brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

May 10, 2009


Postwar America was a middle-class society. The great boom in wages that
began with World War II had lifted tens of millions of Americans from urban
slums and rural poverty to a life of home ownership and unprecedented
comfort. The rich, on the other hand, had lost ground. They were few in
number and, relative to the prosperous middle, not all that rich. The poor
were more numerous than the rich, but they were still a relatively small
minority. As a result, there was a striking sense of economic commonality.
Most people in America lived recognizably similar and remarkably decent
material lives.

Analysts have called on the government to cut the tax slapped on alcoholic
drinks and change the system, saying it has neither discouraged consumption
nor maximized revenue, but instead fostered a thriving black market.

Hundreds of homes in the Porgera valley of Papua New Guinea are being set
aflame. Local human rights organizations in Porgera claim that these fires
are part of a strategy to clear people out of the way for the expansion of
Barrick Gold’s Porgera mine.

The Endless Zombie Rampage is yet another simple premise that pits you
against a seemingly never ending swarm of zombies. You begin by your
lonesome with only a lowly pistol at your side and a home base nestled
safely behind you. The zombie barrage begins slowly with the first level
but steadily ramps up. For every zombie you kill, you’ll earn experience
and that can then be used to upgrade your weapon or buy new guns like
shotguns or machine guns.

A separatist attempt to form a breakaway nation of indigenous people on
Nicaragua’s jungle shores has the legendary Mosquito Coast buzzing once
again — and posing a dilemma for leftist President Daniel Ortega.
Frustrated by broken promises of autonomy and generations of exploitation
by outsiders, traditional leaders on the rural Atlantic coast are calling
for a clean break from Nicaragua and the creation of the Communitarian
Nation of the Moskitia (named after the region’s indigenous people). The
indigenous council of elders officially declared the secession of the
Atlantic coast from the rest of Nicaragua, warning that if push comes to
shove, their independence claims will be backed by a new Indigenous Army of
the Moskitia.

It’s been 13 years since the first height census was done in Belize,
measuring a total of 22,426 children across 262 primary schools. The target
for the census was Standard 1 students, ages 6 to 9. The report claims that
15.4% of the children showed growth retardation or were too short for their

At first glance, it would seem that we should have gone back to what Marx
predicted — a classic crisis of overproduction. With wages held down, who
was going to buy the ever-increasing number of goods being produced? We did
get a nasty twenty-month recession when the Fed Chief, tightened the money
supply. But this was a deliberate policy move, designed to “slay the dragon
of inflation.” The economy began growing again, and, apart from some fairly
minor interruptions, it kept on growing — until a year ago.

The current alcohol tax of 500 percent, which was far higher than the
global standard, had failed to bring about the optimal outcome of
generating revenue and protecting public health.

Without prior warning, the indigenous land owners of the villages
surrounding Barrick Gold’s Porgera open pit mine were violently evicted by
a police and military operation with 200 troops. “Operation Ipili” was
launched during the middle of the day to allegedly make way for the
expansion of a Barrick gold mine. This effective State of Emergency in
Porgera was motivated by situation reports presented by Barrick (PNG)

What is really liked about Endless Zombie Rampage is the blood. There’s a
ton of it and it all stays on the screen until you complete the level. As
you rattle off shots into the zombies’ bodies you’ll get a fantastic
squishing sound and an even more satisfying crunch as their body parts fly
every which way to signify their death. There are three wonderfully
addictive modes to play, the favorite of which is the Experiment Mode that
lets you set the amount of zombies that will spawn and how quickly. Before
you know it you’ll have spent hours fighting off waves of undead with
nothing to show for it except your own enjoyment. But isn’t that enough?

“We are not puppets. We are men. And now we have the weight of a nation on
our shoulders,” said separatist leader Rev. Hector Williams, known as the
Wihta Tara, or Great Judge of the Nation of Moskitia. The separatist
leaders this week declared a state of emergency to protect their lands from
the “colonialist” outsiders and sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon asking for support and protection.

The most affected district was Toledo, where 39% of children were growth
retarded, followed by Cayo with 17.8 %, and Orange Walk with 16.8%, Corozal
with 15.8 %, and Stann Creek with 13.5 %. The Belize district showed the
lowest growth retardation with 4.1 % of children affected.

With wages flat, who was buying the products? Well, the rich got very much
richer in those days, creating a separate country (designated “Richistan”),
chock-full of McMansions, multimillion-dollar yachts, private jets, etc.
(Over the past thirty years the average annual salary in America has
increased only 10 percent, whereas the real annual compensation of the top
100 CEOs has increased 3,000 percent.) But those expenditures weren’t
nearly enough to keep the economy on track. Ordinary people had to keep
buying also, more and more. Credit card debt has increased sevenfold
(adjusted for inflation) since 1975, home equity loans have mushroomed,
students have gone deeper into debt, and automobile loans have rocketed
upward. All in all, outstanding household debt mushroomed from 47 percent
of GDP in 1975 to 100 percent of GDP thirty years later.

“We recommend the government reduce the alcohol tax and apply the
volumetric system that bases its standard on the alcoholic content rather
than on its value.”

Households of third generation landowners were purposefully razed to the
ground, causing residents to flee for fear of their lives. Eighty houses in
Ungima, two houses in Yokolama and four houses in Kulapi had been torched
within the first 2 days of the operation.

In the year 1918, as World War I was winding down and just when it seemed
that peace was on the horizon, a new, more deadly enemy emerged undetected
until it was already too late. The Spanish flu or “La Grippe” was a global
disaster, far worse than the “Great War” itself.

The separatists claim to be thousands strong with a standing army of 400
soldiers, mostly aging ex-combatants from the YATAMA uprising against the
Sandinista government in the 1980s. Today, the North and South Atlantic
Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS) remain geographically and culturally
isolated from the rest of Nicaragua. The northern Atlantic-coastal region
is mostly inhabited by Miskito and Mayangna indigenous populations, while
its southern neighbor is home to most of the country’s black Creole
population. Although both groups have suffered historic discrimination, it
is the indigenous population in the north that’s leading the charge on
independence — a call that hasn’t yet found much resonance in the RAAS. The
self-proclaimed Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia says all land titles,
concessions and contracts issued by the Nicaraguan government are now
invalid, and that taxes must now be paid to the new self-proclaimed
indigenous authorities. A new flag, national anthem and currency are in the
works as the aspiring country appeals for official recognition.

A high prevalence of growth retardation was observed in rural areas,
“…those enrolled in grade levels Infant I and II, and Standard I, Maya
and Hispanic children, school boys, and children attending schools under
Assemblies of God management. Growth retardation differences were observed
for the same ethnic groups across districts, reflecting different
environmental-cultural conditions. 48 communities were identified with high
level growth retardation, and were said to require intervention; 81% were
located in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts.

Instead of keeping up spending by raising wages, the capitalists decided to
loan the money to the working class instead. Much better, since they can
collect interest on those loans. But, of course, when it becomes clear that
these debts are never going to be repaid, lending will stop. Lots of money
was made during the credit boom — more than could be loaned out again to
the “real” economy — so it flowed into the stock market, setting off a
bubble there, and then, later, into real estate. (The Dow Jones doubled
during the Golden Age from 500 in 1956 to 1,000 in 1972, during which time
wages doubled also. It increased fourteenfold during the ensuing flat-wage
period, hitting 14,000 in 2007.) People felt richer, so they spent more and
were able to borrow more against ever-rising asset values. But what can’t
go on, doesn’t. Credit lines max out, especially when compound interest and
falling asset values kick in.

“The current tax model is levied on the proportion of the price of the
product that causes the valuation to be nontransparent and complicates

None of the residents were given time to gather any of their possessions.
Anyone who spoke up was reportedly physically attacked by the security
forces and some were arrested.

The pandemic, which occurred between March 1918 and June 1919, claimed more
lives compared to WWI –– more than 20 million (some estimates put the
figure at 80 million) people succumbed tragically and suddenly to the
infection. In Spain alone, 8 million people were reportedly killed by the
infection in a single month. The “Spanish” flu got its name from the
intense media coverage of the disease when it moved to Spain in November
1918. However, the disease was first discovered in March 1918 in a military
camp in Kansas, United States. Very few people noticed the epidemic in the
midst of the War and the infection passed virtually unnoticed. These first
epidemics were signs of what was coming in the following winter. The
Spanish flu is widely regarded as the worst flu pandemic in recorded

“People have been waiting and waiting for this for 115 years. But
everything has its moment,” said Great Judge Williams, referring to 1894,
when the Mosquito Coast first lost its nationhood status. President Daniel
Ortega, a revolutionary who claims “indigenous blood” and pledges
solidarity with underdog struggles for independence around the globe, was
the first and only president in the world to recognize the breakaway
Russian-backed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia during last year’s
hostilities in Georgia. At The Summit of the Americas, Ortega advocated for
Puerto Rico’s independence from “the colonialist policies” of the United
States — a “show of solidarity” that irritated the Puerto Rican government.
Now, faced with a popular secession in his own backyard, Ortega has
remained tightlipped, and his government has not yet made any substantial
response to the claims of the Nation of Moskitia.

There wasn’t any indication of whether the numbers have changed or whether
anyone had done anything to address the issue of stunted growth among
children across Belize. The community needs to do much more to prevent
growth retardation, to work towards optimal educational development, and to
protect minds and bodies of children.

Let’s imagine a world in which most large enterprises are run
democratically. They are communities — not properties to be bought or sold
or “relocated” to lower-wage parts of the country or globe. When you join a
firm, you get to vote for representatives who will serve on a Workers
Council that serves the same function that a Board of Directors
(representing shareholders) serves in a modern corporation: selecting top
management, setting the terms of employment, and approving major business
decisions. You have a vested interest in voting for competent
representatives, who will appoint competent management, since your income
is tied directly to the fate of the company. You don’t receive a fixed
salary. Your income is a share of the company’s profits. (Shares aren’t
equal. They will vary according to whatever criteria the enterprise
chooses, e.g., seniority, levels of responsibility, special skills, etc.)
This gives all workers in the enterprise a major incentive to work hard and
effectively, and to monitor co-workers to see that they do the same.

PT Sarinah, the country’s sole importer of alcoholic beverages, reported
only Rp 62 billion (US$5.8 million) in collected tax revenue from the
liquor. “This suggests a large volume of either smuggled or illegal alcohol

Increasing numbers of people are reporting injuries, as are those who are
being detained. Although the landowners received no formal warning that
they were to see their houses destroyed, Barrick Gold had demanded that the
land be cleared of local villagers, some of whom are small scale artisanal
miners eking out a living beside the mine.

Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the
South Pacific. Closer to home, the disease spread –– from New Zealand –– to
Tonga (killing 8 per cent of the population), Niue (16 per cent of the
population) and Fiji (5 per cent of the population). Western Samoa was
worst hit as 90 per cent of the population got infected with nearly 20 per
cent killed).

Local authorities in the RAAN insist they have no intention of turning over
the state machinery to the separatist leaders, but are trying to downplay
the matter, apparently hoping it will go away on its own. “How are they
going to take control of the police and military? Please!” said the RAAN

The Assessment of the Food Nutrition and Health Situation of Belize showed
that 6% of children younger than 5 were underweight; whereas Toledo
recorded 39% of its children with stunted growth in the same age group.

Enterprises compete for customers in a free market constrained only by
familiar regulations that compensate for market externalities and protect
consumers from deception and avoidable harm. These enterprises will exist
alongside a public sector providing certain services, including health care
and investment banks in addition to infrastructure, education, and security

The government has reported recently that up to 60 percent of alcohol
consumption in Indonesia is supplied by the black market, causing it to
lose about Rp 1.5 trillion in liquor tax revenue each year.

Barrick Gold’s personnel claim the land owners are ‘illegal,’ issuing a
memorandum calling on them to stop their subsistence activities and leave
their homelands. The chief landowner, Nixon Mangape, recently alerted their
local Member of Parliament as well as media outlets about the impending
threats from the mining company. To date, there has been no acknowledgement
that villagers have been demanding compensation from Barrick if the
confiscation of their land was to move forward, given their resulting loss
of livelihood, possessions and ancestral territory. Now, these communities
are suffering from brutal attacks by security agents and faced with the
situation that their homes – with all their possessions – have been burned
to the ground, in clear violation of national and international legal

Influenza is not unusual nor uncommon, in fact, flu is a seasonal disease
–– affecting people in the colder months of the year, every year. There are
a number of different types and subtypes of flu virus. The most common
types are flu virus A (found in birds), flu virus B (found in humans) and
flu virus C (found in pigs and humans). Typically, influenza viruses infect
only one species so the human influenza virus is different from the bird
influenza virus which is different from the pig influenza virus. However,
influenza viruses evolve continually, forming new subtypes (strains)
through a natural process known as antigenic drift.

The true scale of the movement remains unclear and Miskito leaders are
warning the Nicaraguan government it would be a mistake to take the
situation lightly. Even those opposed to the independence movement warn the
conditions are ripe for a separatist fever to spread, or even turn to
violence. “Autonomy has been a failure,” said Osorno “Comandante Blas”
Coleman, who had been a Miskito military leader during the YATAMA uprising
against the Sandinista government in the 1980s. “The separatists are
looking for an alternative, for a light at the end of the tunnel. Their
movement could gain force because people are frustrated with autonomy.”

Environmental factors are more at play than genetic factors and ethnicity.
Retarded growth in children is “mainly the result of environmental factors
that can be influenced” by individual and collective action and will
provide representative information at the national, district and village
levels, to make timely decisions to implement nutritional activities, and
other interventions aimed at improving the health of all Belizean children.

There are two parts to the reform. The first involves the source of funds,
breaking the connection between saving and investment. We won’t rely
anymore on private savings, which, apart from pension funds, come
overwhelmingly from the wealthy. Relying on this segment of society makes
the whole economy hostage to their “animal spirits” — to use Keynes’s
term. How much societal investment we need, where and in what enterprises
these funds should be invested — these decisions are vital to the
long-term future of everyone. They are too important to be left to the
hunches and intuitions of a small segment of the population that is largely
invisible and wholly unaccountable to the general public. People can still
save. We’ll have Savings and Loan Associations in our economy, where modest
interest is paid on deposits, which are insured by the federal government.
These regulated S&Ls will serve as source for home mortgages and other
consumer loans-as they once did, in pre-deregulation days.

Media reports, reflected the ineffectiveness of the tax model in securing
good public health, with eight people dying after consuming poor-quality
alcohol in Padang, West Sumatra. The Australian government warned its
citizens visiting Indonesia against consuming local alcohol or illegally
mixed alcohol.

A year after the massive Sichuan earthquake leveled hundreds of schools,
sparking allegations of corruption and shoddy construction, China finally
gave its first official tally of the numbers of students dead or missing:

Pigs sometimes can be infected not only with pig influenza viruses, but
also with human and bird influenza viruses. This change (or evolution)
takes many years. Sometimes, through mutation, influenza viruses swap
genes; no one knows what triggers these mutations, but the changes are
usually quite drastic and occur in a relatively short period of time. A new
influenza virus strain has been discovered, which has reportedly claimed
nearly 100 lives in Mexico. The “Swine flu” has also sprung up in the
United States, Canada and the UK. Suspected cases have been reported in
Australia and New Zealand.

Though the Atlantic coast was given autonomy in 1987, indigenous and Creole
leaders say discrimination and economic concerns have prevented the law
from being implemented true to its spirit. Their frustrations have been
amplified by the aftermath of Hurricane Felix, a devastating category 5
storm that ripped through the area destroying much of the local
communities’ infrastructure, livelihood and natural resources.

