Archive for July, 2013

Economic Discourse In The US

July 28, 2013

            CNN described George Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic”. The 7-16-13 online Newark Advocate ran an OpEd by DeWayne Wickham entitled How did George Zimmerman become the victim? Mr. Wickham also described George as a “white Hispanic” which prompted a reader’s comment to the obvious: Does that make Barack Obama a “white African American”? Hope Yen of the Associated Press ran an article on 7-28-13 that just might keep the Sominex in the medicine cabinet unopened over that question. The article (a rather long one) is entitled Exclusive: 4 in 5 in US face near-poverty, no work. Based on statistics, interviews and data provided by Mark Rank of Washington University in St. Louis, Tom Hirschl at Cornell University, John Iceland at Penn State University, The University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute, the US Census Bureau and the Population Reference Bureau the map of America looks quite a bit different than it did at the time of the March On Washington 50 years ago. The US Supreme Court may have used just such reasoning (to say America today ain’t the way it was back then) to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act, but I don’t think that what Hope Yen presents is exactly what the court had in mind; probably more like what Dr. King had in mind while expounding on his dream. It is obvious that we have lost The War On Poverty. “Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white. More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.” The AP article attempts to follow the same racial narrative that has accompanied such economic discourse since before the Johnson presidency. Hope Yen cites “For the first time since 1975, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade, spurred by job losses and faster rates of out-of-wedlock births among whites. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Hispanic single-mother families in poverty trailed at 1.2 million.” This begs the same question, seemingly facetiously presented by The Advocate comment. Though North West may claim exception, our current president has referred to his own personal upbringing as at times being that of a single-mother family. Hope goes on to point out “The share of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods — those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more — has increased to 1 in 10, putting them at higher risk of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 17 percent of the child population in such neighborhoods, compared with 13 percent in 2000, even though the overall proportion of white children in the U.S. has been declining.” This REALLY muddies up the historic bifurcation of economics along the lines of race. Children are politically powerless in the US of A. As Gandhi, Mandela, and so many others pointed out, self-identity is incumbent on self-rule. Who determines the “racial” identity of these impoverished children? The enemy of my enemy is my friend; such a tired cliché. However, as Dr. King (and many others) have indicated, the racial narrative has always been the friend of those opposed to any victory in a War On Poverty. The AP article underscores this historical perspective, “Race disparities in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s. While residential segregation remains high, a typical black person now lives in a nonmajority black neighborhood for the first time. Previous studies have shown that wealth is a greater predictor of standardized test scores than race; the test-score gap between rich and low-income students is now nearly double the gap between blacks and whites.” Economic discourse in the US, the one that dominates our attempts at self-governance, embarrasses itself through such continuous contrived, covert and subliminal presumptions of hierarchy and entitlement based on Victorian era anthropological distinctions.

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Success And Succession

July 23, 2013

            The day saw the birth of royalty within the British monarchy. Fascination describes the “interest” of the American public in the birth of a child to a young couple in London. After all, American culture and self-governance is ostensibly founded on the very overthrow of monarchy by democracy. Our “fascination” extends more along the lines of our acquaintance with Shakespeare than any actual analytic interpretation of royal lineage with the same equanimity as that of our own constitutional electoral college and its transition of presidency. How else to grasp that after Elizabeth as queen, Charles, then William, then this new unnamed prince are all “in line” to head the British monarchy?

           

Today (7-22-13) Kent Mallet of The Newark Advocate reported the announcement by Park National Bank and Park National Bank Corporation of the change in CEO coming January 2014. David Trautman, current president of bank and corp., will succeed Dan DeLawder as CEO. “Park announced the succession plan along with today’s second quarter report. Park long has used a strategy of flip-flopping its No. 1 and No. 2 employees to ensure a smooth leadership transition.” Mallet goes on to write, “DeLawder plans to continue working on a full-time basis, following the pattern established by former Park CEOs John W. Alford and William T. McConnell. “This carefully planned transition follows the leadership model that has successfully served our organization for decades,” DeLawder said. Like DeLawder, Trautman was hired by and worked directly with past leaders Everett Reese, Alford and McConnell.”

 

Perhaps, though a democracy, Americans are more in tune with hierarchical transitions, no matter how eccentric and arcane the protocol and strategy. This would go a long way in explaining the “fascination” for the British royal event. It would also explain why so many bemoan the low turn-out in local elections, low interest level in local affairs of self-governance and (sometimes) non-existent participation in the very offices of self-governance (evidenced by election ballots with candidates running unopposed). Democracy requires an informed, inquisitive and “local” (neighborhood) participation. Democracy, as self-governance, is not predetermined, ordained or scientific. It is not a model of efficiency. There is no “one size fits all” approach or solution since all aspects are determined through a democratic interaction. Today’s emphasis on success and succession makes democracy rather, well, inconvenient. It appears to suggest that democracy would be best served if it had a drive thru window. Either that, or operate more like a business or monarchy!

