Tag Archives: economy

Where are the Hank Reardens?

25 Jul

I’ve read Atlas Shrugged. In the book the business owners are portrayed as hard working honest people who want to add value to the world through their labor. They create wealth through their labors. They raise up themselves and those around them through hard work.

Where are those honest good business leaders? I look around and all I see is unrestricted corporate greed at the expense of others for short term gain. The entire financial sector is built of white collar crime as a business model. Many fortune 500 companies get away with negative tax rates while taking advantage of publicly educated workers, publicly funded roads, firefighters, and police. Executive pay is through the roof and workers are getting shafted.

One of the latest and clearest examples is Catepillar corporation. Catepillar makes hydraulic construction equipment. Times are tough and Catepillar has decided to freeze all of their worker’s pay for six years, including their pensions. So for the next six years, worker’s wages will remain flat, regardless of the increase in gas/food/housing/education/you name it costs. Consequently, the amount workers will take home for their savings after living expenses are taken care off will plummet.

But times are tough, what are you going to do right? Except they’re not. Times are great! You know how much Catepillar made last year in profits? Not revenue, profits.

4.9 Billion dollars.

You know how much they’re on track to make this year in profits?

6 Billion dollars.

Catepillar is rolling in money. They have money up to their eyeballs, but no, the workers need to take a pay freeze for six years to help keep costs down. That includes the CEO too right? Hahahahahaha, you’re joking right? Pay freezes are only for little people like the workers that make the company run.

Douglas Oberhelman, the CEO of Catepillar was given a 60% pay increase over the course the year. He now makes $17 Million Dollars a year.

But I’m sorry, the little people need to tighten their belts during these great times.

Where are the Hank Reardens? Where are these virtuous business owners? Where are the CEOs that want to make the world a better place by enriching themselves AND those who help them create wealth?

Instead it seems that the current business model is to leech as much out of society as possible, to squeeze your workers for every possible ounce of productivity you can get out of them while paying them the absolute minimum you can get away with. When workers fight for an decent pay it’s class warfare, when corporations screw them out of every penny possible, it’s business.

 

Class warfare in The Dark Night Rises.

21 Jul

*spoilers*

I went to go see the new Batman film last night and while it’s an entertaining movie, there was a strong undercurrent of class warfare all throughout that drove me nuts.

I read a really great description of Batman from a reddit user dopplerdog:

Batman is a romantic figure. He is the embodiment of the Nietzchean will to power, anUbermensch. He fights for law and order, a bourgeois order which respects hierarchy and property. In his world there are people who work within the prevailing order, and criminals who are outside it. His role is to enforce his idea of justice on those outside his notion of bourgeois order. He doesn’t wish to subvert the order, but rather to save it from itself, because it has become corrupt.

It is fascist because it is a reactionary fantasy to “correct” unilaterally and by force the problems afflicting liberal democracy, by going beyond the limits set by the system. The aim in this fantasy is to restore a mythical order in which hierarchy and property are respected.

One of the first big action sequences we see is Bane and his thugs shooting up a stock exchange. The rich traders are there being polished and snobby, then shoe shiner, janitor, and Bane dressed like a delivery driver pull out guns and start shooting up the place. The thugs weren’t disguised as other traders, no, they were disguised as working class average Joes. The police show up and there is a dialogue exchange between an trader and two cops. I can’t remember word for word, so I will paraphrase:

Trader: “You have to get in there! This is a robbery! He has full access to whatever whatever!”

Cop: “I’m not running in there, it’s not my money. My money’s in my mattress.”

Trader: “Well if you don’t stop him that money might be worth a lot less than the stuffing in your mattress!”

I find it wonderfully ironic that Bane is holding the traders hostage because this is exactly the reverse of what is going on in our society. Back in 2008, when the economy collapsed, our large financial and commercial institutions held everyone hostage. The message was simple: Either you bail us out for our irresponsible behavior or we take the entire world economy down with us.

“Too big to fail” was the euphemism used for blackmail on a global scale. Four years later and nothing has changed. No one has been arrested, the corrupt and broken system remains in tact, and anyone who speaks out against it is denounced as promoting “class warfare.”