Through this census, population growth retardation can be measured,
allowing us to know its magnitude, severity and geographic distribution.
Information generated from height censuses, can be used to assist in
lobbying for resources. Growth rate depends on one’s diet, health,
environment, and socioeconomic factors. Belize’s first census showed that
out of every 100 children measured, 15 were found with growth retardation
or stunting. The information can be useful in decision making, the design
and evaluation of policies, the redistribution of resources, intervention,
and indicating whether responsible agencies have been successful in
reducing growth retardation.

All the funds for business investment will be raised publicly from taxes.
Let’s abolish the corporate income tax (which few corporations pay anymore
anyway), and substitute a capital assets tax — a flat-rate tax on the
value of an enterprise’s tangible property. As it is now, we tax labor, via
the payroll tax, but not capital. This distorts the efficient allocation of
resources, making labor more expensive than it need be, giving incentives
for automation and making production more capital-intensive than it ought
to be. This tax redresses the balance. Under the new system, the revenues
from this tax are kept separate from general tax revenues. All go into the
“investment fund.” All are plowed back into the economy, as loans to
existing businesses wanting to expand production or upgrade their
technologies, or to individuals wanting to start up new businesses.

Last year alone, the consumption of illegal and unsafe low-quality liquor
claimed more than 60 lives and caused hundreds of others to be hospitalized
in Jambi, Manado (North Sulawesi), Kediri (East Java), Papua, Indramayu
(West Java) and Medan (North Sumatra). The unsupervised producers of the
low-quality alcoholic drinks have been proven to have avoided high taxes.

The government began its count hours after the magnitude-7.9 temblor razed
huge portions of the southwestern province, but has refused until now to
say how many students were among the nearly 90,000 people killed or
missing. Another 5 million people were made homeless. Thousands of
classrooms collapsed while buildings around them remained intact. It has
become a politically charged issue and an enduring source of bitterness for
parents trying to find answers and closure.

Barrick Gold and the Government of Papua New Guinea must immediately start
to address the catastrophic problem in Porgera pro-actively rather than
over reacting with high level security installations and branding it as a
law and order problem. Calling a State of Emergency is not the right method
to fix these extensive and irreversible damages, the ordinary people are
already victims of what as gone wrong.

As the number of people getting infected and dying of the disease continues
to rise, the World Health Organization has declared “that the current
situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern”.
This declaration sparked a rapid response in most countries with
authorities across Asia –– who have grappled with deadly viruses like bird
flu and SARS in recent years –– tightening their border control, screening
and monitoring travellers at border checkpoints in Hong Kong, Malaysia,
South Korea and Japan. Public health messages advising people who may be
infected with flu –– of any type –– to avoid social gatherings and other
forms of inter-personal interaction are already in newspapers and perhaps
even over the radio and TV.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, west-coast Nicaraguans have moved into
the area to profit from the storm-felled timber, and to set up ranching and
farming in indigenous territories. “They operate like the mafia,” said the
legal advisor to the aspiring nation. The new indigenous army is being
deployed into the forests to stop all logging activity in their territory.
“We are going to put a stop to this, which is something the Nicaraguan
authorities couldn’t do.” The separatists, led by former indigenous rebel
leader Comandante Yul Wild (Wild Dog) — already staged an unarmed takeover
of the headquarters of the indigenous YATAMA party. But it’s still unclear
whether the group presents a substantial threat.

Environmental factors, such as the type of floor one has – an earthen floor
versus a wooden floor – impacts a child’s growth. Environmental factors are
what primarily determine one’s height, and something as basic as a clean
floor can contribute to healthy growth. Principals and teachers will be
responsible for collecting, classifying and reporting the growth
retardation results for their expected schools. The wider use of the census
is that it can help to identify communities that could benefit from
targeted nutritional interventions; it can detect growth retardation and
screen high-risk groups, such as families, communities and geographical
regions; and it can help in constructing poverty maps and developing
baselines for food and nutrition surveillance systems. Tapes are calibrated
in centimeters and charts are provided which indicate what height a child
should theoretically have for his or her age. A boy who just turned six,
for example, should be 106.5 cm or roughly 3 feet 6 inches tall. If the
child is two inches shorter, he is categorized as suffering from “severe
growth retardation.” A girl 9 years and 11 months old should not be shorter
than 4 feet and 1 inch. If so, the teacher will log that child as
moderately or severely retarded in growth.

