Archive for January, 2015

Dow Jones firms’ profit is $48,887 per employee

January 31, 2015
Profit-per-employee

Click to enlarge.

The 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Averages took in an average profit of $48,887 per employee last year.  It would be interesting to know what those employees’ average incomes were.

LINKS

Five years into recovery, Dow companies squeeze workers as investors thrive by Michael Santoli for Yahoo Finance.

Another image of labor’s broken back: $48,887 in profit per employee! by Daniel Becker for Angry Bear.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

How many horses do you see?

January 31, 2015

howmanyhorses101559Source: Bev Doolittle via Avedon’s Sideshow.

A loophole on police asset seizures

January 30, 2015

In a previous post, I praised Attorney General Eric Holder for ending federal participation in police asset seizures.  But Susie Madrak on the Crooks and Liars blog pointed out a loophole in his announcement that I didn’t notice.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

What this means, as a practical matter, is that local and police state departments will focus their energies on the firearms and child porn busts, because they’ll be determined to fill those gaping holes in their budgets.

via Crooks and Liars.

Wall Street brokers free to rip off retirees

January 30, 2015

One of President Barack Obama’s top economic advisers said abusive trading practices are costing workers billions of dollars in retirement savings each year and called for stricter rules on Wall Street brokers.

Snidely+WhiplashJason Furman, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, drafted a Jan. 13 memo citing research that says some broker practices, such as boosting commissions with excessive trading, cost investors $8 billion to $17 billion a year.  The document was circulated to senior aides and indicates the White House may support tighter oversight of brokers who handle retirement accounts.

The memo, obtained by Bloomberg News, makes the case for a Labor Department regulation that would impose a fiduciary duty on brokers handling retirement accounts, requiring them to act in their clients’ best interest. Under current rules, brokers are held to a ‘suitability’ standard, meaning they must reasonably believe their recommendation is right for a customer.  [snip]

The document says researchers’ estimates of up to $17 billion in investor losses are “quite conservative.”  Investors lose five to 10 percent of their long-term savings due to conflicted advice, according to the memo.

“Academic research has clearly established that conflicts of interest affect financial advisers’ behavior and that advisers often act opportunistically to the detriment of their clients,” the memo says.  That includes the practice of brokers receiving payments for selling certain mutual funds.

via Bloomberg Business.

Financial ripoffs in the recent past have been justified on the groups that clients were sophisticated investors who should have know what they were getting into.  But the average American working person, saving for retirement, is not sophisticated.  I don’t think many realize that their brokers were not required to act in their best interest.

The Obama Labor Department could have changed the regulation at any time during the past six years.  Will it act now?  It will be interesting to see.

LINKS

While Deflategate and Chaitgate Rage, America Quietly Robs Its Elderly by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

White House Aide Calls for Stricter Broker Rules on 401(k)s by Dave Michaels and Margaret Collins for Bloomberg News.

A footnote on Hiroshma

January 29, 2015

Back in the 1960s, I had a friend named Willis who was married to a sweet young Japanese woman named Teri.

He had not fought in the war, but served in the Army during the Occupation of Japan.  Teri worked in the same office that he did.  He spent a year persuading her to go out with him on a date.  Six months after that they were engaged to be married.

cherry_blossom_The Army forbid troops to marry “indigenous personnel” and he had quite a time finding a job in Japan so that he could be discharged there rather than being sent back to the United States.

Teri as a schoolgirl had been given a dagger with which to kill herself rather than be violated by American soldiers.  Then she met big, gentle Willis, who was the complete opposite of the bestial, animal-like American depicted in Japanese propaganda.

When Willis got to know Teri’s family, he pressed his father-in-law to tell him what he really thought of the bombing of Hiroshima.  The father-in-law was reluctant to answer, he said there was no point in talking about the topic, but Willis pressed him—he was not one to take “no” for an answer—and the father-in-law finally did answer.

It’s been 50 years since Willis told me the story, and of course it was second-hand to begin with, but I think I remember the gist of ir accurately.  It was approximately like this.

We Japanese understand military necessity.  If we had possessed atomic bombs, we most certainly would have used them on San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What we don’t understand is your moralizing over the fact.  You dropped the bomb and killed a lot of people, but you act as if you are not the kind of people who would do such a thing, even though you did.

You Americans like to think that you are different from other people, but you aren’t.  And if you don’t understand that, we do.

