Tag Archives: politics

The military passes a financial audit for the first time

For the first time since 1990, when the Congress approved the Chief Financial Officers Act, which among other things, required all federal agencies and departments to produce what would be regarded as a clean financial statement on their budgets, a branch of the U.S. military passed a financial audit.

As reported by Jamie Dupree:

“It was the first time any branch of the military service had been given an “unqualified favorable audit” for being able to show where billions in funding had gone.

Let me repeat that – it was the first time that any part of the service had been able to fully account for where all of its money was spent.”

This begs the question: What are the consequences for committing fraud, failing audits, and abusing tax dollars? Apparently nothing. What is the point of an audit if there is no enforcement?

Government Sanctioned Torture & Murder

The American political class is morally bankrupt. Many are guilty of crimes of greater magnitude and scope than almost any criminal you may find in the penitentiary. Among their crimes are theft, eavesdropping, deceit, murder, and torture. But such is the culture of immunity among the American political and financial elite that no one is punished for these crimes. 

Torture

Why is it so easy for individuals from all sides of the political spectrum to discuss abortion,  same-sex marriage, or other distractionary topics but ignore other blatant crimes against humanity directly committed by the political elite? Perhaps more puzzling is why the media spends countless hours discussing these type of issues while simultaneously ignoring reports of torture and murder committed by the individuals we elected to uphold the law.

In fact, leaked reports and declassified memos have revealed the horrifying extent that torture has been used, illegally, by the United States military and the CIA in the past two decades. However; most people have never heard about any of it.

For example, in his book “With Liberty and Justice for Some” Glenn Greenwald notes  a few of cases of documented and confirmed torture:

“…a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices…

…One forty-six-page memo from OLC chief Steven Bradbury dated May 10, 2005, authorized the following acts to be performed on ‘high-value detainees’: forced nudity, dietary manipulation involving minimum caloric intake, corrective techniques such as facial and abdominal slapping, water dousing, stress positions designed to induce muscle fatigue and the attendant discomfort, and sleep deprivation…

…[One detainee] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002…

…[Other torture] techniques included walling, cramped confinement, and insects placed in a confinement box…”

What is worse, as Greenwald notes, many of these detainees were held for years without trial. Even more frightening some of the individuals held and tortured were completely innocent!

“Of the fifty-nine detainees who so far have had their habeas cases heard in federal court, thirty-eight of them have won. In other words, in almost two-thirds of the cases reviewed, the courts ruled that there was no credible evidence to justify the detention.”

Perhaps some people find it morally acceptable to overlook the crimes committed by the state since it was against “terrorist”, but even if you believe that how can you justify what happened to innocent men. And shouldn’t the Government be obliged to at least prove guilt beforehand?

Murder

Perhaps more frightening than the numerous documented cases of illegal torture are the instances of fatality due to those same techniques. “The Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton has documented that approximately 100 detainees, including CIA-held detainees, have died during U.S. interrogations and some are known to have been tortured to death.” [1]

Drone Strikes

Beyond the cases of detainees being tortured to death are the numerous cases of civilians that have been inadvertently or purposely killed during U.S. drone strikes.

drone war

One Pakistani Government report noted that at least 67 civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strike since 2008. [2] In another report Washington Post report noted that, “in Yemen, Human Rights Watch investigated six selected airstrikes since 2009 and concluded that at least 57 of the 82 people killed were civilians, including a pregnant woman and three children who perished in a September 2012 attack.” [3][4]  That is 150 innocent lives in just two countries – two countries we are not at war with!

One may argue that these are casualties of war, but no war has been declared by congress. In fact, many of the drone strikes are not controlled by the military at all, but by the CIA. So are these simply casualties of war or a dangerous signal of a U.S. drone program gone rogue?

Sadly, these crimes are just a sliver of what we can prove and do not even begin to address the vast amount of information not available to the public.  It is frightening to even imagine the true scope of Government murder and torture. It is perhaps more frightening to imagine how history will judge our country, but what can we do?

What can we do?

We can start by paying attention. We can stop being detracted. Forget about Duck Dynasty, Candy Crush, Facebook, and the next holiday shopping session for a while. Stop allowing yourself to be distracted while the elites steal from you and your children. Demand justice, oversight, and investigation. Demand representatives that actually represent your interests. We deserve more.

