Denmark vs ‘Merica

Whilst perusing the interwebs this morning, I happened upon a Facebook group that claims to be exposing Bernie Sanders for the fraud that they think he is. As expected, most of the posts are along the vain of Capitalism (‘Merica) vs Socialism. Like this meme.

antibernie meme

Which has nothing to do with Bernie but claims to point out how horrible things really are in Denmark. This got me to wondering what the numbers really look like. I take all memes with a big grain of salt as they are usually out of context, often not based on facts and a good chunk of the time, completely false. Here’s what I found.

Let’s start with the big one, taxation. Denmark does have some high taxes. 51.5% high actually, at least that is what their max allowable income tax which includes their 8% tax for their nationalized health care. That seemed pretty high, although I could not find anywhere that suggested or confirmed that Danes paid 80% of their income back in taxes. And yes there is a VAT that can be up to 25% on things like cars, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s use the high number of 51.5% for income tax.

The average US household makes right around $51,000, just under actually. The average tax for that bracket is 25%, just under half of Denmark’s. And if you stopped there, it would look like the Danes are getting raked over the coals and should probably rebel. However, when you consider that their tax rate includes many things that Americans are required to pay for separately, the comparison doesn’t hold. The average US household that makes that $51,000 a year, pays $16,800 for health insurance premiums equally 32.9% of their income. That puts the strain on average households at 57.9%, slightly higher than their Danish counterparts.

Let’s look at education, one of the other freebies mentioned. Danes get free schooling all the way up to and including higher education. Not only is tuition free, the government will provide a stipend to eligible students to help keep them afloat while they are attending and if that isn’t enough, they can get low interest loans. Of course, this isn’t free. It is paid for by the taxes mentioned above, but education in the US isn’t free either. Tuition alone will set you back just over $15,000/year.

The meme continues to counter the commonly repeated idea that Denmark is the happiest country in the world. Saying that Danes kill themselves at a rate of 20.8 per 100,000. I could not find any studies that supported that claim. However, the number given for American suicides was close to what I find here. The World Health Organization put Denmark’s suicide rate at 8.8, well below ours. In further searching to find rates of antidepressant use, I found that studies showed that both countries have very similar rates of depression. Denmark and the US populations suffer from major depression at a rate of 3-4%.

Next I looked into the claim that the Danish, due to their over taxation, were unable to ever own anything for themselves.

homeownership

I found that about 40% of Danes did not own their own homes. This was a whopping 1.5% below the US rate. Continuing along these lines, I wondered what their disposable income was. I felt this would give a pretty good idea of how the Danes were doing. Well, according to what I found out, Danes beat us out by right around $11 even with our significantly lower taxes.

And what about that pesky Value Added Tax. Well, it looks like the numbers are fairly representative of the situation, albeit a little exaggerated. In 2002 (the only numbers I could find), Americans paid 77 cents per liter of gas. The danes? A whole $1.66 or just over double. Assuming the numbers have trended in the same direction, our current gas price of just over $3/gallon would put theirs at $6.46. I couldn’t find any numbers for a Honda Accord, but a VW Golf that would cost $20,000 in the US would set you back just over $45,000 in Denmark.

What I find interesting about the products chosen as indicators for the VAT is the fact that Denmark has one of the highest rates of people not using a car. 18% of all trips made are done on the most efficient form of transportation known to man, the bicycle. In the capital of Copenhagen, 37% of all trips are made by bike and the local municipalities are hoping that number hits 50% this year.

And finally, it claims that due to these taxes anyone who makes any money leaves the country taking their businesses with them causing scarce employment opportunities. In 2015, Denmark has an unemployment rate of 6% and the US sits at 5.3%. Not exactly what I would call out of control unemployment.

