Who goes to jail? America’s injustice gap

April 17, 2014

In this interview, Matt Taibbi talks about the contrast between the refusal of the federal government to investigate and prosecute corporate crime with the increasingly arbitrary and brutal treatment of ordinary citizens by police and prosecutors.   This is the topic of his new book, The Divide.

How can it be, he asks, that somebody can go to prison for having half a marijuana cigarette in his pocket, yet no executive of HSBC has been indicted for laundering billions of dollars for the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels?   Or that a black man can be charged with obstructing pedestrian traffic, just for standing in front of his home at 1 a.m. when nobody is on the street, yet the federal government lets Wall Street bankers off the hook for the financial fraud that led to the 2008 market crash?

Good questions, and I think we all know the answers.

For more about Taibbi’s book, click on the following links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/books/review/the-divide-by-matt-taibbi.html?_r=0

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-divide-american-injustice-in-the-age-of-the-wealth-gap-by-matt-taibbi/2014/04/11/66a1e7c8-b291-11e3-8cb6-284052554d74_story.html

Is your state’s highest-paid employee a coach?

April 16, 2014

Source:

ku-bigpic.highpaidpublicemployee

Click to enlarge.

Source:

http://deadspin.com/infographic-is-your-states-highest-paid-employee-a-co-489635228

 

How traditional Africans treat clinical depression

April 15, 2014

The writer Andrew Solomon used to suffer from depression.  A friend of his who lived in Senegal said the people there had a traditional cure for depression.   In the spirit of being willing to try anything once, he traveled to Senegal and had the chance to get a Senegalese village therapy session.

It consisted of stripping to a loincloth, being rubbed with millet, listening to a tape of Chariots of Fire, holding shamanistic objects and dropping them, listening to villagers drumming, getting in bed with a ram, being covered in blankets and sheets by dancing villagers, stripping naked, being drenched with the blood of the ram and two roosters, drinking a Coke, being wrapped in the intestines of the ram, burying little bits of the ram, receiving the millet wrapped in paper with orders to give it to a beggar the next day,  saying goodbye to the spirits that infested his body, and then being cleansed of blood by village women spitting water on him.

And you know what?

Although he had no belief whatever in exorcisms or spirits, the experience left him feeling great.

Some years later he went to Rwanda, which is on the other side of Africa.  A Rwandan acquaintance told him that while Rwandan customs were different, the Senegalese ceremony made sense to him.   Then, according to Solomon, the Rwandan said something interesting:

You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave.”

I said, “What was the problem?”

And he said, “Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun, like you’re describing, which is, after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again when you’re depressed, and you’re low, and you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgment that the depression is something invasive and external that could actually be cast out of you again.

“Instead, they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to get them to leave the country.”

Click on http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/notes-on-an-exorcism to read Solomon’s whole article.

Social Security backs down on debt collection

April 15, 2014

The U.S. Social Security Administration, criticized for seizing tax refund checks without notice based on debts of the taxpayers’ deceased parents, said it will stop trying to collect debts more than 10 years old.

That’s good first step. How about promising to use due process of law before trying to collect any debts? And how about observing the legal principle that children are not responsible for the debts of their parents?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/social-security-stops-trying-to-collect-on-old-taxpayer-debts/2014/04/14/9355c58e-c40f-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html

History’s death tolls: a comparison chart

April 15, 2014

Here’s an interesting set of charts from the Wait But Why blog giving the sizes of the death tolls in history’s greatest massacres and from other causes of untimely death.  As W. Edwards Deming once said, no number is meaningful unless there is another number to compare it with.

Death Final1a
As somebody else once said, one of the hardest things for human beings to grasp is differences in orders of magnitude (units vs. thousands vs millions).
DEATH2
Notice the enormous range of estimates in the larger figures. It seems as if the greater the death toll, the harder it is to determine just how great it was. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that massacres that are lesser in numbers are not really atrocities.

DEATH3

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/the-death-toll-comparison-breakdown.html

http://waitbutwhy.com/

Hat tip to Yves Smith (whose naked capitalism web log is listed on my Blogs I Like page)

“This is a republic, not a democracy”

April 14, 2014

If you don’t believe the United States is, or should be, a democracy, just who is it that you want to rule over you?

Overall, CEOs don’t earn their big paychecks

April 14, 2014

o-CEO-PAY-570

The following is by Mark Symonds for Forbes

It isn’t every day that academic research comes along to tell you something you really wanted to hear and that you suspected was the truth all along.  In this case it’s about the long running debate around top executive pay.

