Paraphrasing Stack, Quoting Gandhi

In the best of all possible worlds our higher selves would exist in perfect synchronization with our highest ideals. But in the real world there is no one who can pass the litmus test of: People whose ideas fall into perfect moral alignment with their actions.

Consider that our Constitution was written by men who espoused freedom for all, yet many of them owned human beings who were kidnapped from their homes and forced to work as slaves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was known to have plagiarized large parts of another man’s work in the creation of his thesis. And, like many prominent men, he had a series of illicit relationships outside of his marriage.

Gandhi, in discussing methods of resistance against the British, suggested that rather than accept oppression and tyranny that people would be better off standing fast and fighting by force of arms.

Yet we are able to look past these base facts to see the higher truths these people espoused.

Every one who is human does something that has the potential to directly nullify a morally upright stance they take. If we are human, we are flawed. Those flaws in no way minimize the higher truths that move through us. If we are to live honestly, we can condemn the wrongness of an action without detracting from the rightness of an ideal.

That is precisely why our Constitution was such a brilliant creation. It is a document of higher truths, never falling to the level of merely human; rife with frailties and flaws. It cannot seek to rule or oppress those adhering to the tenets contained within it. It is made up of ideas separated from the base qualities of a flawed humanity. I suspect that separation is exactly what the framers intended.

The larger point of my discussion of ideas and ideals versus base human action leads me to the tragedy of Joe Stack. Joe Stack, by all accounts, was well-off enough that he owned his own plane, a large house and his own independent business.

Joe Stack was not poverty stricken. Unlike the truly destitute, he seemingly had choices. So we may never be able to say, with any degree of certainty, what led him to his final decision. All we are able to say with any certainty is he was angry and in that anger made a series of irrevocable, horribly damaging choices.

In considering his last words, I am in no way suggesting Joe Stack was a Jefferson, nor a Washington nor Gandhi, nor King. I am suggesting, instead, that the themes he touched on in his statement have an urgency and validity that should be considered outside the final misguided actions he chose to undertake.

Most psychologists will tell you that fear typically leads to one of two reactions: withdrawal or acting out. Joe Stack acted out. He channeled his fear into anger and he channeled his anger outward, ostensibly against a government agency. But in reality he acted against the very people he claimed to sympathize with: middle class and lower class workers. And that is where his ideals and his actions diverged and lost moral coherence.

What was Joe Stack afraid of? He was afraid of the same things many, many Americans fear in these uncertain times: We fear losing everything we have spent our lives working for. We fear that our country has lost its moral center. We are afraid that the people we have entrusted our lives and livelihoods to, namely our government, does not have our best interest in mind.

Ultimately, we are afraid of discovering the game has always been rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. And it is a game we fear we could have never won; no matter how hard we worked, no matter how upright and earnest our efforts.

Paraphrasing Joe Stack:

-The middle class are having the fruits of their labors stolen from them. The upper classes are benefiting directly from this theft.

-There is a deep disconnect between what we are indoctrinated to believe about the values America is said to stand for and the sad reality of the actions America takes in the name of those values.

-Our government has made promises to the most vulnerable in our society, yet the system continues to leave many of them helpless, even as it helps those who do not need it.

-Our tax system has become Draconian in its complexity. This complexity serves the rich and connected. It has never served the weak and helpless.

– As long as we continue to accept what is happening, it will keep happening.

Interestingly, this last sentiment echoes Gandhi’s assertion that the people’s acceptance of tyranny allows it to continue.

Like Gandhi, I think violence is the less effective choice for dealing with oppressors and tyrants. Gandhi felt the morally upright way and the one requiring the greatest courage was to resist solely by nonviolent means.

Gandhi said it best with this statement: “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”

Change requires deep desire, it requires sacrifice. It does not require violence. Therein lay Joe Stack’s fatal flaw.

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Of Greater and Lesser Sins.

