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?

The Mafia Model

In mid-2007 I finally revealed to the Spousal Unit that, over the past year, I had been developing an increasing anxiety over the state of the economy. By any measure available to the layman the economy looked healthy; robust even. High-end developments were blossoming like endless fairy rings on open meadows and newly deforested woodland. This meant construction trades and every sector associated with them were booming. The Mister was working for an architecture office as the job captain for the home office and resident code wonk for both branches of the firm.

But deep in my gut something was wrong. It just wasn’t adding up. In part, because the Mister and I kept looking around us and saying: You can’t build houses forever. At some point there has to be market saturation. Then what happens? Has a history replete with Tulip Mania and Beanie Babies taught us nothing?

We kept trying to have rational conversations on the subject with our social circle, but most of them were in the trades to some degree and didn’t want to hear it. And you know what happened to Cassandra. One theory was she didn’t bring cookies.

Someone once described me as having “a tinker-toy model of the universe” in my brain. I will chance upon a quandary and somehow, I can’t let it go until the pieces fit. They don’t have to fit perfectly or beautifully, they just have to fit. The effect is like having a hangnail in your consciousness. Or like those pop ditties with a hook that runs mercilessly through your head, and nothing short of a near overdose of prescription sleeping pills can shake it.

So at some point in 2006 I started cruising business and economic sites on the Internet. MSNBC, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and various political sites that included economic fora. I read, I researched and what I didn’t understand I plugged directly into a search engine. I wasn’t going to chance asking tenderfoot questions on an open internet forum. No0bi3s are often targets of derision and harassment, even when they ask sensible questions. I wasn’t inclined to add the humiliation of virtual swirlies to the very real anxiety I was already experiencing.

After a year of lurking and researching I knew just enough to be dangerous. And I had learned enough to know that the Mister and I had not been too far off base in our concerns. The way it looked, the housing market was probably going to tank and tank badly.

The pieces of my tinker-toy model had re-arranged themselves to the point that I could now future pace what was likely to happen in the broader economy when housing slowed down. In my head it looked like beautifully crafted concentric rings of Dominoes, with the housing market as the center starting point and staggered sectors like overlapping petals surrounding it.

When housing reached saturation, I theorized, all the trades associated with it would slow as building slowed. This only made sense. Framers can’t frame, plumbers can’t plumb, roofers can’t roof and electricians can’t…electrify, if they don’t have new construction. So the basic trades would be forced to cut employees. Interestingly, some of those jobs would not even show up as losses in employment because a number of the crews working in North Carolina consisted entirely of illegal aliens with an English speaking foreman. Yet the loss of those “non-jobs” would impact other sectors of the business economy.

The next ring of Dominoes to fall would be the businesses that supplied materials to the building trades, including the literal tons of heavy equipment used to clear the lots. Services like landscaping, painting crews, concrete and paving companies would find themselves with too much equipment, too many employees and not enough work to go around.

People buying new quarter million dollar homes see an opportunity to “try something new” with their “look”. For that reason, businesses providing everything from décor to guest room linens on to basic pots and pans would find fewer customers buying their (frankly overpriced) products.

Now because the Dominoes aren’t perfectly aligned, we have to move back to our first ring which has secondary effects on the wider market. Yes, the high-priced homes, the services and all the 2nd ring attendant purchasing have fallen because the market has stalled. But so have the 3rd ring blue-collar jobs supporting those trades and businesses. This means the laborers like linen store workers, paint mixers, people who make furniture, the lawnmower repairman; all these people have been forced to cut back on spending. The same holds true for 4th ring business supplying finished goods and supporting 3rd ring stores and laborers. Best case scenario for most, a reduction in hours with a tighter spending budget. Worst case: they have been laid off due to the slowdown in the housing market and have no money to spend.

And those ripples affect the “petals” food stores, restaurants, mid to low priced clothing stores, white goods (appliances) luxury items like electronics, toys and games and most surprising to me in hindsight, spending on healthcare.

In another way, the effect is completely un-like Dominoes. It’s more like being on the freeway, going home at 5 o’clock on Friday during a horrific thunderstorm. The freeway is packed with cars, covered in water, saturated. One car slows down to avoid hydroplaning. Then, traffic jam. Standstill. It’s that quick. And if you aren’t paying attention, it can be devastating.

So, early one Saturday morning in mid 2007 I call the Mister to the table and ask him to hear me out. I proceeded to lay everything out as calmly as I could. I explain that my main cause for concern was, once the trades and supporting businesses slowed down, so would new business construction; hotels, shopping centers, travel centers. These were businesses his firm looked to for clients. As a last hire, I was afraid his job wasn’t entirely secure. For that matter, based on the range of possibilities I had come across in my research I wasn’t entirely sure we weren’t in for an economic collapse.

The Mister gets a certain look when his brain is processing a chunk of novel information. It’s not exactly “deer in the headlights”. It’s more like a young indoor cat seeing a mouse for the first time. There is initially, a blank incomprehension; a vague fog, lasting from a few seconds to minutes. Then comes a danger assessment. Then cogs begin to turn; possibilities and strategies come into play.

And that almost instinctive understanding of strategy is one of the many reasons I love the Mister; his understanding of game theory is phenomenal.

We began to discuss possibilities in earnest. After a year of silent fretting, I am sitting at the table, practically vomiting stored up anxiety.  The Tinker Toy model in my brain is limited in its ability. I need concrete facts, pieces to fit into the model. No pieces, no clarity. Beyond that it’s down to conjecture. I suck at conjecture.

The Mister is now on his feet. He thinks best when he’s doing something. He goes to the kitchen and begins to clean. And as he comes to understand the depth of my fears surrounding an economic collapse, he uses a phrase so succinct and yet so descriptive that the clear genius of it is startling to me. “They won’t let America’s economy collapse.” he says, “It’s the Mafia Model.”

“What?” The incongruity of the phrase has kicked me out of my physical anxiety and back into my head.

“The Mafia Model. You know…. ‘It’s bad for business.’.” He turns to face me from the kitchen. “Back in the 30’s and 40’s the turf wars between the mob bosses had gotten out of hand. Drive by shootings, bombings, murders. Civilians getting killed. Finally, the Feds along with local police agencies started cracking down on them, interrupting their ability to do business. The mob bosses started losing money.”

“So they get together, decide that the all out wars are ‘bad for business’ and the way to make money is to make peace. Support each other. Syndicate”

“If America goes down, it’s not good for anybody else’s economic health. They literally can’t let it happen. It’s bad for business. And by the same token, we can’t let any other large economy go bust either.”

In a perverse sort of way, I found the thought comforting; even a little heartening. The economic ecosystem was in the midst of its own crisis. It seems they were being forced to take a lesson from that other struggling ecosystem: Adapt or Die.

And so far, the Mister has been right. Over the past 2 years I’ve been watching them; the world leaders, the financiers, the billionaires. Now, I see them clearly, as they are; all tethered as one, clinging to the side of a cold, heartless mountain of money, while the storm of a century rages around them.

As they struggle to gain purchase, I can only image that they pray fervently to what gods they comprehend. Because they surely know what we know; if one falls, the rest will surely follow.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Top 1% Reaped 2/3rds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion

Analysis of  IRS data by  Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928, according to an analysis of newly released IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

During those years, the Piketty-Saez data also show, the inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90 percent of households.

The last economic expansion began in November 2001 and ended in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which means the Piketty-Saez data essentially cover that expansion. The last time such a large share of the income gain during an expansion went to the top 1 percent of households — and such a small share went to the bottom 90 percent of households — was in the 1920s.

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