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The Goatherder Blog
Thursday, 15 December 2005
Good quote
I saw this quote and thought it was worth passing on:

"Remember art? Remember beauty? Remember truth? We used to enjoy all of that. But that has been replaced, pre-empted by our new leaders. It has been replaced by the despirate gropings of an inadequate man, frantically thrashing about, hoping to find some sort of validation."


Posted by The Goatherder at 8:57 AM EST
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Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Now Playing: Fundamental thoughts
No, not about religion. I have a couple of thoughts about civil society and American attitudes that are/will form the basis of some of my writing in the near future. I am interested in comments:

1) The most important and effective means of building a stable society is to foster a large and genuine middle class.

2) The worst thing you can do is create a society with a hole in the middle -- a small but very affluent upper class and a large, impoverished lower class. This type of society has to rely on physical force and intimidation (arrests, interrogation and punishment) to maintain order. Order becomes the most important societal value. Violence, either in the form of sanctified state violence or resistence violence, becomes a mainstream part of the culture.

3) Ergo, the best thing we could possibly do to fight the Great War on Terror is to foster a middle class in third world countries. The worst thing we can do is to foster corporate imperialism, like we seem to be doing in Iraq.

4) America was at its peak of power, prestiege and influence during the period from World War II to the end of the century. Although winning WWII had a lot to do with it, this also was the golden age of the American middle class. Bush's war on the middle class portends nothing but trouble.

5) Americans have a real attitude toward other Americans. They are scared to death that someone else will get something for nothing. They are also convinced that everyone else is overpaid, and they take delight in "lower prices every day," at the expense of the wages of other Americans.

6) We have bought, lock, stock and barrel, the truism that we need capital, investment and business profits in order to create a bountiful society. What we have lost is another truism, that workers need to make a decent wage in order to support a prosperous society. As wages stagnate, Americans have turned to debt and two-income households to keep themselves and the economy going. What happens when that runs out? Henry Ford had it right when he said that he had to pay his workers enough that they could buy one of the cars that they produce. Today, we have a perverted version of that -- Walmart pays so little that its workers can't afford to shop anywhere but Walmart.

Posted by The Goatherder at 11:30 AM EST
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Thursday, 13 October 2005
Meritocracy, cronyism and distributive justice
I just got back from a trip to India, which has led me to a lot of interesting thinking. Among the things that are so striking about India is the rigorous and intensely Darwinian education system. The Indians bill it as being a pure meritocracy, using tests as gates to force the cream of India’s billions of people to work their way to the top.

This system is in complete contrast to the crony capitalism that hallmarks the Bush administration. As I was thinking about this, I came to realize that the Bushlings do not dispute the utility and necessity of collective community institutions like those described in my Goatherder essay. What they want to do, however, is limit the availability of those community resources. They want the rich and connected to have access to all of the services that they need, and the highest quality of those services. As income and connections fall, so do the level and quality of the community institutions.

Their mechanism for doing this is the false God of privatization. They argue that it is desirable to privatize community services because they can be run more “efficiently” by private enterprises than by the government. While this may be true, privatized services lack the value of distributed justice. They are not available in the same quantities and with the same quality for everyone. You can buy more privatized services if you are rich and connected.

Moreover, the very reason that they are more efficient is because they are lacking in qualities of distributed justice. The fewer masters you have to serve, the more efficient you can be in serving your masters. Public government services, by definition, will be less efficient because they have to serve all the people. It is not their mission serve people in proportion to the dollars and favors they can spend. So efficiency cannot be the sole measure of community services. By definition, the more distributive you are, the less efficient you are. But the corollary to that is that you can only be maximally efficient by being anti-democratic, anti-distributive – by choosing to serve only a few masters.

It can be argued, of course, that the United States had swung too far toward the distributive end of the spectrum during the sixties and seventies, and lost much of its vigor as a result. In a competitive world, we have to foster a certain level of efficiency, even at the expense of social justice, if we are to survive. If that is true, however, it only leads to the next debate: if we are going to have public services serve fewer masters, how do we choose which of us it will serve?

