Thursday, October 17, 2013

We’ve been ruled by incompetent minority since Supreme Court gave 2000 election to the candidate with fewer votes

By Marc Jampole
Perhaps the best characterization of the U.S. political scene since the turn of the 21st century is to say that we have been ruled primarily by an incompetent minority.

Let’s face it. The victory this week over the economic know-nothing Tea Party came with very few spoils for the American people: All the majority got was the right to keep a functioning economy through the rest of the year and a continuation of the sequestration spending cuts that have hurt so many people and serve as a drag on the economy. So in a real sense the minority ruled.

And it is an incompetent minority who don’t understand fully the dire ramifications of not extending the debt ceiling and who fought a battle that they could not win. That battle cost the economy billions of dollars, put hundreds of thousands of people out of work and ground to a halt much of the workings of government, but not the processes related to the law whose implementation the minority said they wanted to impede.

It’s taken political trickery and the selection of partisanship over what’s good for the country to keep a minority—and often a minority of the minority—in power.  It started with what may have been election tampering in Florida in the 2000 presidential election that was affirmed by the Supreme Court voting along party lines. This combination of state shenanigans and Supreme Court recklessness led to a man who admitted basing decisions on gut and faith rather than facts and analysis being declared president even though he had fewer votes.

So the minority took charge in 2000, and what an incompetent minority it was: The pursuit of the Iraqi war without a plan to govern Iraq displayed incompetence. Going to war with Iraq instead of chasing Osama bin Laden displayed incompetence. Establishing a gulag of torture sites displayed incompetence because most military experts agree that torture doesn’t work (and whatever any movie portrays, the facts show that torture did not help capture bin Laden). 

Then there’s Hurricane Katrina, which displayed Bush Administration incompetence at its low point.

When Barack Obama swept into office in 2008 he brought with him an army of competent people, but after a brilliantly planned 2008 election strategy, the president and Democrats forgot that you need both houses to govern. They incompetently let the Tea Party dominate the 2010 Congressional and statewide elections. Of course, the Tea Party had a lot of help from the mainstream news media which lionized them while ignoring the many progressive candidates and rallies that took place before the 2010 election.  Analysis of polls show that Tea Party candidates won because many Democratic voters stayed home. The 2010 surge for right-wingers came about because the Democrats stupidly forgot to rally their own troops.

Once having won a majority of 2010 state legislatures, the Republicans were in a position to gerrymander new Congressional districts that gave them a large number of secure House seats.  Thus in 2012, the Republicans kept the House, even though they won millions of fewer votes for their Congressional candidates than the Democrats did.

The current Congress majority was thus elected by a minority of voters.  A minority of the minority—the Tea Party—took control of the legislative process because of the incompetence of Speaker Boehner and the fear of moderate Republicans that the Tea Party would spend lots of money to defeat them in primaries. 

And now the Tea Party has revealed how incompetent it is by driving the country to the brink of financial ruin—and for a goal that could not be attained. 

Let’s hope that Democrats have learned from the 2010 experience and treat the 2014 midterm election as if it were as important as a presidential election. That means raising a lot of money and reminding the voters constantly of how the Republican Party almost let a right-wing know-nothing faction destroy the world economy. It means sending the president, VP Biden, Bill and Hillary and new progressive heroes Elizabeth Warren and  Bill DeBlasio all over the country to campaign for Democratic Congressional representatives, state legislators, county commissioners, even dog catcher!!  It means loading vans with minorities, senior citizens and students and bringing them to the polls to vote on Election Day.  

It’s time that the American people rose up and overthrew the tyranny of the incompetent minority that has been running this country into the ground since the election of Bush II.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New study shows why we have to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour

By Marc Jampole

Your Big Mac and Baconator aren’t as cheap as you think they are. In fact, every time you bite into a burger or other fast food concoction, the federal government subsidizes your meal—and the profit made by the fast food company.

That’s because more than one half of low-wage workers employed by the largest U.S. fast food restaurants earn so little that they get public assistance.  An analysis of Census Bureau figures by researchers at the Universities of California-Berkeley and Illinois released this week found that 52% of fast food workers used Medicaid, food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit program, between 2007 and 2011.  In fact, more than twice as many fast food workers sign up for public aid programs than does the overall workforce.

Another study—this one by the National Employment Law project (NELP)—found that public assistance for fast food workers costs U.S. taxpayers $3.8 billion a year. That’s a $3.8 billion subsidy to the fast food industry and denizens of fast food. It’s almost 2% of the total sales of the U.S. fast food industry, but a much larger portion of the profit. So if senior management of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Sonic are enjoying their country club memberships and private pools, they have the U.S. government and taxpayers to thank.

The NELP study estimates that the average in-store fast food employee makes $8.94 an hour.  That works out to less than $20,000 per year for someone working 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year.

I can understand why taxpayers subsidize the development of alternative energies, oil and gas drilling and university attendance. But why are we subsidizing an industry that contributes so much to our national health epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease?

