May I Introduce the Current Republican Voter Fraud Champion

If you prove that a person voted for the same election in two states, you have proven voter fraud. If you prove that two people in different states have the same name, you have evidence that they have the same name. Interstate Crosscheck has proven that many people have the same names. It has proven absolutely nothing about voter fraud because it is not a list of who voted.

Interstate Crosscheck is the pet project of Kansas Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach. The program cross-matched names from 110-million registered voters nationwide. Nearly seven million matched names were generated nationwide by this program, so we have good evidence that some seven million registered voters have the same name as another registered voter. Republicans are claiming this is evidence of widespread voter fraud, which it is not, and they are using these duplicate names to deny the vote to many thousands of voters, the purpose being to dilute the vote for Democrats.

Interstate Crosscheck
proves absolutely nothing
about voter fraud.

The news agency Al Jazeera America published the results of their long investigation of IC. They were able to obtain lists of registered voters from three states, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, which resulted in finding over two million names of registered voters that were matched to other names.

IC matches names on these criteria: first name, second name or initial, last name, date of birth, social security number (or last 4), state. The odds are very high that almost everyone in the US has the same name as at least one other person in another state. These odds increase when a middle name is either eliminated or given as an initial. To give a personal example of how easy it is to match names, at my doctoral graduation I was seated next to a man with my name except for a different middle name. This was a large university, but the number of doctoral graduates was not large. My name is not nearly as common as many others, but there are dozens of people with my name in the country, most of whom would appear on voter roles.

IC is one of several Republican plans
whose sole purpose is to disenfranchise voters.

Thus, numerous names on the list are nothing but more-or-less the same names of people who live in different states, and perhaps some additional matching information—or not. Amazingly, Social Security numbers are supposedly included only “for verification”, and “may or may not match”, according to IC documentation. So the single criterion that might provide the most important evidence for voter fraud is simply ignored, because, of course, that is not the purpose.

Republican supporters claim the list documents widespread voter fraud. It does nothing of the sort. Rather, it is itself a fraudulent plan to prevent voting by people Republicans consider “undesirable” voters, namely poor, elderly, immigrant, and minority voters, because they tend to vote for Democratic candidates. This is exactly what is found on the lists, names that are common among racial and social groups that Republicans would term undesirable.

Republican supporters of IC
say the list documents
widespread voter fraud.
It does nothing of the sort.

Al Jazeera contacted a number of people that IC judged to be voter frauds, and found that virtually all of the “matches” were actually two people. In cases where a real match was found, such as when a person moved to a new state and hadn’t unregistered in his former state, the old voter registration was shown as “inactive”. They uncovered no actual fraud in their study. The number of genuine fraud cases is vanishingly small (the only ones I’ve heard of being Republican voting authorities themselves), and incapable of deciding even a local election. The IC lists are incapable of documenting fraud. However, they are being enthusiastically used to deny the right to vote, which is exactly what they were intended to do.

In my own case, providing my last and first names matched me with five names in Georgia and Virginia alone. While this was name only, the chances are high that I could be designated as a voter fraud if one other of the criteria matched, since the criteria do not require exact matches for all of them, and ignore the social security number. The odds increase greatly when names from the other forty-seven states are included. The chances are rather high, then, that you, dear voter, could personally be denied the vote because your name is the same as someone registered to vote in another state.

If even a small fraction of these “matched” names are judged to be voter frauds, tens or hundreds of thousands of people will be disenfranchised. Since the probability is high that these would be Democratic voters, there is a very real danger that close electoral races could be distorted to give the Republican candidate victory because of their fraud.

But that’s what the Republican “voter fraud” campaign has always been about. The real voter fraud is being propagated by Interstate Checklist and other Republican darlings.

The Prescient Mr. Sinclair

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

You’ve all seen this quote from author Upton Sinclair. It never failed to amuse me, but lately it has taken on a depressing and tragic quality that is hard to shake.

The main feature of any of the numerous conservative think tank gatherings these days is a parade of men who deny that what is clearly happening to the global climate is actually happening. Denial is a universal phenomenon among them, and Sinclair’s quote explains it all.

Denial is universal among them.

Their essential claim is that doing anything at all about global climate change is a plot to undermine and destroy all our freedoms and the magnanimous benefits generated by Big Business and the benevolent Free Market. The result will be a diminished world characterized by loss of freedom and theft of wealth to be distributed to the undeserving, along with forced “communitarianism” in which government will determine every element of your life.

There is not the slightest understanding among these men that Nature is the cleanup batter, not Obama or those thousands of conspiring scientists, let alone environmentalists. In spite of research articles on climate by the tens of thousands from professional scientists in dozens of specialties in all parts of the world—which are all but unanimous in stating that the planetary environment is so degraded that global warming with dire consequences is inevitable, and we are causing it—these men deny it. In spite of the compelling statistics and the visible signs all around them, these men deny it. In spite of yet another big report in recent days saying the damage has been badly underestimated, these men deny it.

