Saturday, December 27, 2014

For the Sake of Your Children and Grandchildren, Don’t Ignore Climate Change

If you have a 3-year old child or grandchild, he or she will most likely live until 2090.  His or her children … your grandchildren or great-grandchildren … will most likely live until 2115.  What kind of environment do you want to leave them … one that creates hardship and even threatens life or one that nurtures it?   That is the question that every corporation head, every member of Congress, and each and every citizen should ask themselves when considering the issue of climate change.

Al Gore was absolutely right when he labeled climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Corporations find it inconvenient because they don’t want to spend more money to clean up their emissions or change how things are produced.  The public finds it inconvenient because it doesn’t want to change it’s habits … the car culture, wanting consumer goods to be cheap, not wanting to bother with conservation.  And it’s inconvenient for the government because it means having to take leadership and, at least in the short run, displeasing important constituencies.

But guess what?  Inconvenient or not, the evidence becomes clearer every year that we are headed down a path that will lead to major disruptions and hardship for much of the Earth’s inhabitants.  And the disruptions and hardships are arriving more quickly than scientists had anticipated.

In the old days, miners used to take canaries down with them into the mines to warn them of impending disaster.  If gas was building up, the canaries would get sick before the miners had any awareness of a problem.  And the miners would get out as quickly as possible.

We have already had plenty of climate change “canaries in the mine,” but only scientists seem to be concerned.  Whether you look at the disappearance of arctic ice in summer, the weakening of the ice shelf in Greenland and parts of Antartica, the increase in violent weather and drought, the report that most polar bear cubs are not living to maturity, the march of pests from southern to northern areas with accompanying destruction of forests, deadly tick infestations of moose, the movement of fish and lobsters from their ancestral habitats further north as the Atlantic Ocean waters off much of New England become too warm … all of these things are warnings of much worse things to come.  

And each year, the scientific reports contain a familiar refrain … that the changes are happening more quickly than had been anticipated.  Now there is consensus that even with the world-wide agreement to cut carbon emissions currently in process, significant impact cannot be avoided, with such impact appearing by 2050.  Scientists are no longer even sure that the previous standard limit of a “safe” rise in temperature (2º C/3.6º F) is correct; it may be lower.  But even that limit can no longer be avoided.  Only catastrophic impact can possibly be avoided, and even that is less likely as each year without action passes..

We … governments, corporations, and the public … are playing a losing game of Russian roulette with the lives of our children and grandchildren.  If we want our immediate descendants to be able to continue living on Earth in a safe, secure environment, then more drastic broad-based action needs to be taken now.  Everyone gives lip service to “our children are the future,” yet everyone acts like there’s no tomorrow.  Everyone’s planning is short-term.

I don’t know what the exact answer is.  But I do know that denial has to stop.  And significant action has to be taken by government, corporations, and individuals for the sake of our children.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Can We Stop the Mistreatment of Women and African-Americans?

There has been much in the news these past few months about both the abuse of women by men of all sorts, and the mistreatment of African-Americans by the police.  To the extent that articles about these issues examine the causes, writers blame respectively an ongoing misogynistic attitude among many men and racism within the police force.

While both of these statements are undoubtedly true, duh!, the real reason lies deeper.  It lies in the insecurity of men.  (See my post, “ The Root of all Abuse and Violence - Insecurity,” 1/7/2013 .)

The reason why so many men abuse women … whether it’s campus date rape, military sexual assault, spouse abuse, or men watching violent porn … is that it’s a way for them to exercise power.  Man is raised in a way that makes him insecure.  And insecure people often seek to compensate for or mask their insecurity by exercising power over those who are weaker than they are.  That together with misogynistic feelings creates a perfect storm.  The result:  abuse of women.

Why do many police, regardless the city, routinely mistreat African-American men in so many ways, running the gamut from verbal abuse to chokeholds and shootings?  The answer again is that, in addition to black men being looked down on or mistrusted due to racist feelings, police as men get off on exercising power over others.  And they know that they can exercise that power vis a vis blacks almost with impunity.  Again, we have a perfect storm and the result is abuse.

I agree with many commentators that an important part of the answer to this deep societal problem consists of  education, or better put, re-education.  In the case of police it’s relatively easy, at least in a logistic sense, because you have a captive audience that can be forced to attend classes.  For men in general, that kind of approach is obviously not possible.

But even if you do re-educate police or attempt something similar with men, the real obstacle to changing behavior is that their attitudinal perspective stems from the messages they have received throughout their lives regarding either women or African-Americans.  And that message can effectively be transformed only by altering the social context within which men and police exist.

How does one begin to alter the context of racism?  Since the police are to a certain extent a culture unto themselves, one can change the culture of the organization, top down.  Which will certainly help.  But if the broader social context remains unchanged, once someone has been taught to think less of, or be afraid of, or hate people of another race, it’s very hard to change that except through an enlightening personal experience, one on one.  (Although even that is not a sure thing … there was a saying in Nazi Germany that every Nazi had his Jew.  That personal experience, however, obviously didn’t impact the larger negative attitude.) 

Changing the social context of racism is an issue that has bedeviled educators and social thinkers.  It almost requires starting fresh, with a blank slate.  Which is why the only real hope lies in educating children, and seeing that at least within the schools, they are exposed to nothing but respect for those who are different from them.  We can’t control what they experience at home or on the streets or even on television or on film, but we can control what they experience and are taught in school.

The same answer applies to altering the misogynistic, love/hate attitude that many men have towards women.  This is nothing new.   It is not a feature of our modern culture.  It goes back centuries and millennia … all those years in which women were basically chattel and had no rights.  My word, women weren’t even allowed to vote in the United States until 1920!

Here again we must start in the schools.  Boys must be exposed to nothing but respect for girls and women.

In both cases, one can expect that there will be instances of children acting in inappropriate ways, with a lack of respect and even violence.  Any such behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate manner, which does not exclude punishment of some sort, but there must be more than that because people do not change thought patterns or even behavior solely because of punishment.

So far I’ve only addressed the education aspect of solving, or better put, ameliorating, this problem.  What about the underlying factor of man’s having been raised in a way that makes him insecure?  

Assuming that to some degree you agree with this assessment, explained in the post I referred to earlier, you may well ask how this issue can be addressed.  Once again, the answer lies in our children,  If children can learn to be insecure, they can learn to be secure.  Insecurity is not the natural human state.

The difficulty in bringing about such change is that we are the result of an unending cycle of insecure people raising insecure children, who go on to become insecure parents, and on and on.  To break this cycle, we must make prospective and existing parents aware of this problem and encourage them to take steps to both raise happy and secure children and at the same time make their own lives better as well.  

To that end I have written a book, Raising a Happy Child. While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of one’s religious affiliation.  There should be a huge parenting outreach through churches, schools, and marriage license offices to begin orienting parents on how to raise happy, secure children.

Raising a Happy Child is available in both softcover and eBook formats through Amazon and other online book-retailers and through your local bookstore by special order.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Proper Balance between Industry, Government, and the Public Good

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement …”  In that sentence lies the answer to this central issue in American democracy … what us the proper balance between industry/private rights, government, and the public good.

First a question.  What does the phrase, “restrain men from injuring one another,” mean?  One could take it quite literally and think that it refers solely to criminal acts.  But early on, government and the courts realized that there were other ways in which men injure others, and so a system of contract and tort law was developed to protect people, as well as businesses, from injury.

During the Progressive era that held sway for most of the 20th century,  the concept was further broadened to include protecting the public good, which in effect means protecting all individuals and businesses.  For example, it is in the public good that small businesses prosper or that we breathe clean air.  Thus a whole system of laws and regulations were enacted to protect the public good from injury from the exercise of unbridled power by corporations.  

Whether it’s labor laws, security laws, environmental laws, or antitrust laws … all of these laws, and the agencies and regulations that implement them, were felt necessary to protect the less powerful from being injured.  And in so doing such laws fulfill the maxim stated by Jefferson.

There was a long time in American history when business operated with virtually no restraints.  But as the industrial revolution took hold, and corporations became very powerful institutions that had no concern other than the making of money, regardless what their impact was on others, government started understanding that it needed to act to protect the less powerful from injury.  

The first federal child labor law was passed in 1916.  Prior to that the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the law setting up the Interstate Commerce Commission were passed around 1890.  Over the next decades, countless laws were passed and regulations enacted to protect individuals, the public, and other businesses (such as farmers and small business owners) from the power of large corporations.

