Saturday, October 22, 2011

It’s About Time

After getting mercilessly butt reamed over the past few years after getting royally shafted since Reagan’s time, the people are finally standing up and fighting. What began with a couple hundred hardy souls camping out near Wall Street mushroomed last weekend into 950 demonstrations in 80 countries.

However, just to try to make sure the demonstrators in the US understand that their quest for equity and fairness and a healthy economy for all is futile, the Congress, at the behest of President Obama, passed free trade legislation with Korea, Columbia and Panama. They wanted the people to know that it didn’t matter which party they voted for, they were going to get shafted nonetheless. While free trade areas do create certain types of jobs for Americans, many more are lost, that’s why a large majority of Americans are opposed to FTAs.

In addition, the worst, most egregious aspects of the pacts were left unchanged from NAFTA; that is, the rights given to corporations to sue for damages when environmental legislation, for instance, cuts into their profits. The most famous example was the Metalclad Company’s attempt to build a toxic waste dump in Mexico near the US border. When the local authorities refused a permit, the company sued and forced Mexican authorities to pay $25 million in compensation. What’s more, the trade courts that adjudicate those issues are made up totally of corporate hacks and their deliberations are in secret. While they do lately occasionally judge in favor of the environment, the first 48 cases were all in favor of the corporations and against the people.

Obama campaigned on the promise to renegotiate NAFTA to eliminate its worst aspects, instead, at the behest of corporations who own him and who have no interest in anything but their own profits, he’s carried them forward to taint the new pacts.

Or take the example of Greece. While it was the conservatives who were in power when the world economy started to meltdown, who used the deceitful and charlatanesque talents of Goldman Sachs to hide the true deficit, it’s the ‘Socialists’ who are now in power who are trying to ram austerity down the throats of the people. All mainstream political parties in the Western world, regardless of whether they call themselves conservative or liberal or socialist, have bought into the feed-the-rich, save-the-banks-at-all-costs, economic paradigm.

They say not feeding the banksters will result in catastrophe, but it’s already catastrophe for large numbers of people. In fact, the only people to really suffer in a banking meltdown would be the 1%, those who’ve been sucking on the government’s corporate welfare tit. The trillions of dollars spent to save the banks only went to protect the obscene salaries and bonuses of the banksters, the gifts to the banks did nothing for the economy or the citizenry in need. Much better to let the banks fail, pay off the small depositors, and use the vast sums now being spent to save bloodsucking monster banks to instead create new smaller community oriented banks. One trillion dollars would capitalize 1000 banks at $1 billion each, 10,000 banks at $100 million each, 100,000 banks at $10 mil each.

It would be good for the banks to fail and the 1% to take a big hit to their deep pockets because they are too rich and powerful, they need to be brought down. Those resources held by the few are not good for anyone or anything but themselves. Until they take a real hit, the world’s economy and politics can never be righted.

It’s not going to happen because the banks and the 1% own the government. With the exception of about 70 Democrats who call themselves progressives, there’s no movement in Congress to correct the wrongs of today’s economy and turn it into the right direction. 75% of the American people, including 55% of Republicans want taxes raised on the wealthy to bring down the deficit, but there isn’t a Republican in Congress who would vote for that, and not all that many Democrats either, and only a few Dems who would really fight for it.

We’ve been through this all before, I feel like I’m just repeating myself. I see no light at the end of the tunnel, no dawn on the horizon, no rainbow in a heavy, steely gray, overcast sky.

However, futile or otherwise, I’d love to be out there demonstrating. It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s solidarity, it’s comradeship, it’s a little bit of hope. And it’s about time.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs and the American Way of Capitalism

Eulogies for Steve Jobs have been coming hard and heavy since his expected but untimely death recently. He is recognized by everyone as a great innovator. To his fans, rather his devotees, he’s a genius, almost a demigod.

The last time I used an Apple product, it was an Apple II, back in the 80s. At a certain point the place I went to to use a computer had Macs, but for some reason I resisted moving to the much better system, maybe I’m just stubborn and slow to change. Over the years I’ve frequently had Mac lovers recommend the Apple system over the PC.

No matter how much better the system might be, adopting it was always problematical for me. In the beginning were the issues of compatibility, access to software and ease of repair, which were especially important as I was in traveling mode starting in 1992. In America, those issues would’ve been minor, in Asia a real bother.

The other, even more decisive reason for shunning Macs is that they’re so damned expensive, double or triple the cost of an equivalent PC. Jobs’ economic philosophy involved doing products so likable that people would be willing to pay a premium for them. It worked out well for him as he left this world with $6 billion in the bank, but it also strictly limited the number of people who could enjoy his ‘great innovations’.

Not only did he make his loyal and dedicated customers pay a heavy price for his products he also subjected them to indignities and rip-offs, such as not allowing purchasers of itunes songs to copy them to use on their other computers, or not making iphone batteries replaceable except by a very expensive process at an Apple store. That’s the gratitude he showed them after they showered him with adoration and fabulous wealth.

So he left with $6 billion in assets. If he had departed with ‘only’ half as much - but still far more than any one person could ever possibly need or legitimately use in one lifetime - because he priced his products more competitively and didn’t seek to soak his customers at every opportunity, a lot more people could’ve enjoyed his products and I’d feel more kindly towards him. He actually might have made even more than six billion if he’d kept a smaller margin, but sold a lot more.

In fact I would’ve loved to have an alternative to Microsoft, since I detest Bill Gates with an unrelenting passion, but Jobs made it impossible for me.

He exemplified the capitalist way, which is to think of innovation and quality only in terms of profit and whatever good might be accomplished by your work as peripheral. He might’ve been a good guy but he was also a greedy bastard.

He had it all but still died young. He had it all in this life but it’s hard to say if his great good fortune will extend to the next as it takes more than fat bank accounts in this life to get through the Pearly Gates to the next.