Isaac Cordal

Isaac Cordal sculpture, Politicians Discussing Climate Change

They not only deny it, but gather for these frequent expensive expositions specifically to deny it. They find their own “scientific experts”, virtually none of whom are scientists, and make simplistic judgements in fields where they have no standing or credibility, and present “proofs” that cannot begin to stand up to scrutiny. All these hoedowns are staged by conservative think tanks, and their message never changes—and is always wrong.

Climate change is undeniable. It is caused by burning of fossil fuels. The sea is already oozing up between their toes, and they have become the alcoholic who has ruined every chance at a reasonable life by refusing to accept that his drinking is the problem. But it’s worse. These men are ruining life for the entire planet, including all humans and every other living thing.

The sea is oozing up between their toes.

Sinclair’s all-too-true quip explains why they do this. It is clear to everyone but them that the catastrophe is coming about because of the very activities they defend, specifically unrestricted production and burning of fossil fuels, because that’s what made them rich. Very rich. They themselves, far from being the world’s saviors they claim to be, are the ones who have created the catastrophe they refuse to acknowledge.

Because they have enough power to control the government, all efforts to adequately address the global problem have been thwarted for decades. After each world conference to address the situation, they re-assert their hold, and nothing is done.

They hold all the face cards, because they have devoted massive amounts of money to controlling the government. In this way, these American millionaires and billionaires have created the inevitable catastrophe that could even end all human life forever. And they refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem.

These millionaires and billionaires
have created inevitable catastrophe.

Whether or not it turns out to be the end or merely a global catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, as scientists regularly document, the die is cast. In spite of mainstream media’s Johnny-come-lately optimism, we have long passed the point when we might have averted disaster entirely, and we are left only with the chance we might limit the damage enough to save some lives and preserve enough of nature that some of us will be able to survive.

Not a cheery thought, but a realistic one.

Welcome to the Hot—or Cold

It’s not true that nobody does anything about the weather, as Mark Twain claimed. We’re changing it right now.

Earth’s climate, over Deep Time, billions of years, has seen extremes. Unlike rock-solid Mars, the planet we live on is a mushy unsettled place, in which the continents drift, thrusting up huge mountain ranges like the Andes, and the Himalayas. It was very hot over the millions of years there were dinosaurs. Other times it was so cold that the whole planet froze solid. In fact, it’s quite a mystery how we survived Planet Snowball, because Earth should have remained in deep freeze forever, with no surviving life.

But maybe because we have a hot and molten core that moves around and keeps things lively that didn’t happen on our planet. We’re around to tell the story, after all.

It’s not true that nobody
does anything about the weather.
We’ve changed it forever.

In the much more recent past, as the Ice Age was literally grinding to an end a mere 30,000-20,000 years ago, Neanderthals and modern humans didn’t just survive, but thrived. Winter temps in Europe often dropped to fifty below, and storms could drive snow with winds as high as, say, sixty mph. I wouldn’t have lasted a week, even in a nice warm cave. Then, finally, the Ice Age ended.

But if you were floating around Europe about 14,500 years ago, after centuries of warmer weather, you were unpleasantly reminded that things were not going well, weatherwise. The winters were getting longer and more unpleasant. But since your whole life was less than fifty years, you had no way of knowing that it was the beginning the Younger Dryas, a “brief” ten centuries like the Ice Age. All you knew was it was making life damned difficult.

There must have been a huge temperature drop, to cover the land with deep permanent ice again.

But there wasn’t. Actually, if the same temperature change occurred in your home, you might not even notice it. Yet a global change of a few degrees was enough to alter the climate for well over a thousand years.

If the same temperature change
occurred in your home,
you might not even notice it.

I suspect your family tree doesn’t quite reach back to the Younger Dryas, but your more recent ancestors did live through 1815, known as the “Year Without a Summer”. This little digression into misery happened in the midst of two centuries of low temps in Europe called the Little Ice Age, caused by a change in the Gulf Stream. My own people were making their way westward from the east coast to steal Indian land about that time. There was snow on the ground in June. Almost no seeds sprouted, and the few that did yielded nothing. Livestock were slaughtered early, because they had nothing to eat. It was a tough year.

Unbeknownst to nearly everyone in our part of the world, Tambora, a quiet mountain in Indonesia had exploded in the most spectacular volcanic eruption ever, throwing 36 cubic miles of ash into the stratosphere. Skies around the globe were darkened with a reddish tint for well over a year. Yet the global temperature dropped by just 1.5˚F. Pretty touchy, that thermostat.

Today there is trouble in paradise, because we have already jacked the temp up over the past century or so. But no problem, right? We know from the experience of 1815 that all we have to do is keep it from going up more than 1.5˚F.

Oh.

The more the ice melts,
the warmer it gets,
which melts the ice faster.

It’s already up 1.53˚F. Trouble is, atmospheric greenhouse gasses are higher than they’ve been in tens of thousands of years, and will continue to rise for decades because we’re pumping more of them into the sky than ever. A melting Earth absorbs heat, and greenhouse gasses keep it here in a feedback loop. The more the ice melts, the warmer it gets, which melts the ice faster. At some point it becomes unstoppable. Maybe we’ve already passed that tipping point.

Greenland is covered with ice a mile and a half deep. If it were all melted—which won’t happen quickly—the seas would become 23 feet deeper. On the other hand, if the Antarctic ice sheet were to melt entirely, the seas would be a couple hundred feet deeper. Neither of these things will happen for a long, long time, but while we’re waiting around, ice around the globe that has been frozen solid for centuries is melting faster and faster, including Greenland and Antarctica. It will probably make the oceans at least ten feet deeper by the end of the century.

The sea is already sloshing up in low-lying areas like Miami, where you might find yourself up to your ankles in saltwater, or your car up to its hubcaps. I have friends here in California who at high tide now have to wade through the parking lot to get to their houseboat. People are moving off of low islands in several parts of the world, because high tides regularly wash completely over their property.

Everyone who lives on the seacoast
will have to move to higher ground.
More places will become unbearably hot.

Every coastal region in the world is about to lose land to salt water. It’s already well underway. People who have non-floating homes in these places will have to move to higher ground, where other people already live. Unfortunately, places that are already hot will be hotter. We’ll lose a lot of agricultural land, like California’s Central Valley, because there won’t be enough fresh water to grow crops.

Well, maybe we’ll be “lucky” and have a big eruption of the largest active volcano in the world, making it colder for a while. That would be the volcano under Yellowstone National Park. It could blow any time between today and 100,000 years from now, and we haven’t the faintest clue when. Maybe another Year Without a Summer wouldn’t be such a great idea anyway.

Looks like we’re not about to have another 1815 year anytime soon, and each new scientific report brings worse climate news. Looks like it may be 4˚F  to 7˚F hotter by the end of the century. Looks like the seas will be ten to twenty feet deeper if we’re lucky.

That’s what’s trending.

Let’s Make Us Some Life

[A little digression from the ongoing exasperation of trying to understand human behavior.]

Test Tube Life

Every scientific attempt to “make” life has failed. They have all involved mixing all the right chemicals together in a test tube and waiting for life to happen. It didn’t. But haven’t we forgotten something?

Life didn’t begin in a test tube, and it didn’t involve a very brief time, like a mere human lifespan. The conditions that gave rise to life probably occurred not in Darwin’s “warm little pond”, but in a vastly greater area, like hundreds of square miles, even thousands. And they didn’t involve only one set of conditions, but probably many thousands, even millions, only one of which gave rise to life.

The truth is, we have no idea of the scale of natural “experiments” that were required to create life on early Earth. But we do know it wasn’t test tube sized. It was Earth sized, and it happened early, just tens of millions of years after Earth’s formation, when conditions were quite different from what they are today. The mixing probably happened in places cold and hot, on land and in the sea, maybe very deep, where Earth’s volcanic core creates jets of hot water. But it probably went on for many millions of years, and then, suddenly, in only one place, stuff got put together just the right way and there was life. The most primitive form of life, out of which our whole existence eventually came.

Is it any wonder our puny test tube experiments all failed?

Life From Space

There is also the possibility that the building blocks of life arrived as part of the never ending bombardment by meteorites and comets. Think about this: a meteorite broke up near Melbourne in 1969, and numerous fragments were found and studied. They were 4.5 billion years old, about the age of Earth itself, and were well stocked with the necessary amino acids required for the formation of life. How many other such occurrences might have occurred over the tens of millions of years before Earth life formed? In the millions, no doubt.

Given the vast stretches of time evolution requires, it should not surprise us if it took tens of millions of years of “fermentation” of natural or space chemicals before a few of them hooked up in exactly the right way and eventually turned into every life form there ever was, including us.

Our One and Only Shot

But it only happened once. We know this is true because we share the very same elemental essence as every other living thing on the planet. We share more than half of our DNA with yeast, that most primitive of life forms, and we share over 98% of our DNA with chimps, and we share it with everything else! Every living thing, plant and animal alike, is built from DNA, just like us. Miraculous, all right.

But chew on this, too. Our total existence is so far only about one percent of the era in which dinosaurs lived, and they were successful for many millions of years. Yet there is more than a little evidence that in the tiny sliver of time we have been in charge we have probably created the conditions for our own extinction. A crashing asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. It looks increasingly like we’ll be killed off by our own stupidity.

Published in: on 2014/10/21 at 9:44 am  Comments (4)  
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Six Essentials of Liberal Democracy

Liberalism evolved very slowly from a society nobody today would call liberal. What we consider the liberal norm today arrived piece by piece, with great difficulty. Until mid-20th century, “liberal” was closer to what Americans consider conservative than to modern democratic liberalism.

The term “liberal” causes a great deal of confusion because even today its meaning in many parts of the world is nearly the opposite of what it means in the US. What do you make of “right-wing liberals”, or “neoliberals”?

Several hundred years ago the European political world consisted of very rich nobility and powerless very poor and uneducated peasants. There was no middle class, and class was forever locked in place. Little by little, social changes brought new liberties and inclusiveness that we have come to accept as permanent and natural. 

Conservative thought has had defining figures, particularly Edmund Burke (1729-1797) in England and Russell Kirk (1918-1994) in the US, who have listed conservatism’s salient characteristics. Compared to liberalism, conservatism has changed very little.

Liberal thought had a much more checkered and irregular evolution, and there is no centralizing liberal thinker like Kirk. The important characteristics of liberalism have only stabilized within the past half century or so, whereas conservative concepts such as a belief in the superiority of the rich have remained unchanged for four centuries.

Historically, liberalism has been associated with utilitarianism. It remains utilitarian because government must address the changing needs of citizens. It has also become impossible to disentangle economics from liberalism, because much of the proper role of government centers around the management and distribution of wealth. Social justice must also be included, because the wellbeing of the citizens is of paramount concern, and it also depends on egalitarian economics.

Here’s my take on the subject.

Principles of a modern liberal democracy

  1. The purpose of democratic government is to serve all the people. To the extent that a government does not serve all the people, it is not a democracy. A liberal democracy is by definition inclusionary, treating the rights and responsibilities of all persons equally.
  2. Capitalism is an essential part of the modern world, at least until an improved economics evolves, and in general is a positive influence in a democracy. However, capitalism has serious faults, the most significant being that it tends strongly toward control by the few very rich and inequality for the rest, and for that reason alone its excesses must be firmly controlled.
  3. Equality of opportunity is one of the most important determinants of citizen wellbeing. Economic equality is strongly correlated with many positive social outcomes, including a number that would not appear to be related. For example, rates of diabetes are lower with greater equality. In virtually every case, these positive outcomes save money and create a smoother operating and more peaceful state, and for that reason equality is essential.
  4. Liberalism is built on a foundation of moral behavior in individuals and institutions. Unlike conservatism, liberalism makes no claim that morality requires religion. It is easily demonstrated that moral behavior does not rely on belief in a supreme being or on religious dogma. Nor do religious beliefs guarantee moral behavior.
  5. It is essential that equality before the law be absolute. Equality precedes tolerance. We will never banish intolerance completely because it depends on individual attitudes, rather than government. Equality improves tolerance. It is the duty of government to eliminate social inequality; it is the duty of each citizen to cultivate tolerance.
  6. A liberal democratic society calls for the best from all citizens, to be informed and able to vote and express opinion intelligently, to cultivate honesty and tolerance, and to work for the betterment of self, family, and country. Equality requires government policy and individual action: free and equal public education, public policy encouraging equality and living wage, and an active free press.

How are we doing?

We are failing the first requirement, and much of the reason is because of the lack of opportunity for the poor that is built into our wage structure. Inequality is soaring, yet we are arguing about whether we should raise a minimum wage that is clearly inadequate, rather than establishing a Living Wage like those in other advanced nations. Living Wage would allow every working family to live with dignity and enjoy the blessings of a free and liberal democracy. Minimum wage does not.

Much of the reason we are failing the first element has to do with our failure to properly manage the second, capitalism. Virtually all of the new wealth of the past 40 years has gone to people who have no need of it, extracted from the millions who have desperate need of enough money to survive. The tendency toward inequality is inherent in capitalism, but we have regressed, because protection of worker rights was an important part of conservative politics of 50 years ago. Today’s conservatives, though, continue to honor dogma that says great wealth will create more wealth for everyone, while all evidence says the opposite. Great wealth, in fact, is enormously corrupting, and has brought us laws that heavily favor the richest by extracting wealth from the poorest, thus worsening their condition and weakening the nation.

No one earning inadequate pay has equal opportunity to make the most of her life. Instead, every day is spent scrambling for essentials, with no hope for a better future. The failure to provide equality of opportunity has many negative consequences. The opposite is true for equal opportunity, including many benefits that wouldn’t appear to be related. So, quite aside from universal medical care available in every advanced country except ours, a significant number of important health markers are improved with equal opportunity: less smoking and resulting disease, lower rates of diabetes and several other diseases, less obesity, higher levels of fitness, less depression. Less family violence, fewer homicides, fewer suicides, lower crime levels, less drug use. Higher educational achievement, greater occupational expertise, and so on. In short, there are numerous reasons and powerful motivations for maximizing equality of opportunity.

It goes without saying that moral behavior is essential, both for individuals and for institutions. What is not often said is that religion is not a prerequisite for moral behavior. The church has always assumed it has a monopoly on instruction in morality, but the simple fact is that morality does not depend on belief in a divinity or on religious dogma, and religious observance for certain does not guarantee moral behavior.

The fix we have gotten ourselves into by honoring the conservative creed has meant declining prospects, especially for people of modest means, but even for the middle class. Digging out of poverty is a Sisyphean task that few have the stamina for after working full time for inadequate wages. We have simply not lived up to the promise of equality called for by our founding documents.

In short, we are barely hanging on to a liberal democracy after decades of decline. We are compromised, and corrective action is desperately needed, lest we devolve into something we no longer recognize as democracy at all.