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Morality: Questioning Land Ownership

I began to think about the concept of  land ownership after reading two separate books, whose authors probably would not agree on the subject. The first was the final  pamphlet  in a series of writings by Thomas Paine called “Agrarian Justice”. The second is from a book I read about a year ago by Ron Paul called “Liberty Defined“.

Both Ron Paul and Thomas Paine are known for their outspoken “pro-Liberty” stance so I was interested to see such a dynamic exist between their ideas about land ownership. It also caused me to examine my own thoughts on the subject.

1. Opposing Views: Thomas Paine and Ron Paul on Land Ownership

In context, it may be helpful to quickly describe the two men’s views on the morality and right of land ownership and then my own thoughts on the subject.

1a. Ron Paul on Land Ownership:

Ron Paul is a champion of the Austrian school of economic thought. He believes that private land ownership is a pivotal component to a successful economy, personal liberty, and natural rights.  Ron Paul is against public land ownership, especially ownership by the Federal Government, citing the misuse of public land in the abuses of eminent domain, lobbyist groups, and otherwise corrupt actions by Governments. On many of these points I agree.

“In a free society, the land is owned by the people, not the government…Total federal ownership is more than one third of the land mass of the fifty states. But that’s not the only problem…Taxation and regulations are so cumbersome that land owners are essentially renters with no right to the land…”

Ron Paul also hints and problems of facism and oligarchical control of land:

“Today’s corporations and private businesses ask local governments to condemn land in order to resell it to them. The promise is that the land value will go up, the business will pay more taxes, the municipality will benefit, and the new business will earn moremoney with its new, preferable location…This is a modern distortion and abuse of the principle of eminent domain.”

The part I do not believe Ron Paul addresses  is the potential for private land owners and corporations to own and hold giant portions of land into perpetuity. If it is every man’s natural right to own land how can we justify one man or single corporation to own it all – leaving nothing for some people. Isn’t then, the perpetual ownership of massive amounts of land inherently immoral and contrary to liberty?

Thomas Paine addresses some of these concerns.

1b. Thomas Paine on Land Ownership:

Thomas Paine believed that, in a civilized state, individuals are entitled to the fruits of their improvements to land. And since it is impossible to separate the improvements made to land and the land itself property ownership is a right. Paine did however draw a distinction between the land itself (which everyone is entitled to) and the cultivation and improvement of that land (which the laborer is entitled to):

“And as it is impossible to separate the improvement made by cultivation, from the earth itself, upon which that improvement is made, the idea of landed property arose from that inseparable connection; but it is nevertheless true, that it is the value of the improvement, only, and not the earth itself that is individual property. Every proprietor therefore of cultivated land owes the community a ground-rent for the land which he holds…

The additional value made by cultivation, after they system [of property ownership] was implemented, became the property of those who did it, or who inherited it from them, or who purchased it. It had originally no owner. Whilst, therefore, I advocate the right, and interest myself in the hard case of all those who have been thrown out of their natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of landed property, I equally defend the right of the possessor to the part which is his…”

Thomas Paine offers the following solution to bridge the gap between the rights of land owners (those who own land and cultivate it) and the rights of non-land owners (those who have a right to the ground itself, but cannot use it because it is occupied):

“To create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of Fifteen Pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, The sum of Ten Pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

Many people equate Thomas Paine’s solution with the modern day property tax and Social Security payments.

2. My Thoughts on the Morality of Land Ownership

The biggest problem I see with land ownership today is the perpetual ownership of mass amounts of land by the wealth elites, government, and corporations. This system usually means that large plots of valuable land and it’s resources are owned by the same family, company, or the Government for centuries.

I wonder: Is the process of perpetual and infinite land ownership acceptable in a free society or is it a modern form of royalty – where power and resources are passed down from generation to generation by a group of powerful elites?*

25 men control over 30 million acres of land (2%).
* The federal government owns more that 650 million acres of land (30%).

The Real Nelson Mandela

I really enjoy listening to Cornel West speak. While I don’t agree with all his politics, I do think he is brilliant, endlessly entertaining and has a fiery spirit that has unfortunately been all but stomped out and placated in most members of American society.

Cornel West did an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN recently, and as always did not fail to entertain or raise a few eye brows. West said that we were witnessing the “Santa Claus-ification” of Mendela’s legacy. He went on to proclaim that we had “turned the revolutionary into an old man -  a huggable old man with toys and a bag, smile on his face, no threat to anybody, domesticated, tame. And no longer really full of the fire.”

