web analytics

Archive for the ‘Daily Rant’ Category

December 8th, 2011

Great Reads

Today was mainly devoted to cruising the interwebs, reading my favorite blogs and discovering a couple of new ones. Here are today’s picks for thought provoking content and excellent writing. My regular readers, both of them, will really enjoy these articles.

First up is the latest article from Tomdispatch.com. I freely admit that I read and recommend everything that appears on that blog.

Fighting 1% Wars

Why Our Wars of Choice May Prove Fatal

By William J. Astore

America’s wars are remote.  They’re remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you’re serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they’re being fought by “America’s heroes” against foreign terrorists and evil-doers.  They’re even being fought, in significant part, by remote control — by robotic drones “piloted” by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.

Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident.  Indeed, it’s a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity.  It’s a product of the fact that we’ve chosen to create a “warrior” or “war fighter” caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington’s foreign wars of choice.

Mr Astore is right on here. One thing that he hints at towards the end of the piece, but doesn’t actually say, is that countries that establish the kind of warrior caste that he is talking about wind up being controlled by that class. The Mameluke empire in Egypt is a perfect example. First you achieve foreign power by using mercenaries. Next you use them to maintain order inside your country. Finally, the warriors wake up and realize that they are the only power in the society. As soon as they realize that, they kick your ass to the curb and become the power on the throne instead of the power behind the throne.


Next up is this post from Stonekettle Station. I had never read this blog before today and honestly can’t remember how I came across it. Oh yeah, it was mentioned on my Facebook wall. This blog is now firmly implanted in my bookmarks. The blog is written by Jim Wright. He writes very well, IMHO, likes loooong blog posts and isn’t afraid to cuss in his writing.

Uncivil Righteousness

Opines Bachmann, allowing gay people to marry somebody of the same sex would be conferring special privileges on a select group based on their (presumed) sexual practices. Because, as I’m sure you all know, gay people only want to get married to each other for the squicky gay rainbow sex and not because they actually love each other and want to commit to spending their lives together like normal people do. It’s totally true and you can look that up.

In replying to Ms. Schmidt, Bachmann gave a total of six responses – and those six paragraphs clearly demonstrate why this ridiculous goof should be kept as far from public office, any office, as is possible.  Not only should voters, allvoters especially including conservatives, soundly reject her bid for president, they shouldn’t even elect her to be the town dog catcher – let alone a United States lawmaker.

I have to say that I haven’t been following American politics at all recently. The last time I paid any attention was when Obama ran against McCain. Look how that turned out. I’ve never heard of Michelle Bachmann, but same-sex marriage interests me and this article does a masterful job of dissecting the issue and exposing the sheer silliness of its opponents.

One of the good things about being a Canadian is that we are ahead of the curve on this issue. Ever since Trudeau said that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, we’ve been slowly pecking away and overturning all the outmoded laws against various kinds of sexual expression. Not that we’re perfect. Right now we are wrestling with polygamy statutes, and we have tough time differentiating in the area of cultural norms, but we are on the right track. Of course, all that could change now that George W Harper has a majority in Parliament, but we can hope.


My last offering is from John Carleton’s blog, The Rant. Carleton is a copy-writer and I first got to know his stuff in the context of marketing. I really like his folksy, profane way of writing, and most of his stuff is not so much about marketing as about life.

The Lost Art Of Rumination

If you aren’t clear on WHY you want to get rich…

… then, once you get there, you’re gonna be one lost little puppy.

It’s like mobilizing your life to move somewhere you think will make you happy. You can do it, and you can wind up in a gorgeous penthouse in the best part of town… but if your next thought is “now what?”, then you may be left wondering what it all means. With no answer forthcoming.

Again

There are tons of books and coaching programs and seminars available that claim to make planning out your life easy. They’ll help you with the “here’s what I want to do“, and “here’s how I can get that done” processes…

… but every single one I’ve seen is woefully deficient in helping you understand “WHY I want to do that in the first place.”

