A Larger View

a commentary on how current events reflect— or not—our search for higher values

  • Volume XXV
  • No. 2
  • March/April
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

The pieces are reposted from some of the entries in InnerLifeDirections.com

in this issue:

  • Citizenship as Big Business
  • Post Office Privatization
  • Homelessness and Solutions
  • Problem Tech companies
  • Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?
  • Death Row Convictions Errors
  • To Ponder On

Citizenship as Big Business

On the one hand there are now more refugees and stateless persons than ever before. On the other, the selling and buying of citizenship is a $25 billion a year global industry. Citizenship is viewed as an investment, marketed as such by its brokers. Wealthy Chinese who don’t feel safe in China, for example, or people who want to be able to travel freely within Europe or start a business there. More than half of the world’s countries have a program of citizenship through investment. In the US it costs $900,000 invested in a business that would create at least 10 jobs. In the UK it costs at least $2.5 million to buy a citizenship. Other countries are cheaper, although sometimes the cost can be surprising. Bulgaria’s is $560,000 close to that of Spain at $550,000 and the Caribbean islands from $150,000 or even in some cases $100,000. One of the most popular is the citizenship from Vanuatu which is $150,000, a program which is only 4 years old. It raises a lot of money for the tiny country which gained independence in the 1980’s and which can identify with what it means not to have a passport. It can take as little as a month and many of the people who have Vanuatu citizenship, which enables people to travel throughout Europe, have not even visited the tiny country made up of some 80 small islands in the Pacific.

One could say this business is a step, however distorted towards the notion of one world and it may slowly be causing a redefinition of what citizenship is—a point the marketers make.  But regardless of how it is pitched, it is an option that benefits the rich and as such contributes to the inequalities of the world. It is also a business open to corruption. Couldn’t a drug lord buy a US citizenship, and at the very least use it to launder money?  And so the whole issue of the buying and selling of citizenship begs the question. Are the minuses overshadowing the pluses?

Post Office Privatization

If you haven’t taken the time to speak to a mail carrier and find out more about what his or her job entails and what mail delivery calls for, I suggest you do. It can be revelatory, but even more relevant it helps to understand why there is no reason for the post office to be privatized. Due to retirement, the head of the USPS is about to be replaced. The whole board is made up of Trump appointees and the word is he would like to have the post office go private in 2020. Public services such as the post office or garbage collection are called public for a reason. Their main function is to serve the public. As soon as a service is privatized the issue of profits comes to the fore and to guarantee those profits either services have to be curtailed or decreased as has been the case with private prisons, or prices have to increase. Probably in the case of the USPS both will occur. When you consider that the postal services deals with millions of pieces of mail each day, their errors are negligible. It may not feel that way when the piece of mail in question is yours, but consider that percentage in relation to the total amount of mail you receive—a  tenth of a percent? Compare that to the errors you have to deal with every day including those you yourself might be likely to make and the old phrase if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, comes to mind.

What stands in the way of privatization right now are the unions. For all our sakes, let’s wish them well.

Homelessness and Solutions

Homelessness is now well-known as a national problem, one that had been worse in California. As I follow the progress of this issue I rarely read something that to me at least addresses a potential real solution. Mainly because I’ve been wondering who understands the source of the problem, until I read a NYT’s piece on Dr. Margot Kushel, a longtime advocate for the homeless, now director of the Benioff Homelessness Initiative at UCSF which has a $30 million endowment from the billionaire Salesforce founder. She reminds us that we know what works: Housing First, programs where finding housing is the first and fundamental step to being able to help many who are homeless. But she also acknowledges that “We’ve always known that homelessness is a result, pure and simple, of poverty: the lack of a living wage, the lack of affordable housing and the insidious impact of racism. If we don’t fix the fundamentals, we are just patching a leaking ship. And that is what has happened.”

