The New Economic Colonialism

Urban renewal, or economic imperialism? In Corsica, some residents resorted to dynamiting empty mansions to intimidate the wealthy from taking over their neighborhoods and homes. In San Francisco, we see increasing unrest among the poor and middle classes, for it is no longer a city where the poor and middle classes are permitted to live, let alone welcome…

FRANCE: STRIFE WITH SPECULATORS – Real estate prices on the Mediterranean island of Corsica are extortionate. A little cottage can set you back 400,000 euros. The Corsican authorities have passed a law requiring anyone who wants to buy a house there to have lived on the island for at least 5 years. The move is a response to people from mainland France and abroad buying up properties as holiday homes, causing prices to spiral. As a result, many Corsicans can no longer afford to buy property there. But now a few communities are fighting back, and threatening to enforce pre-emption rights – including the village of Cuttoli near Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon.


SAN FRANCISCO TENDERLOIN PROTESTERS RALLY AGAINST TENANT EVICTIONS
: The Tenderloin is the seediest, highest-crime district in The City. Arrests do little to curb assaults, robbery and drug trafficking. Yet a 1 bedroom studio, a 475 square feet apartment, lists for $2295 monthly. Residents protest being evicted and displaced as wealthy yuppies renovate whole districts at bargain prices.

In the Middle Ages, when wealthy power elite wanted a piece of property, they simply used armies to take it.

Today, they use “perfectly legal” economic strong-arm tactics to force existing residents out. Landlords, police and sheriffs handle all that messy, unseemly business of serving eviction notices, warrants and arrests. In the end, the wealthy get what they want, and displaced residents are forced to try to find someplace else to live, else join the growing ranks of homeless.

I don’t have the answers. But we are going to have to find them. It seems obvious that improving a neighborhood and simply taking it over are two different things. Increasingly, this problem is going to become a problem of good government – and governance. We’re being pushed back closer and closer to the feudal economy.

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Occupy Wall Street: Gone Rogue?

I picked up a free San Mateo Daily Journal yesterday when I joined a friend for lunch. There was a nice story on page 1 about some civic-minded Redwood City high school girls who decided to join a regional Occupy demonstration. They thought, by participating, they could make a difference.

“Students deserve the opportunity to discuss what they care about,” an organizer said. “Once you leave high school, life hits you like a ton of bricks and these students need to know about the troubles with the banking system and why cuts are made to education.”

There was some isolated violence. The real violence was in Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere in the nation. Banks were vandalized, windows were smashed, police cars were burned, police were assaulted, and police and the crowd were at one point bombarded by a roof-top crazy hurling down long sections of heavy steel piping. There was no follow-up story on the high school girls, but I bet most were disappointed.

Occupy Wall Street, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Continue reading

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Telephone Opinion Surveys

The next time your phone rings and it’s a telephone opinion survey, instead of hanging up, consider telling them, “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria” — and THEN hang up.

My mother used to enjoy public opinion research for part-time income and stimulation in her senior years. We spent many an enjoyable evening together over dinner, analyzing how surveys were conducted, how the survey scripts sometimes channeled responses into canned categories, and how much she enjoyed talking with other people who care passionately about our country and its issues.

So I always viewed opinion surveys as a valuable civic feedback mechanism, almost a birthright, and I tried to participate enthusiastically. But no more. This ain’t our mothers’ polite question-and-response era no more.

For one thing, the survey concept has been hijacked by the fundraising crowd. When you get a mail survey, for example, flip to the back page and see the donation checkboxes for $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000 or “more.” They don’t want our opinion; they want our money.

For another, the audience is rigged. Once, participants were selected by elaborate statistical methods designed to guarantee a truly random polling base. Now, they don’t even want to talk with you unless you meet selection criteria that practically guarantee you’ll tell them what their sponsors want to hear.

So, guess what: 99.5% of (Senator Snort’s) supporters say they’re voting for Snort this year.

When the phone rings, “What is this about?” and “How long will this take?” are fair questions. Telephone surveys are scripted to be evasive and misleading on both queries. Their first job, of course, is to ascertain whether they even want to talk with you.

Last fall I took a call soliciting my opinion on the economy. It should “only” take 20 minutes. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether my age group was 18-25, 26-45, 46-55 or “above.” When I answered “above,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Earlier this week I took a call on a phone that does not display caller id. They were sounding out respondents on the November elections. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether I felt I’d “definitely not” vote in November, was “uncertain” whether I’d vote, or “definitely” would vote in November. When I answered “definitely,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Now, I’m unlikely to even answer the phone if caller id indicates it’s a survey, but if I do, it’ll be to tell them “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria,” and hang up.

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Are Corporations ‘People’?

A most interesting question was posed today to panelists on the “Inside Washington” PBS roundtable. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, that brilliant conservative whom I admire but with whom I disagree so much, didn’t bite. Columnist and editor Colby King of the Washington Post did.

First of all, this question is loaded. Krauthammer probably saw that. By ‘people’ do we mean, are corporations best viewed as aggregates of “just-plain folks”, like you and me? Or should corporations count under some kind of “one man one vote” rule, getting entitlement to contribute to political campaigns, and to lobby for tax breaks and special treatment?

Second of all, are we talking about how we define corporations, or are we really talking about a extra-constitutional rationale for expanding their enormous power?

Colby King innocently jumped on the question right away. Corporations, he offered in so many words, are comprised of investors, maybe just like you and me, or like the managers of our decimated 401K accounts. So in that sense yes, King said he could see corporations as ‘people’. The question went nowhere. Panelists quickly jumped to the next topic.

Politically, there is one aspect of corporations that’s much like any other interest group. They are and should be entitled to lobby Washington for fair representation of their interests in the scheme of things. But this kind of advocacy should be vetted for impartial relevance in ways we do not tolerate for private citizens. Washington observers have witnessed a sea change in corporate legal status in recent years. Under the Bush Administration, expanded ‘rights’ were extended to corporations, so that, perhaps, corporations might be allowed to donate anonymously to political campaigns and secret slush funds, or the Koch Brothers might be able to buy an election proposition initiative in California.

The unspoken core principle here was that corporations had heretofore been denied basic individual rights, so statutes and enforcement protocols needed to be relaxed to eliminate discrimination against ‘just plain people’ interest groups that just so happen to be incorporated under the laws of a state.

After all, if you own a corporation, presumably you do go to the polls to vote your personal position on the issues, don’t you? Don’t you think there should be some way your corporation can act as an extension your views, since you own a piece of it or actually control it?

So sorry, but you don’t get your vote counted twice just because you’re incorporated in, say, the State of Delaware. If a private citizen’s vote counts as one, should the “vote” of a Bank of America or Koch Industries count as ten million?

A corporation is not an individual. It does not have individual rights. It doesn’t get to vote. The Articles of Constitution only enumerate individual freedoms for individuals. So corporations are not people, and there is a dangerously destabilizing aspect to this trendy popular doublethink. Look at the 2008 consequences of the SEC and Treasury being asleep at the wheel on “good guys” like Bernie Madoff, Bank of America, AIG and Lehman Brothers. But if they were influenced by the Wall Street “old boys network” (from whom they draw so many into their ranks), nobody can prove it: not above suspicion, not accountable, never free of the taint of conflict of interest.

Individual Americans have many diverging views about religious takes on prayer in schools, abortion, gay rights, divorce or evolution, and we are all free to express our opinions, and to vote on them to the extent not pre-empted by statutory and constitutional limitations. But Congress is not free to count the “votes” of our congregations, synagogues and mosques. Yet the century-old corporate problem remains: Congress remains beholden to very large corporations.

Judicial common sense is of course needed here. Perhaps that’s asking a lot of our current crop of representatives. Your pastor, priest or rabbi should certainly be welcomed as an “expert witness” on a topic of debate, perhaps home schooling, subject of course to their personal experience in the area — but not as a spokesperson for, say, The Vatican. Similarly, shouldn’t a respected and honest businessperson such as Warren Buffett be allowed to address Congress on the economy or a hearing on energy? Certainly — but he should not be invited to make a large contribution to the chairperson of the committee hearing a bill under which Berkshire Hathaway would be a principle or sole beneficiary.