The “why’s” of life are mostly ignored. It’s taken for granted that big houses, fancy sports cars, better looking spouses, bigger/better/nicer/more expensive everything is of COURSE the preferred goal.

And maybe that’s true for you.

This article really rang a bell for me. I’m in the process of rebuilding my life and I’ve found exactly the situation he talks about here. There are all kinds of resources for setting goals and achieving targets and time management, but damned little about discovering where you really want to go or why you should want to go there. I really enjoyed this little nugget, too:

In my view, you don’t need money to be successful. Money just solves the problems that not having money creates… so having “enough” money, in this culture, can help you stay clear of the time-consuming bullshit of scrambling to keep a roof over your head and food in your gut.

Right on, John. Anyway, those are my top reading picks for today. Hope you enjoy them.

November 8th, 2011

Occupy the world and take back our money

It’s funny to watch all the howling going on among the wealthy and the financial institutions about the transaction tax, as though them being forced to pay anything at all would bring the world to a shuddering halt.

The economy is broken and we need a better one. Pure capitalism simply doesn’t work anymore. Capitalism is touted almost like a religion nowadays, as though it was the only moral and right way to manage an economy. The funny thing about that is that Adam Smith, the founder of modern capitalism warned against its dangers should it become the dominant force in society. He presumed that religion and common sense would act as a counter-force to the sheer unbridled greed of pure capitalism. Sorry, Adam, that dog don’t hunt no more.

The transaction tax wouldn’t be a huge burden. The one being argued about in Europe is only 3 basis points or $3 on every $10,000 traded. It would certainly have an affect on the volume traders, because they make a lot of their money by trading huge volumes.

A financial transaction tax is not a novel idea. Actually, the U.S. had such a tax from 1914 to 1966, when the tax forced investors to pay a small fee every time they executed a trade. It was intended not only to raise revenue for the government, but also to deter excessive speculation. Congress has flirted with the idea of resurrecting the tax in some shape or form ever since it went away back in the 60s, but there has never been enough support for one.

A transaction tax might depress the economy somewhat, but maybe that’s a good thing. The economy as its structure right now is a rigged game that only benefits a few.

We need to come up with some way of decoupling the health of the economy from the health of Wall Street corporations. We also need a new economic model that doesn’t depend on growth. If we can’t achieve a better system we’ll wind up in a situation where a few uber-wealthy people have eaten the world while the rest of us starve in the dark.

The fat cats and the politicians don’t get it. They didn’t understand what was behind the Arab Spring, they don’t understand the Occupy Wall Street movement either. Its a simple matter of inequity.

There’s a famous psychological experiment that revolves around two subjects and a fixed amount of money. If both subjects can agree on how the money is divided up, they get to keep it. The kicker is that one person is in charge of deciding how the money is split, but the other person has veto power on whether the division takes place. If they can’t get together they both lose.

This experiment has been tried with people from all societies and all economic classes and the results are pretty universal. Somewhere around the 70/30 mark people start to dig in there heels. If things go much farther than that, the deal is off. It works both ways, too. If person A says he’ll take 20% and give the other person 80%, person B will protest and try to move things back to something more equitable, even though it costs him. There seems to be a brain structure devoted to fairness in these kinds of situations.

If there is, then the people in power have brain damage. There’s another brain structure in charge empathy. Serial killers have damage in that area and that part of the brain doesn’t light up when they inflict pain on others. Bankers and stock brokers must have similar damage to their equity brain structures.

That’s what the occupy movement is about, basic equity. There’s something they got wrong though. They say “we are the 99%” when actually, they are the 99.9998%. Those are the figures in Canada, anyway, and the same situation is probably true throughout the western world.

The wealthy have privilege but no responsibility. We have 61 billionaires in Canada. Their combined wealth is $162 billion. Our national debt is only 33 billion. If they were all equally wealthy they would each have $2.7 billion and if they gave up 1/6 of their wealth they could clear our national debt. Something is very wrong with that picture.

