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Steven D. Brewer's blog

Who's laughing all the way to the bank?

A joke has been circulating in the twitterverse, changing and evolving as it goes. Here's how Michael Moore told it:

RT (hundreds) A CEO, a TPartier, & a Teamster sit w/ 12 cookies. CEO grabs 11, then tells TPartier "That Teamster wants part of your cookie"

My observation was:

Enjoyed cookie joke about CEO/unions, but it's too generous to CEO: actual ratio is not 11/1 -- it's 263/1. Ha, ha, ha. Isn't that funny.

Here's my source for the data.

A new kind of revolution

It's fascinating to watch the varied reactions regarding the revolutions sweeping through the middle east. The people are excited. The real-politik folks are worried. The doomers are eschatological -- But then they always are.

A lot of people have been commenting on the role social media have played on the revolutions. Bin Laden began Al Queda with the goal of toppling the dictatorships that had been supported by the West and his goal is now realized -- but for the perfectly opposite reason. Part of it is purely economic, but a big part has been that the new media have enabled the people to see what liberal democracy looks like and they want it. They won't want a fully Western society, but I think they do want the trappings of a modern civilization: political and social freedom, an open media, and the ability to be part of the modern world. But what they want and what they'll get may be something different.

Nevertheless, I'm hopeful. The real-world potential for technology to let people communicate and organize may yet carry the day. And we might have new allies to help America throw off the yoke of neoliberal imperialism...

Class warfare

A joke has been making the rounds: "A union guy, tea bagger, & CEO are @ table w/ 12 cookies. The CEO takes 11 & tells tea bagger: That union guy wants a part of your cookie." It's exactly right. The real issue, as Howard Zinn tried to point out over and over, is the power of wealth to divide the other people and get them to fight among themselves.

A number of people have been pointing out that when progressives make gains -- through labor unrest or demonstrations -- that the gains tend to be short-lived. It's not surprising because working people need to spend most of their time just keeping body and soul together. The wealthy can afford to hire people -- ruthless people -- that will work 24-7 to achieve their goals.

In the 50's, the highest tax bracket was better than 90%. If someone made more than $400,000/year, most of what was above that went to the government. Some people think that's unfair: they *earned* that money. Did they? Or were the conditions in place to enable it? Let's remember: they didn't educate the employees that made it possible. They didn't build the infrastructure that made it possible. They didn't enforce the laws that made it possible.

It's unfortunate that we let the right roll back the tax rates. In other countries, when there was a huge growth in industry, they used it to build great infrastructure and resources to serve the country. What did we do with our wealth? We used it to let rich people get even richer. While the country fell apart, we used the money to make rich people super rich.

And what did they do with their wealth? Well, they didn't invest it here, that's for sure.

Obama silent on attacts against unions

I saw this recent article which pointed out that as a candidate Obama had said he would be "on the picket line" if unions were threatened. His tepid response so far, got me to send him a note at

I'm disappointed that the President, once again, is allowing the Democrats to distance themselves from organized labor. The increasing gap between rich and poor -- where both the Republicans and Democrats have cast their lot with the rich -- is destroying the country. Unions are one of the last remaining counterbalancing forces.

The President said he'd be "on the picket line" if unions were threatened. It's time, Mr. President.

On a related note, the Subject widget on this form doesn't list any lines that seem appropriate for discussing labor or unions. Is it "Job Creation"? Not really. "Civil Rights"? Maybe. I picked "Education" but it's yet another example to me of how your administration is ignoring the people who voted for you.

Stealing from the middle-class and the economy

The piece that seems to get the least play in all the coverage about austerity and budget cutting is that when you take money away from public employees (by laying them off, cutting their benefits, etc), you also take that money away from the local economy. And where is it going? The tax cuts are mostly going to the very top. That's where they've mostly gone for 30 years.

The crisis in funding is due to the collapse of the economy, which in turn is due to the fact that the middle class, broken by years of globalization (ie rich people investing their money in other parts of the world) and union busting (reducing the compensation paid to the middle class) means that the money isn't here anymore to support the kind of society we have come to expect. The worst part is how meagre our expectations have become.

The United States used to be a great place for ordinary people. Now, our educational system is collapsing, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our health-care system is still inaccessible to millions -- even after the passage of the pathetic health-care reform law, which enshrines gigantic profits for the private companies that provide the services.

We spend half our budget on the military: more than all of the rest of the world combined. And, although other countries cannot confront the US directly, our attempt to squash terrorism by intervening in other countries has destabilized every place we've gone and has not improved our actual security. But most people seem to accept that the US will be constantly fighting war now. How did we sink so low?

We did it so that the hyper-wealthy -- all around the world -- could be even richer.

Freedom and human rights

I read a book on human rights a couple of months ago that helped me recognize something I hadn't realized before. The idea of "human rights" is really quite a modern phenomenon. There was great optimism at the end of World War II that we had won a great victory for "freedom", but it ran into a brick wall. In the west "freedom" is considered a property of individuals: freedom of individuals to do what they want. In the east, freedom was a property of the collective: freedom of self-determination. In the west, people wanted freedom of speech and religion. In the east, people thought of freedom as freedom from hunger and homelessness. Building the United Nations ran up against this and, when it was constructed, its power was circumscribed by having it only recognize the right of nations to self-determination: no freedom for individuals or peoples. This meant that dictators could oppress their own people -- and their colonies -- for another 30 years without much interference.

