Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bullying in schools

After two high school students were driven to suicide by bullies in their schools, the State of Massachusetts passed legislation demanding careful reports from schools about the extent of bullying and their are plans to stop it.

Now the first reports are in and the numbers are very distressing. 1 in 4 middle school students and one in six of high school students report either being bullied or bullying.

The other important result is that the majority of bullies were victims of for had witnessed family violence.

Bullying is not an isolated problem; it is closely connected to the use of violence to resolve family conflicts.

Family violence is frequent all over the world.“Percent of women surveyed (national surveys) who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner: Barbados (30%), Canada (29%), Egypt (34%), New Zealand (35%), Switzerland (21%), United States (25%). Some surveys in specific places report figures as high as 50-70% of women surveyed who were physically assaulted by an intimate partner. Others, including surveys in the Philippines and Paraguay, report figures as low as 10%. In India, every two hours a "bride burning" occurs because the woman had a small dowry, or so that her husband can remarry. Statistics published in 2004, show that the rate of domestic violence victimization for indigenous women in Australia may be 40 times the rate for non-indigenous women” 
When it comes to domestic violence involving physical abuse towards children, research in the UK by the NSPCC indicated that "most violence occurred at home" (78 per cent). 40—60% of men and women who abuse other adults also abuse their children. Girls whose fathers batter their mothers are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually abused by their fathers than are girls from non-violent homes. (http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_domestic_violence)

These numbers show that domestic violence-- between partners and between parents and children -- is a worldwide problem. But they also suggest that in different places family violence has different causes. Officially women are equal the United States, but one in four women experience domestic violence. The culture in India or among Australian aborigines is very different. If we ask about the causes of domestic violence we need to ask the questions separately for each country.

Why is there so much domestic violence in the United States?

Here are some plausible hypotheses:

As a nation we are dedicated to violence. We are currently fighting three wars. There are between 700 and 800 US military bases all around the world, staffed by close to 300,000 soldiers with their equipment. ( index.php?context=va&aid=5564) Counting the budget of the Department of Defense, of Veterans Affairs, and other government departments contributing to the military, as well as the debt service on the money borrowed to pay for our military commitments, the budget for the military for 2010 is estimated at $1.4 trillion—roughly a third of the National Budget. ( _budget_of_the_United_States)

As individuals we are equally devoted to violence. Consider the extension of the right to bear arms in recent years. In many states legislators, judges, students and professors in colleges all go around armed. There is no point in carrying a weapon unless one is prepared to solve one's problems by shooting someone.

The social position of women in our society has changed. But the bulk of domestic violence is still perpetrated by men and a national re-thinking of what it takes to be a man is pretty much missing. Yes there are more young men pushing baby carriages. There are more couples where a child rearing is a shared project. But, all in all, the images of manhood have not changed significantly.

Just consider the violence perpetrated in professional sports. In hockey, in football, and elsewhere. I have not seen many protests against that anywhere.

Finally, most Americans believe in the good effects of competition. Among businesses, the goal of competition is to put the opponent out of business, to destroy his effort and his livelihood. This is one more place where violence is not only accepted but praised.

We are surrounded by violence – violence that is generally approved of. No wonder our children drive each other to suicide by their own versions of violence.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why we are unable to prevent ecological disaster.

Green is clearly in. Even the large oil companies are presenting themselves to the public as purveyors of green energy.

But it is too soon to celebrate the end of global warming.

Here is a small story that should make us understand why the US will not tackle environmental problems in the foreseeable future.

One of the highly respected engineering colleges in the Northeast has chosen the CEO of Exxon Mobil as this year's graduation speaker.

Exxon Mobil is the world's largest publicly traded oil company. It is among the companies that has suddenly become bright green. It is telling the public that it is investing in technology “to develop energy from alternative sources.”

But it is not telling the public about its continuing support of organizations that deny global warming. In 2005 they gave them $3.5 million. This support has since been reduced. But in spite of their public promises to end all donations to global warming deniers, they still continue their financial contributions to organizations that seriously inhibit efforts to face up to the climate crisis. ( article/2007/05/18/environment-exxon-contributions-dc-idUSN1843960820070518)

The engineering college that invited Exxon Mobil's CEO prides itself on its progressive stance on matters of climate change and alternative energy. But they refuse to reconsider their invitation in the face of vocal protests by students and faculty.

The reason? Exxon Mobil employs a lot of the college's graduates and – more importantly – has given more than $1.3 billion to the engineering school over the last so many years.

You may think that this is one more tempest in a teapot but it actually shows very clearly why we have not made any headway to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – with the exception of planning to build nuclear power plants.

The story clearly shows the political dynamics underlying our unwillingness to take global warming as seriously as we should. The large power companies are making obscene profits. Exxon Mobil last year took in greater profits than ever before. They will fight tooth and nail to keep the profits rolling in, to keep drilling – even in deep water such as the Gulf of Mexico. They will continue to pollute the atmosphere until the large cities on the East Coast will be flooded and other major disasters hit us.