Cornel West is absolutely correct.

The mainstream news will rarely mention this, but up until a few years ago Nelson Mandela was on the United States Terrorist Watch List.  And historically, the US didn’t exactly look favorably on Mandela. In fact, during the 80’s, President Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party on America’s official list of terrorist organizations. But we don’t seem to hear a lot about that now. Instead we hear about President Obama taking selfies with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service or Senator Ted Cruz’s Facebook page blowing up because right wingers hate anything anti-‘merican.

I’m just a little bit disappointed of the media coverage of Mandela’s funeral, the shallow commentary on his life and that so many Americans are so short sighted and stuck in their lame duck train of thought.

A very brief look at Mandela’s early activism

Scanning Wikipedia, we see that Mandela was born into an African royal family and was able to go on to attend Fort Hare University then the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. After studying law, we became politically active, joining the ANC party. As a member of the ANC party, he served as a lawyer and was repeatedly arrested.

In the beginning, Mandela followed the rules. He played it strait, by the book. He took the path of non-violence, and it got him nowhere. After spending over 10 years fighting peacefully for change and seemingly getting nowhere but arrested over and over, he turned to more radical measures.

While in college and thereafter, Mandela became more and more influenced by communist and socialist thinking. He had many socialist and communist friends and became increasingly inspired by other revolutions and movements that had taken place like Castro’s 26th of July Movement in Cuba.

In 1961, Mandela founded a militant group (MK) and in association with the South African Communist Party, led a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. This ultimately led to his imprisonment and a 27 year sentence in jail.

My Take on Nelson Mandela

Many Americans are quick to look at Mandela and label him negatively as a terrorist and communist. And why shouldn’t we, we are taught to think this way after all. Communism will destroy our entire way of life if we don’t stomp it out and terrorists are always lurking in the dark, looking for ways to kill us.

I see it much differently. Yes, Mandela was a socialist/communist and yes, Mandela did say that his armed forces (MK) would resort to guerilla warfare and terrorism if need be (at least according to Wikipedia which points to a citation to a book I don’t own), but understand that he lived in a world of complete injustice.

Consider what Mandela and his fellow man endured, a world where a foreign nation had swooped in and taken over, removing natives from their foreign lands, relocating them to slums. A world where it was illegal for blacks and whites to intermingle or be married, or where blacks were not allowed to run businesses or hold professional jobs. A world where busses and trains, hospitals and ambulances and virtually everything else was segregated.

Wait… this all sounds so eerily familiar to me…

In the United States, many of our great civil rights leaders took to peaceful protest to effect change, as did Gandhi during the Indian Independence Movement. But Mandela decided to take a more radical approach. Perhaps that is a sign of weakness, perhaps he might not be considered as noble for doing so, but regardless, I understand why he felt as he felt and why he did what he did.

Mandela was sick of injustice and he stood up against it, as did many of his fellow men. Perhaps if Mandela hadn’t been sent off to prison for 27 years, we’d have not ever even heard of his name today. Regardless, I understand why he did what he did and felt the way he felt. I would have felt the same.

Quick Final Thoughts

How can so many Americans have such negative things to say about Mandela when we have such a similar history or oppression in this country? Are we really that short sighted? Do we really not comprehend? Perhaps it is so. Perhaps most people are incapable of putting themselves in other’s shoes.

I am not a socialist, communist or radical. But I have never had any reason to be. I have always been relatively happy, healthy and free or injustice and oppression. But if I were in a situation where I was forced into poverty or slavery, oppressed, beaten down, starved and broken, I too could see how I might cling to more radical ideologies. I too can see how I might be led to lash out violently. Is it not a man’s primal instinct to defend his own life after all?

Why is it that so many others appear incapable of considering this?

Check out this other interesting article about Nelson Mandela- Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then

-Holden

Why does religion exist and why does it matter?

If religion, that is to say the existence of a personal God, is a fabrication of the human mind then a logical question might be: Why does religion exist at all? I’d like to discuss a few reasons I believe, based on my own experience and observations, that religion exists and thrives.

1. The Victors of War, Justification, and The Persistence of Myth

The conquest of men by other men, by all religions and creeds, have been vast and well documented. However, justification by God is a uniquely religious invasion.

1a. Kings and Crusades

During the Crusader’s invasion of South America the Spanish called upon God to justify their pillage of native villages. Their purpose was power, greed, and glory, but their excuse was conversion. Religion has always been an excellent excuse to do evils, but ironically these evils also serve to spread and preserve the institution.

Today, for example, South America remains one of the most religious nations on Earth (90% Christian). The very religion that their conquerors practiced hundreds of years ago. There is a common phrase among historians that “the victors write the history books” and it seems no coincidence to me that powerful Christian nations have been so successful at preserving the ideology that justifies their imperialism.

1b. America: A religious colony

And it should be no surprise that the United States remains a religious country seeing as the first inhabitants fled here to escape religious persecution. It seems obvious why America is predominately protestant and not Catholic or Church of England. These traditions have been carefully handed down from generation to generation slowly perpetuation religion in our very culture.  Were they handed down because the believes are accurate or because they are part of the culture? The answer seems clear.

So perhaps it seems obvious how and why religion spreads across the world, but why does it exist in the first place?

2. Religion provides answers to hard questions.

One of the greatest comforts of religion, even today, is that it answers some of the hardest philosophical and scientific questions our human minds can devise.  Questions about the creation of the Universe, why bad things happen to good people, and so on are addressed in the form of an all powerful entity we have named God.

When early man gazed at the Sun and the Stars and were unable to fathom their existence a supernatural answer seemed logical.  Over time the supernatural answer to difficult questions became stories that village elders passed down from generation to generation. Soon those stories became modern religion.

2a. Why being settling for mythical answers to difficult questions is a weakness of religion:

My problem with accepting the mythical as fact in the modern day is a practical one: It hinders progress. Where would we be if modern man accepted the Sun as a God, or ceased to find answers to evolution, DNA, and history because they believed that all of the answers lay in the literal interpretation of the Bible or Koran? We would probably be dying of plague and accepting it as God’s will.

Furthermore, I think of all the great minds that are engulfed in Religion. I myself know more than a few intelligent people who reject good science on the grounds that it conflict with the Bible. Where would we be if all the great minds today and in the past dedicated themselves to the progress of the human condition and rid themselves of the hindrances of religious mythology?

3. Religion provides a sense of community.

One compliment I will give many practitioners of religion is their sense of community. I have seen, on more than one occasion, a man consumed by vices change his life for the better thanks to the support and love of the religious community. And isn’t everyone searching for one such place or another?

Every human being wishes to belong. To be a member of something larger than oneself, bonded by a common goal and ideology. Whether that be a sports club or a religious institution all men desire such a thing – and most churches, mosks, and temples fill that role. These institutions are free and readily available.

But why do we rely on such institutions as the primary source of community? Why do we send our most vulnerable in society (the poor and uneducated) and question why religion is such an ingrained institution? Is there a better way?

3a. Why finding community among the religious can be detrimental to progress:

The danger of utilizing religious organizations as our main source of community is the advantage such an organization has in maintaining and building a society that believe their mythologies. How can we expect great minds to abandon the very institution they were raised on, or that accepted them in their darkest hour? We can’t. How can we expect society to generate great ideas, solve complex problems, and utilize reason when we are indoctrinated by an institution that promotes feel good mythology over truth? Again, we can’t.

Rather, those of use in the community who find reason, kindness, and truth to be our only form of religion should form similar such institutions to provide alternative sources of community and human service. What good would we do society if such institution promoted values based on logic, reason, and justice rather than pretend?

4. Religion makes us okay with perceived injustices and failure.

My life has been plagued with individuals who are completely satisfied with societal injustices and personal failure. I have family members who are plagued with vices (laziness, alcoholism, drug abuse, ignorance) that will proclaim with pride that “As long as I am right with God everything will be alright in the end.” This line of thinking is illogical, even to most religious scholars, but none-the-less a favorite among the religious.

What type of society do we promote when such a number of our inhabitants believe, even if subconsciously, that ultimate justice and happiness is yet to come – in another life! How can we earnestly expect to improve upon the land of the living when so many are anxiously awaiting to die?

4a. Why accepting injustice and failure is problematic:

We cannot accept injustice and failure in this life, thus we cannot promote an organization that passively does so itself. We create a society that believes, even if they will not admit it, that their shortcomings in this life are okay because they will be resolved in the next.