I thought of Willis’s story every time I heard President Bush or President Obama say, “This is not who we are.”

Was the Hiroshima bomb necessary?

January 29, 2015

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519I’ve been reading Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, a companion to their TV series of the same name.  It is a compendium of the crimes and follies of the U.S. government in the 20th century.

One chapter is devoted to an indictment of the USA for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Stone and Kuznick contend that:

  • The dropping of the bomb was partly due to President Truman’s need to affirm his masculinity.
  • The dropping of the bombs was partly due to American racism against the Japanese.
  • The dropping of the bombs was intended mainly as a deterrent against the Soviet Union.
  • Japan’s surrender could have been negotiated without the bomb.
  • The Soviet invasion of Manchuria, not the atomic bombs, were the main reason why the Japanese eventually did surrender.

For me, it’s not so simple.

Hiroshima and Nakasaki were the culmination in the greatest mass slaughter of human beings in history.  An estimated 50 million to 60 million people, more than half of them civilians, were killed in the war, not counting those who died of war-related famine and disease.

World War Two was a war without mercy.  All sides lost their moral inhibitions.  I was a small boy during World War Two and I remember the wartime atmosphere.  Everyone wanted to win the war as quickly as possible and by any means necessary.

There was no bright line that separated the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings from what had gone before, including the systematic bombing of the German and Japanese cities.  I couldn’t have imagined the United States possessing such a powerful weapon and not using it.

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What happened to American business start-ups?

January 28, 2015

Screen-shot-2015-01-28-at-3.49.46-AM.

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We Americans pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, but the number of new business start-ups is going steadily down.

The U.S. business death rate exceeds the business birth rate.  According to Gallup, the United States ranks 12th in the rate of new business start-ups, behind such nations as Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Italy, New Zealand and Sweden.

Why?  I can think of several possible reasons.

  • Businesses are often started by employees of large corporations who see a market niche that their employers are unwilling to try to fill.  The increase in non-compete agreements makes it increasingly harder for employees to do this.
  • The stagnation of the U.S. economy is self-perpetuating.  Nobody will start a business unless they think people will buy its products or services.  The lack of good jobs at good wages means there is less of a demand for new products.
  • Because of the uncertain economy, individuals are less willing to risk their savings by investing in startups.
  • The lack of a good social safety net makes entrepreneurialism more risky.  In Sweden, even if your business failed, you still would not have to worry about lack of medical care or your family going hungry.

This is important.  New and small businesses are local.  They employ Americans.  They don’t usually have the option to outsource to India or China.

Big businesses are not immortal.  In the ecology of business, the dying giants are replaced, if they are replaced, by growing small businesses.   Without a stream of new businesses, the economy becomes dependent on old and declining businesses, such as General Motors and Chrysler, while have to be bailed out and propped up.

I don’t think small-business subsidies and set-asides are the key to having start-ups.  The best things for business startups are a high-wage, full-employment economy, an end to abusive non-compete agreements and a breakup of big-business monopolies.

LINKS

How Wall Street Killed Entrepreneurs by Yves Smith for naked capitalism.

American Entrepreneurship: Dead or Alive? by Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of the Gallup.

Has American Business Lost Its Mojo? by Thomas B. Edsall for the New York Times.  [Added 4/7/20154]

Slow Business Start-ups and the Job Recovery by Liz Laderman and Sylvain Leduc for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. [Added 4/7/2015]

How Special Interests Undermine Innovation by James Bessen for Foreign Affairs.  [Added 4/7/2015]

Courtney White on the age of consequences

January 28, 2015

Progress was good for my parents. They came to a strange land as poor pioneers and prospered along with Phoenix. They lived the American Dream—not the pursuit of material manifestations of success as much as their steady improvement over time.

Courtney White

Courtney White

Their lives were better than their parents’; they had more security, more opportunity, more comfort. They didn’t do without, go hungry, or stand in unemployment lines; they were well-educated, well-fed, and well-blessed with the fruits of a robust and expanding economy.

Best of all, especially for my mother, they could travel, and they saw parts of the globe that deeply impressed them. If they had second thoughts or misgivings about progress, I never heard a word. For them, the future was always bright.

I developed a different perspective. I came of age during the heyday of progress, witnessing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Impressed at first, I have now lived long enough to see that manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

I will likely live long enough to see evidence that America is not exceptional after all—that despite this nation’s many admirable qualities, it is subject to the same historical forces that have worn down all great nations and empires throughout the ages.

