Thursday, February 2, 2012

Those supporting a woman’s right over her own body should stop sending money and walking for Komen

By Marc Jampole

It’s time for anyone who supports a woman’s right to an abortion to stop giving money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and to stop participating in its walks. Send your money to other organizations fighting breast cancer. But by no means should you reward the Komen Foundation for ending its funding of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer programs.

According to Planned Parenthood, its centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 financed by Komen grants. That’s 34,000 women a year who may not get a breast exam because of the lost funding.

When Komen made the announcement yesterday, its spokesperson said that the organization stopped giving to Planned Parenthood because it was following Komen’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Komen applied these new standards to Planned Parenthood because of an inquiry launched against it by right-wing Congressman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who claims that Planned Parenthood may have improperly spent public money on abortions.

But Komen’s reasoning strikes me as a frame job on Planned Parenthood.

Komen has been involved in women’s health issues over the past 30 years, so it knows that at any given time some right-wing elected official is involved in a vendetta against Planned Parenthood that is typically cloaked in a government or regulatory investigation. Komen could have easily written the new criteria to take into account politically inspired investigations or to enable the decision-makers some latitude.

As The New York Times reported this morning, Komen knew all along that the only organization to be affected by the new policy would be Planned Parenthood. It sounds to me as if anti-abortion activists in the Komen organization pushed for this rigid clause in the new funding criteria as a back-door maneuver against Planned Parenthood. The Times article publicizes a Twitter effort by three women to boycott Komen.

There are many organizations involved in fighting breast cancer and educating women about how to recognize the early symptoms. There is no reason why anyone has to stop supporting this very important cause. Let’s just stop giving to Komen and make sure we tell it why.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A terrifying reminder of the thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world

By Marc Jampole

My son recently sent me a very beautiful but frightening piece of video art that more than 609,000 people have seen since it was uploaded in October 2010. The video punches us in the face with the realization that we have already poisoned the Earth with radiation from testing nuclear bombs.

The video, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, shows a time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions which took place from 1945 to 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. The time-lapse of the map unfolds at about one month per second.

Each nation gets its own musical note that is short like a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the bars above and below the map. Once the explosions get started by 1950, we hear a strange and terrifying music that is also beautiful, like the etchings of World War I battlefields by Otto Dix. The more textured and complex the music becomes, the more radiation we see erupting into the atmosphere. Yet because the sound is generated by the symbolic detonation through time, there is a random quality to the sound, very much like some serious contemporary classical music.

After the show, we get an encore, which consists of a series of explosions for each of the 7 countries to have exploded nuclear devices between 1945 and 1998. The more bombs a country has detonated, the longer its little fiery dance lasts. The countries are ordered from fewest explosions to most.

Here comes the most frightening part for American citizens, as we see and hear the stark truth: our country is responsible for 1,032, or just over 50% of all nuclear explosions. By ourselves, the United States has exploded more nuclear devices than the rest of the world combined and 44% more than the second place Soviet Union.

I urge everyone to see Hashimoto’s video and send it to their network of friends and acquaintances. I also urge you to write your senators, congressional representative and President Obama and tell them you support a unilateral ending of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The news media constantly worries about Iran or North Korea developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and we’re pretty freaked out about Pakistan having them, too. Yet no one has acted more irresponsibly when it comes to nuclear weaponry than the United States has. We have tested the most weapons and we have the second most bombs stockpiled. More significantly, the United States is the only nation to use a nuclear bomb in war, dropping it on innocent citizens not once, but twice.

I was going to wait until Hiroshima Day in August to mention this video, but I realized that until every nation destroys its stockpile of nuclear weapons, every day is Hiroshima Day.

Population decline does not have to lead to economic decline, despite assumptions of economists and media

By Marc Jampole

The mainstream news media in the United States have put a completely negative spin on the news that by 2060 Japan will lose one third of its population by natural means—no famine, no war, no epidemic, no forced expulsion, just fewer people being born.

The articles all dwelt on the pension crisis that a shrinking population will cause, as fewer people of working age support more retired people who happen to be living longer (and thank goodness for that!). None of the benefits of a shrinking population, such as decreased unemployment, increased wages and a shrinking energy and resource footprint, were cited in any of the stories I saw.

The negativity is embedded into the characteristics attributed to Japan’s natural population shrinkage:

  • ABC-TV: “even more troubling,” “little signs of improvement,” “paint a dire picture,” dismal birthrate.”

  • FOX News: “greater burden,” “grim estimate.”

  • Associated Press: “grim population decline,” “greater burden,” “grim future.”

Even those media, primarily European and Asian, which did not use the negative characterizations, focused almost exclusivity on the pension challenge; for example, The Tokyo Reporter and the Guardian.

In my extensive reading of economic theory and practice I have found very little on how to manage a falling population. The assumption of virtually all economists is that the economic system keeps growing through population growth. Even those few economists who propose a “steady state” don’t tell us how to get there, or how to address issues related to “no growth” such as the increased percentage of retirees until the population stabilizes at a lower level.

And yet all the long-term global problems we face as a species over the next few hundred years demand that we use fewer nonrenewable natural resources and the easiest way to do that is for the population to decrease. The Japanese present the first working laboratory about how to go from large to smaller without famine, epidemic or war.

In my view, the reason that most economists and all of the mainstream news media consider a growing population a blessing and a shrinking population a curse is because they are ideologically set to dislike the actions that society must take to smooth the transition as the population of a rich nation declines:

  • Government intervention, to make sure that society reallocates resources, e.g., from caring for the young to caring for the elderly.

  • Higher wages, as a shrinking population will lead to less unemployment and then labor shortages.

  • Higher taxes, as a means to fund necessary programs to make the transition to a less populous society.

  • Immigration and a greater ethnic diversity, as a means to address labor shortages.

These actions all tend to redistribute wealth (within the country and across the globe) and to create a more equitable distribution of wealth in society. Japanese government, media and think tanks, as in the United States and elsewhere, are controlled by its moneyed elite. It makes sense then that it’s hard for these people to view as positive something that works against their own short-term best interests.

Change always affects the economy, creating a new set of winners and losers. But when change leads to economic growth, as it often does, the bigger pie can mask the impact of the change, sometimes for decades. When the pie remains the same or shrinks, the costs of addressing social challenges suddenly become much more apparent. Thus it took the great recession and its grim jobless aftermath for people to realize that changes to law and policy had shifted an enormous amount of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy. The growing economy masked the change.

There is no doubt that a shrinking population will create a shrinking economy. But absolute economic might does not translate into individual well-being. Whose people are better off on average? China’s, with its 1.35 billion people sharing a $6.988 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) for $5,184 a person; or Japan’s, with its 127 million people sharing $6.855 trillion GDP for $45,774 per person?

If we measure well-being in terms of per-capita GDP, we see that a country can thrive with a smaller population. There is no reason then why it can’t thrive after its population has shrunk. And no reason why the transition to a smaller population must cause pain to society, although it may cause some pain to those who will have to give up a part of their wealth to address the issues that the transition to a smaller population entails.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How is the money race going?

(Click to make the images bigger. Figures don't include reports due 1/31/12. Graphics by Kevin Kreneck.)

Despite complaints by Newt supporters, media is consistent in treatment of politicians’ sex lives

By Marc Jampole

Over the weekend, Gannett columnist Michael Reagan (the adopted child of former president Ronald Reagan) decried the double standard that compelled the news media to publicize Newt Gingrich’s past sexual peccadilloes after it ignored the affair that John Edwards was having as a candidate for president in 2008 while his wife was under treatment for cancer. In both cases, the media knew about the affairs while the gentlemen were running for office.

Reagan pulls out all the standard right-wing nonsense about “the liberal media” and “their traditional double standard, which always seems to come into play when the target is a member of the GOP.” But a close look reveals that Reagan’s claim of a liberal bias is absolutely untrue.

In making a shoddy case for an incorrect notion, Reagan employs the rhetorical device most associated with his father’s brand of deceptive messaging: the argument by anecdote. Comparing two anecdotes only—Gingrich and Edwards—gives Reagan the opportunity to identify a random characteristic—political party—as proof of a mainstream media conspiracy.

As we have learned from Daniel Kahneman’s recent Thinking, Fast and Slow, one oddity of human thinking is to favor the information learned in a single story (anecdote) over hard statistics. Additionally, people tend to judge on the facts at hand. Reagan gives us two facts only and then spins a lie from the comparison.

If, however, we take a look at which political candidates have had their sex lives dragged through the media mud and which haven’t, we will see a common sense consistency that the news media has applied since World War II to virtually all candidates for national and other office.

Among the candidates and elected officials whose extracurricular hugging and kissing were ignored were presidents Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Bush I and probably Reagan; one recent candidate to have her past (and possibly current) sexual wildness swept under the table was Sarah Palin.

Here are some of the politicians who have seen their sex life become an issue, with the reasons why:

  • Newt Gingrich, who accused a sitting president of adultery while carrying on his own affair.

  • Larry Craig (who didn’t run for president), who was caught trolling for men in a public restroom after advocating anti-gay policies.

  • Gary Hart, who openly dared the news media to catch him with his mistress.

  • Herman Cain, who committed the illegal act of sexual harassment against multiple victims.

  • Anthony Weiner (also not a presidential candidate), who was the first to have his sexual adventuring outed on a smart phone, which created a news story regardless of the actual circumstances.

  • Bill Clinton, who had a run-of-the-mill private affair with a consenting adult.

We now have 13 anecdotes (6 Dems and 7 Reps), and we already see a pattern that suggests that if there is a bias, it’s against a Democrat or the Democrats.

In 11 of the cases, the news media ignored the sexual improprieties of the candidate or elected officials unless the candidate made hypocritical statements, as in the case of Hart, Gingrich and Craig, or broke the law, as Herman Cain apparently did.

The only two exceptions to this rule are both Democrats, Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton. In Weiner’s case, it’s understandable, as the novelty of smart phone hook-ups and sexting overwhelmed any ethical concerns. I do not mean that journalists behaved unethically by reporting about Weiner’s wiener, but that the newsworthy value of the “first-ever politician caught sexting” story negated whatever pretence of privacy that Weiner deserved.

