Rabu, 16 Juli 2008

Asking For Proof in the Economic Pudding

There are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Ask an economist for proof of one of their pet theories and you'll find quickly that the age old axiom that we all learned in school and work place training seminars is dead wrong. You can ask a stupid question if you're talking to an economist and that question can, in fact, make you stupid.

It's a well accepted fact that scientists are not the greatest communicators around. They generally are not strong in the customer service or public relations fields. Scientists spend their time preaching to the well educated, well informed, scientific choir. When the time comes that a scientific discovery leads to a consumer product, it is not scientists that explain the benefits and dangers of the new product, a marketing company will handle that. Because of the disconnect between the science behind a product and the actual implementation of that science, there are a slew of products which are around 1.25% scientific fact and 98.75% marketing hype (take a look at your average diet pill). Consumers don't know the difference because scientists won't talk to us.

Economists also fancy themselves as scientists. They like to say that they have laws and they also don't feel the need to deign to speak to the general public about their work. They talk to each other, develop their theories, push for the implementation of those theories and generally think that Liberal Arts majors and auto mechanics should mind their own business. Maybe it's time that we lowly non-economists demand a few answers.

It's tremendously irksome to hear an economist speak about an economic law. Ask the economist to demonstrate the law and he will fall quickly to an explanation of the theories which, in his opinion, make the law true. Supply and Demand can only be verified by reading those theorists who endorse the idea. The theory cannot be measured, cannot be duplicated under scientific standards, cannot be certain to have the same outcome at all times, even given the same circumstances. It is therefore not a law. It's just a widely accepted theory.

I've got no problem with widely accepted theories. What I do find disturbing and even dangerous is the application of widely accepted theories into public policy without regard to whom is being hurt and without question as to whether or not the theory is working.

Take free trade for instance. It's an economic policy which is not demanded by the average working person, but which both major political parties endorse to some extent and which the Libertarian Party makes a cornerstone of it's platform. The theories all indicate that some job loss, even great displacement of a given society's workers, is to be expected. In fact, the displacement is a good thing, since it allows once unskilled laborers to study and become highly skilled technitions, or accountants or something. Unfortunately, the American people aren't privy to this part of the working economic theory and thusly aren't excited to hear that the reason that their job was offshore is due to India's comparative advantage in call center operations. The displaced worker may not feel that they are a worthy subject for the grand experiment of free trade.

Of course, no theory says that America has to be the winner in the free trade free-for-all rush to the top of the comparative/absolute advantage heap. No, economists don't often talk about nations at all. Their theories do not aim to find ways of make America the most economically powerful nation, or the richest, or the most comfortable; their theories work to ensure a true free market. The problem with a truly free market is that the displaced workers can just as easily be upper middle class Americans and the new skills that they may be acquiring just may be menial labor. Ask an economist why the displaced workers are always poor and always must be and I'll bet you money that they cannot give even a small piece of evidence to show a reason why that is so.

Yet our politicians, being taught economics in universities which are almost universally in support of free trade, themselves support free trade. They support an economic theory that has no evidence of actually being affective, but which may cause damage to the American economy, a fact which any honest free trade supporting economist would have to admit doesn't matter to them. Yet, the average person is not supposed to question these theories and certainly not the logic of the theorocrats that endorse them. If you fail to remain quietly on the sidelines of history and make the mistake of questioning the theory behind free trade, then you will be the recipient of a litany of the names of long dead authors who will all prove you wrong. You'll be called an idiot (trust me, I've had these discussions), they will threaten your mother's virtue before they admit that they can provide no evidence that they are correct.

Does a lack of evidence prove that the economists are wrong? Not at all. In fact, my desire for evidence is proof that I don't know enough about economics to ask more informed questions than, "can you prove that?" I do think, though, that is a damn fine place to start. Maybe more economists should start their path of theoretical enlightenment by questioning the fundamental truth of what they are being taught. Maybe economists should consider being the first scientists to learn customer service. If that seems like a bit of a demotion, just call it retraining for new economic conditions.