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This post is an absolutely perfect representation of what is wrong with America — people rely on memes to confirm what they already believe instead of looking up the information themselves. If people were willing to do what Mooseknuckler did, and do the research, they would realize how completely full of bullshit that meme was. But people don’t. They just accept that the random meme on facebook is the gospel truth. Which is not a very good sign for the health of our collective society.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but people refusing to do the research is what makes it so easy for politicians to do whatever the fucking hell they want. They have us arguing about shit like abortion and gay marriage and whether the bible is more legally authoritative than the fucking constitution. (For the record, even the bible says the answer to that question is no. Apparently Ben Carson’s not as familiar with the Bible as he wants people to think he is. Also, this is a damn representative democracy, not a theocracy. The bible has no part in our legal framework, so can everyone please stop trying to shove it in there?) All the while, they’re instituting procedures like civil asset forfeiture or introducing legislation to overturn landmark NLRB cases that would hold major corporations jointly liable for labor violations.

I’m not saying that the issues discussed by Mooseknuckler aren’t important. They absolutely are. What I am saying, is that we would all be much better off by doing our research, paying attention, and not accepting as truth everything a politician says or everything we see on facebook. This is especially important as we gear up for the next Presidential election. Candidates will say a lot of things; don’t just accept that what they say is true. The information is so easily obtainable; we all have access to the truth. We just have to go find it, and it is shameful that in this age of information, we just refuse to do it.

So kudos to Mooseknuckler for being part of the solution and not part of the problem. I hope you’ll join him because the solution needs you.

–C

The power of the workers

On March 16, 1911, Salt Lake born Big Bill Haywood gave a speech to hundreds of gathered workers to garner support for a general strike. He claimed that the power of a worker with his hands in his pockets was far greater than the combined power of all the bosses. With their hands in their pockets, there was no way for the bosses to reach in and take the money.

A couple of weeks ago, we saw the resolution of a worker slowdown where thousands of port workers essentially put their hands in their pockets and worked at a grindingly slow pace. The West Coast’s Ports had screeched to a halt and begun to fill up with hundreds of cargo ships with thousands of containers of foreign produced goods waiting to be unloaded. The ports look like parking lots for ships and the skyline seems to give the impression of an endless sea of boats as the backlog of cargo disappears over the horizon.

It was estimated that the slowdown would cost the US GDP 1% on the fourth quarter. Retailers were especially hit hard as foreign made goods sat waiting for delivery. According to Fox Business, the West Coast’s ports handle ¼ of US international trade worth around $1 trillion annually. The labor dispute has effected everyone from giant retailers like Cabela’s all the way down to small local businesses left waiting for goods to be delivered.

Of course, slowdowns and ill-effected GDP are not good news and even as the workers returned to work this weekend after a tentative agreement between labor and management was made and began knocking out the backlog of containers waiting to be moved. The backlash of these effects is almost always the center point of the conservative media opposed to unionized labor who love to point out the ridiculous demands of the workers.

According to Investers.com, a clearly conservative website, the workers were demanding a 3% raise in wages over the next five years. Seems reasonable. They also point out that the average dock worker currently makes, when one includes benefits, about $100,000 annually. A salary that would make the average American feel that any increase would seem ludicrous. This number is for experienced dock workers, inexperienced workers start at $20/hour.

Considering that the average US worker makes about $48,000 a year as reported by the Social Security Administration, this wage seems more than adequate. It could even be construed as being excessive making the unions look greedy and illogical in their demands. An idea the conservative media love to point out claiming that the “job creators” are doing everything they possibly can just to provide us with work and shouldn’t be bothered with petty labor disputes.

The part that is always left unmentioned is the other side of the power struggle for wage increases. Businesses can’t just pay workers more without the money coming from somewhere. It is an equation and at the end of the day adding to one side means subtracting from the other. Meaning that the pay increase is passed on to consumers in form of price increases or management has to find the money somewhere, usually meaning they might have to take a pay cut.

Seeing that the conservative media always focus on the demands being made by the unions and leave the other half of the equation left unnoted. I spent hours attempting to find the compensation for CEOs working within the West Coast Port. Unfortunately the majority of these companies are privately held and therefore said information is unavailable. However, there are plenty of publicly held business that must disclose this information so we can deduce certain numbers from these.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual compensation for CEOs increased 21.7% from 2010 to 2013. Leaving the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker employed by that CEO at just under 296 to 1. Yes, you read that correctly. The average CEO made 296 times more than the average worker employed by that executive. The average income of those CEOs came to $15.2 million. A salary for non-supervisory employee for those businesses was $52,100.

For historical context, in 1965, those same workers would have made $39,500. Meaning that in the past 48 years those workers have seen a $12,600 increase. Not bad for almost 50 years of work, a 10.2% raise. The CEOs of those same companies saw a 937% increase in compensation. Starting at the same time, that CEO pay to worker was 20 to 1. A ration that seems a more reasonable and certainly more equitable.

These huge differences in wages and rates of increase make that 3% increase of the longshoremen seem not only reasonable but almost laughable at how low that number is. It also begs the question of what happened in that period that allowed CEO pay to increase exponentially while workers’ wages stagnated and declined when adjusted for inflation.

According to unionstats.com, union membership was cut in half from 1973 to 2008. Leaving the majority of workers in the US without any representation in labor disputes. The average worker, when adjusted for inflation, is making less than they did in 1965 and their only recourse is asking management for a raise. Based on historical numbers, we can see how well that method has been working out.

Returning to the slowdown at our West Coast Ports, the 3% wage increase the unions had demanded, when compared to the increases in executive pay, doesn’t seem ludicrous at all. Especially when one considers that inflation for the past 5 years has far outpaced that rate meaning that even with their 3% wage increase over the next 5 years, the longshoremen will be effectively making less at the end of their contract than they do today.

It should also be noted that, yes, the port workers are making more money than the average American. I assume it’s obviously because of their collective bargaining power. When a simple slowdown can shave 1% off of the US quarterly GDP, it is clear that yes the workers with their hands in their pockets have more combined power than that of all the bosses. It’s also clear where the conservative media’s alliances lay, with the executives. No wonder they never mention how much they’re getting paid.

– Moose Knuckler

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Here’s my thing about this subject. Why does society assume that the workers should be serving the executives? Why is it that the people who actually do the work are viewed as foot rests for the executives and the people on the ‘top’? Seems to me that the people at the ‘top’ should really be serving the people at the ‘bottom’. The executives are the ones making the policy, it should be their entire purpose to ensure that the policies they create and implement serve the workers, upon whom they completely rely. Without workers, business doesn’t exist.

But that’s not how it works. He who hath the money rules the world.

But it shouldn’t work that way. The workers are the most important part of any business equation, and they should be treated as such. Because they generally aren’t, the power to strike and unionize is absolutely imperative. It is deeply disturbing to me to see the pendulum of public sentiment swinging back towards the days of union busting. It’s like people forgot why we needed unions in the first place and have decided that they are going to believe everything they hear on Fox News.

Conservative talking heads are trying to tell you that the port workers were crazy for asking for a raise. How dare those workers not be grateful for what they have? How greedy are those workers for asking for a raise? That’s what conservative news channels are saying.

But why shouldn’t workers get raises? Executives do.

Workers may not have the money to buy lobbyists but they have numbers. And numbers can be more powerful than money.

-C

Yes means yes means justice?

