Paradigm Shift – GPI vs GDP

Brain Dropping #60

     Paradigm shift.  Definition of paradigm:  “A theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or thought about.”  Remember in the fifth grade, how we giggled when we learned that Columbus was ridiculed for thinking the world was a globe, and that he could reach India by sailing West?  We laughed out loud at the notion, held by many so-called wise men of that era, that the world was flat and that the Nina, Pinta and  Santa Maria ran the risk of falling off the edge – if they weren’t eaten by sea monsters.  My fifth grade teacher, had a huge globe in front of the room that could be spun around faster and faster.  So, even at the age of ten, we could detect and reject an old, outworn paradigm about the nature of the world.  But changing paradigms, which enmesh our brains and limit our ability to think differently, can be very difficult – and even lead to violence.  In the United States the inferiority of people of color, one hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, is a paradigm which still shackles the thinking and emotional life of tens of millions of our citizens.
    Destructive paradigms abound in foreign affairs: American Exceptionalism stands out.  In religion: Insane fundamentalism prompting the slaughter and torture of non-believers, and the subjugation of women. In American domestic policy the paradigm, still held by the power elite, that there is a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor profoundly affects the social safety net.
    Perhaps the most dire and harmful paradigm of the modern era, seemingly cast in stone, is the idea of sustainable progress and limitless economic growth.  This idea is the sine qua non of neo-liberal capitalist thinking. It inexorably drives us toward the depletion of vital resources and the destruction of the planet.  The metrics used by proponents of growth to quantify progress are deeply flawed and give a distorted valuation of the costs.  The Gross Domestic Product is a particularly faulty measure.  It adds up the total value of goods and services provided in a country during one year.  This is a specious barometer  of a society’s economic health as it discounts the “externalities” – the spoiling of the environment and the disparities in living conditions among the population.  For instance:  The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound actually increased the GDP for the United States that year because of the jobs created in cleaning up the mess and rescuing animals trapped in the goo.  The negative costs of the destruction to the natural environment were never factored in.  A more honest and accurate accounting system is the emerging Genuine Progress Indicator which counts environmental and social conditions in evaluating a nation’s quality of life.
     In the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan they have initiated a GNH – a Gross National Happiness indicator to measure the quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms rather than the purely economic terms of the Gross Domestic Product.
Surely, some more humane method of measurement is essential if we are to understand clearly the true nature of our society and our place in it.  To the vast majority of the American people the record breaking rise of the New York Stock Exchange is a meaningless indicator, despite the triumphal crowing of the one percent.

Good Riddance Eric Holder

Brain Dropping #59

       The “Spinmeisters!”   Eric Holder announced his retirement and the spinmeisters are busily at work gold-leafing his flunky malfeasance on behalf of Wall Street.  And most distressing, they are playing the race card.  The NAACP has called him the “greatest Attorney General in history!”  WOW!  Michael Eric Dyson in this clip proves himself to be a maestro of selective memory as he ignores Holder’s complicity in the legal impunity bestowed upon the finance crooks whose gangsterism caused irreparable damage to poor people of color – damage as horrendous as any Jim Crow policy.
      Dyson and the NAACP, to their shame, ignore Holder’s role as Obama’s Centurion, zealously pursuing patriotic whistle blowers for revealing criminal activity in the CIA /NSA network trampling on our civil rights. Holder’s Justice Department, in contrast to their laxity in pursuing money-laundering bankers, went out of  their way trying to destroy the truth-tellers. A campaign to persecute whistle-blowers far more viciously tenacious than anything George W. Bush had done.  The Attorney General’s torturous justifications for the murder of American citizens based purely on a ‘fatwa’ issued by the Obama White House is reason enough for impeachment.  Holder’s cowardice echoes the same ignoble character flaw of his Commander-in Chief who Cornell West bitterly called: “….a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.  And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it!”
       I’ll take bets that Eric Holder will push through the revolving door for a job in one of the executive suites on Wall Street or a corner office in Corporate America.

Liberal Wolves Roll Over – Free Shows Daily !

