Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “corporations”

Gordon Gekko Lives – Tom Rossi

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I’ve been wondering lately (okay, for many, many years) how people can still hold onto conservative ideas about the economy. Social issues are one thing – there is a legitimate debate about abortion, for example, but for some people, economics seems to be even more of a religious issue than that. People just hold onto their beliefs, despite a wealth (pun intended) of evidence to the contrary.

To track down some of the reasoning of the followers of the tired, old religion of conventional, “free-market” economics, I interviewed démodé economist Charles “Chipmunk” Griedesgud at the Gordon Gecko Center for Economic Satire in Slashington D.C.

Presented here are some highlights of the interview. The entirety of the interview will be published in book form by the same publishers that put out Bill O’Reilly’s weekly treasures. It will be called, Killing… something or other.

Me: Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Mr. Griedesgud.

Griedesgud: Please, call me “Chip”.

Me: Fifth generation at Yale?

Chip: Exactly.

Later…

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure your cat didn’t see THAT coming! Oh… Ahem. The main thing I’ve been wondering about, Chip, is how people can still believe that giving corporations big tax breaks leads to more jobs. The corporations don’t seem to create jobs anymore; they just build factories overseas or buy robots to do the work. Don’t people know these things?

Chip: If we cut taxes on corporations, they will build factories and make jobs… in China and Mexico.

Me: How does that help us?

Chip: But then, you see, the Chinese and Mexican workers will become more affluent.

Me: Uh huh.

Chip: Meanwhile, American workers will accept lower and lower paying jobs…

Me: Waiting for the good part.

Chip: …which will eventually allow them to make the commodities that are demanded by the newly affluent foreign workers.

Me: Yeah. Great.

Chip: So, it still trickles down; it just might go through a couple of extra steps.

Me: Wow. I can’t understand how I never thought of that.

Chip: I sense a little sarcasm in your voice.

Me: Me? Nooooooo.

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Chip: Would you, instead, have no job creation at all? I mean, if we balanced things more toward the mythical “middle class,” then there wouldn’t be the concentration of wealth at the top that it takes to start the projects and businesses that do just that.

Me: But isn’t that exactly what happened between the 1950’s and the 1970’s, America’s greatest period of economic growth and shared prosperity? The progressive tax structure taxed the super-wealthy and their corporations heavily, and they all kept right on growing anyway, along with the well-being of their workers and the workers’ families.

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Chip: That approximately three-decade period was essentially an illusion of economic bliss. In reality, the so-called “middle class” was stealing from the providers – the wealthiest Americans, who could have built a much LARGER economy, and created even more jobs. They did this through forming alliances known as “unions” and through other underhanded methods.

Me: Those bastards!

Later…

Me: So, what could we expect if we were to follow your prescription, which seems to be the way we’re headed, anyway?

Chip: Well, economic growth and prosperity, of course! Our economy could be growing like the Chinese! And why not?

Me: Do you mean the Chinese economy, or the Chinese population?

Chip: Take your pick.

Me: But won’t this scenario mean that those countries make the same “mistakes”, as you call them, that we made? And won’t they be hurting their economies?

Chip: Yes! That’s exactly what we want! There are two ways to look at winning a competition – you can perform better than the others, or they can perform worse than you!

Later…

Me: So, you say we could head into a period of fantastic economic growth and prosperity. But the “middle class” can’t share in that prosperity, lest they sabotage the whole process.

Chip: That’s exactly right. You asked me about the benefits before: the average income would rise beyond anything we’ve seen.

Me: But wouldn’t that just be a result of the outliers? Wouldn’t the income median and mode be dismally low?

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Chip: Well, thanks to years of effort, nobody knows what those even mean. We’ve trained people very effectively to think that averages are everything. We’ve kept telling them about the average income in America being so high and we even invented a term called “GDP per Person” that throws them way off. Complaining about your income just makes people feel ashamed now.

Me: Wow. Just… wow.

