Category Archives: Geopolitics

Legislating Corporate Morality

I’ve always been a big believer that you can’t legislate morality, and I’m more than willing to expand that to say you can’t legislate business ethics, either.  I ran across an article that in part fully supports my newly expanded belief.  The rest of this post is very US-centric but I’m pretty sure it applies to just about anywhere in the world.

To make a long story short, the Affordable Care Act in the US says that companies must provide health care for full time employees and defines “full time” as 30 hours or more per week.  This seems a bit low to me, but it was clearly put there by the liberal side of the nation in the hope of enrolling as many people in health care as possible.  They also put the barrier so low because they were concerned that companies might be tempted to cut employee hours from 40 to, say, 35 or 37 to put them below the definition of full-time so they wouldn’t have to pay for their health care.

The new Republican-led Congress has introduced legislation to redefine full-time as 40 hours.  Liberal critics are saying that this will tempt employers to reduce 40 hour employees to 39 or less just as they had feared when the original plan was designed.  The Republican response to this claim?  They say they’re doing it to HELP the employees.  They say that by raising the bar to 40 hours, employers will be less likely to cut their full-time workers to the 29 hours or less per week that they would need in order to avoid paying for their health care under the existing plan and will only cut them to, say, 35 or so.

Essentially, both parties are assuming that companies are going to do everything they can to avoid providing health care for their workers.  The only difference is that the liberals are optimistic that businesses wouldn’t cut a worker’s hours by 25% or more and the conservatives are pretty sure that they would.  I continue to be amazed at our desire to screw over our fellow man.

Original story is here, relevant portion is “The 40-hour work week”, about halfway through the article.

Ferguson… oh, man…

The shooting of an unarmed black youth in Ferguson, MO and the resulting fallout are all over the news and unless you’ve checked your soul at the door somewhere the whole mess has caused you to think about race and racism at least a little bit in the past week or two.  Don’t panic, this isn’t going to be one of my long-winded rants.  It’s going to be a nice, short commentary on this link which you will now read before coming back for my thoughts.  And remember, it’s not my fault if they are long-winded.

I will now hum the “Jeopardy” music while I wait for you.

Are you done?  Did you read the whole thing or did you get so bummed out halfway through that you couldn’t finish?  I made it to the end but I nearly bailed out a couple of times, and I’m really conflicted about what I’m reading there.  So here, briefly, are my thoughts.

First, there is no question in my mind that the instructions those kids are getting are accurate and potentially life-saving.  Even though this is completely alien to my world, I can’t deny that it seems necessary and I can’t tell you how sad this makes me.

Second, no one can deny that blacks are arrested, charged, and convicted at a rate far higher than whites.

Third, blacks have poorer schools, fewer opportunities, and less chance of success (used here in the “self-sufficient and out of jail” sense) than whites.

Fourth, minimum wage jobs do not pay enough to survive or thrive on.  This may seem off-topic but it’s not.

Fifth, 2/3 of black kids grow up in single-parent families.  I’m not judging here, I’m stating fact.  I know that there are single parents and there are single parents, but I’m going to assume that in general, more parents equals more parenting.

Given all that, the phrase “…manifestation of systemic racism and state-sanctioned brutality against black men…” seems inflammatory to me.   Maybe I’m fooling myself.   Maybe this isn’t hyperbole.  But I just can’t help thinking that this is the inevitable result of a cycle of endless poverty that seems to grip the black population disproportionately.  That there is racism there can be no doubt, that it reduces the opportunities for blacks is certain, but not systemically state-sanctioned.

I think of myself as a law-abiding racially tolerant person.  If I was raised by a single parent in poverty while being bombarded with televised input of a materialistic good life that was completely out of reach would I turn my back on a life of crime?  I can’t honestly say that I would.  But if I was cop faced with an endless stream of angry, desperate people with easy access to deadly weapons and most of them were black I would rise above it all and not begin to see a threat in every young black male’s face?   Well, I’m not sure I could do that, either.

Hey, look!  I kept it under

Book review – My Promised Land

It’s probably not a good idea to write a book review without actually finishing the book, but hey, 8 generations of school kids can’t all be wrong, can they?  And if reading the book was a requirement, where would the folks at Cliff’s Notes, be?  Out of a job, that’s where.  But in this case, I’m doing the review before finishing the book because I’m so wound up about it that I can’t wait to recommend it.  Don’t worry, I’ll finish it.  Wild horses couldn’t stop me.

