Among the many catalogs I receive at Christmas is one from Hammacher Schlemmer. Just why I don’t know. I’ve never bought so much as a pin cushion from them. It’s filled not only with things I can’t afford but even more with things I don’t want. You can see for yourself.
1. The Advanced Foot/Leg Stimulator. It looks like a body scale. That is, you step on it. It uses transcutaneous electrical stimulation. It costs $189.95, plus, I suspect, postage.
2. The Proper Toe Alignment Socks. They have built-in dividers which push the toes apart to promote proper alignment. Cost: $49.99/pair.
3. Electrostimulation Neck Pain Reliever … Combines electrostimulation with heat therapy for drug-free relief. Cost: $169.95.
4. The Rolling Sit-On Tool Chest. Also functions as an organized tool chest with three pull-out drawers on a frame that can support up to 350 pounds. Cost: $119.95.
5. Monogrammed Award-winning Glencairn Whisky Glasses. Winner of the Queen’s Award for Innovation. Set of four costs $69.95.
6. The Non-Slip Furniture-Protecting Pet Covers. Machine washable, covers provide protection from pet hair and other possible damage without slipping or bunching. Cost: Recliner, $84.95. Sofa, $119.95. King bed, $119.95.
7. Flight Attendant Comfort Shoe. Have shock-absorbing gel. Are treated for fungus and bacteria, anatomically correct and shock-absorbing gel in the heels. Cost $149.95
8. Cordless Twinkling Chair Back Sleeves. Twinkles with the light of a starry night. Made with rich velvet that protects a chair’s back. Each sleeve contains fiber active lights and a large satin bow. Cost: set of four $149.95.
Good gun news
It’s seldom, if ever, one reads good news about guns. So, this bit of news should be well received. There exists a group with a mission antithetical to that of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It’s called GUNS DOWN AMERICA, organized in 2016 in Orlando, Fla., as a result of the mass shooting incident there. Its mission, as given by its founder and executive officer, Igor Volsky, is to compel the financiers of the gun industry banks to support gun control. The group set up a grading system for these financiers, i.e., banks and legislators. The basis for the grades was publicly available information gathered from media reports, regulatory documents, campaign finance filings and other sources. After the Orlando shooting, Delta Airlines, Hertz and several other companies broke with the NRA. Some banks have changed their positions on loans for guns. Bank of America has announced a new policy.
A grading system was devised to indicate banks’ policy on gun loans. Six banks had failing grades. Citigroup announced it would work only with clients that restricted gun sales. Bank of America said it would stop funding companies that make military-inspired firearms for civilian use. Marianne Lake, JPMorgan Chase’s chief financial officer, said last year the bank’s link to military-style firearms has “come down significantly.” Tricia Schultz, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank planned to invest more than $10 million over three years in studying gun-violence prevention and in improving school safety. Her total statement, however, was somewhat ambiguous: “We do not believe that the American public wants banks to decide which legal products consumers can and cannot buy.” Overall it was good news.
Taxes and prison health care
If you haven’t read the article about health care in U.S. prisons in the March 4 edition of The New Yorker magazine, you should. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about prisons, you really should. If for no other reason than that your taxes could be reduced with an efficient system, read it. It’s not short—a full eight pages, but as I said, it’ll be well worth your time. The following are a few statistics to get you started:
Between 1980 and 2015, the U.S. prison population increased from about 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
Today the U.S. makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population yet has 21 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Though African Americans and Hispanics make up about 32 percent of the world’s population, they comprised 56 percent of all incarcerated people in 2015.
There are more than 3,000 jails in the U.S., which house some 700,000 people. After the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the jail and prison population jumped from about 300,000 in 1980 to more than 10,000,000—that’s 10 million—today. The standard of care that incarcerated people have a right to receive was set by the American Medical Association.
Companies that provide health care are now spending about $10,000,000,000 (that’s 10 billion).
Salaries of Hedge Fund Managers
The publication Institute Investor recently published its list showing the ranking of the annual income of hedge fund managers. Topping the list was Ray Dalio, the co-founder of Bridgewater Association, who estimated his annual earnings at $2 billion—that’s $2,000,000,000. Following are other top winners:
*James H. Simmons of Renaissance Technology at $1.5 billion (last year’s top man);
*Kenneth Griffin, founder of Citadel, made $870 million;
*John Overdeck and David Siegel, founders of Two Sigma made $820 million each.
Other “top dogs” were listed. But my most favorite bit from the article was the following paragraph: “But the magnitude of the hedge fund managers’ compensation raises a very basic question about whether capitalism is ‘broken.” After all, even if Mr. Dalio took home $5 million, the rest of his income could pay 10,000 families $150,000 each.”
A Positive Corporate Direction
My cynicism about the one-sided motives that corporations display in their transactions is sometimes challenged—not very often but once in a while. That happened yesterday when I was reading The New York Times. The headline of the half-page article read: “Bringing a Focus on Doing Good and Not Only Doing Well.”
The heroes of the story were three middle-aged and prosperous businessmen who had been friends since their Stanford University days (Andrew Kassoy, Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan). They left their jobs to form an organization they named B Corps, which certifies companies that operate for social good as well as making money. Every three years they analyze and revise their methods. They have to be satisfied that they have accomplished what they set out to do.
Right now they’re trying to build a more inclusive, long-lasting and creative enterprise. For example, they do not have employees; they’re workers. It’s a new ballgame, well, not exactly a game, but doing good as they play and profit.
CIA: A Small Look at Agents of Deception
The act, NC 10/2/49, placed U.S. authority over espionage and counter-espionage operations abroad during war time and peace time under the control of the CIA director. Such operations were to be conducted by the Office of Special Projects.
Under Section 6 of the 1949 CIA Act, that organization was exempted from the obligation to disclose any information regarding its funding. The case of US v. Richardson, showed that some entities in the nation (*CIA?) are free from all scrutiny and the less the population knows about it the better. The most famous example of the CIA treating American citizens as guinea pigs is the MK-Ultra program. For example, Ted Kennedy told the Select Committee on Intelligence during a 1977 hearing: “The CIA drugged American citizens without their knowledge or consent.”
Pilots who delivered arms from the U.S. to Nicaragua (during its latest revolution) could “bring back their own cargo,” that is, marijuana and cocaine. The CIA made sure they were not searched on arrival. Moreover, the drugs en route to America were provided by the CIA and a “friend,” drug trafficker George Morales, whom the CIA had pressured into providing planes and money to the Contras in exchange for benefits during his jail time. In 1953, the CIA implemented the TPAJAX project in which Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh
and the Shah worked together. Because of this overthrow of a democratically-elected official, the Iranians were perceived as pro-American. But after 26 years, the CIA’s efforts to secure Iran as a secular and U.S.-friendly state were nullified at the advent of the Iranian Revolution.
The CIA continued its policies time and again. Nobody was punished for the events that transpired under the MK-Ultra project and many more I’m sure. Today, there’s little to be done to change this situation and the CIA wants to sweep under the rug all information about every country that has suffered because of its machinations. I wonder what individuals are in their files.
I have demonstrated for things I believe in—like a peaceful world and I think if going to jail would bring this country any closer to peace, I’d do it again. We’ll see.
How About a Teeny Tax on Wealth?
For several years I’ve been receiving a monthly four-page (that’s front and back) periodical called “The Hightower Lowdown” which politically is somewhere between radical and progressive. It’s well-researched and well-written and I trust its information. The September edition was entitled “It’s time for a (teeny) tax on Wealth.”
During the past half century, myriad corporate and governmental decisions have methodically slanted America’s economic and political systems so that money and power flow from the many to the few. America’s tax code no longer adheres to the principle of ability to pay. Nearly 70% of capital gains are made by America’s richest 1% so they, obviously, would be the target of a campaign to make this a reality and not “pie in the sky.”
As the average U.S. worker’s real wages have stagnated for more than a decade, income disparity has become enormous. Today, such a worker, most likely, would pay the top tax rate of 30% on an average income while America’s richest will pay 1%.
This country has a moral and ethical responsibility to tax its citizens fairly. The proposal should be for a bold, unabashedly progressive wealth tax based on income. Should legislation be proposed to enact a program to bring the plan to fruition, we middle-income taxpayers would have to really campaign to make it a reality.
Guns and Common Sense
The topic of guns is ongoing in this country—whether pro or con, among individuals or corporations. Recently the Supreme Court cleared the way to allow relatives of victims of gun violence to sue perpetrators of the violence. Prompted by a plethora of gun violence, 145 corporate executives, including Levi-Strauss, Twitter, Uber and Citigroup, wrote the U.S. Senate urging stricter background checks and laws to prevent people who pose a threat from buying guns. Edward Skyler, the vice president of Citigroup’s Public Affairs, explained: “This isn’t a question of keeping guns away from legal customers; this isn’t a challenge to the Second Amendment. This is trying to put in place best practices about trying to reduce risk.”
The U.S. Attorney General William Barr is and has been concerned about growing gun violence in this country. He plans to combat it with an initiative, Project Guardian, which will consist of representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and state and local law enforcement. It will also create partnerships with community organizations aimed at preventing gun violence and increase scrutiny of people convicted of violent felonies or domestic violence, potentially reducing their access to firearms. At a news conference he explained that Project Guardian is intended to “better target offenders who use guns in crime and those who try to buy guns illegally.”
The reactions from organizations supporting gun usage generally would question Project Guardian. Kris Brown, the president of Brady, a gun control advocacy group, responded, “An initiative that focuses on enforcement and increased policing makes no serious effort to address the supply of guns and how they fall into the hands of individuals who have proven themselves a danger to themselves or others.” I sus-pect that the relatives of people who have been killed by gun violence would ask for more details from the Brady group.
Iceland—Almost Violence Free
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Ice-land’s homicide rate from 1999 to to 2,000 never went above 1.85 per 100,000 population in any given year. (The U.S. had homicide rates between 5.0% and 5.8% per 100,000 population during that same period.)
No. 1) There is virtually no difference among upper, middle and lower classes in Iceland and so tension among those economic groups is non-existent.
No. 2) A study done by a University of Missouri student found only 1.1% of participants identified them-selves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class. The remaining 97% identified them-selves as upper-middle class or working class.
Babies in Iceland are often unattended, left in a carriage alone, for a few minutes. GunPolicy.org esti-mates there are approximately 90,000 guns in a country with a population of just over 300,000.
Police are also unarmed. The only officers permitted to carry firearms are the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out. There are few hard drugs in Iceland. A 2012 study of people from the ages of 15 to 64 found that users of cocaine were 0.9%. In the past, when drugs seemed to be a burgeoning issue in the country, the parliament established a separate drug police, and in the first 10 years of its existence, roughly 90% of cases were settled with a fine.
Is it possible that other countries could adopt the same measures?