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April 16, 2013

I’m sitting at our dining room table looking out at the front yard which is still full of magical white snow. The snow should be gone by now, but I’m thinking that the same is true about a lot of our problems. Instead, our problems linger, they  grow, and they become more dangerous. Why is that?

I spent the last week as a patient at Rochester Mayo Clinic. That’ll give you time to think. Not much television watching time; and when there was some it seemed all to be about North Korea. Now there’s a problem that should have gone away a long, long time ago! The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. It was a “cessation of arms.” A peace treaty was to follow; but it hasn’t. Sheer insanity!

Obviously, we, in the widest sense possible, are not good problem solvers, this in spite of our education, our computers and technology, our wealth, our databases, our flowery rhetoric. We don’t solve problems because we don’t really want to. Things are as they are because the powerful like as they are. If deep and strong interests were vested in change, there would be change.

Our false gods are wealth, power, status, and fame. Our idolatry extends to the ideologies that support the worship of these false gods; and once we become idolators it seems impossible for us to turn back at any cost. In college we used to spend time discussing the difference between tragedy and pathos. Tragedy would be suffering to escape the clutches of the false gods; there’s not much of that. Pathos is suffering incurred in the service of the false gods; and there’s plenty of that.

Which brings us to North Korea. If you watched the television reports, especially those driven by the fear-mongers at Fox, you’d think the world’s end was near. How many analogies between North Korea and Nazi Germany can be hyped up? Watch Fox News to find out!

Here are pertinent facts:

  • North Korea is a nation of some 72,000 square miles. That’s about the same size as Mississippi, or Hondauras! Frankly, Mississippi scares me more than North Korea; and I like the good people of Mississippi (but not their guns).
  • North Korea has a population of about 25.0 million people; and that population is growing at a slow rate of 0.5% per year.
  • And, the nation is poor! GDP per capital is $1,800 per year (that’s under $5 per person per day), and, as always, that meager some is unequally distributed. Moreover, it may one of the most politically isolated nations in the world.

So why isn’t the problem solved? Besides the general reasons listed above, there are outside forces at work. Look at the land borders. Seven miles of North Korea’s border is with Russia; and a bit more than 140 miles of border is shared with South Korea. Here’s the thing: North Korea shares 850 miles of border with China. From my perspective, therefore, this is about China, not North Korea. China is the patron, the puppeteer, and the chess player. North Korea is a puppet and a pawn!

Someone please tell Fox News and broadcasting idiots that dominate the talk shows that the real problem is west of Pyongyang; and the real problem is a lot scarier than Mississippi. But don’t get me wrong: It ‘s not all China’s fault. We’re a big part of the problem too. We still have too many powerful people who’d rather push the button than use the brain.

192 – A PORCH, A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE, HATE GROUPS, AND A NEW MILITARY CAREER

AUGUST 13, 2012

How does a porch, a public health issue, and a new military career come together in a sensible manner? It begins by reading a local newspaper.

KILLED ON A PORCH

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is my local newspaper, and not bad at all in this age where newspapers are fighting a last ditch battle against newer media; and Sundays are always a bit special because you can take your time browsing through the paper over a leisurely breakfast. That is, if you can stand the news you end up reading! It’s not the paper’s fault; the paper simply prints the news. It’s the news that is unbearable.

The August 12, 2012, edition of the Star Tribune was no exception. There were the usual stories about the election campaign, and the economy. But there were also the unusual stories that have become all too common. For example, Kalvin White, a 24 year-old, was shot and killed on a north Minneapolis porch. This happens all too often in that area.[i]

A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE TO DISCUSS

Then there was a story with the headline: “Doctors target gun violence as disease: They call mass shootings a public health problem and want a science-based approach to prevent further harm.” Dr. Garen Wintemute heads the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis,[ii] wants a science-based approach to deal with the realities and seeking the prevention of mass shootings.[iii]

One of the physicians who treated the August 5, 2012, shooting victims in the Sikh temple in Milwaukee was Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on gun violence. The Milwaukee shooting followed the Aurora, Colorado, shootings on July 20, 2012. On August 3, 2012, the shooter in Tuscson, Arizona, pleaded guilty to his crime.

Dr. Hargarten, the director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin said, “What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm? This is what we’re going to have to live with if we have more personal access to firearms. We have a public health issue to discuss.”[iv]

Here are some facts about guns in the United States:

  • The estimated number of guns is between 260 and 300 million.
  • One third of U.S. homes have a gun.
  • Two-thirds of U.S. homicides involve a gun.
  • Nine percent of violent crimes involve a gun (338,000 per year).
  • 73,000 emergency room visits in 2010 were gun-related injuries.

