04 June 2011

No Vacation Nation

This must have hit a nerve - nearly four thousand comments on this post!

Reposted in full from CNN, 23 May 2011

'Let's be blunt: If you like to take lots of vacation, the United States is not the place to work.

Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world - much less than what people in many other countries receive.

And even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached.

Some U.S. companies don't like employees taking off more than one week at a time. Others expect them to be on call or check their e-mail even when they're lounging on the beach or taking a hike in the mountains.

"I really would like to take a real, decent vacation and travel somewhere, but it's almost impossible to take a long vacation and to be out of contact," said Don Brock, a software engineer who lives in suburban Washington.

"I dream of taking a cruise or a trip to Europe, but I can't imagine getting away for so long."

The running joke at Brock's company is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else. So he takes one or two days off at a time and loses some vacation each year. Only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the days they're entitled to, compared with 89% of workers in France, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Brock's last long holiday was more than 10 years ago, when he took a two-week drive across the country.

'Americans work like robots'

It's a totally different story in other parts of the world.

Nancy Schimkat, an American who lives in Weinheim, Germany, said her German husband, an engineer, gets six weeks of paid vacation a year, plus national holidays - the norm. His company makes sure he takes all of it.

It's typical for Germans to take off three consecutive weeks in August when "most of the country kind of closes down," Schimkat said. That's the time for big trips, perhaps to other parts of Europe, or to Australia or North America. Germans might also book a ski holiday in the winter and take a week off during Easter.

Schimkat's family back in the United States teases her that she's spoiled. But when she tells Germans that workers in the U.S. usually get two weeks of vacation a year, they cringe.

"They kind of have this idea that Americans work like robots and if that's the way they want to be, that's up to them. But they don't want to be like that," Schimkat said.

"[Germans] work very hard, but then they take their holiday and really relax...It's more than just making money for Germans, it's about having time for your family and it's about having time to wind down."

No legal obligation to offer vacation

So what's going on here?

A big reason for the difference is that paid time off is mandated by law in many parts of the world.

Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries - from Australia to Slovenia to Japan - that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers, according to a 2009 study by the human resources consulting company Mercer.

Finland, Brazil and France are the champs, guaranteeing six weeks of time off.

But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don't have access to it, government figures show.

That makes the US the only advanced nation in the world that doesn't guarantee its workers annual leave, according to a report titled "No-Vacation Nation" by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group.

Most US companies, of course, do provide vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.

But the fear of layoffs and the ever-faster pace of work mean many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office - anxious that they might look like they're not committed to their job. Or they worry they won't be able to cope with the backlog of work waiting for them after a vacation.

Then, there's the way we work.

Working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success, wrote Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, the study's author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

"Americans maximize their... [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure," he found.

So despite research documenting the health and productivity benefits of taking time off, a long vacation can be undesirable, scary, unrealistic or just plain impossible for many U.S. workers.

Little appetite for regulation

Critics say it's time for a change.

"There is simply no evidence that working people to death gives you a competitive advantage," said John de Graaf, the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, a group that researches the effects of overwork.

He noted that the United States came in fourth in the World Economic Forum's 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, but Sweden - a country that by law offers workers five weeks of paid vacation - came in second.

De Graaf drafted the first version of the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, which would have required larger companies to provide at least one week of paid annual leave to employees. But the bill, introduced by then-Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, in May of 2009, got little traction.

Opponents said that it would have a negative impact on business and that the government shouldn't get involved in the workplace in this way.

"You would have had the idea that we were calling for the end of Western civilization. Comments like, 'Oh, they're going to make America a 21st-century France,' as if we were all going to have to eat snails," de Graaf said.

"I'm in no way anti-capitalist, I think the market does a lot of good things, but the Europeans understand that the market also has its failings and that when simply left completely to its own devices, it doesn't produce these perfect results."

But is more government regulation the answer? The debate rages on.

Back in suburban Washington, Brock - the software engineer who hasn't had a long vacation for more than 10 years - is finally planning a real getaway. His 60th birthday is coming up in December, and he'd like to do something special, maybe go on a cruise to the Bahamas.

Will he be able to pull it off and get away from work? He's still not entirely sure, he said.'

02 June 2011

Advertising Overload

This clip is an amazing piece of work, it screens out all else but advertising to show how prevalent it is.

Sourced from
Dangerous Intersection, 1 June 2011

'A Netherlands arts group, Studio Smack, put together this video which provides a stark look at all the logos and advertising one is exposed to throughout a normal daily routine.'