And that question leads us back to India. India claims to have a different model for selecting those few lucky citizens that will receive special (efficient) community services. They claim to have a rigorous meritocracy. This is in significant contrast to the Bushling model, which uses family money and connections to select who will receive special (privatized) services.

Now we can debate the morality and utility of different balances between efficiency and distributed justice. I am sympathetic to India’s argument that it cannot provide quality education and other services to all of its citizens, so it should choose the most able, provide them with great services, and burden them with the responsibility of lifting the country up to the next level (where more citizens can receive quality services.) But it is virtually impossible, I think, to morally defend the Bushling model of quality services only for the rich and connected. Under those circumstances, the moral costs of efficiency are prohibitively high.

One final note: It is not clear, of course, that India’s system is really as purely meritocratous as they claim. In the land of the caste system, it is a little hard to believe that they can do away with social stratification. To the extent that it is a meritocracy, it will be interesting to see how long it lasts – and whether the new generation of India’s educated class really will let the great unwashed compete fairly against their upper class children.

Posted by The Goatherder at 12:24 PM EDT
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Friday, 23 September 2005
From digsbysblogspot
No further comment necessary:

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:


1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Posted by The Goatherder at 9:55 AM EDT
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Thursday, 22 September 2005
Failure -- it is spelled B U S H
I am working on an article to chronicle the complete failure of the neo-con political philosophy. It seems like shooting fish in a barrel, but I need some time to gather statistics. Any contributions that people might have will be welcome.

Conservatives – Security and Stability

Liberals – Fairness and Opportunity

It seems to me that we have lost the very real and legitimate dynamic between these two competing philosophies. I was reviewing materials regarding the adoption of the Constitution last night (OK, I was helping my son study for a history test.) There is a very credible argument that our Founding Fathers were a group of rich aristocrats who promoted the Constitution as a means of securing their property and position in society. It is hard to argue with this line of reasoning, but what you can argue with is the judgment that their motivation was immoral. In these days of lying, incompetent neo-con thugs, it is easy to lose track of the fact that there is a real need in society for security and stability. And given where we were at the time, maybe it was vital to promote some security and stability in the 1780’s. Anyhow, I raise this as an interesting digression as I explore the abject failure of neo – con philosophy. Comments?

Posted by The Goatherder at 3:53 PM EDT
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Friday, 31 December 2004
New Year's Message
November has been exceptionally cruel. I have been trying desperately to reconcile the events. Some people say that luck evens out in the end. But that is absurd. In the course of life, random events occur - these things that we call luck. And like the distribution of all groups of random events, they lay out in a bell curve. Most of us have luck that falls in the middle, neither too fortunate nor too tragic. But others are on one extreme of the curve or another. And it is that distribution, with some people having unbelievable luck and others tragic fortune, that is so maddeningly difficult to understand. Which leads us to the first of the November events, the re-election of George W. Bush. George Bush - when fate flips its coin, it has come up heads for Bush ninety nine times out of one hundred. Yet this beneficiary of infinite good fortune does not display the tiniest hint of awareness, nor any curiosity as to "why him?" His methods of coping with unfair privilege have started with alcoholism and ended with religion. He has embraced a perverse form of evangelical Protestantism that equates good fortune on earth with favor in God's eye. It is preordained that he have good fortune, because he is one of God's elect. And in late November, the Rector of my church and his wife buried their son. Two of the most decent, thoroughly well-meaning people I have ever known nursed their twenty-five year old son as he withered and died of cancer.

I have agonized to find an explanation. I have lain in bed, vacillating between two simplistic theories. First, that this is God's way of testing us, a simple exercise in making us stronger. The stronger we are, the better able we will be to fight evil. The other is that there is no explanation at all; that the ultimate absurdity is to seek meaning in the face of an uncaring universe. Unfortunately, the latter leads to despair, the former to fanaticism. Neither of these serves our purposes. Despair makes us an enablier of evil, both in the world and in ourselves. It leads us to a life of shallow hedonism and cruelty. On the other hand, if all of life's misfortune makes us better able to fight evil, then we are never really strong enough. We need to seek more and more stringent tests so that we can make ourselves even stronger. And then we become inured to the pain of others, because it is good that they be strong too. Fanaticism leads us, ultimately and inevitably, to actually practice evil.

