12-28-15 1:51  •  Jobs

BoxNet: According to data released by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 15,000 able-bodied and childless adults lost access to Wisconsin’s food stamp program, FoodShare, since April.

It's because of re-instated requirements that able-bodied people work at least 80 hours a month to be eligible. But there is a labor surplus in Wisconsin - no jobs. At least 32,000 people in Milwaukee will no longer have access to food stamps and will instead turn to food pantries. But that would be doubling the current load, and there is doubt that the charities could possibly double their supplies. So there will be shortages.

Why not provide jobs?

TrailerTrish: The government doesn't have endless money, despite what you think. I don't believe people can't find jobs. There are plenty of jobs out there if people would just get off their asses and do them.

According to recent data, there are nearly seven workers for each one private sector job. So, there are not enough jobs to go around.

If we don't do anything, it gets worse. The jobless are not spending into the economy, and less demand means fewer jobs and less profts, which in turn shutters private businesses, increasing the pool of the jobless. Plus, the jobless suffer horrible deprivation, which contributes greatly to social problems like crime, drug abuse, domestic violence and mental illness. The whole society is dragged down.

So, we can provide a minimum of funds for people to spend into the economy to sustain themselves. This keeps them going and keeps local businesses going with the money they spend. It is essential to prevent economic collapse.

But, that is providing something for "free," and many people think giving a human being something he hasn't earned will hurt him, or the society, or is unfair to those who work.

So, instead of always giving funds to people, we could request that some people work in exchange for the funds they recieve. Administratively this costs a bit more than simply giving money away, but in return the government is provided service, and at least some people are converted from "freeloaders" to workers.

Our technology allows us to run companies with very few employees. Kodak used to employ hundreds of thousands of people all over the world to support the demand for personal photography. Today they have less than seven thousand employees, and almost all the demand for personal photography is met with phones, using services like Instagram, a billion-dollar company with only 13 employees.

The private sector will continue to increase productivity while cutting job rolls. When there are far fewer private sector jobs than there are workers, the society has to do something or the jobless will collapse the economy with their insolvency. Simply providing benefits is the cheap and easy thing to do, and it keeps the economy afloat. But if that offends our sensibilities, we need to do something more. Paying people in exchange for work is one option.

Lovey: Why should a single, able bodied, childless person be allowed to stay on food stamps indefinitely? They are able to up and move, to do more labor intensive jobs, to take low paying part times jobs, ect...

Low-paying part-time jobs are the new normal. However there are big problems with trying to support a society with these jobs.

For one thing, they are not sustaining. Low-paying part-time jobs do not provide enough money to live on. (Even full-time minimum wage jobs are not enough to live on in many places.) So, people have to get several low-paying part-time jobs, and/or continue to rely on public services to make ends meet.

Well then, why not just get several low-paying part-time jobs? For one, there aren't enough jobs to go around, and if you have several of them, that's several other people who get no job at all. For another, low-paying part-time jobs tend to have crazy schedules which constantly change. Making several of them work together can be almost impossible. Thirdly, low-paying part-time jobs have no benefits, no health insurance, no vacation, no sick days, and are the least secure, meaning you can lose them any time for any reason at an instant's notice. So people can work their asses off and still end up with nothing.

Lastly, working several crazy-schedule low-paying part-time jobs with no benefits is very detrimental to the individual and his family. While mom and dad duck in just long enough to change from their restaurant shirts into their Walmart shirts, who is watching their kids, teaching them values, supervising what they watch on television? Who is tossing the football with them, who is loving them and helping them grow up? When do the workers get to rest, read, keep up with current events and exercise their civic responsibility? The whole society suffers when workers don't get to be anything else.

We have created an enonomy where businesses make more money with fewer workers. The middle class is disappearing. That is the bed we have made and it's not going to change for the better, at least not automatically through the invisible hand. Real jobs will continue to dry up, leaving only low-paying part-time jobs for an ever larger pool of workers.

So, we have to come up with real solutions for how to maintain an economy that doesn't produce a middle class or sustain the lower class. We can just let people scramble for individual solutions, trying to cobble together an impoverished life from the crumbs off the economy's table, sacrificing everything for nothing and creating great social ills in the process.

Or, we can deliberately structure the economy to be sustaining to the society, instead of deliberately structuring it to be massively profitable for a few people and leaving everyone else to sink on their own.

BluesSinger: I'm actually against the food stamp program as it is now. Get enough funding together to fund public works projects and start by hiring those able bodied workers. If you decline then your food stamps and welfare go away.

Where is the bottom?

BluesSinger: Can you clarify what you mean please?

What do you envision as the fate of those whose food stamps and welfare go away? Homeless?

BluesSinger: I don't see good things happening.

So, homeless destitution it is.

BluesSinger: However if you are able bodied and have no children then why is it my responsibility to take care of you?

The short answer is, you aren't doing it for them, you are doing it for yourself, because it will benefit you.

The longer answer includes several reasons.

One, because you are a compassionate human being, and seeing others suffering will trigger a desire to alleviate suffering. Humans are a social species who have always survived by taking care of each other.

Two, because even if you don't give a rat's ass about the stinky homeless guy, his homelessness will negatively impact you and people you do care about. It increases crime and drug abuse and makes the neighborhoods less safe to live in for everyone. It puts panhandlers on every corner and leaves bums sleeping all over the park and urinating in the bushes. Surely that is not the kind of city you want to raise your kids in.

Three, because it's easy to dismiss people as "able-bodied" when they have problems that are hard to see. There is a lot of mental illness and addiction and ineptitude and checkered pasts and other factors which prevent people from getting and keeping jobs. It's not simply a matter of will.

Four, because our economy has only one job for every seven workers or so. It's not the personal failings of the other six people that are keeping them unemployed. How do they not deserve a house or food, just because there are no jobs for them?

BluesSinger:But before taking away welfare I want to ensure that there is ample opportunity for these people to take care of themselves. If they turn that down its on them.

Our society has never produced "ample opportunity" for everyone who needed it. After we are providing real opportunity in great abundance for everyone, then we can see if people really "turn it down." Until then there is no reason to think they would.

BluesSinger: I completely see your point and agree. If we just drop welfare services then we fall into the pit of destitution which you described.

BoxNet: More jobs is the answer-

We have a jobs problem.

The economy is not going to make more jobs. Right now corporations make a lot more money cutting employee rolls than expanding them. Why would they do anything different?

We have to come up with a new way to create jobs, or make "jobs" less important.

TrailerTrish: The government doesn't create jobs. Cut taxes, reduce regulations, and promote social responsibility. That is what will make jobs.

Cut taxes on who, by specifically how much?

Specifically which regulations? Specifically what effect will reducing them have?

What do you mean by social responsibility? How would you promote it?

TrailerTrish: All people pay 15%, no deductions for anything.

Where does this work? I mean in what countries?

TrailerTrish: It depends on the industry, but the demands on companies, such as things as they have to pay into unemployment insurance, match SS, provide healthcare, ADA requirements kill companies because they can't make enough profit to make it worthy to continue the business.

What countries allow business to run unregulated? What do societies without social retirement and social healthcare look like?

TrailerTrish: You start it off by saying get an education and a marriage and a career before you get a baby.

How do you recommend "saying" this? Public service announcements? Would you make adult education publicly available?

TrailerTrish: And push it over and over again instead of the idea that it is acceptable for a 17 year old HS drop out to be on her third pregnancy.

I agree that universal birth control is essential, but it requires a high level of social commitment - exactly the kind of thing that gutting the government would destroy.

BoxNet: I'm in Milwaukee and I can tell you, a part time job barely pays rent for a room around here, and they are few and far between.

TrailerTrish: Then I guess able-bodied single adults in your town in Wisconsin will have to be provided for by the community if they cannot find a part time job nor attend training.

Yes, that is exactly right. The question is, what level of community is best able to do this?

The answer is, families and local food pantries do not have the resources to do it. At the federal level, however, enough aid to do the job is a mere 11% of the budget. The vast majority of that goes to children and families. Only a fraction of a percent is supporting able-bodied childless adults. That is meaningless in terms of being a drag on the system.

We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The idea that we just can't afford people is incorrect. We can when we all work together.

BoxNet: My brother-in-law is 20 and he can't even get a car to get to a job.

TrailerTrish: Then I guess you or someone in your family is going to have to help him if he can no longer receive SNAP.

How would that system be better for you? For every one of your down-on-their-luck relatives you have to take in, the resources of your family are spread that much thinner. The average family in America is not even middle class any more. How are they supposed to survive if they have to keep taking on relatives? How is the local economy supposed to survive with six or eight people living on money that used to be for four or five?

During the Great Depression, this is exactly what people did. They banded together and scraped by, but they suffered horribly and the economy got worse and worse.

That is why we started providing social safety nets in the first place. Relying on family and neighbors doesn't help the economy at all.

TrailerTrish: There is not an endless amount of money in the government coffers.

There is not a static amount in the government coffers. Even supposing our current 11% wasn't enough, it can be changed. The priorities of existing spending can be re-ordered, and revenues can be increased.

We are one of the richest countries in the world. We can afford to help people without jobs. Especially because money given as aid to the poor doesn't stay with them. They immediately spend it. It gets taxed, spent again and taxed again, creating value and revenue at every level. This (along with large-scale education initiatives) is what actually works to stimulate the economy. The only thing that creates jobs is demand.

Hi there Trish! With a little more time I was able to address your suggestions individually.

TrailerTrish: All people pay 15%, no deductions for anything.

In other words, a flat tax.

I know the flat tax sounds deliciously fair and easy, and that's why somebody always floats it during an election year, but flat taxes don't work, especially in very large economies.

For one thing, it doesn't simplify the tax process. The complex part of taxes is figuring out how much taxable income and assets each entity has, not what they then owe on it. Flat taxes would not change this.

Secondly, the ability to offer deductions is critical to influencing non-compulsory behavior. The government can't mandate certain standards, like more energy efficient homes for example, but they can widely incentivise it by offering tax breaks. Removing the ability to incentivise non-compulsory, socially assistive behavior takes a huge tool for effective policy management away from government.

Thirdly, flat taxes would be a huge revenue killer, and would massively shift the tax burden off of the wealthy onto the middle and working classes. For example, at Rand Paul's proposed 13.5% flat tax rate, a family with an income around $50,000 would see their taxes go up by about $4,000 per year, while millionaires would see their taxes go down by a half million per year. It would also lower revenue by between $500 billion and $1 trillion per year.

Lastly, universal flat taxes are a non-starter politically. Corporations already have what is essentially a flat tax, but only with a complex deduction structure which works to their great advantage and affords them great leverage on politicians. There is no chance they will surrender this advantage.

TrailerTrish: It depends on the industry, but the demands on companies, such as things as they have to pay into unemployment insurance, match SS, provide healthcare, ADA requirements kill companies because they can't make enough profit to make it worthy to continue the business.

Not really.

First of all, we have millions of companies of all sizes running in this country right now. Obviously, it is entirely possible to do business because we are doing it. Companies that can't compete because they can't manage their business expenses are supposed to go down - that is what American capitalism is all about.

Secondly, those things are incredibly important. All advanced democracies have regulations to protect people and provide social retirement and social healthcare, because the alternatives are truly horrific.

Thirdly, corporations already have gobs of cash. Corporate profits are the highest in history. When the economy crashed in '08, corporate fortunes - along with everyone's - plunged in value. In the recovery, all that wealth and more came back...but in a different place. Families that had lost their assets tumbled out of the middle class and stayed down. That's why the middle class is so much smaller now. But the wealthiest floated right back up to the top and had more than ever. That's where the money went.

Corporations are also making the highest profits ever with fewer employees than ever. Thanks to advancing automation, a lot of the work that used to keep families afloat can be done by servos and smart systems. This trend is creeping upward, putting even white collar jobs at risk. Companies are looking to hire robots, not people.

So, if you were to end social contributions and safety requirements, corporations would simply pocket the savings and see their profits soar even higher. Why would they use it to create jobs? They are already meeting demand and making the highest profits ever without that.

The only thing that forces businesses to sacrifice profits by hiring people is the prospect of increasing profits by meeting excess demand. Giving the already moneyed more money does not stimulate demand. Only money in the hands of the masses can do that.

TrailerTrish: You start it off by saying get an education...

I agree education should be our highest priority, but people cannot afford education in our current system. We can't just order them to "get educated" when they don't have money and school costs lots of money.

Especially now that most people are not in the middle class, the only way to get them educated is with full public education. People have to be able to continue to attend public school beyond the high school level. At one time that was enough - it no longer is.

TrailerTrish: ...and a marriage and a career before you get a baby.

There are several known ways to make this happen but they require a great social investment in women. When women are better educated and have more rights, they voluntarily postpone childbearing and limit family size. This too would require full public education and full public healthcare, but the rewards of these systems pay for themselves in social gains.

TrailerTrish: If you cannot do that, you don't deserve the taxpayers providing you with the ability to buy food.

It's not about what the insolvent "deserve." It's not a moral evaluation of their worthiness as a person. It is a purely practical matter of what works.

Cutting off food for a person, no matter how much of an asshole he is, doesn't work. It doesn't turn him into a better person who runs out and gets a job. If he has no skills or a personality problem or a criminal record or there are no jobs, that doesn't change when you cut his food off.

What changes is now he is desparate, and when people are desparate, that is when social ills come crashing down on them, like drug abuse, crime, domestic violence and mental illness. The asshole's insolvency makes his life hell, and brings down his family and everyone who knows him, and the whole society.

(And, the worse and more unfair the economy is, the more people who aren't even assholes end up also needing help.)

We don't give out social aid because "they" deserve it. We do it because WE deserve it, we deserve to live in a country where social ills are mitigated.

TrailerTrish: More people standing around with their hands out! It baffles me that you think a mere 4 hours a day of some sort of effort to better their own situation is too much to ask in return for aid.

Nobody thinks effort in return for aid is too much to ask. It's too much to ask people to "get a job" when there are no jobs. It's too much to ask people to support themselves unaided when there are nothing but non-sustaining low-paying part-time jobs available.

Telling a person to just go "get a job" is like telling him to pull a banana out of his own ass. The poor guy doesn't make the job, and he doesn't make the decision about whether he gets hired to the jobs he applies for. Yet at the end of the day when he still has no job he gets his food cut off? How is that going to help?

If we are going to require that people work, we have to provide some way for them to fulfill the requirement. If we want people to get off public assistance and support themselves, we have to make jobs available to ordinary people which do this.

The economy is not producing living wage jobs automatically. So do we stand around, waiting for the economy to start doing what it is not doing? Or do we do it ourselves?

No one who is willing to work should be unable to. Instead of saying "Work or starve!" why not just provide work? If you are concerned that we require effort in exchange for food, wouldn't that be better than just handing out aid for nothing?

TrailerTrish: What jobs are the government going to provide exactly?

The government already provides lots of jobs. Uncle Sam is the nation's second largest employer after Walmart, employing over two million people, doing the work of running the country's services. So they already have a massive employment and hiring infrastructure in place.

There is also plenty to do. The nation's physical infrastructure, like roads, buildings and bridges, are crumbling. The Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration provided millions of jobs doing just this kind of work during the Great Depression. Why stand next to a crumbling bridge and an unemployed person and say, gee, wish the economy was doing something about this? Put them together. Congresspeople have proposed creating enough public works for full employment, targeting decaying, unsustainable infrastructure.

Building bridges isn't the only option of course. Job guarantees in emerging economies have been enormously successful focusing on providing non-capital intensive jobs in childcare, elder care and community gardening. Guaranteed jobs like these in Agentina empowered women and quickly slashed the extreme poverty rate by 25%.

The current economic thinking is that having a reserve army of labor keeps inflation in check. When inflation rises, the monetary authority tightens interest rates, creating a buffer stock of unemployed people, which reduces wage demands, and ultimately inflation.

However a job guarantee program does not eliminate this, it just provides a buffer stock of publicly employed people, which can expand or contract based on booms and busts in the market, but which provides protection against inflation without the heavy social costs of unemployment.

There is no reason a person who wants to work should be unable to. There is stuff to do, but it doesn't always come together automatically by the invisible hand. Sometimes we have to make it happen.

TrailerTrish: What, crappy workers doing crappy, make-work jobs? It's very unlikely that they'd be getting more in return for what they pay.

First of all, we would be getting more effort in return than we are getting now for handouts, which is none. Isn't that everyone's big hangup with public assistance?

Secondly, we would be getting an enormous amount of social gain. We would have everyone able to meet the work requirements for aid. We would have people learning skills and participating in civic activity instead of at home watching TV. We would have an ethic which says that if you want aid you can help out, and at the same time says that we help everyone who needs it.

Thirdly, we would have mitigation of the social ills that come from desperate people at loose ends and no avenues for advancement - crime, mental illness, drug abuse, etc, all of which are extremely expensive to clean up. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Fourth, we would have a reserve of minimally-employed to hold inflation in check as opposed to a pool of unemployed. This creates the necessary downward pressure on wages without the upheavals created by unemployment. We would also have people able to earn discretionary income and pay it out into the local economy, creating value and economic stimulus, even in downturns. It's called ELR, or Employer of Last Resort.

The goal of ELR is not to turn a buck, any more than the goal of a public school system or police department is to make money. The goal is to use public resources better to provide services people can use to create better lives. Full employment is priceless.

TrailerTrish: The government cannot create jobs. It simply takes from citizens and gives money to others.

The government is the United States second-largest employer.

TrailerTrish: You can keep repeating that all you want. However, the government does not create anything.

No, we are using the government, our form of collective action, to create our society.

Through our armed servies, we are creating a country which can defend itself. Through our public education programs, we are creating educated citizens. Through our licensing and regulatory comissions, we are creating roads and highways, and creating road and highway safety through minimum standards of required competence. Through our police, we are creating social order and safety in the streets.

Through our court systems, we are creating an arbitration format for settling disputes. Through our post offices, we are providing delivery service to every resident. Through our public and national parks systems, we are providing outdoor spaces and protecting national treasures. Through our research and development initiatives, we are providing cutting edge technologies and innovations and cures. Through our census, we are creating accurate demographics of the citizenry. Through our voting agencies, we are creating enfrahchisement and the ability for each citizen to exercise their civic duty. Through environmental protection, we are creating a cleaner and safer place to live for everyone.

That is not nothing. You get the country you pay for.

12-28-15 1:51  •  Enlightenment Now

PaulsGirl: I don't believe in Heaven or Hell. As a Buddhist I understand that my energy, or soul, will keep being reborn until I reach enlightenment.

Why wait?

PaulsGirl: Can you elaborate? It's not like I can wake up tomorrow and say I'm enlightened.

Why wait for tomorrow? If you are at this moment utilizing your practice to transcend suffering, show compassion, and respect the truth, what more could you ask of enlightenment?

PaulsGirl: It's a goal to achieve as I know you know.

Enlightenment is something you do. Do it and you are it.

My husband used to write a blog, a kind of advice column for Buddhists. This reminded me of one of the questions he answered:


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PaulsGirl: I still have suffering, attachment and am not where I should be mentally...work in progress.

Enlightenment is always a work in progress. Transcending suffering and attachment doesn't mean you do not ever have feelings of suffering or attachment ever again. It means you know them when they happen and know how to deal with them so they do not get in your way.

If you wait until your enlightenment is perfect that is just more clinging to what you don't have.

PaulsGirl: All I can do for now is live the best life possible.

That is exactly it. Or, close enough. :-)

12-28-15 1:51  •  Occupy Wall Street Seriously

This great article about Inside Occupy Wall Street prompted me to think back to those days. Here's a conversation about Occupy from October 16, 2011.

BunBun: "Occupy Wall Street"? Seriously? Help me out on this one. I don't get it, what am I missing?

What do they want that is feasible, what is the plan for going about it?

They want social justice. Anything less is not feasible.

The plan is to agitate. That is how every other great movement for social justice has been achieved, from voting rights for women to the civil rights act. Non-violent agitation for justice is the great teacher.

BunBun: I've read their demands and they sound insane.

I don't agree that what you are presenting here exactly represents "their demands." But I have some comments.

BunBun: ...living wage regardless of the job...

An economy can only work if people have both money and time. There is no way you can have both if you do not make a living wage from one job.

Expecting people to give forty hours of their life every week and not get paid enough for it to live on in that week is what is insane. That is exploitation. It is not just. And, it is not working out. It cripples the consumer economy (like now) by creating a huge segment of the population with no money to spend on anything but survival.

BunBun: ...and who exactly is going to pay them?

The whole idea that there is "not enough money" to pay everyone a living wage is the heart of the problem. This economy is worth trillions. Is there really no better place for all of those trillions of dollars to be than in a handful of bank accounts? Is sitting in the bank accounts of billionaires, making them even bigger billioniares, a fairer use of all those trillions than paying people for doing jobs? Is it working?

The idea that we have to pay 400 people HALF of the wealth in our society, so that we don't have enough money left over to pay people who are working, is what is insane.

In any case, studies show that raising the minimum wage actually increases employment and does not hurt employers. Higher wages would help this economy tremendously.

BunBun: FREE college?

Public education for adults is essential for the same reason public education for children is essential - because having uneducated people in your society is a terrible drag on both the economy and on social functioning.

We established public education through high school many decades ago when that was enough education for most adults. It no longer is. Our public education system should reflect the modern need for more knowledge.

BunBun: A degree is already not worth what it was.

A college degree would be a ticket to a decent life in a functioning economy. But more than that, it makes the populace educated enough to use critical thinking. Excluding people from the essential knowledge of running a democracy is unjust and terribly short-sighted.

The people who don't "qualify for scholarships" are the ones who need education the most. There should be an easy way for them to get it, as easy as walking up and enrolling, just like we do with our kids right now.

Finland has lifelong public education and they have the best educated, along with one of the happiest and healthiest, population on the planet.

Can we afford mass education? Along with the afforementioned trillions, we could take couple of whacks at the military budget and create the best lifelong education system ever known. It would return massive results in the economy and further the progress of humankind.

Again, acting like this society is just too poor to educate ourselves, in the midst of the largest economy ever, is what is insane. It's not working.

BunBun: They want trillions - can you imagine trillions, in this economy?

All money is imaginary. Our current system of imagining that a few people need most of it is insane. What we need to do is stop imagining that the trillions of dollars of wealth produced by all the people of this country, half of everything we have produced for the last century, belongs to just 400 people.

BunBun: ...trillions for ecology.

We are ignoring climate science at our peril. Yes, we should be investing in "ecology" because we are on the verge of causing tremendous environmental damage.

BunBun: Forgive all debt including mortgages -

Debt is imaginary. When it starts crippling society it has to be, at least, renegotiated.

After the 2008 crisis, Wall Street got to write down their inflated assets to a (slightly) more accurate reflection of what their wealth was really worth. People should be able to renegotiate mortgage debt in a way that more accurately reflects the true value of the home.

BunBun: And why Wall Street? I don't want Wall Street hurt - that'd hurt everyone.

Wall Street represents the financial sector, which is hurting everyone by sucking all of the money out of the economy into itself.

BunBun: Plus if the market goes down some of our employers may not be able to make enough money to make ends meet...

It was Wall Street itself, the financial sector, which crashed the economy in the first place, remember? Letting the financial sector make the decisions for what happens to the world's money is not working.

BunBun: Seriously why do you support them?

I support agitation for social justice because the current system is terribly tilted to redistribute wealth upward. The wealthiest are using it to buy power to change the rules further to make more money flow to them. It is destroying the worldwide economy, causing environmental degredation and neglect, is causing massive exploitation and concentrating wealth and power in the hands of an ever smaller few.

Allowing this to continue would be insane.

BunBun: What parts do you support - why?

There are a number of specific steps which would work to return the economy to the prosperous, highly functioning state it was in during the 50's, 60's and 70's. This was the height of the benefits reaped by the New Deal. It could be summed up by President Roosevelt's idea for a Second Bill of Rights.

Roosevelt's remedy was to declare an "economic bill of rights" which would guarantee:

Employment, with a living wage,
Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies,
Medical care,
Education, and,
Social security

Policies like this work. You can look around the world and see that the more of this which is guaranteed, the healthier and more prosperous societies are.

I have some specific policy recommendations which bear on Wall Street as well:

Restore Glass-Steagall. Removing the separation between insurance, consumer banking and speculative financial banking was one of the worst mistakes of deregulation ever and led directly to the financial crash of 2008.

Neutralize the Citizen's United decision. Anonymous unlimited corporate money in politics guarantees that only coporate profit will be served.

Publicly financed politics. Democracy cannot work when more money equals more power. The majority becomes disenfranchised.

Financial transaction tax. Speculative finance creates bubbles. When they pop they destory real lives. A tiny .2% tax on derivatives would serve as a slight restraint on the reckless speed trading that causes financial crashes, and would let society see some of the gains made from the wealth they are producing.

As Senator Bernie Sanders said, "Most important, we need to create a new Wall Street that exists not to reward CEOs and investors for the bets they make on exotic financial instruments nobody understands. Rather, we need a Wall Street that provides financial services to small businesses and manufacturers to create decent-paying jobs and grow the economy by productive means."

That is not asking too much. It is about time.

Hi Bun, thanks for discussing this with me. Here are some comments.

BunBun: But the "injustice" they seem to be complaining about is not having as much as others...

Sorry, that is just not correct. The injustice they are complaining about is not some having "less," it's about massive numbers of people not having enough to make a decent life, despite their best efforts. It's about the working and middle class today getting way less for their work than the previous generation, while the richest 1% get far, far more.

BunBun: - to me that's not injustice, that's just life -

The protesters are comparing "just life" today, where education is massively expensive, where wages are depressed and jobs are outsourced and healthcare is out of reach, to "just life" in the 50's, 60's and 70's, when a single breadwinner could have a home, visit a doctor, send his kids to college and retire comfortably. If it's "just life" now, why wasn't it "just life" then?

The answer is because we have different policies now.

Did you really think that - since it's "just life" - there is nothing we can or should do to affect this? Do you think there is no possible better way?

BunBun: Their demands say "regardless of employment -

This is a ridiculous distortion of even your previous statement. Living wage "regardless of the job" is completely different from living wage "regardless of employment." Your new phrasing makes it sound like it means the unemployed when it doesn't.

BunBun: To me that means that a SAHM should get a paycheck from . . . i don't know someone, or joe blow who mouthed off to his boss and got fired should still get a paycheck, or the teenager that dropped out of high school and sits paying video games should get a paycheck - that is INSANE.

What it "means to you" is a ridiculous straw man. A living wage applies to people who are working for a wage. Distorting it to mean people who are not employed, just so you can attack the living wage as insane, is disingenuous.

BunBun: So it's "fair" to give to those who haven't earned it?

A living wage is for workers. Is it fair to not give it to people who have worked?

BunBun: It's fair to give to 50k to one who flips burgers?

Is that less fair than giving 300 times that to one CEO? If it has to be unfair, why are we making it unfair in favor of the very few instead of unfair in favor of the very many?

We get to choose which way it works. Having it "unfair" in favor of the majority of working people allows the middle class to exist and thrive. Having it unfair in favor of a few CEOs is destroying the economy.

BunBun: Those who contribute to society in a financial way are rewarded financially - those who contribute more are rewarded more.

Nothing in what I have proposed precludes this in any way.

BunBun: Money is a social construct which we all seem to agree to. We agree on what it's worth and what we're willing to do for it.

Agitating for change is people not agreeing.

BunBun: "...sucking it into itself" - I imagine a big Wall street monster the way you write.

Prior to 1985, the financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of the GDP. Today it accounts for over 40 percent. That huge growth in percentage, to approaching half of all business in the U.S., is the financial sector sucking an ever larger portion of the economy into itself.

BunBun: We need those "above" us on the ladder to have more money so they can create jobs with it.

They already have more money than ever. They are not creating jobs with it.

The corporations are sitting on literally trillions in liquid cash. They could spend it to create jobs, but why would they? They are already getting the highest profits ever by cutting back on jobs. Why would they do anything different?

How long are we going to wait for that tiny handful of guys, who no one elected, and who do not have a mandate, and who are only acting to benefit their own narrow greed, to do something that will benefit the rest of us? Why are we beholden to them?

BunBun: But if the politics are publicly financed where how do we get a voice?

By listening to what candidates say and voting on what they do, instead of on which campaign has more money to spend.

12-27-15 11:39  •  Interview With A Neoist

(a few weeks prior):

CollegeGrad2013: I am taking a Religious Studies class and I have to interview people of different religions. I already have an interview with a Christian and a Jewish person. Anyone out there of a different religion, something I can ask a set of questions about?

I agreed to be interviewed for College's class. Here's the questionnaire I filled out.

Q. What religion are you? 

A. I currently practice Neoism.  It is an entirely new religion which I created to bring together truth, morality, spirituality and enlightenment.  

The practice consists of respecting the truth and cultivating skillful attention.



Q. What are the general beliefs of your religion? 

A. The central tenet of Neoism is that the truth, to the best of our ability to discern it, is the surest guide to navigating reality well.   For this reason, Neoism is a constant quest to compare ideas against reality to see how they hold up, and strive to understand the truth to the greatest degree possible.

Neoism also includes tenets which recommend evaluating harm and well-being as a guide to moral action, and learning to focus the attention as a means to transcend suffering.



Q. What does your religion claim about God? 

A. Nothing.  Claims about Gods cannot be confirmed, and so do not qualify as true.  Neoism is concerned with the truth.


Q. What does your religion claim about the afterlife? 

Nothing.  Claims about the afterlife cannot be confirmed.  Nothing is known of what, if anything, occurs.   Neoism is concerned with this life and how to live it well.


Q. What does your religion claim about the origin of the Earth and of humans? 

A. It appears that the way to determine the truth of how something came to be is to examine it.  Through science, using reason and evidence, we have been able to examine the planet and the cosmos and ourselves, and formulate sophisticated, accurate explanations for our origins.  As it stands, the Big Bang explains the origin of this space, gravitational collapse from matter accretion explains the formation of planets, evolution through natural selection explains the origin of our physical form.  

Our understanding is far from perfect, but as science progresses through error correction, perhaps our understanding of these will change.  It is important to let the claims of Neoism reflect the growing accuracy of our understanding.

And, there are many questions to which we have no answer at all.  Accepting the unknown is also an important part of respecting the truth.



Q. Does your religion beleive in various sins or forbidden acts?

A. No, instead of a laundry list of bad actions, it provides a moral technology for determining good action based on an evaluation of harm and well-being.



Q. Do you attend religious services or ceremonies?

A. No, at least, not yet, because Neoism is so new.  I can imagine in the future a "service," or at least a meeting with others, explaining what Neoism is about, and perhaps some group meditation and reflection exercises.  The social ties of religion are a great force for group cohesion and Neoism was designed to fill that role.

But, Neoism is basically an individual system practiced in daily life by the cultivation of attention and moral action. 



Q. What are the holidays you celebrate and what do you do for them?

A. Neoism has a ritual dimension and is intended for use in any kind of ceremony or celebration.  The actual rites and rituals can be adapted from traditional rites or invented to suit the occasion.  When celebrating life events and seasons with Neoism, the values celebrated are human values of love, compassion and wisdom.  


Q. Is your religion tolerant of other religions, lifestyles, questionable professions, and drug use?

A. Neoism seeks to examine human behavior with a realistic evaluation of harm and well-being.  To the extent that harm is occurring or being perpetrated, that would be considered evidence of ill.   If there is no harm and all are consenting, no evidence of ill is present.



Q. How long have you practiced this religion, or have you always followed this religion?

A. I have been practicing the techniques of focused attention, which I basically got from Buddhism, for over fifteen years, and they have been extremely successful for reducing suffering.   Neoism I just conceived a few years ago, to present this and other understanding in a cohesive whole. I wanted to present a new alternative to the traditional religions.


Q.  How did you come to the realization that this was the correct religion for you?

A. My upbringing was secular and I did not feel the need for religion.  But I found that incorporating some Buddhist practice into my life was tremendously beneficial.

Later, I was exposed to the work of Dr. Loyal Rue, who has suggested that religion uses narrative to bring together facts and values to provide personal wholeness and social cohesion.  That sounded pretty important, but the traditional religions available for this are loaded down with bronze-age claims and superstitions.

I thought there should be a new religion, based on the truth and what works, which could bring together facts and values.  I think it is the first religion which might actually be considered "true" because it is required to be based in truth.   If reality is confirmed to be different in some way from the claims of Neoism, it is the job of Neoism to change to more accurately reflect what is real.  In this way, Neoism will always be "new."



Clara: How do you define "spirituality" in Neoistic terms, meaning to respect the truth?

Humans seem to be capable of what I would call "spiritual experience," or what feels like direct apprehension of the divine. Feelings of great love and benevolent attention...feelings of deep peace...feelings of "one with everything." Also feelings of humbling in the face of the profound, delight in the content of the universe, or moments of intense insight when great leaps of understanding are made.

The kind of brain activity which produces these states can even be measured with an MRI, so something real is occurring when these experiences are underway. It is not known exactly what. But throughout human history, these experiences have almost always been evaluated within the realm of religion, and largely attributed to contact with "God" or "Spirits."

Respecting the truth about these mental states would be acknowledging that it is not known exactly what causes them, and that they are not known to be evidence of outside entities, ie, gods, etc.

But, just because these feelings may not be "from gods" is no reason to ignore them or eschew them. The fact is that direct spiritual apprehension is a wonderful tool for personal insight, as well as being a tremendous joy to experience. There are a variety of well-understood ways to deliberately create this kind of experience.

Spirituality in Neoism would be valuing spiritual experience for exactly what it is, and providing a context for seeking it out.

Zennie: You sound like a Buddhist.

Caught that, eh? :-) My practice is highly informed by Buddhism, particularly Zen.

Zennie: How does Neoism differ from Buddhism?

It is quite similar to Buddhism and also Epicureanism in some ways, because those were my initial exposure to these ideas. But, I wanted to create something entirely of the present, and so I have attempted to directly observe how these principles were derived from reality, and then explain my observations. It turned out quite similar to Buddhism, as you can imagine - where Buddhism was verifiably true.

Yet, it does differ in a few ways.

For one thing, it does not have a Buddha, or other messianic figure, to get in the way. I think the traditional emphasis on Jesus in Christianity, or to a lesser extent the Buddha in Buddhism, is a distraction from the actual system. Even more unfortunate is that by worshipping or revering these figures, it creates a strong impression that you have to be supernatural, or at least very special, to attain enlightenment. The point of Neoism is that enlightenment is completely available to every person. So, Neoism is not about a particular figure.

For another, I wanted to broaden up the focus a bit to more than "suffering". Relieving suffering ala Buddhism is half the game...then you get to fill that space with delight and meaning to attain true happiness, ala Epicureanism.

Third, I created a simple piece of moral technology which is, I think, unique. It's like an app to figure out how to do enlightened action, except you run it on your hand instead of on a tablet. Here's the latest draft:

Moral Technology - "The Mind App"

You are what you do. If you act enlightened, you are enlightened, or close enough for the moment. While you are learning to act enlightened, there is a simple formula to remember enlightened action.

Action without purpose is floundering. You have to get ahead of your actions. If you get stuck at any point, come back here.

Pay Attention
What is important is usually what is before you.

Be Careful
In every action, be careful to do the action in a way that works, and is true, and minimizes harm. If you can't figure out how to be careful, stop, and pay attention. The careful action is usually obvious if you look.

Be Kind
In every action that involves others, do the action in a way that works for you and for any others involved. If you can't figure out what is kind, then stop, pay attention, and be careful. If you are paying attention to others and being careful of them, the kind action will be obvious.

To find out for sure what is true, and works, and is careful, and kind, it is important to check and see what happens as a result of your actions.

So Neoism, while not entirely unique, is the distillation of some great ideas I learned with some ideas of my own thrown in.

Fab question Zen, thanks for asking!

12-27-15 11:39  •  On Judgement Day

Katy: The Bible says the Tribulation will be like this. The sheep will go to one side. The goats will go to other side. Being judged on what we did on this world. Did we do nice for people, feed the poor, visit people in the hospital, or jail ect.? Sure, everybody tries to help other people, when we can. I always try take care of my family. I try to be nice, and helpful towards strangers.

But I know it cannot be good enough, standing before God at judgement day. No one can be good enough. So, I need Jesus to be my attorney. He will say, "I died on the cross for her sins."

That is why I need Jesus. I still daily sin, lots. I would hate to give you the list.

A proud look.(Sometimes I think I know it all)
A lying tongue.(this one is mine too)
Hands that shed innocent blood.
A heart that devises wicked plots.
Feet that are swift to run into mischief.
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies.
Him that soweth discord among brethren.

"A proud look"? Cut yourself some slack. Just because some loser labeled something "sin" doesn't mean it is really hurting anyone. You seem like a kind person who tries. As you try, you improve. Who could ask for more than that?

I am so sorry that you must view yourself through this horrid lens.

Katy: So what you think? Do you believe there is going be judgement Day?

Why wait? Use your judgement now. Consider the truth.

HelloKitty: Just curious but could you give an example of something you think is viewed as sin and show how it is not hurting anyone?

"Sometimes thinking that you know it all" is not hurting anyone.

HelloKitty:You really beleive that? Keep in mind all actions begin as thoughts. Thinking that you know it all (pride) is not hurting anyone?

Not really. Sometimes you really do know a lot, and other times perhaps you are simply in error. Usually no big deal either way. It's the kind of thing that happens to everyone, and it's a natural part of the trial and error of learning to be mature.

Is that "crime" really worthy of an eternity of burning in hell?

The people who came up with "sin" applied it to all the normal mistakes everyone makes when figuring out life. That is the only way to scare them enough to get them to go along with the rest of the story.

What I despise about this is the way Katy feels compelled to consider herself the condemned, in need of Christ the Attorney, for ordinary mistakes that every human makes every day, which are perfectly understandable and eminently forgivable in the context of a trial-and-error reality.

The whole concept of "sin" is a construct, designed for mind control through guilt and fear, and this is what it looks like when it is working.

Katy is a great human being and only the horrid lens of "sin" is keeping her tied to this condemned construct.

Look around you. Nowhere in the universe is there any reason to believe any of this. People are torturing themselves over, literally, nothing.

12-27-15 11:39  •  Feedback Loops

Katy: Jesus explained good and bad. The root of life, if the root is good, than the tree will always produce good fruits.

That's not how people work. We start out as babies with almost complete ignorance, save a few instinctive behaviors and reflexes, like the suck reflex and the grab reflex.

As we grow, our brains learn from feedback. The direction of the caregivers, along with the personal experience of navigating the environment, cause neurons in the brain to lay down patterns of activation which can be recalled and implemented at need (memories and training.) Through this method, we learn to crawl, walk, talk, and perform the behaviors required for sociocultural response.

In the continuous cycle of feedback loops, there is opportunity to act, observe the effects of the actions, evaluate the results of the actions, and then decide to modify the actions for better results. This has absolutely nothing to do with having "good" roots which then automatically produce good actions, or whatever. The actions start out ignorant and then are shaped into more informed action by the information which is available.

That is error correction.

12-27-15 3:55  •  Various Threats

Peña: Check this out:

Wisconsin Republican’s Christmas Message To Non-Christians: Convert Or Be Destroyed

Wisconsin state GOP Rep. Scott Allen delivered a Christmas message to constituents and the state of Wisconsin last week using the official Assembly Republicans YouTube channel. But rather than just wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season, Allen chose to proselytize and bully non-Christians in an effort to convert them to Christianity.

Allen also quoted a Bible verse which threatens non-Christians with destruction if they don’t convert.

Jesus or Burn is the central tenet of Christianity.

Peña: Pointing that fact out angers them.

Well, I don't find that it helps much to talk about "them." Christianity is a system, and it can be discussed as such.

Christianity is a big problem. The ideas are anitiquated and incorrect. The morality is mostly horrible. Trying to live by the primitive ideas of bronze-age tribesmen who did not understand anything is a huge failure. We have learned almost everything important since then, but the concept of "scripture" allows no avenue for moral upgrade or error correction.

The good things in Christianity are available literally everywhere else as well. There is no reason to prop up this huge, horrible decaying edifice just to mete out a few niceties like "love thy neighbor (because gods.)"

There is no reason to continue to prolong the existence of this institution.

Peña: I couldn't agree more. Mind you I feel the same about all religions.

Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Loyal Rue? He wrote "Religion is Not About God." He describes religions as narrative traditions which humans use to bring together facts and values, that is, "how things are" with "what is important."

I think humans can still benefit from knowing stories that help us understand how things are and what is important. The problems with using legacy regilions for this is that 1) they are "supernaturally" derived, with all the problems of unreason, and 2) they derived from isolated cultural hubs, so they are all very different form each other. Confusion and forever unresolvable conflict is the result.

That's why I think the obvious choice is to derive a narrative tradition from true stories. For one, the truth we can verify about where we come from, and how to be, is a thrilling tale of adventure and growth and progress and the amazingness of matter and energy and biology and intelligence. For two, the truth about where we come from and how to be is the same for everyone. With reason, we can agree on what we know and what we don't know, what works and what doesn't.

In short, "religion" is not the culprit. It is the content of the legacy religions which makes them problematic. Religion with verifiably true content would do the jobs of religion much better.

Thanks again for speaking with me Peña!

HelloKitty: Can you let me know where he says convert or be destroyed?

It is the cherished central tenet of Christianity.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

He doesn't have to mention it. Christianity itself is a threat.

HelloKitty: So you can't point to the line where he mentions it?

Hello HelloKitty, great to speak with you as always! Thanks for replying.

HelloKitty: So, lying about what he said, implying he was calling for violence...

I agree the headline is very misleading. It seems to imply that the threat is "Convert or you will be destroyed by humans," when the actual threat is "Convert or you will be destroyed by the gods."

HelloKitty: ...could be viewed as a threat by way of encouraging a backlash response.

Are you referring to Stochastic Terrorism? If so, I agree that overly inflammatory and misrepresentative rhetoric contributes to the fevered atmosphere of conflict. I'm glad you brought this up.

Since it is a concern of yours, I'm sure you are doing everything you can to make sure that the titles of your own posts are measured and reflective of this new reality.

However, I don't agree that it literally constitutes any kind of threat. Certainly nothing to compare with the central threat of Christianity, which has been crippling human progress for thousands of years.

It's not always easy to talk about this, the elephant in the room, the major source of error, the reason in large part for the clash of civilizations. I'm not surprised the rhetoric around the subject is a little heated. A few short centuries ago talking against The Church could be a death sentence. A few short decades ago Christianity was still required as a marker to prove non-Communism. Today Christianity is effectively required almost everywhere in the U.S. for election to public office.

So, it has never been easy and is still not easy to get people talking about the problems of Christianity. Trying to get people to think about the threat which comprises the central tenet - "Jesus or Burn" - is hard, because everyone is so used to it, they often don't consider the implications. Getting the discussion going is a worthwhile effort. But I agree with you there is no need to exaggerate or be inflammatory while doing so.

Shannondi: So cut to the chase, what's the end game for you? Do you wish for [the AFs] to somehow be eliminated?

The Abrahamic Faiths are folklore traditions. We didn't have to "eliminate" the Greek and Roman or Norse folklore and stories of the gods. They are still a grand part of human culture and fiction and a great place from which to draw all kinds of lessons. But, very few are still worshipping those gods and the stories are considered myths.

I see a similar end game with the AFs as people stop pretending they are true.

Shannondi: Is it your opinion that the world would be better were it to be eradicated?

The world would definitely be a better place with less supernaturalism, yes. It already is.

12-26-15 3:21  •  Kinds of Racism

Lise: Did you see this? This racist black lady cussed out a white lady with a baby in line at the McDonalds!

Bones: So someone was rude. What's the point of this?

This is supposed to show that blacks are just as predjudiced as whites, therefore blacks have no call to complain of racism. Therefore #BlackLivesMatter are wrong.

However there is a difference between individual racisim and institutional racism. We are not responsible for how individuals act in line at a restaurant. We are responsible for how cops act because they are representatives of the state and are answerable to us.

We can't stop racist rants and it's not our job to do so. We can stop cops from gettng away with racist wrongful killing and that is what we should be doing. #BlackLivesMatter is right to demand this.

12-26-15 9:21  •  Better or Worse

Kells: Why don't you just admit that Christianity is no better and no worse than Islam?

DooBee: When was the last time you saw a Christian decapitate another human in the name of God?

When Christianity was the state they did plenty.

The difference is not that Islam is bad and Christianity is good. Right now Islam is strong and Christianity is weak. That is why Islam seems now like Christianity was then.

DooBee: What do you think makes Islam strong?

Lack of separation of church and state.

DooBee: Some Muslims have called for the separation of mosque and state but others reject it. Why do you suppose lack of separation of mosque and state is discussed regarding Islam?

If you are asking why some Muslims reject separation of mosque and state, it is for the same reasons some Christians did and still do reject separation of church and state. Some because they sincerely believe that theocracy is what God wants, or other supernatural reasons. Some because separation cedes power, and humans almost never cede power willingly.

Remember, Western civilization has had an Enlightenment for the last 300 years, slowly coming to understand that Christianity is irrational. Having been largely culturally isolated from the West until recently, Islam has not had to coexist with reason for very long.

Eventually it will catch up with everyone. Reality is incontrovertible.

Read more in the Archives.