Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Gulags and Gitmos

For participating in an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Survey I received The Pocket World In Figures for 2009. Its filled with all kinds of interesting statistics to measure, compare and contrast economic and social indicators for countries of the world. Included in this useful little tome is the usual mundane statistical econometric measures like GDP, income levels, life expectancy, agricultural output and similar macroeconomic indicators. The Survey also includes many other quality of life statistical measures and one that immediately grabbed my attention were the entries concerning Crime and Punishment.

The Survey tabulates Crime and Punishment statistics in four areas; murders, death row inmates, total prisoner count and prisoners per 100,000 of a country’s population. Sadly the EIU Survey reports that the United States leads the list in two out of the four categories. Those include prisoner population and prisoners per 100,000 of total country population. The US holds the dubious distinction of the number two spot behind Pakistan in the number of death row inmates.

I find these telling statistical measures most perplexing and equally disturbing. The United States prison population of 2.253,000 is 30% higher then second place China with 1,566,000 inmates and third place Russia with 885,000 inmates. These numbers become more significant when measured as a percent of 100,000 of the country’s population. The United States again occupies the top spot with 751 inmates per 100,000 followed by Russia with 627 per 100,000. As a percent of total population the US incarceration rate is 17% higher then that of Russia. China which occupied the number two spot in total prison population falls off the list of the top 23 nations with the highest level of incarceration due to its large overall population.

One needs to ask what is it in the cultural, social, political and economic DNA that places the United States as the world leading gulag?

It has been long known that people of color comprise the majority of death row and prison inmates in the United States. The glaring racial and social class dimensions of imprisonment and how it is disproportionally borne by minorities and the working poor is a direct causal effect of the dismantling of the manufacturing base of the US economy. This has exacerbated the inequality of wealth distribution in the US economy. It has accelerated the deterioration of our urban economic zones thereby fostering the growth of illegal underground economic activities and petty economic crime.

The economic and social factors that contribute to crime and imprisonment are usually the central topics that take center stage in the debate between conservatives and liberals. Ironically this debate obfuscates underlying causal factors that can be ascribed to the political culture in the US. The preponderance of law and order candidates running for public office, the political clout of police and public safety unions, the emergence of industry sectors that build and manage prisons, the vibrant security and protection industries, the use of cheap prison labor and dramatic wealth disparity creates powerful market and cultural forces that incubate and sustain the growth of penal industries and the political sentiment that supports it.

Since 9/11 our political culture has been saturated with messages of fear, suspicion , demonization of “the other” and the pervasiveness of terrorism. This political climate has spawned two wars, the dramatic growth of prison privatization, suspension of some basic rights of privacy with the passage of FISA and the creation of special rendition prison camps like Gitmo that suspend habeas corpus and other internationally recognized standards of basic prisoner rights. The revelations about the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib has shamefully placed torture at the forefront in the political debate concerning appropriate practices and acceptable tools interogators can use in the fight against terrorism. The US is clearly in danger of losing the moral high ground in its self proclaimed defense of human rights as it continues to extol the righteousness of its law and order society by building and populating an ever expanding network of gulags.

Sadly our penal culture creates some horrific abominations. The US taxpayer conveys its eager willingness to pay up to $40,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner; while claiming that its good fiscal policy to balk at paying anything over $8,000 to educate a child in a public school.

This Sunday we will be marching in Newark NJ in Support of Solidarity Sunday. Our mission will be to join forces with those who are dedicated to ending violence and crime in our communities. We believe this objective can only be realized if we respond with unity, love, peace, hope and help.

Information on Solidarity Sunday can be found here.

It is our fondest hope and most fervent prayer that we will build more schools and factories and less prisons. We also pray that our fellow citizens and elected officials will find mercy in their hearts and proclaim 2009 as a Jubilee Year and grant amnesty and set free those who are worthy of freedom and have paid the price for their crime. We also pray that those who imprison others will recognize the humanity of their captives.

You Tube Music Video: The Midnight Special, Odetta

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott Heron, Angola Louisiana

Risk: civil liberties, rule of law, Bill of Rights, social justice

November 26, 2008 Posted by | commerce, crime, culture, folk, jazz, prisons | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honor the Vet

Today is Veterans Day.

Many men and women have made the supreme sacrifice in service to our great republic. Many have served in our Armed Forces and have paid a terrible price with their physical and emotional health. Veterans make up a disproportional percentage of our nations homeless population. Many are encumbered due to emotional illness, depression and substance abuse and unfortunately all too many choose to escape their demons by committing suicide.

