Sunday, July 25, 2010

The ethics of our "capitalism"...

Below are links and excerpts from two relatively mainstream thinkers - former Senator Gary Hart and John Bogle, Founder of Vanguard, - who come at this from different directions, but end at similar conclusions to Joe Bageant and Michael Moore who's perspective I referenced here. Any chance that someone can build momentum on this issue and make the changes that we must or do we continue as a country to worship at the alter of the illusion of a "free-market" and yearning for a return to the past that never really existed?

Gary Hart - When Do I Prosper? - "In the past three decades or more we have all become consumers. Bigger houses, bigger cars, more things. At the same time we were producing less, importing more, and basing our economy on manipulating money to make money. The results were predictable. Huge trade deficits. Selling US bonds to finance the deficits and to buy more things.

It's pretty obvious we can't keep doing this forever. This pattern has brought us to the mess we are in today. The question is whether we'll find a way to pick up where consumption, money manipulation, and unproductivity left off, or whether we will restore a national economy that produces, saves, invests, makes things, and pays its way."

John C. Bogle - Financial Reform: Will it Forestall a Future Crisis of Ethic Proportions? - "Commerce, business, and finance have hardly been exempt from this trend. Relying on Adam Smith's "invisible hand," we have depended on the marketplace and competition to create prosperity and well-being. But self-interest got out of hand. It created a "bottom-line" society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries.

The result has been a shift from moral absolutism to moral relativism. We've moved from a society in which "there are some things that one simply does not do" to one in which "if everyone else is doing it, I can too."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The highest form of flattery...

I was on the same wavelength as Ms. Maddow when I wrote this post and she then recorded this very good spot... although, she said it much more effectively than I...

Those Red State Values...

A great blog post from Daniel Krotz...

An excerpt:
"...parents who teach Christian-based morals to their children and vote Republican get exactly the opposite of what they hope for: they lead the league in rates of divorce, age of first childbirth, and out of wedlock pregnancies."... "San Francisco, home of the Evil Liberal Witch Nancy Pelosi, and Ultra-Liberal Massachusetts, have far lower divorce rates than Evangelical Arkansas and Mississippi. Six of the seven states with the lowest divorce rates in 2007, and all seven with the lowest teen birthrates in 2006, voted blue in both elections. Six of the seven states with the highest divorce rates in 2007, and five of the seven with the highest teen birthrates, voted red. It looks like Kerry and Obama voters are able to keep their pants on and remain faithful to their marriage vows quite a bit better on average than Bush and McCain voters."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Manufacturing Consent...

We have an economy and culture that is totally dependent on people buying things, and the marketers are masters at pulling our strings. The business party, which encompasses 99% of the democratic and republican parties, learned these lessons well and too are masters of public relations, marketing, and propaganda, and they pull the strings politically.

Usually, when the main stream media do politics they have a person representing the "right" and a person representing the "left" and lets them yell at each other, then those watching say this is what democracy is all about, hearing both sides and then "we decide". The problem is the power elite decide how wide that spectrum is... thus they control the parameters of the debate. On a bit larger scale we see this within networks, FOX is the 'right', MSNBC is the 'left'... those are your choices. We're a competitive culture so you've got to choose sides. Are you a Hokie or a Cavalier? A Rebel or a Bulldog? A democrat or a republican? Once you've chosen your side then that determines where you get your information. And what you hear makes you feel better. The people all look like you (or what you want to look like), they sound like you, and their opinions are the same opinions that you hear at church and family reunions.

And all of the opinions you hear are what the power elite allow you to hear. They don't invite Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky on... those are opinions you just don't need to hear.

All of this leads me to ACORN and Shirley Sherrod. So FoxNews which functions as the side republicans choose to watch is seen by all as just a little conservative, but as legitimate as any of the other choices on your television dial. The same is true, by the way, in radio. And Rush Limbaugh and Hannity are seen as just as reasonable a place to get your news as AP or UPI. So when Fox News has a video that shows ACORN trying to find a way to get housing for a pimp and his prostitutes, the assumption is they just beat ABC and NBC to the scoop. Or some said they were just willing to report it when the rest were not. And when they showed a 1 minute video of Ms. Sherrod and told us she was a racist, the same reaction. MSNBC wouldn't show the clip because they're liberal, you're told. It's us versus them.

But Fox News lied. They didn't miss the story and they didn't make a mistake. They lied to make a political argument. They're not a news organization. They are strictly propaganda. All of the main stream media is propaganda, but Fox is willing to show their cards, knowing that their watchers don't care or won't connect the dots. All their commentators like O'Reilly and Hannity have to do is call the other guys names and their fans will be back cheering on the sidelines. The fact that they destroyed and eliminated an organization like ACORN who's sole purpose was to help poor people, and got a woman who spent her life helping poor farmers fired... they don't care. They've got ads to sell.

And what's the conversation on the issue today? What did the Obama Administration do wrong? What did the NAACP do wrong? Exactly what Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the minions of the conservative power elite wanted.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Careful what you wish for...

It's a common aspiration for young people to want to be professional athletes... Sports Illustrated reports that 70% of professional athletes are broke within 5 years of the end of their career. For NFL players that number goes up to 80%. Well, at least they have their health, "Football players were struck in the head 30 to 50 times per game and regularly endured blows similar to those experienced in car crashes, according to a Virginia Tech study that fitted players' helmets with the same kinds of sensors that trigger auto air bags."

Interesting that as we get a bit older our aspirations change to winning the lottery and apparently the exact same percent is often quoted for lottery winners ... “The reality is that 70 percent of all lottery winners will squander away their winnings in a few years,” the Connecticut financial advisers said in a news release. “In the process, they will see family and friendships destroyed and the financial security they hoped for disappear.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stifling Creativity

The Creativity Crisis @ Newsweek

"Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”"

Yet we still drill and test... everyone has seen this by now, but Sir Ken Robinson talks about this in such elegant and plain terms at TED.

But, the power elite, and their minions the pickle vendors, tell us it's not creativity they need it's "basic skills"... just get our workforce able to read, write, do math, work in teams, and have concepts of quality, they argue, and they'll compete against the rest of the world... delusional thinking that is repeated across the country every day. They're not interest in competing they're interested in profits. Another great piece in Michael Moore's Capitalism-A love story points out that when the top tax rate was 90 percent we had a growing middle class that made living wages and corporations were making record profits. But, they wanted more. And like a tsunami destroyed everyone and everything in their wake.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost like Weekend at Bernie's

Joe Bageant has written another great piece, "Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball:
Capitalism is dead, but we still dance with the corpse", here. An excerpt:

"When the U.S., and then the world's money economy started to crumble, the first thing capitalist economists could think of to do was to monkey with the paper. That's all they knew how to do. It was unthinkable that the tertiary virtual economy, that great backroom fraud of debt manipulation and fiat money, might have finally reached the limits of the material earth to support. That the money economy's gaming of workers and Mother Nature might itself might be the problem never occurred to the world's economic movers and shakers. It still hasn't. (Except for Chavez, Morales, Castro and Lula). Jobs disappeared, homes went to foreclosure, and personal debt was at staggering all time highs. America's working folks were taking it square in the face. Not that economists or financial kingpins cared much one way or the other. In the capitalist financial world, everything is an opportunity. Cancer? Build cancer hospital chains. Pollution? Sell pollution credits. The country gone bankrupt?

"Nothing to do," cried the mad hatters of finance, "but print more money, and give gobs of cash to the banks! Yes, yes, yes! Borrow astronomical amounts of the stuff and bribe every fat cat financial corporation up and down The Street!" All of which came down to creating more debt for the common people to work off. They seem willing enough to do it too -- if only they had jobs."

