• open panel

Archive for December, 2011

Vermont Proposes to End Corporate Personhood

Vermont would amend the US Constitution to eliminate corporate personhood.  According to Brett Wilkins at Moral Low Ground, Vermont might pass a joint resolution (JRS 11) urging the US Congress to propose an Amendment, which if ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and the House, and then ratified by three-fourths of the states, would declare that corporations are not persons.

Don’t hold your breath for that to happen.  Corporations already control the political process, and they are capable of blocking such an Amendment.

However, Vermont is nonetheless doing the right thing, and we need more such initiatives to feed a social movement that recognizes that the true enemies of democracy are corporations, their masters (the 1%), and their servants. This kind of initiative won’t end Corporate Rule, but it can help.


Invisible Hand Refuses to Allocate Resources Efficiently

Diane Sweet at Crooks & Liars’ Occupy America presents an interesting statistic:

    • 3.5M Homless in the US
    • 18.5M Vacant Homes in the US (mostly foreclosed on by banks)

This is what happens when we rescue banks instead of homeowners.

Or, I should say, this is what happens when corporations determine social policy: property rights come first, and human rights come last.  And these poor evicted souls are not even sacrificed on the alter of economic efficiency, because there is nothing efficient, or even rational, about forcing 3.5M people to camp outside of 18.5M vacant homes.

The simple solution to this market failure would be to assign empty homes to homeless people until buyers show up. The simple way to do that would be to outlaw eviction when alternate occupancy is not available.

A better solution would be to automatically reduce the amount of everyone’s residential mortgage debt to the fair market value, thereby shifting from homeowners to the banks the losses from the housing bubble, and avoiding the evictions in the first place.  This is obviously fair since the bank lending practices caused the bubble, and banks were in a better position to prevent the problem than were home buyers.

But the purpose of this post is not to solve the eviction crisis or to reform the housing market.

I merely wish to point out that Capitalism is generating these outrageous outcomes, which are neither fair nor efficient.

There is an invisible hand at work, but it is not the Market — it is central policy-making by a corporate controlled state for the benefit of the wealthy. That is the true face of Capitalism, not any of the Dogma Premises regarding efficiency, accountability, or just allocation of resources.




Obama Expresses Reservations About Violating the Constitution

It sounds like an Onion headline.

Some four-star Marine Generals with guts told the truth in the New York Times:

IN his inaugural address, President Obama called on us to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” We agree. Now, to protect both, he must veto the National Defense Authorization Act that Congress is expected to pass this week…

The president already has the power and flexibility to effectively fight terrorism…

One provision would authorize the military to indefinitely detain without charge people suspected of involvement with terrorism, including United States citizens apprehended on American soil. Due process would be a thing of the past…

some in Congress are all too willing to undermine our ideals in the name of fighting terrorism. They should remember that American ideals are assets, not liabilities.

So Obama signs it anyway, adding a signing statement expressing reservations about indefinite detention without trial…

[REALITY CHECK: US Constitution Amendment 6: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Key Points: Speedy Trial, Public Trial, Impartial Jury, Notice of Accusations, Right to Confront Accusers, Right to Call Witnesses, Assistance of Counsel]

…but his administration promises not to detain anyone indefinitely without charges.

This is disgusting for two reasons.  First, unlike Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann, Obama has taught Constitutional Law, so he has read the Sixth Amendment, and by this signing statement that fails to note the obvious unconstitutionality of the new law, Obama expresses his disregard for Constitutional government in general, and the Sixth Amendment in particular, and telegraphs that fact to anyone who is paying attention.  Second, his policy statement that indefinite detention without trial will not occur on his watch implicitly affirms the right of another president to do that very thing that Obama merely “has reservations about,” and you can bet the next Republican president won’t have any such reservations.


Montana Strikes Down Citizens United

Ok, Montana’s Supreme Court can’t reverse the US Supreme Court, but they have very aggressively distinguished Citizens United, holding that Montana’s ban on corporate spending for or against political candidates is not unconstitutional under Citizens United.

