July 30, 2014

Pocket paradigms

Fortunately there is no evidence that global dumbing has entered the human gene pool. Nature, before people began fiddling with it, handled the problem rather neatly by regularly killing off the entropic and giving birth to new life and energy. I find considerable comfort in the fact that I have never seen a small child facilitate anything nor one enamored of process in any form. Instead, they like to make things, do things, laugh and sing. Thus I strongly suspect that we have just taught ourselves to be dumb and, however difficult, it remains possible to re-educate ourselves, even if it means going back to kindergarten to learn how..- Sam Smith

Word

In America you can say anything you want -- as long as it doesn't have any effect -- Paul Goodman

A half century of American music

From 59 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2004 - Last evening I went to a party for fellow musicians given by singer and trombonist Dave Burns, who for more than three decades and 2,000 gigs has headed the Hot Mustard Jazz Band, a fixture in the Washington area. Burns has been singing since the age of two when, in Pineville Kentucky "they'd put me on the marble counter at the drugstore and I'd sing songs for a penny."

As the Princeton Alumni Weekly explained it, "Burns ran away from Pineville at 15, living a hobo-like existence until landing in D.C., where he dropped out of high school three times before joining the Air Force. A 'voracious reader,' he realized he'd need a degree after his tour of duty and audaciously applied to Oxford, the University of Kentucky, Occidental College in Pasadena, California - and Princeton. 'I told them if they took a gamble on me I wouldn't disappoint them,' he says of Princeton. True to his word, Burns won a Fulbright scholarship and joined the Foreign Service."

I realized when I looked around the room that I was looking at a half century of American music. There was the sainted Keeter Betts who has played bass for just about everyone in jazz locally and nationally, clarinetist Wally Garner who recalled playing with Louis Armstrong, the jazz writer Royal Stokes and musicians with whom I had shared gigs like Gary Wilkerson and Don Rouse. All of us were playing in the 1950s and some even earlier.

It struck me later was what an atypical Washington evening it was. I gave up my own band seven years ago and I had kind of forgotten what a pleasant, friendly bunch of people jazz musicians can be. All those breaks; all those conversations. I suspect it has something to do with the genre, which requires both individuality and cooperation, something I once described this way:

"The essence of jazz is the same as that of democracy: the greatest amount of individual freedom consistent with a healthy community. Each musician is allowed extraordinary liberty during a solo and then is expected to conscientiously back up the other musicians in turn. The two most exciting moments in jazz are during flights of individual virtuosity and when the entire musical group seems to become one.

"The genius of jazz (and democracy) is that the same people are willing and able to do both. Here's how Wynton Marsalis describes it: 'Jazz is a music of conversation, and that's what you need in a democracy. You have to be willing to hear another person's point of view.'"

July 29, 2014

Furthermore. . .

Appeals court strikes down Virginia same-sex marriage ban: "Today's decision is significant because it also renders unconstitutional similar marriage bans in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia"

Federal contractor workers strike

São Paulo could run out of drinking water in100 days

Bloomberg:

Sao Paulo risks having its biggest reservoir run out of drinking water within 100 days unless it starts rationing, Brazilian federal prosecutors warned.
Water utility Sabesp and Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin have 10 days to come up with measures to deal with the crisis, according to a statement on the prosecutors’ website. Both may be sued to force them to start rationing if they don’t take appropriate action, it said.
The utility disagreed with the recommendation, it said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News. “That measure would penalize customers and may have the opposite effect,” it said.
Efforts by Sabesp and the population have already reduced demand equivalent to a rationing regime that would allow water for 36 hours, followed by a cut in supply for 72 hours, the company said.

The strange employer role in American healthcare

Eliot Daley, NJ.Com - Most Americans don’t understand how unusual and ridiculous the American system of employee-sponsored healthcare is.... In all our industrialized peer countries,employers have zero say-so in employees’ health care coverage and decisions. ...They have no say-so in how their employees spend their wages, either. And why should they?