Brain Dropping #58

       Dancing with wolves.  Rather than sheep, I see parallels between the American liberal and the behavior of wolves.  Among wolves, in the struggle for dominance, the submissive wolf rolls over on its back exposing its throat to the Alpha wolf.  In this feral metaphor, the submissive wolf is the American liberal who, with conforming docility, rolls over and allows him or herself to be fooled again and again by the monied class and their interlocutor, the corporate media.  Too many well-meaning members of the liberal intelligentsia are content to run with the pack, following the-leader.  They have good reason to do so since they are comfortably well off and fear that they may lose their privileged  place in the scheme of things.  They often are well aware of the gross inequities suffered by the working-class and those in abject poverty.  They assuage their unease by contributing generously to campaigns to help the homeless and the hungry here and abroad.  The tithe they pay to the world’s victims gives them reassurance and allows them to believe that they have not lost their humanity.  Their well publicized NGO foundations host events where celebrities sing their praises.
     But, in the general scheme of things, the leaders of the pack fervently want to retain the status quo.  After all it may too much to ask them to join the march against the very privileges and comforts they enjoy.  Other than making charitable contributions to good causes they stand-by placidly watching the passing protests.  They join groups with all the right slogans about economic justice.
 At their gatherings they talk about reform and more stringent regulations to rein in the Wall Street mafia and other kleptomaniacs.  They talk about the democratic process and getting out the vote.  They see a third party candidacy as a betrayal, click their tongues at radical solutions and put their faith in multi-colored mountebanks.  They have convinced themselves that the “Great Recession” is a passing anomaly and that the big banks have been properly chastened. Their most pernicious, and at the same time pathetic delusion is that, wreck after wreck, capitalism is somehow salvageable. 

The solution is obvious…

Brain Dropping #56

              The morass of economics.  I’m still searching for clarity in the world of finance and banking.  This is not merely an academic exercise.  The one bit of clarity I do have concerns the way in which these distant manipulations we read about in The Wall Street Journal or the business section of The New York Times affect our lives directly and dramatically.  Whether it’s the interest on your mortgage, or car loan, or even the buying power of your weekly pay check, or making ends meet, or worse, ending up homeless on the street.  A good example is the LIBOR (London Inter Bank Offered Rate) wherein about a dozen banks poll each other about what interest rates are being charged for bank loans in order to come up with a reasonable figure to charge borrowers world-wide.  Simply put, those bankers lied – fudged the figures to increase their profits, and in the process screwed hundreds of millions of mortgagees and other borrowers.
              Those optimists who haven’t given up on a system which encourages such corruption talk a lot about stricter regulation.  We have dozens of regulating agencies – the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Controller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve etc.  And each state has its own regulatory structure sometimes overlapping with federal agencies, with little or no coordination with the rest of the country.  The competency and effectiveness of these overseers in the age of “regulatory capture”, when the regulators are in bed with those they regulate, has been proven to be lacking. Most regulators are paid a pittance compared with those they are bound to watch over, therefore the temptation to pave the way for a  more remunerative career advancement in the private sector lures each federal bureaucrat to offer a less painful deal, in payment for bank crime, in the hope that it will be reciprocated by a six figure job on Wall Street.
                Without exaggeration, federal regulation is a farce, a cruel joke perpetrated on the mass of citizens.  If your  Congressman or Senator, in response to your complaints about the Wall Street crooks, assures you that he will fight for stricter regulations, hold on to your wallet.  The revolving door between the banks and their regulators whirls about at breathtaking speed.  You can’t begin to count the number of Goldman Sachs hacks who are working in the halls of government – and visa-versa.  This “palsy-walsy” relationship explains why not one single, major bank fraudster has done any time.
  (The capacity for fraud among the money men goes back to ancient history and is captured in the latin phrase: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”  Loosely translated: “Who will regulate the regulators?”)
                 The obvious solution to all this chronic “flim-flam” is a publicly owned state bank like the one in north Dakota, in existence for nearly a hundred years and directly responsible to its depositors.

Where do YOU live?

Brain Dropping #55

     The Homeless.  Woody Guthrie sang it:  “I ain’t got no home. I just ramble round / looking for work  I go from town to town. /  Sheriff says get outa town vagrancy’s against the law, / and I ain’t got no home  in this world anymore! /   I’ve mined your mines  I’ve gathered in your corn. / I’ve been working mister since the day that I was born. / Now I worry all the time like I never been before. /  And I ain’t got no home in this world any more! /  Six children I have raised they’ve all travelled on / and my darling wife to heaven she has gone. / She died of a fever lying on the cabin floor / and I ain’t got no home in this world any more! / I just ramble round to see what I can see. / This wide and wicked world is a worrying place to be. /  The gambling man is rich, the working man is poor / and I ain’t got no home in this world any more!”
     An ongoing debate in Vermont and nationally is what to do about the growing problem of homelessness in the supposedly richest country on earth.  We attempt to deny our deep and abiding shame by demonizing the poor and homeless as drunks, freeloaders, shiftless, lazy, unwilling to work, and on and on – in contrast to the pillars of our society, the bankers, wheeler dealers and the Wall Street kleptomaniacs who are admired for their entrepreneurial zeal.   Almost every misinformed taxpayer has a putative story about generations of welfare cheats who live next door boozing it up, while he has to go work at two jobs to make ends meet. Good people buy into the fairy tale of the chronic dependency of the poor and homeless who don’t have the gumption to fend for themselves, instead of sucking on the government teat, but deal with the dependency of Wall Street, sucking on the same teat, with equanimity. 
     Vermont, like many other states, is concerned about the cost of keeping human beings from freezing in our streets.  We pay for motel rooms at sixty or eighty dollars or more a night, adding up to millions per year.  On the other hand, the state of Utah has surprisingly shown not only innovation but political courage in implementing a “New Deal” for the homeless – free homes without making the needy to jump through the usual demeaning hoops.  The program is called “Housing First.”  “A study has shown that the average homeless person costs the state forty three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.”  (of course this would vary from state to state.)  Utah’s  “Housing First” isn’t just cost-effective.  It’s more effective,period.  The old model assumed that before you put people in permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues – get them to stop drinking, take their medication and so on.  But it’s ridiculously hard to get people to make such changes while they’re living in a shelter or on the street.  If you move people into permanent supportive housing first, and then give them help, it works better.”
     Since the beginning of the “Housing First” program the number of Utah’s chronically homeless has fallen by an estimated seventy-four percent.  “It may seem surprising that a solidly conservative state like Utah has embraced an apparently bleeding-heart approach like giving homeless people homes.” But even conservatives like saving a buck.   Are you listening Montpelier?
     This Bird Dropping is based on an article by James Surowieki in the Sept. 22 issue of The New Yorker magazine – page 42 – entitled “Home Free.” 
Al Salzman

Thankfully, A bit touched

Brain Dropping #54

     Tactile – perceptible by touch.  All living things have the faculty of touch and respond to being touched.  the quality of that touch triggers a wide range of reaction from fearful withdrawal to purring approval.  Among humans touch is a particularly strong factor in the development toward maturity.  The tactile bonding of mother and child is a vital element in brain development. (See Joseph Chilton Pearce “The Biology of Transcendance”).  In a study done in England half of a group of pre-mature new-borns were given smooth sheets to sleep on, the other half slept on lamb’s wool.  Both groups were fondled equally by the maternity nurses.  The lamb’s wool babies flourished at a significantly greater degree.
     Biologically, we need to touch things, to feel the textures of our lives at our fingertips. If I may coin a word, we are in the midst of an era of “de-tactilizing” our lives – distancing ourselves from direct sensory contact with the natural world.  The digital world is tactile free with little texture to prompt our need to touch.  As we watch received images on the glass screen are we damaging our sensory faculties?  Think of standing before Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” with it’s thick impasto, deeply textured brush strokes inviting us to touch (when the guard isn’t looking) – then think of the same painting on your computer screen reduced to an impeccably featureless, smooth surface.
     At the school where I taught art there was, for awhile, an excellent industrial arts program – woodworking, metal working, hammering, sawing, grinding, building ,carving.  It was soon dismantled and now. in its place is row upon row of computers.  The clamor of the workshop was replaced by the eerie silence of young boys and girls staring at illuminated screens.
     The world of sensory deprivation, or distancing from the natural world, is dramatically illustrated by the mighty automobile which encapsulates us in glass and steel.  speeding along we have a limited understanding of what we see, smell and hear, arriving at our destination with a dulled sense of the multifaceted texture of the landscape we were too quickly transported through.  The need to be aware of that landscape, the need to touch and to interact with it in all its infinite variety of shapes and textures, has been imprinted upon us from the time of our origins in the savannah.

Al Salzman

Dementia Praecox

Brain Dropping #50

Having some family experience with dementia – that sad slide into forgetfulness, alienation and loss of contact with reality – I begin to see parallels with our metaphoric “body politic” in its regression to a childlike state of incomprehension and fantasy.
In the use of synecdoche, where a part symbolizes the whole, we can see in the erratic behavior of our political leaders, certain symptomatic conditions of a failing brain.  We know that dementia can be brought on by serious head trauma such as a helmet to helmet concussion in football.  The “Twin Tower” tragedy on September 11, 2001 may very well have been such a trauma.
Someone suffering from dementia experiences severe memory loss, a tenuous grip on reality and sporadic outbreaks of mindless belligerence.  Our ‘elite’ political class, encompassing a wide range of partisanship from the loony ‘Right’ to lame-brained ‘Liberals’ – from war criminals George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to Barak Obama , John Kerry and, sadly Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, seems to have misplaced the history of the last fifty years.  Perhaps the synapse, the structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell and which is vital to the formation of memory, has been clinically impaired by fear of the terrorist hiding under each bed.
As that great statesman Vice President Dan Quayle rightly observed: “A mind is a terrible thing to lose!”  What else can explain the Afghanistan invasion, “Shock and Awe” in Iraq, the alienation of a billion and a third Sunni Muslims enraged by drone and bombing attacks whose murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children is whitewashed as collateral damage.  These are the actions of a seriously compromised frontal lobe, a clear and frightening manifestation of psychosis, an abnormal condition of the mind.  Currently, our brain damaged leaders are preparing to continue the decent into madness while reassuring us that this time the outcome will be different.
Yet, there are still those citizens who quibble and split hairs:  “Obama isn’t as bad as Bush!”  ” What can Obama do,those Republicans are crazy as hell!”  “Obama’s election proves we live in a post-racial America!” But, as I’ve said before:  “It is not a valid proof of someone’s sanity to find someone crazier than he is!”

Al Salzman

Should I Arrest Eric Holder?

