Monday, June 15, 2015

Sam Brownback is a symptom of political rot

If you don't keep up with state politics in states you don't live in (or if you don't live in the United States), here's the short version of the Sam Brownback saga. The citizens of Kansas elected tea party Republican candidate Sam Brownback into the office of the governor. Once in power, he delivered on his pledge to slash income taxes. He and his policy wonks promised enormous economic growth following the tax cuts, but that turned out not to be the case. In fact, the consequences were monumentally disastrous for the economy. Although he managed to survive a re-election campaign where he still pulled in less than 50% of the vote, he has been hammered with severe criticism, including being mercilessly booed at a Wichita State University vs Kansas University game in which he broke down in tears while remembering same in a GOP meeting a bit later. Today, the state legislature passed a bill raising taxes, and Brownback signed same. However, the problem is these taxes are not income based but sales based.

If you took any kind of economics course in school, you probably remember that income tax, property tax and sales tax affect the classes disproportionately, with lower middle class and poor people hit the hardest by sales tax. Worse, Kansas charges taxes on items that most other states don't, such as food. The cherry on top? Kansas now has one of the highest sales taxes in the country.

Is there a lesson to be learned in all of this? A few, I think. The first is that running a country or state or county or city costs money. Even if you don't want to fund science or art or health care or anything else, it still costs money to have a basic infrastructure. Taxes fund that. You have to have taxes. The people and businesses who bring in the most money should pay the most taxes. We're not punishing them for their "success," we are making them support a system that they have profited off of.

Finally, the most important lesson is that Conservative politics hurt people. Conservatives want to conserve the status quo, and the status quo means oppression. Whether it is chipping away at women's reproductive rights or shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to the working poor, disadvantaged groups will further be disadvantaged under political theories and policies motivated by making sure wealthy (usually) white (usually) men maintain their power over everyone else.

So why do people continue to vote for them? How did Brownback get elected for a second term despite ruining the economy well before the election? There are probably scholarly papers more informed than I am on this, but my two cents is that there is always an appeal to some base instinct: Greed. Bigotry. Misogony. Homophobia/transphobia. Punish the "other" to make yourself feel good.

There's not even any reason to believe these people. Are they anti health care? They'll vote to give themselves the best insurance available, paid for by tax payers. Are they anti-gay? Chances are they are having an affair with a same sex intern, or worse, diddling some kids. Are they anti-tax? You know they are getting handsome donations by the richest people and corporations. Do they bleat about voter fraud? It's because they lie, steal and cheat every day.

Maybe you're on board with that. Maybe you really hate abortions, or immigrants, or homos. I tell you this, though: if you are reading this, you are not a wealthy, powerful mover and shaker. Once everyone else is disenfranchised, you'll be next. You're not part of their team.

That's just my opinion, and you're entitled to it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Carol of the Smells

A couple of years ago or whenever, I posted a bunch of songs leading up to Christmas. Well, this year I threw most of those tracks and more onto a Spotify playlist, which is much more manageable than downloading a bunch of tracks. There's indie, rap, metal, a lot of punk, and even some old ditties. Unfortunately, a few of my favorite tunes like Spooner's "The Saddest Time of the Year" and Tankard's "Fuck Christmas" were not available through the service (truly making this the saddest time of the year). One song which was available which I declined to include in my collection was Anti-Nowhere League's "Snowman," a tune I enjoy but eventually realized had nothing to do with Christmas, holidays or even winter. It's just about cocaine, buying it and using it. The titular "Snowman" is, of course, the dealer. I'm not trying to criticize you if non-cola coke is your favorite way to celebrate the yuletide, but it would be hard for me, a dedicated and ethical collector of holiday music, to include same in a Christmas mix. Feel free to enjoy on this blog post, and happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Dime of the Ancient Mariner

All inside a glass and metal box,
Like a rectangular basket,
Right up above the concrete floor,
Dimensions like a casket.

Days gone past, days gone past,
A man could make a phone call;
Drop his finger in the dial
He could talk to one and all.

