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Monthly Archives: January 2016

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A Good Day for American Deplomacy

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Diplomats are our solders for peace. They should be treated like the great patriots and heroes that they are. For too long they have been put on the shelf or forgotten. President Obama set them to work again for America, for all of us.

Today Iran released the American journalists and others that it held hostage in Iran for months. And now the NY Times says Iran has dismantled major parts of its nuclear program, paving the way for sanctions to be lifted. The UN Nuclear Agency is reporting that Iran has met all of its commitments in the Landmark nuclear deal with six world powers. This appears to be a major triumph of American diplomacy and for world deplomacy. Let’s celebrate and see who cares to joins in the celebration!!!

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Sowell on What Makes Poor Folks Poor – Liberal Racism and Inferior Culture

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Thomas Sowell is a conservative “scholar” at the Hoover Institute and author of a new book, Intellectuals and Race. I haven’t read his book yet, but I did watch Sowell’s interview with Peter Robinson of the Wall Street Journal. I found Thomas Sowell’s interview disturbing in that it seems to boil down to an old conservative argument that the poor have no one to blame but themselves and the liberals who made them helpless. You can watch his WSJ interview on You Tube.

ThosasSowell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ImP-gJvas

Several points stand out in Sowell’s arguments on the negative impact that ” liberal/progressive” intellectuals have had on our attitudes towards race vs. racism. First, he conflates liberalism with progressivism. These are two separate dynamics in their scholarly meaning. The opposite of progressive is conservative, but the opposite of liberal, in its classical meaning, is totalitarian. Within the actual social context of these two dynamics it is entirely possible to hold both liberal and conservative policy positions or progressive and totalitarian positions. For example, it would not have seemed inconsistent during the Progressive Era, in the early twentieth-century, to be for union rights but opposed to woman’s suffrage, Progressives then were not as liberal as most progressives are today. By treating these terms interchangeably, in their current colloquial sense, he maligns the liberal movement that seeks to empower today’s poor or marginalized people and make America more inclusive.

Secondly, he seems to conflate race with culture. These are also separate elements of sociology. The former is a largely subjective classification system based on superficial physical attributes associated with continent of origin. The latter is a complex set of rituals, customs, values, norms and shared history by loosely associated clans or social groups. There are as many different cultures within each race as there are among the races, even just within North America. Generalizations based on race as a culture are inherently flawed.

Thirdly, when distinguishing this amalgam of race based culture from “racism” he incorrectly identifies racism as primarily perceptual in nature. His concept of racism doesn’t incorporate the many physical racist acts that socially marginalized people endure every day. These foundational fallacies allow Sowell to make his larger points, the same ones often raised by other conservative thinkers. The first is that there are, and have always been, better and more adaptable cultures in the world. This is an accurate statement but he leaves it there, as if it were an immutable law. He offers no hint as to why this is so. He fails to mention our human capacity to alter social institutions in ways that improve the outcomes of individuals from variant cultures.

The other major point he raises is that marginalized people allow themselves to be defined by the racist perceptions against them by others. The “others”, he argues in his example, are liberal intellectuals, especially during the “progressive era”, who blamed the economic plight of African-Americans (among other groups) on broad social factors and government policies, rather than on the their mal-adaptive culture. This shift in the causal roots of their less successful living standards, according to Sowell, absolves the marginalized from responsibility for their own self-improvement and causes them to see themselves as helpless victims of a society organized against them.

The explicit argument here is that every person has within themselves the power to rise above all obstacles and prejudices set against them. It is the familiar argument of taking personal responsibility as the only condition for economic or personal success. The proof offered (as is so often the case) is the personal experiences of the writer and anecdotal examples of other success stories. The obvious logical fallacy is that these exceptions prove that everyone else can do what these few have done. Unfavorable social conditions are only controlling factors if individuals allow it to be so. The failing is theirs. It is their own fault. It is a weakness in their character or collective culture.

The empirical truth is that for the vast majority of those who are subjected to social or institutional discrimination, their chances for success in life are seriously harmed. All the physical racist acts they suffer cause immeasurable personal damage and have an accumulating effect on them as individuals. That there are rare exceptions who become successful doesn’t prove that the majority of marginalized people are flawed individuals. In fact, it proves the opposite, that the infrequency of exceptions is a measure of the extent of the damage discrimination causes.

If equal opportunity can’t produce equal personal outcomes under the best of circumstances, as most would agree, then why would unequal opportunity offer the same chances of success? And if policy  can benefit one group of individuals (as is certainly true), why is it an individual’s personal failing when policy choices disadvanges then. It makes no sense.

Poisoning the Postal Service

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Article 1, Sec.8, Clause 7: [The federal government] is to provide for naturalization, standards of weights and measures, post offices and roads, and patents.

Citizen access to personal or business communications, and an adequate means to distribute goods and communications from anyone to everyone were central concerns of the founding fathers. They understood that healthy commerce and a free and healthy democracy require every citizen to have access to these vital services. It was an article of faith that the states would mostly provide these services for their own citizens, but it may have been less clear whether competition between states would restrict communications or transportation between states. This outcome would weaken us as a nation, and threaten democracy in our Republic. So the founders made it explicit in our Constitution that the federal government would provide for post offices and roads.

If you need a reminder of just how the US Postal Service makes America great, read the great Op Ed piece in today’s New York Times written by a Turkish immigrant. Zeynep Tufekci wrote:

“I WAS transported recently to a place that is as enchanting to me as any winter wonderland: my local post office.

In line, I thought fondly of the year I came to this country from Turkey as an adult and discovered the magic of reliable mail service. Dependable infrastructure is magical not simply because it works, but also because it allows innovation to thrive, including much of the Internet-based economy that has grown in the past decade. “

Today, the great national infrastructure we call the US Postal Service, which delivers mail to every citizen, without regard to what it cost to deliver mail to citizens living in remote regions, is under attack by commercial interest lobbyists. Capitalists don’t want the US Postal Service competing with UPS or FedEx or Amazon’s delivery services. Government competition, they argue, reduces potential corporate profits.

Wealthy corporate owners are intent on killing off the US Postal Service. Their methods are to funnel campaign cash to federal elected officials and encourage them to pass laws and regulations designed to impede the Postal Service operations. The US Postal service costs taxpayers zero dollars in taxes, yet the once financially viable Postal Service is made to pre-fund their retirement system. This is unprecedented in business. It causes the post office to operate in the red so politicians can point to it as a model of government inefficiency.

Politicians also appoint cronies into upper management positions to advocate draconian cuts and adopt policies that undermine employee morale and weaken customer services. In many parts of the country you can no longer call your local post office and speak directly with the post master if you have a question. When I call my local post office phone number the call is redirected to a national call center that tends to screw up the processing of even simple complaints. Still the postal system survives and most of us don’t want to see it go away.

What would mail delivery look like if the Postal Service closed? We don’t have to guess because we have many examples to learn from. The principle obligation of private corporations is to their shareholders. More specifically, it is to maximize profits. Whatever business model or corporate mission statement, shareholder profits come first in law and practice.

The impact of competition between corporations to maximize profits naturally causes them to focus more on profitable segments of their business and spend less time and resources on unprofitable segments of their business. In the package delivery business, as is true with Amtrak in the transportation business, there is a competitive advantage to reconfigure routes in ways the optimize profits. Some routes in less profitable areas become under-served while others are more than amply served. Eventually corporate executives come to see beyond competing interests to areas where mutual interests would be better served if service to certain segments could be dropped altogether, The government would then steps in to insist that service must be maintained for people living in unprofitable segments of the “market.” Private corporations then complain that government is on their backs and insist that if the government wants those citizens to have the service, government must subsidize their corporation to make up for the unprofitable routes they are forced to maintain.

So in effect, if applied to the US Postal Service, we would go from a nationwide, person to person delivery system that costs the US taxpayers nothing, to a private corporation system that would require taxpayer assistance in order to maintain the most unprofitable routes. And once the corporations start engaging in high level collusion, the cost of postal services would creep up and up.

Capitalism does best when distributing benefits based on merit, provided the rules of the market are structured to encourage honest competition. This capitalist model does not work well when distribution of benefits is based vital human needs or open, universal access. This seems to be a natural law. We need to resist the capitalists call for privatization of essential government services and recognize the US Postal Service in particular as the national treasure it really is.