Monday, March 30, 2009

It takes a brick-paved street to cry

Click picture to see it full-sized.

In the part of Moline where I live there are a number of old brick-paved streets. I took the above picture a block from my house. Apparently the winter was hard on the streets around here. This is 18th Avenue betweeen 12th and 13th Streets. That section of the street is now blocked off but a number of cars scrapped their bottoms on this hazard before the barricades were put up.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gonzales, Yoo and 4 others may be indicted for War Crimes

According to the Associated Press a Spanish court has agreed to open a criminal case that could result in criminal indictments for six Bush Administration officals on charges of enabling torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Human rights lawyers brought the case before leading anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon, who agreed to send it on to prosecutors to decide whether it had merit, Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers who brought the charges, told The Associated Press.

The ex-Bush officials are Gonzales; former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.


Spanish law allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes under a doctrine of universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.

Garzon became famous for bringing charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and he and other Spanish judges have agreed to investigate alleged abuses everywhere from Tibet to Argentina's "dirty war," El Salvador and Rwanda.

Read entire article.

It will be very interesting to see how the American public reacts to this news. Hopefully this will open people's eyes to how the reset of the world views the actions of the Bush Administration.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Unfair compensation

Is your feeling that the bonuses received by the AIG executives whose actions helped put their company at risk of bankruptcy are unfair and wrong just an emotional reaction or is it a reasonable position grounded in your moral principles? Can you define fair and unfair compensation? Without a definition of unfair compensation you are left expressing anger without a justification, like the lynch mob some people in Washington and the Main-Stream Media accuse those opposing the bonuses of being.

Of course, unfettered free-enterprise (capitalism) does not provide any definition of fair compensation -- the income someone receives entirely depends on market forces of supply and demand . Fairness has nothing to do with it. If you believe that the bonuses were unfair then you must look somewhere else for justification for those feelings.

My brother Dan suggested to me yesterday that the old Quaker idea that a businessperson should set a fair price for his/her merchandise or service and always sell it for that price, rather than haggling to establish the price for each transaction suggests a refinement to capitalism that could give us a definition of unfair compensation. Up until the late 18th Century there were no set prices in American stores. As is still the case in the developing world store-owners would haggle with the customer for each sale. If, through ignorance or desperation, the customer was in a poor bargaining position the store-owner would be able to coerce a high price and make more profit. Some Quaker shop-owners began feeling uneasy about charging some customers more than others, especially because it often worked out that the highest prices were charged to those least able to pay. They decided to determine a fair price for everything they sold, post those prices and always sell at the set price without haggling. Customers much preferred set prices to haggling and as a result stores offering set prices became popular, business increased and the Quaker store-owners ended up making more money than ever. Soon all stores were forced by competitive pressures to also adopt set prices and it became the standard way of doing business in this country and the developed world.

On September 11, 2001 in New York City the subways were closed down and tens of thousands of people who normally took public transportation were forced to walk to get home in Manhattan. It was a hot day and a lot of the walking people started ducking into stores to buy bottled water. Some store owners, in order to cash in on the situation, suddenly raised the price for their bottled water. If you think it was wrong to raise the price of water for desperate, thirsty people just because they were thirsty and desperate then that suggests a definition of unfair compensation. It is wrong to charge more for your product or service just because, through circumstance, you are in a position to do so. It is wrong for AIG to reward executives who made bad decisions just because the government has been forced to bail out AIG because it is too big to fail.

Not only is it wrong to try to profit from someone else's misfortune, as the experience of those late 18th Century Quaker shop-owners shows, it might turn out in the long-run to be a bad business decision. At least it would if people today react as those 18th Century customers did. We seem to be on a retreat from set prices made possible by shopper's desire to get a "bargain." Today a lot of items have set prices, called the list or retail price, but most people most of the time don’t pay that price, they pay a discounted, sale or coupon price, sometimes arrived at through haggling. For those items the retail price becomes the unfair price paid by those unable, through circumstance, ignorance or desperation, to negotiate a better price. Once again those least able to pay, pay the most.

The 18th Century Quakers had other ideas that were just as radical and new at the time as set prices. They opposed slavery and believed that women had the same rights to education as men. They were declaring wrong activities and behaviors that were almost universally practiced. All three ideas were eventually adopted by the developed world and now seem like conventional wisdom. But we seem to be on a retreat from the idea of the same price for everyone. Why would unfair prices be a harder problem to solve than slavery or women's rights?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gov. Richardson abolishes death penalty in New Mexico

I don't know how much good Bill Richardson would have done as Commerce Secretary, but there is no doubt in my mind that the bill he signed on Wednesday, abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico, made the world a much better place. As the prophet Amos, speaking on behalf of God, said "...let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

Here is an excellent editorial about it from the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are illegal immigrants the biggest threat we face?

There is an interesting op-ed in this morning's New York Times:

Here’s a thought. What if illegal immigrants really aren’t America’s worst nightmare? A lot of energy has been spent insisting that they are, but are they really as dangerous as, say, zombie banks? Or as evil as retention bonuses?

In truth, our biggest domestic menace never was waiting outside Home Depot, hoping to clean your basement. Unauthorized immigrants are not about to destroy anything, not even when they get angry and loud and march in large groups. On the contrary, they are inspiring. Their ethic of self-reliance and hard work is one that Americans should recognize and celebrate.

Read the entire article

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Young Moline Mother Returns to Mexico

photograph by Kuni Takahashi of the Chicago Tribune. Click on the picture to see it full sized.

The woman in the bed in the picture is 28 year old Mariana de la Torre, a Moline resident for two years, until her recent return to her native Mexico. You can still tell, if you use your imagination at little, how pretty and vivacious she was before the cancer and the radiation and the chemotherapy took her hair and her strength.

A little over a month ago one of the oncology nurses at Trinty Hospital in Rock Island told my wife, who was there as a friend and translator for Mariana, that she did not understand why the doctor was treating her so aggressively. "There is nothing more to be done. Why doesn't he just discharge her?" But Mariana had told the doctor that she wanted to go home to Mexico to see her children and family. The doctor ordered one more round of chemo to get her well enough to travel. That got her just strong enough that she could fly home, although she needed someone to go with her to handle the ostomy bags and tubes and ambulances were needed to take her to and from the airplane. The above picture was taken a few weeks ago in Mexico at the hospital Mariana was taken to by ambulance from the airport. The three children are Mariana's. They had not seen each other since December 2006, when she left them with an aunt and crossed the border illegally and came to the Quad Cities looking to earn money that she could send back to Mexico to support her children. She had just left an abusive husband and had no way of earning enough money by herself in Mexico.

The day after this picture was taken the Mexican hospital asked Mariana where she wanted to die and then released her in her brother's care. There was nothing more they could do for her.

There is an article in today's Chicago Tribune about Mariana's situation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Workers without borders

There is a very interesting op-ed in this morning's New York Times by Jennifer Gordon proposing a change in how we handle immigrant workers.

Despite stepped-up enforcement at the borders, hundreds of thousands of immigrants still come illegally to the United States every year. Raids terrorize immigrants but do not make them go home. Instead, rigid quotas, harsh immigration laws and heavy-handed enforcement lock people in. As the recession deepens, undocumented immigrants will hunker down more. They may work less, for worse pay, but they will be terrified to go home out of fear they can never return.

Read the entire article for her solution.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

How much bipartisanship is there going to be in Washington?

Quite a few of the talking heads in the media have been claiming that Obama must be judged to have failed if he cannot get Republicans to support his proposals, even though the voters elected enough Democrats to Congress that legislation can be enacted with no Republican support in the House and only a couple of Republican votes in the Senate. This being the case all Republicans have to do is say 'No' in order to have Obama judged a failure. Of course, if they simply say 'No' to everything they will have sacrificed their chances to accomplish anything positive. Do they care so little about what is good for the country that they would try to scuttle needed legislation just for partisan advantage?

Here is Rush Limbaugh, default head of the Republican Party, on bipartisanship. (From his speech yesterday at the CPAC).

Bipartisanship occurs only after one other result. And that is victory. In other words, let's say as conservatives liberals demand that we be bipartisan with them in congress. What they mean is, we check our principles at the door, let them run the show and then agree with them. That is bipartisanship to them. To us, bipartisanship is them being forced to agree with us after we have politically cleaned their clocks and beaten them.

If the Republicans in Congress continue to follow Limbaugh's lead there is going to be very little bipartisanship in Washington.