Cell phones, cell phones, every where,
Replaced the booths, now strange;
Cell phones, cell phones, every where,
Now where does Superman change?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Today we celebrate VD by watching some porn

The city of Philadelphia was in the news recently for a couple of sexual escapades, or as the clever kids say, sex-capades. Chris Pagano was arrested for allegedly harassing women with urges to engage with him and cheese in a sexual manner. Back in 2006, he had been arrested by undercover officers when he tried to solicit prostitutes to give him a hand job after wrapping his penis in Swiss cheese. In 2009, he upgraded to an entire block of Swiss cheese. As I live in the area, I've had many women comment that they were approached by this guy through online dating sites, and yes, the Swiss cheese was a factor in his pick-up lines. To me, it's a bit curious...not his obsession with cheese, as we all have our quirks, but why he needed to involve women. He should have just gone down to the local deli, gotten his favorite brand of Swiss cheese, and enjoyed a quiet evening at home with his dairy delight.

Of course, sometimes it's the thrill of having other people observe your perversion that makes it satisfying. There's a bit of a thrill to exposing yourself, as another local man did when he crashed his car, got out of the vehicle, dropped his pants, and began masturbating. No cheese was involved, but he did display a handsome pair of cheeks. The Daily Mail had the best description: "The New Jersey resident crashed a car outside Crown Fried Chicken and stripped before 'choking the chicken'."

My advice is to spend Valentines Day with another consenting adult, and if you can't do that, keep your masturbating indoors. To that end, I've discovered that there are a ton of high quality (relatively speaking) porn parodies of famous television shows, ranging from the clever ("Scooby Doo") to the downright bizarre ("Smurfs"). Here are ten porn parody trailers to get the blood pumping to your nether regions.

Saved By The Bell

Golden Girls

The Smurfs (if you need more body paint, feel free to check out The Simpsons porn parody, too)

Scooby Doo

Doctor Who

Who's the Boss?

The Flintstones

Ghostbusters

Star Wars

Batman

If the Batman one tempted your tummy with the taste of your nuts' honey, then there are plenty more Superhero pornos available, should your heart (or groin) desire.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Healthy Display of Anger

This past week, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address, and, as is typical, the opposition party gave its rebuttals. With the Benghazi noise quieted, and the Birther movement marginalized, the Conservatives in the U.S. have continued to pound the drum of anti-Obamacare rhetoric, trying to use people's distrust of government (but not, oddly, big business) as a way to gain more seats in Congress.

In the Republican rebuttal, it was claimed that the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - is failing, and that people are suffering as a result. Economist Paul Krugman notes that, despite a rough roll-out, the program is chugging along and millions of people are signing up through the Health Care exchange. The staple of political rhetoric, the anecdote, was used to try and illustrate the supposed negative results of the ACA. As Salon's Brian Beutler points out, however, Bette in Spokane saw her plan's premium increase $700 per month because she refused to visit the ACA website, falling for the lies and tropes being spread by the Republican party. Had she actually gone on the website, she could have found a much cheaper plan with better coverage. However, I imagine she comes from the world of "Obama is gonna take my guns and make me gay marry," so she suffers as a result of her delusions.

I have my own anecdote. As an unemployed American getting very few dollars in unemployment, I could not afford COBRA coverage. My experience using the Obamacare website was not that great, taking longer than it should have and requiring me to come back at another time to finish enrollment. However, last month, I received my health insurance card in the mail. Thanks to Obamacare, I now have health insurance again. A friend on Facebook wrote this on January 3: "I've never been so relieved to get a bill. After being without health Insurance since the end of June and having been denied coverage by 3 insurers because of my wrist I finally have health insurance again. Thank you Obamacare!"