The Moral Absolutists and Moral Relativists have both managed to get it wrong. On the one hand, there is no one unyielding truth. No unequivocal right or wrong based, ultimately, on some political, social or authoritarian structure.

On the other hand, the fact that some acts are labeled as wrong across cultures, across societies, across time, tells us that at some primal level, there is recognition of something that could be labeled as “sin”. It can, without judgment, be best described as: When you no longer understand that the person standing in front of you is human. And in being human like you, they suffer the same fears, the same hurt, the same hunger as you.

In forgetting this simple idea, the sinner loses some part of what makes him human too.

The one point of agreement between the two camps is that not all sins merit the same levels of condemnation. There can be great evils and then there are the evils of a lesser degree.

In this series of recent stories, the grim irony of the holy man telling his flock to sin, but to sin carefully, ranks in the measure of humanity, as the least sinful of all.

City of Miami to Julia Tuttle Squatters: If You Are Not a Molester, You Gotsta Go!

Police in Miami, Florida have been forcing those convicted of sex crimes to live as squatters under the Julia Tuttle Freeway after their release from prison. The growing number of laws across the country restricting where sex offenders live make it difficult, if not impossible, to house them.

The presence of a “city sanctioned” tent city created a draw for other, non-offending homeless. No surprises there. The homeless will tell you there is a degree of safety in numbers.

Yet somehow, beyond all comprehension, the morally bankrupt idea of forcing people to live as no better than cattle was compounded when police began ordering the non-sex offending homeless out of the squat. So, now the innocent poverty stricken are being treated worse than the people already being treated as less than cattle?

How to comprehend the mind-bending thought processes in play here?  From the police, to social services, to city administrators, to the justice system, each person in those systems turned their backs on the most basic of moral imperatives: treat human beings as if they possess humanity.

Phoenix Church Ordered to Stop Feeding the Homeless

The premise stripped down and laid bare: The application of zoning laws is more important than the fact that men, women and children are starving.

Yes, little old ladies might find it disconcerting to see bedraggled strangers wandering down the street in order to get at least one meal today. And the uptick in minor crimes is something to be concerned about. But these are manageable problems.

It comes back to the idea that if they keep sweeping this human dirt under the rug, the problem disappears. They have failed to realize this mere trickle is the leading edge of a landslide. Sometimes, there isn’t a rug big enough.

The wise and humane thing, the human thing to do is to find a way to accommodate the concerns of the homeowners and the mission of the church.

Fund boss made 7 billion in the panic

I’m not averse to money. Nor am I averse to people making money. But throughout history, there has always been an inverse proportion between wealth concentration and human suffering.

The tipping point measuring human benefit to human damage in our economic system has long passed. And in its waning, it echoes the arc of the twin cults of Self-Actualization and Individualism. These structures have served their purpose for this cycle in history. They have stopped functioning to benefit anyone. It is past time to move beyond them.

Like it or not: We will be forced to move back toward ideas of shared responsibility. Look at the news from across the globe, look at these stories. We are already moving, out of sheer necessity, back to a collective interdependence. We literally can’t afford to continue supporting people or systems that take food out the mouths of our children under the guise of free market ideals.

70% Of The Q3 GDP Growth Was Cash For Clunkers

Summary: The little White Lies of Statistics aren’t helping anyone.

This will most likely mean further stimuli will be considered necessary. A severe contraction of the GDP in future quarters could spook those meager few who now hold a majority of the wealth. And, right now, them that have the money are the only ones with the ability to move it through the economy.

The problem is, the wealthy are merely human. And, in that frailty, they share the same irrational fears as the rest of us, regardless of means. In the end, this does not bode well for those of us without access to those same means.

Priest advises congregation to shoplift

I am not a religious woman. But if it were in my power to deem him a Saint, I would gladly do so.

Drug/Money Death/Taxes Class/War

When I first read about the practice of large pharmaceutical companies paying smaller producers of cheaper generic drugs to keep their product off the market, I can’t say I was surprised. I can’t even say it registered as a blip on my “Disgusting Lack of Morals” scale.

