Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanks for Rot?

Thanksgiving is a special time for reflecting on good fortune, family, community, and our wider world. Some helpers volunteer to feed the homeless or disadvantaged. It's likely few Americans consider our untried tortured captives at Guantanamo, or the treacherous autocrats we fund around the world (at the cost of human rights & basic investment in US domestic infrastructure & education).

I know that my blogging and talking about political problems is unlikely to make much positive impact. On the contrary, I lived in Japan long enough to wholly understand "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down" (出る杭は打たれる).

Yet perhaps perversely, I also feel it's important to speak up, not to accept bullying or quietly acquiesce to antisocial chauvinism. Perhaps my persistent interest could be labeled a hobby; more importantly, I hope when the smoke clears to have stood on the side of justice, and have worked for integrity.

After WWII, many emerged from the rubble of defeat wondering how they'd been fooled; blaming their leaders or the military for excess, ignorance, cruelty & genocide. Some falsely claimed to have always been anti-fascist (some weasels claimed active resistance when instead they'd prospered as toadying sycophants). As many ignore horrors, we all suffer escalating indignities. I believe it's important to work for peace, with our God(s) & ourselves.

University: Who Pays?

Many parts of Europe are "reforming" their educational fees systems; seeking to assess higher tuition fees for university. (In Sweden, where I live, university students still pay no tuition fees). Educational access to all who are qualified, regardless of family wealth, is a worthy goal threatened by high tuition fees.

There are assorted good arguments for raising tuition, but good arguments against the practice are often unheard. Many functions of university, most university costs and investments, have little or nothing to do with undergraduate education. Why should prospective students pay?

The people making the decisions, politicians and others throughout society, have already received heavily subsidized education. Many of their arguments for "students paying their way" are also relevant to their own educational backgrounds. Why not consider retroactive cost assessment? Noisy proponents of higher fees can themselves "pay their way" - reducing higher education costs for teenagers.

[When I submitted this letter to The Independent, they cut out the last paragraph - perhaps guiltily unwilling to advocate repaying the educational benefits editors had themselves received.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chalmers Johnson, RIP

Chalmers Johnson is dead at 79. The world has lost a great voice. He was a person who thought & fought prolifically, a modern Thomas Paine. This note is not eulogy or panegyric - I didn't know Chal well enough; he was a brilliant policy analyst; he was hard-working, inspired & pugnacious; he was a great mentor; and he regularly irritated the petty powerful. If only our world had hundreds such!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life as an Outsider

I never liked the Bush Declaration: "You're either with us - or against us."

The 1987 film "Wall Street" (rewatched last night) had one early takeaway line: "If you're not inside, you are outside."

In the USA now, the top 1% hold 34% of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 40% own nothing (and the bottom 50% hold just 2.5%)...

Too many in America fail to recognize: they have become outsiders. A feeding frenzy is going on; they're not invited - they are obedient servants or in danger of being consumed.

Social services insure the rich by maintaining civilization. Hoodlum society has high costs and terrible dangers for the wealthy. Social investments are important!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Validation & Fellowship

It feels good to receive dozens of birthday greetings. Small niceties can be valuable. I've lived thirty years as a foreigner, and appreciate smiles and greetings and hospitality as many others can't. I've been fortunate, cultivating good lifestyle & integrity. The process of achieving many personal goals has developed composure to wholeheartedly delight with others at their joys. My family has been fundamentally healthy. Challenges, pain & perplexities are always near at hand; such is life. Yumbo!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Paying for Corporate Crime

Collusion in the airline industry led today to fines of over US$1 billion. Airlines have already been fined more than US$1.5 billion by the USA for fixing fuel surcharges.

This problem has many dimensions, but a key facet is who should pay. Corporate bonuses and salaries have been "earned" (and paid) based on fraud & illegal activity.

Governments can shake down corporations: fishing for revenues, overcharging for licenses, reinterpreting rules & changing laws to bolster treasuries or aggrandize crusading individuals. Arrogant corporations & government both can gouge consumer-citizens. We little people seem pawns in a bigger game.

Corporate executives & bankers enjoy a system where "white collar crime" brings great personal reward at little personal risk. This stinking system must change.