Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Howard Zinn died yesterday.

I saw Howard Zinn speak on a couple of occasions. He could best be described as unpretentious and modest. Yet he spoke truth to power based on his considerable experience helping workers organize.

Zinn was raised in a working class family and fought in World War II as a bombardier. After the war he worked his way through college and earned a doctorate in history. He became an influential civil rights activist and peace activist. He had a deep understanding of society and the skewed distribution of both power and wealth. He wrote the popular book A People’s History of the United States. He remained an optimist about human progress to his dieing day.

Here is a recent interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers done on December 11, 2009.

Part 2 of the interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers
Part 3 of the interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers

Howard Zinn is the author of The People Speak, a recent documentary with many actors contributing to portray the voices of those who have struggled to improve the foundations of our society.

Thom Hartmann on Illegal Immigration

This morning, January 8, 2010, on the Thom Hartmann show (1150 AM Los Angeles), Thom joined the throngs of those who believe that illegal immigrants “dilute” the work force. Essentially he is saying that illegal immigrants are a drain on the economy.

I think the opposite is true. Anyone who works and works hard for a wage is what is good about our world and our economy. The illegal immigrants are by and large hard working people who provide value to the economy. Shame on those who criticize them or would deny them the ability to work. If the complaint is that they work for low wages then the answer for that is to raise the wages, not condemn the worker.

Thom Hartmann seems to be making the assumption that there are only so many jobs to go around and, hence, illegal immigrants take jobs away from those who are here legally. That premise is flawed. An economy is the activity of people working. If there are more people working the economy is bigger. Double the population, you double the economy, all else being equal. 100 million people are going to do about twice the amount of work and consume twice as much as 50 million people. It is just plain common sense. As the population increases, so does consumption and overall economic activity. So the influx of immigrants, legal or illegal, does not harm the economy.

If you really believe Thom’s line of reasoning, then why stop with illegal immigrants or, for that matter, legal immigrants? What about children? Shouldn’t it be illegal to have children because they will “dilute” the work force a few years down the line? Perhaps children should be illegal too.

Or how about just requiring some people to emmigrate, making more jobs for those who remain? It’s logical, according to Thom’s reasoning.

I believe that the illegal immigration scare is a red herring, a scape goat, a distraction based on prejudice and false reasoning.

Let’s examine some of the real reasons we have problems in our ecomony.

What about outsourcing jobs?

If you object to outsourcing based on the belief that jobs are exported so that we cannot provide jobs for everyone and, hence, illegal immigrants gobble up some of the few jobs remaining, wouldn’t you be better off criticizing the concept of outsourcing? How about investing right here in the U.S. and create jobs here? And if the private sector, meaning the small minority of the oligarchy that controls the private sector, is too greedy to invest here in the U.S. because their profits will be less, that means the private sector is failing the overall economy. It is doing wonders for the wealthy, and has been doing so since Ronald Reagan. But don’t confuse the wealthy or overall GDP with the economy. If overall GDP has gone up but been distributed by the private sector to only the most wealthy in the population, the private sector has failed.

All those pundits who dislike government and say that the private sector is the answer are wrong. Instead, the government should, for example, nationalize the banks. Why should anyone, much less a banker, receive millions of dollars a year for shuffling money? Yes, there is some skill required in determining who is credit worthy and what loans should be made in risky environments. And there should be room for high risk venture capital. But banks. No, sorry, if some simple rules requiring ample reserves and down payments, and good credit scores were to be put into effect, then a nationalized bank system with high paid (low six figure) employees would do a fine job of operating the business of keeping the cash flowing. Give me a break. The only reason that isn’t done that way is because banks are now private and there are incredible fortunes being made by the owners of the banks who control the money flow.

Speaking of owners, consider land lords. What function does a land lord provide? They manage property. That’s fine and is worth a moderate (below six figure) salary. Otherwise, what are land lords creating? What are land lords adding to the economy? How many shops on Main Street go out of business because they cannot afford the rent? How many residential landlords have their mortgages paid by their renters?

I think we should figure out a system so that everyone would be entitled to own part of the land they live on as their primary residence. Some day, when we are further from the caveman stage than we are now, it will be seen as ludicrous that a time existed where some humans were “lords” over others, especially as regards the land the others lived on.

There are many positions in our economy where compensation is based on fame, inheritance, stock ownership, position in an old boys network, and other forms of power all of which are not directly related to the amount of work being done by the recipient or even to the quality of that work, if any work is involved at all. Yet this system is accepted by seemingly everyone and what gets complained about is how illegal immigrants are diluting the work force. When I see an add on TV for some medicine that is supposed to help alleviate my elderly mothers arthritis pain, I wonder how much of GDP went into making that add, figuring out the cute name for the drug, and creating the marketing campaign to sell it. All for profit when a well-informed doctor who keeps up with the latest bulletins on drug therapies would be a better and much more cost effective method of delivering that drug to my mother.

Yet the thing conservatives complain about, and many liberals as well, is illegal immigration.

Illegal immimgrants, legal immigrants, and, equally importantly, normal working people are contributing to the economy by virtue of doing work, creating things, building things, and using the money they make to keep the overall economy going, including the compensation of bankers and land lords and others who benefit from their work product.

The drain caused by illegal immigration, if there is a drain, is the wasted money spent on law enforcement in trying to track down illegal immigrants, spent in the legal system and penal system in incarcerating illegal immigrants, and the income lost due to the underground economy created as a consequence.

Legalize all of the illegal immigrants. Make them full fledged citizens who will pay social security tax, income tax, and participate in the society fully. Let’s concentrate on letting people who want to work, work.

Control the borders, within reason. But be very liberal in allowing those in who are able to find work. Provide a good minimum wage and enforce that minimum wage. The result will be a happier more productive economy.

For more information about Thom Hartmann, who is one of the more intelligent radio talk show hosts currently on the air, see However, be warned, he is plain wrong on the topic of illegal immigration.

Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

You should return the Nobel Peace Prize. I now believe that novel “1984” is true. “War is Peace” – that was your message. You must have a hard time sleeping Mr Bush. Woops I get confused. Who is in the white house.

You spoke of “the world as it is” and threw a cloak of justification over the grisly escalation in Afghanistan by insisting that “war is sometimes necessary” – but generalities do nothing to mitigate the horrors of war being endured by others.

You gave the world a pro-war speech. The context instantly turned the speech’s insights into flackery for more war.

Your general who is running the US war effort in Afghanistan spoke to a Congressional committee in Washington about your recent pledge to begin withdrawal of US troops in July 2011. “I don’t believe that is a deadline at all,” Stanley McChrystal said.

Actual policy always, in the real world, profoundly trumps even the best rhetoric.

War is not peace. It never has been. It never will be.

You had the chance to be great. But your are not. You are the Washington consesus in person. A company flack.

Return the Nobel. Let them give it to someone who deserves it.

What happened to "We Can"?

i’m not going to join a boycott wholefoods, just yet anyway

i did write about it here

but i’ve been perusing the blogosphere to see if an uprising is taking place

one isn’t. this is just another fad, a misdirection of well-intentioned energy

[wait a second, there are now unions urging the boycott – ed. Aug27, 2009]

Some who-knows-whos set up a facebook page and sign up 20,000+ fans for a boycott

what does that say? who are these people? why did i sign?

i realized something this morning.

i realized that the party who was elected on a slogan of “We Can” cannot.

if all we have in our society and culture is an anarchy of bloggers talking to each other with no organization on a large scale – i’m talking about unions or the democratic party – entities that have mind share and not just some ad hoc committee that springs up on the spur of the moment – we will not make progress

anarchy is wonderful when it works.

has it ever worked? name a time.

the fact is, the democratic party is letting us down – they are wimps – they should be leading us toward single payer system and they are not

that says something about the democratic party, it says something about our culture, and it says something about us

Whole Foods, to boycott or not to boycott, a response to CEO John Mackey

Whole Foods is run by John Mackey, a typical Libertarian Ayn Rand fan. A rich promoter for the U.S. oligarchy. Mr. Mackey spouted off in a Wall Street Journal Editorial of August 11, 2009

Mackey begins with a quote from Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”.

The problem with that quote is that “The problem with Capitalism is that eventually a small number of people have everyone else’s money” (you can quote me on that).

