn that old friends are gay and decide they wanted to stay friends anyway. They’d learn their children are gay, and decide that they still wanted the best for them, even if that means supporting same-sex marriage.

He’s right, it’s very human. And yet, what is it about modern republicanism that means that when it comes to disaster, pollution, child poverty and so forth that evinces so little imagination when it comes to walking a mile in their shoes, and that they only seem to understand these things if a family member is hurt (or will only vote for disaster funds to be released if it is their community that is hit, as Colorado Republicans who refused to vote for East Coast federal funds but voted for their own recently demonstrated?)… it wasn’t always like this. I remember ‘compassionate conservatism.’

That seems to have died. Another reason I feel that, even though I’m politically moderate, I’m repulsed by the republicanism on display over the last 10 years in particular.

06 Aug

Andrew Sullivan on freeloading

Andrew Sullivan on the encouragement of Freedomworks and other types to get young Americans of a Certain Political Persuasion to refuse healthcare:

“since 1986, hospitals have been legally required to treat anyone seriously ill who presents himself at an emergency room, with clear medical needs. In the most fundamental way, that was the moment the US socialized medicine – and Ronald Reagan signed the bill. Alas, like so many Reagan domestic initiatives, there was no federal money provided to pay for this. And we all know what happened next: all those extra costs for the uninsured drove up premiums for everyone else, drove up hospital costs, giving them a reason to raise prices even further, and played a role in rendering healthcare unaffordable for many others.

What Obamacare does, like Romneycare before it, is end this free-loading.

The law is telling these young adults that if you want to go without insurance, you are not going to make everyone else pay for it if your risk-analysis ends up faulty. You have to exercise a minimum of personal responsibility to pay for your own potential healthcare. In other words, rights come with responsibilities in a liberal democracy. At least that is what I always understood the conservative position to be.

So why is an allegedly conservative organization actively encouraging personal irresponsibility?”

(Via Since When Was Free-Loading A Conservative Value? « The Dish.)

17 May

Why isn’t New Orleans Mother’s Day parade shooting a ‘national tragedy’?

A good question. I don’t watch news/have cable, so I hadn’t realized it had completely dropped out of the nation’s collective mind. What a fucking indictment of mainstream america. Unless it happens in middle class areas, it isn’t real:

“Now take a moment and imagine a Mother’s Day Parade in the suburbs of Denver, a neighborhood in Edina or a plaza in Austin where bullets rain down on civilians and even hit children. I can’t help but imagine the around-the-clock news coverage. And I can’t help but think it’s because most of America can identify with the fear of being bombarded with gunfire while just enjoying a parade in the middle of town. But America can’t identify with being at a parade in the ‘inner city’ where ‘gang violence’ erupts. The ‘oh my God, that could happen to me’ factor isn’t present with a story about New Orleans or the Chicago southside.”

(Via Why isn’t New Orleans Mother’s Day parade shooting a ‘national tragedy’? | Portside.)

16 May

America has lost interest in the Texas explosion

“Adair Grain told the Texas Department of Health Services in late February that its plant in West had the capacity to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is, according to Reuters, ‘1,350 times the amount … that would normally trigger safety oversight by’ the DHS. The plant had no sprinklers, no fire walls, and no deluge systems, according to the Associated Press. The insurance policy on the plant was only for $1m. Texas does not have liability insurance mandates for plants like the one in West in case people are injured or killed. It does, however, require those liability mandates for all kinds of businesses like those that rent out inflatable bounce houses for kids’ birthday parties and air-conditioner repair outfits.”

(Via Why has America lost interest in the West, Texas fertiliser explosion? | Jessica Luther | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

But hey, the governor is still touring the country talking about how awesomely deregulated things are.

So that was basically a win for him, I take it.

15 May

City lowers voting age for its elections to 16

This fascinates me, as I’ve long since wondered about the age limits of voting. Children are often ignored as constituents and government doesn’t really cater much to them. Yet their needs are just as important. Car-centric culture limits their range. Their futures are affected by global warming.

How low can it be dropped, I wonder?

I’ve had a small story snippet playing with this idea, so this as much a note to myself to tag and come back to later.

“A small Maryland city just outside the Washington, D.C., city limits has voted to lower the voting age for city elections to 16.

The Takoma Park City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in city elections starting in November.”

(Via Md. city lowers voting age for its elections to 16.)

15 May

Elizabeth Warren goes after everyone for not taking banks to court… at all

Can we get more people like Elizabeth Warren in congress, please?

“There is no question that settlements, fines, consent orders, and cease and desist orders are important enforcement tools, and that trials are expensive… But I believe strongly that if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial… the regulator has a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations and will be forced to settle on terms that are much more favorable to the wrongdoer…”

(Via Elizabeth Warren to Obama Administration: Take the Banks to Court, Already! | Mother Jones.)

People are excited about Hillary Clinton for 2016. I’m rooting for Warren. Where do I start donating?

10 May

After explosion, Texas still trumpets anti-regulation credentials

A proud moment for pro-business, anti-regulation thought (except not):

“Five days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled a wide swath of this town, Gov. Rick Perry tried to woo Illinois business officials by trumpeting his state’s low taxes and limited regulations. Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented what has become one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades.”

(Via After Explosion, Texas Remains Wary of Regulation – NYTimes.com.)