Until the Reagan presidency, it was commonly accepted by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as the general public, that such laws and regulations were critical to government performing its task of “restraining men from injuring one another” or in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “to secure” everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This was not an “anti-business” era.  Hardly.  The prospering of business was supported by the government in many ways, in recognition that a robust business community was critical to the strength of the American economy.  But it was a time when government and the people understood that if large corporations were left to themselves, they would trample over everything in their path to making more money.

And so whether it was the Taft-Hartley Labor Laws, the Glass-Steagal Act, the Clean Water Act or the creation of the EPA, these were not “anti-business” measures.   They were measures that reflected the understanding that there needed to be a balance; that while corporations needed freedom to act, that freedom was not absolute.  They could not in so doing injure others, and it was the role of government to protect those who did not have the power to protect themselves against injury from the actions of corporations by retraining them. 

Ronald Reagan, however, brought about the beginning of a fundamental change in this accepted attitude regarding the role of government, both on the part of the Republican Party and a large segment of the public.  He famously said, “Government is not the solution to the problem.  Government is the problem.”

And so began the era of deregulation.  To a large extent, the financial crisis of 2008 that caused the Great Recession can be laid at the doorstop of deregulation … principally the repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Yet despite this event, which was catastrophic for many Americans, the attitude of less regulation is better regulation continues to be the rallying cry for the newly radicalized Republican Party and its Tea Party base.

Somehow, we must restore the meeting of the minds regarding the role of government and the balance our country had struck between private rights, government, and the public good.  How we get to that point I don’t know.  The polarization is so deep; the language of public discourse is so divisive.  Yet we must try or our country will diminish in greatness even as its corporations thrive.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to End Wage Stagnation and Bring Back/Increase Jobs

Two of the most important issues facing our country is how to improve the wages of workers (as opposed to management), who make up the bulk of our workforce and whose spending accounts for a large share of our economy, and significantly increase the number of living-wage jobs either by bringing them back to this country or creating new ones.  These issues are important from a variety of perspectives: economic, of course, but also moral, societal and national security.

We have seen wage stagnation for the past few decades because workers no longer have any clout.  Whether a workplace is unionized or not, corporations haven’t given raises because they know that workers have no place else to go.  They can’t leave even if they are disgusted with their pay because alternative jobs just aren’t there.  They’ve gone overseas, making it an employer’s market.

So how do you change the situation?  There is going to be much talk in the coming months about revising the tax code, both for individuals and as it applies to corporations.  As a general matter, I would argue that any tax break for corporations should be tied to their better performance in a variety of areas affecting the public good, such as the environment and wage stagnation.

I would therefore suggest a new provision that would provide that if corporations give workers a percentage raise in a given year equal to the percentage rise in profit, then such corporations would get a tax break.  Corporations need to be incentivized.  Some might say they should be penalized if they don’t provide such a raise, but that would never fly in Congress.

The same is true for bringing jobs back to the US.  At some point, given increasing labor costs overseas and what will be increased transportation costs, it will make economic sense to bring jobs back here.  In the meantime, the government needs to provide a tax incentive for companies to expand domestic operations that provide living-wage jobs.

But in addition to the problem of jobs being sent overseas, one must face the following fact.   In an age of ever-increasing application of technology to the production process, the same number of jobs are not going to be created even if production is brought back because they just aren’t needed to produce the product.  

That means that a large share of the increase in good-paying jobs needed to keep the economy and the middle class robust will have to come in the form of public works projects.  Luckily, there is no end to the infrastructure projects, both improvements and new, that are desperately needed to support our country’s functioning at the highest level.  

Thus, the government will need to embark on an ambitious plan, similar in scope to the Interstate Highway System, to insure an ongoing strong economy, not just in terms of GDP increase but in the strength of the middle class.  The radical Right will no doubt respond by kicking and screaming about socialism and the deficit.  

But such a plan is even more justified now than the Interstate Highway was when Republican President Eisenhower proposed its enactment.  While Eisenhower’s rationale that the system was needed to improve the country’s defense was overstated (it was more honestly an economic measure), one can argue with a straight face that the proposed infrastructure plan is critical to the nation’s security, both in a physical functioning sense as well as in the strength of the economy.

This is a challenging time for the United States.  If we do not rise above petty bickering and join together to support a nation that is strong, not just in military might and the power of its multi-national corporations, but in the health and welfare of the average citizen, then we are doomed to become a shell of our former self, a Potemkin village.