So I end up with a working hypothesis that allows the questions to remain unanswered. I believe that either God does not act directly in this world or that God's plan is so complex and subtle that it is well beyond my understanding. But this leaves me full in the midst of a quandary; How then, do I lead my life?

The only thing I can do is to cultivate certain virtues within myself (the only area over which I have even slight dominion). These virtues will help me to cope with the cruelties of November, and maybe even influence the world for good.

The first virtue I will call acceptance, patience and determination. It starts with an understanding that the task of ridding the world of evil and injustice is too enormous to be accomplished in my lifetime. The virtue that I have to cultivate is to retain my distain for evil, accept the inevitable fact of its existence and not become overwhelmed or embittered. I have to understand that I will -- and will have to -- continue to fight injustice to the moment that I draw my last breath. I have to cultivate this understanding in myself, despite human nature to the contrary. Human nature does not easily accept a dynamic balance. It seeks ultimate victory or the glory of obliteration. It has to be held, by ropes of will, on the tightrope between the two. I have to take satisfaction in the fight, glory in each victorious battle, and truly accept that the war will continue.

The second virtue is the capacity to experience joy. Without it my own life is wasted. I believe that the capacity to experience joy does not come naturally to most adults in our culture. Some people are simply hardened. Some refuse to allow themselves joy while others are oppressed. Some denigrate joy as a cheap feeling, and others believe they never have enough. I will not experience joy unless I cultivate the ability. And that means that I have to find joy in my own circumstance. I have to find it in my daily life, in the natural world that surrounds me, the people that love me and the exercise of my human capacities. I can certainly experience joy vicariously, from the satisfaction of helping other people -- the thrill of marching forth. But I have to do more than that. For I cannot help others without feeling it myself. Joy is not something that can be taught; it can only be cultivated.

So these are my two New Year's resolutions. In the New Year - and thereafter - I will practice patience, acceptance and determination. I will celebrate joy. And without really understanding, I will use these virtues to shelter me from the storms of November.

Posted by The Goatherder at 7:32 PM EST
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Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Religion and Poverty
The Left Coaster has an excellent piece on the refusal of the religious right to address poverty and social injustice issues. See http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/003490.html#more

The religious right will not see it this way. There has always been a strain of American Protestantism that views "worldly success" as a sign of God's favor. They view success in this world as God's sign that you are one of the select. The corollary, of course, is that you should not help your fellow humans, at least in any material sense, since that would be working against the judgment of God. The only help you should give to others is to help them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. This goes back as far as the Puritans. Now, if you are cynical, you might see this as a theological justification for selfishness -- but if you are rich and worried about suffering even the remotest pangs of social awareness, it is a pretty attractive religion.

Posted by The Goatherder at 11:48 AM EST
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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Bill Moyers -- The End Time
Every once in a while I read a piece on another blog that simply has to be seen. Please read this piece on The Left Coaster, reprinting a speech by Bill Moyers.

http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/003450.html#more

Posted by The Goatherder at 10:43 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 December 2004 10:46 AM EST
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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Merck and Crony Capitalism: They have no shame
At some point, even Redstaters will wake up and realize that this is obscene.

The theoretical underpinnings of the BushCo economy is that the market works and it will mete out punishment for companies who do not perform. This is in contrast to government, where bureaucrats are not responsible to anyone and can simply collect their paychecks while doing nothing.

Then something like Merck comes along and exposes the truth. Left to itself, a capitalistic economy will turn into an oligarchic, crony capitalistic club, where insiders take care of each other, no matter what they do. And right now, this is George Bush's America.

In September Merck had to recall its arthritis drug VIOXX and pull it off of the market. It seems that the drug greatly increases the dangers of a heart attack, and the FDA estimates that it may have contributed to 28,000 heart attacks in the United States over the past several years (see the FDA website, www.fda.gov or the study, at http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/vioxx/vioxxgraham.pdf ) Of course, this event comes on the heels of Dr. David Graham's Congressional testimony that his employer, the FDA, has virtually no ability to protect the public from unsafe drugs.

