Politics Archive

Monday, February 18, 2013

Response to E-mail: One Nation Under Wal-Mart?

One Nation Under WalmartOnce gain, I received an e-mail forward that I wanted to respond to. This one had the subject, "To sum up", but looks like a previous incarnation had the title of "Wal-Mart vs. The Morons (NOT A JOKE)". For anyone interested, I've quoted the entire e-mail below the fold.

It began with a set of facts on how big and successful Wal-Mart is. I didn't fact check all the claims, but they look reasonable, and besides, the actual statistics aren't critical to the point the e-mail was trying to make. That point was this:

You may think that I am complaining, but I am really laying the ground work for suggesting that MAYBE we should hire the guys who run Wal-Mart to fix the economy.

It then listed a series of supposedly broken government programs, claiming that the government had had so many years to get the programs running properly, but had failed.

It closed with some general anti-government complaining. I have refutations to a few of those elsewhere on this site, but in this entry, I'm going to focus on the question of whether or not captains of industry are good role models for government.

First of all, keep in mind that industry and government have different roles. Per the Constitution, the intended role of our government is as follows:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I highlighted a couple of those. When TANF (the new name for Welfare after the Clinton era reforms) enrollees have dropped from 12 million to 4 million since 1996 and overall TANF costs have been cut in half at the same time, even though the poverty rate in the U.S. has held fairly constant over that period and income inequality and wealth inequality have both been increasing since the 1970s, I think it's important to remember that government is not there just to ensure the welfare of the wealthy and business owners. It's there to ensure the welfare of everybody in the country.

Industry doesn't have that role. Industry's goal is to turn a profit. Perhaps more kindhearted business owners will treat their employees well, but they're under no obligation to do so. To see just how bad unregulated business can get, consider the early days of the industrial revolution. Pick up any Charles Dickens novel and you'll see the conditions in London at the time. In the U.S., it got so bad for coal miners in West Virginia that they had an armed uprising in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Andrew Carnegie is infamous for his union busting tactics, including the Homestead Strike. The Ludlow Massacre was part of the deadliest strike in U.S. history. And if you want modern examples, just look to the sweatshops in the developing world. History has shown that industry will exploit labor when it can if it means higher profits for the people at the top.

So what about Wal-Mart? They're certainly successful, but they're not without their detractors, either. Here are a couple pages describing alleged business practices of Wal-Mart.

Here's a quote from the second page of that article, by Al Norman of an organization named Sprawl-Busters.

But that's part of the Wal-Mart saturation strategy. They place their stores so close together that they become their own competition. Once everybody else is wiped out, then they're free to thin out their stores. Wal-Mart has 390 empty stores on the market today. This is a company that has changed stores as casually as you and I change shoes.

Here are a couple articles on the wages Wal-Mart pays its employees.

The first of those quoted another article, claiming "as many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores using food stamps." The second, while not being the most professional of presentations, at least lists all its information sources. It makes the same case - that Wal-Mart pays its employees wages that are too low for people to survive on, so those employees are forced to take advantage of government programs like food stamps. To quote one passage from that page:

In fact, they could pay ALL of their 1.4 million US employees an extra $5,000 per year and not only pull them out of poverty and above the "low income" line, but still keep over SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS in profits for themselves and their shareholders.

The page claims that, in effect, Wal-Mart is receiving an indirect subsidy from the government, since their employees can only survive by getting taxpayer money. And just keep in mind the previous articles I linked to. By driving other stores out of business, Wal-Mart is one of the few games in town for low-skilled people to get jobs. They don't have the freedom to simply quit and find a different job that pays them better.

Since this reply is already getting a little long, I won't focus on all of the claims of failed government programs. But that first one did jump out at me.

a.. The U.S. Postal Service was established in 1775. You have had 237 years to get it right and it is broke.

As the e-mail stated, the Postal Service has been in operation for over 200 years. I'm not nearly that old to have first-hand experience, but from what I've read, it sounds like it's been operating well over most of that period. In fact, it's really only been recently that it's started to run into problems, in large part due to e-mail and other digital technologies displacing old fashioned paper mail. First class mail dropped 29% from 1998 to 2008. That's a pretty hefty decline. Granted, a law passed by the 2006 Congress forcing the Postal Service to set aside benefits payments for future retirees hasn't helped. But to make a claim that the government hasn't been able to get the Postal Service right even after 200 years is pretty misleading.

So, this e-mail extolled the virtues of a company that is successful as a business, but that doesn't display the virtues I'd like to see in government. And then in its list of examples of failed government programs, the very first example was misleading. And it completely failed to even list good government programs, like NASA (underfunded as it is), the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, etc. More broadly, I think there's a history of private industry exploiting workers, from the Industrial Revolution on up to Wal-Mart's business practices. While that's good for the bottom line for businesses, it's not the way to run a government that's tasked with promoting the general Welfare.

So, I think it's safe to chalk this up as just another right wing e-mail forward without much substance.

Continue reading "Response to E-mail: One Nation Under Wal-Mart?" »

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on Gun Control - The Hitler Argument

Gun ControlI was talking to a coworker the other day, and the issue of gun control came up. I told him that I didn't have a very strong opinion on the matter, but that I find myself drifting towards wanting to see more restrictive regulations. His response was to bring up Hitler - Hitler took away the guns in Germany, and look what happened.

My coworker is obviously not the first person to make such an argument. If you do a Google image source for 'hitler gun control', you'll get lots of interesting results. Here are a couple examples, with the captions repeating part of the text for people still using text only browsers.

Hitler Gun Control Poster 1

"This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!" - source

Hitler Gun Control Poster 2

Remember this quote? "To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens" -Adolph Hitler - source

There are a several points to look at here which I've addressed below.

Are the quotes true?

Simply put, no. This article from The Straight Dope, Did Hitler ban gun ownership?, deals effectively with the first supposed quote, and this article from Snopes, To Conquer a Nation, takes care of the second. There's no record that Hitler said those quotes attributed to him, or anything close enough to consider those as even mangled versions of real quotes. They're completely fabricated.

Did Hitler institute strict gun control measures in Germany?

This gets a little more complicated, but basically, no. Very strict gun control laws were put in place in Germany following WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, long before Hitler came to power. In 1919 and 1920, the Weimar government passed the Regulations on Weapons Ownership and the Law on the Disarmament of the People that in effect banned private gun ownership. In 1928, the Law on Firearms and Ammunition was passed which greatly relaxed Germany's gun control laws. Private gun ownership was allowed, but it wasn't a complete deregulation. People were required to have permits to own guns, separate permits to carry guns, and still more permits for the various aspects of the gun industry.

Hitler's rise to power began with the Great Depression. In 1933, he was appointed as chancellor. Throughout that year, he consolidated power for himself. When the president died the following year, the powers of that office were combined with the chancellor, giving Hitler practically full control of the government.

In 1938, a new gun control law was passed in Germany, now under Hitler's regime, the German Weapons Act. So, how did this new law change gun policy in the country. Here's how Alex Seitz-Wald described it in an article in Salon, The Hitler gun control lie.

The 1938 law signed by Hitler that LaPierre mentions in his book basically does the opposite of what he [LaPierre] says it did. "The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition," Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.

However, and this is a big however, the law did prohibit Jews and other oppressed minorities from owning firearms.

So, Hitler loosened up gun control for most German citizens, while extending his already existing policies of oppression of minorities to exclude them from owning firearms.

Did gun control make a difference for the Jews and other peoples oppressed by the Nazis?

Well, it certainly didn't help them, but it's questionable how much differently history would have turned out if the Jews had had firearms. For one thing, the gun restrictions were only one of the many policies oppressing the Jews. And several of those other policies had been put in place before the Jews were banned from owning firearms, so obviously guns weren't used to fight those initial stages. And when the Jewish people did begin to revolt forcibly, it's still questionable just how much more they could have achieved against trained troops if they had had guns. Germany had conquered entire nations and armies - how much hope would there have been for untrained civilians?

John Stewart had a segment on the Daily Show a few nights ago that addressed this very issue. I've embedded the video below. It's very entertaining, if you have the time to watch it.

To quote the most relevant portion (dashes used to indicate either Stewart trailing off or waiting for applause/laughter to die down):

Look, I wish- You can never with certainty know how history might have been different (unless, of course, you have a Delorean with a flux capacitor, but I don't think-). I wish arms used in the ghetto could stop Hitler, but my feeling was, France couldn't. And I'm pretty sure they had guns. Russia- Russia- Russia had kind of a lot of guns, and they couldn't stop Hitler, until you factored in the wind chill. It's an awful lot to put on an oppressed minority when it took the free world five to six years of all out total war to stop that mother #@$!*#. So let's stop arguing these what ifs.

And to put this in perspective of the the modern day U.S., our military is huge. According to the article, The FY 2009 Pentagon Spending Request - Global Military Spending, in 2008 the U.S. alone accounted for 48% of the world's military spending. And this article with slightly newer data, America's staggering defense budget, in charts, shows that in 2011, the U.S. spent more on its military than the next 13 nations put together. So even if the conspiracy theorists were right, and the U.S. were to all of a sudden become a horrible dictatorship, any rebels would be going up against a military the equivalent of practically every single other nation combined. And if it were a dictatorship like Hitler's, with massive popular support, their resistance would be pretty small, indeed.

Are there any analogs in American history for comparison?

America's not Germany. For one thing, we've always had guns. So, can we say that we've put our Second Amendment rights to good use to keep oppression and atrocities from happening in this country?

Well, one of the most obvious examples is slavery. This was a horrible, horrible practice, making human beings the property of other people. And obviously, the slaves themselves weren't allowed to have guns, but white American citizens still had their guns. The white citizens could have banded together, and stood up in opposition to this oppression of their fellow human beings. Granted, there were a few who did this, like John Brown, but they didn't have anywhere near the numbers to pose an actual threat to the institution. And in fact, when the Civil War finally broke out, the ones using their guns to fight against the U.S. government were the ones fighting to continue the oppression. It was the government that was on the side of freedom.

Another example involves the treatment of the American Indians. Ever since the European discovery of the new world, there were a series of American Indian Wars, with the Europeans fighting to take away land from the Indians, and the Indians fighting to defend their land. Now, the Indians were able to acquire guns and fight back against the U.S. But, just as with the few armed uprisings against slavery, they never had enough numbers to be effective against the U.S. As just one example of how tragic these incidents could be, an estimated 4000 Cherokees died during the Trail of Tears, nearly a quarter of their population. But again, there was no widespread support from American citizens to defend these people who were being oppressed.

Since this post was prompted by a discussion of politics surrounding WWII, let's look at another example from this country from that very time period - Japanese American Internment Camps These were nowhere near as horrible as Nazi Concentration Camps, but they still involved the removal of American citizens and residents from their homes, and their relocation to prison camps. And these camps were guarded. There are documented cases of guards shooting prisoners attempting to walk outside of the fences. But again, there was no widespread organized effort to stop the government from this oppression.

As one final example, not including as many people as the previous examples, but much more current, consider Guantanamo. Here is a situation where the U.S. has kidnapped citizens from other countries, placed them in a detention facility without a trial, and then declared that they will be held indefinitely. These are not prisoners of war in any conventional sense. In the 'War' on Terror, there's no opposing government that we can expect to some day sign a treaty with to end hostilities, at which point we'd release the detainees. These prisoners are suspects of crimes. To hold them without due process is shameful. But rather than widespread outrage at this miscarriage of justice, 70% of Americans approve of Obama keeping the prison open (source - Washington Post).


There are legitimate debates to have concerning gun rights and gun control. But let's stop pretending that protecting ourselves against the government is one of them. There is no grand tradition of armed American citizens standing together in opposition to oppression. The peoples who have been wronged have been too few in number to effectively protect themselves, and the rest of the country has either looked the other way, or been part of the majority calling for their oppression in the first place.

As an additional note, let me stress that I'm not advocating armed insurrection to fight these problems. The Civil Rights Movement had its greatest successes through the use of non-violent means, like boycotting and civil disobedience. The most effective uprisings in the Arab Spring were protesters, not armed revolutionaries. Heck, just look at the Wikipedia entry on Nonviolent Resistance for a long list of examples.

More Info

My Previous Posts on Gun Control:

External Links:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NRA President Unwittingly Supports Gun Ban

Gun ControlI've written previously about gun control in the entry, Thoughts on Gun Control. I looked at the stats I could find of people killed by gun violence, and concluded that there's just not enough evidence to support outright gun bans, but that I wasn't opposed to gun control laws. Since then, I've come across some articles that have given me reason to think more about the issue, but I still can't call myself informed enough to have a strong opinion. However, I do recognize that there's a problem with gun violence in this country. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 10-20 times higher than other industrialized nations, depending on how you define them (source - Politifact). Something needs to be done.

So the other day, I was listening to NPR, and Melissa Block was interviewing David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association. The interview can be found online at NRA Head: Registry Of Gun Owners Would Be Very Dangerous. She brought up several methods of gun control, and Keene dismissed them all as ineffective. Regarding restrictions on high capacity magazines, Keene said the following.

It sounds like a good idea. The fact is that it doesn't make very much difference. It takes anybody who's familiar with any of these firearms maybe a second to change the magazine. They're also very difficult to restrict. There are millions of them out there. They cost virtually nothing to produce. There are no serial numbers on them.

Here was Keene's response to background checks on ammunition sales.

So you know, when you talk about regulations, and when you talk about laws to get citizens to do one thing or the other, you have to ask yourself, what would that accomplish? Would that prevent this kind of shooting? And there's no reason to believe that it would, so why would you do it?

About 2/3 of the way through the interview, Keen said this.

Well, the fact of the matter is that unless you're talking about the confiscation and elimination of firearms, none of these things are going to make much difference. They haven't made much of a difference elsewhere, and they aren't going to make much difference here.

We live in a country that is so far out of line with the rest of the industrialized world in terms of gun violence, and the head of the premier gun organization in the country says that the only thing that can be done to reduce that violence is to eliminate all firearms in the country. What message does he want me to take away from that?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

War on Christmas 2012

Santa in the CrosshairsThe Christmas season is upon us, which means it's time for us Scrooges to ramp up the war. To tell the truth, after skimming through some of my older entries, I don't have anything new to add. The 'War on Christmas' is a bit silly, considering how Christmas has been treated in this country in the past. The Puritans even outlawed it's celebration (see the first link below). Personally, I'm going to decorate the house, put up a tree, give presents, and just about every other tradition associated with this time of year other than go to church.

Some of the Christmas entries I've written in the past are pretty good. I especially recommend the first three below for information content, and the fourth if you want to support a good cause.

My previous War on Christmas posts:

And of course, other people have created very interesting content in regards to Christmas and the 'war' upon it. Most of the links below are humorous, but the first is a serious look at the Salvation Army, and one more reason why I have trouble supporting that organization despite the good they do in other areas. Though as I wrote previously, if the only way you'd donate at all is by dropping pocket change into the Salvation Army's kettles, then do it. I don't donate to them personally, but I compensate by donating more to other charities.

Related Links to Other Sites:

And to continue with what is now a tradition on this blog, here is a YouTube video of Tim Minchin singing his Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun. And if you missed my previous entry, Buy White Wine in the Sun, Support Autism Society, then let me repeat that if you go and buy the song this month, the proceeds will go to supporting the National Autistic Society.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good Commentary on the Fiscal Cliff

MoneyA while back, I wrote a blog entry, Debt Ceiling - Frustration With Politics, detailing my frustration with the way Democrats and Republicans were approaching the debt ceiling debate. Of course, the solution they reached then was to punt on the problem until the end of the year, which is now fast approaching. Last night on NPR, I heard a commentary from Robert Reich on this issue that made a lot of sense , 'Cliff' fix should include triggers. To quote Reich:

We've got two big economic challenges ahead: getting the economy back on track, and getting the budget deficit under control.

The problem is, the two require opposite strategies. We get the economy back on track by boosting demand through low taxes and continued government spending. We get the budget deficit under control by raising taxes and reducing government spending.

He went on to discuss the problems of a large deficit, but also the dangers of austerity and plunging back into another recession. He had a proposed solution, that if not quite realistic, wasn't bad. Go read the article to see what he had to say.

Updated 2012-11-15: Rewrote introductory paragraph.


Selling Out