The book is “My Promised Land” by Avi Sharvit, a journalist for the centrist Israeli newspaper Haaretz.  It is his personal history of Israel from 1897 (through his well-placed great-grandparents) through late 2012 and is a truly amazing read.  It presents a balanced view of the amazing successes and horrible mistakes that have led Israel to where it is today, but beyond that it contains a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas that relate to much of the rest of the current world political scenery.  Here’s just one example:

The outcome was a gaping vacuum at the top, with no worthy leadership, no effective civil service, a weak public sector, and a disintegrating national ethos.  The new political game was the blame game:  Left blamed Right and Right blamed Left.  But as this vicious circle went round and round, no political force took overall responsibility for running the nation in a mature and rational manner.  Israel was out of its political mind.

If you have any interest in the situation in the middle East, the conflict between Israel and, well, damn near everyone, and how we got here, I strongly recommend this book.  It’s not even dry reading, as Mr. Shavit is a good storyteller.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

I’M REALLY PISSED OFF (YES, I KNOW I’M YELLING)

Great.  Just great.  Only my second post back from self-imposed exile and I’m already going to go all bat-crap-crazy political on you.  I’d apologize but I’m too pissed off to care and if I don’t write this post my head will probably explode.  If you’re just here to laugh, skip this post.  If you dislike profanity, skip this post.  If you want rational discourse or a coherent train of thought, skip this post.  If you want something to be optimistic about, skip this post and follow this link instead.  If you’re still here, brace yourself.

America has lost it’s goddamn mind.  There’s no getting around it.  Completely torn between “us” and “them”, between red states and blue states, between liberal and conservative, the entire country has completely lost its identity and has completely lost sight of everything… and I mean EVERY GODDAMN THING… that really matters.  I’ve been working toward this conclusion for a while but the straw that broke the camel’s back was a recent story that stated that there had been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook incident 18 months ago.  Was this a liberal attack on gun rights?  Of course it was, and the conservatives reacted accordingly.  One journalist admirably took a deeper look at the data and his results were reported this way by a conservative website:

Charles Johnson, a freelance journalist, first began looking into the shooting incidents cited by Everytown for Gun Safety. After cross-referencing all of the incidents listed by Everytown with local news reports, he claimed that only seven of the 74 shootings were what he would consider classical cases of school shootings similar to the one at Sandy Hook or Tuesday’s incident in Oregon.

Hooray!  A victory for statistical accuracy and a rebuttal of the liberal agenda… but wait.  Wait just a damn minute.  Accepting this conservative position at face value still gives us the following results:

  • There have been 7 classical school shootings in just 18 months since Sandy Hook.
  • Worse, there have been enough school shootings in general that we’ve been able to define a “classical case”
  • The other 67 cases, regardless of what the hell you want to call them, STILL HAPPENED and they all involved the discharge of a firearm in a school that had students in it.

I’m not pissed off about gun control or the lack of it, I’m pissed off that one of the greatest nations on earth cannot decide how many goddamn guns have to go off in schools before the guns become more important that partisan victories.  Still, partisan fixation is only one symptom of America’s insanity, just the thin outer layer of my white-hot ball of rage.  There’s plenty more.

  •  I’m pissed off that the CIA recently had to publicly announce that they would no longer be inserting agents into foreign vaccination teams attempting to halt disease in the hope that this would stop attacks on the teams and allow the resumption of actually vaccinating people.  All those attacks on vaccination teams by paranoid wingnuts who claimed they were a front for spies, well, those wingnuts weren’t paranoid, they were right.
  • I’m pissed off because we’ve lost sight of law and order and a nation that claims to support trial by jury has no qualms about killing foreign suspects in their own country with flying robots, but I’ve said enough about that here, and here, and here.
  • I’m pissed off that America has spent so much time showing support for the troops that they so richly deserve and so little time asking why they were deployed, what they were supposed to accomplish, whether it was all really worth it, and how many new enemies they’ve made in the past 10 years.
  • I’m pissed off that America has seen fit to treat other nations like pawns on a chessboard, manipulating them with callous disregard for the welfare of their citizens to satisfy the short-term interest of the United States and then follow that up with the unmitigated gall and pig-ignorance to wonder why those nations hate the United States.
  • I’m pissed off that science has gone from exciting and wonderful to scary and hard.
  • I’m pissed off that Americans seem to think that all they have to do is believe that America is the best country in the world and it will be so, completely ignoring mounting evidence to the contrary.
  • I’m pissed off that there seems to be no way to curb the rampant greed that is eroding the American middle class, and that the 1% are some how going to be stunned and surprised when the shit really hits the fan.
  • I’m pissed off that the United States (and the West in general, after reconstruction) emerged from WWII with the power to change the world and make it a better place for every single human on the planet and they’ve completely and utterly pissed it away.