Later…

Me: Well, thank you, Mr. Griedesgud, for the interview. I suppose you’ll be going back to work for the rest of the day?

Chip: Work? What work? This story hasn’t changed since 1890! I’m going to dinner with some lobbyists at the “Oval Room”. I love a restaurant with a punny name!

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Occupy Movement Endorsed by Washington – Roger Ingalls

After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, I couldn’t stop smiling. Similarly, I grinned during the last few months of the presidential election. The Occupy Movement is routinely portrayed by mainstream media and conservatives as a failure; however, reviewing the political chatter during the recent elections and the President’s speech on Tuesday, the Occupy influence is front and center.

Prior to the Occupy Movement, there was no media or political focus on the destruction of the middleclass, tax breaks for the wealthy, tax loopholes for corporations or the disparity between the 1%ers and 99%ers. The movement brought attention to all these topics and they were the main sound bites throughout the entire election season. Fast forward to Tuesday and a significant portion of the President’s time was dedicated to Occupy topics: 1) rebuilding the middleclass, 2) increasing wages for many Americans, 3) returning a fair tax burden to the wealthy and big business, 4) closing tax loopholes for corporations and 5) stopping corporate off-shore cash hoarding.

Poll-favoring-raising-taxes-on-rich

When comparing the Tea Party and Occupy Movements, the latter has been much more beneficial to Middle America. The Tea Party has done nothing but create gridlock in Washington, slowing economic recovery. They’ve also placed political handcuffs on Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He’s ineffective because the fanatical right is holding the larger conservative party hostage. Even though the Occupy Movement hasn’t received due credit, its original talking points are on the tongues of politicians today. In addition, a fairer tax burden was realized in January when taxes were increased on the wealthy; an original Occupy demand.

The media is no longer discussing the Occupy Movement but Washington’s politicians are endorsing it through action and sound bites.

Campaign Finance Reform Now!

If I heard correctly, those advocating fiscal responsibility wasted $6 billion on ridiculous adverts, flyers that are trashing our streets and that the tax payers now needs to clear up, and various other shallow tactics. Living in California, I have been spared the assault that took place in the swing states. I spend a lot of time with You Tube in the background. Either the Prop adverts have been few, or I am not distinguishing them from the epic lyrics of Nightwish and Nickelback.

But this past week, I have been exposed to a number of campaign ads and they are, to be honest, demeaning, embarrassing, and insulting. The majority of Americans will vote for the same party candidates because of class, religion, or any of a number of acceptable reasons. The undecided (and I remain unconvinced that they really are) are either apathetic and therefore not listening to ads: or genuine thinking individuals who do not deserve to be exposed to such drivel. 

Now is the time to reform electoral finance while we remember how bad it is. Two models come to mind and, I admit, it says a lot about the writer that his sources are the NBA and English soccer.

In the English Premier League, once the most competitive in the world, two soccer clubs have been bought by billionaires who have pumped money into the clubs, allowing them to outbid any other club for players and pay two or three times the salary. Naturally, they have assembled teams that no one else can compete with. In fact, their reserve teams could beat most opponents. This fine game, the bastion of civilization, has been reduced to market forces, and has lost its soul.

Ironically, in a clear sign of socialist America, the NBA allows teams to spend a salary cap. If they choose to spend it on 2-3 superstars or create a ‘deep bench’ (many good players), that is for them to decide.

Each candidate should be given a clear amount of dollars they can spend that can enable them to have balloons at their conventions and launch a limited media campaign. The rest of their efforts should focus on serious debate, Q&A, honest information dissemination, and speeches.

 Money should be provided through taxes:  no candidate should be in a position to be bought by big business, corporations, trade unions, or individuals. PACs should be sent packing.

It is too easy to avoid serious debate and open scrutiny of a candidate’s policies, to be distracted by slick unaccountable ads. Many thinking Americans were simply worn down by the sheer barrage and noise.