Dr. David Satcher became the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1993; and he immediately tried to make gun violence a public health issue. He notes that product safety oversight is not enough by itself enough. It helps; but it’s just a starting point. There are at least four other considerations: Host factors, product features, environmental risk factors, and patterns.[v]

Host factors may explain why someone is more likely to use a gun, or to be a victim. Marchionne, the Associated Press reporter, noted: “One recent study found firearm owners to be more likely than those with no firearms to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence.

Product features could be changed. Guns still fire accidentally; and owner-only gun firing mechanisms can be added. And, it may be time to return to bans on assault weapons and repeating firearms.

Background checks are required, though one wonders how thorough such checks are. Guns are not supposed to be sold to convicted felons or those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. But private sales are unrestricted and one study estimates that 40 percent of all gun sales are of this type.

Patterns of gun ownership and use can “spread like wildfire,” says Daniel Webster. Webster is a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Especially after a shooting, people feel the need for gun protection.[vi]

HATE GROUPS

Another shooting in north Minneapolis, one story! Then a story about doctors acting on the belief that gun violence is a disease! And then: A story on hate and hate groups! The Wisconsin gunman was being monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an extraordinary organization that provides information on another kind of disease—hatred.

According to SPLC, there are more than 1,000 “hate groups” active in the U.S. today.[vii]

A NEW MILITARY CAREER

The first three Star Tribune stories were personal, face-to-face, stories about one person owning a gun and shooting someone else, or shooting multiple victims, stories about one person or an organized group of people with intense negative feelings about other persons or people, feelings they may act on, violently, with guns.

The fourth story that caught my eye was of another kind of violence, more sophisticated, less personal; it was a story of killing by remote control, a story about drones. There was once a dimension of heroism to being a military pilot; even Snoopy fantasized about being a World War I flying ace, wearing a long, white scarf and shooting down the Red Baron. But the élan and courage of the past may be slipping away. Al Qaeda leaders Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, and Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan, were terrorist leaders; and they both were killed, by drones.[viii]

Today the U.S. has 1,700 drones, but only 1,348 drone pilots. And pilots are leaving the cockpits of their G-force F16’s for the bottom-flattening desk job of drone-piloting.

The “Reaper” carries Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. Drone-piloting is an entirely new military career; it is also an entirely new way to kill, by remote control. Every day the U.S. has almost 60 drones in the air, somewhere.[ix]

 SUMMARY

A neighbor down the street killed by a gunman while sitting on a porch! Doctors trying to impact a national catastrophe with a “disease” approach to gun violence! More than 1,000 hate groups being monitored by an extraordinary initiative! And the U.S. Air Force carving out a new career path for the piloting of its 1,700 drones! Somehow reading the Sunday morning newspaper with toast and a hot cup of coffee just isn’t as comforting as it used to be.

Perhaps one day we’ll read of a U.S. drone missile killing a U.S. citizen. Unthinkable? No it’s not! In fact, it’s already happened, though not on U.S. soil. A man born in Las Cruses, New Mexico, who earned a B.S. degree from Colorado State University and a M.A. degree from San Diego State University; a man who was a Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University; this man was killed by a drone Hellfire missile. His name was Anwar bin Nasser bin Abdulla al-Aulaqi (Awlaki), a U.S. citizen.

We asked at the beginning how a porch, a public health issue, hate groups, and a new military career come together in a sensible manner. Well, they come together, as we’ve just seen. How sensible it all is is in grave doubt. Awareness, impartiality, and engagement are needed badly. We have too little awareness, far too little impartiality, and far too much extreme and violent engagement. Its a different experience reading a Sunday newspaper these days; it was better when Snoopy’s fantasies brought us a smile.

 

 

 


[i] Norfleet, Nicole, “Man slain in Minneapolis was Maplewood student,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 12, 2012.

[iii] Marchione, Marilynn, “Doctors target gun violence as disease,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 12, 2012.

[vii] See – http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map

[viii] Walsh, Declan and Schmitt, Eric, “Drone Strike Killed No. 2 in Al Qaeda, U.S. Officials Say,” The New York Times, June 5, 2012; and http://www.ask.com/wiki/Answar al-Awlaki?qsrc=3044

[ix] Baldor, Lolita, “Drawn to Drones: Airmen who once wanted to be fighter pilots are now choosing to control drones, unmanned aircraft that many see as the future of air combat,” Associated Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 12, 2012.