SOLOPEC Nations Warn Sun's Output May Fall Short Of Demand

Seriously funny stuff!

Excerpt from The Onion, 22 June 2005

'RIYADH, MUHAMMAD ARABIA—The governing board of the Solar Output Power Exporting Countries announced Monday that, in spite of attempts to raise production levels, increased global-power consumption may begin to outstrip the sun's output by early next year.

"Our solar-accumulation arrays in Muhammad Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, and Mexico are operating at full capacity, and still, we're struggling to meet demands," said Muhammad Arabia's Prince Fayahd al-Saud, whose family has controlled the world's energy market for more than 100 years. "In a very short time, the sun will not be able to meet the world's energy needs."

SOLOPEC, formed in the '20s to regulate solar-energy prices, currently includes the sunlight-rich nations of Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Muhammad Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, and Iraq...

With an output of 4x1026 watts per second, the sun was considered an inexhaustible energy supply when SOLOPEC was formed 30 years ago. However, if growth continues along the current trajectory, that amount will be inadequate to fuel the Cuba/Newer York/Boston megapolitan corridor as soon as 2070.

"Once again, human consumption has expanded to meet available supply," said SOLOPEC economic director Hermann Villalobos of Mexico City. "With today's fully automatic homes, artificially sentient robotic cities, 32-lane automatic roadways, floating antigrav-suspended skyscrapers, air-conditioned city-domes, and 96-inch personal fusion-screen monitors, the energy demand of human civilization has never been higher. Why, last year, the wattage requirements of leisurebots alone exceeded the entire world's energy-consumption rates of 1988. It's no surprise that SOLOPEC can barely keep up."

MIT scientist Glen Schraeder said he predicted the shortage a decade ago.

"The U.S. must reduce its dependence on foreign solar power," Schraeder said. "The sun was created billions of years ago, with the formation of our galaxy. When its unused energy output is gone, it's gone. We must look for alternative energy sources throughout the universe now."'

30 May 2011

7 Ways to Stop Wall Street's Con Game

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 25 May 2011

'Wikipedia defines a “confidence trick” as “an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. The victim is known as the mark, the trickster is called a confidence man, con man, confidence trickster, or con artist, and any accomplices are known as shills. Confidence men exploit human characteristics such as greed and dishonesty.”

Ever hear a business reporter on the evening business news say, “Today, investors drive up the price of commodities to create a hundred billion in new value,” or some such? Sounds great, almost implying we should offer thanks to these champions of the public good who are risking their fortunes to expand the pool of wealth to enrich us all. The reporter is manipulating the language to set us up as marks in the Wall Street con.

A more honest report might have said, “Today, hedge fund traders speculating with other people’s money walked away with multimillion dollar commissions for inflating the commodities bubble by a hundred billion dollars.” In a more honest world, the report would clearly distinguish between real investors creating real wealth through real investments and speculators creating phantom wealth with financial games. People who bet on the price of pieces of paper would be called “gamblers.” Those who hold the bets and distribute the winnings would be called “bookies.”

Boil it down to the basics and you see that Wall Street is in the business of operating four sophisticated, large-scale confidence games.

Counterfeiting: Through financial bubbles and loan pyramids, it creates facsimiles of official money for private gain unrelated to anything of real value.

Securities fraud: Selling shares in asset bubbles that are maintained solely by the constant inflow of new money is, in effect, a Ponzi scheme.

Reverse insurance fraud: Insurance fraud, by common definition, occurs when the insured deceives the insurer. In reverse insurance fraud, the insurer deceives the insured. In Wall Street practice this involves collecting premiums to cover risks the insurer lacks adequate reserves to cover and then refusing to pay legitimate claims.

Predatory lending: Using a combination of extortion, fraud, deceptive promises, and usury, predatory lenders lure the desperate into perpetual debt at exorbitant interest rates.

Because of Wall Street’s hold on lawmakers, these may all be perfectly legal, but phantom wealth is still phantom wealth, and these are all forms of theft. In three-card monte the dealer shuffles the cards so fast you can’t follow them, while talking even faster. Complex derivatives are a fast shuffle that makes it virtually impossible to follow the connection to any real value.

What makes the Wall Street con so much better for the dealers than a typical street con is that Wall Street dealers bet on their own game using other people’s money and then manipulate the market outcome in their own favor, rewarding themselves with huge bonuses when they win and taking billions in taxpayer bailouts when they lose.