The first real step toward human rights as individual rights was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which happened in 1948, in large measure, due to Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the one with the brains, tact, and political savvy to build consensus and find enough common ground to get it through. It's an amazing document. I question whether, in this day of know-nothing tea-partiers, you could ever get such a document ratified.

It still doesn't change the fundamental nature of the United Nations, however, which leaves implementing the Declaration up to each nation. It's heart-breaking to watch a dictator like Gadhafi deploy military hardware against the people and recognize that the UN doesn't have the will to act.

It's also sad that the US is backing away from the Declaration as well, with it's unlimited detentions and secret tribunals. And the efforts to strip workers of their rights to collective bargaining. America needs to wake up and realize that the tea party, funded by millionaire businessmen is the mouthpiece of the rich and is just part of the continuing plan to turn the US into a place where working people are poor. Working people today are poorer than they were 30 years ago -- and the tea party says that's just the beginning.

Esperanto is...

Shortly after I wrote my last article at Libera Folio, I realized another article I wanted to write. Unfortunately, it was too late: I had to get back to work and work like a dog for weeks to manage the server migration for my facility and get resources built for the spring. But I had my notes and I kept seeing more thing to stick in the article. I just needed an hour or two to actually pull it all together. With the few minutes I had yesterday morning, I finished drafting the article and sent it off to Libera Folio. It should appear in the next day or two. (I'll link to it when it comes out).

The basic idea is a simple one: when the media covers Esperanto, they talk about "Esperanto was..." or "Esperanto might have been..." They rarely talk about "Esperanto is..." and never talk about "Esperanto will be..."

Esperanto is strong -- it's probably never been stronger. The internet has provide a fertile ground for Esperanto take root. There are more people learning Esperanto now than ever before. Does that mean that Esperanto will suddenly become "the second language for everyone"? No, it doesn't. But Esperanto isn't going away. Everyone (who matters) is learning English now. But English isn't replacing anyone's native language -- each generation will have to choose whether to learn English. Or not. With the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), and a multipolar world, it may be that in many places, people decide that learning Portuguese or Chinese makes more sense than English. As the world becomes multilingual, the idea of a neutral International Language might come up again -- and Esperanto might make a lot more sense with 100 years of history behind it. And a dynamic, vibrant speaker community already in place.

A lovely day

Today, I had to attend an MSP board meeting. Afterwards, I headed off campus, ran a few errands, and then I and spent the rest of the day at a special retreat.

I first visited Hope and Feathers Framing where I arranged to have my Conlang special poster framed. I spent 5 times as much on the framing as I did on my contribution for the video, but I figured that the poster might someday be a collectors item. And I couldn't stand the idea that I'd just stick it up on a bulletin board -- it was signed by the director.

Next, I stopped by Staples. We'd gotten some gift surfertickets, so I wandered around looking at the office supply porn -- I love looking at pens and paper and envelopes and stuff. Eventually, I got some replacement headphones for Charlie, whose headphones had broken recently.

Then I went to Thornes Market, got a cup of coffee at Raos, and worked on writing until Tom arrived.

We've both been working hard on the digital sign project for CNS. Using the same recipe I used to the digital signs in Biology, Tom has built an elegant system for people to maintain signs across multiple departments. I built the players that the sign system uses and elaborated them a bit so that they could work for Tom's system at the college level.

We talked a bit about the sign system, but talked mostly about other things: about our families, about work, about the Biology department, about other projects. It was great to have a chance to catch up on everything else.

Then, at 1pm, Buzz arrived and we went to the Northampton Brewery. Buzz and I tried the Sno-Day IPA, which was wonderful: fresh and crisp and nicely bitter. We had lunch and talked about getting old and elementary schools and Sandy Point and our many other common interests. It was a wonderful afternoon with dear friends.

More errands, another meeting, and then home before bedtime. A long day, but a very satisfying one.


I appreciated the last two Chippy and Loopus episodes. I showed them to my son who didn't really get them.

"Well," I said. "You don't use Facebook. You just have to use Facebook to get them."

My wife said, "And you have to have moronic friends that do stupid things on Facebook."

"Like I said," I replied. "You just have to use Facebook."

Unpaid Interns

I noted with interest this blog which is mainly about shaming places that advertise for unpaid internships. It's an issue that comes up every time the economy is weak. There are at least three sides to the issue: first, it's just supply and demand: if you can get people to work for free, why would you pay someone? The second side is whether it is in our interest to let companies bid the price of labor so low. Volunteer labor depresses everyone's wages. The most important issue, however, is related to social justice because only a small segment of the population has access to these opportunities: people that have to support themselves are excluded because they can't afford to work for free.

We need to insist that the US economy gets run to create full employment. We could do that -- the money is there -- The Rich just have all the money, mainly due to globalization and the destruction of the labor movement. If we had full employment and a strong labor movement, you wouldn't see many free internships and, if you did, you probably wouldn't care.


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