Category Archives: Punishment

The Myth of Bootstraps

There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.

I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.

But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?

No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?

All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Myths brought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that  memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.

…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,

James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States. 

His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…

…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.

As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple… 

…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity. 

Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work. 

The above hits the high points without getting into the meat of the episode, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,

In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.

This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.

“You had a population that wanted to cling to those things because it justified them not sharing.” – Jack Frech Athens County welfare director

As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.

The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.

“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.” – Thomas Paine Agrarian Justice The Writings of Thomas Paine pg 331

The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.

I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.

Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?

The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.

Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.

We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of  the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.

Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.” 

Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way.  Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.

While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.

The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.

Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,

Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.

I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.

So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.

Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.

The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.

When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.

For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.

This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,

Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.

I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.

I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.

It’s not about IQ… it’s the context you inhabit

In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?

With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.

Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.

“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.

It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.

It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.

In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.

With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.

Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.

In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.

It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.

There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.

Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.

Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.

When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.

With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

This brings me full circle. From bootstraps to bootstraps. How can you lift yourself with your own bootstraps when you have no boots? Casey Gerald asks that very question in a TED talk that I favorited over a year ago. I love this talk. It makes me cry and laugh and cry.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe.”Casey Gerald

Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly.  We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real. 

Quentin Tarantino Doesn’t Hate Cops

One of my online comments on this article over at the Washington Times. The title alone was enough to set me off;

“Quentin Tarantino called police on home intruder less than two weeks before anti-cop speech”

For instance, the speech wasn’t “anti-cop”, that is simply repeating the misinformation spread by the police union representative. So even the title is inaccurate on its face. Tarantino had an interview on MSNBC yesterday in which he spelled out the context of his speech, and the reason why he used the term murderers in relation to the specific murders which have been committed by cops.

The hysteria surrounding the population’s willingness to film and confront police officers who are clearly not acting in the best interest of the general population is just that. Hysterical. As in, hysterically funny.  My response to this is to start a Quentin Tarantino viewing marathon.  To plan on watching his new film even though I hadn’t even heard of it until this story broke.  Congratulations fear-mongering police supporters, you’ve made money for Tarantino with your stupidity on this subject.

Robert Reich’s Big Picture for Fixing the Economy

The series of  linked videos below highlight ideas to fix the economy, the top 11 12 points on Robert Reich‘s mind when it comes to our current economic problems.  These aren’t rocket science or socialism, just some pretty hard-nosed factual recommendations; and we’d do well to follow them.  They run contrary to the long debunked refrain of Reaganomics or trickle-down economics that has held sway in the US since Ronaldus Maximus was President, long before most of the people currently breathing on this planet were born.

They also run counter to most current libertarian economic theory. It is painful to say this, but most libertarian thought on the subject of economics is so woefully uneducated that I almost balk at calling them out. Doing so is not likely to be profitable based on the standard of keeping old friends. As I was crafting this article a post from a good friend on Facebook showed up, trumpeting the flat tax proposals of Libertarian darling Rand Paul.

A flat tax will do nothing to recapture the ill-gotten gains of the wealthiest Americans, the people who profited from the latest boom and bust, as well as the previous boom and bust cycles. Cycles that have grown shorter and shorter since deregulation went into effect under…  Ronald Reagan, who was also influenced by libertarian ideas of his time.

Recapturing this cash and redistributing it to the vast majority of Americans through increased pay and investment in infrastructure is essential if we are going to build a functioning economy and not fuel the next cycle of boom and bust.  It is the outrageous amounts of cash that allow the 1% to engage in risky stock market betting like we’ve seen since the 1980’s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A word about the composition of this post. Linking videos that are native on Facebook is a stupidly fiddly process, and Facebook is where I found these videos first. Consequently the text intro for each is a Facebook link, while the videos are from Youtube, giving me the ability to watch and comment on each video while it is running.

