Archive | August, 2011

Tired of Trashy Politics?

31 Aug

tired of throwaway culture?

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What is Debt? – An Interview with Economic Anthropologist David Graeber « naked capitalism

31 Aug

Tell this to the Republicrats:

In fact, the first recorded word for ‘freedom’ in any human language is the Sumerian amargi, a word for debt-freedom, and by extension freedom more generally, which literally means ‘return to mother,’ since when they declared a clean slate, all the debt peons would get to go home.

Is ‘wage slavery’ a mere metaphor? Perhaps not. Read the following paragraphs (I bolded the last one, the ‘money graph, as it were):

What’s been happening since Nixon went off the gold standard in 1971 has just been another turn of the wheel – though of course it never happens the same way twice. However, in one sense, I think we’ve been going about things backwards. In the past, periods dominated by virtual credit money have also been periods where there have been social protections for debtors. Once you recognize that money is just a social construct, a credit, an IOU, then first of all what is to stop people from generating it endlessly? And how do you prevent the poor from falling into debt traps and becoming effectively enslaved to the rich? That’s why you had Mesopotamian clean slates, Biblical Jubilees, Medieval laws against usury in both Christianity and Islam and so on and so forth.

Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.

And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves.

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New York Denies Indian Point Plant a Water Permit – NYTimes.com

31 Aug

The battle is joined. It’s New York State vs. the Federal Government.

… the strongly worded letter from the Department of Environmental Conservation, issued late Friday, said flatly that Indian Point’s cooling systems, even if modified in a less expensive way proposed by Entergy, “do not and will not comply” with New York’s water quality standards.

It said the power plant’s water-intake system kills nearly a billion aquatic organisms a year, including the shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species. The letter also said that radioactive material had polluted the Hudson after leaking into the groundwater.

via New York Denies Indian Point Plant a Water Permit – NYTimes.com.

Where Pay for Chief Executives Tops the Company Tax Burden – NYTimes.com

31 Aug

“We have no evidence that C.E.O.’s are fashioning, with their executive leadership, more effective and efficient enterprises,” the study concluded. “On the other hand, ample evidence suggests that C.E.O.’s and their corporations are expending considerably more energy on avoiding taxes than perhaps ever before — at a time when the federal government desperately needs more revenue to maintain basic services for the American people.”

The study comes at a time when business leaders have been lobbying for a cut in corporate taxes and Congress and the Obama administration are considering an overhaul of the tax code to reduce the federal budget deficit.

via Where Pay for Chief Executives Tops the Company Tax Burden – NYTimes.com.

Federal Austerity Changes Disaster Relief – NYTimes.com

31 Aug

“To say that the only way you can come up with funding to rebuild devastated communities is to cut back on other desperately needed programs is totally absurd,” said Mr. Sanders, an independent, responding to a call by leading Republicans to balance any financial relief with spending reductions elsewhere. “Historically in this country we have understood that when communities and states experience disasters, we as a nation come together to address those.

“That is what being a nation is about,” he said in an interview.

via Federal Austerity Changes Disaster Relief – NYTimes.com.

Warren Buffet: Tax the Rich

29 Aug

And Buffet should know. He’s among the richest of the rich. This is an hour-long conversation with Charlie Rose.

After Irene, Jersey City, NJ

29 Aug

Liberty Marina, on the Hudson River:

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Entrance to Liberty State Park (also on the Hudson):

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Inside an abandoned building near Liberty State Park:

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Communipaw, just South of Grand (my neighborhood):

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Communipaw Avenue is on a foot path originally laid down by the Lenni Lenape, who lived here when Henry Hudson landed in 1609. He landed on the shore of what is now Liberty State Park.

The Economics of Happiness – Jeffrey D. Sachs – Project Syndicate

29 Aug

Third, happiness is achieved through a balanced approach to life by both individuals and societies. As individuals, we are unhappy if we are denied our basic material needs, but we are also unhappy if the pursuit of higher incomes replaces our focus on family, friends, community, compassion, and maintaining internal balance. As a society, it is one thing to organize economic policies to keep living standards on the rise, but quite another to subordinate all of society’s values to the pursuit of profit.

Yet politics in the US has increasingly allowed corporate profits to dominate all other aspirations: fairness, justice, trust, physical and mental health, and environmental sustainability. Corporate campaign contributions increasingly undermine the democratic process, with the blessing of the US Supreme Court.

via The Economics of Happiness – Jeffrey D. Sachs – Project Syndicate.

Work Sharing | Work-sharing could work for us – Los Angeles Times

29 Aug

Where this is headed is to a shorter work week. And leaves more time for drumming and dancing, community gardens, and everyone teaching skills to kids and one another.

After surveying policies around the world, we found that there is one that clearly dominates in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness: work-sharing. The idea is simple. Currently, firms mostly respond to weak demand by laying off workers. Under a work-sharing program, firms are encouraged by government policy to spread a small amount of the pain across many workers.

In Germany, for example, which has used work-sharing aggressively in this downturn, a typical company might reduce the hours of 50 workers by 20% rather than laying off 10 workers. The government would then provide a tax credit to make up for most of the lost pay, with the employer kicking in some as well. In a typical arrangement, a worker might see his weekly hours go down by 20%, and his salary go down by about 4%.

via Work Sharing | Work-sharing could work for us – Los Angeles Times.

Why won’t America embrace the left? – Salon.com

28 Aug

An interview with Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, and author of, American Dreamers, which covers nearly 200 years of struggle for civil rights, sexual equality and radical rebellion.

Why has the left in Europe been so much more successful at making real change?

The left in Europe arises out of a more traditional class structure, and the left parties there were formed on the basis on those class divisions. Most European countries had feudal societies before they transformed into nation-states. When those societies became capitalist, they retained many of the old divisions both in terms of people’s consciousness and in terms of the new social structure. Peasants and lords became workers and employers. So, the parties there tended to fall along class lines much more than in the United States, and people growing up on either side of the class boundary fueled the movements on the left. Even though the differences between the labor or socialist parties and the centrist or right-wing parties have diminished over time, the vision of a socialist society is still alive in many European countries. In America, however, socialism and communism were never more than marginal beliefs.

via Why won’t America embrace the left? – History – Salon.com.