By Donald R. Carroll III

What Price Loyalty?

With the recent shakeups in the presidential cabinet, it has frequently been observed that the quality most treasured in the present administration is that of loyalty.

Is that such an admirable quality?

We prize the loyalty of our friends who protect our good name when we are not present. We respect the loyalty of committed couples who stay true to each other no matter the outside temptations. We recognize the loyalty of employees who stand by their ethics and keep competitors and enemies at bay. We treasure the loyalty of a soldier to his commander, if necessary to the death. We revere the loyalty of believers in their god and their unswerving commitment to their tenets of faith. We equate disloyalty with treason, dishonor, betrayal. We use names like Quisling, Benedict Arnold, Burgess and Hiss as epithets to express our loathing and disgust.

But loyalty has a darker side. In crime families, loyalty means embracing death or imprisonment rather than exposing crime, violence, and murder. In prison, the most despised inmate is the "snitch" who fails to stay silent about his knowledge of criminal acts, plots, and planned violence. Within adolescent groups and street gangs, the rule of silence and total loyalty is an absolute requirement for continued membership.

The old courts of kings and emperors were rife with sycophants: whatever the leader wanted to hear, they offered. Disagreements and alternative plans for the direction of governance were considered intrigue - dangerous differences of opinion to be rooted out and permanently excised from the body politic.

Where does the White House fit in? For all the positive connotations that loyalty may engender, we must look to the extent it is used and continually monitor it for abuse. No one would suggest that a President surround himself with staff who constantly criticize his ideas or regularly publicly disagree with his programs and proposals. However, the negative aspect of over-loyalty - zealousness - must be confronted if the goal is to weave plans for the common good through compromise in the face of diverse opinion.

The United States was born out of public political and ideological debate. While the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has fundamental beliefs in common, they did not hesitate to publicly disagree and argue in an effort to reach the most workable goals. For more than two centuries, American political discourse has embraced differences more often than celebrating similarities. Commonly, the friction and arguments of elections become translated into legislation and leadership that seeks to bridge the gaps and bring all into the common fold.

What seems to have changed is the willingness to let disparate views and opinions coexist. We have moved from a mentality that celebrates diversity and multiplicity to a narrow conception of what is right, absolutely right. Other opinions are not valued for the richness their views add to the national fabric but are considered wrong, without value, discounted, dangerously unpatriotic. The second term White House has purified its dogma, filtering our nuances and opposing ideas until everything is distilled into the single voice of one man. The moat around the faithful has been filled, the crocs loosed, and the land lies fallow beneath the keen eye of the true believers.

Arrogance and disdain, disguised as "political capital," has the potential to morph into a level of power and intolerance that can only encourage eventual, inevitable, corruption.

By Virginia Bola

Recycling The Mentally Ill

30 years ago, California, later followed by other states, decided to virtually close down the State Mental Hospitals.

There had been multiple exposures of abuse throughout the Nation's systems such as over-medicated individuals kept on back wards for years without clinical justification. However, the primary force leading to the widespread closures was economic. Providing free room, board, medication and psychiatric care to the chronic and seriously impaired mental health population was expensive and failed to result in any positive financial or political benefits.

Theoretically, these marginally functional individuals would now be cared for by a network of community service agencies that would spring up on a local basis. Unfortunately, such a network never existed and failed to develop for the same economic challenges the State Institutions had faced. Counties continued to provide outpatient services, with occasional brief local hospitalizations for those who became unstable, and nonprofit organizations were founded, and often financially foundered, to provide services.

With few resources and the cognitive and emotional inability to connect with the few programs available, the mentally ill started to drift into the streets where they often self-medicated with illegal drugs. Within 10 years, police and social service agencies estimated that possibly one third of the growing homeless population had mental disabilities.