According to the Missoulian’s article, Supreme Court upholds state ban on direct corporate campaign spending, the state’s Supreme Court held:

“Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana’s law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional,” Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote for the majority. “Rather, applying the principles enunciated in Citizens United, it is clear that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally-tailored statutory restriction.”

The court held that corporations are not deprived of political speech by the Montana law.

They can form political committees, as many other groups have done, but must file reports disclosing where they raised their money and how they spent it. They also can hire legislative lobbyists.

“The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness,” the majority opinion said. “Under the undisputed fact here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.”

The states and the people must continue to rebel against Citizens United; Justice Stevens’ dissent says why.  The Montana Supreme Court has suggested how.


School Success — Do the Opposite of What the US Does

A review in The Atlantic of a book by Pasi Sahlberg (Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?is rife with shocking revelations that are shocking even though we already knew them.

The basic story is this Finland’s schools are much better than US schools, and indeed are among the top schools in the world, as measured by student performance.  Here is how they do it:

    • No standardized tests
    • No private schools
    • No teacher accountability programs

Instead, they have:

    • High teacher salaries
    • High teacher prestige
    • High teacher responsibility/autonomy

All of this is driven by the principle of Equality.  Every child should have the same opportunity to learn, regardless of:

  • Family background
  • Income
  • Geographic location

This includes:

    • individualized guidance
    • Free school meals
    • Easy access to health care
    • Psychological counseling

The goal in Finland is not to produce star performers, but to even out social inequality.  The result is both: social justice AND educational excellence.

Skeptics quickly discount the Finnish results, saying that the US can’t do that because the US immigrant population is three times larger than the Finnish immigrant population.

What the skeptics must mean is that the Finnish outcome doesn’t fit their world view, because the idea that US diversity is preventing the US from achieving educational excellence is outrageous on many levels.

In any case, it’s demonstrably false: Norway looks just like Finland demographically, but Norway follows the American approach to education, with predictably dismal results.

The article ends,

Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

The Finnish experience is important for Right of Assembly because it is good evidence against the Dogma Premises of competition.

Cooperation and equality are the engines of excellence; competition produces waste.


Mind Tricks

What I love most about optical illusions is that they illustrate a way in which our mind can be immune to rational explanation.

Once you know the the punchline to a joke or the secret to a magic trick, the spell is broken.  But optical illusions persist beyond explanation, because they exploit flaws in our perception.

Similarly, propaganda exploits flaws our our reasoning, so even if you understand various persuasion techniques, like framing or information overload, you remain nonetheless susceptible.  This is George Lakoff’s main point in Don’t Think of an Elephant.  For a good inventory of the various propaganda techniques, try Elliot Aronson’s Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion.

People who think they are not influenced by advertising are naive and foolish, and the same is true not only for advertising, but for all the propaganda techniques used by the corporate media.


Everything That Rises Must Converge

So here we are, converging into WordPress. I hear from Jay that this a really rockin’ way to run, and Jay is one of my very best friends, and I do trust my very best friend. So here we go!

Well, here is a good start for this surprise!

Will be back soon. Testing, testing.


Woody Guthrie’s’s New Year’s Resolutions, 1942


I found this on reddit, on my iPad, which doesn’t have adblock. It was posted as an ad. The original was from boingboing here


Christmas Fun

Go to the Google search engine at https://www.google.com/

Type into the search bar:

“let it snow”

Wait until mousing doesn’t highlight the links, and then play with your mouse.

Hit the “defrost” key to start over.


What Happens When People Vote For Republicans

In 2011, Congress Averaged More Than One Anti-Environment Vote a Day

Treehugger, 12/16

“The House of Representatives averaged more than one anti-environmental vote for every day the House was in session in 2011.

More than one in five of the legislative roll call votes taken in 2011 – 22% – were votes to undermine environmental protections.

On average, 228 Republican members of the House – 94% of the Republican members – voted for the anti-environment position during these roll call votes. On average, 164 Democratic members of the House – 86% of the Democratic members – voted for the pro-environment position.”