Sunday, September 23, 2012

You talkin’ to me?
The Aggravations of Morality in the realm of Reality, Dreams, and Imagination

Irving A. Lerch


Science requires objective reality that other realms of the human intellectual enterprise appear able to do without.  Thus “Cultural Relativism” has risen with the argument that objective reality is a “Cultural Construct” no more valid than any other cultural construct.[i]  While these ideas may have credence in ethics, theology, cultural anthropology and the “non-quantitative sciences”[ii] they have little relevance for the quantitative sciences except at the interface (neuroscience and molecular genetics as an underlying determinant of social organization or individual behavior for example).  But most important, cultural relativism is the cause of a violent confrontation between assumed values and perceived morality.

Objective reality guides our inquiries.  We cannot know it except to know that it exists.  Otherwise once we obtain a satisfactory answer to a given question, our inquiries would cease.  Observation leads to speculation as to the cause—the reality—giving rise to any phenomenon.  To enhance our observation, new technologies are innovated to improve the precision and accuracy of our measurements which might, in consequence, overturn existing understanding by uncovering discrepancies in our knowledge.  This filigree of associations between observation, modeling and technology has created a vast powerhouse that dominates our intellectual energies, perceptions, economic progress and imagination.  It is the foundation of industrial society.


Deistic belief provides no means for discovering verifiable approximations of truth.  Canonical formalisms must be molded to accommodate a given end even when the resultant world view denies the systemics of science, law, government, economics and philosophy.  Science on the other hand, holds that discoverable truth exists and that all theses are open to question, all propositions must be confirmable and no authority is beyond challenge.  There has been a great deal of nonsense built on the claim that science, like religion, is a faith-based enterprise.  This is sheer sophistry founded on the fabricated consilience of two vastly dissimilar systems.

We are drawn to an objective reality just beyond our grasp because of the inevitable failure of perception and theory to satisfy all that is presently known.  This insures that we will move in the direction of discovery and that always there will be mysteries to solve.

We cannot spontaneously grasp the grand truth that moves the world beyond our dreams although that is the hope of many scientists in hot pursuit of the universal theory of everything (similarly in medieval and renaissance times, the lost sacred knowledge, prisca sapientia, was the irresistible lure for many scholars).  And once we adopt a unifying principal, we hold it fast until it defies experience at which point we must scramble to find refuge within a new edifice that may evaporate before we can set up housekeeping.

A common proposition is that our intelligence is structurally inadequate to grasp the factual laws of nature.  True or not, this is irrelevant as is lamenting our inability to “see” the quarks within the proton or the singularity preceding the Big Bang.  We cannot directly apprehend the fundamental laws that guide the cosmos until we inform our imagination about how and where we must look.


Imagination is the foundation for all creative activity.  For the scientist, the fabric of imagination is a kind of spandex that allows speculation to be channeled in many directions providing it is contained, disciplined and open to exploration.  Newton imagined gravity as an invisible force reaching across space instantaneously—a breech of scientific etiquette.  Einstein saw gravity as the curvature of space that mediated the motion of interacting masses.  The two systems converged at one end of experience but General Relativity explained esoteric divergences at the other end and did away with action at a distance.  How could Newton not be impressed?

What does this say about the conflict between science, culture, politics and religion?  In an age of specialization, we suffer from a fragmentation of knowledge and language.  The non-scientist, excluded, is deeply suspicious of the cadre that dictates the origin of the species and the universe, the cause of global climate change and the nature of human biology in contravention of religious prescripts, economic interests, political views and cultural conditioning.  But this is an ambivalent relationship not marked by total hostility.  There is a fascination with matters scientific and technical which is fed by science popularizers on an industrial scale.

The most important conflict is political.  Science has always been a thorn in the side of the religious establishment which commands that scripture and doctrine dictate the transcendent and corporeal.  Eventually dogma must yield to reality.  But in politics, science confronts governance, economic interests, cultural norms and policy.  Scientists are often portrayed as an interest group and their image as disinterested, truthful observers is attacked by opponents concerned that scientific positions could damage their interests.

Political arguments tend to be about personalities, motives, presumed costs and the distribution of material benefits, not about the merits of propositions, scientific conclusions and the overarching consequences of specific policies.  Scientists are unprepared to respond to attacks on their motives and political operatives are not interested in the intricacies of scientific inquiry.  The 2009 hacking and release of the personal emails of climate scientists in the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in the UK, one of the research centers that constructs various global temperature and precipitation analyses, was presented as proof that advocates of climate change were engaged in deception and fabrication.  The scientific merit of the work of generations of climate scientists was never in dispute.  The subsequent academic investigation and finding that there was no deception or fabrication did little to diminish continuing denunciations.[iii]  Once a charge is leveled, it is repeated, amplified, circulated and given a permanent place in the discourse.  The political pitch is the arena for blood sports.


One problem is that the consequences flowing from scientific innovation—good and bad—cannot easily be defined by experience.  Unseen costs emerge with time.  Another problem is that scientists, as instruments of society, do not control their creativity.  This is the responsibility of the political and commercial establishments.  In sum, science innovates, society disposes.

This brings us to the system of values we rely on to mediate our behavior: morality and ethics.  The scientist must scrupulously adhere to the truth as it is defined in the moment with enough transparency of exchange to promote free flow of information and to permit the independent testing of results and hypotheses.  This provides a basis for ethical conduct but not morality.  Einstein made little distinction between ethics and morality: “A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.”[iv]  This sentiment extended to general morality and he was explicit: “There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair.”[v]

Moral and ethical judgments are derived from a mélange of culture, language, experience, emotional conditioning, education, history, religious predisposition, personal interest and institutional traditions.  This is also characteristic of politics.  Where is the point of convergence between science, politics and religion?  Cultural relativism is not acceptable when it comes to many moral and ethical prescriptions (Westerners condemn ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, female genital mutilation and honor killings) but are unable to agree on others which are very much the province of relativistic values (abortion, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, birth control).

Scientific consensus is rarely accepted at first blush—especially on contentious ground.  Either the science is too convoluted or abstract, or popular interests are under assault, or powerful constituencies have mobilized to convince the public that the science is unproven.  Shouldn’t the scientist be satisfied by exploring nature and allowing others to define the implications?  Or must the scientist put science into an ethical and moral frame and engage in political ripostes?

The danger is that if scientists relinquish to others the interpretation of their work, pressure will mount to suppress the support, and perhaps, the intellectual freedom essential to the successful progress of the scientific enterprise.  Religion and government have often moved to marginalize scientists in an effort to retain their hold on power even as the fruits of science have revolutionized warfare and economies—FDR insured that atomic policy remained exclusively in executive hands, in a sense, mirroring the Vatican’s attempt to control science through the publication of doctrinal Papal Bulls.[vi]

Yet once in a while the moral and ethical interests of science, government and religion converge (the atmospheric test ban treaty of 1963 and the 2007 declaration by Pope Benedict XVI urging bishops, scientists and politicians to “… respect Creation …” while “… focusing on the needs of sustainable development.”  Nonetheless the reality of science is inadequate to move the political and heavenly firmaments.

Ethics and Morals

When confronting irrationality, our devotion to reality must take a back seat to our moral standing.  The province of ethics is professional and personal behavior, the adherence to norms as defined by society and the professional community.  Morality encompasses a much larger arena: individual and collective responsibility for the welfare of society.  But morality is malleable depending on the narrowness of view.  Conflict can arise when a moral position may be at loggerheads with ethical conduct or if moral proscriptions appear to put in jeopardy a larger good.  Is it ethical to misrepresent the facts of a case if a moral end is at stake?  Or—to belabor a popular argument—is it ethical or moral to torture a terrorist if you are certain that he has planted a bomb in some public place?

Of course what appears a Hobson’s choice is, on examination, no choice or, more precisely, a false choice.  We need not dwell on whether torture produces the desired result or whether lying in court will lead to the desired verdict (whose?).  Stripped of such meretricious absurdities the question remains: What is the proper moral and ethical position of a scientist engaged in political discourse?  The simple answer is to engage in rigorous research, tell the truth, admit uncertainties, and cage all arguments in a moral framework expressing concern for the public good.  When assailed with factual falsehoods, contradictions and irrelevancies, to advance arguments with force, persistence and without malice.

Debates in the public arena are often brutally nasty and unfair.  The stakes are large and emotionally charged.  It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to maintain equanimity.  In the past, conflicts between the religious establishment and science have also been mean-spirited but in our time these quarrels have been muted since reality becomes the final arbiter.

What is lost is the simple fact that such disputes are held in public and that scientists and other academics, the fourth estate, politicians, economic interests, religions and institutions are not the sole interlocutors.  The general public has a seat at the table and they are often voiceless because they have no megaphone.  What is needed is a mechanism for direct confrontation and exchange.  This is the province of the news media but their focus has been on hyping quarrels and antagonisms, not on serving as a channel of exchange.

The rules of debate tend to promote rhetorical combat, not understanding.  Turning to the methods of Socrates (ignoring his failed understanding of the natural world), what is needed is a kind of “Town Hall” format mediated by fiercely disinterested referees whose sole purpose is to insure that private citizens are given the opportunity to explore the science, politics, economics and social dimensions of an issue.  This does not mean that scientists give lectures, clergy give sermons and politicians rouse passions.  Scientists may explain their science and their personal positions.  But the focus must be on mutual exchange—dialog (or to invoke a much abused word—dialectics) where fabrication and fuzzy logic are challenged.  There must be taxonomy of human exchange whereby the world of science, religion and politics meet in the mind of the public to explore the great issues.  Perhaps somewhere in the democracy of the cybersphere there is a prescription for sanity.

Irving Lerch

24 September 2012

[iii] Sir Muir Russell, The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review, July, 2010
Patrick Johnson, “Climate scientists exonerated in 'climategate' but public trust damaged,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010 []
[iv] New York Times, 11/9/30
[v] Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)
[vi] Most famously Alexander VII Bull of 1664 condemning, “…all books teaching the movement of the Earth and the stability of the Sun.”  This codified his predecessor’s (Urban VIII) condemnation of Galileo in 1633.

Victims, Bullies and Bozos

Truth can be ignored
Unless it comes as a thief
And takes away our floor
Of childish belief
So now we chide the victim
In a chorus with the bully
Who professed a dictum
Of goodness more fully
Achieved without assistance
From man or government
By Mitt’s unique insistence
That he is heaven sent
We have all been immersed in a drama of sudden truth with Mitt Romney blaming the “47%” for his woes as a candidate for president.  All this is not without irony, because Mitt spoke from his heart that had remained hidden until the “secret” video was made public.  This is the same Mitt who exercised leadership by getting his prep school friends to hold down a gay classmate while Mitt forcibly cut his hair.  While Mittens complained that 47 per cent of voters acted as victims and were dependent upon government, he ignored the fact that he had actually caused the creation of victims at Bain and that Mitt depended on the largess of that same government to allow him to grab the pensions of those victims and to secure a lower tax rate for himself by doing so.

I will relate some specifics about Bain and Mitts bullying that seems consistent over the years, but first, I need to illustrate, by example, what happens in Free Enterprise when Bullies and Bozos run businesses.  During the 1970s and early 1980s, I headed a training department for a bank in Connecticut.  Things went so well, that we began to do training for correspondent banks.  I had a skilled and dynamic group.  My staff and I recommended that we become a profit center by charging other banks enjoying the service.  We were rebuffed because management felt that it was a good will gesture to provide training and not an item of direct income.  All this was fine until some senior management bozos decided that our bank could not live without entering foreign investment.  They established a lending office in London with 29 locals and quickly built a portfolio of all shipping: all oil, all tankers, all of Greek registry.  There was no equivalent of the loan committees we used as policy in the United States.  Soon, the oil market went bad and all the tankers were anchored in Athens harbor.  All the loans went sour.  Who needs loan committees that might veto stupid loans?  Not my bank.  Within a few months, we were purchased by Bank of Boston who a few years later repeated similar management blunders.

What were the results in Connecticut?  There were victims.  The entire training department was eliminated.  Some might call this downsizing; others might call it trimming expenses, but for the training department, it was a loss of work, pride, self-esteem and dignity.  When VP “Earl the Pearl” informed me, of course, his opening line was:  “George, this is nothing personal.”  What can be more personal than losing your job when you know that you did well at it?  Lindsey (not her real name) ran Teller Training.  She was masterful at training and evaluating tellers; held a Masters Degree; she was brilliant, warm, humorous and personable where, at times, I could be confrontational and challenging (to be kind to myself).  She beat me hands down on the interpersonal scale.  Bozos cause victims including nice people who know what they are doing.  I found work in California.  Lindsey found work in Connecticut. My family survived on my wife Louise’s income as a teacher, savings, and my severance money until we moved to California.  Lindsey used her severance and survived between jobs.  I don’t agree with the charge by Romney that paycheck people are not responsible or motivated.  Victims don’t want to be victims and they work to find work.

In California, a major aerospace company seemed to be a good match for my engineering background and my training skills, but after I agreed to work for this firm, it was acquired by a larger firm with no record in high technology.  Soon, this company of 85,000 employees announced a stock price goal of (memory) $65.00 and waves (spasms) of reductions-in-force began.  I used my experience and skill to help the transition where I could, but the layoffs had no aerospace basis.  Workers with higher salaries were generally fired first and then those of lower salaries until the workforce dwindled to 28,000 and the stock price was achieved.  The firm could no longer bid on government contracts because it had lost most of its talent.  At that point “X,” having met Wall Street goals, sold off the remaining pieces.  This big company provided a small example of how a bully proceeds in business decisions.  Engineers, as they were laid off, were told that they would get severance if and only if they signed to never work for the company again.  Unless you met very strict rules, you could not retire early and your severance depended on being compliant with tough conditions.  I counseled an engineer who worked for “X” for 32 years.”  “Sam” had known no other employer and was crushed that the company simply threw him away without the possibility of retirement.  He had never written a resume.  He, like all the others, was fired and unceremoniously escorted out of his workspace by security because “X” did not trust him.  “Company X” truly feared sabotage after 32 years?  This was Hollywood without the film.  Victimhood?  Well, there were heart attacks and strokes and lawsuits, but this is business and corporations are people, right?  I talked with another engineer who had created a hundred patents for the firm.  His reward was severance.