I mean, after all, big Pharma sees an increase in profit because they can continue to sell the higher priced name-brand drug.  And the producers of generics don’t lose any money even though they’ve stopped manufacturing a lucrative, yet lower cost to the public, product. So it’s all good. Right?

TPMMuckraker: Drug-Makers Paying Off Competitors To Keep Cheap Generics Off Market

I was, however, amused by the accuracy of the tag: sleaze.

And my lack of surprise continued when, a few days later I came across a story in the Seattle Times Newspaper by Danny Westneat about a woman living in Seattle with her 2 children. She makes about 18, 000.00 a year. And for that, the IRS decided to audit her.

Because after looking over her tax information, it seems the IRS decided it is impossible to raise 2 kids on 10.00 an hour. Well, no kidding. No pun intended.

Even though they aren’t talking, the IRS seemed to come to the following sage conclusion: She is either lying about having 2 children or she is hiding extra income in order to take the Earned Income Tax Credit.

And when her dad hire someone to look over her tax returns and speak with the IRS on her behalf, the IRS decides that the parents need an audit too. A very thorough audit.  Can’t you just hear the menacing sound of rubber gloves snapping into place?

As far as I could tell, they were just two more stories of money and abuse of power from different ends of the economic spectrum. They seemingly have little else in common.

So, imagine my surprise when each of them kept nudging me. At first gently; like the puppy when he first figured out that the table plus people equaled food. And since he was a puppy and he was cute, he felt his chances of scoring a nibble were quite high.

Unlike the pup, who has long since learned that there are no table treats, the stories did not stop their gentle nudging. In fact, I began to find myself pondering them in tandem.

So what was I missing? What connected these two stories together beyond money and an abuse of power? Late yesterday, the phrase Mafia Model sprang unbidden into my mind.

The Mafia Model, as I explained in an earlier post, is just about all that’s keeping the world economy from following the 2nd half of the plumber’s gospel: Hot always goes on the left and shit flows down hill. The monied people, the financiers, the bankers, the billionaires, the rulers of nations; they are all tied together. Their lives are staked, quite literally to the mountain of money known as the economy. If support breaks and one of them goes down, they all go down.

But let’s expand that universe beyond the power players of finance. Let us develop an internal logic in order to create a consistent reality. In that scenario the Mafia Model plays out like this; Big Pharma pays off Little Generic to throw the fight. Everybody wins. Big Pharma bets heavily on their name-brand guy and rakes in the cash because odds were heavily in Little Generic’s favor. The name-brand winner takes the pot. The loser, little Generic from South Jersey, gets a pay off that keeps him happy and out of traction.

So what of our little Italian family in Seattle? Well, it’s no stretch to see that when you want to set an example, the easiest targets are women, children and small business owners. Don’t like how some people aren’t paying their due because they are protected by Earned Income Tax Credits? Send your goons in to lean on them a little. And when old Pop steps in to protect his daughter and grandkids? Smack him down a peg or two. You don’t need to break any bones, just run them into the ground with fines and fees and legal bills. Folks in the community will get the message. Capice?

Where is Elliot Ness when you need him?

Hard Times Across America

The first story is from early in the year. As you can see from the subsequent items, things did not improve over the summer.

6 out of 10 people are living paycheck to paycheck

1 in 8 using food stamps

Hunger in US at 14 year high

Having grown up in a single parent household, I understand the stresses of putting off necessary things until payday. And for that reason, I am glad to see that people are utilizing the services that their tax dollars have paid for over the years.

As I was growing up, my mother would not consider accepting “welfare” under any circumstances. Suffering the many stigmas of poverty, the further humiliation of stooping to ask for “welfare” was beyond what my mother could accept. But there were times when more food or something a little more varied than Fried Fatback Biscuits for dinner would have been looked on as a positive thing.

