The Scourge of “Development” in the Third World

“Development” in almost any setting means that wealth decides what is to be developed and where, and imposes that plan on the people involved. This happens even where I live, in San Francisco.

But the greatest development evils happen in poor countries with authoritarian leaders, where large numbers of people are displaced, all control over their own lives is ended, and commonly some of them die in the process.

Wealth decides
what is to be developed and where,
and imposes that plan on the people.

Uganda, 2010: government soldiers forced a whole village of farmers off their fields at gunpoint, fields their families had farmed for centuries, and burned all their homes order to grow trees for lumber. Lumber!, on the advice of development “experts”. Two years later an almost identical scheme drove 1.5-million farmers of their land in Ethiopia. In India, the developers forced hundreds of thousands off their land to build a dam. They were promised new homes and great benefit from the new electricity generated. None of that happened. In Nigeria Big Oil moved in, stole the natural resources by paying off the corrupt government, poisoned the land, and people had to move away from their ancient homeland into the world’s worst slums.

These occurrences are endless, and it is always those without power and money who lose out—including their homes, their livelihood, their very lives. It is always the giant corporations, the corrupt autocrats, and the rich countries that benefit, never the people.

You can almost guarantee a bad outcome with the combination of autocracy and development experts. The money is always stolen one way or another, the development project is either never started or never finished, and the intended recipients never get an ounce of benefit.

Development experts always think in terms of grandiose projects for the entire country and believe only “experts” can decide what is best. Always the people who should have the most to say, and who are usually hurt by the projects, are never asked, and never asked to contribute their talents. The country never benefits as promised.

The wellbeing of the people

It is surprising how little importance wealth has. What poor people everywhere need and want sounds pretty much like what is prescribed by the UN list of basic rights: freedom from violence, adequate food, and so on. Basically, people don’t give a damn about “development” if they aren’t free, because giving money to an autocrat makes them neither free nor developed, and usually makes things worse.

Unless the freedom and wellbeing of the individual is an actuality on the ground, which is rare, the country will be run for the benefit of the rich and powerful, who gain their wealth by extracting it from the poor. They also are enriched by diverting the charitable assistance of rich nations, and by outright theft of the country’s resources. In every case, the rest of the nation is poor, and is virtually never helped by the government.

Giving what is not needed

The bigger the development agency, the less able it is to provide the people with what they actually need. Most such agencies are essentially authoritarian, and so are their client states. “Experts in development”, either within the agency, within the government, or within academe—but never within the recipient citizens themselves—determine what should be done to foster economic growth, when often “growth” or “development” is not what is needed.

The greatest needs in many places are clean water, sanitary waste disposal, adequate food, and protection from various diseases. But big agencies are simply unable to deal with anything that costs less than tens of millions of dollars. So they provide, say, a big dam, or transmitting towers. The real needs remain unmet, and no work or money reaches those who need it. Little agencies build, say, an orphanage—where no one asked for or needs an orphanage. Or a windmill that wasn’t asked for. Then they leave and do not return. Within a few years, absent maintenance and parts, each project collapses.

Most development agencies
are authoritarian.

A major effort is launched to provide families with mosquito netting to battle malaria, and the agency orders thousands of nets from big European manufacturers and gives them away free. The local factory that makes nets is never asked to make netting for the effort, and none of their products are purchased. Instead of enlarging their output they are forced to shutter their factory, and the country becomes poorer for it. Grain dumped by heavily subsidized American corporate farmers is imported by the ton to battle a famine, while regional farmers go broke because they no longer have a market for their grain, can’t beat subsidized prices, and are forced to move to dismal city slums. The country becomes poorer.

Things like this happen all the time, and the primary reason is that the people most affected are never consulted, and most often have no real democracy. What is available locally is ignored because millions of dollars can be used to buy goods, services, and products from First World corporations.

The non-development movement

When the colonial era got underway, Europe saw most of the world as empty territory, a blank slate, there for the taking. The people who lived there were seen as nothing more than impediments to “progress”, and non-whites everywhere were universally assumed to be incapable of competence.

As the colonial era ground to a halt, the native people in nearly every colonial territory had suffered under several centuries of despotic rule followed by home-grown kleptocracy, and thus were reduced to deep poverty, their cultural strengths ignored or destroyed.

Somewhere between one and three trillion dollars have been spent over the past fifty years, and only a small part of it has made any difference at all. One of the few successful ventures has been in reducing infant and childhood deaths, which is a broad based effort. Only a few years ago they stood at some 18,000 daily, and now are half of that, so preventable deaths of the young stand at a mere three million a year now.

Except that we don’t know if that’s really true. Health statistics are notoriously inaccurate in the Third World, yet determining the degree of success depends entirely on having accurate data, from a lot of people, over a long period. We have little data, from not enough people, over too short a time. Whether child mortality has actually been halved is highly questionable.

One to three trillion dollars
have been spent,
and only a small part
has made any difference.

Unfortunately, nearly everything else has come to naught, and some are calling for a halt to it all. Among them is the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (Dead Aid), who thinks all aid should simply stop. The Americans David Glenwinkel (The Insanity of Africa) and William Easterly (The Tyranny of Experts) call for a radical rethinking of how we go about it. All three point out that our plans virtually never work as advertised, mostly because the people aren’t free and we haven’t consulted them. If the money isn’t siphoned off somewhere along the line, it often has unwanted results.

