Thursday, January 29, 2004

A collapse of some kind

Here's an interesting analysis. I took this right out of the Wired Magazine article that I mentioned in my "Jobs are not Us" post. "Agriculture jobs provided decent livelihoods for at least 80 years before the rules changed and working in the factory became the norm. Those industrial jobs endured for 40 some years before the twin pressures of cheap competition overseas and labor-saving automation at home rewrote the rules again. IT jobs - the kind of high-skill knowledge work that was supposed to be our future - are facing the same sort of realignment after only 20 years or so. The upheaval is occuring not across generations, but within individual careers."
- Daniel H. Pink / Wired Magazine Feb-2004


I've been noticing this, but what I think is more alarming is the cheap mobility of intellectual property and the huge, cheap labor forces available to produce it. There is no shipping cost to moving production overseas when all that being produced is information. And that goes for anything that can be transmitted electronically, including any kind of accounting, financial analysis, designs such as schematics, blue-prints, artist-concepts, finite element models... the list goes on. It's not just IT, it doesn't look like any of the white colar world is safe anymore.

I suppose it's inevitable, and in a global sense, it probably represents an equalization of income that you may even go so far as to call a universal justice, but if the government is watching out for the American people then I think it would be a good idea to slow the process down a little so the American people can get half a chance to adjust. It's fine for the technicians in India to make $11,000/year if that buys them a decent life in India, but $11,000/year ain't gonna buy shit in America. American workers could really use some protection right now.

Of course the decrease in wages will eventually bring lower prices on goods and services, but not without an overlap that will have a squeezing effect on American consumers that will shed enough debt to feed an investment frenzy. But on the other end, will Americans still have to pay 5 times more for pharmacueticals than people in other countries? Only as long as we have collateral... If nothing else, it would be nice if there was some kind of managed approach to handling the inevitable downsizing of American consumerism where the human and social interests of American people are not up for sale.
 

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Guantanamo Bay

I'm trying to understand this one. The detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Rumsfeld called them "the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth."
.
Dick Cheney said these detainees are "devoted to killing millions of Americans." I agree that people like that should be contained... (or executed actually, which is where I differ from AI). But I don't understand the advantage of moving the entire process from the judicial branch to the executive branch. Anyway, despite all this, several detainees have been released without charge. Apparently, Rumsfeld and Cheney were wrong about some of them. (whoops.)
Well this is where I start asking questions. Think about the man who has the misfortune to be mistaken. Seems more likely to happen inside the tension of war and excluded from the cost of judicial process. How long was he detained? - Two years? - What were the conditions? - Brutal?
That just doesn't seem right to me.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some of them have been brutalized in these cages for two years without charge, trial or legal council.
Now the president, since he owns Camp Delta, is telling the Red Cross to fuck themselves. (I bet those exact words were heared in the halls of the west wing, commming from someone.) So anyway, I assume the value of whatever is being achieved is greater than the value of the lives of perhaps several innocent people. Maybe it's a message to all the "terrorists" of the world and of course if the real message is addressed to the "enemies of the executive office", then the executive owned military commission makes all the sense in the world.

I just can't get myself to believe that any such message could ever affect the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth. I don't know why Camp Delta exists. Maybe it's a stress crack from the strains of a distorted government.

Regardless of politics and motives, the obvious thing is that the US government is a human rights violator. Bush himself said these guys are killers "that don't share the same value system we share". I guess that means that they aren't human enough to be eligible for things like human rights. I gotta believe he is serious about this because many of the human rights laws are based on legal status, such as POW, and the whitehouse is refusing to establish legal status.

I really think that these detainees should get legal status, even if it means inventing a new status for terrorists. At least shake out the POWs and let the world know they can treat American POWs humanely. I mean isn't that an important message to send out too?

If the detainee is really a terrorist, then I personally do not sympathize with him, but I am still concerned about the violations based on principal. I think humans are capable of containing and/or executing terrorists, we don't need to become monsters to do the job.

As I got more cynical about the world, I always found it a comfort to note in the human rights reports, that the list of human rights violations in the US, was always limited to capital punishment for criminals, which under some circumstances, I support. It's a drag to see my country in there now for the violation of so many conventions, including Geneva and the even our own U.S. Constitution.

USA-Action
 

Mercury Emissions and the EPA

Just read about this on the NRDC site...

NRDC and other environmental groups leaked a draft Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from America's coal-fired power plants. The article goes on to explain that those 1,100 facilities are the largest unregulated industrial sources of mercury contamination in the country, spewing 50 tons of the poison -- roughly 40 percent of U.S. industrial mercury emissions -- into the air each year.

