24 November 2010

Minor celebrity

Minor celebrity

I guess I'm not all that surprised.

A video I did for an environmental blog (faircompanies.com) was posted on youtube.

It is almost up to a quarter million views!
I have been getting people all over the country tracking me down on Facebook and asking to be friends and asking questions after the see it.
Since there are probably plenty of people with the same questions who don't go to the trouble to track me down, I'm reposting my answers to some of those questions here:

28 April 2010

Awareness of white privilege VS actually working to change it

  • Apr 28, 2010

Awareness of white privilege VS actually working to change it

A couple friends of mine are taking a class on being a "white ally" - race awareness and relations, power and privileged, and counteracting racism.

One of them mentioned to me some critical feedback she had offered and it got me to thinking in more detail what has always bothered me about those sort of discussions, but up until now never quite pinned down.

The following is not a commentary on that class in particular, as I know essentially nothing about it, but rather a critique of a few general ideas I have heard and read on the topic in the past:

1 There is no such thing as "people of color"
-The impact of past racism (including slavery) and present racism does not effect all races equally, nor all in the same way.
- A black american and a white american likely have more in common with each other than with a fresh-off-the-boat Vietnamese person. A white american whose family has been in the US for generations likely has more culture in common with a black american than with a first generation eastern european immigrant with whom they share skin color.
-The very term "people of color" encourages white people to think in terms of a false dichotomy of 'us' (all white people) and 'them' (everyone else). It not only homogenizes all other races, it also makes everyone not white into an "other".
-Lumping all non-white cultures into one category, while giving white an entire separate category in itself suggests a type of superiority.
-This dichotomy also discounts the existence of mixed race individuals (officially 2% of US society, but really much higher - most surveys, as well as society, force people to choose one identity, even if they are in fact mixed)

2 Historical racism is the single largest cause for modern black poverty, and poverty does generally correlate with crime. However no historical or sociological factors can excuse individual behavior. No matter what circumstances a person is born into, they have a choice about their own behavior. Apologizing for, ignoring, discounting, or explaining away black crime rates, drug rates, or general anti-social behavior (e.g. boombox on a crowded train) does nothing to increase equality, and does not bring less conscious white people about as allies.

3 Discrimination is explicitly illegal. Talking about "institutionalized" or "systemic" racism does not address the issues which are most relevant today. While there are still white supremacists in the US, their view has become as unacceptable in mainstream society as it once was only among civil-rights activists. The president of the US is 1/2 African. This does not mean that the conversation about race is over. However, it does mean it is time to change that conversation.

For example, talking about power hierarchies is mostly nonsensical today. If racism = racism + power (as is often claimed by race activists), this does not imply that only whites can be racist, because whites do not have any particular power over other races. There are minorities in the role of police officer, judge, congress person, boss, professor, etc. as well as whites in poverty, in jail, or otherwise powerless. If you ignore all individual circumstances and look only at the whole society, then no one can be racist, because society is no one person.

4 Rarely is it explicitly acknowledged how much - and in what way - individuals (primarily, but not exclusively, white) continue to benefit from past racism. This nation was taken by force from the American Indian, built largely by African slaves (as well as Asian indentured servants) and thanks largely to not only racism, but also inheritance and locally funded education, past disparities directly result in present disparities. Even if one's own ancestors never killed Indians or owned slaves, the mere fact of living in this country means you personally benefit from those who did.

5 Not all non-white people are poor. Not all white people are middle class or wealthy. Class and race are not interchangeable. To speak about them as if they were interchangeable represents a stereotype - it implies a universal truth based on a statistic. The implication itself is racist.
Replacing discussions of poverty, economics, and class with discussions of race is a tool those with power (white, yes, but a special subset of white people - wealthy conservatives) use to polarize the working class. They emphasize criminals and welfare recipients (read: blacks) or immigrants (read: hispanics) and leave unspoken as a given the unity between white Americans of different classes. This helps prevent what should be a natural alliance of the lower class against those who exploit them.