Let’s make the change now. 2016 is just around the corner.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Do Progressives Want to Punish Success? – Tom Rossi

If you denied a request by your ten year old son for permission to buy a CD or go to a rock concert with his older brother or something, and then he went and asked your spouse and he or she said yes, you would probably punish your son for gaming the system. Your son would probably say, “But Mom said it was okay!” But you would know what was really going on.

The argument against taxing the (very) rich is most often that it would be “punishing success.” Well, we do punish some kinds of success in this country. We punish successful (and unsuccessful) burglars, bank robbers, drug dealers, con artists, murderers, embezzlers, and many other criminals.

Some of today’s wealthiest people fit into one of those categories, certainly. But many more, often acting through corporations, fit into the “play one parent against the other” archetype. What corporations do is lobby our government, often in ways that closely resemble bribery, to change the law more to their liking.

Tax laws, for example, are a favorite target of corporations and the super-rich who run them. They left the official rate high, (so they could continue to bitch, whine, piss, and moan) but they created a wonderful set of loopholes that mean that practically no corporation actually pays that rate.

In fact, the whole purpose of a corporation is to absolve the executives of any responsibility for its actions. A corporation legally insulates its operators, as long as it doesn’t violate what’s left of the law. But there is no law against creating ridiculously risky financial instruments and artificially inflating their value, essentially riding updrafts of hot air while pretending it’s solid ground.

Why is this not illegal? Because corporations and associations of very rich investors spend millions to kill financial reform. This is why nothing has really changed since the crash of 2007. The people calling for the heads of bankers and hedge-fund managers are the powerless – people whose net worth is measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars or less.

So, do we want to “punish” success? We absolutely want to punish the con artists who sent America into this pit. We also want to punish the success of those who have bribed their way out of paying for the function and infrastructure of the very country that has allowed them to become rich in the first place.

The success that allowed these corporations to become big and rich enough to sell out our country cam during the decades when the taxes they and their investors paid much higher taxes. Those taxes allowed America to become what it is – a land full of healthy, well-educated (on average) people with the means to physically travel to the places they are needed.

A lot goes into these factors, especially the health part. But taxes aren’t really punishment. As I’ve said before, it’s simply a matter of paying for what you get. You want a great country? Pay for it. It doesn’t come free. Conservative dimwits are fond of saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” Well neither is greatness. And private enterprise just isn’t effective at providing certain things like public health and education – two keys to a successful society.

The other side of the “punishing success” hogwash is that progressives or liberals want to “reward losers.” Let’s compare these punishments and these rewards… The punishments we’re talking about might mean buying a smaller yacht. The reward might mean paying the rent for a couple more months on the two-bedroom apartment where your family of five now resides.

So, to paraphrase what I’ve said before, please stop whining. If you’ve lost your job, been foreclosed on, and have to eat dog food to survive, you’ve got lots of good reasons to whine. It’s your right. But if you whine because you only get to keep $35million after taxes, kindly do us all a favor and shut your ridiculous, spoiled cake hole.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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America Gets Punk’d – Roger Ingalls

Have you ever wondered why so many federal laws are passed that favor large Wall Street-partnered corporations while little gets done to protect or improve the well-being of real people? Essentially, it comes down to who is drafting the bills that get introduced to Congress.

Most Americans have a very rudimentary understanding of how an idea or proposal becomes law unless they’ve extended their studies on the subject. A few may remember the simple sidewalk diagram, shown below, that steps us through how a bill becomes law; however, many more of us will recall getting educated by the cool Schoolhouse Rock song I’m Just a Bill.

The process of how a bill becomes law isn’t an issue. Our real focus should be on who is behind the introduction of a new bill, who is writing it and where do they come from. These more pertinent issues (questions) aren’t normally discussed in school or often mentioned in mainstream media. We wouldn’t want the general populous becoming too educated, now would we?!

Below is an interesting flowchart describing how a bill is written in today’s corporate-dominated political climate. Call it Bill Drafting 101.

This flowchart highlights one of many reasons why we need campaign reform. Aides that have worked for or associated with a corporation should not get hired by politicians that have accepted contributions from that corporation or its funded special interest group (PAC, Super PAC or similar). There should be a five year conflict of interest waiting period.

American Idol finalists Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez getting Punk’d by Ashton Kutcher on MTV would be funny but Americans getting punked by politicians and their financial sponsors is criminal.

Bankrupt Earth – Roger Ingalls

Today, humanity is using 50% more resources than the earth can sustainably provide. By 2030, the world will require the equivalent of two Earths to sustain current levels of population growth and resource use. Even more shocking, if all countries consumed like the U.S., we would need four Earths to sustain current levels of resource burn.

World economies emulate the U.S. system which is based on infinite growth and consumption. Earth is a finite planet floating through space; therefore, the infinite growth scenario is an inevitable dead-end street.

picture from animal.discovery.com

There is no magical American bullet or militant-might that will fix this problem. There are no leaders stepping forward to forge a new path. We are now a government of, by and for the corporation and corporations are judged and rewarded on their ability to grow, consume and hoard. Power lies in the hands of big Wall Street massaged corporations and they will not deviate from their current path because doing so means a transfer of power. Why would these corporate Gods give up their power? They will never do so willingly.

Shamefully, history defines humanity’s quest for greed, power and eventual destructive fall. Given this, there is only one true solution; we must bankrupt the earth and deplete it of all economically viable resources as fast as possible. Let’s join forces with the current power structure and fast track the death of a balanced planet. When Earth dies – as we know it – so will the power that killed it.

This is not a sad ending; it is a rebirth. From the ashes a smarter humanity will rise.

Redefining the U.S. Government – Roger Ingalls

Picture from theviewspaper.net

How would an honest educator define the current U.S. form of government to a body of students? This is the question I’ve asked myself while trying to fall asleep, night after night. The key word in the above question is “honest”.

The U.S. is no longer a true democracy or republic. Our government has latently morphed over the past 30 years into a dual-form system. It’s similar to the Constitutional Monarchy found in the United Kingdom except the power and ceremonial aspects are reversed.

In a modern Constitutional Monarchy, the democratically elected politicians are the true governing body (Parliament, Congress, President, Prime Minister…) and the Monarchy or Royal Family act as ceremonial figures.

In the current U.S. form of government, elected officials are a ceremonial by-product of a ritual balloting process that provides no positive impact on the voting public. Casting a vote is now just a feel-good public ceremony that pays homage to the concept of democracy.

Unlike the United Kingdom, a group-Monarchy or, more accurately, Plutarchy is the real governing power in the United States. Elected politicians are controlled by the wealthy for the wealthy. They’re influenced and financed through campaign contributions by famous and influential individuals, CEOs, corporations, financial institutions and Wall Street players. Essentially, politicians are personal policy generators for the wealthy few.

Accurately defining our current form of government: Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with the wealthy via financial control over political candidates and propaganda means (Main Stream Media). The wealthy finance their desired group of candidates which effectively pre-selects favorable agents. The final selection is left to the voting public in a ceremonial pageant resembling a democratic election.

Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy: A product of conservative deregulation.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Corporations and the Race to the Garbage Heap – Tom Rossi.

There are many reasons that the corporate model stinks. It stinks as a paradigm for running a society, but it also (maybe surprisingly to some) stinks just as a model for business. Today, let’s just look at one of the reasons that the smell is rising and getting worse.

It’s just not good enough, for a corporation, to make something, sell it, and make money. That would lead to a somewhat stable share price for the corporation’s stock, which would certainly lead to the CEO getting fired from his ridiculously overpaid job.

To make the stock’s price rise, changes have to take place and profits increased pretty much all the time. There are two basic ways to increase profits – increase revenues or cut costs. Let’s look at the cost-cutting side. On the surface, it might appear that cutting costs is a good thing. This would certainly line up with the mythology that we often swallow without question. After all, efficiency is good, right? But efficiency in business is measured only in dollars – not in resource use or (God forbid!) something like overall drain on a society.

