Sunday, April 24, 2011


Out of sight, out of mind

Pity the poor fellow (or girl) who has served time in prison and now wants to rebuild his life.  He (she) has repented the crime, has served the sentence, and now wants to join society and become simply another honest worker.  As soon as he's out of prison he has difficulty finding a job - no one wants to hire a felon - and a place to live - no one wants to have a felon as a neighbor.
To illustrate the problem I present a portion of a newsletter I recently came across:
More Assaults Against Our RA Property Rights

Group Homes

Councilman Greig Smith has written an ordinance to regulate the many group homes that are appearing in residential neighborhoods across the city. Although any ordinance must address all types of these businesses, it is the unregulated sober living homes and private “group homes” whose tenants are often convicts and/or transients that are causing problems for us. The operators of these homes use our tax dollars (alcoholics are considered disabled by the feds) to charge rent and cram up to 30 people into a 3 or 4 bedroom home. Do the math to see how much money they are making at our expense. Complaints range from increased crime to the residents doing drug deals or having sex in cars or in the yards of these properties. Obviously, the operators’ prime concern is more about making a lot of money than it is about being good neighbors.
This article illustrates part of a general problem we have in America.  The problem is that we have never achieved a public consensus on the treatment, education, and rehabilitation of criminals.  Our public attitude is to send the convicted criminal to a prison and forget about him.  We don't think about what this person is going to do after his sentence is finished.  Our prisons should be as much about education and rehabilitation as about punishment.  Unfortunately all we think about is punishment and public safety.  We seem to believe that there is a type of individual who is prone to commit crimes and that criminals are such individuals.  We don't accept the idea that any one of us may or will under the right circumstances commit crimes.  Would I steal food from a grocery store to feed myself and my family if I had no money?  Yes, I would.  If I were an addict and had no money and needed a fix, would I steal or rob to get the money?  Probably.  I doubt that I have the will power to overcome a serious addiction.  Do I belong in prison?  I don't think so.

If we had in place practices and policies for rehabilitating and educating convicts while in prison and if we had good judgment about which convicts to release and which ones to keep a while longer, persons like the writer of the newsletter article would be less worried about temporary homes for released convicts.  If also we had a better system of providing these homes and determining who stays in them there would not be the problem of addicts taking up residence in such places.

How do we get there from here?  We can't depend on a democratic and representative government to do it for us.  What we need is a group of dedicated individuals to do the hard work of creating and operating such temporary residences, including raising the money to get the first residence started.  There would eventually have to be an organization to operate all the residences in the State.  I don't know whether it should be operated by the State or by a non-profit non-governmental operation (NGO).

I invite your comments.

Saturday, April 16, 2011



The current attempt of the Republicans to enact the Paul Ryan budget reminds me of the French and Russian revolutions and what led up to each.  The French and Russian revolutions involved transfers of power and wealth from the wealthy classes to the poor and powerless.  Representative Ryan's budget amounts to a transfer of power and wealth from the poor and middle-class Americans to the wealthy.  If it succeeds, it will be just a prelude to a French or Russian style revolution here in America.

The writer Ayn Rand and others have offered a homily for the rich as justification for their good fortune and their natural right to hold on to it and increase it.  It's a saying, something like this: "No one has the right to take from me what is mine and give it to others, especially those who are poor."  Followers of this belief argue that governments have no business trying to redistribute wealth.  As an example, Medicare is a program that provides needed medical services and care to many elderly persons who otherwise could not afford them.  Thus, it is a government activity that redistributes wealth and ought not exist.  Mr. Ryan's budget takes away medical services from those most in need and thereby serves to correct an activity that redistributes wealth.

Mr. Ryan's budget also reduces the tax rate on the wealthy.  This reduction reduces the redistribution of wealth.  Many other features of the budget aim to accomplish the reduction, at least, if not the end to any redistribution of wealth by the government.

My own opinion is exactly the opposite of Ayn Rand's.  It is obvious to me that one of the most important functions of government is to redistribute wealth - to discourage the accumulation of great fortunes by a few individuals while the rest of the population gets no share in the total increase in wealth of the nation.  This accumulation of additional wealth by the few and the stagnation of the fortunes of everyone else has been occurring for the past thirty or more years in our country.  It is time for government to take strong measures to stop this concentration of wealth at the top and redistribute at least some of it so that the rest of us can enjoy improves and enhanced services from our government.  Rather than converting Medicare to a voucher program where senior citizens buy health insurance from private insurers government should plan to improve the existing medicare system to achieve more efficiency and an adequate mechanism for funding.  More taxes, of course for the funding, and incentives to encourage medical care providers and drug companies to provide their services in more effective and economical ways are needed reforms.  Certainly not vouchers!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


How to negotiate

I've spent some pleasant time visiting Mexico and Thailand.  My wife, who was born in and grew up in Bangkok, Thailand had no difficulty understanding the method of negotiating a price for a souvenir or valuable art object in either country.  The basic principle is that the seller first asks a high price and the buyer offers a low price.  Eventually they reach an agreement and the sale is consummated.  In Mexico, at least, if the buyer has paid more than the seller expected, the seller will offer another item, not very expensive, at no charge.  If that happens to you, you know you've paid too much.  At any rate, the Mexicans and the Thai delight in such negotiation.  A friend once told me about the bargaining for time on a fishing boat in a town somewhere in Baja California.  The bargaining was very tense and determined.  After the price had been agreed to, the Mexican crew of the boat invited my friend to join them in a meal.

Compare those pleasant memories with the current negotiations in Congress over the budget for the year 2012.  The Republicans have made an offer that is ridiculously low.  No new taxes; make the Bush tax cuts permanent, then reduce them some more.  Make drastic reductions in government expenditures for Medicare, Medical, education, etc.  Maintain or increase the bloated defense budget.

What is the Democratic counter-offer?  So far there is none.  The President has revealed what he would accept as the final compromise between two extreme positions.  That's a serious blunder in negotiation.  Before the President makes his reasonable compromise offer - some cuts in Medicare, etc., and some increases in taxes - either he or some Democrat in Congress should make an extreme Democratic offer - say, no cuts in Medicare, etc., drastic cuts in unnecessary defense spending, and a big tax increase for the very rich.  Then the two sides can haggle and gradually make concessions and arrive finally at what the President has just proposed.

The President has given the game away.  Now the "reasonable" compromise will be something between the extremely conservative budget proposal of Representative Ryan and the moderate budget proposal just laid out by President Obama.  Too bad!  What should have happened is that a prominent Democrat should have presented an extremely liberal budget proposal.  After a week or two of much yelling and screaming about how far apart the two proposals are, the President would then present the moderate proposal.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Is History Repeating?

I have read that in the 1930's, when Germany was suffering the depression (along with the burden of paying reparations for World War I) and when the Nazis were gaining political power, the upper classes in Germany chose to use Hitler and his fascistic movement rather than oppose it on the ground that they believed they could control him.  Let him scapegoat the Jews for Germany's problems and he would distract the workers, many of them unemployed, from being angry at the system that had failed them and would instead vent their anger at the Jews.

Historical analogies are never perfect.  However, I see an analogy between the decision of the wealthy class in Germany in the 1930's and the decision of the wealthy class in our country to embrace the Tea Party Movement.  The Tea Partiers have the enthusiasm and the energy of the Nazis.  They also have a fixed idea of who or what the culprit is, the group responsible for the present depression.  Just as the Nazis blamed the Jews for being "un-German," so do the Tea Partiers blame liberals who want to raise taxes and provide free health care for everyone, free old age pensions for everyone, etc., etc., etc.  The wealthy ones, e.g., the Koch Brothers, are perfectly happy to let the Tea Partiers take over the government and impose their program of disabling all forms of welfare for the poor and undeserving loafers and enhancing the privileges and wealth of the rich.