There’s a myth going around that says we have to leave the wealthy in peace because their investment of their wealth into the economy is what makes growth possible and ensures a healthy economy. Its definitely time to kick that old chestnut to the curb.

Actually, that used to be the case. Corporations used to re-invest almost all their profits back into the economy. That was the situation in Canada until the 1980s. But it isn’t the case any more. Now the profits are paid out in dividends, salaries and bonuses, and very little is actually invested. Long term growth has been sacrificed for short-term dividends. One more problem that arises when the health of the stock market gets confused with the health of the economy.

The most interesting thing about that is the timing of the change. The reduction in re-investment has grown as corporate taxes have been cut. Businesses used to pay taxes of 36%. Brian Mulroney’s government began cutting the tax rate in 1988. That tax rate will be 12% at the end of 2011. Its almost like a disease broke out when government began cutting taxes. The businesses got a taste for extra money, and that demand for more and more short-term payoffs is being reflected in the lack of investment. Whatever the reasons, the trends speak for themselves.

We need to develop some new rules of thumb that guide us in economic issues. One might be that people who have acquired more than a specific amount of wealth have to begin underwriting some of societies expense. Maybe the Labatt family should have to fund education in Canada, or the Bronfmanns have to contribute some percentage of their wealth to child care. Or maybe those 61 billionaires could agree to fund the health system.

We’ve been told that times are tough and that we have to tighten our belts and slash programs. That’s a big cartload of horseshit. There’s more money flowing now than there ever has been. The only reason we’re in trouble is because a few movers and shakers have gotten their grubby mitts on the levers of power and rigged things so that all that flow is diverted into a small number of buckets. Quite simply, if the money wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have it.

Those sixty-one billionaires own twice as much wealth as the rest of us combined. Its not because they are necessarily smarter and it certainly isn’t because they contribute more or have greater responsibilities. Something has to change. It will change. That kind of change isn’t restricted to the middle east.

Here’s a final, possible rule of thumb. Make it illegal for any employee of a company to earn more than 100 times the wage of the lowest paid worker in the company. That would be a step in the right direction.

Enhanced by Zemanta
August 26th, 2011

British Columbia Defeats HST

Flag of British Columbia

Image via Wikipedia

I just got the word that the Harmonized Sales Tax has been voted down in the recent referendum. This is a major victory for participatory democracy and BC is the only Canadian province not taking part in the HST.

Here’s a quick overview of our tax structure for non-Canadians.

Canada jumped on the VAT (value added tax) bandwagon in 1991 when the federal government imposed the GST (goods and services tax). Each province and territory also has its own sales tax. The two taxes are additive. Each component is between 5 and 7 percent, so you could generally figure that the actual cash you would need to shell out for a purchase is going to be 12% more than the sticker price.

Keeping track of what was taxable and what wasn’t could get to be quite challenging. Some things were exempt altogether, some were liable for GST but not provincial sales tax, etc. It was also fairly complicated to figure out how much of the tax pie went to Ottawa and how much was returned to the provinces.

The harmonized sales tax was supposed to clear up all the confusion and make things simpler for businesses. Replace the two taxes with a single tax that was the same all across the country. Seems like a really good idea, right?

Not exactly. Wherever it has been brought in, the HST has been like a wet blanket thrown over the economy. Peoples’ experience of the new tax was that it was a massive cash grab. The problem that affected taxpayers wasn’t the rate of taxation, which stayed pretty much the same, but that suddenly a lot of things that were tax-exempt under the old system were now taxable. Childrens clothing was one exemption that people valued and that was now wiped away. Labor costs also owed taxes now. One place this showed up is that a senior who had a care-worker or housekeeper coming in saw the cost of that service increase by 12% because their care-worker now owed HST.

Still, that’s the way things were under the new tax and there was nothing to be done about it.

Except in BC.