Our country needs to pay more then lip service to our Veterans. We need to honor them by providing excellent health care and social services so they can reconstitute their lives and once more live amongst us as full and whole citizens with healthy bodies and sound minds.

We can honor the vet by giving them a job. Offer substance abuse programs. Build affordable housing. Provide health care and psychiatric services that offer the hope of healing broken hearts, bodies and spirits. Help the families of Vets so they may effectively cope with a loved one who has experienced the horrors of war only to return home as a radically different and deeply damaged person.  See our post on the Virginia Tech massacre.

We thank all Veterans for their service to our country.

Honor the Vet by pursuing peace.

Support our troops by bringing them home from Iraq.

You Tube Video: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Risk: service to country, mental health, social safety net

November 11, 2008 Posted by | folk, holiday | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Semper Fidelis

From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli the USMC has fought our country’s battles bravely and heroically since 1775. These fighters and defenders of our country are celebrating the Corps 233rd birthday. The Corps are always at the tip of the spear in fighting for our country and all American’s owe them a debt of gratitude for their selfless service.
Happy Birthday Marines.

Thank you for your service, sacrifice, courage and conviction.

May the good Lord bless us with the grace of peace.

Semper Fi

You Tube Video: USMC Running Cadences

Risk: freedom, national defense

November 10, 2008 Posted by | folk, holiday, military | , | Leave a comment

Economy Sheds 157,000 Jobs


Lost in the euphoria of Barack Obama’s electoral triumph is todays rude reminder of the the continued deterioration of the economy.  ADP published its monthly report on employment yesterday revealing that the US economy shed another 157,000 jobs during the month of October.

According to the report, “large businesses, defined as those with 500 or more workers, saw employment decline 41,000, while medium-size companies with between 50 and 499 workers declined 91,000. Employment among small-size businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 workers, declined 25,000. This is the first outright decline in small business employment reported by the ADP Report since November of 2002, and the largest percentage decline since the economy was emerging from recession in early 2002.”

The recession is now enveloping small businesses.  This is a most ominous sign.  It should be born in mind that the ADP report usually reports numbers that are not as severe as numbers that the Department of Labor will issue later this week.

Not surprisingly manufacturing lost 85,000 jobs during the month.  This was the 26th consecutive monthly decline for the sector.

The full ADP Employment report can be accessed here.

President elect Obama will have a tough row to hoe.  The revival of the economy will be a prolonged and difficult effort requiring patience and careful attention to undo three decades of erosion to the countries industrial infrastructure.  Sum2 advocates The Hamilton Plan as a recovery program for the economy and SME manufactures.

Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Pay Me My Money Down

Risk: recession, industrial capacity, unemployment

November 7, 2008 Posted by | folk, manufacturing, recession, unemployment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vote

The right and privilege to vote is a great grace of liberty.
Today I had the privilege to work as a poll monitor for the ACLU.
It was my job to see that all people coming to exercise their right to vote was respected and protected.
By noon 10 incidents had occurred. Most were favorably resolved.
A very conservative person who had a passionate dislike for the ACLU had difficulty voting.
We were able to help him resolve the problem.  He thanked us profusely.
The only time American’s lose is when they don’t vote.

Keep democracy strong.

Vote!

Use it or lose it.

You Tube video:

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA (acoustic)

James Cagney: Yankee Doodle

Mitch Miller: Longest Day March

Mavis Staples: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Woody Guthrie: This land is Your Land

Ray Charles: America the Beautiful

Johnny Cash: Ballad of Ira Hayse

Johnny Cash: The One on the Right

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

The America experiment in democracy is still a light to the nations
and the worlds greatest hope.

God bless us all.

Risk:
Participatory Democracy

November 5, 2008 Posted by | culture, democracy, elections, folk, soundtrack | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viceroy for Life

The Colossus
Francisco Goya

I like Mike. Michael Bloomberg has been a wonderful mayor for the City of New York. I am in awe of his accomplishments as a businessman and as a political leader. As a person, from what I have been able to observe through the lenses of the media I like his temperament, sensibility and believe him to be a good man. I feel a strange kinship with the man. He seems honest, direct is beholden to no one and seems to be a man of his word in whom I can trust. I also believe Mr. Bloomberg to be a man of integrity and his dedication to public service is borne from a desire to serve and to give back to society some of the bounty that society has richly conferred on him. Yes, he is a billionaire and I guess it is at this point that my kinship with the man takes diverging paths. Yet I believe Mr. Bloomberg is one of the best and most capable persons ever to sit in the NYC mayoral office. So it is with regret that I cannot support Mr. Bloomberg’s desire to change the election laws so he can run for a third term in office.