But even these, all of these, they’re just the the middle layers of my glowing rage.  The core, the absolute core of my anger and bitter disappointment can be summed up in one sentence.There’s not one fucking thing I can do to fix any of those things.

That’s it, that’s the crux of the problem right there.   I can only see two solutions to this problem, both of which are really great solutions, equally effective, and readily available.  In fact, I can’t choose which of them is better, so I leave it to you to help me out.  Which solution should I choose, alcohol or morphine?

How do YOU “self-identify”?

How do YOU “self-identify”?  An odd question, for sure, and I followed an odd path to get to it.  The stops included a government form, a conversation after hockey, and a documentary on former NBA player Vlade Divac.  At the end of this route, the question still seems very relevant, so I’m asking you to consider it.  Here, let me explain.

The government form asked for my race and offered the usual options; Caucasian, Black (socially acceptable in Canada), Aboriginal, Metis, and then provided a box for “Other – self-identify”.  My first thought was to invent a new race, instantly become an oppressed minority of one, and start a separatist movement.  I soon dismissed this as impractical (if not passe) but the question stuck around in my brain and started fermenting a bit.  The conversation after hockey helped me see different angles to the larger picture and define whether it really is important.  The documentary on Divac showed what can happen when large groups of people suddenly change their identity, making me even more curious how my friends would answer the question.

Divac and his best friend Drazan Petrovic enjoyed great success as members of the Yugoslavian national basketball team but the collapse of that nation into separate entities allowed generations-old nationalistic hatreds to re-emerge.  Divac is Serbian, Petrovic was Croatian, and suddenly there was a rift between them that was never resolved.   The divide was partially their own doing and partially imposed on them by others of their new identities; the Serbs flat out told Divac that it was dangerous to talk to Petrovic.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, check out the Serbo-Croatian war on Wikipedia.  It wasn’t pretty.

So let’s take the question to a higher level than just race, and ask it again.  How do you self-identify?  When you boil yourself down to your core element (an icky process, I expect) what do you find?  A Christian?  A Republican?  An American?  A Liberal, maybe?  Perhaps a single issue defines you, say, gun control, or abortion.  Perhaps you’re a scientist, and the search for knowledge is your core element.  You may find more than one, and it may change over time, but do a little introspection and see what you find.

While you’re mulling that over, let’s talk about why it’s important.  I’ve come up with three reasons that I think it’s important to be consciously aware of our self-identities.  There may be more reasons, and mine may suck, but I’ll let you hash that out in the comments.  First, there’s the little matter of the human concept of “us”.  Us are the folks we identify with, the ones we’ll help in a crisis, and the ones that we’ll vigorously defend against the onslaughts of all the non-us’es that we refer to as “them”.  We work together with others of us to get things done.  We’re more comfortable around us than we are when some of them are included.  It’s easier to ignore them, and dismiss them as idiots than it is to ignore one of us.  This is sad because sometimes one of them has a good point worth considering but our tendency is to dismiss them out of hand.  The pull of the dark side is much stronger when you get them involved, too.  Humans don’t commit genocide or wage war against us, they do it against them.  In fact, differentiating them from us is one of the essential preliminaries to both war and genocide.

The second reason your self-identity is important grows from the first.  Put bluntly, it limits you.  The more strongly you identify with your us, the harder it is to see things from the them point of view.  When us and them inevitably come into conflict the path to resolution is far easier if you can see the issue from both sides.  It’s not impossible to be strongly associated with a group and still see things from another perspective, but it does make it more difficult, and at the extreme end of the scale an extremely strong identity with a single cause leads to … well, extremism.

This leads to the third reason that your self-identity is important.  Once you’ve picked a core element, it’s hard to change it.  Divacs, for example, considered himself a Yugoslav until that rug was pulled out from under him and he was forced to revert to an identity that he was not comfortable with.  Because this change is difficult, it’s important to make sure that the identity you’ve chosen for yourself is an appropriate one, and it’s also important to check every so often to make sure it still fits.  As a trivial example of both of these concepts is my identity as a fan of the Seattle Mariners.  I’ve been a fan for years, but lately the team has proven itself to be a bunch of incompetent fools with no idea how to win.  No longer wanting to be associated with (well, more accurately, disappointed by) them, I’m trying to not be a fan anymore but old habits die hard.  I just paid $20 to listen to any baseball game I want, and no surprise, I’m listening to the Mariners.  As I said, this is a trivial example but it applies equally to important things like political, religious, and social affiliations.  If you’re a Lutheran for example, but have lost your faith in God, it’s a pretty good possibility that you’re not actually a Lutheran anymore.