EPA administrator Mike Leavitt defended the draft proposal as an emissions cap-and-trade program similar to the one that has reduced acid rain...

I don't know much about the reduction of acid rain, but I can see the bullshit factor in the cap-and-trade program. I've read that when such programs were first installed some of the big polluters actually created small green energy companies that don't make a lot of money but are real good for saving pollution credits that the parent companies can buy. I'm assuming the pollution credits are cheaper than the cost of actually cleaning up.

Apparently, the proposal is to downgrade mercury from being regulated as a "hazardous" pollutant to one that requires less stringent pollution controls. By doing so, the EPA's "cap" would allow nearly seven times more annual mercury emissions over a period five times longer than current law.

NRDC points out that an emissions trading program would allow "hot spots" of mercury contamination in the lakes and rivers neighboring plants that buy pollution credits instead of reducing their mercury emissions. See what I mean?

I mean why is this not a big deal for conservatives? Check this out...

* According to the EPA, toxic mercury emissions from power plants put 300,000 newborns each year at risk for neurological impairment.
* Nearly 5 million American women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood above EPA's "safe" level.
* Mercury pollution has contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries and wetlands -- 30 percent of the national total -- and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers and coastlines.
* Last year, 44 states and territories issued warnings about eating mercury-contaminated fish, a 63 percent jump from 1993.
* Seventeen states have mercury warnings for every inland water body, while 11 states issue warnings for mercury in their coastal waters.


I just don't understand why people are so much more worried about terrorists when on average terrorists never manage to kill more than a handful of Americans a year. (The 3,000 on 9/11 was by far the largest killing ever by terrorists in 300 years of history, but even if 3,000 were killed every year, it still wouldn't add up to millions, and pollution is a confirmed killer of millions every year.

Then I read things like this...

According to the Center for Responsive Politics ), the energy industry gave more than $48 million to the Republican Party in the 2000 election cycle; $3 million of that went to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

  • American Electric Power, Southern Co. ($1.6 million to GOP in 2000 cycle)
  • Reliant Energy (nearly $445,000 to GOP)
  • Dominion Resources ($560,000 to GOP)

    Along with the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, these corporations were responsible for one-third of all U.S. electric utility mercury emissions that year and American Electric Power alone released 10 percent of all power-plant mercury emissions. The above four companies also were among the beneficiaries of the recent EPA ruling that essentially repealed the Clean Air Act provision requiring power plants to install modern-day pollution controls if they increased emissions when upgrading their plants.

    I guess it's all about money.
     

  • Jobs are not Us

    One of my freinds just e-mailed me to say that she'd been laid off. Another one of my freinds called me on the phone asking for some contact numbers... He's been out of work for about eight months. Needless to say, these freinds are in the same industry that I am and it's getting pretty ugly. While Bush yacks about the "Wall Street" recovery, thousands of people in my industry are loosing their jobs. There's a real good article in this month's issue of Wired magazine that presents the job migration to India from the perspectives of the Indian programmers and the "pissed-off" programmers in America.
     

    Tuesday, January 27, 2004

    CBS refuses to air advertisment

    "Child's Play" is the name of the latest ad that CBS is refusing to air. The ad suggests that today's children will be the ones paying for Bush's trillion dollar deficit. I think the ad is brief, straight to the point without being abrasive. It doesn't seem to be as much a "bash Bush" ad as much as a simple "we need to ask questions" ad. I don't understand why CBS refuses to air it - CBS doesn't seem to have problems with beer and tobacco and ads from the white house... Anyway check out the ad... http://www.moveon.org/cbs/ad/
     

    Sunday, January 04, 2004

    Do the rich really need the breaks?

    Here's something I've heared a hundred times... "...Yeah, but the rich pay way more taxes than anyone else..." Words dispensed as indisputable evidence that the rich deserve the tax breaks being delivered by the Bush administration. Of course they're talking about income tax and it's true, the rich have been paying more income tax, but is that unfair? Maybe we need to look at the bigger picture. Here's another quote...

    "Ultimately, we are interested in the question of relative standards of living and economic well-being. We need to examine trends in the distribution of wealth, which, more fundamentally than earnings or income, represents a measure of the ability of households to consume."- Alan Greenspan.