But in the fierce competition for scarce human resources in America after the second World War, U.S. companies hamstrung by wage and price controls began sweetening pay packages with some healthcare benefits, and our current jerry-built "system” was cobbled together from that shaky and now-discredited foundation. An expedient and inadvertent patchwork from the git-go, no wonder it produces such miserable results: We Americans spend vastly more money for intolerably lousier healthcare outcomes as a nation than any country with which we would care to compare ourselves.

But the expensive, lousy results for Americans as a whole are just part of why it’s so wrong. From that happenstance marriage of convenience between employer and employee binding them together in personal matters of healthcare, we now wallow in the ludicrous Alice-in-Wonderland finding that an employer can dictate how the employee will spend the healthcare-related part of his or her legitimate compensation while, presumably, even this absurd court won’t get around to holding that the employer could have any say-so whatsoever about how any of the rest of the employee’s compensation “package” would be spent.

Enough already. We who have been employers in recent decades never wanted to be responsible for this mess, anyhow. We inherited it from those who started it more than half a century ago as a canard to end-run wage and price controls, and we’re living with the compounded deceptions and compromises that are the evil spawn of that unholy arrangement. Let’s just declare it hopelessly flawed, sever the link with employment, and support the movement toward a program of coverage that enables every American and every employee to spend what healthcare monies are available to them on the care they, and they alone, are inclined to purchase...

Eliot Daley's website

A dirty truth about the drug war

Us_drug_arrest_rates 

VOX


Now a Gaza water crisis

Institute for Public Accuracy - NBC News reports: "The fuel tanks at Gaza’s only power plant came under attack early Tuesday, threatening to deepen an already dire humanitarian situation. The attack came hours after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a televised speech of a 'prolonged' campaign in Gaza against Hamas. Israel carried out 76 strikes overnight -- one of the biggest bombardments in the nearly month-long campaign. ...
The Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group, a coalition of 27 organizations working in the water and sanitation sector in the occupied Palestinian territories, recently released a statement: "Since the start of the Israeli assault on Gaza on July 8, 2014, the water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza has been heavily affected by Israeli airstrikes. Main water supply and waste water infrastructure has been hit and as a result the water supply or sewage services to 1.2 million (2/3 of the total population in Gaza) have been cut or severely disrupted. The targeting of civilian objects under situation of hostilities is prohibited according to International Humanitarian Law and is considered a war crime. ...

"Prior to the current escalation, Gaza already suffered from a water crisis, with limited availability of water resources, fuel and the Israeli imposed blockade since 2007. The only water resource for Gaza is the coastal aquifer, which according to the UN may become unusable by 2016 due to over-abstraction."

50 Virginia campus presidents attack Obama's planned college rating system

Washington Post - Fifty presidents of public and private nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing “serious reservations” about the Obama administration’s “misguided” development of a school rating system that could include data such as how much students earn after graduation.

...The 50 presidents of Virginia institutions of higher education who signed the letter — including the leaders of the University of Virginia, College of William & Mary and George Mason  University — said that while they applaud Obama’s efforts to make higher education more affordable, a federal ratings system would wind up limiting the amount of financial aid that many poor students can receive. They also said that using graduation rates as currently determined by schools would be unfair because they are widely believed to be flawed.

NSA terror junkie figures out how to make millions out of his government career

Shane Harris, Foreign Policy - Keith Alexander, the recently retired director of the National Security Agency, left many in Washington slack-jawed when it was reported that he might charge companies up to $1 million a month to help them protect their computer networks from hackers. What insights or expertise about cybersecurity could possibly justify such a sky-high fee, some wondered, even for a man as well-connected in the military-industrial complex as the former head of the nation's largest intelligence agency?

The answer, Alexander said in an interview Monday, is a new technology, based on a patented and "unique" approach to detecting malicious hackers and cyber-intruders that the retired Army general said he has invented, along with his business partners at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the company he co-founded after leaving the government and retiring from military service in March. But the technology is also directly informed by the years of experience Alexander has had tracking hackers, and the insights he gained from classified operations as the director of the NSA, which give him a rare competitive advantage over the many firms competing for a share of the cybersecurity market.

The fact that Alexander is building what he believes is a new kind of technology for countering hackers hasn't been previously reported. And it helps to explain why he feels confident in charging banks, trade associations, and large corporations millions of dollars a year to keep their networks safe. Alexander said he'll file at least nine patents, and possibly more, for a system to detect so-called advanced persistent threats, or hackers who clandestinely burrow into a computer network in order to steal secrets or damage the network itself. It was those kinds of hackers who Alexander, when he was running the NSA, said were responsible for "the greatest transfer of wealth in American history" because they were routinely stealing trade secrets and competitive information from U.S. companies and giving it to their competitors, often in China.

Alexander is believed to be the first ex-director of the NSA to file patents on technology that's directly related to the job he had in government. He said that he had spoken to lawyers at the NSA, and privately, to ensure that his new patents were "ironclad" and didn't rely on any work that he'd done for the agency -- which still holds the intellectual property rights to other technology Alexander invented while he ran the agency.

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Great moments with Chris Christie

Washington Post - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is consistent — at least when it comes to espousing total indifference to what Newark residents want for their state-operated public school system. Christie just bragged (see video below) that he told new Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that Baraka’s views on education reform don’t matter a whit — and the governor declared himself “the decider.”

The Newark school system is the largest in New Jersey, with about 40,000 students. It has been under state control since 1994 and was the recipient of the famous $100 million matching donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which has been used to underwhelming effect.

Superintendent Cami Anderson, a former Teach For America corps member who Christie appointed in 2011, has come under intense attack for her “One Newark” district reorganization plan — which includes plans to close some traditional schools; lay off more than 1,000 teachers and hire Teach For America recruits to fill some open spots; and create a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools. She has also been blasted for a management style that even reform supporters concede is dismissive, arrogant and ineffective. This past April, dozens of members of the Newark clergy sent a letter to Christie warning him that Anderson’s reform efforts were causing “unnecessary instability” in the city and that they were are “concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community” over the issue.

Christie has consistently defended her, saying some months ago:

“I don’t care about community criticism, I care about the job she’s doing.”

Christie, apparently, is the only one who gets to assess whether she is doing a good job. Last May, Newark residents gave their own evaluation by electing Baraka, a former high school principal, councilman and son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, as the next mayor of Newark. He campaigned on an anti-Anderson platform.

When education issues came up at the Aspen Institute event, Christie talked about some of the reforms and said to applause:

“He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark.  And I said to him listen I’ll listen to whatever you have to say but the state runs the school system, I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.”

Tip to journalists: Stop talking about Medicare or Social Security going bankrupt

Sam Smith - Just because Social Security and Medicare are currently in trust funds doesn't mean they will go "bankrupt" if the trust funds run out of money. The trust funds are an artificial structure that can be supplemented by ordinary appropriations just the way, say, presidential and congressional salaries are. Using the term "bankrupt" is tremendously biased reporting.

Besides, if trust funds are so great, why isn't the Pentagon in one?

Why American corporations are no longer American

Robert Reich, Salon - HOnly about a fifth of IBM’s worldwide employees are American, for example, and only 40 percent of GE’s. Most of Caterpillar’s recent hires and investments have been made outside the US.

In fact, since 2000, almost every big American multinational corporation has created more jobs outside the United States than inside. If you add in their foreign sub-contractors, the foreign total is even higher.

At the same time, though, many foreign-based companies have been creating jobs in the United States. They now employ around 6 million Americans, and account for almost 20 percent of U.S. exports. Even a household brand like Anheuser-Busch, the nation’s best-selling beer maker, employing thousands of Americans, is foreign (part of Belgian-based beer giant InBev).

Meanwhile, foreign investors are buying an increasing number of shares in American corporations, and American investors are buying up foreign stocks.

Who’s us? Who’s them?

Increasingly, corporate nationality is whatever a corporation decides it is.

... Rather than focus on the newly-fashionable tax-avoidance strategy of changing corporate nationality, it makes more sense to tax any global corporation on all income earned in the United States (with high penalties for shifting that income abroad), and no longer tax “American” corporations on revenues earned outside America. Most other nations already follow this principle.

In other words, let’s stop worrying about whether big global corporations are “American.” We can’t win that game. Focus instead on what we want global corporations of whatever nationality to do in America, and on how we can get them to do it.

A third of Americans are dealing with collection agencies

Al Jazeera - More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

Consumers affected fall behind on credit cards and hospital bills or see their mortgages, auto loans or student debt pile up, unpaid. Even past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency, potentially harming credit scores and job prospects, said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

Home owenership at 19 year low


Reuters - Homeownership in the United States hit a 19-year low in the second quarter as financially squeezed Americans opted to rent, pointing to a sluggish housing market recovery.The seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to 64.8 percent, the lowest level since the second quarter of 1995, the Commerce Department said

Moving on from pot, gay marriage and abortion

Al Diamon, Portland Phoenix, ME - Allow me a selfish moment. I’ve grown weary of advocating for causes that may be good for society as a whole, but don’t benefit me at all. When some issue I’ve supported in this column finally achieves its moment of victory, I’m often left with an empty feeling because I have no interest in taking advantage of whatever change I’ve helped effect.

For instance, marijuana. It was never my drug of choice back in the days when I was choosing among outlawed pharmaceuticals. Now that it’s on the verge of becoming legal—a move I strongly support—I still won’t be inhaling.

Likewise, same-sex marriage. I think everybody should be able to marry whomever they like. For me, that would be Meredith Vieira or Emmylou Harris. Or, possibly, Meredith Vieira and Emmylou Harris. Unfortunately, the new law has done nothing to facilitate my efforts. I’m strongly in favor of the right of law-abiding citizens to buy and own guns. But I don’t possess any of my own. The same lifelong lack of eye-hand coordination that prevented me from hitting breaking balls renders me incapable of using a firearm to hit anything smaller than Godzilla.

When it comes to abortion, I’m firmly pro-choice. But for obvious reasons, I’ll never have to brave the gauntlet of rabid pro-lifers outside Planned Parenthood’s Portland office to get one. Nor will Meredith or Emmylou. Or my actual wife...

So, just this once, I’d like to devote this space to a cause that, if successful, would have a positive impact on me. To that end, I’ve formed a group called the Freedom of Liquor Acquisition and Storage Koalition, also known as F.L.A.S.K....

You might not realize it, but while it’s legal to carry a gun in Maine (either openly or, with a permit, concealed), putting a flask containing an alcoholic beverage in your hip pocket is against the law. The cops consider it to be the same as walking around in public with an open bottle of booze. This ill-considered statute turns a sizable segment of the population into lawbreakers, even though there’s never been a study showing any correlation between flask ownership and criminal activity. There’s even some indication that the opposite may be true.

“Using a flask properly is about quiet sophistication and softening the edges of a tough world with stolen moments among friends and reminding yourself that you’re a man who drinks real booze,” wrote Michael A. Lubarsky on the website AskMen.com.

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The massive abuse of forfeiture

Overlawyered - In Philadelphia, the city has seized a widow’s home and car for forfeiture after her son was nabbed on charges of selling pot [Inquirer] “Minneapolis police plan to keep $200,000 seized in a raid of a tobacco shop, even though they didn’t find any evidence to merit criminal charges. Meanwhile, a former Michigan town police chief awaits trial on embezzlement and racketeering charges for allegedly using drug forfeiture money to buy pot, prostitutes and a tanning bed for his wife.” [Radley Balko] Nebraska cops seize nearly $50,000 from a Wisconsin man driving from Colorado, “a known source state for marijuana,” but a court orders it returned [same]. Connecticut police use forfeiture proceeds “to buy new police dogs, undercover vehicles, technology, fitness equipment — and to pay for travel to events around the country.” [New Haven Register]

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Pocket paradigms

A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout..- Sam Smith

Word

Free thought, necessarily involving freedom of speech & press, I may tersely define thus: no opinion a law - no opinion a crime." - Alexander Berkman

The issue that's killing the left

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2010 - Rasmussen Reports has come out with a fascinating poll that goes a long way towards explaining why not only liberals are doing so badly, but the left in general, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Here's what the poll found:

- Forty-three percent of U.S. voters rate the performance of their local government as tops compared to its counterparts on the state and federal level.

- Nineteen percent say state government is better than the other two.

- Just 14% think the federal government does a better job.

- And 25% aren't sure.

- Fifty-six percent of all voters believe the federal government has too much influence over state government. Only 12% percent say the federal government doesn't have enough influence over states, and another 26% say the balance is about right.

This is a huge matter that Democrats and progressives don't even discuss, yet helps to create the sort of popular anger that has developed over the past year. Nearly two thirds of the voters think state and local governments are better than the federal version.

There are two ironies in this:

- The Democrats could do everything they should be doing - only far better - if they simply paid more attention to the level and manner it is done.

- Those expressing outrage at what the Democrats are doing think the level and manner is the same as its underlying virtue and thus end up opposing programs that would serve them well. And so they serve the interests of the very centralized authority they think they are opposing.

Neither side seems able to separate the question of what needs to be done from who should, and how to, do it. The liberals think it can only be done at the federal level which leads conservatives to conclude it shouldn't be done at all.

Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. Conservative columnist William Safire admitted that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureaucracy' were often leveled at centralized authority." In other words, devolution used to be in the left's bag.

The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results -- symbolized by huge agencies like the Department of Housing & Urban Development that fail miserably to produce policies worthy of their name.

Still stuck back in the states' rights controversy over integration, liberals fail to see how often states and localities move ahead of the federal government. Think, for example, of where gays would be if there were no local laws to help them.

As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drive towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.

Conservatives, on the other hand, often confuse the devolution of government with its destruction. Thus while the liberals are underachieving, the conservatives are undermining.

The question must be repeatedly asked of new and present policies: how can these programs be brought close to the supposed beneficiaries, the citizens? And how can government money go where it's supposed to go?

Because such questions are not asked often enough, we find huge disparities in the effectiveness of federal programs. For example, both Social Security and Medicare work well with little overhead. In such programs, the government serves primarily as a redistribution center for tax revenues.

On the other hand, an environmentalist who ran a weatherization program once told me that she figured it cost $30,000 in federal and local overhead for each $1600 in weather-proofing provided a low income home.

A study of Milwaukee County in 1988 found government agencies spending more than $1 billion annually on fighting poverty. If this money had been given in cash to the poor, it would have meant more than $33,000 for each low income family -- well above the poverty level.

The problem is not just with traditional liberals. My fellow Green Party members - heavily decentralist in many ways - fail to see the possibility for new alliances with others if the devolutionary principle were raised in a more visible and universal fashion. Similarly, localism is quite popular among environmentalists, but it only seems to apply to growing food and not to saving democracy.

And now we have a Democratic president who has, in one short year, managed to mangle two of the issues his party used to be good at - heath care and reviving the economy - in no small part because of an assumption that he and his grad school retinue are far better equipped to decide how to do it all than, say, the mayor of Cleveland or the state legislature of Montana.

The end result is that his programs have failed and the underlying policies have unfairly gotten a bad name.

How much saner it would be to recognize the desire of people to share not only in the benefits, but in the exercise, of power and adjust one's policies to reflect this.

The point here is not to argue any particular solution, but to say that the ever increasing centralization of decisions at the federal level - thanks to both major parties - is a fundamental cause of both our problems and the anger about them.

