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.

Street Accordionist Plays Vivaldi

There should to be a way to put money into his hat over the internet!

But who is this guy?

Years ago I saw a PBS documentary about a professional orchestra. There is a scene where orchestra members happen by a guy sitting on the sidewalk, I think in a Metro station. The guy was just sitting in a lotus position against the wall, head bowed, only his hands moving. He is sitting there, playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons like there’s no tomorrow. Just whaling away on that magic box. The juxtaposition of these professional musicians watching this street musician modestly making magic as others walk past. The music bigger than everything around it. It was very moving.

I had tried to find out who he was a few times with no success. So the other day I got curious again and searched YouTube for accordion players playing Vivaldi and found the above video.

But this video did not identify the artist! I had to know if this was the same guy I had seen years previously on the PBS documentary.

I was determined. I searched on [orchestra career documentary violinist accordion vivaldi “four seasons”]. That landed me at a blog entry in Neil’s Journal that talks about the documentary “Music From the Inside Out” (2003) and singles out the scene with the accordion player. The blog pointed to a YouTube video of that person playing Bach. It was a different video than the one I had found but the street musician looked very much like the same guy. It identified him as Ruslan Slinko. I carefully compared the videos and am sure this is Ruslan Slinko.

Other YouTube video of Ruslan Slinko playing Bach:

Thanks to YouTube and the Web, I found out who the accordion player was who had moved me so long ago. And now I know where to go to see him perform live and put money into his hat.

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.