Sunday, April 28, 2013

That Toddlin' Town

It’s been two years since I took a shot at the business of privatizing functions and facilities that could be subject to public, or government purview. At that time I mentioned that metered parking in Chicago, run by a corporation from an Arab Emirate State, was $4.00 an hour. Today it’s $6.50. My conclusion, then as now, is that while gouging the public should be frowned on, it’s better done by the city. There’s always an outside chance that some of the swag will find its way into municipal coffers.

Of course Chicago’s metered parking is a drop in the bucket of privatization. Daddy Warbucks types have been trying for decades to privatize anything they can get their hands on. The list is long. Some, like electricity, have been theirs for quite awhile. Others like education are still a gleam in the eye.

One of the most egregious cases is private control of prisons which is still in a state of flux. 31 States and the District of Columbia now have 154 privately run prisons. It shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes insight to see what’s wrong with this picture. One of our fastest growing industries, like the others, benefits from high volume. Rumor has it that Judges have been and can be bought. Got it?

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, five times that of the United Kingdom. How can “the greatest nation in the world” have by far the largest percentage of miscreants? Are we a nation with more than our share of bad people? Or is our judicial system bent on punishing more of its citizens? I’d put my money on the latter.

A major share of our prison population consists of people arrested for marijuana possession. The absurdity of this “crime” was comically evident in the description of the younger Boston bomber as being one of the “regular guys” in school because he smoked grass with them. The legal status quo is obviously financed by money from corporate run prisons. A disproportionally large part of those incarcerated are younger, lower income people from ethnic minorities who will face life with felonies and jail time on their resumes, the direct result of judicial decisions that happen to coincide with the financial interests of privately owned corporations. The obvious result is perpetuation of an underclass which may be precisely what these people want.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fish Story

About twenty years ago on an overnight fishing trip I met two New York State Troopers with whom I engaged in a long and pleasant conversation. They sounded very much like Democrats until the subject of gun control came up and I learned that they were NRA members and were against the pertinent issue of the day, which might have been the assault weapons ban. They freely acknowledged that the law in question was sound and that their opposition was based solely on that old “the next thing you know” business.

This phenomenon of logic is in now in full bloom although I consider its current advocates, as a group, several notches beneath the state troopers. “They’re going to confiscate our guns” is the fairy tale being spread. It’s anybody’s guess whether even a background check can clear Congress and yet some people are worried about their guns being seized.

The NRA people are working hard to make this point. A video they produced, and of course edited, showed interviews of several New Orleans residents describing the heavy handed seizure of their guns during Katrina. There are a few things unconvincing about the production. This stuff is eight years old. Hasn’t something like this been “documented” since? If either federal, state or local governments had a plan to seize the city’s private weaponry they could have enforced it in better weather. Most revealing is that all the “information” came from the people whose guns had been seized. The NRA leaves us guessing at the reason they were being taken. In such a disaster it’s easy to think of circumstances in which people, including gun owners, might act something less than rationally.

There are more guns in fewer households today. It follows that fewer people have more guns, quite a bit more than necessary to handle an intruder or two. If we are to believe some of the more committed owners, the purpose of this hoarding is to defend themselves against the government, the federal government that plans to take their weapons. The unsuccessful 2010 Nevada Senatorial candidate specified “Second Amendment remedies” as a solution for what one feels ails the nation. To my knowledge no Republican member of Congress, for whom these people tend to vote, has gone this far. Still the natives are getting restless and, in the case of some of the hotter heads are publicly warning, you could say threatening, the United States Government.