Their gigantic profits allow them to spread their money around and finance global warming deniers and to finance elected representatives that will not lift a finger to save us from the impending troubles. They spread their money around to engineering schools and the schools will show their gratitude by giving standing and prestige to the leaders of these companies.

That makes the fight for a sensible energy policy extremely difficult.

For this reason this is not just a tempest in a teapot. It is one of the places where resistance is essential. The defenders of a sensible energy policy must use every opportunity to unmask the duplicity and gross selfishness of the large energy companies and the politicians, foundations, yes and college presidents they have bought.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ten giant U.S. companies avoiding income taxes: Sen. Bernie Sanders list

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WASHINGTON---With federal income taxes due in a few weeks, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent allied with Democrats, on Sunday released a list of ten big profitable U.S. companies paying little or no taxes. Sanders wants to close the loopholes that make this tax avoidance legal. Some people call the income tax system with generous loopholes for big companies corporate welfare or corporate entitlements. As Congress returns to work this week--after yet another break--to negotiate over big budget cuts--with social safety net programs facing reductions--Sanders is pushing for corporations to pay more of a fair "share."

The Bernie Sanders Ten, per release....

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It's tax time again.

No one likes paying taxes; everyone feels done to. The news of people who pay no taxes sells a lot of newspapers.

What is really going on?

General Electric paid no taxes for 2010. Instead they got a tax credit. Some other corporations managed to pay a very small percentage of their profits in taxes.

How do they do it? Can I get the same low tax rate? Multinational corporations pay taxes on their foreign profits only when they are brought back to the United States. Often taxes are reduced by the amount of tax paid to foreign governments. Clever accountants can make it appear that profit made abroad is much less than it actually was.

In addition, our tax code is full of special tax exemptions, reductions that profit taxpayers at all levels – for instance deductions mortgage interest on your house or for charitable donations – but all are particularly beneficial for large corporate entities who areften the original sponsors of those deductions.

So, yes, some very large international corporations do not pay their fair share of national expenditures.

These exemption are all the more aggravating because a significant portion of our national budget goes to pay for the military. The armed forces maintain bases in almost all countries around the globe and one of their main tasks is to keep the world safe for multinational corporations to make greater profits. The US government takes good care of these corporations. It would only be decent, on their part, to pay their fair share of those services.

Pundits from all parts of the political spectrum are busily debating whether taxes on individuals are fair or not. Rush Limbaugh, and folks like him, bemoan the fact that the richest taxpayers provide the bulk of the nation's income. They are not moved by the reply that the people who have the most money, of course, pay the most in taxes.

More middle of the road observers of the tax system point out that the very wealthy pay at a lower rate than most working people. The tax code taxes investment income at a much lower rate than income that someone worked for. If you inherit several million dollars and never do a lick of work in your life, your tax rate is 15%. If you work for a living, you are liable to pay taxes at 25% -- unless you get paid so badly for your work that you live in poverty.

It appears that our tax code is designed to punish us for working rewarding idleness instead.

Others are complaining that the tax code is so complicated that only people with enough money to pay expensive accountants and tax lawyers are in a position to reduce their taxes.

In addition, the tax code contains very specialized and focused tax reductions, such as for maintaining a railroad track. That allows people who own railroads to reduce their taxes. There are tax reductions for owners of plug-in electrical vehicles, which, until recently, included golf carts.

And so it goes. The rich have not only more money but much more political power. (And Rush Limbaugh!) The taxes paid by the very rich, compared to the taxes paid by us reminds us of the old interpretation of the Golden Rule: “Those who have the gold, make the rules.”

Happy Tax Day!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Many people believe that competition produces our high standard of living and well-being. They point to the personal computer, smart phones, to tablets like the IPad and ascribe those marvels and their rapid development to competition.

This belief has become a quasi-religious faith. And where faith comes in, people stop thinking.

So let's look at what competition actually does.

Competition does not always produce new products. Among the big drug companies, for instance, when one company develops a successful product, the other competitors are not glad that one more problem has now been solved and go on to invest their energies in developing drugs for a different medical condition. Instead these competitors spend millions of dollars to develop a drug that does essentially the same thing and is just different enough to earn its own patent. They want to get a share of the bonanza produced by Viagra or Lipitor. They do not develop new drugs for diseases so far unmanaged. It is not clear, however, that we need a whole raft of different drugs that do pretty much the same job. We need research on other medical problems and possible remedies. Thanks to competition we are not getting those from the major drug companies.

Competition, as everyone points out, forces businesses to produce their products as cheaply as they can. Now, at the present moment, coal and oil are still cheaper than solar or wind. So the capitalist businesses competing with each other will use coal and oil and continue to contribute to global warming, instead of doing what many businesspeople would obviously prefer, namely to switch over to sustainable energy sources. As long as American and world businesses compete with each other as they do today, the prospect for resolving the impending energy disaster is very dim indeed.