BC was one of the late adopters of the HST. Other provinces had signed on much earlier and tax-payer sentiment across the country was very much against the tax. British Columbia had a majority liberal government that wanted the new tax, so they simply rammed it through. The thing that made it possible to defeat the tax and that removed the premier, Gordon Campbell, from power, is that they didn’t debate the issue in the house. That’s a no-no according to Canadian parliamentary procedure.

Why they didn’t allow debate will probably never be known. They had a clear majority in the house, so they could have allowed the opposition to yap for a couple of hours and then voted the tax in. But they didn’t.

The liberal government almost fell because of this. I think it should have. The result of this oversight was a gaping chink in the liberal armor. Everybody who was politically savvy and opposed to the liberals sprang into action. A series of recall campaigns was launched against liberal members who had voted in favor of the HST. Some actually succeeded.

Gordon Campbell was obviously toast. He left to become Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Way to land on your feet, Gordo! So the liberals had a new leader, Christy Clark. One of the first things she did was allow a referendum on whether we should stay with the HST or go back to the old tax structure. The results came in today. Back to the old by a margin of 10%.

Like I said, this was a victory. The government spent a lot of money and pumped out a lot of smoke about the HST and it still went down in flames.

Will it make any difference in the long run? Probably not. I’m sure we’ll see the structure of the provincial sales tax evolve over the next couple of years so that the effect will be the same as if we still had the HST. Once governments get the smell of money in their nostrils they can always rewrite the laws to get it. So, no, probably no difference.

But the people actually got to give the government a kick in the ass in a direct way. That doesn’t happen very often. A much-hated leader is gone from the scene and the liberal party is treading much more carefully now. This is all great stuff. I’m really happy that there were a lot of people in this province who were not as cynical and lackadaisical as I am, or this would never have come about.

So hats off guys! BC is now the envy of the country for more than our scenery and our seafood. Go have some beer and pretzels. Thank you.

Enhanced by Zemanta
July 8th, 2009

Let’s Have a TV Strike Today

I’m leading the way. It’s a pretty sad commentary on western society when the biggest news story of the week is the death of a celebrity. UI’m talking about the Michael Jackson coverage, of course. Tom Engelhardt had more to say about this and said it more eloquently in his latest Tom Dispatch.

One thing that is really sad in all this is that several other, more worthy (IMHO) celebrities died in the same time period and those deaths were totally swamped by the Jackson tsunami. Therefore, here is a brief list of some that I noticed:

  • Farrah Fawcet
  • Karl Maldin
  • Billy Mays
  • The manager of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I don’t know his name. CNN didn’t even bother to put it on the ticker item at the bottom of the screen.

Probably the death of Billy Mays will have the greatest actual effect on our realities, because he was always in our faces pitching some miracle product. And yes, Hercules hooks do work just as well as Billy promised. We saw Billy every day and I’m certainly going to miss him more than Jacko.

Jackson may have been a great musician and certainly had a large effect on the entertainment industry in his day. That day was a long time ago, though. His main occupations for the last ten years have been spending money and going to court. I think its really amusing that the same news services that flayed him during his court cases are now lionizing him as though he were the second coming.

Personally, I’m just glad I have lots of episodes of Dog Whisperer and a bunch movies saved on my PVR to satisfy my entertainment jones. Strike, I say. Strike now.

July 28th, 2008

Home Computing Circa 1954

This article was pinned up in one of our cubicles. It is a photo from Popular Mechanics in the year 1954 that tried to foresee what a home computer would look like. Caption reads:Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustarte how a home computer could look in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also, the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented tochnology to actually work, but, 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to resolve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language the computer will be easy to use.

What was the steering wheel for??

Addendum January 27, 2011

I should have known this picture was too good to be true. It turns out that this photo is fake that somebody produced in 2004. It was photo-shopped from a picture of the control room of a submarine maneuvering room. The old geezer was added in, along with the keyboard. The original photo had a state-of-the-art display in its place. The steering wheel makes perfect sense in a sub. Here’s the actual photo before the pranking.

I found out the truth from snopes.com.