The character of Bane uses populist, anti-capitalist rhetoric throughout the film. He claims that he is starting a revolution for the people, giving the city back to the people. He laments the corruption in society and the injustice of a system used by those in power to keep themselves in power. Bane brings up several real issues affecting society today, but by having Bane be the one to voice them, Nolan is single-handily dismissing the issues and painting those who raise them as terrorists. Way to try and frame the discussion so there is no discussion at all.

Cat Woman, who is much more morally ambiguous, also uses populist rhetoric from time to time. She tells Bruce Wayne that there is a storm coming, that soon all the rich people will be thrown out into the cold harsh world and will know what it’s like to be one of everyone else. This actually takes place in a montage that shows rich people being rounded up, their homes looted, and criminals being released from prison.

The whole thing just reminded me of the period immediately after the French Revolution known as “The Terror.” I was further reminded of this when Nolan shows the rich being sentenced to death in sham trials before a “people’s court.” I couldn’t help but laugh when one of the rich decries the lack of due process. In Nolan’s mind the rich and powerful stand as beacons of justice and human rights. In real life things are exactly the opposite.   The “right” to due process has become yet another casualty of war. Eric Holder, the attorney general made it clear that “due process doesn’t necessarily mean judicial due process.”

Throughout the chaos Bane establishes a military dictatorship of sorts, declaring martial law and rounding up those still on the streets for execution. His rule is anything but a populist revolution. He is simply using the rhetoric of such to try and win people to his side, not that he cares either way because he’s planning on blowing up the city regardless.

Queue patriotic shots of police officers being heroic and marching down the villains, people coming out of their townhouses while those in power talk about prosperity and order, and the entire thing is a reactionary circle jerk with Batman as Jesus Christ.

 

The myth that you can do anything

7 Dec

One of the most prominent myths in the pantheon of American mythology is that you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it. We hear this over and over again. It’s a reinforced theme in movies and examples are trotted out on Oprah for all to see. At the heart of this myth is the idea that there is enough social and economic mobility for you to go from zero to president.

I think this might have been true in Americas past, but no longer. With the current state of the economy, millions out of work (myself included), and an entire generation of college graduates who will be indentured servants for the rest of their lives, paying off massive college debt while working for years at McDonald’s, one could say I’m rather cynical about this idea that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.

You see, I feel that in order to attain the very top positions in our society, president, chairman on the joint chiefs of staff, senator, surgeon, astronaut, CEO of a major corporation, etc, you need to be either groomed for the job, or extremely lucky. It goes back to that old world mentality of being stuck with whatever class you’re born into and it’s infuriating.

Most people like to believe that through hard work you can achieve anything. While hard work is important, I feel this view is naive. Billions of people around the world work very hard at their jobs for years and never get anywhere. You can join the military as an enlisted person and work hard for decades, yet never make it to officer; something a college grad can go into officer school for and come out instantly ahead of anything you might achieve.  There are plenty of entrepreneurs that slave away over their business, only to have it fail. Hard work is no guarentee that you’ll be the next Google.

If you’re a nobody and want one of those top positions, you need to know exactly what you want to do with you life by age 12, and work with unrelenting drive to achieve it. Even then there is no guarantee that with your 4.0 and stellar SAT scores that you’ll get into Harvard. This is a form of self grooming, but it requires a focus that almost nobody has. How many people honestly knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives when they were 12? (If you start too late in your teens, you won’t have the prodigy credentials needed to get anywhere) I had a rough idea when I started college, but by that time I was 18 and despite all my hard work, my interests shifted my senior year.

I’ll be 23 next month and with a worthless college degree my current options are limited to McDonald’s. I would love to be an astronaut but I can’t. I didn’t have stellar high school grades, I didn’t have the SAT scores needed to get me into one of the top college, I didn’t major in the right subject, and I don’t have any military pilot backgrounds. Even if I tried to go back to school, buried myself in debt, and worked to the point of exhaustion, I’d never make it. To get picked is a matter of luck and grooming. In order to get there I would have had to start at age 12.

Despite the fact that you can’t be anything you want to be, that you’re dealt a hand of cards when you’re born, we as a society insist on perpetuating this myth. We love “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” stories. I think we suffer from a mass confirmation bias when it comes to this stuff. We put it in movies, highlight it on talk shows, and write books about people who go from zero to hero. In reality you can work till you die and still be a zero, unless you’re either groomed from birth for the job, or extremely extremely lucky.

Liberal mentality vs Conservative mentality

6 Dec

So as the holiday season is upon us and millions of Americans are out of work, the debate about over extending tax cuts for the richest people in the country and slashing aid to the poorest rages on. Yes, the “reduce the deficit” conservatives are adamant that we must add trillions of dollars onto the deficit so the richest people can become even richer while at the same time stop the aid that helps put food on the table of millions of Americans. Yep, winter is coming and if you’re out of work with a family to feed, soon you’ll be forced to choose between the heating bill and putting food on the table. The “reduce the deficit” conservatives are adamant that the best way to shrink the deficit is to cut social services, especially those that help poor people.

I’ve talked about this before, but all those conservatives refuse to even bring up the fact that we spend over a trillion dollars on war. Defense spending is the largest part of our budget, yet it is the holy cow. It is obvious that conservatives feel every social program aimed at bettering people’s lives should be cut before anyone dare thinking about cutting defense.

I’m furious about this. Nobody ever brings up cutting defense. I wonder how much we could improve our country and the lives of the people living in it if we invested that money into us instead of war. But no, we can’t touch that trillion dollars because the thought of killing dark skinned foreigners with expensive gadgets gives conservatives such a massive erection.

I think this really speaks to the difference between liberal and conservative priorities. Liberals want their tax dollars to save lives, conservatives want them to take lives. Liberals want to increase education funding, education is the #1 thing conservatives love to cut (gee, I wonder why), liberals want to fight the root causes of crime, conservatives prefer just to lock more people up (and then privatize prisons so they can make a fortune doing so) , liberals want to let women choose when they have children, conservatives want to force them to have unwanted children just so they can grow up to commit crimes and get the death penalty later. I swear, it just makes me want to smash my head through the drywall.

 

Is history still applicable today?

4 Dec

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but am only now writing it down. I love history, I went to school to study it. In the lower level history courses, the levels populated by disinterested freshman who rather be back in bed, a common question was “how is this still relevant?” By the time you get up in to the higher level history courses you stop hearing this question. It’s always taken for granted that history is relevant. People are people and things never change, right? Well this is what I’ve been wondering about because as I’ve watched the first decade of the 21st century unfold, I’m no longer sure this is true. Come to think of it, the 20th century was the real game changer, the 21st century just sealed it.

So what changed in the 20th century? Well, before that time everything was pretty much the same. Armies fought wars with swords, then muskets, then rifles and cannon. Regardless of the weapons and uniforms being used the most basic principles of moving and feeding large groups of people remained the same. Communication was also relatively unchanged. Yes the time between when a message was sent and when it was delivered slowly decreased, especially after the invention of the train, but none the less there was still a substantial lag. The printing press was a huge leap forward, but until the 20th century lots of people still couldn’t read. Printing made books and news papers more available, but they still didn’t reach a universal audience. Before the 20th century, governments had a monopoly on information and the way discourse was framed.

So what changed with the 20th century? Well, everything. In the first 66 years we went from the first powered flight to walking on the moon. We went from horse drawn carriages to the atomic age. Within the that century we went from mail cars on trains to e-mail. From cash to credit. Mass media, the automobile, intercontinental flights, satellites, computers, the internet, GPS, cell phones, rock and roll, the entire world changed.

Throughout history the fundamentals of things stay the same, except the technology changes. Technology is exponential. It starts off slow and builds on itself. For most of our history technology has advanced so slowly the line would look arithmetic. However, there comes a point where the exponential rate of change starts to become visible. It’s at this point the advances become striking. The 20th century was that breaking point.

In the 20th century technology reached a point where it began to change the fundamentals that had dictated human events for centuries.  The first decade of the 21st century was a one-two punch that finalized the change the 20th century started. What were those two punches?

The first was 9/11. Religious terrorism managed to harness the power of scientific advances to wreak mass death. This shifted the political landscape forever. It introduced us to terms like preemptive strike, indefinite detention, secret prisons, sleeper cells, improvised explosive device, water-boarding, The Patriot act, warrantless wiretaps, among others. The power of government to violently intervine, even against its own citizens, drastically expanded.

The second punch was economic. The world economy crashed and we were introduced to the bailouts. Tax payers had to foot the bill for bank’s risky behaviors, all while millions of people lost their jobs and the banking executives took multi-million dollar bonuses home to the Cayman islands. Then we find out that the banks are foreclosing on people’s homes, even if they have made all their payments (Florida is especially bad, where they have so many foreclosures they’ve set up a “rocket docket.” Often judges will see 200 cases a day and will never bother to look at the documents, trusting the banks are telling the truth when it turns out they’ve been lying. *surprise*) The way banks operate now, you can never be sure your money will be there, or that the government won’t show up to do the banks bidding and throw you out of your own home, regardless if you’ve made payments.

At the same time technology has had a drastic impact on how politics operates. The 24 hour news cycle has really helped to kill journalism and government is increasingly in control again of how issues are framed:

On the other hand, the spread of information has been democratized. The internet, alternative news outlets, twitter, reddit, facebook, these are all extremely powerful tools that have never been used before in history. With the advent of cell phones and smart phones people have the entire wealth of human knowledge (the internet) in the palm of their hand. With cameras in those phones they can record any event in front of them and upload it to the internet within minutes. Just recently The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency created a challenge, hiding 10 red balloons in secret locations across the entire US and offered $40,000 to the first team to find all of them. Using social networking, it took a team from MIT 9 hours to locate all 10 balloons.

These leaps in technology have put levels of power and information in common people’s hands that were previously unthinkable. What scares me are the steps ever increasingly authoritarian governments are taking to limit this power or to at least spy and keep track of it. These governments also benefit from the increased technology. Never before have they been able to keep tabs on their citizens the way they can now. It makes me wonder how resistance groups would be able to operate if the government became too authoritarian. I imagine the old models developed in occupied countries during WWII would not work given what current technology can do.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the world will never be the same because of climate change.

(I don’t think I need to tell you how bad things will get once climates shift, people are unable to grow food like they used to, sea levels rise submerging coastal cities, and storms intensify.) The data points to increased human activity, primarily starting in the 20th century.

In essence, things are changing at a pace and speed never before seen in history. Technology has reached a level where it changes the fundamentals of how we live our lives, how governments relate to their citizens (and vise versa). The economic situation has changed drastically as a result of the risky practices of the late 20th century. And finally, our planet itself is changing immensely as we destroy our ecosystem with ever increasing speed.

Is history still applicable today? I’m honestly not sure. In specific instances it can prove a useful guide, and we still need to be ever vigilant so as not to allow old crimes to be reperpetrated, but overall I think it has lost some relevance ever since the 20th century.

I wish I changed my major

13 Nov

Starting college I was a history nut. I loved doing historical reenactments, I loved reading history, I loved historical movies, everything. I remember consciously telling myself that I was going to major in something I love, regardless if it would make me money. I didn’t want to spend the next four years working at something I didn’t care about to get a job in a field I didn’t care about, so I majored in history. While at college I worked really hard. I skipped parties to study and was constantly working on my research papers. I ended up getting a 3.7 (out of 4) for my major related coursework, and a 3.2 for everything else (languages made me struggle).

While in college I hit upon the idea of being an archaeologist. My professors told me I needed to know at least Latin, French, English, and German fluently to be a medieval archaeologist, so I took language classes, much to the detriment of my grade point average. A favorite history professor got me an internship with a local archaeological dig and I spent two semesters getting up super early to go scan a backlog of slides or dig in the red clay earth. It was primarily 1800’s archaeology, which was not at all what I was interested in, but I liked the people and I needed contacts if I was to enter into archaeology as a field after undergrad.

I spent two of my summers at field schools, one at the local archaeological place outside my college, and the second in Newcastle, UK. I spent the summers getting up early and working long days. All of this because I wanted the experience and the contacts. Back at college I worked extensively on my senior thesis, taking it to history conferences around the region and presenting it. I even won a grant to do research at another university’s archives and was selected as a special scholar at a prestigious military school. As one of a handful of selected scholars at that school, I had to double the length of my thesis. All the other students at my college had much shorter thesis requirements, so there wasn’t as much stress on them. Still, I wanted the contacts and experience so I did it.

Then senior year everything changed.

My now ex helped me see that I wasn’t very happy every morning I came back from the dig, covered in dirt, sweaty and aching. “Maybe archaeology isn’t for you” she suggested. It scared me, but I thought she was right. I’m not sure if I was burned out because I disliked 1800’s archaeology so much and I would have been fine if I was working at a castle, but I decided not to be an archaeologist. Suddenly all those mornings getting up extra early, the hours spent in the field stooped over a patch of ground, the hours scanning slides, the money spent sending me overseas for a summer, all of it was for nothing. Yes they were valuable in the experiences they gave me, and the wonderful people I got to meet, but let’s be realistic: It was all for the goal of becoming an archaeologist. Suddenly I didn’t have that goal anymore.

Meanwhile on the history front, I was getting tired really fast. The extra work for that military school’s scholar program was really burning me out on history. My professors kept pushing me to go to gradschool, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a dark archive looking over dusty old books. I also did not want to teach! Everybody keeps telling me “Oh you could teach!” and I want to hit them. I hate children and I hate the idea of standing up in front of a group of them trying to get them to care about Charlemagne. I became a history major because I loved history, not because I wanted to teach it. Well now I’ve lost the spark and I’m mildly indifferent to it.

At the same time all this was happening, I quit my living history group. I had been doing this hobby since I was twelve and I finally got fed up. My passions were collapsing across the board. Then my girlfriend of three years left me for an older man, my grandmother got pancreatic cancer, I graduated and left my home for four years, along with all my friends, to live with my parents in the conservative/religious deep south where I knew no one. Needless to say, I often contemplated suicide.

I can’t tell you how furious and frustrated I am. I worked hard. I played by the rules. And now it’s all for nothing. I’m stuck in the worst state in the country, in the middle of the worst economic collapse since the great depression, and my degree is worthless. All my hard work is worthless. You see, you can’t do shit with just a BA in history. Maybe if the economy was better and I was in a better state, it might be worth something, but unless you go to gradschool to get a higher degree, or teach, you can’t do shit. I have no applicable skills. I can write research papers and use MS word. Lovely. I don’t have any market specific skills like a computer science major, or a chemistry major might have.

“Oh, but college is not supposed to get you a job afterwards! You go there to learn!” I used to believe this wholeheartedly, but now I call bullshit. You see, college is so ridiculously expensive today, it’s prohibitive. Unless you’re rich, the only way you can get a college education is by taking on so many loans you become an indentured servant for the rest of your life. College has become so expensive it’s now an investment. Nobody but the independently rich go to college with the idea of “just learning.” You spend the money to get an education that will get you a higher paying job. Don’t get me wrong, I love the humanities and I think they are our collective soul. I am in no way saying funding for them should be cut. That would be disastrous. I just wish I majored in something else.

Towards the end of senior year, I really got interested in astronomy and chemistry, thanks to the help of one of the best professors I had. I really wish I majored in something like that. My friend, who was a chemistry major, has been able to find work easily, same with my biology major friend. I’m really fascinated by those subject, yet I hate math. (I know math is pretty important in science) I’m frustrated because at the start of college, I had no way of knowing my interests would dramatically shift right before I graduated. What would have happened had I majored in chemistry? At the time I would never had thought about it. At the start of college I loved history. I was so excited to be out of highschool and able to load up my schedule with all the history classes I could handle.

I really regret it now.

I want so desperately to move out of this state, to a more liberal, less religious part of the country, and then eventually to Canada. I’ve lived in the conservative religious south my entire life and it’s smothering me. I’m tired of constantly being the hated minority. I want to live somewhere that isn’t so repressive. Not to mention I hate the heat. Yet with no skills I find myself applying to make sandwiches, shelve books, or work as an office assistant. None of these are jobs I really want to do, and with a worthless degree I’m essentially starting four years later than everyone else. I feel I’m going to be stuck in South Carolina for years to come, trying to get a job that will give me the skills needed to move. I probably won’t escape and finally be able to start my life until I’m 30. It just makes me want to die…

Why Obama is a fool

20 Aug

Last presidential election I voted for Obama. During the the previous 8 years under Bush, the political pendulum of the United States swung far to the right. Here, I thought, was a chance to swing it back and correct for the damage done in those 8 years; it was hard not to drink the Obama “hope kool-aid”. Did the pendulum swing equally far to the left after the election as it had swung to the right? No. If anything, since his election, Obama has shown himself to be pragmatic to a fault. So far he has proved to be extreme only in his mediocrity. He keeps playing to the middle of every issue, and he’s an idiot for it. Why is this foolish? Simple: he’s neglecting his base and breaking promises he made in an attempt to appease and include his opposition.

Normally, trying to compromise with your opposition and reach an agreement would be a good thing, but that’s assuming your opposition also wants what’s best for the country. Here’s where Obama goes wrong when trying to work with the republican leadership: The republican game plan is to make everything as horrible as possible in the run up to elections. Since the democrats are in control, they take the blame for when things go wrong. The republicans see that Obama is a push over and so they suggest the most damaging and radical ideas they can think of. They know they won’t get all of it in, but they can count on Obama to try and compromise, thus bad ideas get pushed through. When everything goes to shit, the republicans then through up their hands and go “See! What did I tell you? Government can’t make anything better, especially when the democrats are in charge! Vote republican!”

It’s brilliant really; brilliant and extremely sadistic at the same time. The fact is, despite all the drum beating and flag waving, republican leadership doesn’t give a shit about the rest of the country. All that matters are the super rich, the poor guy can go to hell. Off the top of my head, look at the unemployment relief package that just passed. $30bn to give aid to people who can’t afford to feed their families because they lost their jobs because of  mismanagement of the economy by super-banks. The republicans flipped out! They started crying about the deficit, suddenly caring now, in the middle of the worst recession since the great depression. (Where were they when Bush sunk us after Clinton’s surpluses? Oh wait, we were killing foreigners with the money so it was ok) You don’t cut government spending in a recession. The government is the only one around with the credit rating and ability to pump money into the system to jump start economic activity. You pay down the deficit during an economic boom as Clinton (D) did. But while the republicans were howling at spending $30bn to help the hardest hit families in the country, they started to dig in their heels on the issue of Bush’s tax cuts. Reinstating Bush’s tax cuts would cost us around $607bn dollars. That’s more than if we passed the unemployment aid 20 times over. The republicans are now trying to get popular support for the tax cuts from their gullible base. The fools see “tax cut” and think it’s a tax cut for them. It’s not. The tax cuts were for the richest Americans in the country. The rank and file republican voter won’t get shit, but he doesn’t know that.

Obama keeps giving in to these people while swatting away the very people who elected him. If he actually grew a pair and pushed the political pendulum back to the left, then things would start to get better, but he keeps trudging through this lukewarm crap. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’m starting to think I should have voted for McCain. “Whoa! How the hell would that make things better?” Simple. Obama winning the election was the best thing that happened to the republicans. During the 8 years under Bush, republicans had fucked things up so badly, that they knew it was all going to come crashing down on the next president. (They really started to see this when the economy first started coughing up blood right before the election) It was like this looming tsunami that would inevitably crash on the next president, who would undoubtedly take the blame for all of it. Had McCain won, the entire house of cards, the effects of 8+ years of solid republican rule, would have come crashing down on him. It would have been the death of the republican party. But no, we elected Obama out of desperation and “the audacity to hope”. Predictably the shit hits the fan, and this gives the republicans the perfect fear filled fuel to fire up their base and regroup.

“Look what happens when you elect a liberal! The country goes to hell!” (Even though Obama is a really conservative liberal, and what’s happening now was set in motion long before he was elected; but the American electorate are stupid children with Attention Deficit Disorder) So now the republican base is frothing at the mouth and can see blood in the water. Elections are fast approaching and the democrats are going to lose BIG. With a yet again a republican controlled congress, Obama will quickly become the conservative’s bitch in his desperate bid for approval from the people who despise him. A dark time for progressives indeed.