Personally, I think cessation of all charity and foreign aid would be a mistake, though. After all, even slightly improving the horrendous toll of childhood deaths is a worthwhile accomplishment, one that could not have occurred without extensive outside help. Organizations like Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center, working with other groups, have virtually wiped out several tropical diseases that had caused widespread suffering and incapacitation.

It wouldn’t hurt to simply quit giving money to tyrants.

BREAKING: White People Are a Small Minority

WHITE POPULATION IN THE WORLD IS ONLY 16%!!!!

Catastrophe! All Heaven forfend! We are surely doomed. DOOMED, I tell you! How did this calamity come about?

Well, it didn’t “come about”. White people have always been a small minority. After many centuries in which Europe was the civilized world’s swampy and uncivilized backwater, power and wealth arose with the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, and white people took their turn conquering the world, as other populations had done before them without benefit of the modern age.

With the invasion and conquering of foreign lands which lacked modern weapons and technology, combined with the brutality born of infinite greed, whites came to think of themselves as superior to all. Spanish slaughters of aboriginal Americans ensued. British mistreatment of South Asians. Colonization and exploitation in Africa by the Dutch and practically every other European power, every bit of it driven by the quest for unearned wealth, to be stolen from “inferiors”.

White people have always been a small minority.

In the (eventual) US, the more wealthy whites, specifically white anglo-saxon Protestants, assumed the role of masters of the North, as did slave-owning whites in the South. Whites came to assume that they were naturally superior to all. African slaves were animals, obviously, and therefore whites were given permission by the Bible to rule over them in any way they wanted to. Then of course there was the genocide of aborigines by various means. And each and every wave of immigrants was assumed to be barbaric and not suited for civilization. There were actual serious debates about whether the Irish and Italians, in their turn, could be educated at all. For such purposes, they were considered “black”.

And so we arrive at the present day, in which the most astonishingly ignorant white people, encouraged in their ignorance by political propagandists, are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone. Among them, rampant intolerance rides high, and skin color is the determining factor. Some are all but illiterate.

are country

OMG

Many of the politicians they elect relentlessly repeat this fable of superiority, playing to less educated intolerant white people who want to hear once more about their own superiority and victimhood: I am naturally superior, and would be better off if it weren’t for all those brown minorities who are freeloading on my tax dollars.

Ignorant white people are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone.

These people are utterly ignorant of the facts, that the ripoff artists are not the “minorities”, who are not minorities anyway, and who mostly work at minimum wage—and pay taxes. They sense that they are worse off, and want someone to blame. Politicians work hard to tell them who that should be.

Such people have been told so long about inferior minorities that they can’t help but buy the tale. If you told them they themselves were a minority, and that they are being suckered, they simply wouldn’t believe it. Like every other kind of faith, this does not yield to mere facts.

Maybe that’s not such a mystery, because the rich themselves appear to embrace economic beliefs that have repeatedly been proven false, but stagger on, zombielike. No, tax breaks for the rich never trickle down. Any fool can see this from any of the many charts demonstrating the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, starting with Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supply-side economics, which has been discredited a hundred ways.

Screen Shot 2011-10-26 at 7.04.09 PM

White Americans, especially lower income folk, must somehow learn: it is they, not the brown-skinned people from south of the border, who are the minority. They are not at all superior because of the paleness of their skin. They are being suckered by those who bombard them with the fairy tale of their victimhood at the hands of those who look superficially different from themselves. They are being victimized by the very people who tell them it’s all the Mexicans’ fault.

Getting these people to understand how things really are is all but impossible because of the fairy tales they have been told all their lives. But we have no choice but to try.

Published in: on 2014/07/24 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

BREAKING: White People are a Small Minority

WHITE POPULATION IN THE WORLD IS ONLY 16%!!!!

Catastrophe! All Heaven forfend! We are surely doomed. DOOMED, I tell you! How did this calamity come about?

Well, it didn’t “come about”. White people have always been a small minority. After many centuries in which Europe was the civilized world’s swampy and uncivilized backwater, power and wealth arose with the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, and white people took their turn conquering the world, as other populations had done before them without benefit of the modern age.

With the invasion and conquering of foreign lands which lacked modern weapons and technology, combined with the brutality born of infinite greed, whites came to think of themselves as superior to all. Spanish slaughters of aboriginal Americans ensued. British mistreatment of South Asians. Colonization and exploitation in Africa by the Dutch and practically every other European power, every bit of it driven by the quest for unearned wealth, to be stolen from “inferiors”.

White people have always been a small minority.

In the (eventual) US, the more wealthy whites, specifically white anglo-saxon Protestants, assumed the role of masters of the North, as did slave-owning whites in the South. Whites came to assume that they were naturally superior to all. African slaves were animals, obviously, and therefore whites were given permission by the Bible to rule over them in any way they wanted to. Then of course there was the genocide of aborigines by various means. And each and every wave of immigrants was assumed to be barbaric and not suited for civilization. There were actual serious debates about whether the Irish and Italians, in their turn, could be educated at all. For such purposes, they were considered “black”.

And so we arrive at the present day, in which the most astonishingly ignorant white people, encouraged in their ignorance by political propagandists, are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone. Among them, rampant intolerance rides high, and skin color is the determining factor. Some are all but illiterate.

are country

OMG

Many of the politicians they elect relentlessly repeat this fable of superiority, playing to less educated intolerant white people who want to hear once more about their own superiority and victimhood: I am naturally superior, and would be better off if it weren’t for all those brown minorities who are freeloading on my tax dollars.

Ignorant white people are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone.

