Monday, November 24, 2014

Declaring War on the Poor

Brian T. Lynch

Thom Tillis is now Senator elect from North Carolina, having beaten Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in the 2014 election. During his campaign Tillis berated the poor and suggested that those people who can't help being poor, like the truly disabled, should rise up and opposed welfare for the unworthy poor. What he actually said was:
“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” 
North Carolina has 1.1 million poor. That's 13.1% of its population. If these folks voted it would be hard to imagine Tillis getting elected, but Hagan and the Democrats have abandoned the poor and working class in this country as well. Now the poor are under attacks like this:
“We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’ And we've got to start having that serious discussion.” - Thom Tillis
Watch for the U.S. Senate to put Tillis on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to replace Kay Hagan. He is destine to become the chair of the Children and Families Sub-committee with his attitudes. His appointment would amount to a declaration of war on the poor.

So how should sensible people respond to divisive attacks like this on the poor and vulnerable? Should we begin making similar distinctions between the worthy and unworthy rich? Should we affirm those who earned their great wealth and provide social benefit but rescind all advantages given to those who use their inherited wealth to squeeze the people and their government for still more?
How we respond to these questions will define who we are as a nation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Free is "Free Will"

by Brian T. Lynch
This is purely my opinion, but my understanding of "Free Will" is very narrow compared to most people I talk to about it. I see it as something that emerges gradually along a continuum from actions that are totally coercive to purely rational and independent. It isn't an all or nothing phenomenon, as some see it. I exclude all impulsive actions taken due to internal urges from my definition since urges aren't rational and follow from completely different pathways in the brain. Also, actions that spring from emotions may or may not involve free will in my view. It is here that the gradual blossoming of free will is most evident. 
When ever we act to satisfy urges or emotions we really cannot distinguish "free will" from the actions taken since acting on a urge feels identical to acting by choice.. That is why people don't even know they are addicted to something until they discover they can't simply choose to stop. Addiction in insidious that way. No one can say for sure that they smoke by choice after that first cigarette because even six months later the brain can trigger powerful urges for another cigarette.
The same holds true, by degree, with our emotions. We can't know for certain if we are acting on free will when we acquiesce to our feelings since emotions can also overpower free will. We even say we are "acting on our emotions" to explain certain behaviors, but it still feels exactly like a choice, even if we can't help it. So inwardly speaking, we can only no for sure that we are acting on free will when our actions are contrary to both our urges and our feelings. It is only when we place them in check that we can know for sure we are acting on our own free will.
That said, what about free will in circumstances when our only available options for action are proscribed by others, or by circumstances out of our control? If we have no choice but to act, do we have free will? If we have only bad choices, are we exercising free will by making that bad choice? Was Socrates exercising free will when he choose to drink hemlock rather than face a public execution? It so, and I believe he was exercising free will, then a limited form of free will must exist even under extreme forms of coercion.
How we define "free will" has enormous social and political implications because it thereby defines how responsible individuals are for their actions. It is here we see the continuum of emerging free will run its course. Some folks believe everyone is 100% responsible for their actions. They might then blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick (live style choices) and would probably not accept an insanity defense for crimes committed by the insane. Speaking of justice, we see the role "free will" plays in our action played being calculated in criminal sentencing hearings when mitigating and aggravating circumstances are used to determine appropriate punishment. We punish people for criminal intent but not acquit them, or lighten their punishment if they were not in control of their actions.

These are just examples. In fact, we use these sort of calculations everyday with each other or our children in judging their actions and in modulating our responses. So the idea that free will is an all or nothing phenomenon just isn't born out in our every day experience.
Anyway, here is an interesting article on the subject.
It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells...
SLATE.COM

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why Democrats Keep Losing!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

May I rant? It helps me to think out loud. Maybe you will find it helpful too. (or just ignore this if you like.) 

Voting

Democrats are loosing in state after state and in federal elections because they are acting too white and wealthy for their base, the REAL latent base of the party. And this base is NOT its liberal donors. Dem donors are nice folks, but they can't compete with the GOP donor machines. (Nor should they try)

According to OpenSecrets.org, from the prior election, two-thirds of corporate donations go to the GOP and one-third to Dem's. That's more than enough money to distract Democratic candidates.  But that's not the whole story.

We already have a party of wealthy white guys, so we don't need another party of wealthy (relative term here, not pejorative) white gals or guys to oppose them. As badly as the GOP is exploiting and marginalizing woman (treating them like subordinates), woman's issues are not winning over woman like it should, not even female Democrats. But that's not the whole story either.

We need a Democratic party that gets intimately in touch with the needs of the ordinary people who haven't been voting lately, people who, from their distal vantage, can't tell the two parties apart. Their issues are literally bread and butter, not theoretical or ideological economics. They live in a deflationary universe where wages are flat and a dollar keeps shrinking. Their daily sweat has been sanitized and turned into a market commodity. There is no profit left in labor for them. They know their children will have no inheritance because everything they own can be sold at a flee market. 

The middle class that we usually picture in our mind is not the middle income folks of today. Popular culture's view, reinforced by network TV's portrayals of middle-class lifestyles, matches people making more than $100,000 a year, twice the median wage. Which politicians for federal office speak openly and bravely for this half of our hard working citizens who make less than $50,000 per year? You can't reach them by talk of job creation! Most of them have more jobs than they can handle. 

If we think of the lower half of wage earners as being made up of those who are working and those looking for work, then 7% unemployed minus the 50% who earn less than a middle wage leaves 43% of the wage earners who are not being represented by either party. Of this group, those who call themselves Democrats aren't showing up to vote. Why should they? What will change when no one seems to notice them? 

Republican in this same low income group do show up to vote, but that's because they are cynically manipulated by the wealthy wing of the GOP. They are voting out of fear, anger and pain. The wealthy wing of the GOP hears their pain even as it twist the knife.

Democrats in public office, or running for office, don't want to ruffle the feathers of the powerful minority groups (Wall Street, CEO's, Billionaires, etc.) even though these folks aren't voting for them.  Money is tight. I get that. 

Let me give you just two examples from two New Jersey congressional races that were below the national radar, The incumbent Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen, raise 7 times more money than his Democratic challenger, Mark Dunec in the 11th District. Incumbent Republican Leonard Lance raised 8 times more than his Democratic challenger, Janice Kovach in the 7th District. All this money did not come from the 43% of hard working American's who still need some form of government subsidy to survive. 

And what help did these Democratic candidates get from their party elders? Very little! A decision was made to write off these districts. The slick election strategy that carefully targets resources to the most competitive races writes off the needs of millions of people who have every right to be represented. The big get out the vote strategy touted by the party fizzled because they didn't have an explosive message to motivate the 43%ers. 

People who live below the median wage level have one thing in common with the richest billionaires... their vote is just as powerful. One person! One vote! It isn't how corporations operate; It's how democracies operate. And until Democrats start collecting those uncast vote, instead of appeasing the rich, Democrats will continue to loose.

It is time to stop playing the Republican's game. 


Here is a helpful article by Robert Reich that says in fewer word what I am trying to say above. 


Anyway, I'm done with my rant. Thanks for listening, even if you didn't make it this far. All the best in the future.

________________________________

Image Credit: http://news.yourolivebranch.org/2011/05/24/iec-declares-election-free-and-fair/

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Should Living Wage Minimums be Based on Individuals or Families?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country... By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act - Franklin Delano Roosevelt)

Question:  In looking at the Living Wage calculator, I see that $10.83 for a single adult in Morris County, New Jersey where I live. This seems fair to me for a single person, but when you add one child to that scenario the rate jumps to $22.12 per hour. This raises a serious question.  Does the Living Wage Movement suggest that wages should be adjusted according to need? [ http://livingwage.mit.edu/ ]

Answer:  That's a great question. I am not a spokesman for, or advocate of, the living wage movement as an organization. I do believe that living wages should be the minimum wage in this country.  Minimum living wages should be what we pay summer college help or student interns, not full-time employees. It might also be appropriate for part-time seasonal help. It shouldn't be what we pay permanently hired employees.

To answer your question, I researched what a living wage is in the 130 cities that have living wage laws. It turns out that their wage base is for a single employee, not including any dependents. A living wage in Manchester CT equals $15.54/hour (the highest) while it is $8.50 in Orlando FL (the lowest).  It would appear that the Living Wage Movement is looking to index a minimum living wage minimum to local economies based on one adult with no dependents.

That said, the minimum wage in 1986 was $10.86/hour  as opposed to its current level of $7.25/hour.  If it had been indexed to inflation in 1986 the current minimum wage today would be $23.59/hour today. That clearly was intended to provide for a worker with a family. The current median family size is 2.54 persons per household. That inflation adjusted wage equals about $47,000 per year while the current median family wage is a little over $51,000 per year (and still declining, I might add).

Here's the thing, we have only been talking about wage adjustments to keep pace with inflation. We have not been talking about raising wages to reward workers for our growing productivity. We haven't been talking about sharing the wealth that workers help create so everyone keeps pace with America's growing economy. Cost of living adjustments are important, but they shouldn't be confused with a productivity, or merit raise.

America is $1.7 trillion richer today than it was in 1976. Our economy has doubled, yet the share of all that new wealth created by American workers in this same period is insignificant.

In the 1960's my father was an appliance repairman at Sears. His salary was enough that my mother could stay home and raise my sister and me. Her role as mother to the next generation of citizens was valued. Today, a typical family of four earns about $51,000 only because both parents work. They are only able to make ends meet because of easy access to credit to shift their financial burdens onto their future earnings.

When I speak about a living wage I dream of getting back to a point where one breadwinner can hold one full-time job and still raise a small family without needing government assistance to do it. That's what we had, and that should be our goal for America.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Minimum Wage is a Moral Question

EDITORIAL

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country... By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act - Franklin Delano Roosevelt)

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?

Neither does anyone 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 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% , volunteer to submit their data. What the FBI  does collect are only those cases in which the police homicides were considered justified by the departments reporting. There is no auditing or review process either.  It has been reported that the US Border Patrol doesn't even report shooting up their chain of command.

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

What does the currently limited information 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%).

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 $50 million 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.

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