Category Archives: Social Justice

Eight years later, using nonviolence in Afghanistan still looks like a good choice

In March of 2002, while running for Treasurer of the Commonwealth, I did a one day tour of the Fall River/New Bedford area including speaking engagements, radio appearances and an interview with the Herald News in Fall River.  I was aided by David Dionne, a great and tireless activist for social justice, peace, and the environment.  David had setup the whole day and first on the itinerary was the interview with the Herald News.

Now March, 2002 was about five months after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one of the reporter's first questions was what would be the Green Party's alternative to invading Afghanistan.  I stated that invading the country was the wrong approach and the US would have been better off in the long-term by building a nonviolent resistance movement to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that sought the development and liberation of all of its citizens.

With President Obama's announcement that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 US soldiers, 43,000 NATO-ISAF soldiers, and 68,000 Pentagon contractors, the long-term has arrived.  When all is said and done, we are easily on track to have been there for a decade or more propping up a corrupt government run by warlords who share the Taliban's desire to keep women down. 

According to CostOfWar.com, a National Priorities Project, the US has spent $232 Billion funding military related operations in Afghanistan since our invasion in 2001.  This figure represents over $8,000 per Afghan citizen, or about $1000 a year for each person.  With Afghanistan's per capita yearly GDP at about $450, this amount would represent a tripling of the income of the average Afghan.  This figure is even more striking when you consider that we haven't delivered on the $5 Billion in aid we pledged to help Afghanistan rebuild.

We could have devoted a fraction of what our military has spent occupying Afghanistan on promoting economic development, education and health as well as building a native Afghan nonviolent resistance movement.  Would we have overthrown the Taliban by now?  Possibly.  People who have enough to eat, a job with a decent income and the ability to read have much more ability to organize and use nonviolent tactics to undermine the support of their leaders.  We forget when we judge the success of a nonviolent resistance that, after eight years of violent resistance to the Taliban, there is very real prospect that they may yet reestablish themselves as the rulers of Afghanistan.

By taking a long-term nonviolent approach, one that focused on economic development, education and improving the health of all Afghans, we would have left Afghanistan a far better place than we have so far.  Even if a nonviolent resistance movement had not succeed by now, it would have a good chance of succeeding in the future.  Obama's choice to double down on the Bush strategy doesn't look like its chance of success will be any better, but the cost in lives and debt will be immensely higher.

Corporate Cable TV rewrites The Prisoner

Stop reading if you haven't watched AMC's remake of The Prisoner.  I know, hard to believe since it came out over a week ago, but just wanted to warn you.

I finished it, and while I thought it was interesting to watch, I didn't care for am not quite sure about the ending.  I could deal with the shared consciousness aspect of it, though I kept waiting for the jack in the head, ala The Matrix.  But, protecting people by keeping them under surveillance?  A slightly benign 1984 for people with mental illness, drug problems, anger management issues or who just don't fit in.  Of course the corporate, capitalist world would want it.  People are productive while also compliant.  Notice that besides Number 2 (and his family), the elite who weren't quite elite
because there is no Number 1 after all, there were no well healed in
evidence in The Village.

Io9 has a useful review as does RevolutionSF and Wired.

Still, the little bits of the original series such as the penny-farthing bicycle, the symbol of the Village from the original series, hanging in the Go Inside Bar were nice touches.  Now, I'll just have to go back and watch the original series.

Be seeing …

Billion Dollar-O-Gram: money visualizations

David McCandless, at Information is Beautiful, has a great visualization of spending on a variety of things at his Billion Dollar-O-Gram.  It is a great way to compare spending on the Internet Porn Industry with foreign aid given by the world's major nations (about equal) or the total cost of the financial crisis to the US government ($2800 billion) to the value of Africa's entire debt to Western nations ($200 billion).  Enjoy!

German laws supporting workers helps their economy plus Utah Phillips on natural resources

Paul Krugman writes about how Germany is hasn't seen as high an increase in unemployment as the US has and that this is due to the laws Germany has to support employment and the subsidies to employers who reduce the hours of their workers rather than lay them off.