#1 is raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

There are several common misconceptions about the minimum wage. He hits most of those points in the video. The free market types who object to minimum wage laws on the basis that it interferes with employer/employee contracts, or that it could cause inflation, only see part of the bigger picture which Reich addresses in the video.  Commerce relies on the majority of the population being able to afford the goods generally available to that population.  That means paying the working class enough for them to live on.

#2 is to make work family friendly.

I quit my regular job to raise our second child. We could not afford to put our child into expensive daycare; and really, I wanted to spend time at home with what I knew would be our last baby, having missed seeing much of our firstborn’s early years due to the demands of an architectural career in the job climate prevalent in the US.  Had it been possible for me to take on outsource work at home, work from home, etc. the impact on our families’ finances would have been less drastic. Had it been possible for the Wife to spend meaningful time with the baby while still working in her tech career, I might not have had to give up architecture for a few years longer, might have enjoyed my final years in my chosen profession before being sidelined with a disability.

#3 is to expand Social Security.

As a current Social Security beneficiary, I should probably recuse myself from commenting on this video. Still, it bears mentioning that the the cap that he focuses on is far too low (because of past inflation) and that rather than set a dollar figure cap, if a higher cap is the compromise solution, there should be a median income calculation involved in determining what the cap should be.  Inflation will continue. Wages will continue to rise. Upper range incomes will continue to get higher unless we re-institute confiscatory income tax (90% as it was when introduced) for high wage earners. Might as well write laws that take it into account.

#4 is to bust up Wall Street.

How I wish this one stood a chance of happening.  I only do business with a bank when I’m required to; unfortunately that happens more today than it did in decades past. The reason for this is the lax rules on banks that should never have been relaxed in the first place.

Most of what is happening today is reminiscent of what occurred at the turn of the last century.  One of the books I’m currently reading is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism much of the battle the occurred then is re-occurring now.  Nearly daily I get a sense of deja vu reading the news.  I recognize this struggle.  It is a shame that more people do not learn from history.

#5 is how to reinvent education.

This one carried no real news for me. Having gotten one child through college and working on getting the second one through high school, and being an involved parent, has left me with few delusions about the state of US schools.  They are pathetic.  So pathetic, in fact, that I paid for private school for my children (Montessori) until their needs weren’t met by the school. Then I took the time to make sure they went to good charter schools, magnet schools, etc.  Anything except the standard schools offered to average Texans.

The objection often raised to charter schools is that they are religious in nature.  While it is true that some alternative schools are religious, the schools I selected for my children have actually had less religious content (generally) than the public schools in Texas promote.  Sometimes people seek alternatives for very good reasons.

#6 is to end corporate welfare.

This is an old favorite of mine.  If corporations get handouts then everyone should get handouts; because the corporations demonstrably don’t need anything to continue existing.  They have no physicality to maintain, being figments of law in the first place.  We would be much better off handing money to every citizen rather than handing it out to corporations.

#7 is to strengthen labor unions.

I’ve never been a fan of unions; still, it is hard to argue against the positive effects that collective bargaining can bring to the employment side of the equation.  Collective bargaining levels the playing field when negotiating with large employers.  Unionization lead to days off, 8 hour work days, breaks for meals, extra pay for overtime, etc, etc, etc.

When capitalists spit at socialism in my presence these days, I point out the benefits that have come to the working masses due to the influence of socializing forces like unionization.  If you don’t want to go back to working nude in the same place you sleep, with your children huddled around you at night for warmth because your employer is too cheap to heat the workplace (read The Bully Pulpit as mentioned previously) unions are a good thing to have.

#8 is to raise the estate tax on the very wealthy.

Everyone who can work, should work.  The existence of a wealthy class who feel entitled to live off of the earnings of their parents and grandparents is contrary to the ideals that the US was founded on. Contrary to the Midwestern work ethic most of us grew up with. It is hard enough for me as a disabled person who is lucky to get from the bed to the chair some days to justify not working.  I can’t even fathom the thought processes of the 1% who wouldn’t dream of working for a living.

Or to quote Chris Rock ‘If poor people knew how rich the rich are, there would be riots’.