This line of thinking is immoral and unjust in itself. How can we justify regression to our children, and to our children’s children, and their children? If you are a conservative, which most religious claim to be, isn’t such an ideological fallacy a liberty-stealing one for future generations?

Instead we should demand organizations that promote morality, reason, and justice. Such an organization that tolerates all ideas and creeds, but forces one to examine them reasonably. One that teaches one to think – rather than what to think.

Thomas Paine on God and Religion

Thomas Paine was perhaps the most important “call to action” author to have ever existed. His pamphlets are almost single-handedly credited for sparking the American and French revolution. A great writer, politician, and philosopher Paine, above all, was concerned for the rights of his fellow man, their liberty, and freedom.

It is in this context that we look to Paine for his thoughts on Religion and God as written in “Age of Reason”.

1. Was Thomas Paine an Atheist or a Christian?

First, I believe it is fair to immediately present, as Paine himself did in “Age of Reason”, his beliefs on God. Paine made it very clear that he was neither an Atheist nor a Christian, but rather a Deist.

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist of doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy….I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”

2. Thomas Paine on the Bible

Overall, Thomas Paine argued that the idea that God would communicate to mankind in the form of speech or writing is highly unlikely. Especially due to verbal and written communication’s tendency to change over time, vary widely between humans, and subject to alterations.

“…the idea or belief of a word of God existing in print, or in writing, or in speech, is inconsistent in itself for the reasons already assigned. These reasons, among many others, are the want of an universal language; the mutability of language, the errors to which translations are subject; the possibility of totally suppressing such a word; the probability of altering it, or of fabrication the whole, and imposing it upon the world.”

2a. The problem with Miracles

The problem with miracles, even if they are witnessed personally, is that we cannot conclude with certainty that we have not witnessed something that we just do not understand. For example, for ages people of the world found the Sun and stars to be miraculous. Today we understand them as Science. In 1794 Thomas Paine recognized the facts of human ignorance as well:

“Mankind have conceived to themselves certain laws by which they call nature is supposed to act; and that a miracle is something contrary to the operation and effect of those laws. But unless we know the whole extent of those laws, and of what are commonly called, the powers of nature, we are not able to judge whether any thing that may appear to us wonderful or miraculous, be within, or beyond, or be contrary to, her natural power of acting.”

Furthermore, if we do not witness the miracle ourselves and are told of it second-hand is it more likely a fabrication, an error, or a true miracle?

“[if a person says they saw a miracle] it raises the question in the mind very easily decided, which is, is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”

2b. Prophecy’s weakness

Prophecy, even if it were real, would not be sufficient evidence of God due to the very nature of prophecy. If it has not happened yet then it is to come in the future. If something like the prophecy happens than it cannot be proven that it was not a coincidence. Therefore, prophecy by its very nature lacks the ingredients necessary to convince a skeptic of a Christian God. Thomas Pain put it this way:

“[Prophecy] could not answer the purpose [of proving a Christian God] even if it were real. Those to whom a prophecy should be told could not tell whether the man a prophesied or lied, or whether it had been revealed to him or whether he conceited it; and if the thing that he prophesied, or pretended to prophesy, should happen, or something like it, among the multitude of things that are daily happening, nobody could again know whether he foreknew it, or guessed at it, or whether it was accidental.”

2c. The Problem with Revelation

The problem with revelation, Thomas Paine argues, is that revelation is only revealed to the person who hears it. To everyone else revelation becomes hearsay.

“No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth , and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is hearsay to every other, and consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.”

3. Examining the timing and length of “Age of Reason”

The timing and length of “Age of Reason”, I believe, is important. For one, Paine was careful to publish “Age of Reason” toward the end of his political and writing career. He was no doubt aware that his rejection of Christianity would hinder his ability to broadcast political ideas that were, by themselves, controversial.

“Age of Reason” (1794) was published almost two decades after his call for American revolution in the pamphlet “Common Sense” (1776) and French Revolution in “Rights of Man” (1791). Paine even admits in the opening paragraph that he waited “several years” before publishing his thoughts on Religion. It seems that Paine had his priorities in line when it came to religion versus that of human rights.

Secondly, I believe the length of “Age of Reason” – which is roughly 1/3rd or less the length of this other famous works – demonstrate the importance (or lack there of) religion had in his life compared to the other important issues of his time (i.e., rights of mankind, liberty). That is to say about 1/3rd as important as everything else.

I think that it is in this context we should evaluate the overall importance of religion in our own life.  Philosophically, perhaps it is important to put first things first (improving life for our fellow man) and worry about mythology  and religion a little less.

Thomas Paine on modern America

In “Common Sense” Thomas Paine deconstructs several reasons America should rebel from great Britain to form the United States. I found his reasons for revolution in 1776 against the British amazingly applicable, in many ways, as the reason we should demand change (revolution) from our own Government today.

1. The ruling class is not equip to govern the people.

Much like the royal class in 18th century Britain modern America has the political and corporate elite. A wealthy and well connected ruling class that passes wealth, connection, and power from one generation to the next. Kings are replaced by names like Bush, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Kennedy (the list goes on).

Thomas Paine points out many good reasons why such families are not equip to govern the people:

“There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of a monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required. The state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, by unnaturally opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd and useless.”

2. The Government is overly complex.

The founding fathers, having learned a valuable lesson from English rule, intentionally designed American law to be fairly easy to understand. Today our government and legal system couldn’t be more complicated.

Once again, Thomas Paine had brilliant insight:

“But the constitution of England [like modern America] is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies; some will say in one and some in another, and every political physician will advise a different medicine.”

The most effective Government?

“The more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered…”

3. The size of the federal government, the power of the executive:

Many of the issues Thomas Paine identifies with the English king I believe we see coming to fruition (to a lesser extent) with the modern day federal government – especially the executive branch. Here are a few that parallel:

  • The authority to make decision without consultation or consent of the people or their representatives (executive orders today)
  • The disconnect between the executive and the desires of the common man. (similar to #1 above)
  • Lack of election by the people (due to the amount of money it takes to run for president we are basically given choices for President, we do not choose our own from among the people)

4. Meaningless Debt

Perhaps the most compelling reason Thomas Paine provides for separation from Britain is the burden of debt on the American colonies due to English imperialism and military. The comparison undoubtedly highlights American folly today. Ultimately the debt we incur and pass on to posterity is unfair to future generations.

“…to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a peddling politician.”

 

Is $15 a fair minimum wage?

This morning in Atlanta, GA fast food workers are going on strike in an effort to demand a higher minimum wage of $15 per hour. That is $31,500 a year for a full time fast food employee (not including benefits).

As matter of practice I believe it is good policy for any given employer to treat their employees with a certain amount of dignity and respect – including paying their employees a fair wage. I believe this not just on moral grounds, but also as a matter of doing good business and competing in the marketplace.

For example, companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart are notorious for treating and paying their long-time employees poorly. In response this has directly affected the quality of their businesses (no one shops at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s for the ambiance) and, perhaps more importantly, degrades their reputation with the consumer. In the long run this is just bad business.

Bad business doesn’t mean that the Government should necessarily litigate their business practices though. Bad business decisions for one company presents a new opportunity for another company (thus opening up new opportunities for employees as well). For example, companies like Costco and Chick-fil-a have decided to pay employees better and implement a different sort of culture. Ultimately, this has lead to better quality services, higher profits, and happier employees – all without Government intervention.

Problems with an artificially high minimum wage:

While the idea of every worker, regardless of their job title, earning over $30,000 per year may sound like a good idea to some people – it is important to point out that there are many unforeseen consequences.

1. It disrupts small business’s ability to compete.

Mandating an artificially high minimum wage (especially one as high as $15/hr) makes it very difficult for businesses to compete in the market place.

For example, let’s say that a local retail boutique (The Little Apple Boutique) offer’s high wages in an effort to draw in the best employees. They need these employees because part of their business model is to offer superior customer service in exchange for moderately higher prices for their goods. Their profit margins are low because the cost of paying their employees and running the business is high, but this is the niche that they have carved out for their business and it’s working.

When an artificial minimum wage is introduced this destroys The Little Apple Boutique’s ability to execute their business plan. They can no longer attract the best employees because every other business in the area is offering the same wage. The Little Apple Boutique can’t afford to raise their wages any higher and stay in business.  Six months later customers begin to complain that The Little Apple Boutique’s customer service isn’t what is used to be. Twelve months later The Little Apple Boutique is out of business.