The Schools Aren’t Broken—Society Is

Those who believe private enterprise and the free market are the answer to all the world’s problems claim public schools are everything but what they actually are—one of the crown jewels of American democracy, the most efficient and effective way to bring education to the 319,000,000 of us, an institution whose superiority is recognized the world over. They are doing a great job. That’s not where the problems are.

If we want to see improvement in the schools, we have to quit beating down the regular people who sell stuff to us, deliver our packages, shelve our groceries, and so on. It doesn’t help to close “failing” schools or fire teachers because of test scores, because that’s not the problem—not to mention that our scores have shown nothing but consistent improvement. The problem is that regular folks can’t earn a living.

All we have to do
to see great improvement is
quit beating down the regular people.

Almost all the problems with schools come from poverty, not from the schools. Poverty is so pervasive and deep in the US that the poor universally feel hopeless. Why care about what you learn in school when everything in your life tells you that it will not matter?

The answer is super simple: pay a Living Wage, and in time the schools and their students will improve. “In time” is the operative term here. Results will take at least one generation, and will not result from standardized tests. This makes it very difficult for politicians whose time horizon is never beyond the next election.

Almost all the problems with schools
come from poverty.

The fact is that we are doing everything except what we must do in our effort to fix the problems in our schools. Notice that I did not say the problem “with” our schools. That’s because the problems arrive with the students on Day One, and began long before that. They don’t get enough to eat. Their family life is turmoil. There is never enough money in the house to buy necessities, in spite of the fact that the adults in the house work full time. Their neighborhood, urban, suburban, or rural, has too much crime, too much violence, too many drug dealers, all the usual problems of poverty. In the US, 1 out of 4 children are poor, which is an appalling statistic.

The single most important factor in fixing everyday life and the schools is the Living Wage laws we do not have. A rather long list of advanced countries have Living Wage laws. People with any job at all in those countries are not undernourished, and all can afford a decent place to live.

If you want change,
you have to be talking about
at least one generation down the line.

As I have said before, when the poorest earn a Living Wage, they are magically transformed from welfare recipient to tax payer, a double benefit for the whole nation.

We expect the problems with public school students to evaporate with the latest influx of profit-making corporate investments that force teachers to prepare students for standardized testing, provide charter and private school supers and principals with more money than they are worth, and put the lifetime careers of devoted veteran teachers in jeopardy because their students come from chaos and deep poverty.

We expect all the problems with students
to evaporate with the latest influx
of profit-making investments.

Sorry, folks. Foundation funding to test poor students still leaves them poor, and still leaves teachers struggling to help them with not enough resources. Not to mention that standardized tests are incapable of measuring some of the most important elements of a good education.

If you want student improvement, you have to be talking about at least one generation down the line. If you want change, the newest students have to arrive in school after a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast, and wearing decent clothing. And good preparation would have started long before the first day of school.

In fact, school success starts with sex ed in the previous generation. It is absolutely essential that every child learn about human reproduction and understand the responsibilities and dangers inherent in sex. When a young woman becomes pregnant, it is often because of ignorance, and she is also likely to be ignorant about the grave dangers to her child from alcohol, smoking, and drugs. When she does know these things, she is far less likely to become a teenage mother in the first place, and when she eventually does become pregnant, her child stands a far better chance of doing well in school, and thus in life. There is an endless progression of the young, and each new kid needs to learn these things.

We are failing because
we fail to understand
that nobody can survive
on $7.25 an hour.

However, delivery of a normal weight infant with no developmental injuries is only the first step. It’s important, but what happens after that is only minimally under the control of the new parents if they can’t earn a decent living. Absent a Living Wage, the child is more likely to be undernourished, and to have difficulty learning.

Much of the rest depends on us, and we are failing because somehow we don’t understand that nobody can survive on $7.25 an hour, which will not pay the rent in any city in the country, let alone provide other necessities of life, like food, shelter, clothing, and health care. We endlessly debate whether we should do anything about minimum wage, which is rather like standing around and debating whether we should administer CPR to the unconscious kid we pulled out of the pool.

Yeah, but what about the lousy teachers? There are teachers who should be fired forthwith, and the teacher unions exist only to keep them on. Obviously, the unions are preventing progress, and should be ended as well. That’s what testing does.

Except that’s exactly wrong. There have been highly effective teacher evaluation systems functioning for many years. One such program is called PAR. In such systems the unions and administrators work together to identify ineffective teachers, help them improve, or move them out of the system if they can’t. It works well.

I have mentioned only the poor. The middle class counts too, of course, but it is the lowest earners who count most. When the poor can earn a living, the middle class will find itself boosted by the bootstraps of the formerly poor. The students will be OK, and the schools will be too.

The Superiority of the Rich

People who are conservatives presumably want to conserve things. Most liberals agree that things should not be lost merely for the sake of change. We all believe that we have deeply important things that should be conserved. But what are those things?

Conservatives mostly want to conserve their wealth and privilege. Why? Because they believe wealth reflects the natural order of the world, that wealth indicates superiority, a superior class of people. This has been the conservative belief for at least four centuries.

That wealth indicates superiority
has been a conservative belief
for at least four centuries.