Personally, I would have preferred to see a single payer option as part of the Affordable Care Act. I know the act isn't perfect, and both people on the right and the left can offer criticisms. Nevertheless, walk away from here knowing that real people now have real coverage, and as that was the primary goal of the Affordable Care Act, it is a resounding success.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Year End Reflections, Part 2: Consumerism, Wealth, and Being

Part of my journey in the unfun land of unemployment has been to sell off some possessions I thought I needed but really didn't. In fact, 2013 has marked an incredible declutterization (call me, Oxford Dictionary) of my life. With so little funds to operate with, I've had to evaluate what I spend my money on, and when. It turns out, I really need precious few things. While there are many objects in the world I enjoy, there's simply no point in owning them; I have no where to put them, and what value are they to me in a box somewhere out of sight? In addition, I've started to give serious consideration to the way corporations treat their employees. While I have long had a personal avoidance of such horrible places as McDonald's and Wal-Mart, if I am being honest, there are very few places that are good to their employees, particularly major businesses. News began to surface about how online retailers are some of the cruelest, including the number one online retailer, Amazon. Negative stories about Amazon's poor work conditions have been around for a couple of years, at least, but have recently gained wide attention thanks to a BBC expose:
Prof Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, said the working conditions at the warehouse are "all the bad stuff at once". He said: "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness." "There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and wellbeing - it's got to be balanced."
While there is good news on the horizon for Amazon employees, such as attempts at unionization actually getting to the point of a vote, and protests mounting in opposition to working conditions, I am not overly optimistic. Things may get better, but they won't be good. My money is paying for possessions I don't really need a the expense of the health and safety of my fellow human beings, all to make a select few people even richer. We know CEOs and their lot make far more than employees, sometimes 1,000 times greater, other times a mere 350 times greater. We also know most of the wealthy despise us lower life forms. A Business Insider article posits that "a rash of incidents [demonstrate] tech execs appear to have interpreted their personal economic success as proof of their permanent superior status to the rest of us." Whether in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street or anywhere in between, rich people do not appreciate us, they only want our money. This is the time of year when we are often told to reflect on the meaning of the season. According to the CIA World Factbook, 78.5% of Americans are some form of Jesus believer. I drowned in the bible as a youth, and I don't think a celebration of Jesus' mission or theology involves such blatant and crass consumerism as we practice this time of year, from Black Friday through the after Christmas sales (and all year long, really). We pour our hard earned money into the waiting pockets of our corporate overlords, and for what? Electronics made by teenagers in China? Clothing made by women in sweatshops? Jewelry from blood diamond mines? I'm not arguing that we should all give up and move to Walden Pond, but I am saying we should take the time to think about why we're pumping our dollars into Amazon and other large businesses when those same businesses do not care about the people we love. That Business Insider article lists examples of the wealthy complaining that they have to rub elbows with the poor and homeless, and describe how they create clubs to maintain exclusive socialization circles. A few of them even want to leave the country for a libertarian island paradise, which is nothing new; Paypal CEO Peter Thiel wants an island "for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: No welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons." American Conservatives have been threatening to "Go Galt" for years, but ultimately have remained in the U.S., possibly because they have a sweetheart deal in this country. Maybe if they leave, the average American will have more influence over their elected representatives. As it stands now, as David Simon pointed out, "capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process." Wishful thinking of safe and happy Amazon employees and truly representative government aside, I can only act as one individual. I don't want to fill my life with meaningless trinkets, making the 1% wealthier while the bottom 47% suffer. I am also realistic, and thus realize I will be required to give money to large corporations. So long as I wear clothing, use Internet, turn on electricity, watch movies, etc., I am contributing to wealth disparity. However, I can minimize how much I spend and give careful consideration to what I spend it on. We live in a world where everything comes with a price, from the water running through our tap to life saving medicine (a company may have found a successful treatment for brain cancer, and upon the announcement, "shares soared as much as 32 percent in early trading"). Pope Francis said some nice words about how Jesus would not approve of our current money over people society, arguing that capitalism in its current state is un-Christian. Conservatives and capitalists were quick to try and smooth over the Pope's ripple-creating words. Of course, the Catholic Church itself is one of the oldest and wealthiest corporations, so it's not too hard to dismiss the Pontiff's words. Nevertheless, all of us should contemplate the society we have inherited, and we should wonder whether it is a place we want to continue to live in. I cannot transform the entire world through my actions, but I can affect my private world, and if more people do the same, maybe we can shape the world in a positive way.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Year End Reflections, Part 1: A Society Based on Law

As of today, I've been unemployed for three months, and not by choice. It has been a difficult stretch. Although I partly enjoy not having to deal with a profession I increasingly hate and instead pay attention to other endeavors, like literally anything else, I would still rather be working and earning a paycheck. As my already laughable savings dwindled into pocket change and every interview is a battle against hundreds of other applicants, I have had ample opportunity to reflect on my life and life in general. I haven't done everything right in my life, but I think I have done enough so that I would be in a better position than I am now. Aware of how this sounds, I think I am a victim of bad circumstances, like most people over the past five years. The horrible economy devastated the financial landscape, which was the reason I was laid off the first time back in 2011. While we have seen a recovery, Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, has indicated that 95% of that money is going into the bank accounts of the richest 1%, a story not at all shocking but still disheartening nevertheless. For my profession, law firms have been hit as hard as any other profession, in part because people cannot afford to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for legal assistance. Attorneys get paid for their knowledge and skill, which is a difficult thing to quantify financially, particularly because the range of attorney's fees can vary wildly, depending on region, years of experience, firm size, the color of the sky, and whether you enjoy crunchy or smooth peanut butter. Slate recently published an article detailing how law schools are flooding the market with hungry mouths:
A crisis is looming in legal education. Last month, a notable group of legal educators who call themselves the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues released a letter declaring that law schools have spewed forth more graduates than the legal market can absorb, resulting in rising unemployment among young lawyers, who cannot pay off colossal student loans. As the New York Times recently reported, applications are plummeting, and a movement is on to reduce law school educations from three to two years—advocated in the New York Times by law professor Samuel Estreicher and law dean Daniel Rodriguez. The CCC letter similarly argues that legal education should be less expensive and less uniform, which sounds fine in the abstract. But in the details, the proposed fixes will make the crisis worse than ever.
That's just the opening salvo, but the entire piece is worth a gander. These young, inexperienced graduates are desperate for jobs. While you would think someone with my experience and resume would stand head and shoulders above the new blood, law firms are so cheap that they are hiring the lowest priced attorneys. I was recently offered a job traveling around 11 counties making municipal court appearances and settling or arguing those cases, in exchange for $15 per hour. Hardly the six figure dreams many law school graduates take with them upon receiving their diploma. I have applying for the same jobs hundreds of other people have as well. Some of the automated messages I have received reflect the bombardment of resumes these places are receiving (which I'm sure is true in many industries):
We are currently experiencing overwhelming responses [...] so please make sure to read and follow the application instructions carefully to ensure your resume is considered for this opportunity.
This email serves as confirmation that we have received your application. Due to the volume of responses to the advertisement for the position, we are unable to respond personally to each applicant. After we have completed our review of the applications submitted, we will contact those candidates who have been selected for interviews.
Back in August, I wrote about my disdain of my job and the problems I saw in the profession, noting that the American Bar Association warned students not to go to law school three years ago due to rising tuition and lack of job opportunities. Just for example, the ivy league school in my local city, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, operates a prestigious law school. According to their website, for the upcoming 2014-2015 term, law school tuition will be $51,630 (plus fees and other costs). For the 2004-2005 year, tuition was $31,070. That is a $20,000 bump over ten years, per year. As Salon pointed out, law schools have no incentive to turn away students because they are raking in a small fortune. In hindsight, going to law school was probably a bad idea, and if I had an opportunity to do it again, I probably would have changed directions as an undergraduate. Salon also published an article decrying college in general (as opposed to law school):
Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.
It's a fascinating look at higher education. In this fantasy do-over, not only do I pick a different degree (something in engineering or computer science), but I avoid graduate school altogether. My undergraduate loans were paid off years ago, and on my new magical career path I'd be enjoying a debt free, job secure life.