    Ah, so now we start to see two different measurements, income and wealth. A little more research and I discovered that compared to income, wealth is hardly taxed at all. This reveals a huge blindspot in the "rich need breaks" perception. But it's not until you start looking at the difference between the distribution of income and the distribution of wealth that you really start to see the magnitude of the injustice. These statistics were taken from the Survey of Consumer Finances sponsered by the Federal Reserve Board and ranks Americans by total wealth showing their share of national income and non-income wealth (investments etc...)
    IncomeWealth
    Highest 20% 47.2% 84.3%
    4th 20% 23.0% 10.8%
    3rd 20% 15.7% 4.4%
    2nd 20% 9.9% 1.0%
    Lowest 20% 4.2% -.5%

    Looking at these numbers, it's easy to see that even if the rich do pay more taxes on income, which they do simply by virtue of having more income to tax, it still doesn't have nearly the same impact on their relative standard of living and economic well-being as it does for the bottom 50% who can't offset the discount on their income with accumulated wealth. In fact the bottom 20% are actually in debt, so not only do they have no money to offset the deductions on their income, but the taxes impede their ability to pay off their debt.

    If Alan Greenspan is right and the more representative measure of our ability to consume is wealth not income, then it seems to me that wealth should be taxed more and income taxed less, that is, as long as we are insisting that we live in a society where everyone pulls their own weight.
     


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    Books That I am Reading:


    The World Is Flat
    A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

    Thomas Friedman

    In this book Thomas Friedman continues his exploration of globalization and how the playing feild is leveling out.

    War on the Middle Class
    How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

    Lou Dobbs

    This book is pretty much a print version of his TV program. This is what I call good investigative journalism


    Books That I've Read Lately:


    Catcher in the Rye


    J.D.Salinger

    My daughter is an avid J.D.Salinger fan and turned me on to this book. I'm glad she did. I read the first half on one airplane trip and finished the next half on the return flight. Salinger's naration is wonderful, his vivid style reminds me of Steinbeck.

    Crash Proof
    How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse

    Peter D. Schiff

    I've been reading the writing on the wall for some time now about the comming economic collapse and this book is one of those messages. I highly recomend this book for anyone interested in an easy to understand explanation of what is causing the crises and basic strategy for how to weather the storm.

    A Peoples History of the United States: 1492 - Present


    Howard Zinn

    This book seems to draw a lot of criticism from people who point out that Zinn fails to present the complete picture, but I think that's the point. Zinn is simply filling in the gaps intentionally left by "politically correct" historians and in so doing, he sheds light on some of the real American heros who continue the "politically incorrect" American Revolution to this day. These heros are not the celebrated leaders and soldiers of the American Establishment who took the reins of exploitation from the British Establishment but the working class people who continued to stand up to exploitation regardless of what banner they wave. It's these working class people who continue to fight for liberty and justice and it's these unsung heros that we need to thank for our way of life and we can thank Howard Zinn for pointing them out, especially now that patriotism has somehow come to mean loyalty to a flag rather than to a principal.

    Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less


    Barry Schwartz

    An interesting counter-view to the ever-so-popular notion that our vast array of options improves our culture.

    Why I Am A Reagan Conservative


    Edited By: Michael K. Deaver

    I'm reading this book because I don't consider myself to be conservative. I suppose this is because I've been focused for so long on issues around which conservatives hold positions that I disagree with. But recently I've been looking beyond these issues in search of what I might agree are valid conservative positions and it seems the more I look the less I find, which is alarming to me considering the influence that conservatives have over the policies that effect our lives. Hopefully this book will provide me with some insight.

    The Ayn Rand Reader


    Ayn Rand: Edited by Gary Hull

    I know, I know... what is Ayn Rand doing on this booklist? Answer: I read from as many perspectives as possible. Being a free thinker, I refuse to submit myself to a reading diet. Besides, I want to understand what it is that Ayn Rand fans are raving about and what institutes like ARI are pushing into our education systems.

    A Thousand Barrels a Second
    The Coming Oil Breakpoint and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependant World

    Peter Tertzakian

    I've been trying to understand as much as I can about the coming oil crises. The author is Chief Energy Economist of ARC Financial, one of the world's leading private equity firms focused on energy. As far as I can tell so far, his book isn't a crack on politics or doom and gloom but a straightforward analysis of the realities of energy that so many people are ignoring.

    TechGnosis
    Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information

    Erik Davis

    I've actually been reading the hardback version of this book, on and off, for long time now. The problem I have with this book is it's depth. Davis presents so many interesting ideas and references that I wind up placing a book mark and taking excursions into related materials. It can take me days to digest what Davis is saying in one sentence. Eventually, I always come back to the book, drawn in my Davis' poetic language of intellect. This book represents a true frontier for my mind.

