Slate has begun a series, "The United States of Inequality", talking about exactly the concentration of lots of income (and even moreso, wealth) in fewer and fewer hands.

Gosh, I don't possibly see how this could cause any problems for the country!
"No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices." - Edward R. Murrow

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular." - Also Edward R. Murrow
A quote from a comment over at Obsidian Wings

"This came from a friend of a friend who was down in the trenches of the very early attempts to get sexual orientation added to the civil rights law in Maine. After the legislature voted and the bill was defeated, a group of proponents were sitting in a pizza joint licking their wounds. The leader of the opposition came over all hail fellow well met, slapped one of them on the back, and said, "Nothing personal folks, just politics.""

That, boys and girls, is the face of straight white male privilege, the kind that's unconscious and habitual. The kind that can justify making people second class citizens, and denying rights to others that they takes for granted, because they won't affect them. The privilege to wave all of that away as "just politics", when it impacts other people's lives in major ways.
So, Kraft foods buys Cadbury, the British company that makes chocolate eggs and other chocolates. CEO of the company gets a huge bonus, to the tune of $26,000,000 due to her "exceptional role" in the deal. (Her nominal salary? $1,500,000. The rest is "bonuses", because they "froze" executive pay at Kraft) $4,200,000 of her salary increase came in the form of bonuses to her pension.

Meanwhile, Kraft is threatening three thousand employees at Cadbury with three year salary freezes unless they "voluntarily" opt out of Cadbury's pension plan, because there's a clause that prevents them from just closing it.

Once upon a time, a very brief time, executives who manipulated the company to enrich themselves while screwing the company and the workers over was called embezzlement or fraud. Before that, it was the way aristocracies ran. Now? It's "good business".

Welcome to the wonderful world of modern capitalism.
Okay, my laptop has 3 gig of memory. Unfortunately, it also came with Vista. And while it's been slow anyway, I'm sick and tired of the endless boot and shutdown times, and the fact it seems to keep deciding to eat up all the memory and lock up Explorer even so I have to manually turn the damn thing off. Seriously, I had far less problems with my old Windows 98 computer.

Anybody know some good advice for tweaking Vista to suck less? I've tried google, which brings up lots of results, but lots are cosmetic changes, or haven't seen to have an effect. I've already scanned for viruses, I've got a spyware scanner. I guess defrag's the next step, but it takes so damn long, especially on huge modern hard drives.

And yes, "upgrade to Linux" is one solution, and I probably will dual-boot this beast eventually, but not yet.
If we want to have a country to give out kids, we have to start investing in the country, not just the profits of companies like Enron and Halliburton. And we need to stop shifting taxes from people who make 230 times the average salary and onto the people who do the actual work.
From those notorious communist agitators at the Wall Street Journal, the latest numbers on executive compensation. It turns out that the hardworking titans of commerce and industry only take home a third of all pay in the United Stat...

Sarcasm doesn't work for this. Corporate executives make 33% of all pay in the US! ONE THIRD of ALL income in the US goes to the executives! A THIRD! $2.1 trillion out of $6.4 trillion total. The WSJ moans about how that affects Social Security, but that's the LEAST of the worries for that! AND that $2,100,000,000,000? It leaves out stock options, "interest" earned by traders, benefits, and other "creative" payment measures.

One-third of all pay in the country goes to the top executives. And it has been rising for years. Want to find out why wages are stagnant? Don't blame Mexico, or China, there's your answer, that way all that extra money can go to the execs.

And this is AFTER those executives crashed the world economy by making huge bets on real estate with all that extra money. It's not just a moral issue, it's a practical hazard to the whole economy.

Torches and pitchforks time, comrades, torches and pitchforks time.
In the modern world, there's no escaping advertising. Something like half the email in the world is spam. Webpages have pop over, under, around, and through ads. TV shows are at least a quarter ads. There's ads on buses, taxis, signs, buildings, supermarket floors, even over the urinals in men's rooms, or inside toilet stalls. You can't even PEE without somebody trying to sell you something. And besides the sheer annoyance of somebody always trying to sell you something, the thing that bugs me the most about this is what it does to people. When somebody's always trying to sell you something, you always have to wonder what somebody's trying to sell you. Even things that otherwise look awesome, you have to wonder who sponsored it, or if it was somebody really doing it. Here I'm thinking of those videos of "spontaneous" dancing, since flash mobs got hijacked. Or that Guitar Hero ad they made with the kid and the bike, and cheated it with CGI.