==Courtney White, The Age of Consequences

∞∞∞

Courtney White of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a former archeologist, Sierra Club activist and co-founder of the Quivera Coalition, which is dedicated to bringing together ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists and others to improve land practices.

I’ve not read any of his books.  Probably I should.  Here are links to excerpts from The Age of Consequences, his latest.

The real path through history: An arrow of progress.

The Nervous Breakdown.

Manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

Thanks to Bill Elwell for the first link and for making me aware of Courtney White and his work.

 

Why is Dayton, Ohio, demolishing its past?

January 27, 2015

Cartoonist Ted Rall wondered why his home town of Dayton, Ohio, is demolishing buildings that are architecturally and historically valuable.  These are the buildings he remembers from his childhood that give the city its character.

He was told that the likely reason is to reduce the city’s vacancy rate, which is an important factor that out-of town banks consider when deciding whether to make loans.  The fewer the buildings, the lower the percentage of vacant buildings.

I’d guess that another reason is to lower property taxes.  Unimproved real estate (land with no buildings) has a lower assessed value than improved real estate (land with buildings).

He’s probably right to say that the Dayton city fathers should exercise some judgment and think about re-purposing its valuable old buildings instead of treating them the same way they treat rat-infested fire hazards.

The basic problem is that nowadays decisions about local communities are made by powerful people far away who don’t understand local conditions.  And there are local people who think of the powerful people far away as god-like “job creators” who must be catered to and not questioned.

∞∞∞

The Gutting of Dayton: Why My City Is Gone by Ted Rall for A New Domain.

Why were Democrats AWOL on minimum wage?

January 26, 2015

President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union message proposed tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

A blogger named Jamison Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, did not introduce any legislation in 2014 to accomplish that.

minimum_wage_onpagePresident Obama in his 2014 State of the Union message proposed an increase in the minimum wage.

Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who still had a majority in the Senate, introduced a bill in April to raise the minimum wage and, when it failed, they did not try again.

The Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives meanwhile passed bill after bill to repeal Obamacare.

Pundits ridiculed them for this, but in the 2014 elections, the Obamacare mess was a much bigger issue for voters than minimum wage.  Some states that passed referendums to increase the minimum wage still voted Republican.

This is a failure of the whole Washington leadership of the Democratic Party.

What good are politicians who won’t fight for the public good even when it’s popular?

LINK

After the State of the Union by Jamison Foser.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

American labor unions and the future

January 26, 2015

The New Deal is regarded as the emancipator of the American labor union movement.  By giving Americans a legal right to bargain collectively through labor unions of their own choosing, the National Labor Relations Act gave unions a recognized place in society.

Under the NLRB umbrella, American labor unions in the 1930s and 1940s became greater in size and power than they ever were before or have been since.

But Stanley Aronowitz in his new book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AMERICAN LABOR: Toward a New Workers’ Movement (2014), said that the NLRB in the long run proved a trap.

aronowitz.death&lifeamericanlabor03,200_Aronowitz said that unions agreed to restrictions on their only weapon, the strike.  During the course of a contract, unions themselves were responsible for suppressing unauthorized strikes.

Employers became adept at using the NLRB to thwart union organizing.  In the interim between a petition for a union election and the election itself, they could weed out the union supporters (although this was technically illegal) and threaten and propagandize the employees.

Labor leaders gave up the goal of transforming society in return for place at the table where decisions about the U.S. economy were made.  But they didn’t even get a place at the table.

Over the years, new laws weakened union rights and imposed new restrictions.  Union leaders became less and less able or willing to use their basic weapon—the strike.  Union membership is below 11 percent of the American work force, the lowest level since before the New Deal.

Aronowitz, a professor at City University of New York and a former factory worker and union organizer himself, wrote that if the labor movement is to survive, workers and labor leaders must break out of old ways of thinking.

They need to engage in direct action, outside the NLRB framework, as has was done in the recent Walmart and fast-food walkouts.

Aronowitz noted that these actions were taken without union recognition or expectation of a contract, but were effective nonetheless in forcing management to respond to workers’ demands.

Unions should not agree to contracts with no-strike provisions, he wrote.  Or, if they do, only as a last resort and for a limited time.

I always thought that the Walmart and fast-food workers, who are continually at the brink of destitution, showed great courage by defying their employers like that.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible if it hadn’t happened.  Maybe in this case freedom really is just another word for nothing left to use.