But to offer a fair and balanced view (and actually do it with a straight face), I’ll include this quote from the Hunger story:

“Very few of these people are hungry,” said Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”

Down the road, a problematic convergence is coming into view. More unemployed means less taxes paid. More unemployed also means more people utilizing the system paid for with tax dollars.

A few brave souls have proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, who seem to be the only ones benefitting from Reagan’s deregulation orgy of the 80’s. I was glad to see a War Tax put on the table by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey.

If they limit the taxation to those who have supported the war(s) or those who have profited from them, I’d get myself elected just so I could see it passed.

Bailed Out AIG Forces Poor to Choose Between Running Water and Food

Via Alternet

So this is what our tax dollars cum bailout paid for? Rewarding a company that ran itself into the ground with risky derivative trading who took up a side job fleecing the rural poor.

Middlesboro and Clinton are two tiny, impoverished towns in southern Kentucky with a combined population of 12,000. In 2008, Middlesboro’s per capita income was $13,189 a year, only a few hundred dollars more than the average worker earned in third-world Mexico. That is if they were lucky to even get a job. Real unemployment hovers somewhere around 30%, and the state is so broke that half the people eligible for unemployment benefits can’t receive them. Life may be tough and most people live in poverty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made a little poorer. That’s the lesson locals learned after bailed-out insurance villain AIG took over their water utility and instantly raised rates to squeeze an extra $1 million in profits out of its new customers, forcing some to consider choosing between running water and food.

They bought the largest privately held utility in the country. Meaning they were not subject to the same stringent standards as a public utility.

AIG had reason to be pleased with its purchase. Water utilities are one hell of a profitable business, with international corporations easily making a 20 to 30% profit margin, according to a 2007 report by Food and Water Watch. In the US, federal regulations limit profits to 10%, a pesky rule that companies easily subvert by shuffling their income around and “investing” it in side businesses. These kinds of returns would be the envy of the pharmaceutical and oil industries. How do water companies do it? According to Food and Water Watch, they charge 50% more for services than public utilities and pocket the difference, thereby unleashing the potential of the free market.

What is, for all practical purposes, a monopoly can charge 50% more than a public utility.  What were people going to do, dig wells? Wells can cost a lot of money. As can any other practical alternative. So AIG could not lose. And when the credit crunch started and they were desperate for cash, they simply instituted a new “billing system” which was designed, in essence, to create revenues through late fees.

They never once offered to bail out the people of Middlesboro and Clinton.

If I believed in vengeance rather than justice, I would suggest a public caning for all involved in the creation of this disgusting travesty.

The coming Water Crisis has been quietly discussed for several decades.

This just released study ( report in PDF form) from McKinsey & Co. was undertaken for international corporations known as The 2030 Water Resources Group. It consists of:  The Barilla Group, The Coca-Cola Company, The International Finance Corporation, McKinsey & Company, Nestlé S.A., New Holland Agriculture, SABMiller, Standard Chartered Bank, and Syngenta AG.

The conclusions the study draws are not surprising to those who have even a passing interest in the subject. Global demand for water has long since exceeded supply. The report shows that over a billion people don’t have access to clean water; most of them in impoverished countries.

What is shocking is the accelerating rate at which we are consuming the water we have left. According to this report in just 20 years the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than reliable, accessible supplies, and more than 50 percent higher in the most rapidly developing countries.

Water Available Per Capita 1950 to Present

Since the report was undertaken in corporate interests, it should not be surprising that the looming shortage is framed in it’s impact on economics first:

If these “business-as-usual” trends are insufficient to close the water gap, the result in many cases could be that fossil reserves are depleted, water reserved for environmental needs is drained, or—more simply—some of the demand will go unmet, so that the associated economic or social benefits will simply not occur

with the secondary emphasis placed on humans.