6 What keeps the racial status quo in our society is not a social issue, but rather an economic one.
What too few people talk about is the way in which the condition of one generation affects the next.
After slavery blacks were supposed to get land. This was not a hand-out, but merely a way to compensate, to allow them to begin to catch up. This never happened.
Since poverty is inherited just as surely as wealth, the only way to level the playing field short of paying reparations (with 145 years interest) today would be a strict inheritance tax on not only the wealthy, but the middle class. This would include not only cash, but things such as houses and family businesses.
The single largest factor in predicting an individuals success in life is their education. Pre-school is the best indicator of how well a child does in school. It will be impossible to ever have a equal society without universal, mandatory, publicly financed pre-school. Schools in America are funded 50% or more by local taxes. This system guarantees that schools in poor areas are underfunded and schools in wealthy areas have better resources and an easier time keeping good teachers. Locally funded public schools is an amazingly effective method of retaining the status quo, while appearing on the surface to be neutral and fair. To counteract generations of inherited poverty, ignorance, and a cultural mindset of being separate from society, America should be offering fully funded college for all low-income high-school graduates. And because poverty and ignorance are inherited no matter one's color, this should be extended to anyone who can't afford it.

Racism, in the sense of individual people with power holding stereotypes about a race and acting on that prejudice against individual members of said race, is a relatively small factor in modern America. Formally institutionalized racism is a thing of the past.
Were all of society, at all levels, to suddenly become "color blind", the trends set in motion hundreds of years ago would continue none-the-less. For this reason educating individuals about the existence of "white privilege" can not do much to change anything. If energy is going to be invested into change, it should be invested where it will do the most good.
Its one thing to be aware of culturally insensitive language. It is another all together to recognize that the economic system we take for granted perpetuates the impact of slavery, and that no matter how aware one is in their personal relationships, you directly benefit from the current system - and then work to change that system, even if it means undermining your own economic advantages.
This would mean advocating significant increases in middle class taxes, to fund more social programs. This would mean taking the time to counter the "tea-party" people, pointing out that true justice demands a redistribution of wealth. It would mean protesting to get colleges fees raised, in order to pay for scholarships. This would mean, instead of donating money / time / materials to your own children's school, donating that same time and money to the poorer district a few miles away.

Me personally, I have been called ni**er on more than one occasion. But (not counting by other black people who use it casually - that is whole different topic) it has been in each case by a meth addict (one disowned by her family, and the other evicted from a trailer park). These are people with no power, no influence. These are people so low on the social strata, all they have left to feel even mildly good about themselves is to find someone to hate, for any reason they can. As much as it roils the blood to hear it, they are harmless. The people and ideas that maintain the status quo - including associations of particular races with poverty, drug use, crime, etc - are not overtly racist; in fact, in most cases not even necessarily sub-consciously racist. Racism set up the status quo, but economics is what maintains it.

Capitalism, the free market, individualism, and the republic system of government (as opposed to true democracy) all play a part in maintaining the present as it was in the past. If we want a just society, those are the things that we need to look at first.


By Bakari Kafele | April 28th 2010 09:24 AM


(One simple rule)

Science is not guys in lab coats.  Science is not beakers and test tubes, or fancy expensive equipment that requires a degree to operate.
Science isn't something funded by corporations or the government or universities.

Science isn't even chemistry or physics or biology.  It’s (unfortunately) not something taught in school.

In its absolute simplest form, science can be boiled down to one straight-forward rule:

Check that you're right.

27 April 2010

Response to "Turning Hustlers into Entrepreneurs"

·         Apr 27, 2010

Response to "Turning Hustlers into Entrepreneurs"

"Turning-Hustlers-into-..Entrepreneurs" discusses the possibility of increasing micro-credit in order to support independent "black market" business people.  As someone who has been running a successful off-the-books business for several years, I believe the major obstacle is not a lack of credit, but rather a government which is geared toward big business.
As the examples in the article illustrate, people are already doing what they are doing, without capital.  What they lack is official legitimacy.  Many entrepreneurs, such as myself, would love to "go legit", but it is not a realistic option.
I understand and support the idea that government regulate business to protect consumers.  The problem is that government does not take the size of a business into account in the requirements it imposes on operating legally.

For example, a single guy with a pick-up truck doing local deliveries pays the exact same state license fee as a company with a fleet of semi trucks.  The  least insurance available to him is a million dollars of coverage with a 1-2 thousand dollar annual premium, even if he never comes close to transporting a million dollars worth of goods.   Every city he works in requires its own separate business license.  If he needs to hire a subcontractor on occasion, he needs to buy worker's comp insurance at a minimum, and possibly more.  Being self-employed, he pays an additional tax (which an employer would otherwise cover).  And of course by staying underground, he avoids paying any income tax on his business revenue.

All of this can easily add up to thousands of dollars.  That sum may be inconsequential to a corporation with annual sales in the millions of dollars, but to a small independent, going legit would cost me about 20% of my entire net revenue, more than two months income.

The solution to this is not to finance small business to help them pay for theses fees - these fees are annual, and taking loans only increases risk.  The solution is to have license fees proportional to net revenue, instead of being fixed amounts, requiring insurance companies to offer a full range of coverage options, including (potentially less profitable) low limit policies, and restructuring tax code so there isn't a penalty to being self-employed. Similarly, laws making it difficult or illegal to run certain types of business from home could be relaxed, (for example, allowing small scale retail in otherwise residential districts), eliminating the need for a dedicated store-front, a major on-going expense.

Reducing the government imposed costs of running an independent business legally would, without the additional risk incurred (for both the investor and the entrepreneur) by accepting loans or the costs incurred by providing grants.  It would also increase tax revenue, by encouraging existing underground businesses to come above the radar and join the mainstream economy.

26 April 2010

Global Warming Revisited

  • Apr 26, 2010

Global Warming Revisited

(The following was a "letter to the editor" I submitted to a progressive magazine in response to articles on global warming)

In "American Psychosis" you point to the many people who acknowledge global warming, but do not change much, if anything about their destructive lifestyles, and in "Hot Air" talk about the point of view of skeptics and deniers.

I run a certified green hauling business. I modified my delivery truck to get 30mpg (from 15mpg) and run it on 100% biodiesel made from recycled veggie oil.  I also work part time supporting people who bicycle to work  (at a business which runs at a loss because our main service is free).  I live in a 250square foot home and use less than $5 worth of electricity most months.
I also have some background in science, including degrees in earth science and biology, and generally track down sources for claims I read.

Having read arguments on both sides, I am not convinced that humans are significantly contributing to climate change.  While I admit I haven't kept up with the latest research, I have yet to see several points addressed:

23 April 2010

I have been appointed polling place inspector

  • Apr 23, 2010

I have been appointed polling place inspector

I am going to be the person in charge of my local polling place.
Democracy will literally be in my hands.
It will be my responsibility to ensure every vote in my neighborhood gets counted.

I am proud, and slightly terrified.

How it is I skipped over getting experience as a clerk first, I am not entirely sure, but I just got a very official looking notice in the mail, informing me that I'm gonna be the guy in charge this primary election, June 8th.

I start at 6am, work until 9pm, and I will have a crew of 5 people.
My designated polling place happens to be the same as where I normally go to vote, and its easy walking distance from my house.

13 March 2010

Flat Tax

  • Mar 13, 2010

Flat Tax

The science essay I told everyone I was working on has been written, and is in the final editing stages.  It will still be a while before it is ready for prime time though.
In the meantime, here is a short thing I wrote a while ago to someone (don't even remember who anymore) about the concept of a flat tax:
The standard arguments for a flat tax make a couple of giant - and totally false - assumptions:
1)That the money which the rich spend and invest creates economic activity, growth, and jobs
2)That the rich have earned and therefore are entitled to their money.
3)That taxing the working class would generate more total tax money because there are so many more of them to tax
1)The investments of the rich do not generate economic activity. If they were not hoarding it, that same money would still be around. Business could get capital from government and bank loans, and from the stock market. That is, in fact, the whole point of the stock market, that capital is obtained from many small sources instead of one giant one.
Its as if one person hoards all the hammers in town, and rents them out to people, then wants credit for the houses other people built with them. If they weren't hoarding the hammers, the hammers would still exist. If they were distributed equitably, no one would need to rent them, therefore building would be cheaper, therefore more would get built. In this way the fact that someone is hoarding and charging interest actually depresses economic activity, because those hoarding the cash skim a little off the top of every financial transaction thereby increasing its cost.
2)The super rich do not earn, and therefore are in no way "entitled" to or "deserve" the money they have. Extremely few of the top 0.1% of wealth holders got there from some brilliant invention, and even fewer of the top 0.01%, 0.001%, and so on. Those at the very top get their wealth primarily from inheritance, and then build on it by collecting dividends and capital gains. They do not actually go to a job and do useful productive work.
Those who do make a salary are not necessarily earning their money either. CEOs make multimillion dollar salaries plus bonuses even when they run their companies into the ground, as we saw just recently, with even companies that needed to be bailed out with tax dollars giving their CEOs multimillion dollar bonuses.
3)The bottom 40% averages about 20k a year. Total annual income is 2.4 trillion.
The top 0.1% averages 7 million a year. Total annual income is 2.1 trillion.
300k rich people have nearly the same total income between them as 120million working class people.
The top 1% averages over 1million a year. Total annual income is 3.3 trillion, far more than the sum of every working class person in the country.
You could tax the working class at a rate of 69% of income and still not bring in as much tax money as you would by taxing the rich at a rate of 50%.
You can't squeeze blood from a turnip.
Furthermore, if you did that, the rich are left with, on average, half a million a year.
Half a million which, remember, they didn't really earn.
The poor are left with $6200.

In order to make a flat tax even approach "fair", you would have to make several other large changes to level the playing field.

First off, you have to eliminate ALL inheritance.  That means 100% inheritance tax on everyone, from ultra wealthy to middle class.  You earn your money in your lifetime, and then it gets recycled back into society.  There is no justification to say that a person is entitled to money they did nothing to earn. 

Second, you have to make education both free and mandatory from pre-school to at least bachelor's degree, if not more.

Third, you have to distinguish between income that comes from doing productive work (wages) from un-earned income such as dividends, interest, and capital gains.  Someone who merely skims off the top of other peoples work should be taxed at a higher rate then someone who actually earns their pay by working for a living and positively contributing to society.

When libertarians and the wealthy begin to fight to level the playing field, then and only then can they claim that a flat tax is about "fairness"

A flat tax is both impractical and immoral.

24 January 2010

A couple more Last Day of Youth Party videos

  • Jan 24, 2010

A couple more Last Day of Youth Party videos

Now people who couldn't make it can vicariously experience 4 separate components of the party.

Full Contact Spoons - the only existing recording of the greatest full contact sport in the world.  There is only 1 min and 17 sec worth because we are all old and fat and lazy.

Micheal Scott has it right

  • Jan 24, 2010

Micheal Scott has it right

On the popular TV show "The Office", the branch manager is a bit of a doofus.  He's not all that bright, he is totally obsessed with having his employees like him on a personal level, and he has very little knowledge of actual business or management theory.
He makes his superiors wring their hands and shake their heads - but the thing is, his office's sales record is the best in the company, so despite his many, many faux pax, he always keeps his job.

Nobody can quite figure out how he manages to do such a good job in spite of himself.

Even though he tells them quite clearly, time and again.

He considers his employees family.
He wants his customers to feel cared for.
He is more interested in making people happy than in making money.

You can't learn to be community based and to value clients as actual people in business school.  You can't use the idea of caring about people and being friendly to increase the bottom line, because if your interest is in the bottom line, you aren't genuinely interested in people.  You can't fake authenticity. 

12 January 2010

Best. Party. Ever.

Jan 12, 2010

Best. Party. Ever.

One of the things that happens when you get too old, you spend more time re-telling old stories than generating new ones.

I have a couple new ones now.

04 January 2010

Check Your Mirrors

  • Jan 4, 2010

Check Your Mirrors

Occasionally I end up driving other people's cars.

Invariably, I have to adjust the mirrors.
I often question why they were set the way they were, and the answer is usually some variant of "I like it that way".
I realized that probably a whole lot of people probably see it that way.

Setting mirrors is not a matter of personal preference.
There is an absolute right and wrong way to do it.

Before you accuse me of being a mirror nazi, consider that car accidents kill more Americans under 50 than disease and murder combined; 100 every single day.

As someone who rides a bike, skates, rides a motorcycle,  has driven large commercial trucks with large commercial size blindspots, and nearly been run over inside other peoples blindspots, I say again, with emphasis, setting the mirrors on your car is not a subjective exercise.
Doing it wrong can literally mean the difference between life and death.