These people are utterly ignorant of the facts, that the ripoff artists are not the “minorities”, who are not minorities anyway, and who mostly work at minimum wage—and pay taxes. They sense that they are worse off, and want someone to blame. Politicians work hard to tell them who that should be.

Such people have been told so long about inferior minorities that they can’t help but buy the tale. If you told them they themselves were a minority, and that they are being suckered, they simply wouldn’t believe it. Like every other kind of faith, this does not yield to mere facts.

Maybe that’s not such a mystery, because the rich themselves appear to embrace economic beliefs that have repeatedly been proven false, but stagger on, zombielike. No, tax breaks for the rich never trickle down. Any fool can see this from any of the many charts demonstrating the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, starting with Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supply-side economics, which has been discredited a hundred ways.

Screen Shot 2011-10-26 at 7.04.09 PM

White Americans, especially lower income folk, must somehow learn: it is they, not the brown-skinned people from south of the border, who are the minority. They are not at all superior because of the paleness of their skin. They are being suckered by those who bombard them with the fairy tale of their victimhood at the hands of those who look superficially different from themselves. They are being victimized by the very people who tell them it’s all the Mexicans’ fault.

Getting these people to understand how things really are is all but impossible because of the fairy tales they have been told all their lives. But we have no choice but to try.

The All-America Refugee Crisis

They flee from rough slums across parched wild deserts, thugs with guns threatening them everywhere they go. Aged five to twenty, they have seen friends and relatives killed, and know the gangs will get them one way or another unless they leave. Finally, unless they are captured by criminals along the way, or are cut in half when they fall off the train, they cross the border and ask the first person they see to save them.

Syrians, fleeing al-Assad’s murderous brutality? Nigerians who live in fear of Boko Haram’s heinous raids? No, these are children from Central America who know they are in the cross-hairs of drug criminals. Children. They know if they don’t flee they may die very young. Some of their friends did.

Children from Central America know
they are in the cross-hairs
of drug criminals.

And they are greeted by the Border Patrol, and intolerant fools who view them not as refugees fleeing murder, or at least as the desperate poor, but as criminal invaders who will somehow take money from them and vote for Democrats.

The perennially disastrous situation in the Middle East has created millions of refugees, and countries bordering war zones, all of which are considerably poorer than the US, have stepped up to take in these hordes of displaced people who have nowhere else to go. In some of them, neat looking tent cities of several hundred thousand people have suddenly appeared in the desert, complete with clean water and sanitary facilities. This places great strain on their involuntary hosts simply because of the massive numbers of refugees—in the millions.

Then there’s the US.

We consider ourselves flooded by dangerous criminals when fifty thousand children show up over a period of six months, alone, and afraid for their lives. We are doing our best to send them back. Some of them will no doubt be murdered, but we’ll never get a body count.

We consider ourselves
flooded by dangerous criminals
when fifty thousand children show up.

Never mind that their numbers are insignificant compared to those fleeing from war elsewhere. The “huge numbers” we are having difficulty dealing with comes to 5% of what smaller countries in the Middle East take in.

Hatred of immigrants by Norteño whites bespeaks intolerant small minds, who consider anyone with darker skin to be automatically criminal, a threat to themselves, no matter who they are, or what age. Such people somehow fail to register the fact that we are all immigrants. Never mind that children who brave very dangerous weeks and months traveling by foot and freight train are children, running from criminals who have killed others, and would kill them.

As usual, most of our current refugee problem is self-created. As usual, we fail to understand that much of the reason they become refugees, either because of violence or poverty, is our own politico-corporate policies. These policies are designed only for the benefit of corporate executives, and bring desperate poverty and vanished hope to millions. Is there any wonder that they want to live where they wouldn’t have to worry every day about murder, on top of hunger? They would all prefer to live at home, but we have helped to make that impossible.

Most of our current refugee problem is self-created.

We, along with the many Latin American tyrants we have supported, have created the problems that now contribute to the desperation of immigrant-refugees. We have failed to check our own drug addiction, instead spending billions in a fruitless attempt to stop the flow of them into the US. Our policies enrich our corporations and the prison industry, and at the same time destroy the livelihoods of millions of workers to our south.

We fail to acknowledge that every group of immigrants we’ve had has been an economic blessing for the country. Instead, even governmental agencies see it as their primary duty to intercept children who cross our borders in desperation and send them back to the place they are fleeing from where they may well be murdered if they refuse to become gang members themselves.

Misplaced priorities, anyone?

The Mandatory Republican Makeover

There are deep differences between Republicans and Democrats, but that’s not the debate that’s happening today. Today, Republicans have succumbed to the irrationality, magical beliefs, and outright falsehoods of ignorant and intolerant far right crazies, who demand honoring the illogical and impossible. The most distressing part of this is that otherwise intelligent people subscribe to these impossibilities.

The current effort among the furthest right Republicans is “reform”, by which is meant “finding ways to cut funding for crucial expenses and lower taxes for the very rich”. The real Republican vision is nowhere to be seen.

It will not be easy to move Republicans away from the insanity that has come to define them, because their political lives are literally controlled by billionaires and badly educated ignoramuses whose grasp of reality puts them on a par with the Taliban.

Republicans have succumbed
to the irrationality and magical beliefs
of far right crazies.

Looking at just one conservative belief, Repubs should ask themselves how sacred their Immaculate Free Market should be. No one but a devout communist would argue for omnipresent government control, but to argue that government should have no part in it at all, as many do, is insanity.

Corporate billionaires have little interest in anything but profit. If they did, they would embrace any and all steps that would stop the destruction of the human life support system, well under way, that will soon engulf us in uncontrollable decline and rising seas (not to mention make their profit irrelevant). But they oppose all steps to preserve our life support system. Such captains of industry are no friend of the people or the planet.

The real Republican vision
is nowhere to be seen.

Not that government limits have never been embraced by the bosses. From our first years, all of our new industries had import protections until they were well established. Yet it remains a Republican shibboleth that there must be no such interference in the all-benevolent Free Market. The most dangerous element of this belief in the benign wisdom of the free market is that industry can be trusted to protect the American people.

Sure. These are the people who want to disembowel the Environmental Protection Agency, and imagine that the result would be the saving of vast amounts of wasted tax money. Al contrario, the result would be the rapid decline of air and water quality and other environmental damage, creating disease, death, and decay that would cost thousands of times more than could possibly be saved. The average value to the US found in all independent cost/benefit analyses of the EPA is in the range of a trillion dollars each year.

Tea Party fools have pushed the GOP so far to the right it has become detached from reality, both in the sense of scientific reality and in its belief in blatantly racist falsehoods and religious stupidity. Lawmakers should weigh all the facts before making decisions, but they have purposely made themselves deaf, dumb, and unresponsive to rational thought.

Tea Party fools have purposely
made themselves deaf, dumb, and
unresponsive to rational thought.

Now, a country can be managed using irrational beliefs, beliefs that we have known for centuries are not the way the real world works, such as those derived from religious books that are thousands of years old. In the news today, ill-educated armies of fundamentalist Muslims (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)) are seeking to re-establish the golden age of the Caliphate, the ideal world of 1,300 years ago. The Taliban in Afghanistan have a similar goal. Both want to turn their claimed territory, and eventually the whole world, into heaven on Earth. For whom this might be heaven is unclear, because their vision requires that half of humanity remain enslaved and uneducated, and most of the remainder crushed under a primitive barbarism that denies almost everything that makes life worthwhile. But don’t worry. If you don’t agree, they will kill you. The ISIL has murdered hundreds of captive soldiers and civilians in cold blood, and even literally crucified their own soldiers who were judged to be inadequately rabid.

I haven’t heard of a proposal quite so extreme from the GOP, but they do embrace a whole series of repressive ideas that negatively affect women and groups of people they adjudge to be naturally inferior, particularly blacks, gays, and immigrants. So we could, indeed, be a country managed under irrational beliefs.

Most of these beliefs defy science,
reality, and the most basic fundamentals
on which the country was founded.

Most of these beliefs defy science, reality, and the most basic fundamentals on which the country was founded. So we find conservative Republicans who both insist on strict interpretation of our fundamental laws as expressed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, while at the same time demanding policies that are directly contradictory to them. No better example can be had than their insistence on Constitutional fundamentalism while claiming that the US is a Christian nation, a notion that is specifically contradicted by our most fundamental laws. (Not to mention that at least a fourth of us are not even nominally Christian, and others are non-observant.) Then there’s their insistence on creationism as a scientifically valid theory, and their denial of the facts of global climate change. These ignorant and irrational zealots are hardly different from the Taliban, whose minds are trapped in the seventh century, and whose idea of education consists entirely of memorizing the Koran.

Yes, we could have such a country, where everyone is taught that dinosaurs lived a few thousand years ago, presumably during Egypt’s golden age, although no evidence has ever been found. No country that believes such falsehoods can contribute anything of importance to the modern world. World-class carpets are made by hand in Afghanistan, but no up-to-date technology will come from there any time soon.

There is no part
of this wingnut fable
that is true.

Another part of Republicanism these day is a profound racism that is creating havoc in communities that do not conform to their all-male and lily-white ideal. Thus Mexicans and Mexican-Americans—my nomination for the hardest working people on the planet—and African-Americans, and all immigrants, are judged to be naturally inferior and lazy, so it’s OK to mistreat them any way we can. Women also need to be managed carefully, which the congressional GOP’s old white males are doing their best to bring about (624 bills to regulate women’s bodies in 2013 alone, 0 for men, ever). Red state governments have also been busy, passing dozens of outrageously biased laws and regulations every year, most of which are cruel and unconstitutional.

There is no part of this wingnut fable that is true, which has been proven time and again. Yet every Republican politician in the country endlessly repeats the same fairy tales, reality be damned. The strategy, used extensively by Ronald Reagan, is not unlike Hitler’s: distract the people from their misery by blaming everything on some minority group. Hitler blamed the Jews; Republicans blame gays, blacks, and immigrants. (Only immigrants with darker skin, of course. Their own immigrant relatives don’t count.) Tell this lie often enough, the belief goes, and it will become reality.

This toxic Republicanism
does not represent
what the GOP has been and could be.

The bitter irony of all this toxic Republicanism is that it does not at all represent what the GOP has been and could be. A book published by Arthur Larson in 1956, A Republican Looks at His Party, gives us a well-reasoned study of the party and what it stands for. (I’m grateful to The Pacific Bull Moose for the suggestion.) I do not agree with everything Larson said, but what he says is rational, and not based on the kind of magical thinking and racism embraced by Tea Party nitwits and Republican ignoramuses who hold debate hostage at present.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take another look at 1956 to see what a rational Republicanism could look like in the 21st century.

What the Feds Should Do—and Not Do

Republicans and Democrats are in complete agreement that the federal government should do what is necessary—and nothing more.

The question is, what does that mean? What exactly determines which are the things the federal government should do something about, and which should be left to individuals or the states. The best answer is that the federal government should do those things most efficiently done at a national level. This is precisely the Republican position from half a century ago. But not today.

Contrary to current Republican beliefs, there are hundreds of such things, among them building and maintaining the national highway system, managing of all aspects of public broadcasting, control of the aeronautical system, the national electric grid, the military, and so on, all of which were part of the Republican platforms of the 1950s.

The federal government
should do what is necessary
—and nothing more.

But Republicans are saying today that all these things should be done by private enterprise.

Not many things could be more naive and dangerous. You may recall that industrial waste in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland regularly caught fire in the 1950s. Only after the EPA was formed, and it demanded that the water be cleaned up, did the fires stop and the fish return.

There are those who regularly rail against the EPA, calling their actions an unnecessary and costly intrusion on their private business. I suspect people who believe this have not visited foreign countries where there is little such protection. In China, for instance, virtually everyone’s health is seriously compromised by foul air, and many people die because of that. This is what things can look like in broad daylight with no EPA.

CHINA-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION-HEALTH

We should assist the development of new industries. All of our important industries received this protection when they were young. Today is no different. It may be more important, because today commerce is global and rapid, and industries in other large countries are often subsidized by their governments. Alternative energy companies are a good example of industry that can only become more important over time. We must either protect such nascent industries or surrender any hope of competing either at home or on the world market.

But support should end when they become mature and self-sufficient. Often it does not. The prime example is the petroleum industry, which continues collecting billions of federal dollars every year, even though the need for this support ended at least 75 years ago. Another case is agriculture. Billions have gone to enormous agricultural businesses who never had a need for it, while small farmers for whom the support was intended have lost out.

Politicians cannot claim to want less government and at the same time support these outdated massive diversions of our money to industries that don’t need it. Unfortunately, they have hundreds of lobbyists, and contribute heavily toward re-election of their supporters.

Politicians cannot claim
to want less government
while supporting
diversions of our money
to wealthy corporations.

The public education system seems designed to perpetuate inequality because it is (partly) funded by local property taxes. I have come to believe that every public school student nationwide should receive the same funding to overcome this structural inequality, and this could only be accomplished with a national plan. Poor states don’t have enough money to fund schools properly, which is another factor perpetuating unequal opportunity and the intellectual quagmire that is the Old South. It is an important topic for national debate.

At present we are moving in exactly the wrong direction, with constant efforts to do away with our longstanding commitment to universal free, tax funded public education. Charter schools are but one manifestation of this trend, in which a public school is managed by a private corporation. Charters have not been proven superior. Others include the home schooling fad, which may or may not provide a reasonable education, and numerous attempts to make public education into religious instruction. This includes frequent attempts to quash the teaching of objective science in favor of creationism.

Is there any merit to the claim that
private insurance is superior
to a national plan?
Frankly, no.

The hottest topic, of course, is health care. Is there any merit to the conservative belief that private medical care insurance is superior to a national plan? Is there any merit to the idea that national health care would send us rapidly down the chute into socialism?

No, and no. Conservatives have been warning about the slippery slope to socialism since before Lincoln, and there isn’t the slightest hint of socialism over all that time. Their real fear is that the profit margin of private medicine might be trimmed. Under the Affordable Care Act, costs are lower, but the longer term comparison of cost has repeatedly shown our private medical costs to be literally double what other countries pay.

The much-lamented delays in health care appointments that conservatives lately claim for national health care plans either don’t exist or are no worse than under private plans in the US. One can get a quick appointment for profitable procedures such as knee replacement in the US, and wealth somehow opens doors, but other care takes longer than in a number of other countries.

More importantly, the US has worse outcomes than national plans in child mortality, diabetes, heart disease, and lifespan, among others. Year after year, the systems rated the world’s best are national systems, such as those in France and the Scandinavian countries.

Year after year,
the systems rated the best
are national systems.

The most tragic difference, however, is that millions of people in the US have no insurance at all because they can’t afford it. Not having health care insurance costs many lives literally every day because disease conditions go untreated until it’s too late. Medical bankruptcy from lack of insurance, the most common type, can too easily cause the loss of a family’s home and belongings, and cancellation of education plans for the younger generation, as well as an unnecessary death from delayed treatment. These multi-generation family disasters could be prevented entirely with universal insurance.

While health statistics have improved under the ACA, they are unchanged in states where the Republican governor has purposely prevented people from obtaining ACA insurance, thus intentionally—and I believe criminally—causing thousands of deaths. I see no difference between them and sadistic prison wardens who withhold treatment until a prisoner dies.

A system that allows this to happen can in no way be called superior.

Conservative talking points are simply wrong. Yes, if you are among the fortunate who have good insurance, such as the subsidized plans that members of Congress have, your medical care can be excellent. But if you are at the other end of the spectrum, even a common illness can easily bring death and family ruin.

Conservatives tend to believe that the federal government is by nature incapable of doing a good job at virtually anything. Hundreds of efficient and effective programs contradict this belief. Moreover, their belief is contrary to past Republican positions. Health care insurance is an area where they have most completely been proven wrong, yet the evidence has done nothing to alter the current Republican mindset.

5 Key Challenges Democracies Must Face

[Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post and will contribute future posts from time to time. She is a writer from ArrestRecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.]

Regardless of the system of government operating within a specific region, there are natural challenges to overcome.  And while democracy has its share of advantages, even governments based on free elections and equitable representation are fraught with difficulties, at times.