But from a purely economic standpoint, the shareholders of Merck suffered nearly as badly as the drug's users. Merck suffered a stock price drop of approximately $23/share, or nearly fifty percent of its value. In the wake of this event, the company and its shareholders lost approximately $50 billion (yes, with a "b" as in "big bucks").

This $50 billion dollar loss came out of the 401K plans of everyday people. It reduces the opportunity for the "ownership society" that George W. Bush wants us to enjoy. It took $50 billion out of the stock market, where George Bush wants us all to invest our Social Security pensions.

But to Merck management, this was simply another opportunity for the pigs to feed at the trough. As a result of this fiasco, Merck is now considered to be "undervalued" and a possible takeover target for other drug companies. So the company, acting through its board of directors, adopted a multi-hundred-million dollar golden parachute plan for upper management. As stated in the company's SEC filing, this plan grants special severance benefits to approximately 230 members of current management. If Merck is ever taken over by another company, and if, as a result, any of these top executives loses his or her job, or is demoted, then they receive a special cash payment. The exact payment will vary by position, but the top part of upper management will receive a payment equal to three times their base salary, plus three times their targeted annual bonus. (The targeted annual bonus is the bonus that the executive would receive if he or she achieved every one of their goals and objectives for the year. Merck's Compensation Committee states that it awards bonuses to promote "the Company's communicated goal of being a top-tier growth company." Suffice it to say, the loss of $50 billion in market value was probably not on anyone's goals list.) In addition, they will continue to be covered by company health and dental benefits for three years, all of their stock options will vest immediately, and they will receive "enhanced retirement benefits."

For the top five executives at Merck, this will mean a payout of $22.8 million dollars, just for their salary and bonus payments. CEO Ray Gilmartin will himself receive a payout of approximately $10 million. Surely, it is a good thing that these poor people will not have to pay for their own health insurance for the subsequent three years. The exact figures are not available for the cost of this program for all 230 covered executives, but conservative calculations peg it at over $100 million dollars.

In its SEC filings disclosing this plan, Merck's board states that it has adopted this plan "in recognition of the importance to the company and its shareholders of avoiding the distraction and loss of key management personnel that may occur in connection with rumored or actual fundamental corporate changes." Ray Gilmartin was paid $3 million in salary and bonus in 2003. One might expect him to do his job, without being distracted, even without this special plan. (Not surprisingly, Ray Gilmartin contributed the maximum $2000 to the reelection campaign of George W. Bush in 2004, and has donated over $83 thousand dollars to Bush since 1999.)

To sum up the tally, in George Bush's ownership society, 28,000 people had heart attacks. Investors lost $50 billion dollars. The top management at Merck received a security blanket, to protect them against distraction, of over $100 million. And a major Bush contributor received a promise of over $10 million, plus three years of continued health insurance. As Warren Buffet said, class warfare has already happened. The rich won.

Posted by The Goatherder at 5:27 PM EST
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Monday, 29 November 2004
Anchors in Tumultous Times
In a recent Rolling Stone roundtable, David Gergen said something very interesting:

GERGEN: To the degree that the Republican Party is discovering that you can reach out to lower-income working people, whose lives are in huge flux. As Peter was pointing out, those voters are looking for something beyond an economic boost. They don't have much faith in government producing for them anymore, and they're looking for security. And they find it in a wartime president, and in their cultural beliefs. They're looking for anchors. The Republicans have learned how to reach out to those people and offer them some anchors -- while Democrats find it harder to talk to them in those terms than they did in the past.

The New Deal coalition was built on people believing that government could provide an economic anchor in times of severe, and then not so severe, economic times. Eventually, its compelling power was eroded by the right associating it with failed socialism.

Our job over the next four years, as we again face severe economic times (whether it is a depression, stagflation or a continued middle-class squeeze) is to convince voters that government can again play a role as anchor in tough economic times. It will play that role in a different way, after all, we have learned something over the past fifty years, but it will play it effectively.

This is not a case that a presidential candidate can make during a campaign. The frame of "big government liberal" has already been built. It is a case that we, the writers, talkers, organizers and other grass roots believers, have to make.

Posted by The Goatherder at 5:51 PM EST
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