Friday, October 24, 2014

Minimum Wage is a Moral Question

EDITORIAL

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The White House put out a brief video on why we should raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour. It is OK as far it goes, but it is still a little disappointing to me.
Click here to see the video. [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqtLQgkcUFM ]

Even the White House is looking at minimum wage law though the modern day pro-business bias that has infected all of civil government. Even though raising bottom wages creates an economic stimulus that would boost spending, increase demand for goods and services and create more jobs, this isn't the most important aspect. The main reason to raise minimum wages is because it's simply the right thing to do.

The question of minimum wage is actually a moral question. There is no good rationale for paying a full-time employee less than a self-sufficient wage. What is almost half of a human beings waking moments worth? What is the minimum compensation they should receive for devoting that time to enrich their employers? Why should it be less than what is required to survive with human dignity?

From a social perspective, should profitable businesses be held in high esteem as models of efficiency for paying wages so low that full-time employees require taxpayer subsidy to keep from becoming homeless or having their children taken away from them? Should we have to subsidize the labor force of wealthy corporations like Walmart? Should the federal income taxes of those who make more than minimum wage have to be used to supplement the other employees who takes out the trash at night or mow the lawn? Why should any healthy corporation be allowed to boost their profits at public expense through subsidized labor?

If small businesses or start-up company need government subsidies or tax breaks to help pay their help, let these business owners apply for government assistance rather than make their employees feel inadequate by having to beg for government assistance. No man or woman who works hard all day long should have to apply for housing assistance or SNAP or KidCare or childcare assistance or HEAP or any other government subsidy. Let the business owners apply for government aid to help pay employees the self-sufficient wages all full-time workers should have. Let the means testing process for government subsidy programs fall to the employers. Let's get it off the backs of the working poor and eliminate the social stigma they don't deserve. Let the minimum cost of self-sufficient labor wages be part of the cost of doing business in America.

Profits for CEO's and share holders should not come before self-sufficient wages for laborers. Exploiting workers and taxpayers to boost profits for investors and chief executives is immoral.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Data Driven Viewpoints: Why I blog

Data Driven Viewpoints: Why I blog:

Why I blog

I spent my entire career listening to the personal, often tragic stories of children and parents in need.  I did my best to help families make sense of the pain and confusion they experienced.  I tried to help them make plans, to take steps to regain control over their lives and pursue their dreams.  I advocated to marshal the assistance they needed from the larger social service community and their government.   It wasn't easy work. 

My work brought me into contact with all the major social issues or our day and all of our basic institutions such as law enforcement agencies, courts, prisons, schools, hospitals and medical professionals, county social services and welfare agencies, psychiatric hospitals, universities, non-profit service agencies and governments on the local, state and federal levels.

This was a privileged vantage point from which I observed every level of our human ecology, from the lives of individuals to the operations of government institutions.   The impact of state and federal policy on the unique lives of ordinary people was amazing, and often disturbing to see.  The rising tide of political conflict and the clash of ideologies has real, observable and sometimes devastating consequences.

An old African proverb says:  "When elephants fight the grass dies."  This sums up what inspired me to create this blog.  I want to share my perspective on issues that impact the lives of ordinary Americans.  I want to give voice to those who are too often ignored.  I want to help inform our political dialogue with the best data I can find, data that can be independently verified. 

Ideology is no substitute for reason.  Our political leaders can agree or disagree on principles, but when there is no agreement on facts there can be no common understanding and no effective action to help strengthen families and our communities.

What I do here is completely non-commercial.  I don't, and will never, take a time in advertising for this site. Everything I publish here is free for you to use or republish so long as you properly attribute it to me and this Website. I am very grateful to you for taking the time to read my posts, and I encourage you to engage with me through comments. Feel free to contact me directly via email at brilyn37@aol.com.  Thank you!
Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Police Homicides, What We Know and Don't Know

I've started the following petition:

"Barack Obama and Harry Reid and John Boehner: Pass a law mandating that law enforcement must file a report with the FBI every time a police shooting results in the death of a citizen."   I am asking for your help to get this petition off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:


Here's why it's important:

Do you know how many people are shot and killed by law enforcement every year? No? Well neither does anybody else. Records aren't collected for what is called police homicides, which includes justifiable shootings.

There are 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, including local municipal police, but no national database to track police killings of civilians. The FBI maintains a partial data based of reports submit on a voluntary basis. Only 750 law enforcement agencies, just 44% of all agencies, volunteer to submit police shooting data. What the FBI  collects and reports are only those cases in which police homicides were considered justified by the departments reporting them.  There is no auditing or review process either. And some law enforcement agencies, such as the US Border Patrol, don't even have to report people they shoot and kill to their command.

When government law enforcement officers kill civilians it is our right to know about it. We are all ultimately responsible for the actions of our government. The first logical step is to require that a record be kept and available for public inspection.

So, what does the current, ver very limited information on police homicides show right now?

There are about 400 justified police homicides per year. Every week in this country there are two incidents like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, involving a white police officer shooting a black citizen. About half of all police homicides involve black citizens, and among the population of folks 21 years old or younger, the police homicide rate for blacks is 18%, twice the rate for white citizens (8.7%).

Again, these numbers are based on voluntary self-report from less than half of all law enforcement agencies nation wide.  It seems evident from what we know and don't know that collecting better, more complete information about police homicides is important.

You can sign my petition by clicking here.

Thanks!
Brain T. Lynch, MSW

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Buying Back the U.S. Senate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Dark money from anonymous donors is pouring into the 2014 Senate races. According to Jon Terbush at The Week magazine, midterm election spending this year will "blow away" prior campaign spending records.

"Spending by outside groups in particular is on pace to reach an unprecedented level this cycle," he wrote. "To this point in 2010, outside groups had spent $10.4 million... to date, such groups have spent more than three times as much on the 2014 races."

He offered this graph which show the 2014 spending to date:


There is no doubt that big donations are flooding into politics since the Citizen's United decision by the Supreme Court. Another factor is the proliferation of highly political 501 C non-profit organizations. More than ever these organization take advantage of IRS policy to fund issue advertizing for their partisan candidates. All this money is narrowly concentrated. It comes from a few billionaires or from a relatively small number of special interest groups. Senators become obligated to their wealthy donors while the majority of citizens are not being well served. Much disaffection between citizens and their government has resulted from special interest politics, and this often suits corporate interests

The biggest price tags for US Senate seats this year are in Georgia and North Carolina. Spending between these races is expected to be nearly half a billion dollars, most of which will come from large donations. How on earth can average citizens compete with such big donors for the attention and fidelity of their Senate representatives? There is growing certainty that our Republic no longer represents the interests of most ordinary citizens.

Here's part of the problem. Big numbers are very hard to comprehend. Our brains aren't wired to grasp numbers in the millions or billions. So if we want to understand how expensive our elections really are, we have to break down the cost into manageable units.

Using Senate campaign cost estimates from the McClatchy news organization, and some census data, the following table breaks down Senate election costs by population segments. For example, the Michigan race is expected to cost $13.9 million this year, a lot of money, yet it breaks down to $1.85 for every adult living in the state. This is very close to the national average of $1.87 per adult for this Senate elections cycle. The really expensive Senate elections this year, on a per adult basis, are actually in Alaska and Arkansas where spending will be nearly $12 for every vote that is likely to be cast. Consider also that Senate elections take place every six years. That works out to just $2 per year per likely voter in the most expensive Senate seat, or about $1.10 for each Alaskan adult.

*Estimates are from the McClatchy News Service as published in the New Jersey Star Ledger.

Here then are some numbers that most people can comprehend. The average cost to an individual for this very expensive Senate election works out to just 31¢ per year per Senator. This is all it would cost you to buy back your vote.

Elections cost money. To get the money interests out of politics people have to put money into it. We can't let billionaires and special interest group buy the Congress at such bargain prices. It is time to step to the plate and publicly finance our Republic.

Yes we need to undo Citizen's United and make clear that corporations are not people. We need to do a lot of things, but nothing will restore our voice in government better than fronting the cost of election campaigns. When politicians need both our money and our vote we will have their full attention. Even a few dollars a month would go a long way to fund our democracy.  It would do more to help the poor and support the middle class than almost anything else we could buy. We could even discount campaign finance contributions for everyone who registers to vote.

As essential as voting is to fulfilling our civic duty, funding our Republic and being knowledgeable and engaged in public issues are just as critical.

When Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government we have as he left the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he famously remarked, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Now we know what he meant. It's time to take back our Republic from special interest groups and quirky billionaires. This time let's invest our time, talents and money to keep it in the hands of ordinary people where it belongs.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Evolution of Modern Christianity

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

After 2000 years of Christianity, the idea that the Bible is incapable of being wrong first developed among Protestants about 100 years ago. http://j.mp/1oCQrA0.  But it is a mistake to view each and every detail of the Bible as inerrant. Anyone who holds this belief can't possibly be correct since the Bible is so self-contradictory.

Do you want some examples? Try taking this New Testament biblical quiz: [ http://exchristian.net/3/ ]. It is a very humbling experience.

The Bible may be the inspired word of God, but it certainly was not written in a day. It was drafted over more than a thousand years. The New Testament was likewise drafted over the course of nearly 200 years, starting about 50 years after Jesus' death. It was written by mostly anonymous authors in various locations, none of whom were eye witnesses to the events in Jesus' life.

If you wanted to read the New Testament in the order it was written, you would have to start with the letters of Paul, probably beginning with Thessalonians. The remarkable aspects of these earliest writings of Paul is that he never quotes Jesus nor provides any biographical information about him. This couldn't have been because the words of Jesus were well documented, since these were literally the first documents written.

The first Gospel of the New Testament was the book of Mark, written some 20 years after Paul's letters. This was the first draft of the life, times and sayings of Jesus. Some scholars believe that Mark served as a template for the later works. Written 70 plus years after Jesus' death, the author of this Gospel is unknown. It has the fewest biographical details about Jesus and the least amount of red ink (direct Jesus quotes). This account begins with John the Baptist at the start of Jesus' ministry. It tells us that his family thought he was out of his mind while others thought he was possessed by the devil. It ends with his crucifixion, resurrection and being "taken up into heaven". In addition to having fewer details than subsequent accounts, it also has certain details that are missing in later Gospels. For example, Mark very specifically states that the cross of Jesus was carried by another person.

"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."

In the other Gospels, Jesus carried his own cross, falling down several times under the burden, etc. The point here being that details are fluid and sometimes contradictory, as would be expected given the generations over which the New Testaments were written.

The Gospel of Matthew is believed to have been written sometime between 80 and 90 years after Jesus' death. It was later named after Matthew, who was certainly not alive to write this text. And then, surprise, the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John followed, probably in that order, but who knows exactly? The last of the four Gospel's was the book of Luke. It may have been written as late as 120 years after Jesus died.

The last book written in the New Testament is 2 Peter, believed to have been written between 150 and 200 CE.

Of course there were very many other scriptures and texts written during the first and second century about Jesus and the early Christian church. The task of sorting all this out to come up with a single version of the New Testament began in earnest in the 4th Century, concluding around the middle of the 7th Century. However, even today there remains differences in what constitutes the Holy Bible. For example, the Old Testament Book of Wisdom is included in the Catholic bibles but not the Protestant bibles. Most Christian fundamentalists today rely on the Protestant version for their sources. They do not accept the Book of Wisdom, for example. Add to this the fact that every different translations leads to different interpretations.

I believe it is fair to say the New Testament was written by many people over a number of generations and refined into the several versions we have today over the course of many centuries. It was not created in a day. It evolved,  Just as the Christian understanding of its means and the whole Christian experience have evolved over time. The Catholic Church today certainly doesn't act on many of the beliefs it held in the 13th or 14th Centuries. Over the millennium many different sects and permutations of Christianity formed and dissolved. Each group has pulled from different details, translations or interpretations to create unique constructs. Each group has, in turn, been challenged or even attacked by other Christian groups doing the same. In this way, what it means to be Christian has evolved, and it will continue to do so well into the future.

There is plenty of room for doubt when interpreting bible passages. In fact, there is plenty of room to doubt the legitimacy of the whole Christian faith if you are inclined to do so. The existence of God, after all, cannot be proven or disproven. This is what distinguishes faith and knowledge.

But the leap from faith to a fundamentalist dogma that the Bible is the inerrant word of God is another matter. Religious faith need not require the rejection of reason nor intellect. Belief in what is, or can be known, and faith in what we cannot know, are not mutually exclusive until we cross the line into religious fanaticism. Religious fanatics reject empirical facts that contradict any of their religious claims. The rejection of empirical reality is, in fact, what defines fanatic beliefs. In this regard all religious fanatics are alike. They require a fidelity to tenants of faith that directly contradict the natural world of the Creator God they worship.

In the long arch of history, those who reject the evolution of Christian faith, those who try to deconstruct our present knowledge or force conformity to an unsustainable Christian understanding will ultimate fail. The only question is what damage will they do along the way. Who will suffer and for how long before the latest versions of religious fanaticism become extinct.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Profit Driven Rise of Domestic Armies

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Our founders never wanted a standing army, much less combat troops patrolling our towns and villages. The role and methods of solders is much different than the role and methods of local police, and that is the way we wanted it from the beginning. But now, without public debate or voter input, the culture and the very nature of law enforcement is being changed. The changes began with little notice well before 9/11 but accelerated after that terrible day, bring together both military equipment and military police training in the name of "homeland security." I've written about the military equipment part of this change in May, 2012, but didn't know much about how local police were being trained. That part of the story begins with the rise of PMCS.

PMSCs is the acronym for private military and security companies. These are mercenaries incorporated. They provide private solders to protect government or business interests in unstable parts of the globe. They have multi-billion dollar contracts with the US and other world governments and they represent a huge growth industry since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. As these conflicts wind down, these PMSC corporations have searched for new markets and places to do business. One of those new markets has been local and state domestic police training here in the United States.(Credit: Reuters/Steve Nesius)

BLACKWATER, a large private solders-for-hire corporation, is one of the leading companies currently training many of our domestic police officers. They teach them with military style training and train them on how to use military style weapons provided to local police departments at no cost through the gov't 1033 program. While the rationale for the 1033 program was stated to fight the war on drugs when it first began in 1997, the amount of brand new military equipment given away to local police departments has grown every year since. The mere possession of this equipment is enough to alter the culture of local police departments, but coupled with military training on its use clearly militarizes law enforcement. The development of this police training is well documented in an article in Salon (below).

Here is a brief excerpt from the Salon article explaining the difference between "Serve and Protect" training and military training:

The difference between a police officer trained to “keep the peace” and a soldier was quite easy to identify. A policeman was legally required to protect and to serve the citizens of the state, to assume innocence unless there was a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, and to use weapons against a citizen only as a last resort. A soldier was trained to identify enemies and if necessary to kill them while protecting any non-enemies in the vicinity. “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat” was their creed. And although most policemen trained by a private military company would remain dedicated to their oaths to serve and protect the public, there was the possibility of the exception.
This is an article that everyone should read and discuss. Is this development to be our future or our past? the answer is up to us all.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/30/militarized_police_are_everywhere_when_police_officers_are_armed_and_trained_like_soldiers_its_not_surprising_that_they_act_like_soldiers/

Friday, August 15, 2014

Police Killings Not Uncommon - Exact Numbers Not Known

By Brian T. Lynch, MSW

How many people are shot and killed by law enforcement every year? The answer is that no one knows.

There are 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, including local municipal police. There is no national database to track police shootings. The FBI has maintains a partial data based of police killings, but submitting data to the FBI is on a voluntary basis. Only 750 law enforcement agencies, just 44% of all agencies, volunteer to submit police shooting data. What the FBI  collects and reports are only those cases in which police homicides were considered justified by the departments reporting them.  Some of the largest law enforcement agencies, such as the US Border Patrol, do not report shooting incidents to anyone. It isn’t even clear if the US Border Patrol has an internal tracking system for shooting incidents.

So, given this very limited collection of information on police killings, what does the FBI data base show?

There are about 400 “justified” police homicides per year. Every week in this country there are two incidents like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, involving a white police officer shooting a black citizen. About half of all police homicides involve black citizens, and among the population of folks 21 years old or younger, the police homicide rate for blacks is 18%, twice the rate for white citizens (8.7%). And these numbers are based on voluntary self-report from less than half of all law enforcement agencies nation wide.

This and other information on police killings come from a recent CNN article (see below) Couple these startling facts with the militarization of local police departments and the changing nature of police culture and we have some frightening new insights on our hands. These are issues that clearly need to be confronted and addressed.


Local police involved in 400 killings per year

Kevin Johnson, Meghan Hoyer and Brad Heath , USA TODAY
August 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI.

On average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that were reported to the FBI by local police. The numbers appear to show that the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last Saturday was not an isolated event in American policing.

The reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those seven years were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites. The victim in Ferguson was 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police have yet to identify the officer who shot him; witnesses have said the officer was white.

While the racial analysis is striking, the database it's based on has been long considered flawed and largely incomplete. The killings are self-reported by law enforcement and not all police departments participate so the database undercounts the actual number of deaths. Plus, the numbers are not audited after they are submitted to the FBI and the statistics on "justifiable" homicides have conflicted with independent measures of fatalities at the hands of police.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oklahoma Woman Sues Fracking Company

To follow-up on an article I posted here on June 27th, I just learned that an Oklahoma woman has filed a law suit against the natural gas fracking company she believes is responsible for the many earthquake swarms in her community. The prior article posted here was about the political dynamics at play. It will be very interesting to see how this judicial action plays out in the courts Check this blog for future updates. - Brian T. Lynch, MSW

EARTHQUAKES:
Okla. drillers sued for quake swarm
Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 7, 2014
Almost three years after earthquakes rocked Sandra Ladra's living room in central Oklahoma, she's taking two energy companies to court.
Ladra this week filed a complaint in Oklahoma state court against New Dominion LLC and Spess Oil Co., both based in Oklahoma, for using wastewater injection wells that may have caused a cluster of earthquakes in late 2011. Ladra was injured when rocks fell from her fireplace during the quakes and is now suing the drillers for personal injury and punitive damages.


http://www.eenews.net/energywire/2014/08/07/stories/1060004160


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