It's really hard NOT to get cynical when it's justified to constantly be suspicious of what anybody tells you. And that pisses me off. Cynicism is a false comfort. "Oh, if you don't expect anything better, you're not disappointed." Great, thanks. When did avoiding disappointment become a justification for enabling a half-assed civilization? The disappointment you "avoid" with cynicism and not expecting things to be better is a real slight comfort compared to the fact you weren't surprised because things SUCK. Way to go there. You keep your smug comfort. Me, I'm choosing the naive idealism that both we and the world can be better than now. Fuck your dystopias. We're gonna build a Star Trek future while you're busy letting the world live down to your expectations.

Pictures

Mar. 23rd, 2009 01:11 pm
Almost the last on this financial keystone cops caper. Here's a bunch of pictures where artists try and explain what happened, hopefully a little clearer than my explanations have been. I think GOOD Magazine's is pretty good.

27 visualizations and infographics to understand the financial crisis.
One of the biggest problems with our ridiculous health care system in the US? Besides the fact we spend much more than any other country for the same results, besides the millions of uninsured, besides how much of that gets siphoned off as profits straight to CEO pockets.

The problem is health care is tied to your job. So people keep jobs they hate just because they can't afford to lose health care. Or they might not get it because of "pre-existing conditions". Or they'd have a three month gap before it kicks in at their new job. Or they can't go start their own business because the health insurance costs would kill them. And companies are spending lots of money insuring their employees, when companies in other countries don't have to spend as much, because they have better universal systems.

This video has to do with that. I saw that a couple weeks ago but hadn't posted it. What set me off today was this report from the Kaiser Foundation about health care. Let me steal the section hilzoy quoted over on Obsidian Wings. I heard one piece of this, the 7% marriage part on the radio this morning.

"The poll also found that in the past year, 23% of U.S. residents said they or a member of their household had either decided to stay with a current employer, instead of accepting a new job, or had switched jobs because of health insurance coverage. In addition, 7% of respondents said that they, or someone in their household, had decided to get married to obtain health insurance through their spouse. (...)

According to the poll, 37% of U.S. residents reported at least one of six financial troubles over the past five years as a result of medical bills:

20% had difficulties paying other bills;

20% were contacted by a collection agency;

17% had used all or most of their savings;

12% were unable to pay for basic necessities, such as food, heat or housing;

10% had to borrow money; and

3% declared bankruptcy (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 4/29)."

But, y'know, universal health care will eat your babies and kicks puppies.

Choose

Apr. 29th, 2008 11:03 pm
Which is scarier?

A) An angry retired black preacher

B) Rich old white guys who started a war that has killed more Americans than September 11th, along with probably a million Iraqis? And ran the economy into the ground, spied on Americans without warrants, let the city of New Orleans drown, let Osama bin Laden get away, and want to start a war with Iran?

Apparently, judging by the media, it's A.
Seriously, he's not even bothering to pretend he wasn't lying any more. Here, about how he kept insisting that everything was fine in Iraq while violence spiraled out of control:
"BUSH: Well, yes. I think we — and I wanted — that's as much trying to bolster the spirits of the people in the field as well as — look, you can't have the commander in chief say to a bunch of kids who are sacrificing either, "It's not worth it," or, "You're losing." I mean, what does that do for morale?"

via Kevin Drum.

Man, darn that liberal media, constantly attacking George W. Bush, Our Heroic Leader!

Oh, wait, what's that? Nobody mentioned the fact that the President was bullshitting us all along? Nevermind.

Maverick!

Mar. 1st, 2008 12:17 pm
The media loves John McCain. He's the "Maverick" riding the "Straight Talk Express" to the Republican nomination. He's the rebel Republican who's stood up to the White House on tax cuts, global warming, and torture.

Hogwash. McCain has given up all of his "maverick" integrity over the last few years. He was one of the least bad of the Republican candidates, but look at his competition! He would make a very bad president. Probably not as bad as the criminals in charge now, but in no way a good president.

Why? Well, I'll start by looking at three of the issues that I'm most concerned about. There's plenty more, so this may turn into a semi-ongoing series of posts.

First though, I'll get the cheapest shot out of the way. Here's how distant McCain is from Bush, even after Bush and Karl Rove attacked his adopted daughter by claiming she was the child of an affair.

Can you hear the romantic music?

Okay, now on to the issues. First, let's start with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. McCain's never been anything but a cheerleader for the war. He supported it when it started, even while we were being lied to about Saddam. He supported every step of the way, every disaster and fiasco. Never voted to force Bush to have any accountability. Pushed for the "surge" and kept hailing its success, even when it wasn't. Never pushed for any new plan, or a defined strategy, nothing.

And from his campaigning, his plan for the future is pretty much "More of the same, but harder!" Even though the same hasn't worked at all and got us into this mess and is making us lose Afghanistan, where we had the best chance.

Oh, and his policy for dealing with Iran? "Bomb bomb bomb Iran. He's later claimed it was a joke, but if it was, it was a really bad one.

So given that he's one of the people who helped get us into this mess, and helped drive us further into this disaster, why on Earth should we trust him to be competent to get us out of it, and make things any better?

Answer: We shouldn't.

Okay, second issue. Torture. The Bush administration has been holding people without charges, "disappearing" "suspected terrorists", and torturing people. Routinely. In violation of US law and the Geneva Conventions, as well as in violation of decency, morals, and our reputation around the world. It's not just terrorists, since we haven't bothered with little things like trial or evidence to see if the people we've caught are actual terrorists or know anything useful. (Not that torture is good at getting useful information. If you hurt somebody enough, they'll tell you whatever they think you want to hear that will make you stop. That's why dictators use it for forced confessions.) McCain's gotten a lot of credit in the press for opposing Bush on it.

I call bullshit. He hasn't done a damn thing to stop Bush from authorizing torture. Every time a bill's come up in Congress, he's voted against it. Here's some more He hasn't lead any bold investigations into the criminal underbelly of the Bush administration. He has, once again, enabled Bush and his cronies every step of the way. Even though he should know all this, from being held captive by the Viet Cong. He's just spoken up enough to get credit from credulous media, not actually DONE anything to really oppose the Bush administration or reign in torture.

And third, the environment. Environmental issues are going to be having a lot more impact over the next many years, between peak oil, climate chaos, plastic islands, and all of the rest. Especially with places like China and India industrializing rapidly. McCain has a reputation as one of the more environmentally friendly Republicans (low as that bar is). So how'd he do last year? Well... according to the League of Conservation Voters, McCain missed every important environmental vote last year. Every one.

Here's his issues page. It doesn't say a thing, it's just a bunch of vague platitudes. Also, look at this. McCain was asked at one of the debates if he favors mandatory carbon caps. He says no, his plan is cap-and-trade. Um. Senator McCain. You see that part in your plan, where it says "CAP-and-trade"? The entire way a cap and trade program works is it sets mandatory limits on how much CO2 can be produced, and then sells or gives away credits for that much pollution. Either McCain doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about, or he's flat out lying. In either case, that's hardly a "Straight Talk Express".

There's plenty more too, including his self-professed lack of knowledge of anything to do with economics, his about face to the fantasy that cutting taxes increases revenue, his embrace of scary hatemongers, and many others. Which I may or may not get into.

The saddest part is, even with all this, he's one of the better candidates the Republicans ran this year. I just hope the media gets over their love affair with him and their "Maverick straight-talker" storyline and actually tells people some of this.
The European Union just slapped Microsoft with a $1.3 billion fine, the biggest ever, over Microsoft's anticompetitive actions.

For last year, Microsoft earned about $14 billion. That incredible $1.4 billion fine they make back in just over a month.

In related news, Exxon-Mobil is in court, yet again, about the Exxon Valdez spill, 19 years ago. They're appealing punitive damages levied because of the damage done by the giant spill. The captain had been drinking and wasn't on the bridge at the time, and Exxon had known he was a recovering alcoholic and had fallen off the wagon. They've appealed the punishment damages down to $2.5 billion.

Last year, Exxon-Mobil made a record profit of $39.5 billion. They make $2.5 billion dollars in about three weeks.

Graphs!

Dec. 18th, 2007 02:52 pm
If America had $100 and 100 people.

This graph is the key point, though. The top 1%'s share of the national income has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Everybody outside the top 10%'s share has gone down.
Two sets of "they" I'm referring to.

First, the people the real blame belongs on. The Republicans in Congress, who don't even pretend to put the good of the country ahead of their bosses in big businesses. In this case, the giant oil companies, who've been raking in record profits for years.

But also, the Democrats in Congress, who aren't even bothering to pretend to put any effort into any of the things they were elected for, they're just letting the Republicans block everything with fillibuster threats, not even actual fillibusters. They just say they need more numbers to get anything done. Which is true enough, their majority rests on Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic party and ran on the Lieberman for Lieberman ticket after he lost a primary challenge. But they don't even make the Republicans actually get up and fillibuster.

But on to the bill.

A few weeks ago, the House passed an ambitious energy bill, with renewable energy mandates, support for plug-in vehicles, increased fule effieiency standards, and other such goodness. It wasn't perfect, there was a lot of wiggle room and funkiness, but it was a definite step in the right direction.

So then it went to the Senate. And the Republicans there were having none of it. So, the renewable energy package was cut from the bill. It still wasn't enough for the Republicans, by one vote. 59-40 to cut off debate.

So what finally got the Republicans on board? A watered-down version which didn't close $13 billion in tax loopholes for the polluting oil companies. The same oil companies that have been raking in record profits from the high price of oil the last few years. Once that was dropped, the Republicans hopped on board, and the bill passed 86-6. The "free market" party put giant tax giveaways to huge companies who are too lazy to change ahead of tax breaks and incentives for small companies trying to innovate and help fix our problems. And President Bush, a failed oilman, said he'd veto any version with the oil tax llopholes closed, of course.

"The White House has said the taxes would lead to higher energy costs and unfairly single out the oil industry for punishment. A Democratic analysis showed that the $13.5 billion over 10 years amounted to 1.1 percent of the net profits that five largest oil companies would be expected to earn given today's oil prices."

The Democratic leadership couldn't even keep up a fight for more than a single day, to convince one Senator to vote a better way. Not even one of their own, the Senator from Louisiana who broke ranks.

And this is what the Republican party values. Tax breaks to giant profitable companies over the good of the country, over innovation in small and medium businesses, over the ability of our civilization to adapt to and weather the problems we've made.
This is a good little video about the writer's strike, and the whole myth of "rich writers who don't hardly have to work."

So, Rudy Giuliani has a new radio ad out, talking about how he had prostate cancer, and how much better Americian care and insurance is as opposed to Europe, in this case "England". Presumably to attack any kind of government involvement in health care. Except his numbers are completely wrong, and survival rates are nearly identical in the US and UK. And this was while he was mayor of New York, with government provided insurance. And for bonus points, the surgery was invented in Denmark.

To quote Ezra Klein: "So Giuliani's case for the superiority of our "free market" health care system goes something like this: While on health insurance provided by New York state, he was treated, using a surgery developed by Europeans, for prostate cancer, a disease that most commonly afflicts those covered by the federal government's single-payer health care system. Take that, Europe/national health insurance."

Kevin Drum has some pretty graphs.

Of course, this lie is a lot less scary than the fact Giuliani's main foreign affairs advisors are drawn from the ranks of the people who pushed the hardest for the invasion of Iraq. We really really don't need any more wars. Besides the fact that you'd think the outcome of Iraq would have proved that all of the people who pushed for it are completely wrong, or liars, or both. Neither of which are great recommendations for advisors.

And in other news, Fred Thompson is playing up to the paranoia of the NRA by claiming the UN plans to take away people's guns. This isn't true. Shocking, I know.

You'd think that'd be the kind of thing reporters who like playing "gotcha" would be all over. Funny how they're not.
I noticed an article in Business Week yesterday, called Little Green Lies. It's about Auden Schendler, an environmentalist who got a job at Aspen Skiing Co, as their environmental advocate. It starts off talking about how he's achieved"a lot of sexy projects", but doesn't feel they did anything.

The real story, as I read the article, is how every time he tried anything that would actually work, he was stymied by executives who were either baffled and confused by his insistence, or would rather spend the money on something much more short-term or just that they're used to. The most flagrant example?

" Thwarted on guest rooms, Schendler switched to Little Nell's underground garage. Guests never saw it because valets park all cars. For $20,000, Schendler said he could replace energy-gobbling 175-watt incandescent light fixtures with fluorescent bulbs and save $10,000 a year. Unimpressed, Calderon again balked. If he had $20,000 extra, he would rather spend it on items guests would notice: fine Corinthian leather furniture or shiny new bathroom fixtures."

He finally did get them to convert the lights, two years later, and after getting a $5,000 grant from a local non-profit. That's right, a big profitable company had to get a donation from charity to install equipment that would pay for itself in two years, and then save them $10,000 a year every year after that. Much more than would have been made in new bookings due to leather chairs or shiny faucets, I'm willing to bet. That's a 50% return on investment, better than anything you can find on the stock market. Later they talk about partially funding a solar energy farm outside Aspen, which would have a "paltry" 6.5% ROI. So it'd pay for itself in 15 years.

But as you can see above, corporate honchos aren't thinking long term. Even if the things they are thinking are completely pointless and would make less money than simple efficiencies. The moral of this story is, corporate execs aren't going to change how they do things, even if changing simple things would be a better investment. And since they won't change on their own, they need to be required to change, which means government has to get involved.

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