As I wrote some time back, "What works so well in the manufacture of a Ford Taurus -- efficiency of scale and mass production -- fails to work in social policy because, unlike a Taurus, humans think, cry, love, get distracted, criticize, worry or don't give a shit. Yet we keep acting as though such traits don't exist or don't matter. We have come to accept the notion that the enormous institutions of government, media, industry and academia are natural to the human condition and then wonder why they don't work better than they do. In fact, as ecological planner Ernest Callenbach pointed out, 'we are medium-sized animals who naturally live in small groups -- perhaps 20 or so -- as opposed to bees or antelopes who live in very large groups. When managers or generals or architects force us into large groups, we speedily try to break them down into sub-units of comfortable size.'"

It's time for liberals and progressives to bring their politics down to the 'hood. They'd be surprised at the friends they would make.

Sam Smith, 1993- A couple of summers ago at the annual convention of the longtime liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action, I proposed a resolution on the decentralization of power. Here's a portion:
|||| There is growing evidence that old ideological conflicts such as between left and right, and between capitalism and communism, are becoming far less important as the world confronts the social and economic results of a century marked by increasing concentration of power in countries of widely varying political persuasion. A new ideology is rising, the ideology of devolution -- the decentralization of power. Already it has swept through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Its voice is heard in Spain, in Quebec and in Northern Ireland. It is the voice of people attempting to regain control over societies that have become increasingly authoritarian, unresponsive, and insensitive, a revolt of ordinary humans against the excesses of the state. . .

All around us is evidence of the disintegration of effective government and a growing alienation of the people from that government as a result. Our systems of governance have become too big, too corrupt, too inflexible and too remote from democratic concerns to respond equitably and rationally to the changing needs of the people. Government has many beneficial functions it can perform, but these can only be achieved when the government itself is structured so as to reflect -- and not thwart -- the will of the people.

Therefore we embrace the devolutionary spirit of the times and, recognizing that the ideology of scale must now be considered as carefully as the ideology of liberal and conservative, we urge that this nation begin devolving power back to the people -- that we correct a decades-long course which has too often led to increasingly centralized power with increasingly ineffective and undemocratic results. To this end, we propose the following critical issues to fellow liberals and progressives to consider, debate and act upon while there is still time to reverse the authoritarian course of the American government:

- How do we end the growing concentration of power in the presidency and return to the tripartite system of government intended by the Constitution? How can Congress reassert its constitutional role in the federal government?

- How do we prevent federal government green-mail of the states -- the granting or withholding of federal funds to force state legislation -- from being used as a way around the powers constitutionally granted the states?

- How can we decentralize federal agencies to the state and local level?

- How do we create a new respect for state and local rights? The bitter struggle to establish the federal government's primacy in the protection of civil rights of all its citizens has been used far too long as an excuse to concentrate all forms of power in Washington. That legal battle has been won. We must now recognize the importance of state and local government in creative, responsive governance and not continue to assume that good government can only come from within the Beltway.

- How do we reduce restrictions on federal funds granted states and localities in order to foster imaginative local application of those funds and to prevent the sort of federal abuse apparent, for example, in restrictions on family planning advice?

- How do we encourage -- including funding -- neighborhood government in our cities so that the people most affected by the American urban disaster can try their own hand at rebuilding their communities?

The principle that all government should be devolved to the lowest practical level should be raised to its proper primacy in the progressive agenda. We cannot overstate the peril involved in continuing to concentrate governmental power in the federal executive.|||||
The resolution proved too much for the traditional liberals of ADA and the resolution was roundly defeated in committee. Many voters, however, have divined the problem of excessive scale while remaining, unsurprisingly, confused as to what to do about it. False prophets on the right tout a phony "empowerment," The media muddles the matter with its usual in-depth cliches. What is lacking is not devolutionary theory, nor grand schemes, nor useful experiments, but rather a practical progressive politics of devolution. We need to apply our theories and our experience to the every day politics of ordinary citizens. If we do, I think we will surprise ourselves and others in a discovery of where the American mainstream really flows.

Here, for starters, are a few suggestions of devolutionary issues progressives could press:

- Public schools: In the sixties there was a strong movement for community control of the schools. Because it came largely from minority communities and because the majority was not adequately distressed about public education it faltered.

- Neighborhood government: Real neighborhood government would not be merely advisory as is the case with Washington DC's neighborhood commissions. It would include the power to sue the city government, to incorporate, to run its own programs, to contract to provide those of city hall, and to have some measure of budgetary authority over city expenditures within its boundaries. Not the least among its powers should be a role in the justice system, since it is impossible to recreate order in our communities while denying communities any place in maintaining order.

We should create the "small republics," that Jefferson dreamed of, autonomous communities where every citizen became "an acting member of the common government, transacting in person a great portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet important, and entirely within his own competence."

- States' rights: While maintaining federal preeminence in fields such as civil rights, progressives should be strong advocates of states' rights on issues not properly the federal government's business such as raising the drinking age or the 55 mph speed limit. Such advocacy would help to form new coalitions and stir up the ideological pot. In particular, progressives should oppose the use of federal green-mail -- forcing states and localities to take measures at the risk of losing federal funding -- as a clear end run around the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights. As the Supreme Court noted in Kansas v. Colorado, this amendment "discloses the widespread fear that the national government might, under the pressure of supposed general welfare, attempt to exercise powers which had not been granted."

- Federal spending: In an important and necessary break with liberal thinking, progressives should become advocates of a much smaller federal government by pressing for the direct distribution of funds to the state and local level. Whatever problems of malfeasance or nonfeasance may result, they are almost guaranteed to be less than the misuse of these funds at the federal level. As Congress' own auditor, Comptroller General Charles Bowsher, recently told a hearing that "there are hardly any [federal] agencies that are well managed." The flaw in liberal thinking is that federal housing funds are used for housing, agriculture funds for farmers and so forth. In fact, an extraordinary percentage of these moneys are used to maintain a superstructure to carry out poor housing policy or bad farm policy. The basic principle should be to get the money to the streets or the farms as quickly -- and with as few intermediaries -- as possible.

Further, progressives should challenge the presumption that the feds know best. At the present time, much of the best government is at the state and local level. It could do even better without the paperwork and the restrictions dreamed up in Washington to fill the working day. And even when that doesn't prove true, you don't have to drive as far to make your political anger known.

- Small business: Many progressives act as though an economy isn't necessary. It would pay great dividends if the progressive agenda included support for small businesses. Small businesses generate an extraordinary number of new jobs. Further, small business is where many of the values of the progressive movement can be best expressed in an economic context. While ideally many of these businesses should be cooperatives, even within the strictures of conventional capitalism they offer significant advantages over the mega-corporation. Writing in the New York Times, brokerage firm president Muriel Siebert said recently: "Unlike monolithic Fortune 500 companies, small businesses behave like families. [A study] indicated that one reason for the durability of businesses owned by women is the value they place on their workers. It showed that small businesses hold on to workers through periods when revenues decline. Rather than eliminate workers, they tend to cut other expenses, including their own salaries. . . Nearly half of the workers laid off by large companies have to swallow pay reductions when they find new full-time work; two out of three work for at least 20 percent less money than before." As Jon Rowe says of Korean family-run groceries, "a family operates on loyalty and trust, the market operates on contract and law."

- Decentralizing the federal government: There are a number of federal agencies that are already quite decentralized. Interestingly, these agencies are among those most often praised. The National Park Service, the Peace Corps, the Coast Guard, and US Attorneys all have dispersed units with a relatively high degree of autonomy and a strong sense of turf responsibility by their employees. A further example can be found within the postal service. While many complain about mail service, you rarely hear them gripe about their own mail carrier, who is given a finite task in a finite geographical area. I stumbled across this phenomenon while serving in the Coast Guard. At the time, the Guard had about 1800 units worldwide but only 3000 officers, with many of the officers concentrated on larger ships and in headquarters units. Thus there were scores of units run by enlisted personnel who rarely saw an officer. The system worked extremely well. It worked because, once training and adequate equipment had been provided, there was relatively little a bureaucratic superstructure could do to improve the operations of a lifeboat or loran station. As with education, a bureaucracy in such circumstances can do itself far more good than it can do anyone in the field.

Similarly, a former Peace Corps regional director told me that in his agency's far-flung and decentralized system, there was no way he could control activities in the two dozen countries under his purview, yet the Peace Corps became one of the most popular federal programs in recent times. Can the success of these decentralized agencies be replicated, say, in housing or urban development? Why not give it a try? If federal housing moneys were distributed by 50 state directors who were given considerable leeway in the mix of policies they could fund and approve, we would, for starters, begin to have a better idea of which programs work and which don't.

- Raising the issue: Every policy and piece of legislation should be subjected to evaluation not only according to the old rules of right and left but according to the ideology of scale. We must constantly be asking not only whether what is proposed is right, but whether it is being done at the right level of society's organization.

These are just a few examples of how a politics of devolution might begin to develop. It is needed if for no other reason than it is our best defense against the increasing authoritarianism of the federal government and the monopolization of economic activity. It is also needed because, without it, democracy becomes little more than a choice between alternative propaganda machines. In the 1960s, Robert McNamara declared, "Running any large organization is the same, whether it's the Ford Motor Company, the Catholic Church or the Department of Defense. Once you get the certain scale, they're all the same." And so, increasingly to our detriment, they are. We must learn and teach, and make a central part of our politics, that while small is not always beautiful, it has -- for our ecology, our liberties, and our souls -- become absolutely essential.

Wikipedia- Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. . . Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching. The concept or principle is found in several constitutions around the world (for example, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which asserts States rights).

It is presently best known as a fundamental principle of European Union law. According to this principle, the EU may only act (i.e. make laws) where action of individual countries is insufficient. . . .

The present formulation is contained in Article 5(2) of the Treaty on European Union:

"In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."

Subsidiarity in the Catholic church - The principle of subsidiarity was first developed by German theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning. . . . Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. . .

"Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. . .


July 28, 2014

Word: The corporate inversion con

Paul Krugman, NY Times: 

The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the declinesince then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.

Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” Considerthe case of Walgreen, the giant drugstore chain that, according to multiple reports, is on the verge of making itself legally Swiss. If the plan goes through, nothing about the business will change; your local pharmacy won’t close and reopen in Zurich. It will be a purely paper transaction — but it will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another.

Does this mean President Obama is wrong to describe companies engaging in inversion as “corporate deserters”? Not really — they’re shirking their civic duty, and it doesn’t matter whether they literally move abroad or not. But apologists for inversion, who tend to claim that high taxes are driving businesses out of America, are indeed talking nonsense. These businesses aren’t moving production or jobs overseas — and they’re still earning their profits right here in the U.S.A. All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.

And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge — it’salready illegal for a company to claim that its legal domicile is someplace where it has little real business, and tightening the criteria for declaring a company non-American could block many of the inversions now taking place. So is there any reason not to stop this gratuitous loss of revenue? No.

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Household wealth down 20% since Reagan economics took over

Center for Economic & Policy Research - A NYT article reported on a study from Russell Sage reporting that median household wealth 36 percent lower in 2013 than 2003. While this is disturbing, an even more striking finding from the study is that median wealth is down by around 20 percent from 1984.

This is noteworthy because this cannot be explained as largely the result of the collapse of house prices that triggered the Great Recession. This indicates that we have gone thirty years, during which time output per worker has more than doubled, but real wealth has actually fallen for the typical family. It is also important to realize that the drop in wealth reported in the study understates the true drop since a typical household in 1984 would have been able to count on a defined benefit pension. This is not true at present, so the effective drop in wealth is even larger than reported by the study. (Defined benefit pensions are not included in its measure of wealth.)

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