The fact that we have a democratically elected government does not excuse us from the necessity to address the pressing challenges all democracies face, and sometimes our answers have not lived up to our national promise. The US promotes free markets and equal opportunity, for example, but the results are too often neither free nor equal.

Here are some key challenges all democracies must answer to:

Services and Benefits

Despite philosophical differences that separate the way governments treat citizens, there are practical concerns to be addressed one way or another.  Infrastructure, for example, supports sanitation, transportation, and other essential services that must be managed to maintain orderly societies.  Roads, bridges and other structures wear-out over time, so infrastructure is an ongoing matter to be addressed in government budgets and long-range planning efforts.  And as populations continue to grow around the world, regional governments are tasked with furnishing sewers and sanitation facilities that accommodate ever-growing numbers of citizens.

In the U.S., one-quarter of all bridges have structural problems requiring attention, or were built to such low standards they don’t meet modern construction requirements.  Schools are also outdated, built to serve a generation of students now retiring from the workforce.  A healthy democracy would employ its citizens to refurbish and construct adequate infrastructure, but budget issues do not allow it in the United States.  As a result, unemployment lingers around 7%, despite the call for much-needed upgrades that could put Americans to work.

In developed nations, where infrastructure is in good shape, governments still face expenses related to services and benefits.  Pensions and other benefits for public sector employees, for example, account for a significant share of government budgets, requiring ongoing spending financed by the populace.  

Social Order

Beyond government-backed programs that help the entire population of a particular region, governments put forth a variety of initiatives designed to increase social order and assist society’s neediest members.  In the United States, there are blanket programs in place to assist elderly, disabled and indigent members of society, but additional efforts are also made to revitalize certain neighborhoods and offer a leg-up to targeted groups within society.  While the results are never completely equitable across society, government funded social programs nonetheless account for significant government spending.

Defense

Sovereign countries provide for their own defense by building military might and maintaining standing armies.  The cost of defense is significant, requiring democratic governments to fund defense with public tax dollars.  During peaceful times, governments maintain steady budgets for personnel and equipment, but wartime present a unique set of challenges for democracies defending their sovereignty. In the United States alone, military budgets in recent years have been around $700 billion dollars annually.

Employment Climate

Global economics and a host of other factors influence unemployment in particular regions, but the government overseeing each democracy is generally responsible for facilitating a climate of robust employment.  Since so many aspects of a healthy economy are tied to high levels of employment, maintaining healthy job markets is an essential underpinning of any democratic government’s economic strategy.  Not only does unemployment compensation provided by democratic governments place a drain on funding, but the revenue lost from low productivity is not available to refresh government coffers.  As a result, high unemployment widens the social and economic gaps between groups within society.

Distribution of Wealth

One of the unique challenges facing democratic capitalist societies is an advanced stage of free markets wherein high levels of a nation’s income is concentrated near the top of the socioeconomic scale.  And since it is a zero-sum proposition, disproportional wealth at the flush end of the spectrum means that comparable poverty exists on the other end of the scale. Ten-percent of Americans, for example, represent 70% of the country’s wealth.  While the least prosperous 50% of the population account for only a few percentage points worth of total United States affluence.

The economic challenges democracies face when wealth is distributed inequitably lead to a variety of social ills as well, including class struggles between members of different social strata. 

While democratic rule furnishes advantages for many members of society, it is not a perfect system.  Inequitable distribution of wealth and other social concerns arise within democracies, presenting challenges for even the most stable democratic systems.

What If the Poor Earned a Living Wage

The Romney-ism of the 47% worthless lazy Americans who pay no taxes is making the rounds again. But the thing is, how could the poor pay taxes, when they don’t make enough money to pay for essentials? The Republican story is that they don’t make enough money because they are lazy. The reality is that they don’t make enough money because they are poorly paid. Being unable to survive on full time wages is an outrage.

How many Americans live in poverty? That depends on how you define poverty, but a good guess is that more than 94-million people do, some 30% of the population. This is a national disgrace, and a sign of our worsening inequality.

Rather than calling it “poverty”, for now think “inadequate income”, which is more meaningful. The upper limit of inadequate income is double the official poverty rate, or $44,000 for a family of four. Every dollar under that amount means a family is unable to pay for some portion of the essential costs that everyone in the richest economy in world history should be able to pay for.

How could the poor pay taxes
when they can’t pay for essentials?

Republican think tanks have somehow concluded that we pay people on welfare $168 per day, or some $60,000 per year. Very funny, guys, but it doesn’t happen. Some 1,600,000 Americans, many of them young, earned minimum wage of $7.25 last year ($15K/year), and the fact is that nearly half of the poor live in deep poverty, defined as under $2.00 per day per person, the price of a cup of coffee these days. That comes to $2,920 per year for a family of four, which is earned with some 12 hours of work at median income, and is the price of lunch for the very richest.

No Republican seems to have asked himself why someone (other than the ultra-rich) would pay no taxes. The answer is they don’t earn enough money to owe taxes on in spite of full time work. Here the Republican myth says they would rather collect welfare than work. This would come as a surprise to someone with two minimum wage jobs trying to decide whether to buy food or prescription meds.

No matter how you look at American poverty, it’s disgraceful and unnecessary. What would happen if everybody earned a Living Wage, which been true in Australia for more than a century?

What would happen if
everybody earned a Living Wage?

