Four Ways the World is Changing

To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and the vocal artist Otis Redding: “Change is the only constant (and yet) everything still remains the same.” Continue reading

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Mad with Money

Money is a quantifier of a certain kind of success, but a poor quantifier of intelligence or ethics. Money is cherished, almost worshipped nowadays. Money gives you choices. But, it’s a corrupter, a powerful, insatiable brute. It creates an addiction that affects the world. Drugs affect the user and his or her loved ones. Imperious wealth affects the globe. Most of us are aware of the 2008 crash. Many of us were negatively affected by it. Some of us tried to understand it. But few actually profited from it. The ones who did received bonuses, bailouts and bargains. How does this happen? The answer is because money is entrenched with power, one generating the other. If you have money, you buy power. Then, if a catastrophe ensues, your pre-bought power insures your money. This idea is perfectly summed up by the classic line of our miserable generation—“Too Big To Fail”. It’s the line that enables financial criminals to stay out of jail. It’s the line that keeps CEO’s flush with their cushy bonuses. It’s the line that proves pure capitalism is bogus. It’s the line that pushes them above us. It’s the 1% doctrine. CEO pay has risen to over 300 times that of the average worker. You know who thinks that is fair or deserved—the person making that money. Who doesn’t want more money, and who, once rich, is eager to part with it? People’s opinions on money are greatly influenced by how much of it they have. It leads to a dead end, where the only people who can affect change in D.C. are being paid to do the opposite. How are we not to be cynical of this world? How are we to see the end when we are still mired in the muddy beginnings of this problem?

Inside Job was a 2010 film that leaves your jaw agape with frustrating disbelief at the arrogance of Wall Street. They got away with a dizzying scam of selling credit risks. Will someone pay or will they default? They were gambling on rigged games. When the housing market tanked, they got paid. They were betting on others losing. This year’s, The Wolf of Wall Street, is an epic movie recounting the life of an unapologetic, drug-addled stock trader. It’s fun to watch because it’s another in a line of great Scorcese directed films, but at the end, the credits showed: Based on the Book…I couldn’t believe this was a true story! The sickness from his greed and megalomania I was choking on during the 180 minutes rose into an auditory groan when I saw that. This man actually exists? A reverse Robin Hood they called him, the role model for a new generation of money hungry liars. Finally, a 2013 documentary by the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, called Inequality for All raised more issues such as, uneven tax brackets, outsourcing jobs and cycles of wealth distribution. He showed that America in the 1950’s distributed its wealth much better than today, and how that led to the strongest middle class and the most prosperous and most educated workforce of the last century.

The fast food strikes of the past year, where workers asked for a raise of almost double their hourly rate shows how far the gap is between current pay, and where it needs to be with the rising cost of living. No, their job doesn’t require a talent taught in school. But, they are working. We need to get away from the idea of pure capitalism whereby only that 1% with proper connections, creative entrepreneurs, superhuman athletes or beautiful celebrities have the same amount of wealth as one half of the population of the USA. They all should be compensated, but there should also be safeguards and reasonable pay for the other 99% to guarantee a decent return on their sweat equity.

I loved hearing Russell Brand in that viral interview talk about how he’s never voted. He is such a jolly chap and to see him get angry about something so serious was interesting. He has great ideas spoken in a balance of wonderfully playful vitriol and earnest concern, but the number one thing I took from it was that voting is a charade. We vote for different people, but both represent the same idea—keeping money and power where it currently resides. “Profit is a filthy word,” Brand goes on to say. He’s talking about how unrestricted corporate profit generates greed on an unimaginable scale sometimes causing environmental harm. Every year there are hundreds of millions of dollars made by less than 20 people in the USA. When Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller were the richest men in America they saw to it to provide a certain amount of philanthropy. (But perhaps that is only because offshore tax havens and Internet banking didn’t exist at the time.) The money made by the new 1% doesn’t usually stay in America to be reinvested, it’s channeled out to avoid taxation, leaving the bulk of the tax burden on the already shrinking middle class.

Money is only a problem if you don’t have enough, or if you have too much! Redistribution should not be such a maligned idea, and the longer we wait to enact change, the harder it will be.

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School Budget Cuts

The Austin Independent School District is facing a budget shortfall of close to 30 million dollars.  How does a school district make up for that size of a cut?  What can you cut back on that has not already been sliced apart?  Can you make the teacher salary lower than it is?  Can you delete books from the curriculum?  Can you eliminate libraries, theaters, gymnasiums, athletic fields or special education?  Can you raise local taxes?  Can you erase jobs and consolidate classrooms?  Nobody wants to make these decisions, and yet, here we are.  With over 80,000 students spread over 113 campuses and several thousand teachers, there is a huge shift approaching.  What can be done to simplify public schools to the tune of 30 million dollars?  It’s a number that is hard to imagine.  First, imagine a grant of 30 million.  Where could it be spent most effectively?  Who could benefit from it?  There could be better supplies, more field trips, new computers, after school enrichment programs, new uniforms or interesting guest lecturers.  There could be a fascinating atmosphere throughout the district.  Kids would be challenged in new ways and in new subjects.  Now, imagine that grant never came and in fact, the school owed money.   I can’t visualize what is going to happen next.  I can’t even figure out where they can possibly cut funds.  All I know is it will happen and everyone will pay for it.  This is one small district in central Texas, is this happening all over America?