The corollary of this argument is that poverty indicates inferiority. All wealthy people are superior; all poor people are inferior. The conceit doesn’t explain how loss of wealth through misfortune affects natural superiority, or whether gain of wealth merely by being in the right place at the right time actually means superiority. It doesn’t say whether a wealthy crook is superior.

But it does explain why conservative Republicans have opposed virtually every proposal to make the lives of the working poor better, and supported every proposal to give money to the people who have absolutely no need of it.

Ironically, a large percentage of the world’s greatest artists were poor all their lives. According to conservative beliefs, they were therefore inferior people. Only after they are long gone are they recognized for what they achieved. Only then do the rich buy their creations for millions of dollars. So what were these artists? Inferior because they were poor, or superior because they made great works?

A significant number
of the world’s greatest artists
were poor all their lives.

How about the people who hit upon some lucky formula—say, a car alarm that sells like hotcakes, even though it is obnoxious and does nothing to prevent theft? Have they become superior with wealth, after an unpromising youth on the other side of the law, or do they only become superior in hindsight, when their privileged children are able to maintain their status by hiring financial experts to manage their unearned wealth?

Personally, I find the purported superiority of the rich to be a rather contemptuous concept. Any of us can name an obnoxious billionaire or two, or a disgusting millionaire who is unclear on the concepts of ethics, morality, and common decency. And any of us can name someone of modest means whom we could trust with our life. No, money isn’t what counts above all.

One of the results of this belief in conservation of wealth is that most conservatives defend wealth and its production in the face of any and all evidence that their actions lead to profoundly negative results for everyone else. The prime examples today are exacerbation of poverty and inequality as wealth is increasingly shifted to the rich by Congress, themselves millionaires, and denial of the reality of global climate change, because denial allows capitalists to continue profiteering at the expense of the world. They simply cannot appreciate that purposely playing dumb is leading us rapidly into a nightmare world we will all have no option but to address as best we can, simply because they want to increase their wealth infinitely. They are blind and deaf to anything but this conserved wealth.

People don’t become lazy
whenever there’s a market downturn.

The plain fact that inequality has worsened over the past four decades at the same time that the rich were given gift after gift is a fact sufficiently obvious to destroy their argument that poverty is the result of natural inferiority and laziness. People don’t become lazy whenever there’s a market downturn. Nobody likes being out of work and having to depend on emergency funds, compromising their own future. Many people looking for work after a market crash cannot logically be a sign of natural laziness. Yet that is precisely what conservatives were saying after the 2008 crash, just as they did in the 1930s. But in spite of the undeniable truth of this logic, they are undeterred, and continue to believe in their own unquestionable superior leadership.

The conservative religion is no more subject to reason than other religions.

Who Owns the National Wealth?

You’ve seen these things.

GenProgInd

the great upward income shift

low-wage

Screen Shot 2011-10-26 at 7.04.09 PM  

They are endless, dozens of them, and what they all show is that inequality is out of control. It is weakening our country in many ways.

This has come about because people with power, which means money, believe in two falsehoods. The falsehoods are that they, the capitalist rich, are the naturally superior leaders, and that the more money they have, the better off the country will be. On the first point they overestimate their wonderfulness by a whole lot. On the second they are flat-out wrong, which is what all those charts above show.

Now, capitalism beats tyranny easily enough, and pure socialism as well, and is beneficial for democratic countries in a general way. But capitalism has very serious flaws that must be controlled, and one of them is at present creating havoc with people’s lives in the US. The flaw is that capitalism tends toward control by the few very wealthy, and worsening fortunes for all the rest, as you can see.

Capitalism has very serious flaws
that must be controlled.

Our dilemma, should we decide to do anything about it, is to find ways to bring the blessings of living in history’s richest nation to all those millions who aren’t able to earn a decent living no matter how hard they work, and to do this without making excessive demands on capitalists, who do in fact contribute something worthwhile.

In actual fact, solving the entire difficulty is simple, and it requires only two things.

First, we must have a rational wage. Arguing about our pathetic $7.25 minimum wage will get us nowhere. What we need is a Living Wage, like that in most of the advanced nations. People can live on a Living Wage. Nobody can live on minimum wage.

At a stroke, Living Wage ends most poverty and the welfare cost that goes with it. People earning a Living Wage will bring prosperity to the country because they will spend the majority of their earnings, and the added demand will create additional jobs. And they will pay taxes.

At a stroke,
Living Wage ends most poverty
and the welfare cost that goes with it.

Living Wage does not make people wealthy, but it does away with the dangers and hopelessness of poverty. People do not need great wealth to live a good life. When you can buy food and pay the rent, and where a health problem can no longer ruin your life, many other elements of the good life are available. Things like family gatherings, entertainment, travel, good food, community events, and so on. You can relax and enjoy life. You don’t need a second home or a yacht.

Now for the other end of the economic scale.

It is clear that the only feasible way to collect money for our national needs is progressive taxation. The rich live far, far above the point where additional income means anything at all. They can’t even spend it. So progressive taxes, even fairly steep ones, would be equitable.

