Monday, January 31, 2011
Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer
23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism: Item #1 -- There's No Such Thing as a Free Market
By Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press
Posted on January 31, 2011, Printed on January 31, 2011
Editor's Note: Many books have tackled the great recession of 2008, the second worst economic crisis in history, after the depression. But I doubt there is one book, written in response to the current economic crisis, that is as fun or easy to read as Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell you About Capitalism. I'd never heard of this Korean economist, probably because he lives in England and teaches at Cambridge, but he is well known in economic circles, and well respected.
It is no secret that the American society is dominated by the super rich, held for hostage by the banks, dominated in the Nation's Capital by the tens of thousands of lobbyists and their big bucks, as the Republican party and their corporate Tea Partyists provide cover for giant theft of many billions of wealth for the very rich, with of course the cooperation of the Democrats who supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy (Check out Rachel Maddow's op-ed, which explains why Dwight Eisenhower, who taxed the rich to balance the budget, which be a radical in today's political reality). In this very discouraging environment it is hard to imagine scenarios where normal folks, every day voters, the non-rich, who are not represented by lobbyists, can have much influence.
On top of that, making change even harder, is an enormously effective propaganda system that perpetuates inaccurate and often destructive myths about virtually every element of capitalism and the US and global economy. And top economic officials in the Obama administration and leading mainstream economists often perpetuate these myths, and the corporate media marches along side repeating them like the gospel.
So, as far as I am concerned there never can be too much truth-telling to attempt to pull away the curtain of propaganda and disinformation that shrouds our economic thinking and actions. I am not under the illusion that the facts will set us free. As research has shown, when people connect their opinions to a set of values or leaders, they will not be open to changing their mind, and presentation of contrary "facts," may make them dig in more clinging their their misinformation. But when it comes to the economy, the propaganda system has been so pervasive, and supported by conventional wisdom that people who need to know better, buy into it, and yes that includes liberals and progressives who have a kind of inertia of the mind of their own. It is hard to change one's sense of things.
AlterNet's Economics editor Joshua Holland made a nice contribution to this public education effort this Fall with his book: The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy Now we have the funny, and sharp Chang. What follows is chapter one of his book: "There is No Such Thing as a Free Market." Other chapters are quite revealing such as: " The Washing Machine Has Changed the World More than the Internet;" "More Education, in Itself, Is Not Going to Make a Country Richer;" "The U.S. Does Not Have the Highest Living Standard in the World;" "Companies Should Not Be Run in the Interest of their Owners."
Chan's main point is the recent economic disaster wasn't by accident, that active government can promote economic dynamism, that tax cuts for the rich simply redistribute wealth upward, and that we will continue on the path to economic disaster,with no end in sight, unless the collective wisdom, goes in a different direction. -- AlterNet Executive Editor Don Hazen
Thing 1: There is no such thing as a free market
What they tell you
Markets need to be free. When the government interferes to dictate what market participants can or cannot do, resources cannot flow to their most efficient use. If people cannot do the things that they find most profitable, they lose the incentive to invest and innovate. Thus, if the government puts a cap on house rents, landlords lose the incentive to maintain their properties or build new ones. Or, if the government restricts the kinds of financial products that can be sold, two contracting parties that may both have benefited from innovative transactions that fulfill their idiosyncratic needs cannot reap the potential gains of free contract. People must be left "free to choose," as the title of free-market visionary Milton Friedman’s famous book goes.
What they don’t tell you
The free market doesn’t exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How "free" a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to defend the market from politically motivated interference by the government is false. Government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politically motivated as anyone. Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined "free market" is the first step towards understanding capitalism.
Labor ought to be free
In 1819 new legislation to regulate child labor, the Cotton Factories Regulation Act, was tabled in the British Parliament. The proposed regulation was incredibly "light touch" by modern standards. It would ban the employment of young children – that is, those under the age of nine. Older children (aged between ten and sixteen) would still be allowed to work, but with their working hours restricted to twelve per day (yes, they were really going soft on those kids). The new rules applied only to cotton factories, which were recognized to be exceptionally hazardous to workers’ health.
The proposal caused huge controversy. Opponents saw it as undermining the sanctity of freedom of contract and thus destroying the very foundation of the free market. In debating this legislation, some members of the House of Lords objected to it on the grounds that "labor ought to be free." Their argument said: the children want (and need) to work, and the factory owners want to employ them; what is the problem?
Today, even the most ardent free-market proponents in Britain or other rich countries would not think of bringing child labor back as part of the market liberalization package that they so want. However, until the late 19th or the early 20th century, when the first serious child labor regulations were introduced in Europe and North America, many respectable people judged child labour regulation to be against the principles of the free market.
Thus seen, the "freedom" of a market is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. If you believe that the right of children not to have to work is more important than the right of factory owners to be able to hire whoever they find most profitable, you will not see a ban on child labor as an infringement on the freedom of the labor market. If you believe the opposite, you will see an "unfree" market, shackled by a misguided government regulation.
We don’t have to go back two centuries to see regulations we take for granted (and accept as the "ambient noise" within the free market) that were seriously challenged as undermining the free market, when first introduced. When environmental regulations (e.g., regulations on car and factory emissions) appeared a few decades ago, they were opposed by many as serious infringements on our freedom to choose. Their opponents asked: if people want to drive in more polluting cars or if factories find more polluting production methods more profitable, why should the government prevent them from making such choices? Today, most people accept these regulations as "natural." They believe that actions that harm others, however unintentionally (such as pollution), need to be restricted. They also understand that it is sensible to make careful use of our energy resources, when many of them are non-renewable. They may believe that reducing human impact on climate change makes sense too.
If the same market can be perceived to have varying degrees of freedom by different people, there is really no objective way to define how free that market is. In other words, the free market is an illusion. If some markets look free, it is only because we so totally accept the regulations that are propping them up that they become invisible.
Piano wires and kungfu masters
Like many people, as a child I was fascinated by all those gravity-defying kung fu masters in Hong Kong movies. Like many kids, I suspect, I was bitterly disappointed when I learned that those masters were actually hanging on piano wires.
The free market is a bit like that. We accept the legitimacy of certain regulations so totally that we don’t see them. More carefully examined, markets are revealed to be propped up by rules – and many of them.
To begin with, there is a huge range of restrictions on what can be traded; and not just bans on "obvious" things such as narcotic drugs or human organs. Electoral votes, government jobs and legal decisions are not for sale, at least openly, in modern economies, although they were in most countries in the past.
University places may not usually be sold, although in some nations money can buy them – either through (illegally) paying the selectors or (legally) donating money to the university. Many countries ban trading in firearms or alcohol. Usually medicines have to be explicitly licensed by the government, upon the proof of their safety, before they can be marketed. All these regulations are potentially controversial – just as the ban on selling human beings (the slave trade) was one and a half centuries ago.
There are also restrictions on who can participate in markets. Child labor regulation now bans the entry of children into the labor market. Licenses are required for professions that have significant impacts on human life, such as medical doctors or lawyers (which may sometimes be issued by professional associations rather than by the government). Many countries allow only companies with more than a certain amount of capital to set up banks. Even the stock market, whose underregulation has been a cause of the 2008 global recession, has regulations on who can trade. You can’t just turn up in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with a bag of shares and sell them. Companies must fulfill listing requirements, meeting stringent auditing standards over a certain number of years, before they can offer their shares for trading. Trading of shares is only conducted by licensed brokers and traders.
Conditions of trade are specified too. One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to Britain in the mid-1980s was that one could demand a full refund for a product one didn’t like, even if it wasn’t faulty. At the time, you just couldn’t do that in Korea, except in the most exclusive department stores. In Britain, the consumer’s right to change her mind was considered more important than the right of the seller to avoid the cost involved in returning unwanted (yet functional) products to the manufacturer. There are many other rules regulating various aspects of the exchange process: product liability, failure in delivery, loan default, and so on. In many countries, there are also necessary permissions for the location of sales outlets – such as restrictions on street-vending or zoning laws that ban commercial activities in residential areas.
Then there are price regulations. I am not talking here just about those highly visible phenomena such as rent controls or minimum wages that free-market economists love to hate.
Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the "free" labor market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80–90 per cent of native workers with cheaper, and often more productive, immigrants. Immigration is largely settled by politics. So, if you have any residual doubt about the massive role that the government plays in the economy’s free market, then pause to reflect that all our wages are, at root, politically determined.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, the prices of loans (if you can get one or if you already have a variable rate loan) have become a lot lower in many countries thanks to the continuous slashing of interest rates. Was that because suddenly people didn’t want loans and the banks needed to lower their prices to shift them? No, it was the result of political decisions to boost demand by cutting interest rates. Even in normal times, interest rates are set in most countries by the central bank, which means that political considerations creep in. In other words, interest rates are also determined by politics.
If wages and interest rates are (to a significant extent) politically determined, then all the other prices are politically determined, as they affect all other prices.
Is free trade fair?
We see a regulation when we don’t endorse the moral values behind it. The 19th-century high-tariff restriction on free trade by the U.S. federal government outraged slave-owners, who at the same time saw nothing wrong with trading people in a free market. To those who believed that people can be owned, banning trade in slaves was objectionable in the same way as restricting trade in manufactured goods. Korean shopkeepers of the 1980s would probably have thought the requirement for "unconditional return" to be an unfairly burdensome government regulation restricting market freedom.
This clash of values also lies behind the contemporary debate on free trade vs. fair trade. Many Americans believe that China is engaged in international trade that may be free but is not fair. In their view, by paying workers unacceptably low wages and making them work in inhumane conditions, China competes unfairly. The Chinese, in turn, can riposte that it is unacceptable that rich countries, while advocating free trade, try to impose artificial barriers to China’s exports by attempting to restrict the import of "sweatshop" products. They find it unjust to be prevented from exploiting the only resource they have in greatest abundance – cheap labor.
Of course, the difficulty here is that there is no objective way to define "unacceptably low wages" or "inhumane working conditions." With the huge international gaps that exist in the level of economic development and living standards, it is natural that what is a starvation wage in the U.S. is a handsome wage in China (the average being 10 per cent that of the U.S.) and a fortune in India (the average being 2 per cent that of the U.S.) Indeed, most fair-trade-minded Americans would not have bought things made by their own grandfathers, who worked extremely long hours under inhumane conditions. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the average work week in the U.S. was around 60 hours. At the time (in 1905, to be more precise), it was a country in which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a New York state law limiting the working days of bakers to 10 hours, on the grounds that it "deprived the baker of the liberty of working as long as he wished."
Thus seen, the debate about fair trade is essentially about moral values and political decisions, and not economics in the usual sense. Even though it is about an economic issue, it is not something economists with their technical tool kits are particularly well equipped to rule on.
All this does not mean that we need to take a relativist position and fail to criticize anyone because anything goes. We can (and I do) have a view on the acceptability of prevailing labour standards in China (or any other country, for that matter) and try to do something about it, without believing that those who have a different view are wrong in some absolute sense. Even though China cannot afford American wages or Swedish working conditions, it certainly can improve the wages and the working conditions of its workers. Indeed, many Chinese don’t accept the prevailing conditions and demand tougher regulations. But economic theory (at least free-market economics) cannot tell us what the ‘right’ wages and working conditions should be in China.
I don’t think we are in France any more
In July 2008, with the country’s financial system in meltdown, the US government poured $200 billion into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage lenders, and nationalized them. On witnessing this, the Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky famously denounced the action as something that could only happen in a "socialist" country like France.
France was bad enough, but on 19 September 2008, Senator Bunning’s beloved country was turned into the Evil Empire itself by his own party leader. According to the plan announced that day by President George W. Bush and subsequently named TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), the U.S. government was to use at least $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy up the "toxic assets" choking up the financial system.
President Bush, however, did not see things quite that way. He argued that, rather than being "socialist" the plan was simply a continuation of the American system of free enterprise, which "rests on the conviction that the federal government should interfere in the market place only when necessary." Only that, in his view, nationalizing a huge chunk of the financial sector was just one of those necessary things.
Mr. Bush’s statement is, of course, an ultimate example of political double-speak – one of the biggest state interventions in human history is dressed up as another workaday market process. However, through these words Mr. Bush exposed the flimsy foundation on which the myth of the free market stands. As the statement so clearly reveals, what is a necessary state intervention consistent with free-market capitalism is really a matter of opinion. There is no scientifically defined boundary for free market.
If there is nothing sacred about any particular market boundaries that happen to exist, an attempt to change them is as legitimate as the attempt to defend them. Indeed, the history of capitalism has been a constant struggle over the boundaries of the market.
A lot of the things that are outside the market today have been removed by political decision, rather than the market process itself – human beings, government jobs, electoral votes, legal decisions, university places or uncertified medicines. There are still attempts to buy at least some of these things illegally (bribing government officials, judges or voters) or legally (using expensive lawyers to win a lawsuit, donations to political parties, etc.), but, even though there have been movements in both directions, the trend has been towards less marketization.
For goods that are still traded, more regulations have been introduced over time. Compared even to a few decades ago, now we have much more stringent regulations on who can produce what (e.g., certificates for organic or fair-trade producers), how they can be produced (e.g., restrictions on pollution or carbon emissions), and how they can be sold (e.g., rules on product labelling and on refunds).
Furthermore, reflecting its political nature, the process of re-drawing the boundaries of the market has sometimes been marked by violent conflicts. The Americans fought a civil war over free trade in slaves (although free trade in goods – or the tariffs issue – was also an important issue). The British government fought the Opium War against China to realize a free trade in opium. Regulations on free market in child labour were implemented only because of the struggles by social reformers, as I discussed earlier. Making free markets in government jobs or votes illegal has been met with stiff resistance by political parties who bought votes and dished out government jobs to reward loyalists. These practices came to an end only through a combination of political activism, electoral reforms and changes in the rules regarding government hiring.
Recognizing that the boundaries of the market are ambiguous and cannot be determined in an objective way lets us realize that economics is not a science like physics or chemistry, but a political exercise. Free-market economists may want you to believe that the correct boundaries of the market can be scientifically determined, but this is incorrect. If the boundaries of what you are studying cannot be scientifically determined, what you are doing is not a science.
Thus seen, opposing a new regulation is saying that the status quo, however unjust from some people’s point of view, should not be changed. Saying that an existing regulation should be abolished is saying that the domain of the market should be expanded, which means that those who have money should be given more power in that area, as the market is run on one-dollar-one-vote principle.
So, when free-market economists say that a certain regulation should not be introduced because it would restrict the "freedom" of a certain market, they are merely expressing a political opinion that they reject the rights that are to be defended by the proposed law. Their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth, while other people’s politics is political. However, they are as politically motivated as their opponents.
Breaking away from the illusion of market objectivity is the first step toward understanding capitalism.
Support AlterNet by purchasing your copy of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism through our partner, Powell's, an independent bookstore.
Ha-Joon Chang teaches in the faculty of economics at the University of Cambridge. His books include "Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism" and "Kicking Away the Ladder."
© 2011 Bloomsbury Press All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/149688/
Simply Put~ HuffPost Article About Jobs + A Business Owner Explains Simply Who's Responsible For Job Losses
In Turnabout, Democrats Allege GOP Dropped The Ball On Job Focus
Republican leaders say they have a jobs agenda, kicked off by their attempt to unravel what they call the Democrats' "jobs-killing" health overhaul.
Democrats scoff at this notion, and they're hounding Republicans to show how they can put more people to work.
"It's astonishing to me how tone-deaf the Republicans have been in the first weeks of the session," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "They've talked about everything but jobs."
Few were surprised when House Republicans moved quickly and voted to overturn the law, but the Democratic-controlled Senate will block that effort.
Heads turned when Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, presented the next item on the agenda: writing into law a perennially renewed ban on federal dollars for abortion, and to specify that it applies to health plans.
The abortion proposal "reflects the will of the people," said Boehner. "It's one of our highest legislative priorities."
When reporters asked why jobs weren't the main focus, Boehner said it was vital to vote against the health law because "it's destroying jobs in America."
He and his fellow Republicans say the law could wipe out 650,000 jobs
Democrats dispute that claim. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put the law's effect on supply and demand for labor as small.
At best, House Republicans seem to be sending mixed or diluted messages about job creation while they promote social issues that appeal to conservative activists. Examples include limiting jury awards in medical malpractice cases and expanding the District of Columbia's school voucher program.
Democrats are pouncing. Each day, they echo the taunt that Republicans used in the November elections: You're not doing enough to create jobs.
"Republicans waging losing war on health care while Democrats focus on jobs," said a headline Friday from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He told reporters that "we still recognize that our number one issue is jobs." He said he was preparing a small-business innovation bill "that would also create jobs."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sends daily "talking points" to colleagues with suggestions such as "another day, another opportunity lost for Republicans to work with Democrats on job creation."
In truth, there's only so much the government can do to create jobs, short of expensive stimulus bills or public works programs such as those launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Numerous and complex factors that affect the U.S. and global economies play a bigger role.
Curiously, perhaps, both parties have accused the other of fixating on health care instead of jobs. Health care, more than any other issue, energized the Democrats' liberal base in 2008 and 2009, and, conversely, fired up the GOP's conservative base as well.
Barack Obama campaigned on overhauling the health care system, and his backers saw his 2008 election as a mandate to follow through. In Congress, the process proved extremely difficult and partisan, with no Republicans voting for the final version.
Raucous protests against the legislation helped launch the tea party movement in 2009. Dozens of GOP candidates ran last fall on a promise to overturn the health law. Once elected, they claimed their own mandate to act right away on the issue, just as Democrats had done two years earlier.
Both parties risk appearing to cater to their hard-core supporters at the expense of political centrists worried mainly about jobs.
A new AP-GfK poll asked 1,000 adults to name the one thing they would want the federal government to do this year, if it accomplished only a single thing. The economy and jobs ranked first, cited by 38 percent of those surveyed. By comparison, 31 percent named health care, with some supporting Obama's health law and some opposing it.
No other issue exceeded 12 percent; abortion barely registered.
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who oversaw GOP House campaigns in past years, defended the early focus on health care and abortion. "These are commitments we made" during the fall campaign, he said, adding that a heavier emphasis on jobs is coming soon.
HuffPost Commenter: Mafdet 9 hours ago (10:17 PM)
Me and my business partner own a small manufacturing business and here's our observation about what caused spiraling unemployment: The consumer banks had started their freefall in Dec 2007. They were looking at inestimable losses from the defaulted mortgages they were going to be left holding the bag on, and lawsuits from all the states. So as 2008 Read More... closed they wouldn't be lending for years to any but risk-free prospects. So certainly not to small business. As 2008 closed, the small manufacturing and professional services base in America had been laying off workforce to preserve cash flow for 12 months. This sector employs almost 50% of America.
Well, even though the consumer banks were screwed, the investment banks were sitting pretty, because Henry Paulson had convinced this president and the last that the investment banks should not have to buy back the hundreds of thousands of fraudulent securities that they dumped on overseas markets through thousands of Enron-like shell companies for more than a decade. In fact, they would keep the proceeds of their fraud and they would even cash in any insurance policies on bad mortgages they were still holding!
But Henry reasoned, this made the investment banks perfectly situated to help the American economy. What we would do is give the big investment banks $25b each and they would turn that back around and lend it to small banks that would then lend to America's small manufacturing and professional services sector and we would start hiring people again and shore up employment. AND WE WOULD HAVE. Because then, as now, all other market conditions were favorable for growth.
But the investment banks did not do that. They instead said to themselves: We could make a lot more money by denying it to the small banks! By strangling them and the businesses that depend on them, we create bargains. Then we can leverage this here bail out money two or three times over and we can snap up the assets that we drive under at a value of hundreds of billions. Then we'll make a big deal of paying back the bail out money early and everyone will think we're heroes.
In their wake, they left hundreds of failed banks, thousands of failed businesses, and relentlessly spiraling unemployment. And the banks - no banks - have loaned to small manufacturers and professional service firms for more than 3 years now.
That is why we keep seeing the headlines about employment not returning to normal levels for years. It takes about 10 years to restore a country's manufacturing and professional services base once it has been devastated as badly as ours has.
Congress - neither party - didn't care because they were and are invested in these banks.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Episode: Fri., Dec. 10, 2010
This week on Need to Know: A look at coal mine safety. The U.S. ranks low in a global education study. A social innovator outsources "microwork" to developing countries. Jon Meacham analyzes the tax cut deal. And director Julie Taymor on the Spiderman musical and her new adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
NOTE: America is looking more and more like a Police State. Civilians are losing rights left, right & center.
Chris Drew was finally ready to get arrested. An artist and activist, Drew had spent years protesting a Chicago ordinance that puts tight restrictions on where and how people can sell their art on the street. He was downtown, on State Street, selling silk-screened patches for $1 and defying the city to stop him.
He'd tried his act of civil disobedience three times before -- a First Amendment lawyer on hand to argue his case, a team of videographers ready to film the arrest -- but the police simply let it slide. When, on December 2, 2009, he finally succeeded in getting booked, Drew was ready for a few hours in lock-up on a misdemeanor, and a lengthy court battle. He was in no way prepared for what he would actually face.
The state charged Drew with a Class 1 felony, not for selling art on the street, but for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act by recording his own arrest. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
"Illinois has the worst eavesdropping law in the country," Drew said in a phone interview. If not the single most punitive, it's certainly in the top three.
The state is one of twelve that has so-called "two-party consent" eavesdropping laws. This means that audio recording any conversation is illegal unless all parties to the conversation consent.
All but three of those states make an important exception to that law: the recording of police conversations in the public way. Only Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois deem such recordings illegal, and the Maryland attorney general recently issued an opinion suggesting that taping the cops shouldn't be prosecuted.
But Illinois is staying the course, currently prosecuting nine individuals -- including Drew -- for making just such recordings.
"We as an organization, we believe that there's an important role that these kinds of recordings can play in terms of trying to understand the actions of police on the streets, and then using that information to advocate for particular changes in terms of police behavior," said Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy of the Illinois branch of the ACLU. "And we believe that that speech in particular is protected by the First Amendment."Story continues below
The law first came to the ACLU's attention through a separate but similar case, in which two young protesters in Champaign, Illinois were charged with eavesdropping for recording a police interaction on a street corner. The organization filed an amicus brief in that case, and the state's attorney dropped its charges, but continued prosecuting other cases of the same kind. Yohnka said the ACLU decided to challenge the law itself when it realized the consequences it might have on its own attempts to defend citizens' constitutional rights.
Speaking of one particularly sticky situation with the police, he said, "We realized in sending out some legal interns, you couldn't tell them to do what you'd actually tell them to do in this day and age, which is take out your iPhone and give us a sense of what's going on there."
The ACLU is currently taking the Cook County State's Attorney to court, challenging the constitutionality of the law on the First Amendment grounds he mentioned. So far, the challenge has failed in two separate rulings, the most recent of which came down on January 10 of this year. Yohnka says the group's legal team is now in the process of preparing an appeal to the Seventh District Appellate Court.
He acknowledged that it might seem ironic for the ACLU to be attempting to weaken an eavesdropping law, which offers the kinds of protections the Union might otherwise fight for. But Yohnka saw the irony the other way around. The Chicago Police, he said, have been expanding their recordings of ordinary civilians, with blue-light cameras, cameras in patrol cars, and the like. The justification for these recordings is that what happens in public is public, and there should be no expectation of privacy.
"We think that's the standard that ought to be applied to police officers who are engaged in their public duty, in a public place, in an audible voice."
Thus far, the courts don't agree. That means that Chris Drew will go to trial on April 4 for the felony charge against him. "We filed two motions to dismiss, but they were both denied," said his lawyer, Mark Weinberg. Drew faces four to 15 years in prison for the charge, though he could also be released on parole.
"My lawyers say it's unlikely I'll do prison time," Drew said -- "but I do live in Chicago."
Given the ordeal he's been through, his lack of faith in the city is understandable.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Nearly a year ago, after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, I recalled the story of Gary Rotzler and what happened to him in the early 1990s. He had a college degree and a life pulled straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: He had married his high school sweetheart and, together with their three young children, they were living in a tiny village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains.
Then he lost his job, with its health benefits, and went uninsured for two years while getting by with a series of part-time, temporary jobs. By the time he'd gotten benefits, it was too late to treat his wife's breast cancer, which had gone undiagnosed and would soon take her life. But it was not too late to run up five-figure medical bills that forced Gary, the young widower, to declare bankruptcy.
Gary was just one of hundreds of people I've interviewed over the last decade, in my efforts to learn more about the health care system. And the best available estimates tell us that he's just one of millions who have suffered great financial or physical harm since then because he couldn't pay for basic medical care. Every other developed country on the planet protects its citizens from this sort of devastation. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the United States is on its way to joining them.
It still is, thankfully. Today's House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is merely symbolic. The Senate will almost certainly not pass it and, even if it did, the president surely would not sign it.
But symbolism matters. It sends a message about values. And so it's worth considering what values this generation of Republicans has decided to embrace.
Over the last year, the Republicans have spent a lot of time arguing that the Affordable Care Act will cost too much, that it will micromanage care, that it will burden business with taxes and bureaucracy. The most outrageous claims, like the notion of government-run "death panels," have zero basis in fact. And even the less explosive arguments frequently rely on flimsy evidence. But the most remarkable thing about the Republican campaign against health care reform is what the advocates of repeal haven't said.
They never bothered to engage with the fundamental moral logic behind the Affordable Care Act--that a modern society guarantees everybody access to doctors, hospitals, and the treatments they provide; that it's wrong to sit by and watch people give up their savings, or their lives, just because they happened to get sick. The more serious Republicans have some ideas, yes, but nothing that would come remotely close to insuring 30 million people or bolstering coverage for the people who have it.
As recently as the last major debate over health care reform, in the 1990s, there were prominent Republicans with sincere interest in helping the un- and underinsured. Even today, you can find conservatives who feel the same way or who, at the very least, are honestly convinced that fiscal constraints put those goals out of reach. But the Republicans in the House? The ones who'd gladly run up red ink to finance more tax cuts for the rich? If they care even a little bit about the human casualties of our health care system, they haven't bothered to show it.
In 1965, the House passed H.R. 1, a set of amendments to the Social Security Act that, when signed into law, created Medicare. The designation of the bill as the legislature's first order of business was no accident. President Lyndon Johnson and his allies understood that Medicare was a moral imperative--that extending insurance to the nation's seniors, thus sparing them the familiar indignities and financial deprivations of illness, was among the most important things they would ever do as lawmakers.
Today's vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was H.R. 2. It, too, was a deliberate signal that the leadership considered this a top priority. All 244 House Republicans voted for it. But this was a bill to take insurance away from millions and to weaken it for millions more.
History remembers what happened in 1965. I hope it remembers what happened in 2011, as well.
Update: I made some small revisions to give conservatives, as opposed to House Republicans, more credit for their good faith.More Articles On: Gary Rotzler
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Alabamas' Republican Gov. Robert Bentley Says If You Are Not A Christian You Are Not His Brother or Sister
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) commemorated the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, telling a gathering of Alabamians that he didn't see skin color as a divisive factor. When it came to religion, however, the recently-inaugurated governor raised some eyebrows with a comment on his view of non-Christians in his state.
"So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said in his address, according to The Birmingham News, after telling the congregation that he was "color blind."
Questioned by The News about the suggestive nature of his statement, communications director Rebekah Caldwell Mason clarified, ''He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike."
While Bentley himself promised to become "the governor of all the people" on Monday, the new governor was never shy about his Christian faith during his campaign (he is a deacon at his Baptist church in Tuscaloosa and has been supported by a number of religious leaders). Since winning in November, he has also continued to tout his religious credentials on a variety of issues.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
A pharmacist at a Nampa, Idaho, Walgreens refused to dispense medication that stops uterine bleeding because she suspected the woman may have had an abortion. The pharmacist invoked the state's new so-called conscience clause that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, among other things, if they have a personal problem with it.
Last November, a woman took her prescription for Methergine, a drug that stops uterine bleeding regardless of cause, to Walgreens. The pharmacist, suspicious that the woman's uncontrolled bleeding may have been the result of an abortion, called the nurse practitioner who wrote the prescription to inquire why the patient needed it. When the nurse refused to answer because to do so would violate the patient's confidentiality, the pharmacist hung up on her and refused to fill the prescription.
Essentially, the pharmacist was saying that, while her conscience was just dandy with letting a woman bleed out, it would have a problem saving her life if it was even a possibility that the blood loss was connected to an abortion. The pharmacist's conscience being so fickle, apparently also prevented her from even referring the woman to a pharmacy who would fill her prescription, leaving her alone, bleeding, and lost. Someone care to explain to me how this qualifies as pro-life?
The problem here is bigger than one anti-choice pharmacist. One of the biggest problems with conscience clauses is that they single out one issue (reproductive care) and make it okay for individuals to deny care based on their personal feelings on the issue. People argue that health care professionals shouldn't have to provide care they disagree with. Really? So then should racist doctors be able to opt out of treating people of color, anti-Semitic nurses ignore Jewish patients, or sexist pharmacists deny medicine to women? For examples that hit even closer to home: why not have pharmacists allowed to deny single men erectile dysfunction medication and pain pills (you never know, they might be related to a vasectomy)?
It is both ridiculous and dangerous to allow women's medical care to be at the whim of the feelings of people like that Walgreen pharmacist. According to Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, who filed a complaint with Walgreens, the pharmacy in question has taken undisclosed "corrective action" in this case. That is not enough. Ask Walgreens to make sure that their pharmacists are trained on exactly what they do and do not have the right to opt out of and how to properly handle instances where they exercise that option, including providing referrals. It is what anyone with a conscience would do.
Give a man a fish," and you may get served with a citation.
A volunteer group that distributed food to the homeless was shut down by the the Houston Health and Human Services Department, reported The Houston Chronicle.
Houston volunteers Bobby and Amanda Herring operated their "Feed a Friend" program undisturbed for over a year before officials shut it down. Amanda told the Chronicle that she was incredulous over the timing.
"I'm just really sad. I can't believe for a year we were right out in the open and never had anybody tell us to leave, to stop, to tell us it was wrong. I'm blindsided with it."
The volunteers said that they cleaned up the surrounding area where they fed those in need. However, because they used food prepared by local volunteers in informal settings, their philanthropy wasn't up to code.
Kathy Barton of the Health and Human Services department told the Chronicle the reasoning behind the codes. She said that along with the food itself needing to be certified, it had to be prepared in a certified area as well, all for the good of the homeless.
"Poor people are the most vulnerable to foodborne illness and also are the least likely to have access to health care."
Along with the cost of bringing their program in line with city code, Bobby Herring told CNN that the permit would cost about $17 per day of operation. They rely on volunteerism and donations just to provide the food. Herring was unsure of where the additional funds could come from.
"There's no government funding or church funding. It's purely organic."
The Herrings are not alone. A battle erupted in Los Angeles, Calif. last year over the same themes.
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In June of 2010, members of World Agape Church were approached by law enforcement and health department officials after operating their Skid Row soup line for over five years. They were shut down due to lack of permit, like the Houston program.
After joining together with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, World Agape members connected with other activist groups that experienced similar treatment and claimed a perceptible rise in police citations.
Local public health officials maintained that the volunteer groups had inadequate provisions and disregarded safety regulations. According to the LA Times, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph equated feeding homeless persons with enabling crime and drug culture.
"When you give them food in an area where there are so many other resources for foods, you're incentivizing the streets and keeping them on the streets and nearer to their vices, like drugs."
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry told the LA Times that she supported the law enforcement's position.
"Feeding people on the street is not hygienic, it's not sanitary, it's not good for their health."
Unhappy with liaison attempts with their local government, community activists organized an event in protest. On Sept. 30, "The Right To Share Food Extravaganza" was held on Towne Avenue in Skid Row.
Volunteers distributed food and services freely, with no reported incidents of unrest. Local police and public department officials did not inhibit or shut down the event.
Michael Hubman, a familiar face in Skid Row, has been passing out water to the area homeless for over five years. He helped organize the event and told the LA Times that distributing food to those in need is a part of a citizen's basic freedom.
"We want to exercise and protect our right to share food with our brothers and sisters."