I maintain that about $25 per hour for adults is a realistic Living Wage for a family of four. It’s close to what Australia pays, and if every worker earned $25 or more per hour, 94-million additional Americans would have all the income needed for a decent life, including health care, savings, and education. The rolls of the poor would be a small fraction of what they are.

Living Wage would also have a salutary effect on the national budget. I estimate that there would be some $175-billion in increased tax revenue. Since all these people would no longer be collecting welfare, the total budget effect would be greater. How much greater is a harder figure to come by, but deducting the same amount from welfare yields a $350-billion improvement for the country.

Wouldn’t Living Wage be hard on small businesses, as some claim? No, it wouldn’t. It’s analogous to the environmental laws corporations fretted about decades ago. If everyone has to abide by the same rules nobody has an advantage, and the market will adjust.

Would that end the need for welfare? Of course not. Civilized society requires that we take care of people who truly are not capable of caring for themselves, the permanently injured, the aged and infirm, the chronically and seriously ill, and so on. But full time workers should earn enough to pay taxes on, not collect welfare, as poorly paid workers at Walmart, McDonald’s and other cheap-o corporations have found to be necessary.

Australia has survived quite handsomely
after a whole century of Living Wage laws.

Conservative Republicans will leap to their feet and proclaim the downfall of the economy. Not so. Adjustments there would be, but Australia has somehow been able to survive quite handsomely after a whole century of Living Wage laws.

And what about all those lazy welfare bums Republicans keep yammering about? Well, there are a few lazy welfare bums, and we have no moral obligation to provide for them, but their number is a very small fraction of the Republican mythology. The vast numbers of lazy black bums that conservatives claim are the sole cause of poverty are a fabrication.

Yet Republicans continue, year after year, to feed us the same crap about poverty: that people are poor because they choose to be and are lazy, and that the federal government provides them with huge cash benefits that are 8% higher than the national median income. What nonsense.

As long as we argue over a paltry $10 minimum wage, and believe that people can get big bucks from welfare and refusing to work, our national wellbeing and our international competitiveness will continue to be compromised. Living Wage would solve some of the most serious problems the country faces.

How to Establish a Nationwide Disaster Zone

The Supreme Court, driven by a couple of injudicious right wing zealots, has put the United States on the path of intolerance and punishment so beloved by repressive governments worldwide.

Building on the ludicrous premise that corporations are actually people, the Court has now decided that employers can decide what will be covered by your health care insurance. This came about because the Hobby Lobby owners believe that every one of a woman’s 300,000 eggs must become a baby, apparently, and therefore contraception goes against God’s will. But the ruling encourages the provincial narrowness of every owner, and applies to every employer opinion, as long as it can be claimed that their intolerance is based on religious belief. Your insurance no longer covers your health care, but only those elements that don’t offend religious sensibilities. And whose religious beliefs are they talking about? Certainly not those of the many millions of women whose freedoms and wellbeing are threatened.

One has to wonder just how far an employer can go in controlling your life. Certainly, it is girls and women of all ages who will be most immediately subjected to control by others with this opinion. They will be beholden to the owner’s religious beliefs, which may nullify their health care insurance, whereas it probably would not happen under a more normally tolerant employer. Certainly, no employee’s belief or need for health care will be given the same weight as the employer’s. The employer, in effect, now has the power to cancel parts of your health care coverage—or maybe all of it.

If the owners are followers of the so-called Christian Science faith, which believes God cures all, can they refuse to accept your desire for child vaccination, or ER treatment after an accident, or medical treatment of literally any kind? It sure sounds like it. As someone who had a relative die of a common cold under this type of idiocy, I can readily see the kinds of things that will happen when employers exercise their “freedom of religion” with complete disregard of other people’s freedoms.

In fact, it looks increasingly like any business owner or corporate director can limit employees’ lives in just about any way that suits his fancy. Don’t like the latest male hairstyle?: ban it. Hate gay people?: fire them. Believe your religion is the One True Religion?: fire everyone who doesn’t go to the same church. Hate abortion?: fire any employee who believes in the woman’s right. All those freaks violate your religious beliefs.

This religion seems to me to be the religion of control over other people’s lives, the religion of radical intolerance.

In other words, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates that will make the most outrageous intolerance into mainstream practice as long as it is “religious”. There are countries that have ruled that abortion under any circumstance is illegal. But it’s clear that not aborting will cost the life of the mother as well as the fetus under some circumstances, in which no time can be wasted on debate. This type of state-and-church-sanctified murder happened in Ireland fairly recently, and pregnant poor women under similar circumstances have been forced to flee Nicaragua and other absolutist countries with great difficulty in order to obtain health care in more civilized places.

The Court has ruled that our health is not our own business, but the business of any religious nut who is our employer. The message to all of us is clear: your life is not as important as our religious fantasies.

The Dreadful Black Inner City Trap

What happens to your life when you are born in a tar pit, where your first step begins the process of dragging you down?

We white privileged folk usually fail to appreciate what it is like to grow up in an environment where crime and decay are everywhere. Dangerous parts of black inner cities are one sort of negative environment, but there are others, such as the many ghettoes and restricted quarters, present and historical, where various minorities and the most recent wave of immigrants, are confined and oppressed. Deep poverty is, in fact, more prevalent outside the inner city, with non-blacks.

What happens to your life
when you are born in a tar pit?

Each such place has unwritten rules that determine what you should do under its particular social conditions. These are social rules that are determined by local custom, because the law has rarely been helpful where polite society sees such citizens as naturally inferior.