191 – THE POOR ARE DOING FINE. THAT’S WHY THEY RIOT!

November 2, 2011

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 43.0 million Americans lived in poverty in the fall of 2010. That’s about 14 percent, or one person out of every seven. For a family of four, poverty “officially” means that the household has an income level of $22,000 or less. For a family of two, it’s $14,500 or less.

Questions: How many of us who are not in “official” poverty status think we could live with those levels of income? And, if we think we can survive on those levels of income, how well would we be living? How much money would we be able allocate to (1) housing, (2) food, (3) clothing, (4) transportation, (5) education, (6) insurance, (7) savings, and, dare we add, (8) entertainment and recreation?

Most of us would conclude, after buying a few groceries or a few gallons of gas, or after paying our health insurance premiums or our monthly rent or mortgage… most of us would conclude that the “official” poverty levels are, if anything, far too low.

But not to worry!

Those in the official poverty category are doing just fine. Or, so says a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation, in a “Notables & Quotables” piece published by The Wall Street Journal recently. According to this Heritage notable, these are the pertinent facts about the officially-poor:

  • Computers in the home – 50 percent.
  • Air conditioning – more than 75 percent.
  • Cable or satellite TV – more than 66 percent.
  • Microwave ovens – more than 90 percent.
  • Wide screen TV – more than 33 percent.
  • Xbox or PlayStation – “typical”
  • Homeless – one in 70.
  • Living in a trailer home – 10 percent.
  • Children with very low food security (per the USDA) – 988,000 in 2000.

The notable says he is quoting data “the most recent government data.” Sure! And he adds: “The rest live in houses or apartments, many of which are in good repair. The poor are rarely overcrowded. …Ninety-nine percent of children did not skip a single meal because of lack of financial resources.”

Sooo… not to worry! The poor are doing just fine. They have computers, TV’s, housing (many of which are in “good repair”), microwaves, and play stations. And only a million of so of their children are “very low food secure.”

This is the gospel of the Heritage Foundation. This is deemed worth reprinting in The Wall Street Journal. And you wonder why the U.S.is in the condition it’s in! Why the rich refuse to pay more taxes! What budgets must be balanced with cuts only. This same “poor doing just fine” gospel also preaches indifference to mass layoffs, underfunding education and training, the wisdom of sending jobs overseas. It preaches individual responsibility along with some kind of Ayn Rand apathy. It presumes inevitability and predestination as an alterantive to community harmony and compassion.

 I have an idea—let’s swap lives for awhile. Let’s have the rich live as the “officially” poor live for just six months or so. Then let’s see what might be “notable and quotable” after that. The six-month swap should be no problem for anyone; after all, the “officially” poor have television and air-conditioning, and there are only about a million “officially” hungry children in the neighborhood.

*****

Another “notable” wrote something somewhat related to this subject in the London City A.M. following the recent riots in England. These were riots that somewhat shocked Americans because our impression of the Brits is that they’re quite sedate, well-mannered, and “stiff upper lip” about most things. There was little that was sedate or accommodating about these riots!

What were the circumstances of the rioters? Try poverty. Try unemployment. Try the impeding difficulties of austerity measures to solve national fiscal problems. Try the fact that England is a leader in economic disparity; its gap between rich and poor is one of the developed nations largest. The gap, of course, is something certain “notables” in America think is as it should be in a harmonious community; that is, as long as the poor have television sets.

How to develop a harmonious community? The British government thinks austerity measures and tougher police action will do it (though they’re cutting police budgets at the same stroke). Greece is trying to move to the same austerity programs; and there’s been abundant discord in the streets there too.

The London City notable wrote: “I cannot remember anything like it; the atrocities of the 7/7 terror attacks, the shock from 9/11 and the IRA’s repeated terrorist attacks had a chilling, devastating effect… but it felt different this time. Usually peaceful suburbs were under siege; meanwhile, there was increasing violence in other towns. The government belatedly appeared to regain control in London but the electorate’s trust that the cavalry would show up if you call 999 has been shattered.”

 Is that it? Is that what keeps us calm here in the U.S.–the sense that the “cavalary will show up” if the poor get too demanding? Will the cavalary soon sweep the OSW gatherings from the streets and parks of U.S. cities?

Is there more riot to come in the struggling economies and the communities of the developed nations where inequality, debt, deficits, austerity proposals, high unemployment, and unsympathetic fantasies of how the poor really live abound in the vacuum of paralyzed and polarized politics and opinion? Were the demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, just the beginning?