Democracy in the United States is imperiled. The United States once seen by the world as the great laboratory of participatory democracy with the constitution and a citizens Bill of Rights as its guarantor is quickly losing that honored designation. The passage of FISA by our legislative branch of government is a clear and present danger to The Bill of Rights. And during the eight years of the Imperial Presidency of George W. Bush, at times he and his lieutenants seemingly treated the Constitution as an occupational nuisance and an unfortunate cost of doing business for America Incorporated.

The ascending power of the US Treasury threaten unfettered markets operating free from government control. Unilateral interventionist actions into the capital markets and the tremendous power that EESA confers on Cabinet officials to throw a TARP on toxic assets, is a transformational event in how our economy functions and is controlled by the influence of appointed government officials.

The continued war posture of our country and the seeming abrogation of the executive branch’s responsibility to decide strategy, direction and manner of how to prosecute the Iraq war to General David Petraeus’s discretion is a dangerous surrender of civilian control of the military branches.

The judicial branch of our government is also complicit in the dismantling of the great experiment of American democracy. Their autocratic decision to sanction the Florida election that gave Mr. Bush the presidency was based on no precedence nor will it carry the weight of precedent for future cases heard before the court. Bush may have won the election but the protection of voter rights and a respect for the electoral process was the clear loser.

I believe that these represent serious challenges to a free and democratic society and the institutions that support it. That is why I cannot sanction Mr. Bloomberg’s desire to change the law so that he can run for election.

If I recall correctly Bloomberg’s first mayoral primary election was scheduled for 9/12/01. That is a day after that transformative event that continues to inform and direct Americans political consciousness. Though we didn’t vote on the 12th, New Yorkers eventually went to the polls and brought this great mayor into office. I am glad that New Yorkers had the wisdom and foresight to elect Mr. Bloomberg.

But the election process and protocol was respected and continued. Mr. Giuliani wanted to run for a third term but thankfully he did not run. This opened the door for Mr. Bloomberg. I remember at the time thinking that whoever takes office under these conditions will be severely tested by the adverse economic and political conditions of the time. Mr. Bloomberg has conquered and mastered the adversity and his constituents are the better for it. Thank you Mr. Bloomberg.

But you can do one more great service to New York and to our country Mr. Bloomberg by stepping down in deference to democracy. During the next four years you can work to get the law changed so you may assume the office you so richly deserve.

Honor the existing term limits law that were enacted to protect against the abuse of power. Honor a crumbling remnant of our rapidly evaporating democratic culture. Your honor is at stake.

Thank you for your service Mr. Bloomberg.

You Tube Video: Johnny Cash, I Am The Nation

You Tube Video: Be Like Mike

Risk: term limits, representative democracy, elections, laws

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Bush, EESA, elections, folk, politics, TARP | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winning the War, Losing the Peace

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Jeremiah 17:9

The head of the not at all EIB Network and chief reactionary shill Rush Limbaugh raised his hands to his mouth to shout that General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was due to race. As in General Powell’s decision to endorse Mr. Obama was purely due to the fact that they shared an African American lineage.

This is not acceptable. Nor can the excuse be made that it is getting late in the game and you have to pull out all stops to win the election. There is no defense for this blatant racism. It cannot be dismissed as an example of rising electoral rhetoric sprouted in the heat of a close campaign. That includes the self anointed Dittohead and Chief as well.

I would like to remind all Republican’s, conservatives and supporters of this racist tripe that the manner in which you conduct the war will determine the quality of peace that is won after the conflict ends. The Bloviator and Chief of the EIB Dittoheads is only too content to rip open and gnash away at this country’s racial wound that never seems to completely heal. The Bloviator and Chief sees it as a great opportunity to proclaim his self constructed version of reality. Incredibly enough this ugly man wears his racist proclamation like a conservative medal of honor. In the Bloviator and Chief’s fictive mind it’s real conservative street cred worn only by real American Patriots. This ugly man who proudly wears his racism on his puffed up chest believes himself to be a true profile in courage. Daring to speak the truth, the all knowing and seeing Bloviator and Chief knows what motivates and lurks in the mind of General Powell. I would love to see the Bloviator and Chief stand next to General Powell. The Bloviator and Chief’s imaginary medals of conservative honor and his titanic ego would immediately be rightsized in the presence of General Powell’s real humility, courage and life of service to our country.

The Bloviator and Chief’s racism states that African American’s do not have the capability to make a decision based on a rational and objective examination of the facts. It would seem that in the Bloviator and Chief’s conservative cosmology, people of color are incapable of observing a candidate and evaluating their programs and their vision for America. More disturbing is the Bloviator and Chief’s inability to conceive that people of color have a set of values to make electoral decisions. Its a difficult truth the Bloviator and Chief can’t understand. Thankfully all people are not Dittoheads, some people use their own mind to evaluate and make informed political decisions. The Bloviator and Chief finds it hard to believe and can’t understand that all people don’t share his world view. After all how many people make $25 mm a year to sprout propaganda and condemn people who don’t agree with you? How many people get to make a living by proclaiming their uber patriotism and love for our democratic republic yet take every opportunity to undermine and subvert our need to engage in a nonpartisan conversation to protect a crumbling consensus?

That brings us to Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who claims she was tricked by the fast talking liberal media mongrel Chris Matthews into calling for an investigation into members of congress to determine if they truly love America.

I can only imagine what the line of questions would consist of to make this assessment. Would you ask members how often they polish their American Flag lapel pin? Would you ask if they get goose bumps every time the National Anthem is played before watching a Timberwolves basketball game on TV? Would you ask if they unknowingly associated with people with funny sounding names like Muhammad or Hussein? Or have they ever read the Quran?

If they failed the test do we send these Anti-Americans to reeducation camps? Perhaps we should lock them away in some offshore gulag to spend the rest of their unrepentant Un-American lives rotting away under the supervision of torturous jailers? Will this satiate Ms. Bachmann’s thirst for failing a patriotic litmus test?

America went through this ugly episode with uber patriot tail-gunner Joe McCarthy. Thank God the liberal media hero Edward R. Murrow brought the light of much needed transparency on McCarthyism and its threat to democracy and democratic ideals. Unfortunately the world is just as dangerous today as it was at the dawn of the Cold War. America’s best defense against our enemies is a strong participatory democracy. A national consensus is an absolute necessity as our country takes its next step in this dangerous world.

This extraordinary election has surfaced the best and worst aspects of a democracy. The demonization of constituent groups and people based on their ideas, race, location and desires does a disservice to our country and is our enemies greatest weapon in undermining our democratic republic.

Our greatest President Abraham Lincoln quoting the bible stated that a house divided cannot stand. Creating division and fanning animosity may win the election but will not insure a lasting peace and a common path for this country to tread.

Music Video: Battle Hymn of the Republic

Risk: democray, elections, consensus, republicanism

October 21, 2008 Posted by | elections, folk, media, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hamilton Mortally Wounded in Weehawken Duel

We would be greatly remiss if we failed to mark this day, the 204th anniversary of the famous duel that mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton – our inspiration and the founder of the original SUM. Alexander Hamilton was an important visionary whose actions and ideas played a pivotal role in creating America. Alexander Hamilton was a forward looking progressive force, considered the father of industrial capitalism and an author of Federalism in the United States.

Hamilton along with James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers to outline the form, function and philosophy of a strong central government and the necessity of Federalism to assure the survival of our yet to be born republic. Arguing against Federalism was Thomas Jefferson who advocated a more decentralized government that favored state sovereignty.

Sum2 takes its name from the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.), S.U.M. was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1793. The purpose of S.U.M was to promote useful manufacturing by using the water power generated by the Great Falls. S.U.M was the first planned industrial city in North America and should rightly be considered the cradle of industrial capitalism in North America. The area of S.U.M.’s founding was later incorporated as the City of Paterson New Jersey, which would grow to become a major industrial center from the 1800’s through World War 2. Paterson was a key munitions, textile and locomotive manufacturing center during the Civil War and thus played a pivotal role in helping preserve Alexander Hamilton’s conception of a Federalist Union of States.

Though the landscape of industrial capitalism has changed, Sum2 was founded to continue the useful and visionary work of the original S.U.M. Sum2 recognizes the strategic importance of manufacturing and will seek to build our business by creating proprietary content, innovative delivery capabilities and mission critical products to implement corporate sound practices for our clients.

How about some dueling banjos.

Risk: Federalism

July 11, 2008 Posted by | Federalism, folk, history, Sum2 | , , , , | Leave a comment

A New American Diaspora

Ever since our ancient ancestors first walked out of the Great Rift Valley to populate other regions of the globe our species has been on the move. Critical turning points in world history have always been marked with dramatic shifts in population and settlement of people. The Phonetians, Greeks, Polynesians, Vikings, Crusaders, Mongols, Hebrews and the Pre-Columbian Asians who crossed the Baring Strait land bridge are storied migrations, explorations and conquests that shaped civilization and continue to inform our understanding of world history.