There was a time when just having been friendly with a former member of a political party that recommended overthrowing the government was cause for penalties ranging from loss of a job to imprisonment. This movement came from the political right, the same direction as those who are now threatening to “defend” themselves from the government, a statement closer to treason than anything coming from the mouths of fellow travelers. I wonder how those state troopers feel about all his.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quickie on Boston

I consider myself as concerned as the next person about what has just happened In Boston, but not enough to spend the day watching TV to hear what is yet to be known, like who did it. The known details of the event are interesting, but only to a point. With my set muted here are two captions that attracted my attention.
One was that terrorism was believed to be involved. No kidding! Does anyone think that this could have been a childish prank? Of course the word “terrorism” is expected to conjure up visions of Osama Bin Laden types. In what way were Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City different?
The other caption led to an unrelated strictly personal thought related to an event half a century ago, that read the FBI was going to head the investigation. Fair enough! But my immediate thought was that it didn’t do a crackerjack job in JFK’s assassination. Could J. Edgar Hoover, who remained FBI head until his death ten years later, have been complicit in the event? This is a question for consideration that may not be new to everyone as it was to me, not an answer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What's In a Word?

After years of complaining that environmentalists are not liberals and that “job creators” who defile the environment are not conservatives, I’ve come to accept having been tilting at windmills. I was about to give up my gallant stand against the misuse of the word “entitlement” until reading Hendrik Hertzbergs’s article in the April 8 New Yorker. Evidently the first usage of the word in its current context is as recent as Ronald Reagan’s presidency and was novel enough at the time to require quotation marks. Daniel Patrick Moynihan didn’t think much of it, calling it “semantic infiltration.” But the Great Communicator has prevailed until now, specifically denigrating social programs of which he disapproved.

His targets were most notably Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but only Medicaid fits this description. It is a benefit, like police and military protection to which citizens are entitled even though they may not have paid a penny toward the system. Medicaid might have been one of those unspecified loopholes Romney had in mind eliminating, a loophole for poor people to get free health care.

Social Security and Medicare are literally insurance policies paid for, like it or not, by the beneficiaries. Whether a person is insured by government through deductions from wages or pays for insurance privately, he or she is still purchasing insurance. Why is only one such transaction considered an entitlement?

For its first eighty years Social Security took in so much more than it paid that its trust fund is currently one of the government’s major creditors. It is expected to start costing the government money in twenty years. Should people who contributed to past surpluses now be expected to accept reduced benefits in advance of a legitimate need, to help people of wealth retain their current tax status?

Medicare is costing the government money today. We have the most expensive per capita health system of industrialized nations and yet are well down the list in almost every category. We’re simply not getting our money’s worth. I heard on NPR that the lion’s share of people with heavy offshore investments are not financiers like Romney, but from the medical complex. My prime suspects are hospital administrators. Yes they have their share of freebies. But their numbers pale before the size of known overcharges. “Non-profit,” a euphemism for tax exempt, doesn’t limit salaries of administrators.

If one accepts Mr. Hertzberg’s conclusion that the accepted meaning of entitlement is not yet etched in stone let me take a stab at it and suggest that it describes more than food stamps. It also can be fairly said of something into which many fortunate people are born, people like Mitt Romney and the Kennedys.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Whole Truth

On Wednesday I looked forward eagerly, perhaps a bit anxiously, to Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC that night. The previous night Asa Hutchinson, former Arkansas Republican Congressman now heading an NRA task force, was his guest. When asked how he felt working with Wayne LaPierre, head NRA honcho, who said that if Obama is elected “you and I will lose more on the election battlefield than our nation has lost in any battle, any time anywhere” Hutchinson replied “I don’t trust your recitation of his statements.” O’Donnell’s response was slightly equivocal. In saying “that’s been on this program before” he was in effect allowing that his statement might be based solely on information his staff had given him.

I felt that the situation demanded a more specific response ASAP, specifically the next night, either proving, clarifying or retracting his statement. I was delighted on hearing that night that these were the precise words of a letter LaPierre had written to the NRA members during the campaign.

This exchange is a microcosm of our national debate between left and right. It may be something of an over simplification to use gun control as a gauge of one’s political persuasion. There are exceptions. But as it pertains to Fox and MSNBC it’s right on the money.

Would any of the Fox hosts give a qualified first response under these circumstances as O’Donnell did, even to something that was an outright lie? I doubt that someone challenging any of its “facts” would ever be a guest on one of its programs. Lies, however implausible, are trumpeted simply in hopes of being overheard and repeated as facts. For this reason I plead guilty to not watching that station to “hear the other side.”