Alice Goffman’s new book, On the Run, chronicles the six years she moved among the black denizens of one of Philadelphia’s roughest neighborhoods, and what she learned about the ways these people survived and how they dealt with each other. And what she shows with this firsthand account is that it’s an extremely complex situation that is fraught with danger and few good guys.

Virtually everyone among her primary characters is constantly involved in criminal activity of various sorts. Goffman does not excuse this, but accepts these people for what they are. There are few intact families, usually because the father is not present. Everyone has a gun. Drugs are everywhere. Many women have children at a young age. Some men do have jobs, but these are hard to come by, pay poorly, and are easily lost when the men are picked up by the police for legitimate or non-legitimate reasons. Nor are employers eager to hire young men with police records or outstanding warrants.

It’s an extremely complex situation
that is fraught with danger
and few good guys.

Once a young man has attracted the attention of the legal system, a lengthy list of restrictions on his life descends that is very difficult to satisfy. He has a curfew. He cannot drink a beer, cannot be out of his house past some arbitrary time, cannot leave the neighborhood to go see a show, can’t have an ordinary date with his woman, etc., etc. His life is reduced to boredom, and any violation, including forgetting to go to any of many meetings with his parole officer, or a court appearance, or to pay court fees with money he does not have and cannot earn may be grounds for rearrest.

Yet, in the midst of all, there are young men who are adamant about staying clean, and avoiding their comrades who have not. It’s not easy, but even in bad neighborhoods there are those who work honestly or go to class every day and get an education, keep their jobs, and entirely avoid the criminals all around them. It can be done. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up in just such a neighborhood.

“Decent” society is represented by the police and the legal apparatus. The police in this setting are uniformly brutal and destructive. Goffman and her subjects were chatting on the front stoop where her subjects lived late one night, when the police arrived and attacked a man on the sidewalk who was the boyfriend of a casual friend. In the process of this arrest, the man was strangled to death. The police blamed his death on something else, and were never punished. 

In the midst of all, there are
young men who stay clean.

On another occasion, when she was sleeping on the couch at 3AM, the police battered down the door, threw her to the floor and handcuffed her, and freely destroyed the apartment, dumping the drop-ceiling tiles on the floor, emptying every drawer, knocking over furniture, slashing the couch. In this case, the mother had expected a raid, so her sons were nowhere to be found, either that night or in succeeding nights, when the police returned to do more damage. Needless to say, the mother didn’t have the money to repair even the door.

As I mentioned in my previous posting, the legal system itself is corrupt to the core, beholden to the hundreds of millions of dollars profit to be gained from the prison industry. And that is the legacy of the long-standing and false belief of virtually all politicians that they must be “tough on crime” rather than attempt to ameliorate truly bad social conditions. The police, who should be protectors, end up being oppressors. There is no reasonable explanation for a prison population that is eleven times higher than it was forty years ago. Goffman’s young men are no angels, but it really doesn’t matter much, because the system is fully aligned against them.

Few of the young men graduate high school, although some do manage to get a GED and attempt to build a real life. It’s worth asserting at this point that these African-Americans are quite capable of intellectual development, and they are not lazy and intent on living on government handouts, as conservatives so often claim. It is the system and the culture that traps them.

The police in this setting are
uniformly brutal and destructive.

Trouble with the law usually starts in early teen years, and gets worse from there. With younger kids, poor nutrition and lack of parental guidance—typical marks of poverty—create a child on the edge, less able to do school work, and likely to create his own trouble. From there it progresses so that virtually every male who doesn’t somehow manage to escape the criminal milieu comes to serve time on multiple occasions.

Altogether, it’s a hopeless and depressing situation. If there is to be any sort of solution it will not come from urging people to shape up. They are trapped, and poverty and the law makes escape very difficult.

It’s a situation more than a century in the making, beginning with systematic abuse of black citizens after emancipation, systematic neglect of their housing and public infrastructure, underfunded schools, poor services such as public transportation, and all the rest. It is very difficult for a young man to extract himself from the situation, and once he has achieved something there are dozens of ways he can be dragged back.

Suppose a young man has somehow managed to stay clean into his twenties. He graduated from high school with high grades, and now has a job that pays better than fast food joints. He is taking evening classes at the nearby community college, and doing well. But he cannot afford to live in a better place, and one evening he arrives home from class and the police jump on him, beat him up pretty bad, plant drugs on him, and arrest him. He is thrown in jail and his case is not called for a week. His job is gone, his study is interrupted, and he is injured. Now he has no income and has caught the attention of the police. Even if he is able to stay clean, he now has mandatory court appearances to fit into his life, and the police know him and may arrest him again for no particular reason. The point is that without escape from the entire situation, it is still difficult to stay out of trouble.

If there is any solution to be found,
it is going to take a long-term
civic commitment.

Goffman’s neighborhood and everyone in it are an ongoing disaster. If there is any solution to be found, it is going to take a long-term civic commitment, with enough public money provided to redress the historic neglect of the neighborhood and encouragement for multiple generations of young people. Providing equal money for every student in the nation’s schools, as I suggested recently, would surely help. Since nearly everyone uses drugs it will take an intensive program to reduce the problem. Since the place is awash in guns and violence, it will take the heavy presence of armed officials who are not associated with brutal police to get the level of violence down. It wouldn’t hurt to have places for young people to go for more healthy social activities like sports or music.

But the most significant problem in such neighborhoods is lack of opportunity. These young people are practically doomed from birth, as our fictional young man above is, no matter what they do. We don’t know what the solutions may be. What will not work is more of the same.

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