Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's No Business Like Big Business

It’s no secret that quite a few Democratic Congressional votes are for sale as needed. Of course virtually the entire Republican membership is in effect a wholly owned subsidiary of big money. Exhibit A is repealing the Bush tax cuts. The main thrust of their argument is that it would discourage “small business.” It defies simple math and common sense to claim that an entrepreneur showing a taxable profit of $300 thousand would throw in the towel faced with the “threat” of having to pay a few percentage points higher on the last fifty Gs.
So how has small business done now that the Great Communicator and the Compassionate Conservative have worked their wonders?  In 1980 our modest size city had three hardware stores. If you don’t know what they were ask your parents. Each had at least one person who knew what the store sold and would help you find it. Now we have none. Yes we have Home Depot and Lowe’s with their “hardware sections” and workers with precious little knowledge of what’s in them. Worse yet, items that were once available in one small building, often are now in separate departments at distant ends of the campus.
Back then we had at least as many locally owned pharmacies which have been replaced by behemoths like Walgreens and CVS, or by small sections in the big stores of our far flung food chains. Speaking of food it seems that local markets are also becoming an endangered species. This consolidation is symbolic and symptomatic of the direction of our entire economy. No name epitomizes it more than Walmart.
“One percent” has now become an epithet to much of the country, unfairly painting all the super rich with the same brush. Many feel as Warren Buffet does. But those who are driving Republican fiscal policy are only interested in small business to the extent that it’s to their competitive advantage to eliminate it. Prospective small business owners have much more to fear from big business, than they do from the IRS.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

South Side Story

Until Friday, we hadn’t heard much new about “Occupy Wall Street.” There had been the inevitable confrontations between demonstrators and authorities. We’ve been shown a TV clip of a bleeding demonstrator being hauled away after having been bludgeoned by police. This was clearly an overreaction by a policeman for having his hat knocked off. I also believe the initial act was counter to the intent of a substantial majority of the movement.
But New York’s Mayor Bloomberg’s claim was that labor unions are the backbone of OWS, was newsworthy, also revealing a faulty sense of proportion. It clarified the way the lines have been drawn. There’s a lot of anti union sentiment out there and now we now know where it’s headed. I suppose this was obvious when this whole movement first made news. Hizzoner just confirmed it.
Certainly union people have committed acts ranging from unethical to criminal. As a member of a union most of my life I can attest that mine has worked with something less than perfection. So should we abolish them? If the answer is yes then by that reasoning the same can be said of police, to which I’d add among others, public educators and the military. We should consider that these people are paid to represent all citizens equally and should therefore be held to a somewhat stricter standard than union officials who, like the Chamber of Commerce, are openly paid to represent a particular group.
It seems obvious who will eventually win this battle, the only question being when. However it develops, things are bound to get messy. It’s in the interest of the nation to keep them from getting too messy. The longer this battle takes the greater the chance of losing a semblance of Constitutional order. We have two directly opposing forces, one of which will have to give in. The spirit behind OWS involves too many people for it to be stopped. If the opposing side recognizes the inevitable, the conflict can be settled by relatively few people, say roughly one percent.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Joe Paterno, Tragedy

There’s more to tragedy than misfortune. The fall of Joe McCarthy was not tragic because nothing was lost, quite the opposite. Joe Paterno’s situation is tragic because he was highly regarded in his profession. His reputation had much to do with the scholastic achievement of his players. On a personal level he was quarterback at Brown during part of my time there. But the cold simple fact is that he and others at the college, including the president, withheld knowledge from proper authorities of criminal behavior by a member of his coaching staff. Equally important is the offender’s known proclivity for this behavior.

Beyond the details of this scandal is its reflection of college sports, particularly football. It’s hard now to believe that there was a time when college athletic teams were simply the best that could be assembled from a given student body. The famous 5th down game in 1940 was important because Cornell, eventual loser to Dartmouth, had been ranked second in the nation. Cornell, from the little old Ivy League, whose teams these days lose most early games to relatively unknown regional schools until the schedule gets easier when they start playing against each other.

Sure, money was involved then as it is today. Alumni have always been more generous to the old alma mater when its teams are winning. But in those days wealth, and consequently college donations, were more evenly divided. Now the lion’s share comes from really big spenders.

But alumni donations are only the tip of the iceberg. The real bucks in college sports come from TV. The football program alone at Penn State took in $70 million last year, of which $50 million was profit. Alumni money shouldn’t and can’t be controlled. But money from TV can. Professional football, a business by definition, divides TV revenue equally among all its teams.
Because much of college football is amateur in name only it is in need of similar supervision which can only come from the NCAA. More of this money can be better used for purposes other than winning games, for example education.

If the situation at Penn State is unique it’s only in the specifics. Regarding the corrosive effect of money in intercollegiate sports on the integrity of our educational system it’s just par for the course.

Addendum: I’ve read and heard a lot of punditry viewing the affair in a religious context. I disagree. In my opinion it’s business as usual.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Surrey On Top

I took notice of the caption to an article in last week’s N.Y. Times that read “Oakland Police Clash with Fringe Protestors.” I accept the Times description. Since its inception the people in this movement appear to have taken care to keep its actions non violent. With this many people involved there are bound to be instances of confrontation between demonstrations and the authorities, namely police.
I’m certain that at this moment most right wingers would quarrel with the word “fringe” and
would like to portray the O.W.S. people as violent rabble. It’s only a matter of time, probably little at that, before the deep thinkers on the right hire some flunkies to do real damage and give this movement a bad name. Remember Andrew Breithbart and James O’Keefe who planned and carried out the assassination of Acorn? These folks are rarin’ to go and this one is too deliciously obvious for them to pass up. Of course they’d be hiring people to commit crimes.  But if they do it in the right state, let’s say Arizona, they should have no problem.
O.W.S. has yet to identify itself with the Democratic Party whose high ranking members, the president for example, have not publicly supported the movement. The objects of these protests are not exclusively Republican, John Corzine is exhibit A. But honest Democratic Congressional votes, not those for sale when needed for special occasions, tend to comply less with Wall Street interests than the votes of Republicans. In this context it’s no secret which party has the higher ratio of good guys to bad guys.
The right wing, much of which unknowingly suffers as do the protestors from the misdeeds of corporate America, has been quite vocal in its disapproval of O.W.S. If they keep it up as I think they will, these people never admit having been wrong*, they will eventually drive the movement’s votes to the Democrats. In that case we can look forward to something really inventive in voter restriction.
*Alternate lyric; being in love with yourself means never having to say you’re sorry.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We're Number One

On June 4, 2009 Barck Obama gave a major speech from Cairo, his first to the International Community, which was met with overwhelming approval by his audience. He had been president for a little over 4 months and his health care plans had yet to become public. This was the first chance for Republicans, who had been frothing at the mouth since his election, to strike. They criticized him for being too friendly to foreigners, to whom he happened to be speaking, and worst of all, never once mentioning “American exceptionalism.” My reaction was that virtually telling the rest of the world how much better your country is than theirs is not a way to win friends and influence people.

On the business of American exceptionalism, if we’re judged solely by our barons of finance and the system that allows them to operate as they do, we are a Third World nation dressed in First World clothing. In terms of equality of income, on a list of forty one nations we rank thirty eighth. Not surprisingly our poverty rating is in the same vicinity.

Educationally we’re low on the totem pole of industrialized nations in spite of the fact that we rank second in per capita expenditures. Why are we getting less for our buck? We are experiencing an ideological fight started by those who believe the world was created a few thousand years ago in a week. They demand that these notions be taught in science classes as alternative to what we know of our world. As I see it the integrity an entire educational system reflecting this kind of thinking is suspect. And why is college tuition so expensive that so many students enter adulthood heavily in debt. The institutions involved are subsidized by the government to the extent that donations are tax deductable. Have any serious colleges gone out of business lately? The last I heard they were still singing the fight song at good ol’ Oral Roberts.

We have the world’s highest per capita medical expenses and yet we are well down the list in life expectancy and other pertinent categories. The role of insurance companies has been discussed at length. But the fact that our doctors, not general practitioners but specialists, are paid considerably more than those in other nations has not. There is clearly price fixing in our medical profession, which is as it should be in my opinion. Price should not be a consideration in selecting a doctor. But should the medical profession have the only voice in fixing prices? I think not.   

Still the United States, by virtue of its education and research, was at the world’s cutting edge in the technology of the 20th Century, useful stuff like science, medicine, transportation and communication. We also helped out big in World War II.  But American exceptionalism has become a thing of the past. The appropriate question now concerns what we’ve done lately.