Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Organize of go down the tubes?

AlterNet: Solidarity Later?

Molly is pushing something that every worker in this country should remember. Unionization is the only way that this country will get back its middle class. And it'll be the only way to get the small businesses in this country on their feet and supporting their employees instead of blaming them and keeping them without insurance and with welfare checks.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

It's not just this....

AlterNet: Big-Time Trouble, but Why Worry? When Molly talks economics, she's like the child calling out that the emperor is naked. What I can't figure is why the stock market goes north when those of us who have to live in the economy are going south. More jobs lost in major companies and the stock market does a run up—go figure. It is good news for the companies, I suppose, but it's not long range good for the economy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some things missed

The second hour of the PBS special based on Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel" ran last Monday night and while it was interesting, it focused too much on Pizarro's conquering of the Incas and didn't put in enough of what Diamond says in the book as to why the Europeans were so successful in other parts of the world, particularly the new world and Africa. I hope the series will remedy that in the final installment.

Basically, what Diamond pointed out is that the growth of the food production in the Middle East, led to the rise of settlements with food enough to develop a class of people who were able to make pots; forge bronze, iron, and eventually steel weapons; and develop writing systems able to carry forward the history of what worked and what didn't work. They also carried forth myths, legends, history and philosophy that helped spur the people of Eurasia into people who had the power to dominate. What the series is not pointing out is that it led to a form of government that could initiate and survive and win wars without disappearing (at least some of them) and gave the people of their times an ability and a willingness to develop an Odyssean wiliness that helped them as well. Pizarro used some of this wiliness in defeating the Inca, but that is not given much time in the series, maybe only a line or two.

The series does, however, spend some time illustrating how the germs to which Eurasians gained some immunity through their constant exposure to the domestic animal herds from which the diseases arose were able to survive the smallpox and other epidemics, including measles and tuberculosis, that wiped out a majority of native Americans from the moment of first exposure. It doesn't point out, however, at least not strongly, that the epidemics preceded the European and that many of the villages and towns of the Mississippian culture were empty long before the first European walked there. The diseases had spread to rapidly through the Indian tribes that they spread the germs.

Friday, July 15, 2005

And it is, too

I wonder how many people have noticed the name of the supposed WWII veteran who is calling on us to call Sen. Baucus to ask him to change his vote on the so-called "Death Tax"? His name is Malarkey and that's about what the television ad is all about. For those of you who don't know, "malarkey" is a form of balderdash or bs or whatever you call it that means nothing but nonsense. So the ad then must be nonsense. I don't know if this is supposed to be nonsense or not, but it is amusing. Particularly since I've known few WWII vets who are going to leave an estate that big. Maybe I'm missing something here that is supposed to be irony or satire.

More importantly, it is not a "death" tax, but a tax on survivors intended to keep us from having in this country the type of "aristocracy" that the British finally brought to heel in the 20th Century with their inheritance tax. Why is it that money that I earn by the sweat of my brow is somehow more taxable than money which is inherited without sweat or which is earned by clipping dividends?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel

Last night, Montana PBS aired the first of a three-part series based on Jared Diamond's book that provides a reasoned and compact look at what archeological findings and history show as to why Eurasians have come to dominate the planet over the millennia. It eliminates the element of race as a factor but it does lean heavily on geographic advantages. Last night's hour presented the view that it was the rise of farming based on grains and a variety of animals with the potential for domestication that laid the groundwork for the advanced civilizations of the middle east.

Diamond's Pulitzer-prize-winning "Guns, Germs and Steel" book is still on scientific best-sellers list and his followup-book, "Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or to Succeed" is on a number of other best-seller lists. In its essentials his first book asserts that farming grew up in the Fertile Crescent and was most successful there because of the large number of grasses that became the basis of the grains we feed on today. It was also the place where the large majority of animals that could be domesticated were were found: goats, sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, and camels leading the list. Llamas and Alpacas were domesticated in the Americas, Yaks in Tibet, Water Buffalo in Asia, and reindeer in the north, as well as a few other limited versions of cattle. Elephants were tamed but never domesticated in the same sense. Because of the preponderance of elements such as the food content of grains and the use of animals leading to an ability to feed more people, specialists were empowered who eventually led to the ability to smelt and forge metals which in turn led to the ability to form great empires with sophisticated bureaucracies and governments that could sustain themselves without depending on one powerful leader.

In the next two hours on the following Monday nights, the series will focus on the role of germs and of steel and guns. Because they domesticated herd animals, Eurasian people developed a certain level of immunity to such diseases as measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and others that rose from exposure to the herds. Peoples in other parts of the world did not have that immunity, particularly in the Americas, and the diseases wreaked havoc on them, much as the Black Death of the Middle Ages decimated and changed the culture of Europe.

In the opening segment, the film, narrated by Peter Coyote with comments by Diamond, maintains a low-key profile that may not stir up many fans, but which provides a more factual context. Diamond has correlated such things as Middle Eastern agriculture, and agriculture from the Americas, the Far East (China) and New Guinea, areas which seemed to have developed farming independently, which such things as the reason that disease had such an impact on the natives of the Americas, into a viable explanation of why the world is the way it is. And he shows why not all farming presented the impact to its regions as it did in the fertile crescent: mainly that the protein level of many farmed crops did not approach that of grains. It is a fascinating approach and makes a large amount of sense.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Is it all pork

AlterNet: Pigging Out On Pork

Molly Ivins is keeping a close watch on a scandal in D.C. involving a San Diego congressman who apparently is paying his rent with our money.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Why did we let it happen?

We knew that terror such as happened in London today was going to happen sooner or later. There are terrorists out there and if we are not alert we will be hurt. But with that said, we also have to be aware that they can only hurt us fatally if we allow them to dictate changes in our system that will clamp down on speech and actions by our citizens as the Patriot Act does now.

We lost 3000 people on one day when we lose more than that every month or so on our highways, but we let our superstructure go to pot while expending our efforts on not guarding our borders. I don't think many of us would have had a great deal of difficulty with a quick shot into Afghanistan after 9/11 to focus on the terrorist camps there. Some of us might not have had a great deal of difficulty with staying the course there to really damage the terrorist cells. But diverting our attention to the Iraq which was not involved in any of the terrorism in our country was the nonsense that has set our teeth on edge. Today, London suffered damage that may have been prevented if we had "stayed the course" that we should have.

We all suffer today with the Londoners who have lost friends and family, or arms and legs and eyesight. Could we have prevented it had we not let ourselves be diverted into a senseless war?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Thoughts on Social Security

One of the big arguments of the past few months has been how to fix social security, when it becomes necessary (which may or may not be right now). Two elements have been suggested. The first is to divert some of the Social Security money into private accounts. This is said to make people part of the ownership society and to give them control of their own investments. It seems to me to have at least two problems: owning a fund is meaningless unless you can take the money out of it and being able to do that would ruin the intent; also, most people who don't love playing with money on the big board and its clones would have difficulty getting it right. Even I, who developed my own system for doubling my money in mutual funds a few years ago got bored with the whole prospect of keeping an eye on things. Playing with money is less adventuresome than playing golf. Even so, we already have accounts that people can put money into. They are called IRAs or 401Ks and they do the same thing as Social Security.

The other answer being proposed by the administration is to index social security payments to income at the time (as I understand it) you are earning it. Thus, those who earn more would draw less after retirement than they might otherwise. However, most people don't seem to realize that we now have an indexing system in place. It is called taxation and people don't like it. But it works like this: if, as a single person, you add together half of your social security income with all the rest of what you have coming in (pensions, IRAs, 401Ks, earning from jobs, etc.) and it adds up to more than 25,000, you pay taxes on your social security income up to a maximum of 85% of that income figured as to your tax bracket. That is indexing as well as what is being offered by the Administration.

It seems to me the quickest fix for Social Security is to do what we have done in the past, which works, and index the maximum amount you pay on. Therefore, the maximum amount, instead of being fixed, would rise as has income, deductions and exemptions. Payments also rise with cost of living. So why not set an indexing program for that amount of income that people pay on rather than keeping it at $90,000?

Now, let's talk about Medicare costs....

Friday, July 01, 2005

Now that's interesting!

Some numbers came up in passing on yesterday's NPR report on the anguish over the Veteran's Administration failure to budget for the war casualties. While all the fervor was aimed at the failure to budget properly, the news report talked about how the plans its budget three years earlier so that when it was doing figures for 2005 it was doing them before the war and hadn't planned for the additional needs of "80,000" people. If we add those numbers to the over 1700 dead in Iraq, just what is the cost to our soldiers in this war that didn't need to be fought?

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