Brain Dropping #49

How to make a citizen’s arrest.  In the U.S. civilians are empowered to stop perpetrators in the act of a serious crime and use reasonable force to hold them until an officer of the law arrives on the scene. But what if an officer of the law is the criminal?  I’m talking about Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, who is guilty of both malfeasance – “improper or illegal behavior” – and dereliction of duty – ” failure to do your duty.”  I would love to place him under arrest for aiding and abetting banker crooks to cheat and steal and never, ever go to jail.  Is a citizen’s arrest of the Attorney General an absurd idea?  Of course it is, but we live in an absurd world, and I can dream can’t I?  To paraphrase Cole Porter: “The world has gone mad today /  good’s bad today / black’s white today / day’s night today / and those guy’s today / voter’s prize today / are just bought off corporate gigolos.
Yes, Eric Holder in the nineties, was a corporate gigolo working for the law firm of Covington & Burling among whose clients were Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, the very crooks Mr. Holder let off the hook when he became Attorney General.  In 1999, when Eric Holder was a little known official in the Bill Clinton White House, he distributed an infamous memo which cited “collateral consequences” as a reason for not prosecuting the crimes of financial institutions “to big to fail.”Collateral consequences” meaning the loss of jobs, creating a downward movement on the New York Stock Exchange, generally destabilizing the economy.  It was the philosophical underpinning for a Wall Street “get-out-of-jail” card.
And Mr. Holder was as good as his word as Attorney General.  We are all no doubt familiar with  HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking corporation) the largest bank in Europe.  These guys were caught red-handed laundering billions for the major Mexican and Latin American drug cartels.  We’re talking about profit from the sale of tons of weed, cocaine and heroin, not just a few ounces for which a black brother could spend decades in prison.  They were in cahoots to the extent of designing special metal cash boxes which were thin enough to slide under the bank teller’s cage.  It was open and shut – including imprudent e-mails which implicated the honchos way at the top of the pecking order.
Despite overwhelming evidence of criminality, Mr. Holder’s Justice Department maintained a policy of DP – deferred prosecution where the bank paid a fine and no one went to jail, but were essentially on probation.  Astoundingly, Eric Holder put in place NP – no prosecution – instead a fine was levied, which was usually a miniscule percentage of the bank’s loot.  Shockingly, there were more prosecutions for financial fraud under George W. Bush than the Obama administration.   This is more than a miscarriage of justice.  It represents the institutionalizing of a two tiered system of law, one for the rich and one more draconian and brutal for the rest of us, particularly if we are black.  That is one reason we have six million people in the prison system, two million incarcerated and four million on probation, making it the largest gulag in the history of the world.

Much of this information comes from Matt Taibbi’s scathing book “The Divide – American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.”

BD 48

Brain Dropping #48

Socialism is evil!  It deprives us of our God-given capacity for self-aggrandizement , and our extraordinary talent to  be one-up rather than one-down – to claw our way to the top by virtue of our self-chosen initiatives, eschewing any aid from man or beast.  This is what made America great!
I thought of those imperatives when reading about the Tesla corporation choosing Nevada for the site of their state-of-the–art battery factory – which will develop new battery technologies to ring the death knell for the internal combustion engine, thus saving the planet from the CO2 stranglehold.
The gang at Tesla played the usual corporate game with the four or five other states which were vying for the jobs such a factory would create.  In a variant of the old Mafia protection racket, Tesla extorted the usual tax concessions, amounting to several billion dollars over a decade, to reject the other states and select Nevada.  So here we have a huge subsidy for a private, profit-making corporation  coming out of public funds with the speculative promise of good paying jobs.  Not only will the taxpayers of Nevada not have the use of the deferred property taxes, but they will have to shoulder the burden of fire and police protection and other infrastructure cost such as highway repair.  In a neat phrase: “Socialism for corporations – Capitalism for the rest of us!”
For those of us still clinging to the above mentioned mythology here’s something to chew on:  More than 2,700 companies in the U.S. have been permitted by fifteen states to keep payroll deducted state taxes without informing the workers.  To clarify: Those taxes deducted automatically from the weekly paycheck, which should go into the state’s coffers, are diverted into the company’s bank account with the approval of the state government as a hidden form of subsidy.
Among the companies benefitting from this subterfuge, this clandestine form of socialism are:  G.E., Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, AMC Theaters, and even foreign companies – Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota.
The states conspiring in this sneaky, taxpayer giveaway to corporations are:  New Jersey, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, S. Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Illinois, N. Carolina, colorado, Mississippi, Maine, New Mexico, Utah and Connecticut.

For more details see David Cay Johnston

A book review

In these pages I’ve referred to many books written by those rare truth-tellers who have not bargained with Beelzebub.  To list a few: Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, David Cay Johnston, David Korten, Michelle Alexander, Noam Chomsky, Nomi Prins, Naomi Klein, Fred Magdorf etc.  But if I was to make a selection of one book to bring to the proverbial desert island, it would have to be Matt Taibbi’s “Divide – American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.”  Almost every page dealing with those who have been cheated, scammed and falsely imprisoned, brings the feeling “There but for the grace of God go I!” even to an atheist. This is the ultimate diagnosis of a society that should be immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit