Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thank God for Goldman Sachs – Mother Theresa alone really doesn’t amount to much…

No - this is not an article from The Onion – so not surprisingly this is what no small number of people really think and believe... 

I’m also surprised I had not seen it at all somewhere on the social media traffic on the interwebz.  Must have been off the grid for a spell a month or so ago.

Give Back? Yes, It's Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%

Yep – if you read this, that is what the author is proposing.  Hard to believe?  Lets think about this then.

Now I'm not one who argues the merits one way or the other of the whole 99 vs. 1% thing.  It is in my opinion pointless and like most such discussions fails to grasp the many different circumstances people on both sides of that divide find themselves in.  But I do unreservedly reject the notion that the 99% in fact owes more to the 1% than the other way around.

It is time to combat the notion that people who have great wealth are somehow smarter or work harder than those who are not.  It is certainly true in some instances but equally untrue in many others.  In a good number of cases, quite possibly the only difference is the aversion to taking risk, and perhaps built on that, the better understanding of some of how to take risk with other peoples money.

The person who develops a business around an idea rarely works in isolation.  In some cases, the transaction of cash and other benefits for labor and the profit gained from that labor are fair, and in other cases they are not.  To make teachers for example a poster child for fairness in value received is beyond absurd and only the most brain-dead of right wing conservatives do not know this to be true. 

As if for example the Henry Fords, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would have achieved everything they proved ultimately capable of without this key developmental phase of their lives.  I’m sure based on their very nature, they would still have been successful, but does at the current average cost per public school pupil of around $10,000 per year (in the USA), I think they have come out significantly on the plus side of the ledger here.  And teachers are probably in many cases more like the example of the mother described in this article – who does what she does out of love for her children.  It is most certainly not a commercial transaction.  If it were we might see teachers paid in royalties from those they helped to fashion.  I suppose in the eyes of the author of this article, they are really just other workers who benefit from the wealth their prodigy students will go on to create.  They just don’t happen to be on the payroll directly. 

Of course I’m biased as you know if you read my last post on teachers -

So onto the proposal of not taxing those who make over a million dollars a year at all as it is immoral?  I guess this is the ultimate gambit in trickle down economic theory.  I mean, I could get this a little if you were saying let’s do this to further encourage people to achieve greatness and strive to earn over a million dollars a year – except taxes are not the reason the vast majority of people who are not making a million dollars a year are not doing so.  But taxing them is immoral? WTF!!!

But coming back to economics, here is the ultimate kicker for me.  If in fact there is nothing to give back (by the 1%) because as write says and I quote:

Each particular individual in the community who contributed to a man’s rise to wealth was paid at the time–either materially or, as in the case of parents and friends, spiritually. There is no debt to discharge. There is nothing to give back, because there was nothing taken away.

Then why should the 99% pay and not the 1%?  Haven’t they already paid as well?  Surely they topo have “no debt to discharge”?  Well, although I think Obama was (and generally is) full of BS when he asserted the only reason for a business persons success is the roads and infrastructure built by others, I suppose someone has to pay for this stuff.  After all, they aren’t going to just build themselves.   And if you are going to just be a user, a worker drone who contributes nothing to society more than the 8 hours you are paid for, then you probably should pay your own way to get to and from work.  This after all is why we shouldn’t have public transport in this country as the working poor who use it really are not paying their fair share and should probably be riding bicycles to and from the factory – on bike paths they pay for.  Also under the current system, you could argue the difference between a living wage and what a number of corporations pay people is getting paid by the wealthy indirectly through social programs they fund with their taxes – so there is that to consider.  Certainly governments waste money so get rid of the middle man I say – the cost of passing through the difference between the minimum wages many subsist on and a living wage will come way down if they just pay it directly to the workers and not pay times to get it to them through taxes and social programs.  And that difference my friends, is PROFIT!!!

So on that whole morality thing.  I mean, if you come from a mindset that proposes the head of Goldman Sachs has done infinitely more for mankind than Mother Theresa, then clearly you believe the 99% are indeed what the system is being increasingly geared to create – an underclass of working drones, for whom the biggest argument is whether or not the notion of a living wage should be entertained.  Maybe we should go back to the days of servitude and indentured servants that Benjamin Franklin (a person possibly highly admired by the author of this piece – although despite being a founding father, he was embarrassingly liberal) found so abhorrent in England he came to firmly believe in the virtues of the movement for American independence.


For a start, reading this article provided me with the name of the head of Goldman Sachs – one Lloyd Blankfein.  But to be fair, I am well aware of the entity that is Goldman Sachs.  I’ve even indirectly (probably more times than I know) done work for them through their subsidiaries.  And seeing as how in the USA a company is in fact a person, then knowing Goldman Sachs is more or less the same as knowing the person who runs it (all on his own do you suppose?).  So comparing the value to the world of Goldman Sachs against Mother Theresa – and finding that it is not even close based on the billions of dollars in profits generated by Goldman Sachs, suggests that indeed the people who work for the 1% are indeed nothing more than human capital.  What they think, feel or dream, how they change the world to be a better place is indeed of no consequence, and they should presumably just be grateful that they have 401K plans gaining wealth courtesy of Mr Blankfein.

Certain other inspiring people who have left an indelible mark on the world – indeed have left it a better place are not mentioned.  Probably could have been used to make the authors point.  I mean let’s see, people like Harriet Tubman and so many others who were part of the movement away from slavery.  Hard to argue profits would not have been better if we could have kept this long standing practice in place – in fact given it goes on more or less in many other countries now, all we have done is placed ourselves at a disadvantage.  Or folk like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.  I mean look at the troubles those countries have struggled to overcome.  Surely this could all have been avoided had the British ruling class kept running India, or minority rule stayed on in South Africa.  Despite their troubles, I wonder if the people there feel better off because of those folk.  And let’s not get started on the whole mess left by Martin Luther King and others through the civil rights movement.

OK – rant over.  I think I’ve answered my own questions here – hope it was helpful to you.

Now to read or not to read another post by the same author… “Insider Trading Is A Right: Don't Shackle The Knowledge-Seekers”.  I think the only reason he has Al Capone or Bernie Madoff on his shit list is there were SO MANY ways they could have got rich just working the system, within the law that is…

The article shared lest the self-proclaimed philosopher who wrote it feels I am somehow gaining wealth from his efforts was authored by Mr. Harry Binswanger, and published in Forbes Magazine, September 17, 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank you for your service...

The timing on this is somewhat of a coincidence. I’ve been mulling these ideas, even the title of this post for a while now. I do that a lot. Sometimes the ramblings of my mind make it onto paper. Many times they do not. Even fewer get let out…

So yes, this remembrance day, I want to thank you for your service…

Mrs. Hancock – 1st grade teacher and lover of reading and gardening

Mr. Murray – 4th grade teacher – first time to have a male teacher but more importantly perhaps plant the seed that I needed to be stretched further than was likely in a small one class per year level rural school

Mrs. Summers – 5th grade teacher who challenged me to read classics and to speak in public

Brother Darryl – who in 6th and 7thgrades opened the door to drama

Mrs. Delaforce – who in 6th and 7thgrades opened the windows to singing

Ms. McLaughlin – who may have been a little crazy, but whose passion for English made it interesting again in senior years of high school, and also explored creativity through school musicals

Mr. Duffy – whose clarity and precision in math brought me close to perfection semester after semester

Mr. Kaplick – who got past an mind grounded in absolutes to enable me to grasp the more abstract concepts of physics

Mrs. O’Donnell – who freed me to discover music was about passion, not just precision (although a little precision never hurt)

Ms. Graham – who survived having me in senior chemistry and taught me to see the forest instead of the trees

Professor Vuckovich who managed not to give us lung cancer in his lectures or nicotine stained office, and while I cannot remember much of his petroleum engineering classes, will never forget his pearls of wisdom such as “You boys, you must remember this one thing. You will be mining engineers. You will marry nurses or school teachers – that is all”

And so I did, in fact, so many of our class did.