Let’s examine the issue of Romney’s 47% through the same lens of personal experience.  When managerial incompetence caused the bank to fail, what did Lindsey and I do?  We pumped out resumes and interviewed like crazy to find work just like 99+% of people you know.  Lindsey completed a second Masters.  I renewed my job-hunting skills but was not one of the remaining 28,000 selected by the bullies at “X.”  What happened was clear. Just as happened at Bain, the business decision had no human component in the decision to fire employees.  There may be a negative component of greed in some transactions, but blindness and numbness to another’s pain is more likely.  Ultimately, I opened my own business and worked 7 days a week to build it.  Clearly, that put me in the 47%.

Bain Capital was in the business of creating wealth and not creating jobs.  There is no support for Romney’s claim for creating 100,000 jobs, and when you examine Bain’s method of loading purchased companies with debt and then liquidating them, the standard result is fewer jobs.  Wealth accumulation through ploys such as absorbing pension funds earmarked for employees were then grasped by Bain for profit.  Ampad, Kaybee Toys, a steel company and a medical equipment company, etc. were essentially leveraged buyouts where Bain cashed in loans of purchased companies, absorbed pensions, took management fees and cut staff in order to maximize profit.  These transactions were about 10% of the total number of buyouts, but it was a 100% disaster for employees at these firms.  The Human Side of Enterprise as discussed by Douglas McGregor was never part of the process.  Yet there is a deep human toll.  We are each measured by our jobs and that includes our self-measurement.  Except perhaps for a death, there is no more severe blow to anybody’s psyche and health than the loss of a good job.  It matters not whether the job is physical or intellectual, it is a crushing loss.  Still, people are resilient and the Romney accusation that 47% of people are too lazy or dependent on the government is simply not supported by the facts.  The list of folks that do not pay income taxes includes many my age the infirm, and those temporarily out of work or earning so little that income taxes do not accrue.  Payroll taxes do accrue and most pay these taxes while the 4,000 or so millionaires on the 47% list pay neither. For decades, now, one role of government has been to help choose winners and losers through tax policy.  I can hear the murmuring already.  Redistribution of wealth…socialism…well, not exactly.  If you can understand that any policy for tariffs, subsidies or taxes automatically favors one group and not another, then you begin to understand the issue.  To place a tariff on tea disproportionately affects tea drinkers and does little to coffee drinkers.  To provide Big Oil some $ 4 Billion in subsidies each year assists Big Oil and does not assist start up companies in competing energy industries.  So is the case with corn for ethanol and Big Pharma (recall the drug donut hole in the Bush drug law).  Granting investors a lower income tax rate than wage earners favors investment and Wall Street and does not help people on salary or wages.  The direction of the redistribution reflects the values of our society and the power of lobbyists to create the supporting laws.  For example, Romney has stated that he pays only as much income tax as required by law, but he has personally lobbied Congress (with others) to favor investment income including generous investment tax credits that can accumulate and “carried interest” that is a specific grant to people like Romney and Wall Street.  (For 2011, he instructed his accounting firm not to use all his deductions so that he could match his word that he pain at least 14%, otherwise his tax would have been at 9.6%.  If he loses the election, he can amend that return and get the cash back.)  Bain was also able to convert management fees into “investments” to avoid taxes altogether.  Individuals cannot do that.  Of course, they were merely taking advantage of the law.  Please don’t look behind the curtain to see how the law was created.  From Politicofact, 21 September 2012.

 Though he's been gone from Bain for over a decade, Romney continues to rake in millions from accounts with the firm—and in 2007, he took Bain's side in a key lobbying battle with Washington—one that saved him millions of dollars.
2007, as it turns out, was something of a watershed for private equity lobbying: In that year, lobbying expenditures for the industry practically tripled. The spike was the result of an industry-wide effort to preserve a number of tax giveaways for the finance industry and its CEOs—including the carried interest rule, a tax loophole that allows Romney and other private equity mavens to reduce their taxes by millions of dollars. Carried interest refers to the commission that private equity and hedge fund executives receive for managing investors' money. Although commissions may seem like ordinary income to the rest of us, the carried interest loophole allows some money managers to claim this income as long-term capital gains, which are taxed at a rate much lower (15 percent) than the top tax rate for normal income (35 percent).
After Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, they advanced several pieces of legislation that threatened to end this lucrative quirk of the tax code and other tax policies that favor the rich. Mitt Romney, who made just over $20 million in investment income in 2010, wasn't having any of it. During an August 2007 appearance on Kudlow & Company, Romney was asked what he thought of the effort to close the loophole. He wasn't happy. "I want people to be able to save their money and invest in America's economy tax-free," Romney said. "I want to lower taxes. I want to lower marginal rates across the board. I want to lower taxes for corporations," he told Kudlow.
Bain was doing its part to make Romney's vision a reality. The firm spent $300,000 between August of 2007 and April of 2008 lobbying the House and Senate on bills that threatened the carried interest loophole. Along with other private equity titans like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Apollo Management, Bain and its ilk paid lobbying shops, public relations firms, and trade groups like Ogilvy and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council an estimated $15 million between January 2009 and April 2010 to convince lawmakers to keep the loophole alive. The force of those combined lobbying efforts kept the carried interest loophole wedged open, denying the federal government some $10 billion in revenues in the process. "Everyone who has looked at this boondoggle [of carried interest] thinks it's an egregious giveaway," Jacob Hacker, the co-author (with Paul Pierson) of Winner-Take-All Politics, says. "It still lives because of the lobbying of the industry, and in particular the PEGCC."

Romney has stated that his role at Bain was inactive after 1999 despite SEC filings to the contrary.  He appears to have lied.  That is important because his 2010 tax returns show that he took a 35% write off on Bain investments.  The IRS only allows that for ACTIVE and not PASSIVE investors.  Maybe God would want it that way, but the IRS does not.  When he wins, it is at only a 15% tax rate, but when he loses, he gets to write it off at 35%.  No, you cannot do that.  You are in the 47%.  Don’t try this at home or the IRS will have you on a poster as a law-breaker.  Well, maybe Mittens has different definitions of Active for the IRS than for you and me.  Maybe he was Active for the IRS and Inactive for campaigning.

That brings me to the final observation.  God rewards the blessed and punishes those having the stain of sin, even if that sin was handed down from an earlier generation.  The predestination element of Calvinism remains in our culture.  Some people are simply blessed by God and they deserve the riches of this life and the next.  If you are in the 47% or even in the 98%, tough luck, amigo.  You should have been born to better parents.  It is interesting that Mittens claims that he succeeded all by himself and had no inheritance while his wife claims that Mitt had a million dollars in stock as his inheritance that they lived on while attending college.  Maybe Mitt forgot, or has a higher threshold for calling an inheritance an inheritance.  Then again, it could be that Mittens invested while in the womb and can take personal credit.  These mysteries are complex and way beyond me.  All these phenomena are something like the genes that you inherit from your parents except that these are spiritual genes (no, not jeans).  This explains why some of us prosper and others do not.  It also explains why some folks seem arrogant and haughty.  It is a corollary gift from God.

George Giacoppe
24 Sep 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Land of the Free?

On this year's California ballot there are two propositions that deal with crime and punishment. Prop. 34 attempts, once again, to amend the draconian Three Strikes Law and Prop. 36 asks voters to join most of the civilized world by repealing the death penalty. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party supports both propositions while the ever backward looking Republican Party is true to its conservative roots by opposing any change. An interesting, and
perhaps relevant statistic is that when you add up all the states that voted for McCain and all the states that voted for Obama in 2008 those red states had a 5.8% higher rate of violent crime than the blue states and an 8% higher rate of property theft.

Before I go into why change is needed in these areas, let's look at where crime and punishment currently is in our United States. The USA has 5% of the world's population and imprisons about 25% of the world's inmates. Starting
in 2011, the U.S. prison population was 2,266,362. About one out of every 138 Americans is behind bars, or 743 per 100,000. Compare this with our neighborCanada who has 117, or Japan with only 59. Russia with 584 is a distant
second to America, which proudly claims to be the Land of the Free. So what is going on here? Are Americans far more evil and violent than other people around the world so that we have to protect society by locking
them up? I don't think so. According to Wikipedia the rapid increase in prison population took off in 1980 with Ronald Reagan's war on drugs that sent so many nonviolent drug users to prison. Despite the long record of failure
in the war on drugs, most Republicans, except for Libertarians, and many Democrats are unwilling to incur voter wrath by being labeled as soft on crime. Typically federal courts sentence drug offenders from 5 to 10 years,
while in the rest of the developed world they might get 6 months. Also, we pay judges good money to use their common sense and experience and then we impose mandatory sentencing guidelines so they can't use it. In the case of Three Strikes, people are actually serving life sentences for stealing a bicycle or a pizza. Another serious defect of the Three Strikes law is that innocent people plea bargain to crimes they didn't commit because they just can't risk a guilty verdict.

I believe the problem is that as a political strategy in America, it's hard to be too tough on crime. Just like the defense budget, a politician can't say "We can't afford to spend this much on defense". It's hard for a politician
to get elected by saying, "We can't afford to spend this much on crime," because that sounds like saying we are too hard on criminals.

Perhaps if the average voter thought about how much prisons cost and if the money is really well spent he might be more open to reasonable policies being used in other countries. Cost estimates range from $24,000 per prisoner per
year to over $40,000 in states like California. When you include the $5.1 billion spent building new prisons, the cost to the taxpayer is $60 billion. Politicians rarely say we are going to raise your taxes so we can imprison
record numbers of Americans. It's easy for politicians to say, "Lock them up and throw away the key" if they don't mention the cost. Aggravating the problem is the fact that many prisoners are mentally ill, or mentally
retarded and are often there because were too poor to be adequately represented. The 'tough on crime mentality' in this country has also led to young teens and children being tried as adults. Here again, you have this stark difference between the two parties. Republicans want to look tough and strong by making the goals of incarceration to be punishment and retribution while Democrats tend to believe that protecting society and
rehabilitation should be the goal.

Amending Three Strikes would save California from $150 to $200 million a year, but more than that, we should consider the human cost Three Strikes causes in wasted lives and broken families.

The list of countries that execute ten or more people a year are 1. China, 2. Iran, 3. Saudi Arabia, 4. Iraq, 5. United States (43/year), 6. Yemen, 7. North Korea, and, 8. Somalia. These are mostly authoritarian countries that use the death penalty for political purposes. Do you want to be on this list with these countries?

Listed in the voter guide as to why California should end the death penalty, as 33 other states have done, is that "It is intrinsically wrong", which seems to be acurate but vague. I would argue that if murder is wrong then the state
committing murder in the name of its citizens is also ethically wrong. There is an old adage the "Two wrongs don't make a right" that applies here. Premeditation is used as a major factor to determine whether or not the death
penalty will apply. No murder is more premeditated than when the state executes someone.

Dave Silva
18 September 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Puking over Republicans

I’m noticing one overriding fact in writing about Republicans as they leer towards the end of their convention. I feel more and more nauseated by having to watch them, listen to them, sniff their pasty souls and outrageous deceptions. As one vivid example, Republicans have spent the last year and more raising alarms about the chief problem facing our country: the deficit. We owe trillions of dollars, is their mantra, and Obama has been the most irresponsible president in history in running up that debt. But as Matt Taibbi pointed out in a hard-hitting article in Rolling Stone yesterday (Aug. 29), it is actually Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, who are the debt mongers. Here is what he says:

"Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth."

What Taibbi is referring to, of course, is Romney’s reign at Bain Capital, the “private equity” company he headed for years, and through which he made his big money. That’s because the way “leveraged buyouts” (LBOs) work is by the gathering of a small amount of capital (by companies like Bain) with which to borrow huge amounts of money (borrowing a lot with only a little is called “leverage”) from the likes of Goldman Sachs, so they can take over a given company. One example Taibbi uses is the buyout of KB Toys. In that case, Bain put up $18 million of its own, and then borrowed no less than $302 million from investment banks to complete the deal. Then Bain induced KB Toys to “redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans - $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney.” Long story short, KB Toys went into bankruptcy (because, you see, the company is saddled with the huge debt Bain borrowed to buy it, and has to pay it off, often an impossibility, even after laying off half its workers), while Bain earned a return of “at least 370% on the deal” or up to 900% if the assertion of Big Lots, LB Toys’ former parent company, is correct. In dollar terms, that is, Bain added more than $300 million in debt to KB Toys, and took out more than $120 million in cash via fees and other perks. As usual, they managed to do this by giving big bonuses to the company’s top managers: “CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.” Of course, mere workers were left with no jobs and no money at all when the company, formerly a successful maker of things, went belly up.
Now we have Mitt Romney, and his current attack dog, Paul Ryan (but really, doesn’t Ryan look like some bug-eyed Disney cartoon?) excoriating President Obama for piling up $5 trillion in debt. This is the Republican mantra. Debt will bring down our country. Debt is the cancer eating away at the American dream. Government simply can’t afford to spend any money on frills—by which they mean, of course, social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or any kind of welfare programs whatever (other than corporate welfare, of course). Austerity, that’s the only way to get out of our debt crisis. And the fact that Mitt is the great debt creator himself, or that economic history has proven that austerity fails to solve depressions, and in fact makes them worse—because the problem, as Paul Krugman has pointed out endlessly, is that austerity reduces employment, and people without jobs can’t afford to spend money, so businesses don’t invest, having no one to sell to, hence the depression—matters not a jot. Romney and most Republican movers and shakers, that is, are investors. And investors make their money by being paid back in currency that is more, not less valuable. If money that debtors pay back is less valuable, then investors lose. This is the whole story in a nutshell. The deficit becomes the prime concern of the investor class because they fear that inflation rises from it; and inflation, whether it be rising prices, or an increase in the money supply (which is what finances stimulus programs to put people back to work), cheapens the value of the dollars they have invested. Being paid back in cheaper dollars is a loss to them. What they really want is to be paid back in more valuable dollars—the result of deflation. They can’t opt for too much deflation, of course, because that would bring down the whole system. But enough deflation to bring sufficient pain to the poor bastards who have borrowed from them, and a somewhat greater return on their investments, is just right. This is the core of the “hard, courageous” choices they pretend to make as leaders: pain and deprivation for the working stiffs, the ones who borrow, so the investor class and financiers can have ever bigger cars and houses and yachts and private schools for their precious offspring.
This makes the upcoming election starker than any in recent memory. If the Republicans manage to convince the benighted American public of the rightness of their deficit analysis, and win this election to put Romney in the driver’s seat, with a Republican congress to allow him to implement his austerity program (austerity for you and me, that is, not for the investor class who can count on lower tax rates and bigger loopholes in which to hide their money), watch out. The nation will be even more the plaything of the moneyed class, while the so-called “entitlement” programs that keep the unemployed from falling off the edge entirely, will be decimated. We simply can’t afford them, will be the Republican rationale. Which is to say, we simply can’t afford the poor.
What we will be able to afford are even more and bigger mansions for the likes of corporate raiders like Romney, and even better financial deals for his backers—the Goldman Sachses, the Morgan Stanleys, the Citigroups, and dear old Sheldon Adelson. I may need a whole blog to cover the latter—the most foul, scabrous creature that has appeared on a national scene since Charles Dickens was portraying them in his novels—but here, suffice it to say, this is the guy who earns his money running a gambling empire, the Sands Corporation, that is even now under investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of bribery (in China) and money laundering (everywhere). Nice fellow. And Adelson has said in no uncertain terms, that he will personally spend at least $100 million to get Republicans elected not just to the presidency, but to Congress as well. If he succeeds, of course, there will be a new Attorney General, and (he no doubt hopes and intends) his legal problems will go away. There will also be a more generous and cooperative (read ‘obsequious’) policy towards Israel’s Likudniks, as well as a more aggressive policy towards Iran and other Israeli “enemies” like Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians, and just about the whole middle east.
In short, a disaster. So while earlier I had suggested that it might be time for progressives to start thinking in terms of third-party candidates, the situation has become too dire for that. Obama must win a second term. Otherwise, we will be buried beneath a deluge of corporate money and power the likes of which we haven’t seen since Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan and their fellow robber barons ran the government as their own private fiefdom—though not even then would they have dared put one of their own, nakedly proclaiming his greed, in the White House.

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GOP Pronunciation

We have been hard on our GOP brothers
Yet their trickledown smothers
Making it more than just strange
They go backwards for change
Perhaps we’ve missed all the meaning
And there’s more that we should be gleaning
When they add to our debt
By “no tax” pledges and wars they forget
We have all been chasing a rabbit
And the Right has made it a habit
To make jobs overseas
Despite all the pleas
By workers who want work and pension
Instead of handouts and tension
Or vouchers for health and schools
While being taken as fools

All this time, I have been bewildered by the GOP talking about jobs and yet legislating only social engineering projects in the House. In fact, in order to train the millions of Americans who simply want to work for a living to learn patience, they are testing our memories and patience. There may have excellent support that the GOP should not run their campaign by fact checking. It destroys delusions.

At the state level, we have seen a refusal to accept federal monies to enhance their Medicaid (which includes child healthcare) while simultaneously adding to “small” government by passing and financing laws to mandate ultrasound (including transvaginal ultrasound in some GOP states). Is this social engineering reminiscent of the old USSR? Maybe worse. At least in the USSR, an individual did not have to pay for an unnecessary medical act mandated by the government. Remember that abortion, regardless of the discomfort it brings in discussions, is still legal in our United States. So the party of “small government” that threw months of hissy-fits about “Obamacare” being mandatory are demanding that women in seven states pay for the MANDATED medically unnecessary procedure to undergo another medical procedure. Hmm. Small government? Exactly where? Will we have a small government staff for each woman who must have government ultrasounds and one for maintaining the unequal pay for equal work rules? Will we have another small government to ensure that these uppity women don’t get contraceptives? The GOP platform mandates that women who are victims of rape must bear the children of rape so, in effect, the small government acting in loco fetus chooses the fetus over the rights of the mother to have a legal procedure performed to protect her physical and mental health. I am currently reading Half the Sky that points out dramatically that the most repressive regimes abuse women the most. Are we headed to a link up with the Taliban? According to authors Kristof and WuDunn, more egregious violators of women include India, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Are we crowding women out of political expression here so that they are property once again? So we abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment? Are we circumventing that amendment state by state and causing women to lose their hard won independence? By curtailing women’s healthcare funding and attacking Planned Parenthood, are we marginalizing women in the US so they are no longer a factor in our society except to bear children as the State mandates but without financial assistance?

There are a number of other curious ironies by the party that touts freedom but acts to enhance the role of government in the home and family. Some are personal and reflect back on their disdain for fact checking. Paul Ryan claimed a “two hour and fifty-something” marathon a couple weeks ago, even when challenged by the interviewer Hewitt who recognized that as an amazing time. It was only when Runner’s World documented his actual time that was well over 4 hours that he claimed a “misstatement.” His running mate Romney, while governor of Massachusetts claimed both MA and UT as his residence and only after that fact being pointed out did he reimburse MA for taxes not paid. Lie, of course not, it was an error by his accountants. We have all heard the spin by Ryan that Obama failed to follow the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. He omitted the fact that he, Ryan, voted against Simpson-Bowles and that he, Ryan, actually led the GOP commissioners in voting against it. Why not blame Obama? Maybe he won’t notice. Similarly, Ryan blasted Obama for “looting” $716 Billion from Medicare. He, Ryan, also eliminated $716 Billion from Medicare and his came from benefits instead of payments to providers like hospitals as the Obama plan does. Ryan’s Medicare would last only until 2016 when he could save it by destroying it much like our criticism from Vietnam. The establishment of Voucher-nation would also include education. The idea of this pure marketplace is brilliant. We will put individual taxpayers in the position of bargaining with large, wealthy private providers to get a good price for medical and education services. He will restore the donut hole in medication pricing to help those poor pharmaceuticals along while we bargain. Now let me think. Can I trade a medical voucher for services like getting my broken down used car fixed so I can drive to all my minimum wage jobs to keep my family together? No matter. Mittens says I should borrow money from my parents. “Oh, they died? Find some living parents who will lend you money.”

As I said, we have been too hard on our GOP friends and we have set the bar too high. After all, they brought us the two greatest financial calamities in the past century, the Great Depression by Harding and Coolidge and Hoover and the Great Wall Street Fraud by GW Bush. Who were we to know that trickle-down referred to the pee down your leg instead of money? They were right, and the pee trickled down. Now they talk of millions of jobs and they will be right again. Just be sure to pronounce it as JOBES. I can assure you that with vouchers and without guaranteed healthcare coverage, we will see millions of people suffering to compete with Job and his medical afflictions. We will see women returned to their rightful place promoting men in the home and hearts of the nation. We will see the wealthy getting wealthier but slimmer so they can fit like tiny camels through the eyes of needles. We will see the poor carrying water for the parched lips of the wealthy as in the biblical allusions amended by the religious right. There will be the opportunity to buy education-by-voucher if you did not spend that voucher on food. This is the Brave New World. You had better be brave or you cannot compete in the new Darwinian experiment from the right. It is a new approach to an open market where there are no impediments like regulations on the corporations that caused the Wall Street collapse. This is where risky investments are rewarded by success or bailout and you can share in the next bailout on your minimum wage job, Job.

You may not share in the profits and your paycheck may be smaller, but you will be free to bargain and to borrow money from your parents. Is life good or what, Job? You have learned patience in your afflictions and now you can enjoy the payoff. No need to retire, Bain has your pension money. No time to get sick and you have new choices with your freedom. Job, do you buy medicine or food? Do you train for new skills or buy food with that voucher? Do you feel the power?

Please vote. The Job you save may be your own. Is it jobs or Jobs? Maybe it is all in the pronunciation. Could it make a difference? Can you make a difference? Will women remember in November? So do a little fact checking and maybe you can avoid the next trickle-down. Those pants may be the last you will own and you don’t want to pee in them.

George Giacoppe
7 Sep 2012