We need to eliminate a lot of tax loopholes
and define moderately progressive taxation.

Notice that it is not necessary for the highest tax to be extreme, because even the lowest earners of Living Wage pay tax. The welfare payments necessary when people can’t make ends meet turn into taxes paid. Therefore, a reasonably progressive tax treats everyone fairly, and makes possible a number of fiscal improvements such as equal public funding for every student from pre-kindergarten through college.

So it turns out that fixing the mess we have made from maldistribution of the national wealth is not the impossible problem we have supposed it to be. All we need is a wise Living Wage, equitable progressive taxation, and an end of unfair tax loopholes.

Of course it’s not quite that simple, because capitalism and capitalists have managed to contrive many ways for both individuals and corporations to avoid paying their share of taxes. Individuals have a large number of tax-avoidance schemes, most of which they have arranged by simply purchasing legislative influence. Not many have shown any indication they think equality is worth bothering about.

The latest  among many schemes for corporations is to pretend they are now headquartered in some low-tax country such as Ireland. There are many other ways, and many of the very richest corporations in the country don’t pay a dime in taxes.

The nominal corporate tax rate is too high, but no one pays the top rate. Still, it should be lowered to make it realistic, and these avoidance schemes done away with at the same time. With few exceptions, every worker and every business should pay tax, because every person and every business uses the benefits that taxes provide.

No formal study I know of is available at present that would tell how this plan would pan out, but I believe that those changes would improve our national economics a lot.

The Unfinished Business of Democracy in the US

Outstanding advances have been made since feudal days. Everybody goes to school. Children no longer work in dangerous jobs for pennies. Today nobody bats an eye over the fact that every adult can vote, and has a whole series of rights, many of which didn’t exist not so long ago.

But it’s a delusion to imagine we are finished now—or ever. Any fool knows that there will never be a time when all has been accomplished, and we can rest. So. What’s next on the agenda?

Equality of opportunity and schools.

There are always those who would rail against “equality” because they think that means “socialism”. No, no. Calm down. Equality of opportunity means exactly that and nothing more. It means that no person should be prevented from achieving the life they want for themselves because of artificial limitations.

Inequality and schools
are what we should be
most concerned about now.

We’ve done pretty well in that regard. Restrictive laws based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, cultural background, and so on, all very common not long ago, are either voided or are in the process. That’s not to say that all will be right with the world, because you can make laws that forbid discrimination, for example, but you can’t legislate what people are required to think…and we should be very grateful for that, because it’s not true everywhere.

You could say that equality of opportunity starts with sex education, which should be taught to every child. How anyone could approve of keeping children indefinitely ignorant about reproduction, its joys, dangers, and responsibilities, defies reason. It’s been well proven that sex education brings less irresponsible sexual activity, less unwanted pregnancy, less STD, and fewer unmarried teen mothers. Some of the highest rates of those things occur in the most non-permissive settings. Kids do very well with sex education. They treat the subject very matter-of-factly, as kids do in European schools.

Sex education should be taught to every child.

But young women will sometimes get pregnant, and it’s of paramount importance that they learn their responsibilities long before they do. A fetus can be very easily harmed by all sorts of things. Bad diet of the mom is the easiest to deal with, but alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs are disastrous. Unfortunately, young women in an unexpected pregnancy may not have learned these things. Worse, they may not be able to manage the health of their unborn child without help.

We should go to great lengths to assure that every girl learns how to keep herself and her baby healthy long before it becomes imperative. And why should we do that? Fetal injury and poor child nutrition are highly correlated with antisocial and criminal behavior as an adult. The opposite is true for healthy babies and properly nourished children. Providing the means for making all children healthy and well nourished would save the country billions of dollars every year, and generate generations of accomplished adults. Preventing even one child from becoming a serial killer can save several hundred million dollars, and assuring more widespread maturity in young adults would make the whole country stronger and smarter.

Failure as an adult
is highly correlated
with fetal injury,
poor child nutrition,
and abuse.

Closely related to child wellbeing is prevention of child abuse. What is needed here are programs to identify abusive parents, intensive programs to teach them how to be good parents, and ways for the child to escape the situation when needed. Such programs are by necessity expensive and long term. But they save far more than they cost.

Next comes school.

We cannot expect equality in our schools unless every public school student in the country receives equivalent funding. Equivalent funding is not possible as long as we rely on property tax for school funding. The reason is simple: there is more property to tax in richer districts, whereas there is very little property to tax in poor districts. It is incumbent, then, that school funding be rearranged to remove this automatic inequality.

Every public school student
must receive equivalent funding.

We should not be distracted by those who want to privatize schools. Free public schools are a keystone achievement of modern democracy, and any move to weaken them will weaken the whole country. That also means that the trend among some school boards to water down the teaching of science for religious reasons must be defeated. This is especially so because state boards in large states could potentially require anti-science such as creationism in textbooks that are used across the country.

Nor are charter schools a good idea. They have not demonstrated superiority to public schools, and meantime have the potential to weaken the public system. Private schools are another matter entirely, and whoever wants to send their children to a private school should be free to do so. However, there should be no financial reward for doing so.