So yes – I may have a little bias here. Probably in interests of full disclosure, my mother was a teacher. My father also. One of my sisters still does. And but for a summer job that never ended during the mining slump of the mid 80s when I graduated with my mining engineering degree but no job prospects, I might have been. I didn’t go back to school to get my Dip. Ed. that next year…

I am not begrudging the honor shown our veterans or those in active service. Theirs is not an easy job. A good number of my close friends and family serve here too. Perhaps more so here in the USA, we hold these people in a special place, we feel it important to thank them for their service. But how often do we think to do the same for a teacher. Would they be worthy for example of being granted the comforts of an airport lounge while travelling. Or generous discounts on many goods and services. And I could go on – and to those whose business does acknowledge teachers and give them some sort of recognition, thank you!

I mean it is not like teachers are well paid. An officer (a degreed professional so similar in that respect to a teacher) in the US Army with regular promotions after the minimum time at each level makes close to three times what my wife makes some 20 or so years out of college. So to the past and present members of the armed services, indeed – thank you for your service. You most certainly earned and deserve what you have, and maybe more. Nothing can repay the ultimate sacrifice some have made – or the permanent scars both physical and mental that some live with as a sacrifice every day. So to be a teacher, while generally not putting yourself in harms way (far from a certainty in US schools sad to say), you are not doing it for the money - it is most definitely a gift of service.

So to those who taught us how to be anything we could be, to those who were both firm and patient, to those who inspired and cajoled, to those without whom my life would be one more ordinary…

From the depths of my heart, THANK YOU for your service

Friday, November 8, 2013

Injustice is not a moment in time

I wrote recently about a book I had just finished, Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby.

Many sides to every story

I mentioned in this post a desire to visit the site of the tragedy outlined in this book – Aravaipa Canyon.  And so on this trip to Tucson, I did just that.  This morning I headed up to the canyon to just be there at dawn – to listen for the silence.

There is no memorial to this tragedy, no marker identifying the site of the massacre of more than 100 Apache, mostly women and children by a posse made up of Papago Indian, Americans and Mexican Americans (noting this part of the USA had only recently been part of Mexico).  So I wandered a few miles up the road that more or less follows Aravaipa Creek from its confluence with the San Pedro river, the site of Camp Grant, the US army base after which the massacre is most commonly named. 

And stopped – and listened to the silence…

I guess I don’t really know what I expected to see… or feel…  or think...

Some words from the gospels came back to me

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”

Didn’t really help – but it got me thinking.

I wandered around a little in the crisp morning air.  Heard what might have been 3 different types of bird chirping from somewhere in the peculiar foliage that adorns the desert.  Listened carefully for rattle snakes.  Watched a rabbit scurrying about, probably annoyed I had disturbed his morning.  And finally it sunk in…

Injustice is not an event, something you can pin down with at marker or a memorial.  Injustice is not a moment in time that can be frozen.  Something you can look at and say, yeah – glad we put that behind us.  Although often I think that is exactly what we hope to do. 

Very few are truly willing to listen to the other side(s), before or after major events that erupt due to injustice, to truly understand what the injustice represents, why it exists, and .  The passage I quoted in the aforementioned post still stands well in this regard, particularly from that sense that we are so eager to point out how we have been wronged, we find it impossible to listen well to other parties.

“Given the obstacles to merging these fragile and diverse forms of storytelling into a single tale, it is, paradoxically, by venturing in the opposite direction -- by listening for the silences between accounts; by discovering what each genre of recordkeeping cannot tell us -- that we can capture most fully the human struggle to understand our elusive past. What this past asks of us in return is a willingness to recount all our stories -- our darkest tales as well as our most inspiring ones -- and to ponder those stories that violence has silenced forever. For until we recognize our shared capacity for inhumanity, how can we ever hope to tell stories of our mutual humanity?”

Karl Jacoby, Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History

The injustices, in this particular instance suffered by all the involved parties in one way of another at the hands of one of the others led to this shameful massacre as the milestone event recorded in history.  And they also did not end there.  The legacy of the event  for some was very clear and tangible, for others less so.  The underlying causes of these injustices were not resolved by this event, they continued for many years, decades even, some not fully resolved today.

This is not a deep discussion on injustice – just a note on my growing understanding of it…