Factoid: Cuba has twice as many doctors per capita and a lower infant mortality rate than the United States.

Since the publication last week of the WSJ editorial by John Mackey, a spontaneous uprising to boycott Whole Foods has taken place. I am not sure if I support the boycott yet or not, although if a boycott really gets going and embodies a statement to the oligarchy of what change is needed, I will get behind it. [ed. – I did not join the boycott for reasons I explain here]

I surveyed the top links via Google about the Whole Foods Boycott, including positions opposing it. At the end of this column, I provide a small list of some links I found interesting.

First,let us examine each of the eight points made by CEO Mackey in his WSJ article:

•  Mckey: Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan’s costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

My take: Whole Food’s employees limit their spending on health care for fear they will need more in future years. People should not be forced to ration their own health care. When they need care they should get it. And health care is not like a commodity or good that one purchases for the “lowest cost”. Health care is not like buying a TV or a car or a toaster. It is a necessity of life. Sure, cosmetic surgery should not be covered by socialized medicine (even though it is in Venezuela in many cases, for example). But all basic health care should be covered and not be a reason for profit.

•  Mckey: Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

My take: Simplify the hell out of the entire accounting quagmire that is health care and provide a simplified single-payer system. THAT would be fair and remove the flow of vast profits to a small number of wealthy oligarchs who own the current system of insurance.

• Mckey:  Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

My take: Obviously a single-payer or public health care option would provide that feature, but at much less overhead cost than the Balkanized state of mega-health care corporations (sick care corporations, to borrow a friend’s term) that would dominate in Mackey’s world.

• Mckey:  Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

My take: Hogwash. Just as we have standards for delivery of food, water, and other necessities, and are now hopefully going to install more regulation on how multi-millionaire hedge fund managers twitter away money keeping a cut for themselves even when they lose money, the U.S. Government, which I am proud to support, should be highly regulative of what health care must be provided, starting with making it so that all people in the country receive it to start out with.

•  Mckey: Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

My take: Malpractice lawsuits only account for about 1% of the health care GDP. It is a non-issue. Better would be to cap the amount that lawyers can make on such lawsuits and provide a national reserve fund to cover the costs. Doctors should not have to pay for either their education, an administrative staff, or liability insurance. All of that can be immensely simplified by a single-payer or public health system. Doctors who screw up should be sanctioned by peer-review boards and, in egregious cases, have their license to practice removed.

•  Mckey: Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

My take: Again, health care is, by and large, not comparable to buying a shirt or picking a car. The vast majority of health care costs are either relatively low cost preventative measures, which would be facilitated by a zero-cost-per-service single payer system or are necessary interventions for disease or injury. Mackeys argument is specious.

•  Mckey: Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

My take: Medicare is a success. We need to increase taxes now on very high income earners who are taking more than twice the income they took in during the Reagan years so would not miss it, but I would argue that we also will save so much by firing all of the current Insurance company executives and removing profit from the system that the savings will pay off. Are you telling me that France, Germany, Cuba, and Canada, all who have life expectancies rivaling or exceeding the U.S. and health care costs that are less than half don’t get it? It is the U.S. that does not get it. Wake up America.

•  Mckey: Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

My take: Revise tax forms to have nothing to do with voluntary contributions and eliminate all together private insurance company forms.

Last year, Greenspan had the honesty to admit that some of the premises he had been operating upon based on Libertarian principles seemed to have been invalid. Perhaps it is now time to turn the screws on others in the Oligarchy, starting with John Mackey. To wit, many people in the netsphere are proposing to boycott Mackey’s company, Whole Foods.

But is that fair? What about the employees of Whole Foods? That is a classic argument used to oppose strikes but, also, that should be used to favor unionization en masse, so that all workers strike in solidarity with one another. In the United States we are far from having such unanimity or ubiquitousness of union efforts. Still a boycott makes a statement.

Below are some links to points of view and places you can sign up if you favor a boycott.

A San Francisco businessman argues for the Boycott
A Whole Foods employee questions the usefulness of a boycott

Some in-the-trench progressives favor the boycott and pro-union efforts was started to support boycott. They have a Facebook page you can join.

Single Payer Action supports the boycott