American history is full of examples of dramatic population shifts. The arrival of European settlers, the introduction of African’s through the slave trade, the westward expansion of America, the Trail of Tears of Native American resettlements onto reservations, the arrival of Chinese laborers in San Francisco, the second wave of Ellis Island European immigrants, the migration of African Americans to northern cities at the beginning of the 20th century, the Dust Bowl migrations of Midwest farmers and the most recent immigration of Hispanics, Caribbean, Middle and Far Eastern people are dramatic examples from our country’s short history of major population shifts.

Global climate change and the economic impact of high energy prices are causing dramatic shifts and migrations of people throughout the world. The United States will not be immune from its affects. Hurricane Katrina depopulated the City of New Orleans and is altering our propensity to build houses on barrier islands. The floods along the Mississippi River Valley, drought in the Southwestern states and the devastating wildfires in California and other western states are climate influenced events that are forcing populations to resettle to more eco-friendly locations. History may be rereading and we may be witnessing a reenactment of John Steinbeck’s great historical fiction masterwork, The Grapes of Wrath .

The permanent rise in energy prices will reverse the urban exodus of the middle class to suburbia. As the car culture took hold of post war America, cheap gas, and vast highway systems encouraged the development of suburbs. Now that gas prices are skyrocketing and mass transit infrastructure continues to be neglected the middle class will migrate back to the city to live in close proximity to resources, jobs and services. Urban exclusivity will be protected by congestion pricing programs, the absence of affordable housing and high cost of services. This will create a dramatic demographic shift in the America as lower income people are forced out of the city creating a growing population of rural poor. Social service reservations may need to be created to assure subsistence for the rural poor.

The stated intention of airlines to restrict and eliminate service to second tier cities will tend to isolate these communities and create high concentrations of the economically disadvantaged. This will create tremendous strain on local city and state government’s ability to provide basic services to the new classes of disenfranchised people. High energy prices and the changing American topology due to climate change pose a multitude of risks to the fiscal viability of local governments.

Let’s close with Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad.

Risk: demographic, tax base, urban, rural, climate change, population,

July 9, 2008 Posted by | bankruptsy, credit crisis, environment, folk, homelessness, social unrest | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eco and Econ Hardship of the Iowa Floods

Just when the price of corn was hitting $7 a bushel, Iowa’s farmers were counting on making a killing this year. The rise in the price of agricultural products due to increased global demand was one of this years few favorable economic developments that farmers were looking to capitalize on. Unfortunately Mother Nature threw them an awful curve ball and wiped out many farms that abutted the angry rivers of the Midwest. The loss of 10% of the states corn yields, has also hurt soybeans and other crops. Though it will certainly drive prices even higher, for the farmers whose fields are underwater , this year will bring financial hardship not abundance as some have thought only a week or two ago.

Longer term the floods destruction may also significantly damage soil and water quality due to the spread of toxins, hazardous waste, dead farm animals and other industrial pollutants rippling through the farmlands as the flood spreads. If 10% of the areas farmland is affected this will command a premium on agricultural futures for years to come.

Eventually, the flood waters will drain off from the once rich arable soil, carrying with it all the fertilizers, petroleum by products and other effluents into the Mississippi River. As it passes New Orleans it won’t be far from its final destination where it can cause considerable damage to the waters of The Gulf of Mexico and its struggling aquaculture and fishing industries.

The Army Corps of Engineers has issued 13 million sandbags. Those sandbags will have to be hand filled. The amount of labor, energy and resources expended to fill those bags in a valiant struggle to buttress failing levee systems is a testament to the American spirit to endure.

As we tally the awful cost of this catastrophic event lets be mindful that investment in our infrastructure is a critical issue that is central to our national defense. I can’t help but think what a wise decision a $2 billion investment in levees would have returned to this country in saved expense and opportunity cost. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is sure sage advice that unfortunately we always seem to dismiss as a meaningless cliche.

We’ll close this post with a favorite from the old Granges of the Midwest.

Let’s listen to Woody Guthrie sing “This land is Your Land.”

Risk: infrastructure, agriculture, aquaculture, water, Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico, inflation, arable land, crop yields

June 18, 2008 Posted by | environment, folk, homelessness, infrastructure, risk management | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment