Category Archives: Politics

How to fix the American Welfare System

I think it’s time to bring back two old programs started under The New Deal: with the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration

The benefit was that people that were unemployed were given meaningful work to do. That way they weren’t just on the dole and doing nothing. I have four main suggestions.

1) Get people to do work improving infrastructure, cleaning up cities and towns, and building public amenities, like they used to do in the 30s and 40s.

2) Remove the marriage penalty for getting welfare, to discourage the decline of nuclear families on benefits. In some states, marriage means you get fewer or no benefits, making parents more likely to split up or not live together.

3) Remove the welfare cliff so people on benefits don’t get punished for working as you earn more money. Instead of dropping off welfare completely and suffering a net loss for working, have the benefits gradually step down so you are encouraged to work and actually able to build up a savings.

4) Eliminate the ability to use food stamps for pop, fast food, and unhealthy snacks that are bad for developing brains. Fucking duh.

The real question is something along the lines of: “why do the wealthy political elites allow the status quo to continue?”

The answer is because they can pat themselves on the back and say, “Look at all the programs we’ve created for the poor! We’re doing something!” In reality, the poor are ghettoized and cordoned off from middle and upper class society so that the rest of us don’t have to face what their lives are like.

Then the welfare system keeps those on benefits dependent and desperate, so it is a virtual guarantee that they will always vote (if they do vote) in favor of the politicians that promise to keep the benefits flowing. It’s learned dependency because you aren’t able to get a good job and keep your benefits and you aren’t able to build up a savings or ever have enough money to buy your own home. You have to keep your benefits to survive, so you’ll toe the line and keep voting for those who are not a direct threat to your survival, even though these same people offer you no hope for advancement or chance to move up in society.

The rich get richer. It’s the law of the land.

My New Website Experiment: greenedata.com

So I have become increasingly dissatisfied with a host of news aggregators, from Huffington Post to Google News to reddit to the Drudge Report. This is for a variety of reasons. The agendas of places like HuffPost or Drudge I find highly disagreeable. I disagree with HuffPost for their brazen support of Hillary Clinton and Drudge for his non-stop agitating for Donald Trump.  This type of agenda-driven news reporting is problematic because it means the reader must filter through the bias of both the aggregator and the story that it links to. I have problems with social news sites like reddit because the inherent bias and popularity towards certain kinds of stories, as well as a highly flawed upvote/downvote system, mean some important news items get ignored. The problem with sites like Google News is that it is highly reliant on algorithms instead of human editors, so very important stories can be left behind and not featured on their main pages. It should also be noted that most aggregators generate exactly none of their own content. I figured if I am going to have to filter through a thousand different news sites to get to the stories I want to see, maybe someone else would be interested in what I find. So that’s when I decided to create my own website, greenedata.com, where I also don’t generate any of my own content (ha ha), but I provide a limited number of links each day. I link to the stories I view as either the most important and relevant, or the most interesting.

Greene Data Screen Capture

I don’t really have any rules for how I do this, but I am developing a method to find things. I do have preferences for what I post. I will never link to a website like Forbes, which has a hard paywall and harasses you for using an ad-blocker. I prefer to always link to stories that are on sites with no kind of paywall if I can help it. I also try to link to local news stories when possible. If I see something on Yahoo! News that is just a republication of an interesting AP or Reuters story, I will attempt to find the original story on either AP or Reuter’s website as well.  My standards are simple: is it important, relevant, or interesting? In terms of bias, I am basically critical of everyone. I don’t have a rooting interest for any major political party, corporation, or institution. I don’t receive payment from anyone. I don’t show ads. I have no one giving me money to put forth a point of view. I have no one giving me money for this, period. The purpose of the website at this stage is how to best execute my idea and to test the market to see if there is a demand for this kind of thing. For example, I imagine many Bernie Sanders supporters are very unhappy with CNN and Huffington Post for their poor treatment of Sanders and their highly favorable coverage of Hillary Clinton. In the same way, many conservatives and libertarians who do not like or support Donald Trump are currently disgusted with people like Matt Drudge. If I can demonstrate there is a demand for this website from people like this, as well as others, maybe I have something here.

For now I just want to present a daily set of links to stories. I want the website to load quickly and be as simple and easy to use as possible. Hopefully so far I have achieved those goals. Give it a look, won’t you?