The German elite classes found out too late that the Nazis would not be controlled.  How soon will our own elite classes realize that the Tea Party movement is going to take them down with the poorer classes?

Tea Party lore teaches that high taxes cause unemployment; social welfare causes laziness; free medical care causes unhealthy behavior; etc., etc., etc.  Let our Congress be made up of a majority with such beliefs and see what they will do with our country.

If I write any more I will simply be preaching to the choir.


Friday, April 08, 2011


The wisdom of Prof. Kimber

I spent the years 1940 - 1944 as an undergraduate student at Michigan State College in East Lansing, Michigan.  Years after I left the name was changed to Michigan State University.  I guess a university is classier than a college.  At least now I can brag that my undergraduate BS degree came from a university, not a mere college.

But I wander from the subject.  What concerns me is the deep and continuing split between Republicans and Democrats, both in Washington and in Sacramento.  In both cases there is an impasse over the budget.  The budget is important, not because it provides money to pay for vital services, such as medicare and highway repair, but because the budget is the way public policy is set.  It was so in the days of King Henry VIII as much as today.  The king or the president is constrained from carrying out certain policies because there is no money allocated in the budget for them.

At Michgan State I had courses in history from Professor H. H. Kimber.  One of the things he taught me is that representative government won't work unless there is a general agreement on fundamentals, such as what kind of government do we want.  This lack of agreement between the two major parties is leading to paralysis in Washington and in Sacramento.  Let me cite a few examples:
  1. Last year Democratic majorities in Congress were able to enact a reform in our way of delivering medical services.  The objective was to provide universal medical care.  The law didn't go that far but it did provide medical care for several million Americans who can't now afford it.  The Republicans opposed the reform and none of them voted for it.  Unlike the Democrats, Republicans don't believe the government should do anything to provide universal medical care.  Their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, often points out that our present system is the best in the world and shouldn't be messed with.  Of course Senator McConnell enjoys the best medical care in the world.  This excellent care is provided to all members of Congress.  In addition Senator McConnell is a millionaire and is quite able to pay for any medical services he needs.  Republicans now want to repeal the health care law.  If they can't repeal it, they can delay its implementation by simply not appropriating any money in the budget to fund it.
  2. Another sticking point in Washington is the funding of Planned Parenthood.  Democrats view this program as a useful service for poor and middle class women in helping them plan for how many children to have and how to take care of them.  Republicans hate the program because it includes providing information about abortion as well as birth control, even though planned parenthood clinics do not actually perform the medical services.
  3. A basic difference in the future of American government services exists in both Sacramento and Washington.  Republicans believe that government does too many things.  They would like to see an end to costly environmental restrictions on business as well as an end to all taxes on businesses.  They argue that business taxes are simply passed on to customers anyway.  In addition they make California businesses less competitive than businesses elsewhere who pay less tax.  Democrats are not concerned about the size of government.  Like everyone else they simply want government to provide the services that the public expects in an effective and economical manner.  They believe that government should protect the public from harmful pollutants emitted by factories into the surrounding air and water.  They believe that the State should provide a first class education to the children of today so that they will be good citizens and trained workers in the future.  Like Ronald Reagan, Democrats believe that taxes should hurt and that the hurt should be felt by the very rich as well as the rest of us.  They believe that the revenue from taxes should be sufficient to pay for all the services that the public needs.
There is no basic agreement on these issues.  In Washington each side will let the government shut down its operations rather than yield to the position of its opponents.  In Sacramento also neither side is willing to agree to the demands of the other.  Republicans seem to be extremely stubborn.  They are unwilling to compromise on partial funding for Planned Parenting unless the term "abortion" is completely expunged from its vocabulary.  Republicans refuse to agree even to put the question of a tax increase to a vote of the public here in California.

I had the advantage of learning an important lesson about representative government from Professor Kimber.  The public has the same lesson presented to it in the day's news.  Is the public paying attention?

Labels: ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?