In my neighborhood as in many others new apartment buildings are going up on almost every block, apartments which are by law exempt from rent control and called luxury units partly to justify their high rents with a slew of amenities. These units are touted by many in politics and elsewhere are the answer to homelessness—implying that a shortage of units is what makes rent unaffordable. And yet when one remembers as was the topic of a post not long ago, that 44% of the labor force work at low paying jobs, economic inequality does seem to emerge as an underlying cause of homelessness. As the California legislature is struggling to come up with a new version of recently defeated AB 50 which wanted to supersede local zoning laws to be able to build more apartments such as those in my neighborhood, Dr. Kushel’s views gain added importance. Let her voice be heard.

 

Problem Tech Companies

Slate magazine sent a ballot to a host of people like journalists, scholars or advocates asking them for who they thought were the tech companies they were concerned about. They did not define what was meant by concern or what was meant by tech companies. Then they tallied the results and published a list of what those they asked considered the 30 technology companies they were most concerned about.  Let’s note that the companies were not listed by size or name recognition, but by how much concern those polled experience towards them. As is perhaps expected the top three companies on that list of 30 are Amazon as number one, Facebook as number 2 and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, as number three. Exxon Mobile is number 10, Huawei is 11, Tesla 14 and Disney number 15. But there are surprises too, AirbnBandB as number 24  or Megvii at number 25, a company  working with facial recognition which I for one had not heard of. The popular 23andMe is number 18.  Elon Musk SpaceX is number 17 and Verizon number 16.  Many of the companies are not household names, but as a whole they reflect our general concern for AI, for surveillance, for the loss of privacy, for how big they can be, how pervasive their reach  is or for not being sufficiently interested in climate change. For me, though, the list is a rather good microcosm for companies which may not as a rule concern themselves with the public good.

Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?

A newsletter I receive had a small notice about an article in Fortune magazine which really caught my attention as I hope it will yours. The article which headline included that “America is moving towards a tax increase for the middle class”, was making a case for VAT, and in doing so shared some valuable if scary statistics—because a value added tax it claimed would  raise more money than any other means. According to the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, federal spending will jump from $4.45 billion in 2019 to $7,375 billion in 2029. Although revenues are projected to grow, expenses are projected to outgrow the revenues collected from taxes. This means that the federal deficit which was $984 billion last year will grow to $2.156 trillion in 2029.  The US would be borrowing 25 cents for every dollar it spends. The federal debt would rise to $29.6 trillion or 104% of national income when last year it was 79%. The gap between revenues and expenditures would be so wide that taxing the rich alone would not suffice. In this article the author claims only a VAT might help, a tax which would begin at the manufacturing level, make prices rise and be hard on most wage earners. It’s a tax some in Washington may be led to consider but it need not be the only solution.

The CBO’s numbers are sobering, distressing and frightening, at a time when no presidential candidate is addressing the issues they speak to and when another round of tax cut is possible.  Yet we need not be experts to realize this looming fiscal quagmire (the author’s words) needs to be at the very least acknowledged. Policy makers’ silence and ignorance need not be ours.

Death Row Convictions Errors

Since 1973 there have been 167 death row inmates who were exonerated, mainly through the efforts of the ACLU and the work of the Innocence Project.  It begs the question of how many others there have been or exist who are innocent and not aggressively defended. The renewed interest is due to the case of Ledell Lee who was actually executed in Arkansas in 2017. Arkansas was about to run out of one of the drugs used to execute prisoners and executed 8 people in11 days, Ledell Lee being one. Now evidence exists and is mounting that he was innocent. In Texas, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham became famous after his 2004 execution and subsequent evidence that he had been innocent. Executing an innocent man has to be one of the ugliest truth about our criminal justice system and  the fact there can no longer be certainty that a convicted man on death row is guilty puts our criminal justice system on trial. Those who were or are innocent were convicted in a court of law where investigators, police, attorneys, juries and judges all agreed they were guilty. And further someone like Ledell Lee was failed by appeals, pleas for clemency, or whatever means someone may have tried to help him. Since these institutions acted out in the name of the public, therefore indirectly in our name, shouldn’t we ask if we are complicit no matter how oblique or opaque that complicity may be? And if that’s so then we each must also ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?

To Ponder On

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

B.F. Skinner


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