I’m thinking that if we ended this subsidy by raising the minimum wage to a decent level—say $15 an hour—your burger and fries would likely cost a little more and that the big fast food purveyors would make a little less profit. Of course, if fast food cost what it is supposed to cost without government subsidies, maybe some part of the market for fast food would opt for healthier and tastier food.  While that might lead to healthier Americans, it would definitely lead to fast food companies making even less money. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Could and should.

The argument that raising the minimum wage would lead to job losses is complete garbage.  Employers tend to only hire when they need someone and when they can demonstrate to themselves that the additional employee will help to make a lot more money than the new employee’s salary, benefits and cost to train and equip. Many companies get fat over time and have to do occasional trimming or purging—but that’s not related to the minimum wage. These companies didn’t hire additional workers because they were cheap, but because company management thought they needed them at the time.

It makes sense that employers like to pay as little as possible for everything, including labor. But the minimum wage sets a floor on how low employers can go for public policy reasons: most everyone would agree that it’s in the best interest of the country to make sure that people who work will be able to eat and have shelter. With the current minimum wage, far too many don’t have the basics.  It’s time to raise it.

The call for $15 an hour minimum for all workers is realistic because over the past 30 years we have allowed the minimum wage to lose ground against the cost of living and corporate profits. Keeping the minimum wage low was an integral part of the game plan in the class war against the middle class and poor that the wealthy began in this country under Reagan.

The first step in returning to a more equitable distribution of wealth is raising the minimum wage.

You might have to pay more for your hamburger, but fewer of your tax dollars will go to the public aid programs for the poor that so many Americans love to hate.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New book documents how jellyfish are inheriting the oceans, with a lot of help from humans

By Marc Jampole

If even just half of what Lisa-ann Gershwin reports in Stung! is true, then many younger readers may be telling their grandchildren stories about the long ago days when humans caught ocean fish and ate them. Stung! gives the depressing news about how we’ve managed to pollute the oceans probably beyond saving. By beyond saving, Gershwin means a return to Earth’s oceans some 500 million years ago when disgustingly slimy and stingy jellyfish ruled.

Gershwin catalogues overfished areas, red tides, jellyfish blooms, heated and oxygen deprived waters, waters polluted by fertilizer and other human wastes and man-made catastrophes that collectively are killing many fish species and destroying the ocean’s delicate cycle of life.  She gives copious examples of all the problems we have created:
  • Over-fishing, which means taking so many fish out of the water that a species is doomed to extinction.  Included in overfishing is the problem of bycatch, which occurs when fishing for one species leads to the capture and destruction of other species.  There is also bottom trawling, which essentially runs a large rake across the water’s floor, picking up delicacies like shrimp but destroying plant and other animal life.
  • Eutrophication, which is a type of pollution caused by excessive fertilizer and sewage runoff causing an accelerated growth of algae and other plant life, leading to a disturbance in the balance of underwater life.
  • Other kinds of pollution which causes deformities or contaminates fish and other sea creatures.
  • The decline in oxygen levels in the oceans, which leads to the death of virtually all higher forms of life.
  • The increasing acidification of the ocean, which dissolves shells. Particularly alarming is the fact that ocean acidification destroys diatoms, tiny creatures at the base of the food chain of higher order animals like fish, whales and penguins. Acidification also makes it more conducive for the type of tiny creatures upon which jellyfish love to graze.
  • Climate change, which is warming the waters, again upsetting nature’s balance and leading to the imminent extinction of many sea dwellers.

As it turns out, each of these conditions makes the waters more conducive to jellyfish, since jellyfish can live in many environments and adapt well to a lack of oxygen.  Moreover, once jellyfish get a hold on a body of water, they multiply to the point of crowding out other life forms.

Stung! holds out absolutely no hope that we can fix the oceans. Gershwin’s last words in the book are “If you are waiting for me to offer some great insight, some morsel of wisdom, some words of advice…okay then…Adapt.”

But what does adaptation mean? I’m guessing that it means giving up on eating any creature from the ocean and figuring out how to eliminate the pollution from industrial fisheries, which right now contribute to the problem by dumping waste matter from production into the water. We’ll have to limit water sports to pools and other manmade structures, which we can keep clean of pollutants and jellyfish.  We’ll have to figure out how to keep jellyfish from destroying the filters of a variety of operations sited on bodies of water. It might mean developing technologies that actively clean carbon-dioxide out of the ocean water. It certainly will mean ending our dependence on burning fossil fuels, which is both warming the waters and injecting carbon into them.

Another recent book, Countdown by Alan Weisman, tells us what else we have to do: reduce the human population. We currently have about 7 billion people in the world and counting.

Some biologists think we can sustain 1.5 billion people living the kind of life we live in industrialized countries. My own back-of-the-envelope, seat-of-my-pants, pulled-out-of-thin-air estimate of the earth’s carrying capacity for humans is 1.0 billion. I pick that number because it’s the number of people on the earth in 1800.

My own belief—and it is only a belief—is that humans are so smart that we will survive, even if that means a return to living lives that, as Thomas Hobbes once put it, are “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  I assume that survival of humans will only come at the cost of a great decline in our population. My only question is whether war, epidemics, famine and chemical poisoning—the four horsemen of the Apocalypse—will cause the decline in our numbers or if we will take matters into our own hands and do it through birth control and family planning