And while it is a dry slog to read through, you will notice that same secondary emphasis on human needs and human consumption in  nearly every instance. (see India Resources protests against Coca Cola) And likewise, when rights to water are discussed, it is always within a legal, corporate orientation. In the dozen or so references to the word “right” as it pertains to water, there is not one instance of  Human Rights mentioned in the report.

At a later news conference, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestle helpfully questioned whether the idea of water as a “human right” is useful way to frame the conversation. He seems to think that humans have a right to “about 25 liters a day”.

One article on business and economics summarized the problem neatly:

The challenge: Getting beyond the nostrum that water is a “human right” so that water, which is obviously a scarce resource, can be priced in a way that drives conservation.

I will grant that the report takes stock of a number of measures to improve efficiency of use and protection of the resource. But for whose benefit? It may be that the coming water wars may not be between countries, but between corporations and those mere humans struggling to survive.

 

Further reading: Seeking Alpha T. Boone Pickens Invests in Water, Should You?

In the Midst of the Health Care Debate and the H1N1 Vaccine Crisis

“The modern “heresy” that medical care (as it is traditionally conceived) is generally unrelated to improvements in the health of populations (as distinct from individuals) is still dismissed as unthinkable in much the same way as the so-called heresies of former times. And this is despite a long history of support in popular and scientific writings as well as from able minds in a variety of disciplines.”

The Questionable Contribution of Medical Measures to the Decline of Mortality in the United States in the Twentieth Century

by John B. McKinlay; Sonja M. McKinlay

Published in 1977 in the Milbank Memorial Quarterly, Vol. 55, No.3. pp. 405-428

In this study, the McKinlays explore a steep decline in the top 10 communicable diseases. (Tuberculosis, Scarlet Fever, Influenza, Pneumonia, Diptheria, Whooping Cough, Measels, Smallpox, Typhoid, Poliomyelitis) This unified decline occurred over a period of about 100 years from 1900 to 1973 . Even the most virulent of these diseases were near their currently flat expression when science developed the means to mass produce vaccines in the years leading up to 1949.

Male and Female Mortality Rates Since 1900

As this chart from the paper shows, the decline in mortality from 1900 to the 1970’s for both males and females was markedly dramatic.

They compare this decline in mortality to similar declines in the communicable diseases listed previously.

Decline in Communicable Diseases since 1900

Decline in Communicable Diseases since 1900

Decline in Communicable Diseases Since 1900 pt. 2

And also included is a graph charting causes of death from the early 1900’s in comparison to the years just prior to this paper’s publication.

Changes in Causes of Mortality since 1900

Changes in Causes of Mortality since 1900

Which leads to the authors’ conclusion:

In general, medical measures (both chemotherapeutic andprophylactic) appear to have contributed little to the overall decline in mortality in the United States since about 1900-having in many instances been introduced several decades after a marked decline had already set in and having no detectable influence in most instances. More specifically, with reference to those five conditions (influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, whooping cough, and poliomyelitis) for which the decline in mortality appears substantial after the point of intervention-and on the unlikely assumption that all of this decline is attributable to the intervention-it is estimated that at most 3.5 percent of the total decline in mortality since 1900 could beascribed to medical measures introduced for the diseases considered here.

This graph shows the diseases and their declines in comparison:

Compilation Graph

Compilation Graph

I would imagine that even the average lay reader, on viewing this graph of the mass decline, can easily imagine each disease effortlessly reaching current levels without the advent of commonly available vaccines. But if vaccines are not responsible for the dramatic decline in mortality, how else can it be explained?

It is widely known that a sea change in patient survival came after more stringent practices regarding hygiene and sterility of spaces and implements used in medical procedures were undertaken for both patient and physician. And as medicine and science progressed in their research of communicable disease and underlying factors that allowed them to spread. Along the way researchers and doctors also began to understand the things that create health.

Massive public campaigns, programs and projects were implemented. For instance swamps were drained to reduce breeding grounds for mosquitoes. And a broad swath of society, from low to high, were educated about cleanliness and hygiene.