There are honest businesspeople, remember, and Buffett would certainly be one of them. Constraints need to be reimposed upon abuse of power in both private enterprise and Congress.

We need political separation of corporation and state just as we need separation of church and state, and for the very same reasons.

Further Reading

1. The Billionaire Koch Brothers’ War Against Obama : Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
“The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called ‘the largest company that you’ve never heard of.’ But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny.

2. The Koch brothers: all the influence money can buy : Paul Harris, Guardian
“Not just liberals but conservatives should be deeply worried by a revelatory investigation of the libertarian billionaires’ lobbying”

3. Corporate personhood : Wikipedia
“Others argue that corporations should have the protection of the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that they are organizations of people, and that these people shouldn’t be deprived of their human rights when they join with others to act collectively.”

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Congratulations, America

U.S.S. Constitution

U.S.S. Constitution

Yesterday we elected Barack Obama as the 43rd president of our United States of America. It was an unprecedented election in many ways. The news is flooded with stories of excitement and hope all over the world.

As President-Elect Obama said to the nation last night in his acceptance speech, the road ahead will be long. We have a lot of work to do. We have had other presidents who took office in the middle of perilous times. Perhaps those special challenges galvanized them and the nation to decisive action; they and the nation were victorious.
Continue reading

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US unveils new citizenship test

As we’ve all read recently, The US is rolling out a new citizenship test for immigrants who want to take the big step to US citizenship. According to the BBC and other reports, the government’s aim with these test changes is to shift away from an emphasis on historical fact to an emphasis of the “correct” interpretation of those facts.

Mr Gonzalez says those who want to become US citizens should not be allowed to do so by simply rattling off historical facts they have memorised but should show a passion for the country of which they are becoming an integral part.

Exactly how a sitting government impartially grade a “passion for the country” is a current queston of some concern. Immigrant groups don’t like it. Here are are some sample test questions (also found on the BBC website):

NEW TEST QUESTIONS

  • Why does the United States have three branches of government?
  • Name two rights that are only for US citizens
  • Name two cabinet-level positions
  • Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence
  • What does the Constitution do?
  • These questions might send a lot of us scurrying to our reference books.
    Continue reading

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    Notes From Uncle Tubbs

    Happy Fourth of July

    USS Constitution

    July 3

    “CHARLEY REESE”

    Hey, Nephew, how you been?

    Charley Reese is the feller in the paper writes from down Florida way or somethin. He writes this piece, see, no this time it’s not against your gays or basic flag burners, its just for Decency, oh lessee, lemme think …

    Oh yeah, Charlie says who the hell does your minority think it’s doin’ tellin’ the majority what to do?

    He says SCHOOL PRAYER is free speech so it’s protected, and if you think for a minute Separation Of Church And State means the CONSTITUTION can ban school prayer, well, Charley sez: you’re just plain wrong. Actually, he says, the FIRST AMENDMENT just means the government can’t make its own official religion, he says only the Congress can do that …

    I can’t keep track of all them amendments, but it sounds like Charley’s got a hold of the only end of a one-ended stick.
    Continue reading

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    Flag-Burning

     

     

    desecration – or freedom of expression?
    January 27, 1999

    “I share the feelings that gave birth to the (flag) amendment; seeing our flag desecrated makes me angry. But our angry reaction is the point: it illustrates the power of flag desecration as symbolic speech. It is a most powerful way for someone to tell us they believe we are doing something wrong, that we are not living up to our ideals. “
    –Mike Pheneger, Colonel – United States Army (Retired)
    Originally published in the Tampa Tribune

    I am a veteran (US Army 1961-1964). Colonel Mike Pheneger expressed his thoughts on flag desecration better than I ever did: while it made him angry, he wrote, “It is a most powerful way for someone to tell us they believe we are doing something wrong, that we are not living up to our ideals. “

    While never myself a “flag-waver”, I have always respected the flag, and our right to honor it as we choose. I never liked flag-burning, and never approved of it. Continue reading

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