He goes on to suggest that the government cannot use monetary policy to get us out of the recession, and for 90% we STILL are in a recession, and the government leadership may not be willing to borrow enough to counter the demand short fall that resulted from the recession.  He suggests creating a new W.P.A. to hire people and reduce unemployment (worked for one of my grandfathers, who helped build the Quabbin reservoir).  He argues against the standard objections:

But these aren’t normal times. Right now, workers who lose their
jobs aren’t moving to the jobs of the future; they’re entering the
ranks of the unemployed and staying there. Long-term unemployment is
already at its highest levels since the 1930s, and it’s still on the
rise.

And long-term unemployment inflicts long-term damage.
Workers who have been out of a job for too long often find it hard to
get back into the labor market even when conditions improve. And there
are hidden costs, too — not least for children, who suffer physically
and emotionally when their parents spend months or years unemployed.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism adds a bunch of points including:

Krugman does Germany an injustice by failing to contest US prejudices
about European (particularly German) labor practices. If German labor
practices are so terrible, then how was Germany an export powerhouse,
able to punch above its weight versus Japan and China, while the US,
with our supposedly great advantage of more flexible (and therefore
cheaper) labor, has run chronic and large current account deficits? And
why is Germany a hotbed of successful entrepreneurial companies, its
famed Mittelstand? If Germany was such a terrible place to do business,
wouldn’t they have hollowed out manufacturing just as the US has done?
Might it be that there are unrecognized pluses of not being able to
fire workers at will, that the company and the employees recognize that
they are in the same boat, and the company has more reason to invest in
its employees (ignore the US nonsense “employees are our asset,”
another line from the corporate Ministry of Truth).

A different example. A US colleague was sent to Paris to turn around a
medical database business (spanning 11 timezones). She succeeded. Now
American managers don’t know how to turn around businesses without
firing people, which was not an option for her. I submit that no one is
willing to consider that the vaunted US labor market flexibility has
produced lower skilled managers, one who resort to the simple expedient
of expanding or contracting the workforce (which is actually pretty
disruptive and results in the loss of skills and know-how) rather than
learning how to manage a business with more foresight and in a more
organic fashion because the business is defined to a large degree
around its employees.

Both are useful articles and the discussion on the Naked Capitalism article is very interesting.

One last thing, the "employees are our asset" nonsense always reminds me of this Utah Philips story (called "Natural Resources") which appears the album "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" that he did with Ani DeFranco:

I
was invited to the State Young Writers' Conference out at Cheney, which
was at Eastern Washington university. And I didn't want to embarrass my
son, you know, and I was gonna behave myself cause I had to live there
then – it was a chore. But I got on the stage – it was an enormous
auditorium; there were twenty-seven hundred young faces out there, none
of them with any prospects anybody could detect – and off to the side
of the stage was the suit-and-tie crowd of people from the school
district and the principals, and the, the main speaker following me was
from the Chamber of Commerce.

Well something inside of me snapped.

And I got to the microphone, and I looked out over that multitude of faces and I said something to the effect of:

"You're about to be told one more time that you're America's most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen them strip mine? Have you seen a clear-cut in a forest? Have
you seen a polluted river? Don't ever let them call you a valuable
natural resource! They're gonna strip mine your soul! They're gonna
clear-cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit, unless you learn
to resist, cause the profit system follows the path of least
resistance, and following the path of least resistance is what makes
the river crooked! Hmph!"

Well there was great gnashing of teeth
and rending of garments – mine. I was borne to the door, screaming
epithets over my shoulder, something to the effect of: "Make a break
for it, kids!" "Flee to the wilderness!" The one within, if you can
find it.

There is a bit more.  The whole album as well as the others he did are most worth it.  He is still sorely missed.

Big Box Stores!

Economist Paul Krugman wrote:

Why did [economic] productivity stagnate for 20 years, then revive? The truth is
that it probably had very little to do with anyone’s economic policies;
the best guess is that businesses spent two decades figuring out what
to do with information technology, then found the answer: big box
stores!

That really sums up the outsourcing of manufacturing, economic growth and the rise in inequality in the 1990s and beyond right there.

Unemployment & Underemployment rate hits 17.5%

The big number is that unemployment, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls U-3, reached 10.2%.  However, it is worse than that since the broadest measure of unemployment, what the BLS calls U-6, is now at 17.5%.  A year ago, the respective U-3 & U-6 rates were 6.1% & 11.1%.  The BLS defines U-6 as:

Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.

where:

  • Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past.
  • Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job.
  • Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

The previous recorded high was 17.1 percent,
in December 1982.

To reiterate a point I made about the increasing inequality of the US economy, economist Paul Krugman mentioned:

Take the United States, which wasn’t damaged in the war. Take per
capita real GDP. Give hostages by taking data from 1950 to 1980, which
means including the 1980 recession, but stopping at 2007, so that the
current slump isn’t included. Then here’s what you get:

Growth in per capita real GDP from 1950 to 1980: 2.2 percent per year
Growth in per capita real GDP from 1980 to 2007: 2.0 percent per year

Oh, and if we look at real median family income instead, we get:

Growth from 1950 to 1980: 2.3 percent per year
Growth from 1980 to 2007: 0.7 percent per year

So comparing the time period from 1950 to the recession of 1980 with that of the recession of 1980 to the boom of 2007, Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush2 did worse in average terms than the previous 30 years.  If you look at the median family income, i.e. those people in the middle of the income distribution, things are even worse for the Reagan+ period.

Sources:

  1. BLS, Table A-12. Alternative measures of labor underutilization
  2. Paul Krugman Blog: 11/07/2009  Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

Financial Bubble, Rich Get Richer, Economic Bust, Rich Get Bailed Out, Repeat

I haven't posted much about the economy lately owing to a time: a lack on my part and the length needed for a post on such a topic.  However, a couple of people have made some interesting observations that allow me to weave them together into something that is a little bit more illuminating.

Nouriel Roubini's recent op-ed (here if you don't want to register) in the Financial Times.  Mr. Roubini explains that the low interest rates (~0.5%) that the US Federal Reserve is offering to financial institutions is the cause of rapid increase in asset prices (stocks, commodities, etc.)  More importantly, since these interest rates have caused the fall in the dollar relative to other currencies.  As a result, financial firms are now able to borrow in the US where they get negative interest rates since the dollar is falling, and buy non-US assets which bids up their price.  As Gillian Tett of the Financial Times reported recently:

Earlier this month, I received a sobering e-mail from a senior,
recently-retired banker. This particular man, a veteran of the credit
world, had just chatted with ex-colleagues who are still in the markets
– and was feeling deeply shocked.

“Forget about the events of the past 12 months … the punters are
back punting as aggressively as ever,” he wrote. “Highly leveraged
short-term trades are back in vogue as players … jostle to load up on
everything from Reits [real estate investment trusts] and commercial
property, commodities, emerging markets and regular stocks and bonds.“

Back to Roubini.  He feels that the increase in asset prices is a new bubble over which the Fed isn't watching.  Eventually, the bubble will burst when the dollar stops falling and/or interest rates go up and traders, without easy money from the Fed, find they have the sell their new assets to pay back their loans.  Oh joy.  Of course, without all that easy money, the financial sector would have imploded taking the rest of the economy with it.  Well … more than it did at least.

All this easy money seems to have increased the bounce in the step of Wall Street fat cats such as Lord Griffiths, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International, who, while speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral in London about
morality in the marketplace said the British
public should “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater
prosperity for all” (taken from The Guardian via Tony Wikrent of The Economic Populist).  Of course we tried that for over thirty years and it hasn't worked.

Mr. Wikrent (which I am cribbing from) sets out a fairly detailed description of the financial sector's pillage of the rest of the economy since the early eighties that is pretty well summed up in this graph from a July 2003 paper by Economics Professor James Crotty of the UMass, Amherst, The
Neoliberal Paradox: The Impact of Destructive Product Market
Competition and Impatient Finance on Nonfinancial Corporations in the
Neoliberal Era
.  The graph shows the share of the cash flow of Non-Financial Corporations (NFC) that went to the financial markets in the form of interest payments, dividends, and stock buy backs: 

NFC Cash to financial markets

Yes, that is correct that 75% of NFCs' cash flow in 1989 poured out of NFCs and into the financial markets.  Seems suspicious that the financial sector's pillaging of the rest of the economy peaks just before the economy tanks, but I won't take correlation for causation without more information.  