An increase in street crime, the resentment of business owners who lost customers who would not cross the crowds of homeless on the sidewalks, and the disgust of working citizens who resented the litter and potential dangers of large numbers of people living on the streets, led to a political decision to crackdown on the homeless. Sweeps of targeted areas moved the homeless away - to other areas where the resentment was just as great. Petty street crimes to enable the penniless to live, and drug use, provided the excuse for more draconian measures. The homeless started moving again, this time into the prisons.

It is now estimated that the penal system is the largest provider of mental health services in the nation. Apart from those Institutions designed for those who have been legally determined to be "criminally insane," the system houses mentally ill individuals who may make up a third or more of the total prison population.

Building more prisons and hiring more guards is politically positive: voters want to keep their communities clean and safe and willingly pay for the fight against crime. While the murderers and rapists are held up as examples of those who need to be contained at all costs, the fact remains that a majority of the enormous and growing prison population are serving their time for drug-related activities or victimless crimes.

The mentally ill have finally been fully recycled. They are still invisible but instead of vegetating in State Mental Wards, they are caught within a system which robs them of their dignity, provides less than optimal treatment, and costs far more to the taxpayers than would well-organized and efficiently run hospitals and clinics.

This is progress?

By Virginia Bola

The Ugly American Returns!

Originally published in 1958, "The Ugly American" (Lederer & Burdick) documented American blunders abroad and our failure to identify that what we termed communism in undeveloped countries was merely the screams of hunger and hopelessness becoming manifest. 15 years later, we extricated ourselves from Vietnam and licked our wounds for 30 years, finally coming to some sort of accommodation with free fire zones, Agent Orange, and My Lai. Never again, we swore. We would protect our nation's security but only move into war zones when gross injustice or humanitarian concerns demanded a response -- Somalia, Bosnia, the first Gulf War.

We felt relief: a line in the sand had been drawn that we would not cross. The new American protocol called for self-protection but also restraint, a hint of nobility, and the belief that, above all, we were the primary bastion of freedom, diversity, and the rule of law.

September 11 shook that hard-fought-for ideal. No longer must we simply protect our borders but now we had to look around us wherever we were - at the stranger waiting for a train, the sweating, swarthy fellow traveler at the airport, the foreigners in the upstairs apartment.

We felt betrayed. The quid pro quo of "You leave us alone and we'll leave you alone" went awry. Those who hate us were intruding into our private space. We felt violated. In a predictable reaction, we struck out, seeking the enemy in the hills and caves of Afghanistan where our agony had been meticulously planned with premeditation and cold indifference to our pain.

For two years, we slowly revised our goals, our ideals, our national commitments. Our outraged sense of self, revulsion, and anger gradually overcame our democratic belief in the rights of all to national self-determination. To fight the enemy, we became him. We adopted his mindset of the ends justifies the means. Angry and frustrated at his ability to strike at our very heart and make our world fearful and dangerous, we morphed into him, using offense as a means of defense against the terrifying vulnerability we feared to face.

In 2003, the decision was made to openly attack a sovereign nation state which, although famous for verbal saber rattling, posed no direct threat to us nor had it committed an illegal invasion or recent attack on anyone else since the last Gulf War.

With guns blazing, we marched into the OK Corral. Despite the absolute predictability of enemy combatants fading into the general population rather than standing their ground and being annihilated, we were "surprised" at the ease of entering Baghdad. We had forgotten the lessons of our own Revolutionary War when it became clear that standing face-to-face with well-supplied redcoat squares was a recipe for total destruction.

"Mission Accomplished" trumpeted the President, the Administration, the temporarily impotent and sleeping media. The worst was over. There were now simply "mopping up" operations left in a country which should be overwhelmingly grateful for what we had achieved. Instead, of course, more U.S. troops would die after our mission was "accomplished" than in the hot war itself.

Why the surprise? Once again, as in the days of Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, the bombing of Cambodia, once again the face of the Ugly American was exposed to the world.

Why are we hated? We are the superpower, the bully in the school yard.

Difficult as it is to forge an uneasy truce with us when we act with restraint and decorum, it becomes impossible when we throw our weight around and beat our collective chest with pride, hubris, and the will to move alone without trying to rally allies or international support. The Ugly American is loose in the streets of the Middle East, a target for all, a friend of none: arrogant, defiant, outcast, and alone.

Never again, we said. Oops - the isolation and the hate is back. We can now have the satisfaction of knowing we generated it all by ourselves. Who needs an enemy when we have us?

By Virginia Bola

Revitalizing The Power of the Baby Boomers

As baby boomers, we have been spoiled all of our lives. When we were teenagers, the world took note because there were so many of us. Our music, our beliefs, our fashions, our styles dominated the culture of the age. When we took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam and to support the Civil Rights Movement, we found a ready audience. Television came into its own and we splattered ourselves and our causes across the living rooms of America.

For some of us, that was the best of times. We were young, idealistic, and naïve. We truly believed that we were making a difference. We were creating a future of hope, justice, fairness, and peace.

As we move towards retirement age, we look around us with diminished hope, broken promises, reddened eyes, and cynicism. Where is the new world order we so desperately sought? In the violence-filled streets of Baghdad? In the ruins of the World Trade Center? In the hills of Afghanistan? In the political condemnation of gay rights, resistance to a woman's right to control her own body, the death of Affirmative Action?

We look back in longing to the days before political assassinations turned the world upside down. Life was, indeed, so much simpler then. Involvement in revolution is for the young and naïve who, no matter the century, no matter the nation, no matter the cause, see only the possibilities and none of the difficulties that maintenance of profound social change demands.

Can we keep our ideals alive in the muck and mire of reality?

If our ideals are still there, perhaps hidden beneath the layers that decades of responsibility, work, fatigue, and the need to take care of personal matters have deposited, we can resurrect them. We can revitalize their tenets with the bolder judgment and broader understanding wrought by experience and maturity. We can still return to the fight we abdicated with the demise of the Great Society.

1. Political action.

We now know that marching in the streets has less of a lasting effect than the power of the voting booth and the closed door deals of professional politicians. Although many have fallen along the way, including some of the best and brightest, the boomers still have tremendous numbers and therefore significant potential political power. As our involvement in work and careers starts to taper off, we can use our newly found time to participate in the political process: listening, organizing, contributing, and supporting those who represent that new society we still so desperately seek. For us, the infringement of civil liberties generated by the Patriot Act and the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay demand that questions be asked, motives revealed, and expected outcomes honestly assessed. We can still throw off the conservative shackles of age we have unwittingly donned and re-enter the fray: as candidates, as volunteers, as individuals who demand accountability and justice from those in power.

2. Community action.

Supporting and fighting for civil rights no longer requires travel to the Deep South nor marching through the streets. The struggle now permeates all levels of our society: the workplace, the schools, the churches, the home. Community involvement may range from active support, to speaking out, to neighborhood organizing, all in the knowledge that our better world starts right outside our front door. Racial profiling, bias against those of Middle Eastern descent, and widely administered wiretaps confront us in our own corner of the world. An African-American child in a schoolroom without enough books, without internet access, without afterschool programs, without personal safety and a quiet academic atmosphere, is as cheated of his natural human heritage as his forefather in the back of the bus. A gay couple denied the social and financial benefits of married straights are as much the victims of prejudice as their forbears in their proverbial closets. A poor urban neighborhood without basic resources: libraries, museums, music, culture, is as disadvantaged in the modern age as in the shameful shanty towns of old. We may feel a lack of power to sufficiently effect a national change of direction but in our local communities the power is there for the taking if we choose to assert our energies and our concerns.

3. Personal witness.

We need to practice constant vigilance to bear witness to our beliefs. We must repeatedly re-assess ourselves to ensure that we have not inadvertently bought into the bias and prejudice that colors so much human thought. We cannot stand silent while others talk or joke about ethnicity, or religion, or sexual preferences. The need to get ahead does not require the sacrifice of all that we hold dear -- the winner of the rat race is, after all, a rat. We must consider our families and ensure that our children are fully exposed to the potential and worth of every individual, no matter how different from us they may appear. Our expectations and demands of coworkers and subordinates needs to be fair and consistent, regardless or race, gender, or cultural differences. We can stand up and speak out, letting all know that nothing less than equal opportunity and fair evaluation will be tolerated in our personal sphere. We will continue to look for quality of character, knowing that little else matters.