Failure

July 14, 2013

            A conversation with some organized opponents of fracking revealed the latest strategy. Since the momentum can’t be overturned, maybe destabilization will work. If they can’t collapse the entire table, maybe just making it tippy will be enough to generate unbearable dysfunction. The opposition was a bit chagrinned when it was pointed out that this is the same strategy employed by the pro-life folks.

 

            Recently John Boehner embraced the president’s deferral of provisions of the new “mandatory” health care law that apply to “small business”. “Why not for everyone?” the speaker asked. Also in the local news affecting those in central Ohio, Governor Kasich signed into law the new budget which included amendments and riders dealing with abortion procedure and Planned Parenthood. These were not aimed at providing economic compensation or financing alternatives but rather at denying them as well as any access or expedient performance. Today’s Newark Advocate (7-14-13) carried an AP story out of Cleveland under the page heading “Business Briefs”. It was entitled Lawmaker Wants Tax Break for Home Schooling. Some context to keep perspective: the Ohio Constitution mandates that the state provide (fund) an education for all children. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled this was not the case (was not being done); that the state was in violation of the constitution. This was addressed by various spending plans over the ensuing years (also deemed inadequate). Ultimately an “unsettling” stasis was achieved by rearranging the composition of said same court. The door was opened and what followed were legislative provisions to fund private schools, charter schools, vouchers for “choice” of where and what kind of education would be provided to fulfill the state’s public mandate, etc. This latest legislative initiative by Ostrander State Senator Kris Jordan employs the same tippy strategy used by the anti-fracking and pro-choice folks. A little more will be taken away, just enough to destabilize.  What did not appear in the story or my contextual synopsis is the regulations, requirements and demands already placed on public schools – whether in terms of auditing, testing, meeting the needs of whatever walks or is wheeled through the school house doors as well as teacher accreditation, supervision and oversight. Teacher evaluation includes supervised class time. Are home schooling “teachers” required to submit to that? That this story appeared under “Business Briefs” was indeed a serendipitous and fortuitous tautology. Recent legislation has done ditto for business and business related involvements – Jobs Ohio self-auditing and exception to the state’s sunshine laws, business exceptions in taxations and regulations and who monitors and verifies compliance (especially with regard to energy generating industries). The US Supreme Courts striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act appears to make this national trend de rigueur for local governing entities. Many point to the Citizen’s United ruling as creating this trend, or ALEC, or this nation’s incredible income disparity which makes possible such government by the elite few, or religious fundamentalism, etc. All create sensational speculation on a simplistic and mechanistic cause, not on an active and informed democratically self-governing populace. What is clear is that our current legislative attempts at self-governance are increasingly focused on failing, “keeping from” failing or “making” fail. The American philosopher of democracy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, considered idealism a condition for moral thinking or action, not an end whose accomplishment is justified by any means, tactic or strategy but an inspiration, motivation or impulse for activity that renders a democratically achieved beneficial outcome. For Emerson, idealism required imagination, the ability to imagine the good. Our current political obsession to only act so as not to fail, or the deliberate omission of action in order to precipitate failure, is rather unimaginative. It reveals character that has little or nothing to do with the creation or promotion of a beneficial outcome democratically achieved.   

Peaches And Pepsi

July 7, 2013

            The 4th of July holiday week has just passed. It would have been difficult for someone to not notice the special offer ads run by the local mega food retailers, “4 twelve packs of Pepsi for $10” (with membership at Kroger or Giant Eagle. Walmart will match any advertised price brought in with ad). Over the weekend I noticed several farmer’s market produce stands offering a carton of 4 gorgeous peaches for $5. You don’t need Karl Rove to help you do the equation: eight peaches equal forty eight 12 oz. cans of Pepsi (576 ounces of refreshment). Let that sink in for a moment. OK, time’s up! What springs to mind? Oh yeah, labor costs. We all know the capitalist alibi: labor costs drive prices up, eventually putting either jobs or the enterprise that sells the product out of work. The formula is simple and drilled into every sixth grader with their lessons on how to count (no, not the ABC’s kind but how to count money, usually other people’s money). So Pepsi will stay in business and grow, and eventually peaches will, well, disappear. Pepsi will do so by keeping production costs down (and some other unmentionables). This is where the sixth graders are left in the dark. Pepsi will keep its costs down by relying on automation to eliminate its labor (and some other unmentionables). More automated systems equals less human labor costs. In doing so Pepsi will be called a “jobs creator” when it opens or renovates a new production facility that will be more “cost effective” (automated) than the previous. As a “jobs creator” it will be entitled to real estate tax credits, income tax cuts, as well as other “community development” benefits and perks. Peaches, on the other hand, are a totally different economy. Initial start-up investment is substantial, competition with land values as well as continuous reliance on weather and environment, coupled with heavy reliance on human labor make it a primitive economic model for success. Although real people will really be working, it will not qualify as a “jobs creator” (unless it is subsidized and subsumed within some other unmentionables). In the end it relies on growth, but not the economic kind.

            Over the weekend PBS televised what looked to be an archived edition of The Human Parade with Jay Nordinger interviewing Jeb Bush. No matter. Governor Bush came off very presidential. His promotion of the conservative economic agenda was totally patriotic. He aspired to create success for America, and Americans. He lauded Marco Rubio for being willing to promote the reduction/elimination of Social Security and elimination/reduction of other social welfare programs (subsidized unmentionables). Also he presented a “how” on immigration: along with securing the borders, allow immediate citizenship for PHD’s entering the country as well as hard working entrepreneurs (NOT the hungry huddled masses yearning to be free, but those arriving with lots of capital- like Rupert Murdoch). This is where the sixth grade symposium on counting doesn’t do those who made it to the seventh grade much good. Weird news coming out of the various government and non-government bean counters: higher education costs are getting, well, higher. Those graduating are either unemployed or having to settle for work that is way below their degree capacity, i.e. Master’s doing minimum high school degree level work, etc. America currently has a lot of well-educated folks (who owe an awful lot of money for getting that degree). Karl Rove math aside, success for America might mean including them. But that brings us back to Pepsi and peaches. Just what does success mean if Americans are insecure in their old age and retirement, if Americans cannot afford to admit to themselves (or others) that they are  ill or injured, if education is considered a supplement to learning how to count (other people’s money), and if, when hungry, most Americans will need to choose Pepsi over peaches?

Editorial

July 4, 2013

            “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is engrained in the American psyche. This is a bedrock of our constitutional law (the right to a speedy trial, by one’s peers, bail, “Innocent until proven guilty”, etc.). It is woven into the fabric of American jurisprudence. To say it is part of our culture is a redundancy. We all have our pet “show” trials where the jury was hung, the defendant acquitted, or the prosecution really stretched to convict someone “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Mention of these cases inflames great passions on either side, so examples are not worth listing here. Besides, that’s not the point. The emphasis here is on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” as a basis for maintenance of the status quo, good or bad, beneficial or destructive.

 

            The July 4, 2013 Advocate has run an op/ed entitled Food Prize Goes Too Far In Honoring Monsanto by Rekha Basu (Des Moines Register 7-3-13). In it Rekha says a lot of things to bolster the case as to why Monsanto should not have been given the World Food Prize.  These reasons are as scientifically grounded and referenced as any provided by Monsanto itself with regard to the marketing of the wonderfulness of their technology. However, along with the scientific discourse Monsanto and other such businesses play the American culture card, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” one (although completely outside any court of law). This culture card allows the status quo of business as usual to be maintained. Monsanto is not the first business to make use of this cultural weapon to continue its practices, and profit from our self-governing malaise. The makers of DDT, the nuclear energy industry, lead and asbestos product manufacturers, and the tobacco industry (and others) pioneered playing this card quite effectively over 50 years ago. Today, Monsanto is just one of many to do so. For late night horror to rival any story by Steven King, research the history of Meth, its relation to ephedrine and the pharmaceutical industry that produces it. But is this narrative “beyond a reasonable doubt”?

 

            Harrison Ford is coming out with a narrative of his own, a new “infomercial” documentary on global warming (with penguins!). We will all be soothed by Mr. Ford’s familiar authoritative voice (hey, he played Indiana Jones, who better would know?). It will be interesting, and tragic. Nothing will be done. Along with Al Gore, Harrison will cash in on our concern. While watching and listening, we will all be more than well aware that those with the most chips also hold the “beyond a reasonable doubt” card, and will waste no time in playing it (“Do you own an oil well? Of course you do.”). In the bowels of Basu’s well written piece is the line, “The very fact that Monsanto money has flowed to the World Food Prize Foundation should make one of its own ineligible for the prize.” Gandhi is said to have taught that freedom can be reclaimed only by refusing to cooperate with unjust, immoral laws (something Dr. King also emphasized).   This is something Newark community organizers should bear in mind when promoting programs of change, that promise change, change for the better. Monsanto promises just such change, and uses their enormous financial muscle and the “beyond reasonable doubt” culture card to ensure cooperation and compliance with its unjust and immoral policies. For this it was awarded the World Food Prize, reinforcing its ownership of this valuable token of cultural capital.