This isn’t one of the series I’m commenting on here, but it bears reposting;

It and the other videos in the playlist talk about this same subject, how wealth inequality is worse than it has been in almost a century, and the last time it was like this, the economy didn’t improve until after we fought the second world war.  That should not be a direction we should head in this time around.

Also in that playlist is a trailer for Robert Reich‘s excellent film Inequality for All.  I have viewed the film several times on Netflix and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel for the problems America currently faces.  This as opposed to repeating trickle-down mantras in the hopes that they will self-correct and prove themselves true in the long run.

#9 is to make polluters pay US.

I can still hear the screaming raised against the carbon tax back when President Obama first took office and suggested some of these very things.  Six plus years later, it is even clearer that the only solution is to do exactly what this video suggests. Make the oil companies and energy companies pay to use carbon producing fuels.  Incentivize the use of green technologies.  CO2 is over 400 now.  We can’t keep adding it to the atmosphere.  We just can’t, if we want our species to continue.

#10 End mass incarceration, now!

This is probably the biggest point of agreement with libertarian/anarchist thinking on the subject of governance and the economy. The kind of thinking I was most frequently exposed to while active in the LP of Texas for about a decade. The business of keeping prisoners has been a target of small government types for years, long before the average American or the re-emerging liberal majority took notice of it. It is a serious embarrassment that the US has 2.5 million members of its population behind bars; more than any other nation on the face of the planet.


Needless to say, as soon as the 10 were out, there was a glaring need for one more item on the list (isn’t that the way it always works?) So here is the latest one;

#11 Medicare for all.

The problem with most free market approaches to healthcare is that modern medicine is too complex. It’s ability to function, to deliver its product (if health is even a product that can be sold) is tightly linked to corporate structures that are themselves an imposition on free markets. Price gouging is a part of the calculation of every new drug introduced to the market, how much can we get away with charging for this drug? And testing and development of these drugs requires large staffs, deep pockets, wide access to the population. The only way to counter the corporate nature of modern medicine is to either subject them to public control directly (which would be socialism with all the baggage that a state-run organization brings to the table. This would stifle innovation) or to leverage the pricing of the drugs and services produced with collective bargaining. It has to be one way or the other. Neither solution is pretty, but the group purchasing option that medicare provides leaves the companies free to do what they do best, produce goods for the general public.


He swears this is the last one.  Makes an even dozen.

#12 Get Money Out of Politics.

I’ve been on this bandwagon for about a year now.  Maybe longer.  I blogged about this subject after reading several scholarly articles on the subject of campaign finance, and reading Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It which is free online now. In my article from last November, following the election, I list the various groups working to get money out of politics.  If you want to get involved in politics, if you want to see any of these many points acted on and made policy, then I suggest you contact one of those groups or get involved in your local precinct for whichever flavor of the two major parties that you prefer (D or R) if you object and say “I want more choices than that” then I need to be frank with you.  Including more choices than those two on ballots requires more work than even the 12 points addressed here would require.  You’re welcome to engage in that struggle if you have the strength for it. Or just go vote when the time comes. If you don’t know where that is, go here.

His book Saving Capitalism should be in bookstores (if you can find one) soon.  You can vote on which one of these 12 ideas will be a new campaign for Moveon to promote here.  Has to be #12 for me.

Torture; Because a Spade is a Spade

I have resisted writing on this subject because; frankly, it’s black and white to me.  As a matter of course you treat innocent people (people not convicted of a crime) as if they haven’t done anything wrong. People are in the wrong place at the wrong time, even when you’re fighting a battle in a third world country.

This view puts me at odds with most law enforcement, even in the US, where any visit to the holding cells for people recently arrested will result in horrified outrage at the treatment of people awaiting processing. But depraved conditions in the local holding pen because of the tight-fistedness of local government is nothing compared to intentionally causing physical and emotional pain to people simply because we can, because we are in charge and want to assert our authority.

There is an excellent essay up on Stonekettle Station right now on this subject.  Jim Wright has the experience to back up what he says when it comes to the subject of taking prisoners in a time of war, of just how hard it is to take a high moral road when you really are in the thick of it.

I, me personally? I would do whatever it took, including torture, if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way to save you. As a military officer, yes, I would. Absolutely. I wouldn’t order my men to do it, I’d do it myself. I shove a hose up the bastard’s nose and turn on the water. I’d shoot out his knees. I’d cut off his balls. You bet. If that’s what it took. I’d do it without hesitation.

And I’d do it knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.

I would.

Because even if I saved the day, I’d be wrong. 

Good intentions do not justify evil.

A just cause does not justify injustice. No more than if I donned a cape and tights and drove around Gotham in the night killing criminals without trial or due process. 

(courtesy Jim Wright @ Stonekettle Station)

It’s worth noting, in our depraved current era, that not even Batman killed the subjects he pursued in the original comic books.  The same is true for all the heroes of previous generations.  They didn’t kill, they didn’t torment, they didn’t torture. That was what the villains did. That was why the Punisher was a villain when introduced in the comic sphere.  Because he killed, he tortured. He was evil.

Nowadays our heroes are not heroic in any sense of the word.  Sports stars pummel their wives unconscious on video and go unpunished. Beat their children to the point that they need medical attention, and expect to be let off without suffering consequences. Police officers are filmed strangling and shooting unarmed men, and remain unprosecuted. Politicians don’t even flinch at being caught in hypocrisy any longer. They just explain it away as some thing they said but didn’t really mean.

I only have one response for people who think we should be subjecting prisoners to torture, which is what enhanced interrogation techniques are.  You can be seen as free of hypocrisy, supporting the systematic use of torture, if you willingly undergo it yourself. I mean, if innocent people can be subjected to this kind of treatment, then anyone should be able to undergo the treatment without ill effects.

Christopher Hitchens thought waterboarding was no big deal, until he allowed himself to be waterboarded. here’s the video of it;


(courtesy Vanity Fair & Christopher Hitchens)

I expect Dick Cheney to submit himself to waterboarding, or to the Hague for prosecution for war crimes.  He should do so within the week.  Unlike someone subject to waterboarding, I wouldn’t suggest you hold your breath waiting for that.

GUILTY – A Verdict in the Charlie Lynch Case

Here’s a travesty of justice:

Dear Jury Foreman (Forewoman?) It’s legal to dispense Marijuana in California, because California says it is. The judges, and the federal prosecutors, are lying to you. How do you find the defendant not guilty? You disregard the instructions from the judge and determine the rightness of the application of the law in this case (as described here) and then you state, The Defendant is Not Guilty.

…it’s actually quite easy, but good luck being seated on a jury if you admit to having even heard the acronym FIJA.

El Dorado Not Quite the Paradise Envisioned?

Or perhaps the headline should read City of Gold not so Golden these days.

The massive religious compound just outside of El Dorado, Texas was raided earlier this week. The site belongs to a recently made infamous separatist group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I might have more sympathy for these polygamists if they weren’t consciously warping the minds of female children, and then having sex with them.

Most annoying feature of this story? They housed the people they removed from this backwater in the best restored frontier fort in the region, Fort Concho in San Angelo, forever branding my former home town as associated in some fashion with weirdos who should more rightly be located around Waco rather than way out West.

Seriously, just put the child rapists into the regular prison population and let the prisoners deal with them. That should serve as sufficient warning to the rest of these types of perverts.

Distracted Driving

Another rant inspired by Jeff Ward and Our Little Show. I can’t find any information on this subject other than the news story on KLBJ AM’s website, but I’m betting that this issue is being discussed, along with the issue of red light cameras

[go here to voice your opposition to that issue. Red light cameras actually cause accidents because of their effect on traffic, and because the governments that install them also shorten yellow light times so as to make more money from the cameras. It’s all about cash flow]

both of which are favored by a number of Austin City council members (Congresscritters in training is what they really are) neither of which are good ideas. Don’t take my word for it, check out what AAA has to say about the dangers of driving distracted. Sure, I’ve nearly been run over by people on cell phones (more than once) I’ve also been nearly run over by people arguing with children, spilling coffee, doing their makeup, shaving, you name it.