As each generation ages, the qualities it represented in youth tend to dissipate. With the addition of multiple personal and occupational responsibilities and the acquisition of assets and at least a degree of wealth, the earthquake of social revolution is no longer a promise but a threat. We jealously guard what we have worked so hard to obtain. We become a force for conservancy rather than a force for change.

The baby boom generation has the potential to shatter that familiar pattern. Born on the cusp of the most horrifying war the world has ever seen, we continue to represent an opportunity for the world to evolve, for mankind to rise above the baseness of his bestial nature and to internalize the human capacity for true civilization. As we enter the autumn of our lives, we are presented with the opportunity to finally, and lastingly, make a difference. It is up to us to stand together now, as many years ago we stood in the streets of Chicago, Washington, and Birmingham, for the rights and liberties of all.

By Virginia Bola

The Looting of American Taxpayers Social Security Disability by Fraudulent Employers Pt. 1

For more than a decade, you the American taxpayer have been burdened with my disability assistance. Why? Because my high-profile employer, a member of the bar and a politically connected entity in this area along with the assistance of his insurance carrier, insurance investigator and other members of the bar as well as a president-elect of a national civil rights organization at the local level assisted my former employer to get away with denying multiply sustained on-the-job injury and infirmities.

When one has never experienced this type of almost instant change in one's life and comes up close and personal to the negative illegal machinations of officialdom one may not be able to digest the level to which one's honorably titled employer official will stoop to get away with stepping up to the plate to assume his responsibility for his employee, who before accepting the hard earned position which was offered to her after weeks and weeks of waiting while other applicants were interviewed for the open position and was finally offered to her, was a healthy normal breathing, sturdy legged, strong back individual.

No high blood pressure, no acute respiratory dysfunction due to indoor air pollution and no injury to leg or back.

Inexperience can sometimes demand a heavy paying price for not seeing what can happen to one's right's in these circumstances. It is a very hard pill to swallow or believe.

Especially when one is dealing from a "Do No Harm" mentality.

One's integrity, veracity and value is all but eliminated by lies and omission.

One learns that those with honorable titles will not necessarily employ honorable methods when deciding to deny an employee's work related claims.

Insurance company investigator's do not show up until three months after the injury/infirmities first began. Wearing nice clothes, being well coiffed and wearing high heels, she acted like a two legged pitbull, attacking your claims, calling you a liar and accusing you of fraud. A well dressed, articulate bully, who just chewed up and spit out your rights.

So many improprieties. So much illegal machination. Waiting fifteen months to offer the surgery required for the damaged knee. Waiting too long. During the interim from the time of the injury to the surgery, the employee fell constantly, reinjuring her legs and back over and over and over again. The knees and back damaged and poorly functional.

Needing 9-1-1-assistance numerous times. Requiring emergency hospitalization for acute respiratory dysfunction, kept on oxygen for five and half days until the oxygen level of the blood had reached a safe level.

Years of physical theraphy, counciling due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Numerous surgeries. Inundated with medications that blew up the body, like prednisone and theophylline. Being taken for more than five years. Inhalers, and prescribed medications to help keep one breathing. The price charged for inhalers is off-the-chart.

None of this was in effect before accepting the position of legal accounting at this law firm.

The denigrating treatment from some intake worker's while being processed for consideration of state assistance. Racism open and in your face. Obstruction of one's rights, over and over and over again.

The Equal Rights Commission losing your file for two years, then advising you that time had expired on one's claim, even though they admitted losing one's file for two years. A favor for my former employer, member of the bar.

No attorney willing to take the case, because of personal and professional association with one's former employer.