“It no longer feels that we live in a civilized country,” the notable wrote. Civilized–as in harmonious, caring, collaborative, and compassionate? Or civilized–as in condemning, apathetic, uncaring, ruthless, and dependent on the power of police? What kind of civilization are we talking about?

The latter approach arrogant approach of the presumed superiors is implicit in the echoes left by the first notable’s fantasy of the poor living quite well, thank you, with their TV’s and air conditioning in their “many of them in good repair” housing units. Survival of the fittest right!

The latter approach is also implicit in the second notables comment: “Fear. Debilitating fear. The country held to ransom by feckless youths…. The cause of the riots is the looters; opportunistic, greedy, arrogant and amoral young criminals who believe that they have the right to steal, burn, and destroy other people’s property. There were no extenuating circumstances, no excuses.”

Violence is not to be sanctioned. That should be clear to all at all times and in every circumstance. Violence is a lose-lose! Yet there are always extenuating circumstances to be seen by anyone with open eyes, and a caring heart; and there are various kinds of violence.

There is the violence of being discharged from your job, from having your paycheck taken away, from having your savings evaporate due to the greed of bubble-building-and-bursting insiders. These are distant and cold evil kinds of violence that the powerful can perpetrate on the powerless with impunity.

There is the violence of being bullied by the rich and strong. There is the violence of condescension and the violence of misrepresentation (as in the notables discussion of how well the poor live above).

There is the violence of presumed social and intellectual superiority, the violence of bullying, the violence of Social Darwinism, and the violence of Creative Destruction. There is the violence of those who believe that Thomas Hobbes was more of a prophet than those who spread messages of truth, compassion, peace, and communal responsibility.

There are the violent ones in the streets where they dare to go to burn and loot when no other course seems to be working in their “civilized” society. And there are the other violent who created the conditions that cause the rioters to do what they do. And, most likely, there is much more such violence coming because the rioters are more empowered than ever today and more connected, and the causes that motivate them are more deeply entrenched.

Feckless? The word means unthinking and irresponsible. Clearly, there are many more feckless among us than just those rioting in the streets. But, hey, why look in a mirror when it’s so much more entertaining to look at your telly? There they are, and they’re burning things; there you are smugly blaming them for their feckless behavior without an ounce of any sense of connection. That too is—feckless.

But the passive feckless must go one step further. They must blame. They must point to a warped sense of context, ergo: “The context was two-fold: first, decades of failed social, educational, family and microeconomic policies, which means that a large chuck of the UK has become aliented from mainstream society, culturally impoverished, bereft of role models, permanently workless and trapped and dependent on welfare or the shadow economy.

“For this the establishment and the dominant politically correct ideology are to blame: they deemed it acceptable to permanently check welfare money at sink estates, claiming victory over material poverty, regardless of the wider consequences, in return for acquiring a clean conscience.”

Here we have it, the reason why The Wall Street Journal printed this diatribe as a “quotable.” It attacks “politically correct ideology” (whatever that is). What jumps out more specifically is “welfare money at sink estates.”

Can we finally agree that no one likes “welfare money,” not those whose taxes pay for it, and not those who have to “beg” for and depend on it? And, will we ever agree that there are circumstances where welfare money is required to sustain the survival of the weakest?

No one that I know of has claimed victory over poverty, except perhaps those too remote from reality who are severely cocoon-bound in prejudice. No one that I know of has a clean conscience, except those who deny and distance themselves from the reality of need, or, as the notable notes, the failed policies of society’s guides.

People need to feel as though they are needed. They need jobs. They need opportunities to contribute. And people need to feel secure. This is Psychology 101. Communities need balance, heterogeneous and harmonious balance. And both individuals and communities need mutual support, collaboration, trust, and unselfishness. These are the hallmarks of true civilization.

What we’ve been given by quotable notables in The Wall Street Journal is, instead, finger-pointing, blaming, condescension, and misdirection. Without such misdirection the real culprits, causes, inequities, and fecklessness might come to light. And that light will be shining at levels of income and wealth higher than the “officially” poor. 

Meanwhile dispense with the notion that the poor are doing just fine. Walk among them with your eyes (and heart) open. Or, prepare for more riots and upward pressure on the police and prison budgets. It’s only going to get worse.

Sources:

Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2011.

Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal,July 26, 2011.

190 – THE DISPOSABLE WORKER

August 14, 2011

Something happened to American business in the 1980’ s.  What happened was a subtle and gradual change, but the consequences of that change were enormous.

The change represented a major shift in priorities. The shift was rather imperceptible at first, but it is obvious today to even the most casual observer; and that shift slid across the landscape of U.S. business like a glacier withdrawing from another time. We have still not reckoned with or come to understand what that glacier left behind.

First, there was the emergence of Wall Street as a new power.

No longer would Wall Street merely raise and allocate capital. No longer would Wall Street be the residence of private partnerships expert in funding American enterprise and entrepreneurs. The new Wall Street itself would be corporatized. The new Wall Street would become preoccupied with the pursuit of its own profit, and with the reward of sits professional managers and executives.

Second, there was the emergence of a new ethic.

Wall Street redefined the risk/reward relationship. It was no okay to accept more risk on the hope that there would be outlandish reward. Hostile takeovers, junk bonds, “concept stocks, the electronics bubble, and a “let’s get rich” partnership with the White House, were among the primary manifestations of this new underlying ethic.

The outlandish rewards for Wall Streeters, of course, could come only with a cost, mostly a major social cost.

Business, once  upon a time, was thought to serve diverse and multiple constituencies (shareholder, customer, employee, and community). That diversity of constituents was now given only lip-service. The sole concern was the service to the shareholder; and that meant profit, profit, profit as the focal point of all business energies. Profit at any cost. Profit maximized in the short term, regardless of the long-term consequences.

Business schools taught their students that profit was the only corporate responsibility.

Business sociologists taught their students that survival of the fittest was the only corporate mandate. Social Darwinism was back wearing Brooks Brothers suits, cuffed shirts with embroidered initialing, and wide-banded galluses.

And Fortune magazine, in the 1980s, dropped the listing of Number of Employees from the data it reported on its famous Fortune 500. Was Fortune prescient? Did the bible of business publications see it all coming?

***** Read more »

189 – IT’S ABOUT JOBS, STUPID!

August 22, 2011

America is (or was) a jobs-machine. As such it is the envy of the world. But these days when it comes to our jobs-machine we have to speak less in absolute terms. The world has changed; and much of that change has been our doing.

We live now in a globalized economy. We live now in a corporatized America. We live now in a digitized age. We live now in a world of instant connectivity. But we’re still using the same old economic and social theories; and, stubbornly, we’re using them as if they were well-established truth.

Today, we have to be more cautious in our prideful assertions. In fact, it would be well for us to forget about hubris and stir up a good pot of common sense mixed with a hearty dose of humility, and more than a pinch of a sense of community.

The excesses of the Roaring 20’s, the struggle of the Great Depression, the economics of the Second World-War II are all instructive; but they are no longer entirely relevant. Still, we keep looking to these periods for answers. The world of work, globally, has been restructured by the dynamics noted above, and many others as well. Yet we continue to believe that the world of work, nationally, is somehow immune to that restructuring.

We don’t like to admit to restructuring because it, generally, means painful and prolonged change. The Agricultural Revolution, and then the Industrial Revolution were restructurings. The transition from coal to oil was a restructuring. The Automation Revolution (technology displacement) was a restructuring. The transition from manufacturing to service in America was a restructuring. Creative destructive is an advocacy theory of restructuring.

Yet, we prefer to idle our time away fantasizing about our jobs-machine and our economy as a cyclical phenomenon; and we apply cyclical remedies when we should be taking out a clean sheet of paper and writing the true realities of our restructured jobs environment. We argue about the past priesthoods of Keynes versus Friedman when we should be developing an economic and social theory of the future. And our idling, our blind and stubborn attachment to old ideas and irrelevant happenings of long age, is leading us down a distrastrous path.

I’ve posted 18 times on the subject of work here on Finding-Happiness.com. (A list of those posting, and navigation, can be found on the left sideboard of this website.) Work/jobs continues to be one of the primary concerns of America, and of the world. For many if not most Americans today, work/jobs is theonly concern. We talk about debt and deficits; we should be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs! We talk about taxes and entitlements; we should be talking about work, work, work!

*****

There were 69.4 million workers in the U.S.workforce in January 1969. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (the source of the data in this posting) refers to them as NFE’s (Non-Farm Employees). Steady growth produced by the American job machine increased that workforce to a peak of 138.0 million in January 2008.

 69.4 million to 138.0 million in 39 years! That’s an awesome record! In 39 years, our workforce almost doubled. The average annual rate of workforce growth over this period was just under 1.8 percent. That has been the good news. Read more »