A recent paper by J. Scott Armstrong of the Wharton School and Philippe Jacquart of France’s EMLYON, seem to have finally established that paying top dollar simply doesn’t get a better job done.  And, in fact, it might actually get a worse one done.

According to Armstrong and Jacquard, while there is plenty of evidence that financial incentives can be effective in motivating people to do mundane and boring tasks, individuals do the more interesting and challenging stuff…well, because it’s interesting and challenging.

Perversely, they say, very large financial incentives may actually hinder top performance. The paper argues there is strong evidence that individuals can become fixated on incentives and either become limited in their thinking, unable to digest and adopt new ideas or alternately become convinced that they will achieve the goal automatically so do not need to try as hard as they might otherwise.  Whatever the outcome, every other stakeholder from the more modestly earning employee to the corporate stockholder loses out.

And finally the research also suggests that we might not really be getting the brightest and best talent at the top because the tools and processes used to identify candidates are either limited or downright faulty

There is simply too much emphasis on past performance, personal recommendation, unstructured interviewing, an unwillingness to ask really difficult and searching questions and that more dangerous selection criterion of all – gut instinct. Worryingly, it seems that the headhunters and in-house recruiters charged with hiring occupants of the corner office may be relying too much on perception and too little on good, hard facts.

The paper points out that CEOs who win prestigious industry awards constantly out-earn those that don’t.  Yet the stocks of the companies the award winners head up consistently under-perform in comparison to those of their less publicity hungry peers.  Perhaps because the latter spend their time running their businesses well instead.  [snip]

Unlike many academics, who might shy away from coming up with a solution, EM Lyon’s Jacquart is one willing to give the obvious if uncomfortable answer – namely that current incentive models need to be abandoned and overall executive pay should be reduced.

And he’s also ready with a counter to those who will doubtless argue that this will make it impossible to recruit the right people and bring major banks and corporations crashing to the ground.

“Yes, of course this may make it more difficult to recruit very senior individuals from outside an organization, at least in the short term. However it would force businesses to focus more on the development of the talent it already has, the talent that is more likely to be more loyal to and understanding of its aims, goals and methodologies.”
[snip]

via Big Company CEOs Just Aren’t Worth What We Pay Them.

Read the rest of this entry »

The happiest photo ever published in Life?

April 13, 2014

MICHIGAN BAND

Life magazine’s great photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, took this photo in 1950 while on assignment to report on the University of Michigan’s nationally famous marching band.   The band’s drum major was practicing, and children playing nearby followed him.  Eisenstaedt said the action in the photo was completely spontaneous, and not staged at all.

http://life.time.com/culture/is-this-the-happiest-photo-ever-made/#1

Hat tip to http://kottke.org/

Chipotle profits by investing in employees

April 12, 2014

The Chipotle Mexican-style restaurant chain enjoys good profits and good growth, while paying its employees generously and promoting from within.

220px-Chipotle_Brandon_Its current policy began about nine years ago when founder Steve Ells and then-COO Monty Moran visited the restaurants, and notice that the one that were best-run were all managed by employees who had started as restaurant crew members and worked their way up.

They decided to make that into a system, and reward restaurant managers, not for achieving set targets of holding wages and other costs down, but for mentoring employees and training them to be managers.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Why do so many managers ignore the examples of Chipotle, Costco and other companies and instead grind their employees down instead of building them up?  

I am reminding of a saying Bertrand Russell once made about human nature, When people are mistaken as to what is in their interest, the course they believe to be wise is more harmful to others than the course that really is wise.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Senate nominee I wish I could vote for

April 12, 2014

 Shenna Bellows, the Democratic nominee for Senator from Maine, is outstanding on the most important issues of our time.  She wants to break up the big banks, bring the National Security Agency under control and end the so-called war on drugs, which has resulted in so many poor young black men going to prison for actions that are tolerated among the elite.

SBellowsphotoI thank my friend Bill Elwell, for calling her interview with Salon, the first of the links below, to my attention.  Based on that, I think she would be at least as good a Senator as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom I admire.  Bellows hesitates to support gun control legislation, but as far as I’m concerned, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Having another dissenting voice in the Senate would be important, even though an overwhelming majority (in the Senate, I mean) is against her.   She has the power to raise important questions and to raise public awareness.

It is interesting how things change.  Eighty years ago, Maine and Vermont were the most conservative states in the union.  They were the only two states that opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936.  But now Vermont is represented by Bernie Sanders, an independent who is the Senate’s only avowed socialist, and there is a good chance that Maine will be represented by Bellows.

Read the rest of this entry »


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