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Comfort, risk and coal-fired furnances

January 26, 2015

When I was a schoolboy, one of my chores after I walked home from school was to stir up the coal in our furnace, so that the fire, which had been banked during the day, would flare up start to warm our house again.

Both my mother and father worked outside the home for pay, so there was no sense burning coal unnecessarily when nobody was home.

furnaceThe coal was in a huge pile in our basement, delivered by the coal company through a chute.  We had to remember to shovel new coal in the furnace at regular intervals, especially just before we went to bed at night, lest the fire go out.

Restarting a furnace fire was a major operation.  What we should have done was to start a fire with newspaper and kindling wood, then add more food and then, when the fire was going strong, add coal

What my dad actually did was to splash kerosene onto the coal, toss a lighted wooden match into the furnace and then jump back.  I do not recommend this.

The coal burned down to ashes which collected in the bottom of the furnace in big metal tubs.  Another one of my chores, when I was big enough, was to help my father carry the tubs out to the curb to be collected.

I imagine my father thought having a furnace at all and having coal delivered to the house was a great advance.  He grew up in a farm with only a stove in the kitchen for heat.

I myself have a gas furnace which I control with a thermostat.  That’s a lot easier than shoveling coal.  But on Saturday night, my furnace failed—with temperatures outside below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

I phoned Betlem Heating, and a service technician came by a few hours later.  He quickly diagnosed the fixed the problem—a failed thermocouple—and was on his way.

He told me he had many calls that night, each one to a place 20 or 30 miles from the one before.  But he said he didn’t mind.  That was his job.

I have a much easier life than my father and grandfather.  But compared to them, I am much more dependent on complex systems that I don’t understand—not just the furnace, but the whole interdependent web of people and institutions that bring the gas to my house.

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Mark Morrison-Reed and the minefield of race

January 25, 2015

Mark Morrison-Reed is the author of In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby (2009), which is about his attempt to live in a color-blind world that doesn’t exist.  He was also my minister in the early 1980s.

The video above shows him talking about his book and about race in American life.  The first 25 minutes is his talk, and the rest is questions and answers.  Mark manifests his great ability to listen to people, and to understand and respond to where they’re coming from.

I met Mark in 1980 or 1981, I forget which, when he and his wife Donna were co-ministers of First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York.

I joined the church, which I still attend, in 1985 because of my great esteem for Mark and Donna.  Mark didn’t wear dreadlocks then. I remember Mark telling me something once that I was always remember.

He told me that I was committed to a philosophy that someday would fail me, which was that my self-esteem depended on “earning your keep”—that is, always repaying obligations.  He told me that philosophy would fail me because someday I would be in a situation in which I depended on the unearned kindness of others, which I would never be able to repay.  This has proved true.

Mark came from a background that was privileged compared to mine.  His father was a physicist on the faculty of the University of Chicago, who worked on the Manhattan Project and also was honored by NASA.  His mother was active in Chicago politics and knew Mayor Harold Washington.

But he was an outsider in a way that I never was.  He always had to deal with the fact that people, black and white, made assumptions, because of his race, about what he was and what he should be.

I never had to deal with that.  Maybe black people make assumptions about me because of my race, but this doesn’t control my life.

LINKS

‘True to my lineage’: Mark Morrison-Reed’s quest for spiritual integration by Kimberly French for UU World (2009)

Laying claim to my own blackness, an excerpt from In Between in UU World (2009)

Selma’s challenge by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2014)

The empowerment tragedy by Mark Morrison-Reed for UU World (2011)

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How should you spend your life?

January 24, 2015

Weeks-block-LIFE1

The chart shows the life on a typical American, arranged on a grid of 52 weeks and 90 years.  It seems pretty optimistic.  I retired at age 62, but not many Americans today will be able to afford to do that.

The question arises: How do you spend all these weeks?

Venn1Being able to ask this question shows what a privilege it is to be a middle-class Americans.  Many people in the world have no time for anything except trying to survive and helping their loved ones to survive.

LINK

Your Life in Weeks by Tim BurtonUrban on Wait But Why.

The ‘Gestalt prayer’ by Fritz Perls

January 23, 2015

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.

==Fritz Perls.

Austerity: the global reach of a bad ideology

January 23, 2015

2014-12-25-racetothebottom-thumbThe Western world is in the grip of a bad idea that its governments can’t seem to shake off—although its peoples are starting to.

The idea is called “austerity.” It is the belief that public goods must be destroyed in order to increase private wealth.

Banks impose this policy on indebted nations such as Greece.  They say the governments must curtail public services, including schools and public health, while raising taxes and adopting economic policies that will result in higher prices and lower wages.

Supposedly the money saved can be used to pay off the nation’s debts.  The problem is that so-called austerity destroys the nation’s ability to generate new wealth, and so, as long as countries accept the “austerity” meme, they stay in debt indefinitely.

Nations that default on their debts, as American states frequently did in the era before the Civil War, are threatened with loss of credit.  But the fact is that the banking system literally has more money than the bankers know what to do with.  In practice, lending always starts up again after a few years.

Members of the European Union that use the Euro as their currency have a special problem.  Historically the exchange rates of currencies fell when the issuing nation had a balance of payments deficit.  This tended to bring the balance of trade into balance, because their exports became cheaper in relation to foreign currencies and their imports became more expensive.

Under austerity, nations attempt to achieve the same thing by increasing prices, lowering wages and cutting government services.  Unlike with change in the exchange rate, the burden does not fall upon the whole nation equally, but only on the less wealthy and politically powerless.

Austerity involves raising taxes, but never taxes on the wealthy.  That is because the wealthy are considered to be the “job creators” who must be catered to in order to bring about economic recovery.

The “job creator” philosophy is popular here in the USA.  The saying is, “No poor man ever gave me a job.”  The conclusion is that the key to jobs is to have more and richer rich people.

Well, we Americans have made that experiment, repeatedly, and it hasn’t worked.

If we want mass prosperity, we need to invest in the things that create wealth—education, public infrastructure and scientific research—and then see that the benefits of the new wealth are widely spread, so as to create markets for private business.

We Americans once made that experiment, too, and it did work.

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‘The skill to keep things in good repair’

January 22, 2015

I greatly admire the writings of the self-taught philosopher, Eric Hoffer.  His book, The True Believer, published in 1951, is the best book I know for explaining the psychology of today’s radical terrorists.  His regular job was as a longshoreman in San Francisco.  He wrote this in his journal for July 7, 1958

As I walked several blocks from the bus stop to the docks, I was impressed by the gardens in front of the houses.  The houses, of average size, are fairly old, yet in excellent shape.  The people living there are mostly workingmen.

Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer

The sight of the gardens and houses turned my mind to the question of maintenance.  It is the capacity for maintenance which is the best test for the vigor and stamina of a society.

Any society can be galvanized for a while to build something, but the will and the skill to keep things in good repair day in, day out are fairly rare.

At present, neither in the Communist countries nor in the newly created nations is there a pronounced capacity for maintenance.

I wonder how true it is that after the Second World War the countries with the best maintenance were the first to recover.  I am thinking of Holland, Belgium and Western Germany.   I don’t know how it is in Japan.

The Incas had an intense awareness of maintenance.  They assigned whole villages and tribes to keep roads, bridges and buildings in good repair.

I read somewhere that in ancient Rome a man was disqualified as a candidate for office because his garden showed neglect.

I wonder what Hoffer, who died in 1983, would think of America’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and infrastructure generally.  Would he think that Americans, both individually and as a nation, still have the will and the skill to keep things in good repair?

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Dr. King, the NAACP and the FBI: an untold story

January 22, 2015

Life is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel and an open book to those who read.          ==Peter Lee.

It’s long been known how the FBI wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how J. Edgar Hoover regarded King as a pro-Communist subversive.

This morning I came across a review by a blogger named Peter Lee of a book, Devil in the Grove, which tells the opposite side of this story—how the NAACP co-operated with J. Edgar Hoover’s anti-Communist drive in return for the FBI’s investigation of Ku Klux Klan killings in the Deep South.

American Communists were among the strongest and most dedicated supporters of labor rights and civil rights from the 1920s on.  That is why, although small in numbers, they rose to positions of influence in labor unions and civil rights organizations.

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

During the start of the Cold War, labor unions such as the United Auto Workers and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP purged their ranks of Communists.  Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP lawyer who successfully argued before the Supreme Court that segregated schools were unconstitutional, was in the forefront of the anti-Communist struggle.  Marshall later became the first black Supreme Court justice.

I don’t think this was necessarily opportunism.  There was a legitimate question of dual loyalty.

Communists worldwide in the 1930s supported a Popular Front against fascism, then after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 switched instantly to opposition to the “imperialist war,” only to change back just as quickly when Hitler’s troops invaded the USSR.