From the CDC’s website:

In 1900 in some U.S. cities, up to 30% of infants died before reaching their first birthday (1). Efforts to reduce infant mortality focused on improving environmental and living conditions in urban areas (1). Urban environmental interventions (e.g., sewage and refuse disposal and safe drinking water) played key roles in reducing infant mortality. Rising standards of living, including improvements in economic and education levels of families, helped to promote health. Declining fertility rates also contributed to reductions in infant mortality through longer spacing of children, smaller family size, and better nutritional status of mothers and infants (1). Milk pasteurization, first adopted in Chicago in 1908, contributed to the control of milkborne diseases (e.g., gastrointestinal infections) from contaminated milk supplies.

Refrigeration became commonly available. That and other household inventions like window screens, indoor plumbing, and strategies to deal with outhouse placement in relation to well placement and other improvements made possible by gains in real income.

Because, according to the McKinlay’s paper:

With the appearance of his book, Who Shall Live? (1974), Fuchs, a health economist, contributed to the resurgence of interest in the relative contribution of medical care to the modern decline in mortality in the United States. He believes there has been an unprecedented improvement in health in the United States since about the middle of the eighteenth century, associated primarily with a rise in real income.

In light of a number of similar reports, which have been ignored or overlooked questions about vaccines begin to center on efficacy versus the potential for harm. There are those “skeptics” who are quick to label any such questions as the “heresy” described by the McKinlays’. One would hope, at this point, they might review the widely accepted definition of skepticism as one of continuing exploration. There are no concrete truths in science, only evolving theories that should, in the best of all possible worlds, be continuously re-examined and re-tested.

We should also consider similar themes of hygiene in relation to income levels through the lens of such ideas as: mandated control of working conditions, food preparation and storage, statutes for safe drinking water and the establishment of agencies dealing specifically with issues of public health. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle can act as a literary touchstone for the ideas presented here.

Now is the time for us to ask ourselves: Would the money spent on the now all-but-neutered health care bill be used more effectively by developing jobs for the populace so that real income levels rise for those most affected by the downturn? Would a combination of public health education and income increases work to reduce the current spate of common causes of death as it did in the first half of the last century even though the cause of mortality has changed? I think we need to take a broader view of what has worked in the past, as it is evident that medicating the problems will not solve them now any more than it did then.

Environmental Justice Report: Climate change could create 150 million refugees

Environmental Justice Foundation

Environmental Justice Foundation Report

An estimated 500 – 600 million people, around 10% of the planet’s human population, are at extreme risk from the adverse effects of climate change. These ‘climate refugees’ are not recognised under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the report calls for a new international legal agreement to help them survive.

Sand Sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

Sleeping Beauty: Sand sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

Sleeping Beauty: Sand sculptures by Sudarsan Pattnaik

During his impoverished childhood, Sudarsan Pattnaik  would go to his local beach and build sand castles.
More beauty here.

Ten Thousand People Apply for 90 jobs in Kentucky

from the World Socialist Web Site

The enormous response came within the space of just three days. GE had announced its intentions to add a second shift to its plant manufacturing washing machines in Appliance Park last Friday and began accepting applications on Monday. An earlier announcement by the GE plant calling for 13 maintenance workers who would receive $23 per hour drew 700 applicants.

The GE jobs promised a mere $13 per hour, plus benefits including dental coverage and eye care. The same jobs had previously paid $19 per hour until the decision by the IUE-CWA Local 761 to accept concessions in May, which included cutting wages for new workers and future hires.

Unemployment in Kentucky reached 11.1 percent in August. A total of 3,200 manufacturing jobs were lost in the state in the same month. Over the year ending in August, some 35,300 manufacturing jobs were lost in Kentucky.

Which is why this graph from Calculated Risk BlogSpot is unbelievable but not surprising.

From CalculatedRiskBlog.com: Comparing Employment Recessions

From CalculatedRiskBlog.com: Comparing Employment Recessions

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