That leaves us with the unexplained example of Bill Clinton, whose consensual affairs were publicized while he was running for office and while he served as president. For one thing, he is the only sitting president whose sexual indiscretions were not guarded closely by the mainstream media. Secondly, the decision to publicize these affairs entirely contradicts the established media standard of only going after hypocrites and law-breakers.

I don’t mean to dredge again through this disgraceful incident in American political history, which saw a sitting president impeached for telling one white lie about a private matter a few years before another sitting president got off scot-free for lying multiple times to the American public to gain support for an unnecessary war that funneled billions to his cronies; that second president also broke multiple laws regarding torture and due process. Michael Reagan brought the topic up by claiming that the media shows its liberal bias in its choice of sexual scandals to publicize. I’m merely pointing out that Reagan’s assertion is a lie specifically about the issue of publicizing sexual improprieties and that this lie supports a broader lie about the political leanings of the mainstream media.

The media is not now, nor has it ever been liberal-leaning, although for a brief period of time it supported civil rights and opposed the second most disastrous war in American history. Moreover, the media has been completely consistent in its treatment of the sex lives of politicians, except in the one case of Bill Clinton.

Monday, January 30, 2012

By defending Mitt and Newt income, Santorum defends a corrupt, unfair and unlevel playing field

By Marc Jampole

Some in the news media have praised Rick Santorum for his “Why can’t we all just get along” moment in the middle of the Jacksonville, Florida performance of the traveling reality show called the 2012 Republican debates. The pundits missed the main point of Santorum’s words: what Rick did was express approval of the corruption and unfairness of our current economic and political system.

Here’s what Rick said that has won some praise: “The bigger issue here is, these two gentlemen, who are out distracting from the most important issues we have been playing petty personal politics, can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies — and that’s not the worst thing in the world — and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard and he’s going out and working hard? And you guys should let that alone and focus on the issues.”

Rick’s overall message is, “let’s talk about the issues,” but in making it, he also subtly asserts that the current system is just fine.

First Rick puts his seal of approval on the revolving door between government and industry that all too often leaves the fox guarding the henhouse when it comes to regulating the private sector to improve safety, reduce pollution or ensure fair and equitable wages. Newt Gingrich may represent the high point of hypocrisy and corruption in the Age of Reagan, but he is far from the only case.

Santorum’s kind words for Mitt Romney are far more insidious because they support the current structure that rewards a very few with outsized amounts of money while the number of Americans in poverty and near poverty continues to climb.

Let’s savor the words, which reek of deception and class self-satisfaction (and make no mistake about it, Rick Santorum may have come from the working class but he’s now one of the moneyed elite): Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard.

But what about the sanitation guy working nights at Wal-Mart? What about the warehouse worker or the stockperson in the supermarket? What about the nurse working a double shift?

Lots of people work hard, and they don’t get to make millions of dollars a year. And they have to pay Social Security taxes on all their income, not a small part of it. And their healthcare insurance is not quite as good as Mitt’s. I’m not saying that Mitt hasn’t worked hard. So the expression that he was born on third and thinks he hit a triple doesn’t exactly apply to Romney. I understand that brain work can use as many calories as muscle work, but the joints don’t ache as much at the end of the day.

It’s inherently unfair that some people make so much more than others, but let’s assume for a moment that it is fair. Here would be the justifications, which we’ve heard before from a plethora of right-wing sources: society values the work of the investment banker more; the investment banker creates more wealth for society; investment banking requires a set of skills and the advanced education that very few people have.

But even if it were fair to pay enormously large sums to investment bankers, corporate executives and high-powered professionals (which it’s not), the system would still be unfair because it is tilted in favor of those who already have money and power in a way that never existed in the United States until the past 30 years. We can prove this assertion without examining the details: the United States has less social mobility than any other industrialized country. In other words, virtually the only way to make a lot of money working hard (instead of just working hard to get by) is to be born into a well-off or wealthy family.

Money protects children from the degradation that the country has inflicted on public schools over the past 30 years with cuts in funding and an all-out war against teachers’ unions. Wealthy children can go to private schools, get tutors, attend summer enrichment camps, take lessons to improve their talents, participate in national youth competitions, take SAT prep course, hire college consultants and make sizeable donations to universities. They can also afford to stay in school and don’t need money for graduate school.

In short, Mitt Romney was positioned to make hundreds of millions of dollars because of the millions with which he started.

Perhaps Santorum’s statement was not an admonishment to his fellow candidates to stop the negativity. Perhaps he was really speaking to President Obama—in code of course, since he’s so used to speaking in code about the President.

Perhaps Rick’s real message was that the Republicans are not interested in the “fair shot” that Obama advocated in his State of the Union address. They like things the way they are. It works just fine, thanks for Newton Leroy Gingrich, as he can use his government connections to help achieve the political goals of the highest bidder. And it sure works for Willard Mitt Romney, who, because he was born on third base, received a big long-term contract for hitting a bloop single with the bases loaded to score the first run of a 15-0 blowout in April.