I’ve been anti-Communist all my adult life, and I still am.  The problem with anti-Communism during the Cold War was not that opposition to Communism was wrong, but that people like me allowed it to override every other moral and political consideration.

Dr. King did not make that mistake.  He spoke out against U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  His most trusted white adviser, Stanley Levison, was once a key financial supporter of the American Communist Party, although, unbeknownst to the FBI, he had ceased to participate in the CPUSA after 1957.

So the FBI wiretapped him, with the knowledge and support of John and Robert Kennedy, and worked to undermine him, while Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP leadership stood aside.

∞∞∞

The Preacher, the Black Cardinal and the Grand Inquisitor by Peter Lee on China Matters.  The title of the review refers to Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and J. Edgar Hoover.

The FBI and Martin Luther King by David J. Garrow for The Atlantic (2002).   Background information on the FBI investigation.

France is jailing people for the crime of irony

January 21, 2015

charlie-hebdo-cest-de-la-merdeA 16-year-old French high school student was taken into custody last Thursday for posting a cartoon on his Facebook page “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment.”

French newspapers haven’t reprinted the cartoon, but the description fits the cartoon above, which was taken from the Facebook page of the French comedian Dieudonne.  He has been arrested meanwhile for a different comment he made on his Facebook page.

The caption reads “Charlie Hebdo is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”

The irony in the cartoon is that the Charlie Hebdo magazine is the July, 2013, issue, whose cover mocks Egyptian protesters who were killed in Cairo.  The Hebdo cover caption reads “The Koran is crap.  It doesn’t stop bullets.”

charlie-hebdo-le-coran-cest-de-la-merde

I think mocking the victims of murder is in bad taste in both cases, but bad taste shouldn’t be a crime.  I don’t think of any principle that forbids the one cartoon and tolerates the other.

In France, there are fences around free speech.  It is illegal to deny that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews occurred or that the Turkish massacre of the Armenians occurred.  It is illegal to incite racial hatred or to glorify terrorism.

Anti-semitism is considered a form of racial hatred, I suppose because Jews are an ethnic group as well as a religion.

A Charlie Hebdo staff member, Maurice Sinet, was fired in 2009 for mocking Jean Sarkozy, the son of France’s president, who was rumored (falsely) to be converting to Judaism after marrying a wealthy Jewish heiress.  Sinet also was charged with “inciting racial hatred.”  He was acquitted of that charge and also won damages for wrongful dismissal.

But blasphemy is permitted, so attacks on Christians and Muslims are all right, as are attacks on French politicians and bankers.

I don’t think that the peaceful expression of any opinion should be suppressed by the government.  Forbidding people to deny that the Holocaust occurred, for example, will only make people wonder what facts the government is afraid to let them learn.  The best cure for falsehood is truth, and that can best be accomplished be free and open debate.

LINKS

France begins jailing people for making ironic comments by Ali Abudimah for the Electronic Intifada.  This is where I found the cartoons.

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Darwin’s theory and American exceptionalism

January 20, 2015

20150119_differnt_0Source: Calamities of Nature via Zero Hedge.

As this chart shows, we Americans are less likely to believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution than the people of any European nation.

Oddly, though, we are more likely to believe in social Darwinism (although we don’t call it that)—the idea the law of life is survival of the fittest, and society does not exist so that people can cooperate for mutually beneficial ends, but so that the population can be sorted into winners and losers.

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My first five years as a blogger

January 20, 2015

Today is the fifth anniversary of my starting this web log.

I’m grateful to my good friend David Damico for pointing out that it’s possible to do a blog on a web host such as WordPress without paying any money and without any particular knowledge of computers and the Internet.  If not for him, I might not ever have started a blog.  If I had known what he told me earlier, I might have started this blog years ago.

blogID-10088265When I retired from newspaper work, people asked me if I planned to continue writing.  My answer was that I did not intend to write anything in the future that somebody else had the power to change.  For many years my only writing, aside from articles for newsletters of organizations I belong to, consisted of e-mails to my circle of friends.

I still send an e-mail at least once a month commenting on books I’ve read recently.  I post on my blog about the more noteworthy of those books.

My blog is a perfect means of self-expression, from my standpoint.  I can write as much or as little as I please, although I find myself almost always spending on time on my posts than I originally intended.