We need to understand this very clearly: competition forces businesses to produce their products as cheaply as possible. They can do this in different ways. One is to use energy sources that pollute the environment. Another is to look for cheaper sources of labor. American businesses do this in three ways: some of them export jobs, previously done in America, to Asia or elsewhere where wages are very low. Others hire illegal workers whom they pay lower wages than workers with papers. The third method for lowering wages is to destroy the power of labor unions, an effort that is in high gear at the moment in states that make collective bargaining illegal or limit it severely. We owe the disaster in Wisconsin to competition.

Competition among producers of snack foods, soft drinks, fast foods have indeed produced an impressive array of products with empty calories. We are indebted for the present wave of obesity to this competition. Also contributing to this crisis is the competition among legislators to cut taxes. That means school systems are short of money. They try to make up for that by cutting nonessential subjects like physical education. Add to that the competition between video game companies and what we have is a real health crisis on our hands, thanks to different kinds of competitions.

Yes, smart phones are quite wonderful. It is not clear however that they have made life better. It is clear that adding up all of its effects, competition is a real threat to all of us and to the lives of our children.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I am pleased to reprint an op-ed piece by Prof. Hans Despain who teaches economics at  Nichols College in Dudley, MA.

The Battle of Wisconsin and for the Nation

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin put forth a bill to repair his state’s budget.  This budget included cuts to public employees’ salaries, pensions, and benefits.  The collective bargaining process achieved these concessions.  Neither Governor Walker, nor his state’s public employees caused the state’s budget crisis, but both agreed public employees must sacrifice income, retirement, and benefits to help close the budget gap.  On February 11 Governor Scoot announced these sacrifices are not enough.  Attached to budget bill was a proposal to strip the right of public employees and teachers from collectively bargaining and organizing in their workplace.

Some have claimed this as a declaration of war on unions.  The conflict in Wisconsin is merely a recent battle of a war declared 40 years ago by various governors such as Ronald Reagan in California.  Wisconsin is a battle labor is destined to lose.  Not only because anti-unionism dominates Wisconsin politics, but nationally the political pulse is anti-union.  According to a Gallup poll, 48 percent of Americans approve labor unions today, down from nearly 60 percent in 2008 and a high of 75 percent in the 1950s.

There are many reasons unions have become unpopular.  Two important reasons are, first, unions have too often been politically and economically ineffective.  Why pay unions dues and go to meetings when workers lose.  Second, since 1990s workers are 9 times more likely to be fired when they participate in union votes then in the 1950s.  According to Harvard labor economist Richard B. Freeman this is because U.S. “labor laws are broken” and penalties for businesses violating the National Labor Relations Act are too weak.

The battle in Wisconsin is about more than the popularity of labor unions.  It quickly moves beyond the budget crises facing every state in the nation.  The battle in Wisconsin underscores two main issues.  First, the causes of the budget crises; second the inability of American workers to pay their bills, stay-out of credit card debt, pay for their children’s education, secure a retirement, and pay for health-care.

The economic crisis was not caused by the nation’s governors, or its public employees.  A financial collapse and real estate ponzi-fiasco has devastated the nation’s economy and the ability of cities and towns across the nation to generate property taxes to pay for essential public personal.  Thus, the first crucial point to make is the budget crises across the nation must be placed in the context of the great financial crisis.

Second, the current debate is most often put in a context comparing public employees with private employees.  The consensus of honest economists is private employees on average are paid marginally better than public employees, while public employees on average receive benefits significantly better than private employees.

That is correct, the typical public employee has benefits such as pensions, health-care, and vacation, far superior to the typical private employee.  The popular conclusion from this fact is that public employees are over-compensated with respect to their benefits.  This conclusion widely misses the mark.

Rather, private employees in the United States are grossly under-compensated.

American workers average 8 days a year of vacation, compared to several weeks for most Northern Europeans.  Pensions for private sector workers have all but disappeared and been replaced by 401(k)s, health-care costs are soaring, and college tuition is well beyond the income streams of most Americans.

Today 50 percent of American retirees receive 90 percent of their income from Social Security.  With pensions being replaced by 401(k)s retirement economist Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School for Social Research in New York predicts the next generation of retires will do far worse.

According to the U.S. Department of Education average college debt held by graduates has almost doubled since 1996 (from $12,750 to $23,200 in 2008).  Obamacare places millions more Americans under the coverage of Medicaid, it does far too little toward health-care costs and insurance premiums.  The ability of private or public employers to pay health insurance will become more and more difficult, while the bill to the public sector for Medicaid will soar.

While the projection of benefits for American workers is dismal, income is worse.  47 percent of working Americans have an annual income less than $25,000.  67 percent make less than $40,000.

Governor Walker calls public employees “haves” and private employees “have-nots.”  His solution is to make public and private employees alike “have-nots.”  This is a curious solution.  The nation has never been richer, productivity never higher, the labor-force never more skilled, and the population never more educated.  The proper question is not why public employees have decent benefits, but why the recent of us lack them?  And why so many hardworking Americans both private and public have such lousy incomes, while the profits for American corporations have never been higher?