    The Moon Is Down


    John Steinbeck

    Steinbeck is always an easy read for me. His characters and scenes are so vivid. But this book in particular has the added significance of having had an extraordinary impact as Allied propoganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. Despite Axis efforts to supress it (in Fascist Italy, mere possession of a copy of the book was punishable by death) hundreds of thousands of copies were secretly translated into numerous languages, printed on unnaccounted paper and smuggled across borders. This story, a triumph of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force, offered hope for the "unconquered" people under foreign occupation and celebrated the unbreakable spirit of free people. I feel like I should be sending copies to Iraqis currently under US occupation, but that could easily be construed as an act of terrorism.

    Confessions of an Economic Hitman


    John Perkins

    I've been able to put two and two together for some time, so nothing in this book astounds me but it does bring the workings of the international banks and corporations as well as the US government out of the speculations of so-called conspiracy theories and into the matter-of-fact narration of one man's career path as an economic hitman.

    Collapse:
    How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed
    Jared Diamond

    Facinating book. Jared Diamond's name is what caught my attention as I was killing time at the bookstore at the airport. I was very impressed with his documentary "Guns, Germs and Steel" and figured he would make this study of societal destinies equally interesting. I was 100% correct. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the collapse of the Polynesian societies, realizing the scale-relativity with the evolution of our global society.

    Brave New World

    Aldous Huxley

    Of course... the third book in my dystopian trilogy.

    The United States of Europe:
    The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
    T.R.Reid

    An excellent perspective on the power that's rising in Europe as we Americans continue to sleep with visions of our own glory in our heads.

    Imperial Ambitions:
    Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
    Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian

    As always, Professor Chomsky presents that calm and collected voice of logic that cuts through all the noisy rhetoric, half-truths, corporate funded media hype and emotionally driven spin sessions. Barsamian's interviews with Chomsky are clear, crisp and sober conversations.

    Farenheit 451
    Ray Bradbury

    Figured I'd continue my journey through "negative-utopia" that I started with 1984. It does seem appropriate given the current state of America from which I found much more connection with Bradbury's vision than I did with Orwell's, especially the way in which the real source of oppression is not the government but the people themselves.

    Cuba
    A New History

    Richard Gott

    Just a straight forward history book, but Cuba has a facinating history that reaches back to the days of Columbus and offers everything from pirates to revolutions.

    1984
    George Orwell

    It seemed like a good idea to refresh my memory of a mid-century perspective on where the world is headed. Although I found some relief in knowing that we have not followed the Stalinesque course to the letter, I nevertheless found much of Orwell's larger concepts ringing ever so true in 21st Century America, especially Orwell's concept of continuous war and Big Brother.

    The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
    Greg Palast

    Easy read... Palast is a circus ring master showing us unbelievable things. Penetrating investigation with a sense of humor.

    One Market Under God
    Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

    Thomas Frank

    After reading the Lexus and the Olive Tree, I felt I needed a counter-balance view of globalization and how the liberated capitalism that I see everywhere around me, breaking the chains of regulation, is riding the globalization wave.

    20:21 Vision
    Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century

    Bill Emmott

    The author, Economist cheif editor, tends to present very objective and slightly outside views of American economics/politics. I think this renders a more accurate assesment of how we fit in with the rest of the world. The book is a tour of the major forces of the 20th century with emphasis on how they are currently shaping the 21st century.

    The Lexus and the Olive Tree


    Thomas Freidman

    Damned good book! Really opened up my eyes to what globalization is all about. Freidman's style of writing is engaging and his explainations are straightforward. I can see why people regard this book as the essential primer on the subject. I can also see why people think he is "pro-globalization" but I tend to think he's not so much promoting it as just pointing out the inevitability of it. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding globalization.

    The Gnostic Gospels


    Elain Pagles

    I thought it was good. Explains a lot about the gnostic strain of Christain faith.

    Consilience


    Edward O. Wilson

    Facinating. From the moment he starts decribing the Ionian enchantment on the first pages. This book describes the interrelation of seperate bodies of knowledge and how it all comes together.

    The History of Money


    Jack Weatherford

    Human culture is possessed and these are some involving stories about the demon we call money.

    Other material of interest:

    Origins of the Federal Reserve (PDF) - Murray N. Rothbard

    Excellent account of the monetary imperialism that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.

    The Elkhorn Manifesto
    R. William Davis

    This is an open letter to Americans that provides a historical perspective on the U.S. government's prohibition of Marijuana. Without stating any position on that particular issue, I have nevertheless saved a copy of the letter here because of what I think are some valueable and verifiable references to to what I call the "corporate priority over the better interests of the nation".