And we can see how that worked out for the folks at Goldman Sachs... take a look at John Paulson's new pad...

I've only watched the first hour thus far, but another great place to learn how this happened is Michael Moore's film, Capitalism- A Love Story

Friday, July 9, 2010

More on competition

Who benefits from a society focused on competition? When did the push for Youth Sports emerge? or competitive classrooms? We have these myths about the benefits of competition, some of it seems based on social darwinism, others perhaps on religious traditions. We can all repeat the arguments - it's good for kids to compete, makes them tough, teaches them sportsmanship, teaches them teamwork, etc. I haven't seen any research that shows that youth sports is of more benefit than the science club or the choral group. While it appears that it is important for kids to be involved with their peers, the competition in and of itself doesn't appear to have any value.

Dan Pink in his new book Drive makes a really interesting point about what drives people. What the research shows, is that rewards for finishing first increase performance only when the task is easy and when it requires little thinking. Ala the production line at factories in the 1950's. But, when a task requires thought, then performance incentives actually hinder production. He explains it nicely in this TED talk.

I went to the beach recently with my son who is seven and his friend who is nine. For these two kids it was as if nothing was fun unless someone was keeping score. Dolphins and kayakers were toiling around in the ocean, two beautiful old planes circle overhead, lots of shells to find, creepy creatures washed up from the ocean. Yet, they pouted. They wanted to have other kids show up and have a big football game. Because then they would have the opportunity to keep score, perhaps even the opportunity to beat others. When I played football with them, it wasn't near enough to play catch. That had to be considered the 'warm-up'. The game, and the score, was the thing.

Sports, I've argued, are a way to 'tranquilize ourselves with the trivial' to quote Becker. But, perhaps that's not all. Perhaps, our schools and activities were designed to create competitive individuals, because that's what the factories needed in a workforce, but those factories are all but gone.

We have a media culture that glorifies competition above all else -reality shows, 24 hour sports entertainment. Schools where nothing else matters but test scores. A culture that's raising another generation of kids intent on competition, in a world where collaboration is essential.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Problems you'll never have to face...

Reading Phillip Roth's, The Human Stain.

A quote -
"You're a vocal master of extraordinary loquaciousness, Nelson. So perspicacious. So fluent. A vocal master of the endless, ostentatiously overelaborate sentence. And so rich with contempt for every last human problem you've never had to face."... "I never again want to hear that self-admiring voice of yours or see your smug fucking lily-white face."

I wish someone would say that to the talking head demagogues that pass for political philosophers today. Like this from Limbaugh.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


It's easy to see how we American's get so stirred up on the 4th of July (to a lesser extent Veterans and Memorial Day's as well). We've been raised to believe in the virtue of beating others.

Alfie Kohn has written extensively about our ill conceived notions of competition.

"Competition is a recipe for hostility. By definition, not everyone can win a contest. If one child wins, another cannot. This means that each child comes to regard others as obstacles to his or her own success. Forget fractions or home runs; this is the real lesson our children learn in a competitive environment.

Competition leads children to envy winners, to dismiss losers (there's no nastier epithet in our language than "Loser!"), and to be suspicious of just about everyone. Competition makes it difficult to regard others as potential friends or collaborators; even if you're not my rival today, you could be tomorrow."

Other people, other religions, other cities, other communities, other countries... they all become our rivals. And our rivals are to be mistrusted and ultimately beaten.

Kohn's book on the subject some 20 years ago holds true today.

Put Away the Flags

Put Away the Flags
Remembering Howard Zinn on July 4th

by Howard Zinn

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our "Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence." After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: "We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country."

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, "to civilize and Christianize" the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: "The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness."

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

This piece was distributed by the Progressive Media Project in 2006.

Howard Zinn died on January 7. Please read Matthew Rothschild's "Thank you, Howard Zinn," for more about his legacy.

More from Howard Zinn: