Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Guest Speaker

This week, Marketplace, a busness series on National Public Radio, is exploring this same topic. They are getting some really good essays from some really interesting sources. Check it out: here

There is a link to the previous essay on that page. If the rest of the week is as good as these two, I might have to work harder to keep up. I am going to call this research and continue my post when it's over. Evelyn Dortch makes one of the points I was going to make about the distance between those bottom rungs of the ladder and the next ones above them, and also how easy it is to slip downward. I'll share my thoughts on how this is achieved soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Term paper: Who benefits from keeping the poor in poverty and how do they do it? part 3, The Tax Man

This is part three of an essay on who has a vested interest in keeping the poor people in this country right where they are. In parts one and two, I explored the major players in electing the current regime, and the beneficiaries of the money that poor people spend every week. They were much the same. Surprise. Two players that I left out of the picture were the Church (because I pick on them often enough) and the Government itself. That’s right, the Government benefits from it’s own entitlement programs! Here’s how it works: First, you have numerous government employees paid to administer these programs. Then you have managers and district managers and bureaucrats paid to administer the administrators. The first layer, if you have ever met these individuals, is about 50% “workfare”, and 50% people actually getting things done. The next layers are often overpaid buffoons that couldn’t make it in the corporate world, and to whom somebody owed a favor. If I am wrong about your particular bureau in your particular state, I don’t need your e-mail. I have seen it first hand in Massachusetts, and not from the point of view of a recipient. This is not, by the way, the judgment of a single example either. I used to repair the computers and install networks and software for these bureaus.

State Government is financed in part by sales tax (except in New Hampshire). Sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning the poor pay more, and the wealthy pay less, taken as a percentage of their total spending. How this works is, if I can’t afford to buy the large economy size of a product, and buy the smallest size instead, I pay a higher price for that item, and I am taxed accordingly. Next week, I have to buy it again, whereas if I had bought the larger size it would last me two weeks. Now, I pay sales tax again on that higher priced item. If the regular size costs $1, and sales tax is 7%, I have now paid $0.14 to the government, whereas the person buying twice as much at a time for $1.75 has only paid $.01225. This adds up over time and population. (The manufacturer is happy too.) So the government is making more in sales tax per dollar spent on the lowest-paid bracket of society. When you think about it, the left hand is taking away a portion of what the right hand is paying out. In contrast, a flat income tax, without loopholes and without graduated percentages, would be a progressive tax wherein the more you make, the more you pay in taxes.

Another way the government taxes poor people is the State Lottery. Who buys more lottery tickets, a poor person looking for a break, or someone fairly well off who is likely better educated and has a better understanding of the laws of probability?

The third way the government gets its money back is in property tax. Subsidized rent is paid to landlords who own “distressed” properties (this is “section 8” housing, not publicly owned “projects”). It is likely that some of these units would be vacant otherwise. Who, after all, wants to live in some of these neighborhoods if they have a choice? The rental income is partially returned to the state as property tax. My point here is, the poor don’t keep it, the landlord gets paid, and the government gets some of it back in both property and corporate income tax. In the corporate world, this would be called a kickback scheme.

If you want to see what I think the church’s angle is on this, besides the selling of false hope to the needy for collection money, check out one from the vault, here. Scroll down to May 17, “One for You and Two for Me”.

Next post I’ll talk about some of they ways they do it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Term paper: Who benefits from keeping the poor in poverty and how do they do it? part 2, The Money

This is a roundabout essay on who has a vested interest in keeping the poor people in this country right where they are. Last post, I looked at the major players in getting the current bunch of self-serving sleazeballs elected. In this post, I would like to share my thoughts on money. I have a Bachelor of Science (yeah, BS) degree in Accounting, and even though Macroeconomics was taught by a woman who spoke in a monotone, making a boring subject almost intolerable, I paid attention. I just bring this up so the reader will know that I didn’t just cook this up on my own.

You often hear money referred to in the same terms that you hear used for water or other liquids; cash flow, financial drain, Federal Reserve (reservoir), bleeding money, (loan portfolio) runoff, pooling resources, inflows, outflows. This is because money really does emulate flow mechanics. Now, one thing to be aware of: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TRICKLE-DOWN! Money, and water, all trickle UP! I don’t mean uphill, that’s the thing used to confuse. I mean, that money always flows FROM small TO large concentrations, like water that starts in rivulets and runoff, and flows into brooks, that combine into streams, that combine into rivers, that flow into lakes or into the ocean. There are only two ways that water moves from greater to lesser concentration: evaporation and condensation, and pumping and piping (distribution). Evaporation is analogous to a progressive tax; the small streams experience less evaporation and the large lakes and oceans experience more due to larger surface area. Now, picture corporations as lakes and governments as oceans. Money flows to these accumulation points, and then is taxed, and/or distributed. Condensation is a more generalized distribution, and pumping and piping is a more targeted one. For the purposes of this discussion, equate condensation with Government programs and private charities, and pumping and piping with payrolls, government contracts, and stock dividends.