The War on Drugs is a Failure

I have been opposed to the War on Drugs for political, social, and moral reasons for over 15 years, since I was made aware of the issue. I could probably write a lot on this issue, so I will try to keep this simple, and limited to three main points. Included will be a source for each point. Keep in mind that right now Montgomery County and Dayton Ohio are experiencing a heroin abuse epidemic like never before seen in history, with our region leading the nation in opioid overdose deaths per capita: http://www.whio.com/news/news/crime-law/3-ohio-cities-in-top-10-worst-for-drug-overdoses/nrSJH/

My three points are as follows:

  • The War on Drugs was created and is perpetuated as a war primarily on the poor and people of color.
  • The War on Drugs is a source of massive income for the prison-industrial complex and associated industries.
  • The War on Drugs is a very expensive failure in stopping or even limiting drug use, and there are superior alternatives.

Continue reading The War on Drugs is a Failure

Mad Max : Fury Road

I felt it was time to write about George Miller’s most recent Mad Max film now that Oscar season is right around the corner, and there is talk of a special release of the film that will be entirely in black and white. I must admit this film caught me by surprise. I didn’t quite know what to expect based on the trailers. My first viewing of this film was a visceral punch to the gut and brain. The film breaks out of the action movie mold of the last 25 to 30 years and is basically just one long, extended car chase and fight scene. Mad Max completely captured my attention with the sound, the music, and the practical effects (lots of real explosions and stunts and minimal CGI). The thing that most stood out to me after my first viewing of this film, however, was none of that, it was the incredible performance by Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. I had not paid much attention to this movie before it came out, and Theron so completely transformed for this role that I did not recognize her until after the film ended and the credits started rolling. As I watched the film a second, third and fourth time in the theater I became even more impressed by Tom Hardy’s solid job as Mad Max, and I picked up on lots of little things George Miller and the actors put into this movie.  I continued to be amazed by Theron’s performance as well. A trailer may give the impression that this film is just a big, dumb action movie but it is actually quite deep, exploring themes that are highly relevant to the post-modern era.

The major themes that resonated to me were warnings about nuclear war, climate change, and religious and political extremism. The other theme carried throughout the movie is the power of women. There are no damsels in distress in this film. The women in Mad Max: Fury Road are just as ferocious and capable, and sometimes more ferocious and capable than the men.  The redemptive power of women to undo the damage wrought by men through nuclear war, climate change and extremism is one of the main lessons of this film. In that way this work agrees with another one of my heroes, George Carlin, who rightly places most of the blame (but not all) for the insanity of this world on men. That insanity is reflected in this movie, which eschews pacifism and calls for a struggle against tyranny and extremism as the only way to make the world a better place.

How to end global poverty with radical change

It’s hard to find sources on this, but many of my ideas have been suggested by economists and think tanks before, I just combined the ideas that I think would work best. I think there are benefits to both capitalism and socialism, but the excesses on both sides can be harmful. Too much capitalism or too much socialism can lead to different bad forms of totalitarianism in my view. I think proponents of both tend to idealize their systems and ignore some of the inherent flaws.

I believe there needs to be a balance between the two, combining their strengths. Capitalism mixed with government investment in key areas is a great way to advance technology, for example. Capitalism is very effective at generating wealth, but without a social safety net enforced by the government, wealth inequality becomes such that the very wealthiest consolidate so much power that they are essentially able to write the rules for everyone else, in the form of local laws as well as international regulations (think trade deals). I basically think a stronger form of global governance is needed. Here’s a brief list of some of the things I think should be implemented on an international level to deal with poverty:

1) Eliminate all government subsidies for all corporations. This would have to be enforced internationally, but would allow small business owners and producers in all countries a more level playing field, because as of today they aren’t able to purchase the political influence major corporations can.
2) institute a global currency. I think there would be many benefits to doing this, namely wealthy countries wouldn’t be able to use their currency and foreign exchange rates to dominate weaker countries. Here’s an article on the subject that deals with what I’m thinking of.
3) eliminate all trade laws, tariffs and excise taxes. These laws mainly serve to protect corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest countries and companies that write the trade laws. Eliminate them, create true global competition.
4) create a flat, unavoidable corporate profits tax, as well as personal income tax, worldwide, eliminating corporate inversions and tax shelters and havens of any kinds. Make sure all global money is taxed in one form or another.  60 minutes just did a big investigation into how the rich are able to shelter their money from taxes due to weak laws.
5) provide a basic social safety net that includes food, shelter, clean water, health care, and education to everyone on the planet. Pay for it with the money raised from eliminating tax shelters and corporate inversions.
6) Find a way to reform patent law so price gouging doesn’t happen – either buy out the patent of successful medicines or pay companies a bounty for succesfully coming up with a cure, like an X-prize. This model can be applied to government funded research in all areas, especially green energy technology and medical technology.
7) provide a minimum income (cash payment) for everyone on the planet. This website provides a good explanation of the benefits of a basic income.
8) any money you make on top of that and the taxes you pay, you get to keep
9) set a limit on the ratio of how much more an executive can make than the lowest paid worker.
10)  require corporations to give a share of the ownership to the workers, so that the workers have voting power in the companies. This is basically a lighter version of what is known as anarcho-syndicalism.
11) Create a global set of environmental regulations and labor laws that include jail time for executives that violate them.
12) Some form of debt forbearance or forgiveness for countries at the bottom of the economic system.

Obviously, these ideas would require some radical changes to be made. I think it’s time to make globalization work for the people instead of the elites. Due to the rates of technological change and interconnectedness of markets, it is in my view impossible to stop globalization or capitalism, I think it needs to be directed to more positive, just ends.

The Republican Suicide Pact on Immigration

Estimates vary, but there are probably between 18 and 21 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States today. Official estimates say the number is between 11 and 12 million but that estimate is heavily disputed. Very few reasonable political solutions have been offered for fixing this state of affairs. Democrats have proposed legalization of these immigrants, by offering them a legal process whereby they can become tax-paying citizens. Many Republicans, especially on the far right of the party (largely the Tea Party membership) are vehemently opposed to any path to citizenship, and favor instead mass deportation and building a huge border fence across the entire southern border of the United States. This situation has created a major problem for the Republican Party, in terms of demographic appeal, especially for its presidential candidates. The Latino minority voting population in the United States now accounts for 11 percent of all eligible voters.  The Tea Party’s extreme position on immigration, which the Republican party is tied to, is extremely unpopular with the Latino voting bloc. The recent fights over immigration and the rhetoric from the Tea Party has only served to further alienate Latinos from the Republican Party.

The Republican positions on immigration create a very difficult problem for any candidate running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. In order to win the party’s nomination, candidates must appease the Tea Party wing and appear “tough” on immigration. Namely opposing a path to citizenship for immigrants and speaking in favor of this nebulous idea of “protecting the border” or some such nonsense. Without doing this, a candidate’s chances of winning the Republican primary are slim. The problem for the candidate is when they get to the general election. In order to appeal to the ever more important Latino bloc, a Republican candidate, to have any hope of winning the general election must appeal to some percentage of Latino voters. This means taking a more moderate tack on immigration. This will, of course, open them up to attacks of being a flip-flopper, and may cause many in the Republican base who are extreme on immigration to stay home on election day.

The Republican Party is increasingly viewed as the party of old white people. The recent highly publicized killings of unarmed black men by the police have highlighted just how out of touch most of the Republican Party is with the African-American community. They have succeeded in totally alienating African-Americans from the party by constantly defending egregiously violent cops at all costs, by trying to maintain the racial status quo in this country, and by constantly attacking Obama with criticisms that to many are just thinly veiled racism. Whatever hope they had of gaining votes from this critical voting group is long gone. The Republicans are about to make the same mistake with the Latino community, depending on who wins their nomination. As much as I dislike Jeb Bush, he is one of the few sane voices in the party on immigration. The Republicans, through the sheer force of demographic trends and by their own actions, have ensured that in the future they will be a permanent party minority. If that means fewer wars in the Middle East, and fewer tax breaks for billionaires, then I’m all for it.

Robots and the Basic Income

Robots will replace much of the workforce in the next 20 years. Predictions vary, but as automation technology and software improves, more and more jobs will be replaced by robots. There is a strong business incentive to replace workers, skilled or unskilled, with robots and software. This is because software, or robots, require minimal maintenance, and do not require a salary or benefits of any kind. The potential costs savings to businesses are enormous. It’s important to note that both skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by robotics and software. Higher skill jobs like attorneys, insurance adjusters, or accountants could easily be replaced, as well as lower skilled jobs like cashiers, drivers, call-center employees or janitorial workers. Most forms of labor outside of creative work or work that requires direct person to person interaction is a candidate for replacement by technology. This process is already well under way, and the replacement and loss of these jobs for the human workforce is probably inevitable.  One consequence of this process is that unemployment on a global scale will probably increase.

While many see the coming increase in automation as inevitable, very few people are offering up any kind of plan for how to address the job loss that will result from this automation. The workers displaced by the advancement of technology will need money to live, and will need alternative ways to earn money. I get the feeling that the super wealthy are not particularly concerned about this problem. Indeed, most of them only seem concerned with increasing their bottom line. A permanent underclass of 30% unemployed, or possibly more, could be formed, and my guess is many of them still wouldn’t care, since they can all afford private security and their own fortresses in an increasingly destabilized society, a society collapsing due to massive unemployment.