Free college education
should be a national priority.

Next comes free college. I have given my opinion about free college here. The upshot is that the rich US universities can all easily afford to subsidize every student’s entire college cost, including living costs. Beyond that, there are many that could presently underwrite a significant part of college costs.

The remainder will require restructuring of taxes and increased priority for educational funding. This varies from rather low costs for community colleges, to more significant changes for institutions such as state universities. The single thing to remember is that many of the most advanced nations in the world, even some poor ones, underwrite the entire cost of all college education. Germany has a brand new program for free college. The economic reward, the national benefit for all of them, is a well educated and highly trained work force, putting the country at it’s most competitive and its population at its most democratically intelligent. This is not true for the US now.

Next: Equitable distribution of national wealth.

We’re All Wrong About Race

The perception among many whites is that blacks cause their own problems, by being criminal, by failing to get education, by being druggies, by being absent parents, and so on.

The perception among many blacks is that the deck is so heavily stacked against them, with de facto housing discrimination, lack of job opportunities, and ongoing police violence, that continuing conflict and inequality are inevitable.

Both are right—a little bit—and both are wrong. Race relations are a two-way street and we are traveling away from each other. As a nation, as a society, we have allowed inequality, poverty, and lack of opportunity to persist for generations, and have not addressed the conditions forcefully enough. The problems don’t just persist, but in many cases worsen, and usually affect the poor, not just blacks.

We have failed to address
economic opportunity
in any meaningful way.

Why do so many poor people, of all races, fail to thrive? I think much of the answer is that we have failed to address economic inequality in any meaningful way. Further, conservatives continue to embrace the fiction that the entire reason people don’t succeed is because they don’t try.

We seem to spend endless time debating minimum wage, with rich conservatives convinced not only that anyone can live on minimum wage, but that paying a true living wage would bring down the entire economy. This is another case where the actual facts make no difference, because they contradict the self-serving conservative religion. Far better minimum wages are the practice in many First World nations, along with mandatory paid vacation, sick leave, and other benefits. They work well, and there is no reason that shouldn’t be the case in the US.

There is no reason
the US should not have
Living Wage laws.

The poor come from urban, suburban, and rural areas that are poor. The people have great difficulty earning enough money for a decent life. Much of what little opportunity for work they do have gives them either low pay or it is seasonal or temporary. Millions of people work full time, or even have multiple jobs, at near minimum wage. None of them make enough to support a family. A significant number who work for places like Mickey-D and Walmart only manage with welfare, which of course we pay for, in effect subsidizing the multi-million dollar bonuses of the top execs who believe $7.25 is adequate.

Many whites, especially conservative Republicans, believe that blacks who struggle with dead-end jobs (somehow forgetting that there are more whites than blacks in such jobs) are unsuccessful at rising from poverty because they are lazy. But the vast majority of people of any color want to work, and want their share of the prosperity that should be available to everyone. But in many places the opportunity does not exist.

Students in South Korea
don’t view learning
as “acting white”.

Still, a small number of disaffected young black (and other) men seem to go out of their way to do everything wrong. They come to believe early on that the payoff for education is not available to them, so they reject education entirely. Their absentee rates are higher than anyone else. They leave high school largely illiterate and innumerate almost as a point of pride, keeping themselves purposely ignorant. They reject everything that they perceive as “white”. This virtually guarantees a life of poverty. This is a bad mistake, and it has nothing to do with “whiteness”. Obviously, students in, say, South Korea, don’t think getting an education is “white”, and such students will be our competition.

On the other side of the color line, who would not want to be somewhere else when a scowling, muscular white guy wearing a lot of leather and metal stuff, shaved head, and a swastika tattoo on his forehead shows up. Why is it so hard for such people to see themselves as others see them? This is purposeful construction of an obnoxious character. They may actually be intelligent and talented young men, but they are going nowhere acting and dressing like that.

White attitudes are like religious beliefs,
which are unaffected by actual facts.

If any solution to this giant culture clash is to come about, both elements will have to move toward a point in the middle. The more difficult task is to change white attitudes, because white attitudes are like religious beliefs, which are unaffected by actual facts. The same prejudices and stereotypes that prevailed half a century ago remain today, and recent news suggest there is little improvement. A large percentage of whites blame unarmed blacks for their own murder by violent, out-of-control police. I think we can safely say that equality comes first. Gradually, generations after equality has improved, tolerance will follow.

The government at all levels has the major responsibility for correcting social inequality. Tolerance can only come from individuals. In my opinion, doing away with the practice of funding schools with property taxes, and establishing laws that mandate equal funding of every child, will go a long way, but will not solve everything.

Such proposals as I suggest
are mainstream and
common in other countries.

Such proposals as I suggest are not radical. They are mainstream and common in other countries, and would benefit the nation as a whole. Yet we fail to take advantage of them, mostly because of the conservative fable that all poverty is the fault of the lazy black poor. The US is the only First World nation that fails to fund all students equally. Further, several nations provide additional funding to help students rise from poverty.

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