So give it some thought.  What’s your self-identity?  Does it still fit?

Final drone on drones

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my ranting about drones so I’ll keep this very short and sweet.  I still think it’s morally wrong and politically stupid to kill suspected terrorists on foreign soil with drones.  I think it weakens respect for due process of law.  I think that if the Russians started doing it to American citizens inside the US the hypocritical outpouring of indignant rage would deafen the planet.  I think it makes America look like a bully, it probably violates international law, and I strongly suspect that it creates more terrorists than it kills.

The public, however, have spoken and spoken loudly to the contrary.  According to the inquisitive folks at the Gallup polling company fully 65% of Americans support the “launching of airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists”.  In a time when elections are won and lost by single digit percentages of the vote, this is a loud endorsement of the practice.  Furthermore, this is one thing the bitterly opposed political parties seem to agree on, with 79% of Republicans, 61% of independents, and 55% of Democrats expressing their approval.

Predictably, the opposition grows as the activity gets closer to home.  Only 41% support drone strikes against those suspected terrorists if they are US citizens living abroad, so apparently it’s okay to kill Pakistanis in Pakistan but not Americans living there doing the same things.  Only 25% support using the drones against suspects inside the US, and a mere 13% support using them domestically against US citizens.  I’d like to think that to some degree this represents the greater possibility of a criminal trial for suspects closer to home, but I’m not really convinced that this is the case.

It would be nice if this strong support for a US policy that involves killing people would be an informed opinion, but that doesn’t appear to be the case either.  In the same Gallup poll 49% of the respondents said that they were following the story either “not too closely” or “not at all”.  If I had to choose a single group to focus my frustration on it would be the subset of the 24% of people who favor the practice without following the story at all, but that number isn’t listed in the results.  Education is required for a successful democracy but I’ll spare you that rant for now.

I’m a firm believer in democracy.  One of the many freedoms in a democracy is the right to screw ourselves up.  I’m pretty sure that this is one of those opportunities, but I don’t really have any choice but to let the majority rule and hope they eventually come to their senses.

It’s really is a spectrum

I went to see the movie “Lincoln” this weekend and it was very very good.  One of the real surprises for me in the movie was a reminder that, despite all the evidence to the contrary lately, politics really is a vast spectrum of individual beliefs and opinions and rarely is anything as simple as yes or no.

Slavery, for example.  To me, the issue of slavery was always pretty clear cut.  Either you believe that folks of a certain group are less than human and therefore suitable for slavery, or else you believe that they’re folks just like you and me and therefore worthy of the same rights and freedoms as regular folks have.   Clear cut, that is, until seeing the movie.  (Don’t worry, no real spoilers here.)  In addition to these two positions, there are people in the movie who only want to abolish slavery as a form of economic warfare and who don’t really have any thought for the people who would be freed.  Others consider slavery to be an inhuman practice but at the same time are horrified at the thought that freed slaves would have equal rights such as the right to vote or to marry someone of a different race.  For these people, the practice of slavery is the evil, but discrimination against another race is not a problem at all.  Still others view all groups of people equally and who strongly believe that ending slavery is merely a half measure toward giving the freed slaves full and equal status.  And obviously there are those who view the slaves as property and not human beings and don’t seem to have any problem with this.

The existence of these diverse views is obvious when looking back with the help of the movie, though I’d never really done so before, and it made me think about the issues that we face today, which are not nearly so clear cut as “can we buy and sell these people as personal property?”  Issues like who can own guns, what type they can own, and why do they need them.  Or whether or not welfare recipients should be tested for drugs, what happens to them when they are, and what happens to their kids if their benefits are cut off while they’re still addicted.  Or what level of health care is a human right, who makes that decision, and how can the whole system be made affordable?  These are not nearly as easy as whether or not a person can be property and yet they’re important and need to be solved.

On one hand the movie gives me little hope for the current political climate.  If people had such diverse opinions about something as simple as slavery, how can we hope to gain any consensus on the more difficult issues we face?  On the other hand, the movie also shows the way out.  One character in particular, recognizing that a compromise is the best he is going to get, and realizing that it is better than nothing, embraces that compromise as a step on the path toward his ultimate objective.  This spirit of compromise is one of many things that is completely missing in today’s political arena.

Think of the narrow tightrope that the 13th Amendment takes.  Slavery is abolished, yet the free slaves gain very few civil liberties and the door is left wide open for another 100 years of segregation.  Given all those differences of opinion it’s amazing that the amendment passed at all, but the fact that it did gives me a glimmer of hope that maybe we can figure out a way to start compromising again.  This time, though, let’s not wait until after a civil war to do it.