As a result, corporations are always looking to substitute cheaper materials into their products and looking for cheaper labor, even if that means hiring unqualified workers at low wages in a developing country or taking away benefits from workers here at home. They also lobby the government to reduce regulation (or not to create it in the first place) so that they can freely dump waste into the air and water. 

OK, so sue me… I’m digressing a little into social issues here. Let’s get back to materials and labor. Corporations’ own systems often drive them to produce shoddier and shoddier products, even while the bells and whistles keep piling up. How long do you expect a computer printer to last? Or the computer itself, for that matter? TVs, DVD players, car stereos, (frying pans even!) and thousands of other things are all just expected to stop working or fall apart after a couple of years. Why? Is technology getting worse? 

Of course not. But workmanship is, and it’s because everything has to be made faster and cheaper. These days, you sell products by adding gizmos and through a mind-numbing barage of marketing. We have all been convinced that we won’t want our products in a year or two anyway, because by then a new model will come out that jumps up from the table and does a touchdown dance or something. 

The effect is that the products of corporations constantly slide toward “just barely good enough.” Excellence as a manufacturing pursuit is limited to things sold for the express purpose of showing off, like a Rolex watch (some car manufacturers have also done some good work).

Coincidentally, the time when products were getting better across the board (1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s) was the time when the American worker was sharing in the prosperity enjoyed by corporations. The “race to the bottom” didn’t exist. Now it seems we just can’t wait to get there. 

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Declaration of Change

Too many Americans are suffering. Our unalienable rights – the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – whether given by the God of Creation or by Natural Law, are being violated. The self-evident truth that all REAL people are created equal is not recognized by the forces now governing us.

Our representative form of democracy – government of, by and for real people – has been corrupted. An insidious and deceptive process has transformed a government from one that once placed importance on real people to one that now favors artificial persons (corporations). Consequently, legislative reforms and laws, over the past 30 years, have benefited big business and the wealthiest Americans while burdening the middle-class and poor.

When any form of government becomes destructive to the safety and happiness of its real people, it is the RIGHT of the people and it is their duty to change or abolish the current form and implement a new government that effects and guards their future security.

Americans are suffering…suffering from the financial burdens placed on them as a result of tax rate changes, trade agreements and uncontrolled multi-national globalization. Long-standing corporate responsibility has eroded. Campaign contribution from big business, their PACs and lobbyists influenced politicians to make favorable financial legislation for corporations. The government represents the tyrant-will of artificial persons and the wealthy. It is now unfit to govern free people.

The people have been abused to the point of action. The winds of change are blowing and it’s time to support it. Occupy Wall Street is just one of many battles to come. This blog posting, which borrows key words and phrases from the Declaration of Independence, is my initial show of support for the brave individuals that are sleeping and protesting in the parks and avenues of New York.

It’s time to act. It’s our right and our duty to cast off tyranny.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Interview with Professor McGoughen

The following post is a post by Professor McGoughen, a fictional Scottish law professor who plays an important role in The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

I would like to say that what follows are the words and opinions of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it. Over to you, Professor.

Steel & Morris demonstrating at the McLibel Trial

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“I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of The Accidental Activist  in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finish the semester teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how yoo Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role in the trial was a wee one. I can nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up as tae bring me out of retirement. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. As an Oxford University law professor, I still can nae imagine how two young scrufs could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerful tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world was amazing. He deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

The real McSpotlight website

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n lads the inspiration tae fight for what’s right in a way that’s relevant for them. Your President, Mr. Obama, understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed via the Internet.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from The Accidental Activist: that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is going on. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions. I hear that in America, they don’t even pay any taxes.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multinationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant for yoo as it is for Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is connected now an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might just be the tool to change everything – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us in his book.

Read the book. I reckon that you’ nae look at the Internet in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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