So of late there has been a major push to change the way colleges handle sexual assault and rape claims. Well, that’s not really new. Activists have been pushing for change for years. What is (relatively) new is the trend towards affirmative consent, the “yes means yes” standard. California recently passed legislation mandating that all colleges use this standard in adjudicating sexual assault and rape claims. Several colleges across the country are independently implementing this standard. So, its quickly gaining steam. The question is whether this is a good thing or not. From a purely societal conversational standpoint, I say sure. This is a great way to talk about sex and sexual assault. Encouraging men and women to make the sexual experience more open by encouraging affirmative consent from both parties is surely a good thing. From a legal standpoint, this is a terrible fucking standard. Now, let me say at the outset that this is a multi-faceted issue with several different parts. For brevity, I am ignoring all of them except two. There are several problems with this standard, but the biggest problem is that it is essentially a shifting of the burden of proof. Currently, even in college disciplinary panels, the accuser has the burden of proving that he or she was raped or assaulted. Under the affirmative consent standard, the accused has the burden of proving that he or she had consent at every step of the sexual encounter. What this means is colleges are adopting a standard where the person accused of sexual assault or rape is guilty until they prove themselves innocent. That is a big fucking problem. There is a reason our justice system holds people innocent until proven guilty. That reason is that people have a constitutional right to due process and a fair trial because you should not be assumed guilty until a jury of your peers has had a chance to weigh the evidence. And as an attorney, I religiously believe that it is better for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to go to prison. Now, here is my caveat. I am very aware, that the constitutional right to due process as required for criminal courts doesn’t extend to college disciplinary panels. So the affirmative consent standard being implemented at colleges across the country isn’t a constitutional violation. Although, interestingly, there have already been several cases alleging that it is a violation of Title IX. So there’s that. But that brings me to my second point of contention – why are colleges even allowed to adjudicate these proceedings in the first place. If they aren’t required to give the protections due under the Constitution, why the hell are we letting them hear the case? They do not have the expertise or the resources to properly hear these claims. And while I do think it’s important for colleges to continue to offer victim services and support and educate students on sexual assault – including bystander intervention – they can do all of that and not adjudicate rape claims. So that is why I am opposed to implementing ‘yes means yes’ standard. Victims should have their day in court – if they so choose. But they should not have it at the expense of the rights of the accused. There are few things more dangerous than taking away the rights of the accused. Even in college disciplinary panels. –C


Yes means yes. It’s a simple equation, one that makes sense. It’s something that we probably shouldn’t be talking about it but living in the society we do with the rape culture that exists, this is a thing. It would seem, on the surface, that the inverse equation would make just as much sense. No means no. Unfortunately, the two aren’t equal.

With yes means yes, in a strictly interpersonal relationship (I’ll get to legal ramifications in a minute) it lies on the person pursuing sex to get permission to continue. With no means no, there is an assumption that as long as neither party says no, everything is good to go. Of course, we all know what assuming things does. It makes an ass out of u and me.

With no means no, someone could be screaming on the inside but unable to physically, socially, or psychologically say no and that means yes. Someone could say yes to kissing, but saying yes to kissing doesn’t mean that yes translates to grabbing a little ass and even if it did, it certainly doesn’t give straight permission to escalate the sexual encounter without the permission of both parties. No means no assumes that as long as no one says no, everything is good to go.

My introduction to yes means yes was from one of my favorite podcasts, Escape Velocity Radio. If you are familiar with the band Propagandhi, this is the lead singer’s podcast. It’s a cross of punk rock, Canadian humor and politics and almost always makes me think. The episode in question was a bit hard for me to listen to as it began to break down the power struggle that is at the center of rape or sexual assault. Within the conversation that is created by “yes means yes,” there is a point where one should take the idea to its logical conclusion and understand that any unwanted touching is essentially sexual assault as it violates the sovereignty of that person’s body.

I had never made that connection. As I began to analyze my interpersonal relationships, based on that logical conclusion, my teasing and unwanted ass-grabbery made me feel very uncomfortable. I was not respecting the wishes of my partner. It’s when I feel uncomfortable that I begin to grow as a person. Without saying anything to anyone, I have analyzed my interactions and made significant changes in the way I try to show my affection for my loved one. I’m not sure if she appreciates or has noticed any difference, but at least my conscience is clear.

And that is why I think “Yes Means Yes” is vitally important in our culture. It creates a conversation and draws the line in the sand of what is appropriate. Whether it’s the first date or you’ve been married for five years, each interaction is unique and should be approached with respect for that person’s wishes.

So the legal argument in question is whether “Yes Means Yes” shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. I don’t really see how it does. If the accused has to prove that she/he said no, wouldn’t that also be required to prove that they didn’t say yes? I don’t see a change in the burden of proof and unfortunately neither policies address the sad truth that most of these cases turn into he said, she said bull shit. Of course, I’m not a lawyer so I may have this all backwards being an uneducated nobody.