2. High minimum wage closes the gap between the poor and the middle class, but not between the 1% and 99%.

In general, people are very aware (and concerned) about wealth inequality in America. There is a constantly growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else. But rather than addressing that inequality gap an artificially high minimum wage could serve to expand it.

US Wealth Distribution

2a. High minimum wages hurt small businesses and but do not affect big corporations

Most of the poor and middle class people in America shop at the same places. (We all shop at places like Wal-Mart, Target, Publix, McDonald’s, etc.) The places that we can afford to shop, in general, employee a large number of employees at or slightly above the current minimum wage.

Higher minimum wage (especially $15/hr) will ultimately drive prices up at places where the poor and middle class shop. Overall this means that the middle class will be poorer (assuming they already made above minimum wage, but now have higher prices) and only serve the poor marginally (assuming the poor now make $15/hr, but now have to pay higher prices).

The one class that the higher minimum wage does not affect is the rich. Moderately higher prices do not affect their lifestyle and they probably don’t shop at McDonalds or Wal-Mart anyways.

2b. Higher minimum wages hurt middle class small businesses, not rich corporations, ultimately helping the rich corporations.

On the surface, this seems like a battle waged against big and evil corporations. The type of corporations that treat their employees like trash and serve us mediocre food. We see this as a battle for the poor and against companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. This is not the truth.

Ultimately, this is a fight against the middle class and an apathetic super-rich. If the people successfully lobby the Government to pass an artificially high minimum wage (specifically one as high as $15/hr) it will hurt small, middle class business – not the evil corporations.

In the long run companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart will survive the minimum wage hikes. They will pass the expense on to their customers, to their suppliers of beef and paper products (who are probably small/medium sized businesses) and keep the profits for themselves. In fact, the poor (who shop at Wal-Mart) will keep shopping there, but since they make more money they will spend more. Ultimately giving Wal-Mart even more profits. Ironic.

The companies that will ultimately go out of business are the ones that ultimately treat their employees with respect in the first place. Small businesses like The Little Apple Boutique, Local Farmers, and Diners will go out of business. And in the end we will all keep shopping at Wal-Mart, but this time paying higher prices for the same bad service we’ve always had.

3. Outsourcing and the Value of low skilled labor

In the labor market of individuals who are paid less than $15/hr there are basically two classes: 1. low-skilled manual labor (cashier, hamburger cook) and 2. skilled-labor that doesn’t demand much money (tech support). I want to discuss how a higher minimum wage will affect each of these two classes.

3a. Does the low-skill labor demand $15/hr?

When people think about those people who are unfairly treated by their employers (and who deserve a higher wage) they often imagine the poor mother with two kids who cannot make ends meet. She gives life everything she has, but can’t make it. It is unfair.

This is a action-provoking idea, but it does not reflect the situation of the majority of minimum wage workers. Rather it serves as an artificial “poster child” used by lobbying groups to evoke emotion from the masses.

The truth is that over half of minimum wage workers are young people (probably in school and still gaining skills) not bread-winners. A research by the Pew Research Center shows that 50.6% are ages 16 to 24; 24% are teenagers (ages 16 to 19).

This begs the question: Do 16 year old teenagers and college students really need (or do their skills demand) $15/hr? I don’t think so and I do not think an artificially high minimum wage is an appropriate way to address the rare case of a struggling mother. There are numerous, more efficient, way to manage such cases.

3b. Skill-Labor: Outsourced jobs that could be in America:

The problem with most skilled-labor jobs that pay less than $15/hr is that they are easily outsourced to countries that do not have minimum wage standards or the job is subject to being automated.

The average outsourced job in India pays $13.46/hr ($28,000/yr). That is over $1.50 less than the proposed minimum wage of $15/hr. This means that all jobs that can be outsourced will be outsourced (or automated). 

The other idea to consider is that companies are smart. We already see retail stores replacing cashiers with automated machines. Would it seem strange to think that our food may be cooked by robots in the near future? I don’t.

In the future a $15/hr job might mean no job at all for many Americans. Food for thought.

Government Surveillance: Bloated and Inefficient

Many conservatives argue that the Government is growing to large and ultimately reducing the freedoms of average Americans under the premise of “safety”. This is evident in the recent revelations about mass surveillance as well as the increased border control and border checkpoints that are further and further from the actual border. So are we being protected or is this just more evidence of a bloated and inefficient Government?