I had hoped and expected, when I started my blog, that it would be a means of generating discussion and comments among my circle of friends.  In fact, the majority of my friends seldom or never read it.  But I’m compensated by being brought in contact with a circle of acquaintances in distant states and even foreign countries whom I’d never have met otherwise.

Since Jan. 20, 2010, I’ve made 3,049 posts which have elicited a total of 2,440 comments and been viewed a total of 601,009 times (not counting today).   The most views I ever got in a day was 2,199 on Election Day in 2014.

On a web site called URLmetrics, I’m ranked, as of early last year, number 2,201,006 among U.S. blogs in daily visitors and number 4,066,146 in daily views.  I don’t know whether that is good or bad.

blagofaireSource: xkcd.

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An excellent question

January 20, 2015

Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?

via Ian Welsh.

Obama’s tax plan: Better now than never

January 19, 2015

When Barack Obama ran for President, he promised lower taxes on the American middle class and higher taxes on the super-rich.  Public opinion polls show most Americans favor this.

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterNow, in the seventh year of his Presidency, Obama has a new tax plan that will do just that—reduce taxes by $175 billion on working people and increase taxes by $320 billion mainly on holders of financial assets.

It’s not a radical plan, but it’s almost certain to be opposed by Republicans in Congress, and that will make a good campaign issue for Democrats in 2016.

The cynic in me wonders why the President didn’t introduce this in 2009 when Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress, and there was some possibility it would be enacted.

But the pragmatist in me thinks it is a good thing to get politicians and the public talking about tax justice even if it doesn’t result in legislation on the first try.

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President Obama finally has his Piketty moment by Matt O’Brien for the Washington Post.  Hat tip to Cannonfire.

Five things about Barack Obama’s Robin Hood tax plan by Brian Faler for Politico.

Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolence

January 19, 2015

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We Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of our national heroes, but the only thing we remember that he stood for is that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skins.

That’s important, of course.  But many of us tend to forget his strong advocacy of economic justice and, even more, we forget his strong commitment to nonviolence, or rather mass defiance as an alternative revolutionary violence.

I am not a pacifist, as Dr. King was.  I do not believe that war is always wrong.  But the stronger reason is that I do not have the moral strength to following his teaching.  I am unable to live up to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels to love my enemies, resist not evil and do good to them that hate me.

The amazing thing about Dr. King was that he was able, for a short time, to persuade large numbers of Americans to fight without violence and to win.

Considered purely pragmatically, the nonviolent techniques of struggle advocated by Gene Sharp and practiced by Saul Alinsky have been at least as successful as revolutionary violence.

Alinsky’s career in particular is evidence that successful use of nonviolent techniques did not require Christian love or the turning of the other cheek.

My impression is that many black Americans today regard Malcolm X as a more manly role model than Dr. King.  Yet Dr. King made governors and presidents bow to his will, while Malcolm X’s struggles were mostly with other African-Americans.

This statement is not completely fair to Malcolm X, because he was murdered when his work had only just begun while Dr. King was struck down after he had accomplished most of what was in him to do.

But the fact remains that the Black Panthers and other advocates of armed struggle were much more easily crushed than the followers of Dr. King.

The power of oppressive elites is the power to compel obedience.  Their power ceases when the oppressed cease to obey.  I admit that’s easy for me to say when I’ve never put myself at physical risk in any struggle, nonviolent or otherwise.  But I believe it’s true.

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Eric Holder bans most federal asset seizures

January 18, 2015

Asset seizures by police in many U.S. localities had become big business, and, in some localities, literal highway robbery.  So the following, which is from the Washington Post, is important good news.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Eric Holder

Eric Holder

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds.  It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total.  This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Seizure of property of persons not convicted or even charged with a crime is a clear violation of the plain language of the Constitution.  Attorney-General Holder’s commendable action was long overdue.

LINK

Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that split billions with local, state police by Robert O’Harrow Jr., Sari Horowitz and Steven Rich for the Washington Post.

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Afterthought [1/30/2015]

Susie Madrak on the Crooks and Liars blog pointed out something I failed to think of.

What this means, as a practical matter, is that local and police state departments will focus their energies on the firearms and child porn busts, because they’ll be determined to fill those gaping holes in their budgets.

via Crooks and Liars.

Unless, of course, Holder meant that police will only be allowed to seize firearms, ammunition, explosives, child pornography and electronic media used to store child pornography.  But my guess is that Susie Madrak’s interpretation is the correct one.