Real financial reform would render unproductive speculation either illegal or unprofitable. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Prohibit selling, insuring, or borrowing against an asset not actually owned by the seller, and issuing any security not backed by a real asset—all common Wall Street practices.
  2. Place strict limits on how much a financial institution can borrow in order to buy a property, and establish conservative reserve and capital requirements for institutions in the business of selling insurance of any kind.
  3. Regulate bond-rating agencies and impose strict penalties for fraudulent ratings.
  4. Impose a small financial-speculation tax of a penny on every $4 spent on the purchase and sale of financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, foreign currencies, and derivatives. This would have no consequential impact on real investors making long-term investments in real businesses and assets. But it would discourage short-term speculation and arbitraging.
  5. End the obscure tax loophole that allows hedge fund managers to report their billion-dollar compensation packages as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent.
  6. Assess a 100 percent capital gains surcharge on profit from the sale of assets held less than an hour, 80 percent if held less than a week, and perhaps falling to 50 percent on assets held more than a week but less than six months. This would render most forms of speculation unprofitable, stabilize financial markets, and lengthen the investment horizon without penalizing real investors.
  7. Eliminate debt slavery by raising the wages of working people and the taxes of the moneylenders.

Opponents will claim that such regulation and taxes will stifle financial innovation. Good. That is the intention. Wall Street’s financial innovations are mostly ever more sophisticated and deceptive forms of theft. They should be discouraged. Keep the casinos in Vegas. The need to rebuild financial institutions that meet our needs for basic financial services will be the subject of next week’s blog. '

The Peasant Revolt

Image: http://eavoss.files.wordpress.com

Reposted in full from
Transition Voice, 24 May 2011

'Has our society become so obsessed with economic growth that people have become a commodity? Two items in my morning newspaper strongly suggest the answer to be an emphatic, shameful YES.

The first is a national story about how smuggling people across the Mexico/US border has become a billion dollar business. The Associated Press story reports on “a clandestine business worth billions a year, people packed tighter than cattle and transported like consumer goods in tractor trailers to the United States.” The United Nations estimates this to be a $6.6 billion people-trafficking business.

Making babies makes money

The second is a local editorial lamenting census reports that fewer Coloradoans are families with children. The rant warns of the “dangers of population decline,” and that “we cannot sustain the economy…when old, non-working Americans – dependent on pensions and government subsidies – outnumber people of working age.” It advises we’re in for “a future of poverty and despair,” if we don’t either get busy making babies or importing children. I kid you not! The headline reads, We Must Produce or Import Children.

These sad, but true pieces of modern Americana from today’s paper reveal that the bean counters have won. Persons are now perceived as little more than a commodity, an asset on the balance sheet to be bought, sold, exported, and imported.

The value of a human life is now too often counted by its contribution to an economy. We’ve been seeing the signs of this for quite some time, but today’s local editorial just begged for a bright spotlight to be shone on its unapologetic stance.

The best laid plans…

If it weren’t potentially so tragic, it’d be pretty funny. The writer actually had the temerity to pen, “a minority cannot provide adequately for a majority, any more than a pyramid can balance upside down.” He’s apparently unashamed that he’s defending a (right side up) pyramid scheme. And he clearly disregards that a pyramid scheme, unlike a diamond, is not forever.

The editorial completely ignores what other headlines this week have revealed: populations are starving, oceans are dying, rivers and aquifers are drying up. But don’t let that stop the grow-at-all-costs mind set. God forbid we interrupt this scheme of Ponzi demography and let the rate of population growth – whether it be global, national or local- decline.

Growth-pushers frequently use the pension and Social Security population Ponzi scheme to defend and encourage population growth. And while they’re correct in identifying one of the difficulties inherent in achieving a sustainable population, their analysis is grossly slanted and incomplete. They blow the problem out of proportion, ignore myriad smart solutions, and jump on the easiest but most deadly solution of adding more players to the bottom of the pyramid.

My local paper’s editorial opinionator might just be an uninformed hack. Or perhaps he’d rather hang on to his readership the easy way – by trucking new subscribers into town when the labor and delivery rooms aren’t meeting their quotas, rather than the more difficult way – writing informed, enlightened, thoughtful pieces more of us will want to read.

It’s hard to say.

Life for life’s sake

For now, I offer an alternative view. People aren’t financial assets. We’re not drones to be exploited in service to corporate profits or government tax coffers. We’re not products to be produced or imported.

Continued population and consumption overshoot will result in very serious resource shortages. This is already happening.

Adjusting to the relatively minor challenges of ending an unsustainable population and economic growth scheme is much preferred to dooming our children to a life of hunger and misery. Unless you’re a soulless growth-pusher counting nothing but dollars, a good life for fewer is better than a crappy life for more.'