This coming situation calls for what is known as a basic income, minimum income, or citizenship dividend for all citizens, rather than means-tested welfare that countries like the United States currently use today.  A set amount of tax free money would be given to each person on a monthly or yearly basis, sort of like a permanent stimulus. Any money earned on top of this by an individual would be taxable. This would give each individual enough money to live on their own, and also allow them the flexibility to pursue alternative means of earning money, be it through creative work, or pursuing an education in a new field, acquiring new job skills online, or any number of other activities. As a starting point, it would encourage most people to want to earn more as a way to improve, build a savings, own a home, buy a car, and take part in the consumer economy. It would allow people at the bottom of the economic totem pole to spend money, and would help drive the economy, especially in the USA, where nearly 75% of the economy is powered by consumer spending.

Naysayers may argue that it would be too expensive, that giving everyone $15,000 or $20,000 a year is fiscally impossible, but that is a lie told by austerity hawks whose primary goal is to further enrich and protect the wealthy elites that run the world system. The fact is, we can easily afford a basic income, especially compared to how much money the Federal Reserve has generated for the banks, or how much was given to Wall Street for the bailout in a single year. The bailout for the banks and the automakers was for hundreds of billions of dollars, and in 2008 and 2009 alone, the Federal Reserve gave $13 trillion dollars to the banks, primarily to Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.  $13 trillion in two years. Imagine if that money had been put in the hands of regular consumers, education, and national infrastructure. The impact would have been enormous. Instead the money went to the wealthiest people in society, and went to managers and bank executives in the form of bonuses.

 

A basic income could actually result in a net cost savings for the government, because it could replace the complicated welfare and social security system bureaucracy, where everyone simply gets a check or electronic deposit based on carefully monitored economic need. Means-tested welfare as it is administered today keeps people in a poverty trap, because if an individual earns too much money then they lose their government benefit. It encourages people not to work or save money. It requires a massive bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows the government’s ridiculous rules. A basic income simply issued to all people would make all of that unnecessary. Skeptics say it is impossible and violates basic tenets of human nature, that people need an incentive to work. Well, it’s already been tried, and it worked quite well.

The time is now to seriously consider implementing a basic income, for everyone.

Religious Freedom or Religious Tyranny

Recent events involving how the world’s two most dominant religions, Christianity and Islam, treat gay people have brought the question of religious freedom to the forefront. Christians in the United States have been in the news lately for denying service to gays, most notably some bakeries, a pizza place, and an auto mechanic. In the Muslim world in some places gays are being murdered simply for being gay, such as in Iraq in lands controlled by the terror group ISIS. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the death penalty for homosexuality is sometimes applied, and is an accepted part of the law. In lieu of the death penalty, other harsh punishments can be involved. These intolerant behaviors are usually defended against critics by making claims to the need for religious freedom, the ability to exercise one’s belief, and the requirement that we tolerate religious belief. Ironically, we are asked to tolerate what I view as intolerance. These situations raise a host of questions, which I will try to sum up briefly: Should religious people be free to exercise their beliefs? When does that exercise of religious belief negatively impact others, and how should the law be applied to exercises of those beliefs?   Where do we draw the line?

Continue reading Religious Freedom or Religious Tyranny

Criticizing Religion Is Not Hate Speech or Bigotry

As the new atheist movement has grown on the internet over the last two decades, religious people are increasingly referring to any criticisms of their religions as hate speech or bigotry.  This has created a situation where the religious, especially in the West, have become unwitting allies of the cultural Left, as the religious are making a specific claim to moral relativism to shield themselves from criticism. Any criticism or critique of religion is bigotry because everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and you must “respect” those beliefs. I submit to you that religion should not be immune from criticism, and that it is extremely harmful when it is. So first let’s look at the definition of the word bigot, according to Merriam-Webster:

a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

A key feature of a bigot is someone who strongly dislikes or hates a group that is different from them. Today, people (usually Social Justice Warriors on the internet) are conflating bigotry with any and all criticism of an idea or group of religious people. If we are not allowed to think and speak critically about any and all ideas, then we are truly lost as a society. There are big consequences for this attitude, especially as they relate to the principle of freedom of speech, and how important that is for living in a free society. Furthermore, describing criticism of religion as hate speech implies that this speech should be banned by the law and simply disallowed. This to me seems to be one of the worst consequences of adopting moral relativism and cultural subjectivity as the most important aspects of someone’s worldview, and is extremely harmful to freedom of speech, a founding principle of a free society. The notion that religion or other ideas can’t be criticized is also harmful to society in general.