When I have been run over (I think the total is about 6 wrecks now, none of which my insurance had to pay for) it’s always been by someone who was distracted by a passenger in the car. Maybe we should limit vehicle capacity to one person. That should cut down on the number of accidents.

But the thing that really chaps my hide is this driving need on the part of politicians to pass a new law that essentially duplicates parts of laws already on the books. If a policeman feels you are unreasonably distracted by your use of a cell phone, he can already pull you over and issue a ticket for reckless driving. So the new law does…?

Nothing but put more money into government coffers.

City Council contact info.

No Mugus Currently in Residence

Hardly a day goes by where I don’t get some variant on the Nigerian 419 scam. It amazes me that anyone would fall for these scams. All of them are written in very poor English, none of them correctly addressed to a single recipient, all of them clearly a scam to the skeptical eye.

But this was the subject of a 20/20 episode a few weeks ago. Thousands of people have been taken in by these stupid scams.

Years ago, back before e-mail was the medium of choice, they used to fax these scams to businesses. One of my former employers wanted to follow-up a fax that he received, offering to cut him in on a percentage of the millions if he just lent his bank accounts to the transfer of large sums of money from a country (Nigeria, of course) that was currently sitting on the funds. He probably would have done it if I hadn’t been loudly skeptical on the subject. I’d never heard of 419 scams then, I wish I could still say the same thing.

Clearly, the average American is far too gullible, or the scammers would have found another way to make a living; and the process will continue until Mugu Americans wise up.

O.J. Simpson: Confessed Killer

O.J. is coming out with a book and an interview in which he confesses… I mean, theorises what happened the night that he killed… Excuse me, the night that his ex-wife and her boyfriend were viciously, brutally murdered.

I’d like to echo the sentiment of Harvey Levin of TMZ.com that were expressed on the Olbermann show tonight:

I personally didn’t think I could detest him anymore than I did, and he’s actually raised the bar for me.

I consider it a point of pride that I watched not one minute of the infamous trial that began 15 years ago today. And, even though I haven’t watched the trial, I think I can say with reasonable certainty that he committed the murders, just based on the unavoidable exposure to the facts of the case that can be picked up even when you aren’t trying to follow the subject.

I remember O.J. Simpson playing football, watching with my father. I watched him in several films, and while he wasn’t a great actor, he wasn’t an embarrassment either. And then he killed two people, and arranged things (as can be done when you have enough money) so that he avoided conviction for the murders.

Let the record show that the courts are indeed color blind when there is enough green in your pocket.

As disgusted as I am with O.J. Simpson, I’m even more disgusted by the people who would actually pay him for a signature, or to appear publicly. How do you sleep at night, with the blood of his victims on your hands as well as his?


According to the publisher the book is a confession (published for her own personal reasons, stories here and here) no matter what the title says. It doesn’t make much difference to me, true crime is not my kind of thing; especially when written in the first person.

…and now the deal is off. So much for the publishers strength of conviction. It was a bit of a stretch on her part, to compare O.J.Simpsons effort to Hitler and Mein Kampf.

DRM: Who’s Rights are They?

The announcement from Universal last week brought up the subject of DRM, a sore spot for me and most of the people who listen to online music. But you would think that it had been smooth sailing for all these online years, if you believed the arguments that I’ve seen over the last week.

Napster and it’s overseas descendants aren’t and never were a problem, MP3.com wasn’t virtually hounded off the ‘net for daring to exercise fair use, DRM is a completely logical exercise of the rights holders over copyrighted material, which presents no problems to the end users who purchase the material.

…And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.

First off, let’s get a few definitions straight. The term piracy, as it is used in software circles these days, is a completely unworkable definition. Piracy involves profiting through theft, not copying files. While it can be argued that the end user ‘profits’ from copying files that he has not paid for, that sort of profiting is in a whole different league from the person who sells CDs and DVDs (and even the computer files themselves) that he’s made without license from the copyright holder. However, there is no distinction between the two in the eyes of Microsoft (and the other corporate software vendors) the RIAA and the MPAA; a completely ridiculous proposition on the face of it.