If you look at the bottom rungs of society, you see pensioners, Social Security recipients without other means, Welfare recipients, the working poor, and illegal immigrant workers. All of these folks are living from check to check. What this means is, that no matter how much the so-called Conservatives bitch about how much money is going into social programs, THE POOR PEOPLE AREN’T KEEPING ANY OF IT! That’s right, THEY SPEND ALL OF IT! So who gets it? The banks, who charge these folks a higher interest rate than I can get because they are a “bad risk”. The credit card companies because the poor carry credit card debt and pay the minimum amount on their cards and barely cover the interest (16-22%). The pharmaceutical companies who don’t care how they are paid and charge excessively to keep the Medicare “percentage” payments profitable. Wal-Mart. Grocery stores. The check cashing services. The rent-to-own scams. The pawn shops. The gas station. The State Government (sales tax, gas tax, vehicle registration, the lottery), Mother Church. Anheuser Busch. Home Depot. The auto parts store. If you haven’t read part 1, go take a look at the list of Republican Donors, and see how they fit into this picture.

Aside to those who know exactly what I am talking about and wish that they could shut me up: John Maynard Keynes is not dead, merely buried.

Next post will be about progressive versus regressive taxes.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Term Paper: Who benefits from keeping the poor in poverty and how do they do it? part 1.

In order for me to explore this topic, I am going to have to approach it from an oblique angle and slog my way into the center. I hope that you, the reader will take this journey with me and I hope that you will feel that it was worth it at journey’s end. I strongly believe that these are the things that form the reality that is being covered up by “Who won the game?” and “Who got voted off the island?” and all the rest of the more interesting brain candy that we are steadily offered.

Background for this discussion can be found in:
The Poor Pay More: Consumer Practices of Low-Income Families. by David Caplovitz
Why the Poor Pay More : How to Stop Predatory Lending by Gregory D. Squires
And a nice editorial by Emory Curtis here.
(and many other places)

In part one, I am going to attempt to identify some of the major players and show some of what they get out of it. These are the people and corporations that bought and paid for the US Government as we see it today.

Excerpt from: mousemusings Detailed description available at:

"Top 25 Republican Party donors with consumer brands
1 Altria (formerly Philip Morris) $6.5m
2 AT&T $5.36m
3 Microsoft Corp. $5.12m
4 United Parcel Services $4.48m
5 MBNA $4.38m
6 Citigroup $3.93m
7 Pfizer $3.9m
8 FedEx Corp. $3.4m
9 Bristol-Myers Squibb $3.4m
10 GlaxoSmithKline $3m
11 Wal-Mart $2.85m
12 General Electric $2.58m
13 ExxonMobil $2.35m
14 AOL Time Warner $2.31m
15 Anheuser Busch $2.23m
16 ChevronTexaco $2.2m
17 PepsiCo $1.9m
18 Schering Plough $1.8m
19 Archer Daniels Midland $1.8m
20 Wyeth (formerly American Home Products)$1.74m
21 Alticor Inc. $1.7m
22 American Airlines $1.62m
23 Ford $1.52m
24 BP Amoco $1.25m
25 Disney $1.25m"

That list reads like a “Who’s who” of corporations wanting to buy favors from the government. In many cases, they got them too. Lots of banks, drug companies and oil, and then there’s Microsoft, that didn’t get broken up in an antitrust suit, and Disney that got the extension on the Mouse copyright, and Alticor, who makes the products for Amway, who is definitely NOT a pyramid scam! Yeah, right.

Those on this list that weren’t outright looking for favors have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo against the growing pressure for reform of one kind or another. The only one I can’t pin down is UPS, but it probably has something to do with Union busting, or wage and hiring practices. As for some of the others:

Drug companies: Making a fortune on our health insurance premiums.

Banking: Vested interest in crushing the Credit Unions and maintaining the status quo, known in the industry as “the spread” (between the rate they charge for lending and the rate they pay on your savings account).

Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Anheuser Busch: Vested interest in low wages, and environmental non-reform.

GE: Vested interest in environmental non-reform and avoidance of legal liability for mercury pollution, etc.

Airlines: Bankruptcy protection, pension plan defaults, vested interest in weak unions.

These are just the top contributors with their hands in the consumer market. The top corporate contributors can be found here

The top “private money” fundraisers can be found here. Note the correlation between some of these “private citizens” and the industries or business sectors for which they work.
Here’s some of the things that money can buy:

Excerpt from: Public Citizen

"Holding Patients Hostage: The Unhealthy Alliance Between HMOs and Senate Leaders

Executive Summary Click Here For the Full Report Click Here for the Press Release

This timely new Public Citizen investigative report documents how campaign cash -- particularly unlimited soft money contributions -- has cemented an alliance between pro-managed care interests and Senate leaders that has thwarted strong new patients' rights protections supported by the majority of Americans. Drawing upon interviews with key lobbyists, Capitol Hill staff and written sources, the report details the intimate working relationships between two top pro-managed care trade associations that are major campaign contributors to the Republican Party -- the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Senators Lott and Nickles represent the last bastion of HMO resistance to public regulation of the managed care industry, which most Americans blame for decreasing the quality of health care. In 1998, Lott and Nickles prevented the Senate from even considering the patients' bill of rights. In 1999 they steered a relatively weak patients' rights bill through the Senate by a narrow margin. Only two months later, the House of Representatives -- including a third of the Republicans who defied their leaders -- decisively passed strong legislation.

Among the report's highlights:

Members of the pro-managed care Health Benefits Coalition (HBC) has given more than $14 million in campaign contributions to the Republican Party and its candidates since 1995 (79% of the total), according to new data analyzed by Public Citizen. Nearly 40% consisted of soft money donations to the Republican Party. Senate Republican leaders Lott and Nickles have established intimate "iron triangle" working relationships with two leading HBC donors/lobbyists: the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). "

Excerpt from : Corporate Accountability International


Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a "Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health" to respond to the growing international obesity epidemic. ... During its development, the strategy faced pressure from food corporations, industry trade groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the US government. In the debate at the WHO, Bush Administration officials denied any connection between unhealthy foods and obesity.
"We are concerned that the Bush Administration appears willing to protect the interests of big corporations--like Cargill, Kraft and other members of the Grocery Manufacturers of America--at the expense of people's health. For starters, US government guidelines on food and nutrition should provide specific recommendations to limit sugar and salt intake, which would begin to hold powerful junk food and soft drink corporations accountable for their abuses," says Mulvey."

Excerpt from: , quoting a NY Times Article.

"Top G.O.P. Donors in Energy Industry Met Cheney Panel By DON VAN NATTA Jr. and NEELA BANERJEE March 1, 2002

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - Eighteen of the energy industry's top 25 financial contributors to the Republican Party advised Vice President Dick Cheney's national energy task force last year, according to interviews and election records.
Critics of the Bush administration's energy policy have long suspected that many of the corporations that were invited to advise the White House were large energy concerns that had contributed heavily to President Bush's campaign and the Republican Party in 2000. The White House has refused to release the names of the companies and individuals consulted during the formulation of the administration's energy policy last spring. It has been sued for the information.

But interviews and task force correspondence demonstrate an apparent correlation between large campaign contributions and access to Mr. Cheney's task force. Of the top 25 energy industry donors to the Republican Party before the November 2000 election, 18 corporations sent executives or representatives to meet with Mr. Cheney, the task force chairman, or members of the task force and its staff. The companies include the Enron Corporation (news/quote), the Southern Company, the Exelon Corporation (news/quote), BP, the TXU Corporation (news/quote), FirstEnergy (news/quote) and Anadarko Petroleum (news/quote)."

In part two, I will begin to explain how the working and non-working poor in this country fit into this picture.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Point of View from a Safe Distance

This was originally written as a comment on vjack's blog to his entry titled, Bush calls for national day of prayer His reply to an earlier comment prompted me to write this. I don’t often post the same material in two places, but this bears repeating and I am curious to see what comments it might bring.


I think you have identified the problem. Unfortunately, there is a very rich and powerful group of morally bankrupt elitists that know how to wrap themselves in the mantle of Mother Church, and push people's buttons in general. It is very difficult to combat this well-organized, well-funded, and self-serving machine. One thing that we can do is to resist every effort made to sanitize this tragedy.

Religion is one of their most powerful tools because it teaches subservience and the opposite of self-reliance. Add that chemistry to the loss of decent-salaried, manufacturing jobs, and you have a formula for chronic poverty and the creation of a servant caste. Service Economy... and who are the ultimate "servees"? The new aristocracy of course. This is why all the "God" sound bites come out when a faith-shaking event like this takes place; damage control.

Fortunately, there are still many people, religious or not, that are smart enough to run for the fire extinguisher when they see flames and not stand around and wait for the man with the clip board to tell them what to do.

The best way I can describe the Federal response is to call it a deadly cluster-fuck. I guess it is too much to ask to expect the incompetent to take responsibility for the deaths their incompetence caused and resign. The last time I suggested that, someone said, "but that would create a leadership vacuum, and create more hardship!" Crap. These people are incompetent. Their replacements could hardly be worse.

Vjack, thanks for your posts. I have donated to Oxfam America, and I found out about their involvement in this tragedy thanks to the link your blog provided to the American Atheists site. If there is anything I can do for you directly, please don't hesitate to ask.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Anatomy of a Social Disease

I’ve just finished reading Parasite Ecology and the Evolution of Religion by Ben Cullen.

(From the work)

“Abstract: It is argued that the blanket view of religion as a disease, advocated by Dawkins, is inconsistent with the principles of parasite ecology. These principles state that vertically transmitted parasites evolve towards benign, symbiotic states, while horizontally transmitted parasites increase their virulence. Most of the world's established religions are transmitted vertically, from parents to children, and are therefore expected to be benign towards their hosts. Yet, certain horizontally transmitted cults, such as the Aum Shinrikyo, seem to effectively exploit their hosts in a way similar to an infectious disease.”

Concluding paragraph:

“In conclusion, then, it would appear that the blanket view of religion as a disease, as advocated by Dawkins (1993a,b), is not consistent with recent research into the nature of parasite evolution. Many religions are being vertically transmitted or family dependent, and we would therefore expect them to evolve toward symbiosis or at least benignness. As Dawkins has remarked, it is an extraordinary fact that if we adhere to a faith at all, it is overwhelmingly likely to be the same as that of our parents. This simple fact ought to ensure that if a religion which followed this pattern of transmission ruthlessly exploited its congregation, it would eventually plunge both itself and its people into extinction.”

On the face of it, this is a moderation of Dawkin’s position, making a case for “traditional” religions being benign. I cannot help but observe that, with the long human history of religiously motivated wars and pogroms, it remains to be seen whether vertically transmitted religion will be the cause of its own adherent’s extinction. Certainly it has been the cause of extinction many times on an individual scale. Cullen’s criterion for being considered benign seems to be “not destroying the entire population (congregation)”. By this definition, Influenza is benign.

I think that Cullen is correct when he identifies a symbiotic relationship as opposed to a parasitic one. The problem comes from considering a symbiotic relationship as necessarily benign, mutually beneficial, or synergistic. From Wikipedia:

Symbiosis (pl. symbioses) (from the Greek words syn = con/plus and biono = living) is an interaction between two organisms living together in more or less intimate association or even the merging of two dissimilar organisms. The term host is usually used for the larger (macro) of the two members of a symbiosis. The smaller (micro) member is called the symbiont (alternately, symbiote, and the plural is symbionts or symbiotes). When a microscopic symbiont lives inside a host, it is referred to as an endosymbiont.
The various forms of symbiosis include: -

parasitism, in which the association is disadvantageous or destructive to one of the organisms and beneficial to the other (+ -)

mutualism, in which the association is advantageous to both (+ +)

commensalism, in which one member of the association benefits while the other is not affected (+ 0)

amensalism, in which the association is disadventageous to one member while the other is not affected (- 0)

In my opinion, religion is a symbiotic hybrid, capable of moving between states of symbiosis. It is also a hybrid in another way, having some characteristics of a host, and some characteristics of the symbiote. Consider: as a subset of a larger organic form known as society, the religious community acts as host to its members. As a set of ideas placed in one human brain by the communication of another, it is a symbiote.

Note also that parasitism and amensalism are defined as being disadvantageous or destructive, not necessarily destructive.

Religious institutions are a hybrid in another way also; there is an exchange of advantages and disadvantages. Advantages in the relatively benign traditional institutions include membership in a socially acceptable group, a certain amount of mutual aid and comfort, and the potential preferential treatment one can obtain in any similar networking opportunity. Disadvantages include the potential loss of critical thinking skills, financial drain, and the acceptance of a subservient position in society. This is not an exchange that I am willing to make. I find it interesting too, that evangelizing changes an organization’s structure from vertical to horizontal, and in my opinion, conforms to the rules of parasitism as defined in Cullen’s essay.