For those who want a history, or is it a clarity, lesson, midtowng at The Economic Populist has a pretty good summary of the causes of our latest economic crisis.  For those who don't have time to read it, here is the conclusion:

So what does this all mean? It means that the reason for the
economic crisis was the asset bubble that preceded it. The "wealth
effect" was a lie.

The reason for the asset bubble was monetary
inflation that got directed almost entirely to the wealthy. They
naturally used it to become wealthier, which means stocks, bonds, and
real estate. The trickle-down theory is a lie.

The reason why the monetary inflation was directed to the wealthy is
because free trade agreements which gutted the income of the working
class and left the nation suffering from economic disparity. The
promises made by free trade proponents was a lie.

In essence, the economic crisis that we are suffering from, and
will continue to suffer from, was caused by too much concentration of
wealth in the upper class. The country will continue to suffer from
these bubble and bust cycles until either the nation addresses the
income disparity, or the rest of the world stops offering to buy our
debt.

One thing I'll note, while I think NAFTA and other free trade agreements had an
effect on the increase in income inequality, income inequality was
rising long before NAFTA and later free trade agreements.  I wouldn't
discount technological changes, the increase in the free flow of
capital and the greediness of the wealthy. 

That said, the 50s & 60s era of shared advancements in income and low debt was replaced in the mid 70s with greater income inequality (50% of all income went to the top 10% in 2007) and increasing debt for the middle class and poor in order to achieve some semblance of upward mobility.  After all, the rich's new found wealth needed to go someplace to gain a return.

And so I have come full circle with a new bubble on the horizon since that is the only option the "leadership" of our highly unequal economy and political system will allow us.


Extradite Polanski!

On "Getting Over It," by Lauren over at Feministe (cited from Boing Boing):

What
does rape do to you? Afterward? It changed me; there is before and
after. Before, a child, playing with Barbies, looking sideways at boys,
wondering. After, confusion. Depression. A litany of fuck-ups and
fuck-its, whatevers, mistakes, trusting no one, least of all myself.
Before, sex was mysterious; after, miasma. I was tarred as a Lolita. I
was called jail bait.

Rape is not the only assault. Around rape is a large segment of the
population that questions the victim, a culture that looks down on
victims for allowing themselves to be victimized, or keep them
victimized, questions about the victim's credibility, questions about
the legacy of rape and how bad it is, because how bad is rape really?
Rape, because various levels and forms of sexual assault are systemic
and pervasive across all societies, exists alongside one's experiences
of unwanted touching, wanted touching, sexual objectification, sexual
desire, sexual harassment, incest, love, leering eyes, cat calls,
roaming hands, consent, confusion, tits, vagina, rectum, penis, mouth,
rape and not-rape, all of it loaded, all of it veering at rape's ugly
legacy, co-mingling, the legacy that tells us to be more careful, to
dress more conservatively, to BE BETTER AT BEING VULNERABLE, or BE MORE
POWERFUL, or BE MORE FEARFUL, or GET OVER IT ALREADY. Rape leaks into
healthy, consensual experiences. It lingers. It pervades.

There is more at the Boing Boing post about Polanski using alcohol and a Quaalude to make it easier to rape her, a link to her testimony clearly indicating that she said no and a quote from Polanski that everyone wants to have sex with girls.  This guy is amazing.  Perhaps someone should give Polanski these tips when he is back in jail:

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1.   Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2.   When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3.   If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4.   NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5.   If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6.   Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7.   USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from
assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in
public.

8.   Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring
friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault.
Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t
communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign
that you do not plan to rape them.

9.   Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone
“on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can
blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect
the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how
“into it” others appear to be.

Shutting down Kula Ring

I recently found the site Just For The Love Of It
that does pretty much what I wanted to do with my Kula Ring project.  It does not do all that I wanted to do, but since they are further along, it just does not make sense to keep Kula Ring around taking up my thoughts and limited attention, if only to worry about not doing it.

So, I am
officially shutting Kula Ring down and will keep the site around as
long as I want to pay for the domain name.  The decision took me all of two days to make, and allows me to concentrate on other projects that I have been thinking about.

I suggest that folks who want to give others the gift of their time and need a tool to help them find folks to give their time to, and more, should go to Just For The Love Of It.