I also have always been confused as to why colleges are even involved in the process of any type of crime committed. Outside of using a conviction for disciplinary reasons, shouldn’t they just be leaving it up to the police?

-Mooseknuckler

 

Chris Kyle: Who gives a shit?

It’s hard to throw a hammer at your computer screen without it hitting a story about the “most lethal sniper” in US history. I won’t waste my time pasting in links to these countless, thoughtless stories because if you can’t use a search engine then… Trust me they are every where.

Within those many stories rages a debate. The liberals against and the reactionaries in favor of the idea that this man was a hero. The liberals won’t come out and say it, they talk about him being a liar, that his account of many things is anything but factual and that he should probably be taken with a grain of salt. However, he does have all those pesky verified kills that mean he did his job the best he knew how and that was damn good.

So let’s start there, is the man a hero? Fuck no! He’s a pawn of a system. Was he a good pawn? Absolutely, but a pawn is not a hero. A pawn does what he is told, bows down before the powers that be and pulls the trigger when he’s told. He’s great at not thinking for himself. He’s a tool that was designed and is used at the will of those who yield it. Killing is killing and the fact that he did it in the name of all us ‘Mericans does not a hero make.

Killing is killing. If you are on the wrong side of that, you are dead and you can see how wrong it is, but we make exceptions. If the killing is against our “enemies” it’s ok. How do you justify that to yourself? It’s ok to kill as long as I disagree with the person that I am killing. By that logic, I would guess that 97% of the prison population, in jail for murder would need to be released, but that’s the logic we are told to swallow. It’s ok if they are brown, somewhere else and don’t speak English…

Was Chris Kyle a good person? I don’t think so. I have a problem with someone who has killed that many people and then brags about it in a book. Was he doing what he was told? I think that’s a given, but it doesn’t take much courage to do that. It’s just following the easiest path, the one that the people in charge pointed at and said, hey, this is the one. Not questioning the why or the how or the what ifs, well that makes you weak in my book. That makes you anything but a hero.

So yea, Chris Kyle. Who gives a shit?

Peace. Love. and Revolution.

Who gives a shit about Chris Kyle? Well, me for one. Not necessarily Chris Kyle as a person because I didn’t ever meet him and have no personal feelings about him either way, but the idea that Chris Kyle is currently being paraded around in front of. That I most definitely give a shit about.

The idea that Chris Kyle is currently the poster child of is that the members of the military are automatically heroic and beyond reproach. No questions asked, no other qualifications necessary. The fact that the government says you can kill people automatically equals heroism that cannot be called into question. Same thing with cops. Apparently, once your government gives you a uniform and a gun, no one is ever allowed to criticize or question you. The end. Who knew?

The conservative pundits are saying Chris Kyle represents freedom, and heroism, and bravery, and sacrifice. He doesn’t. Those are just buzz words to rile up emotions and keep people from paying attention to any real issues. But it doesn’t matter anyway because that’s not what Chris Kyle represents, and that’s not the function of the military or the police.

No, in fact, the military and the police function solely to serve the security of the nation and its political subsidiaries. We’re not sending our men and women overseas for freedom. If we were, we would have no problem affording “enemy combatants” basic fundamental rights. But we do have a problem with that. Because it’s not about freedom. It’s about security. And that is not the same thing.

Before anyone gets all in a tiffy, I’m not saying Americans don’t enjoy some level of freedom. We do. The fact that this blog exists is an example of the freedom we have. What I am saying is that freedom includes the right to doubt the ostensibly impenetrable moral authority surrounding Chris Kyle. And doubting doesn’t make someone a coward or a traitor. It just makes them a free individual with the ability to form their own opinions.

So, yeah, I give a shit about Chris Kyle. Because his memory is being used to perpetuate the idea that it’s immoral to ever have doubts about a government agent with a gun. Everyone should give a shit about that.

— C

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