Then there is the term contract, in which the software industry claims their EULAs and online contracts are no different than a printed, signed and witnessed contract of a truly legal nature. However, if you trotted out the verbiage contained in the average EULA, I doubt you’d find many people willing to commit to the agreement, since the agreement invariably holds the software company innocent of any possible wrongdoing, while setting up a legal fence around the user so as to tightly constrain what uses the material can be put to.

Here is a piece of timely advice; never sign a contract that has been written by an attorney other than one in your employ without first having an attorney who is in your employ look it over. Contracts are always negotiable by both parties if they are to be considered valid. When you sign your name to a contract you agree to the terms, thereby waiving your right to negotiate terms in advance. A EULA does not allow for physical signatures and so consequently are not really contracts at all.

Additionally any contract that you have to accept without negotiation is a contract that no one should hold themselves constrained by, since they had no say in what the exact contents of the contract would be.

Now when it comes to EULA’s I have to ask; Do you support the dishonest business practice of attempting to hold a customer to a contract that isn’t presented until after the transaction has taken place, or are you an honest businessman who presents the contract before any other business occurs? Anyone who thinks that it is commonplace and acceptable to withhold conditions of a sale until after the transaction has taken place is by definition a dishonest businessman. Honesty requires full disclosure before the sale. Restrictions that are revealed after the sale is finalized are not enforceable, as they are generally held to be outside of current law, and are a violation of the standard of full disclosure. In a nutshell, it is a dishonest and/or fraudulent business practice to withhold this type of information.

With the above as the generally understood standard of doing business, that contracts which I have not explicitly agreed to in writing are not binding, and that contracts that are not revealed until after the sale is finalized are not enforceable…

…Should I be faulted for holding the opinion that “All sales are final. The files are mine. Anything they have to say about my treatment of my files after that point is a claim. There is no agreement, other than cash for music files. There was no other legal contract presented.” and stripping the DRM from files that I had paid for and wished to listen to on a device of my choosing?

Apparently I am to be faulted. At least in the eyes of the people who plan on making money off of the legally clueless out there.

Fair use allows the user to make copies of copyrighted material for his own use. My own use requires that I strip the DRM from music files sold on most popular websites. If the websites attempted to enforce the contract terms, they would only alienate their customer base; ergo, it is nothing more than a paper tiger, never to be enforced except to remove individual user accounts.

…And if I can’t actually make the files usable, I don’t know why I would need an account in the first place.

The last definition that needs clarification: DRM, Digital Rights Management. The corporations that own the content have rights (which DRM manages) but you the user don’t. You have privileges that they can take away if they please. Welcome to the digital millennium.

My experience with the difficulty of using iTunes (and other DRM restricted services) has convinced me that DRM regimes are soon to be a thing of the past. It’s also convinced me that I will spend money on sites that don’t add DRM to the files. Sites like Sound Click for example. I don’t need to go to full out piracy sites (I find real pirates and their practices quite distasteful) I have no problem going down to the used CD store and getting the music I’m looking for at less than the dollar a song most sites are charging. I might download songs from Universal’s announced site, but only if I can remove the DRM.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. The only way to make DRM enforceable is to appoint an ultimate Sys-Admin, a company that has the power to open back doors on all the computers currently in operation, and snoop through the files to make sure that no one is using files that they haven’t paid for. A job that Microsoft desperately wants to be given, as they quite eagerly pointed out when they announced the rollout of Longhorn (now Vista) two or three years ago. A big brother situation that I shudder to contemplate.

Otherwise DRM is an unworkable solution in the long term. As more content becomes available on the ‘net, more and more of it will appear shortly after it’s initial release with DRM, sans it’s protective wrapper, ready to be copied by anybody who doesn’t have an aversion to dealing with pirates.

Might as well just come up with a different solution now, save us all the hassle.