The A.C.L.U. claiming they did not have the funds to take on another case. Yet a few days later, there was an announcement on the news that they had received a 25 million dollar grant.

When one is dealing with any entity who appears to be able to manipulate other entities into doing his dirty work for him, those with no power, no connections are thrown to the wolves.

Their lives soundly sundered. Meeting too many people in the system who continuously violate the rights of many and the law and no one seems to have the power to put a stop to it. It would appear that they are above the law.

My employer and his insurance company have stolen, looted more than half a million american taxpayer dollars from all of you. From city, state and federal sources.

There appears to be no way to ferret out employer's and make them responsible for their irresponsibilities and fraud.

Otherwise, why is my former employer and his insurance company still benefiting from their denial? Each time a deposit from ssd is made to me or Medicare and Medicaid provide prescriptions and medical care my employer and his insurance company have in the furtherence of federal law violation defrauded funded programs of benefits and taxpayer monies.

So I put it to the potential reader's of this article. Are there any answers? Why aren't politician's looking into these frauds? Each state stands to lose thousands upon thousands of Medicaid dollars, funded by federal source. The Medicare programs are diminished by many more thousands and thousands of dollars, weakening the solvency of said coverage. Then we come to the Social Security Disability funding. There is so much fraud it is mind boggling and it appears to be so very easy to get away with.

And our most illustriously perceived title holders are the perpetrator's.

Any answers?

By Julia-estelle (ginger) Ferrer, II

Dont Trade Rights for Security

"Those who sacrifice essential liberty for temporary safety are not deserving of either liberty or safety." -- Ben Franklin, 1776

In the wake of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks around the world, there is a real temptation to allow the government to take away some of our most precious rights in exchange for greater security. We must resist this temptation. In order to have a free society, there are certain prices that have to be paid. One of those is the possibility that someone will take advantage of our freedom and use it as an opportunity to endanger us. So what if they do? Giving up any part of our freedom is not the answer. In fact, that's exactly what the terrorists want. When we do that, they win.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act is a step in the wrong direction and could represent a slippery slope toward further erosion of our rights. Write your Representative and Senators and ask them to repeal the U.S.A. Patriot Act and avoid passing similar legislation in the future. If we don't do something soon, the U.S. could soon have policies similar to many communist, fascist, and Islamic fundamentalist countries, all under the guise of greater security!

People have accused me of being "obsessive and overzealous" on this issue but that's okay with me. Ask some of the senior citizens in Cuba who have been under Castro's repressive regime for 45 years how they feel now. I bet many of them wish they would have been a little more "obsessive and overzealous" about their freedom in 1959, instead of standing by passively when the communists took over. Look what it's gotten them!

If some of those currently under Islamic rule in the Arab world were free to say what they thought about their situations now, I bet many of them would tell you they wish they would have been a little more "obsessive and overzealous" about protecting their freedom instead of sitting by passively and letting the Islamic fundamentalists take over.

What about North Korea? Could a few more "obsessive and overzealous" defenders of freedom have prevented that country becoming the communist threat to the world that it is today?

What about Nazi Germany? Could Hitler's rise to power have been nipped in the bud if his opponents had been a little more "obsessive and overzealous" instead of being so timid? Could we have used a few more "obsessive and overzealous" defenders of civil liberties in Germany when six million Jews were losing their lives?

What if George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers would have just given in to England's demands instead of being so "obsessive and overzealous" about their freedom? And Patrick Henry? Surely he was an "obsessive and overzealous" person if there ever was one. Why he was even "obsessive and overzealous" enough to say "give me liberty or give me death" and really mean it!

There are plenty of well-meaning but misguided and fearful individuals out there who are lobbying Congress to limit our First and Second Amendment, habeas corpus, and other rights even further. We must let our voices be heard or the voices of those people will be the only ones they hear. It only takes a few minutes to make a difference. Of course, it doesn't take any time at all to sit back and let your rights completely erode. The choice is yours.

"I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." -- Barry Goldwater, 1964

By Terry Mitchell