Collected investment funds are allocated to a network of regional and local
banks, each region getting its per capita share. Every year, each region of
the country gets its fair share of the national investment fund. Regions
don’t compete for capital. They don’t have to offer tax breaks and other
incentives to attract investors. Citizens don’t have to pick up and move
from capital-starved regions to those into which the capital is flowing.
Capital flows automatically to where the people are. Community stability is
thus greatly enhanced. Enterprises within regions do compete for capital.
The investment banks are public institutions. Loan officers are public
officials charged with allocating society’s resources efficiently.
Profitability is a major criterion of success, although a community might
want to add some others — employment creation, for example, or the
fostering of green technologies. The allocation process is open and
transparent because these banks are public institutions loaning out public
money. Loan officers whose portfolios perform well will be rewarded; those
whose portfolios do not may lose their jobs. Thus incentive structures are
in place appropriate to the efficient allocation of capital in accordance
with democratically decided priorities. These are the basic institutions of
economic democracy: a competitive market for goods and services, widespread
workplace democracy, and a “social control of investment.” There are a few
supplementary policies that an economic democracy should also adopt; full
employment, “capitalism within socialism,” and socialist protectionism.

The current system was also ineffective because of the lack of
transparency, which created an noncompetitive and unfair playing field in
the alcoholic beverage business. Therefore, firms engaging in illegal
business will get a greater advantage than those staying in the legitimate

Parents say the schools crumbled so easily because corruption and
mismanagement led to slipshod construction and weak buildings that were not
up to code. Some say materials meant for school construction projects were
sold on the side by contractors for personal gain. So far no one has been
held responsible or punished.

The Norwegian Pension Fund divested $230 million CAD from Barrick Gold for
ethical concerns related to the Porgera Mine.

In 1918, during the height of the Spanish flu, children would skip rope to
the following rhyme:

I had a little bird

its name was Enza

I opened the window

And in-flew-Enza!

The prospects of the separatist movement “will depend on how the
(Nicaraguan) government reacts.” If the government takes the situation
seriously and address the demands of the people, the situation could be
controlled. But if it’s ignored, it could fester and grow. “There are lots
of (indigenous) ex-combatants who are very unsatisfied with the government,
they’ve been waiting for over two years for the government to comply with
its promises,” he said. The worst case scenario, he said, would be if the
government responded with force. If they did, there would be a situation
like there was in the 1980s.”

The Belizean prevalence of stunting is considered to be low according to
WHO international classification. The results of the census should be ready
within 4 months. Changes in migration patterns in Belize since the last
census might have affected the height-age profile of children ages 6 to 9
in Belize, as it was clear that the communities that showed most stunting
had high immigrant populations. This index is mainly used to identify
chronic malnutrition and is also a reflection of socioeconomic and
environmental factors that influenced their growth. Over 9,000 standard 1
children are being targeted by the new census.

A circular issued by the Cabinet was ordering that safety controls over the
construction and rebuilding of schools be strengthened. The circular said
there would be severe punishment for those who engage in illegal practices.

We need the government to serve as the employer of last resort. Every
person wanting to work should have a job. No market economy, capitalist or
socialist, can guarantee full employment. The government has to do that.
Every citizen should enjoy a genuine “right to work.” These jobs may not be
high paying, but they should involve decent, socially useful work.
Involuntary unemployment is a scourge, a deepening, terrifying global trend
that must be addressed head on. (To be unable to find work is a terrible
thing. It’s as if society is saying, “There is nothing you can do that we
need. We may deign to keep you alive, but make no mistake: you are a
parasite, living off the labor of others.” Is it any wonder that
unemployment breeds social pathologies?)

When the entrepreneur wants to retire or move on, and the business exceeds
a certain size, she or he must sell the business to the state, which will
then turn it over to its workers to be run democratically. The
entrepreneurial capitalist sector thus serves as an important source of
democratic firms. Such capitalists play a valuable role in our socialist
economy and are duly honored therein.

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