Protecting unpopular or controversial speech is essential to protecting freedom of speech for everyone. Whether you like someone’s speech or not, as long as that speech does not incite violence or harm to another person, it is allowed. This principle in freedom of speech is essential to a free society. If people cannot speak openly and honestly about what they believe for fear of reprisal, then they are not truly free. The ability to criticize bad ideas and bad governments is essential to maintaining that freedom. The term hate speech itself implies that some speech should be banned, violating the principle of freedom of speech. Unpopular or controversial speech needs to be protected because it is the most likely to be attacked. When someone says something I don’t like, I should not have the ability to take away their freedom or their life for it.

Religions or ideologies that make claims about the supernatural, and then try to apply their beliefs to the law deserve criticism and scrutiny. If religion can’t be criticized it makes it that much easier for them to take control of the cultural narrative and apply their beliefs to the law in spite of dissenting opinions, which have been silenced. Any criticism is shouted down as bigotry or hate speech, and critical thinking goes out the window. I don’t want to live in a world where that is the case. I want to live in a world where there is a marketplace of ideas, with the best ideas rising to the top. If your ideology or religion cannot take criticism, then it doesn’t belong in that marketplace.

I believe that the primary reason all criticism is attacked in this way is because religion can’t take criticism, it is designed to be accepted uncritically by the populace and believed in with a strong emotional fervor. Attacking any criticism as bigotry or hate speech shuts down the criticism, deflects it, and short circuits critical thinking in the minds of many listeners. People who are taught that all beliefs are equal and that you must respect all beliefs are prevented from thinking critically about ideas. Beliefs don’t deserve respect or special treatment, they deserve analysis. Criticism of an idea or belief is not bigotry. It doesn’t necessarily imply hatred or dislike of a person, it simply means that I don’t agree with your idea and here’s why. I choose not to believe it because of the following reasons. That’s not bigotry, that’s not hate speech, that’s common sense. The bottom line is, if your beliefs can’t stand up to scrutiny and can’t handle criticism without shouting the critics down, or worse even resorting to violent retaliation, then your beliefs probably don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Internet Service: United States vs South Korea

In a report published by technology company Akamai, South Korea ranked 1st in the world for average download speed, clocking in at 25.3 MBPS (megabits per second). The United States, by comparison, ranked 11th, with an average speed of 11.5 MBPS. South Korea’s speed is more than twice as fast. To make matters worse, compared to the average cost for an internet connection in South Korea, internet service is much more expensive in the United States. This report by the Open Technology Institute, released in 2014, gives an extremely detailed analysis of internet speed and price in various major cities around the world. For the sake of comparison, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, averages about 300 MBPS download speeds for a price of around $50 per month. The United States, for the same price, offers an average speed between 25 and 45 MBPS.  Only the cities with Google Fiber, as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee (which has its own innovative municipal fiber network) bring this average up with extremely competitive prices for gigabit internet, the fastest service available to the consumer in the United States. The rest of the country lags so far behind in terms of price per speed that it drags down the averages by several orders of magnitude.

Why are we so far behind? The monopolies that control almost all internet service in the United States are primarily responsible for this sad state of affairs. They don’t compete with each other. While they don’t directly co-ordinate with each other in setting prices, they have little, or in some cases, no competition, and they don’t need to compete on price as a result.  They know what the other monopolies charge so they all offer poor service for a high price, in the same range so they don’t undercut each other. Between Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T, American consumers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Why is any of this important? Does it really matter if the United States isn’t number 1 in internet speed and price? I say that it absolutely matters. We aren’t even in the top 10 in speed. Poor, overpriced internet has serious consequences. It limits economic opportunity for people that can’t afford internet access. It stifles innovation by putting technical limitations on what people are able to do with their connection. The difference between a 25 MBPS connection and a 1000 MBPS connection (gigabit) is like the difference between a children’s tricycle and a Ferrari.

The internet service situation in the United States raises billions of dollars per year for the same 3 mega corporations who spend millions of dollars a year lobbying politicians to continue to protect these failed, terrible policies that created this situation with the monopolies. The United States, the birthplace of HP, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and many more hugely influential tech companies, should be the de facto leader in internet speed and price. We should be head and shoulders above the rest of the world, but we aren’t. If we are going to remain competitive in a global marketplace, this has to change, and quickly.