Month: November 1997

Barbie: Get A Life!

Mattel Inc. has decided to make Barbie “more youthful and more contemporary.” Her last face lift was in 1977, yet it barely changed Barbie’s figure dimensions. The new Barbie will be less busty, have a larger waist and slimmer hips.

Make her hips slimmer? Barbie needs a bigger butt. And while they’re at it, they should give her some upper arm fat, too, so she no longer looks like a concentration camp victim. And those thighs…puhleeze! They’re nearly as bad as her tendonitis problem (from wearing too many high heels).

With all these physical disabilities, Barbie is still extremely popular. Mattel makes about 44% of its total revenues from Barbie sales, which amount to about $2 billion worldwide. Why is she so popular?

Dolls are traditionally made (by adults) to be crude representations of the human form and are usually sexless figures–with long hair and dresses to denote a female doll or short hair and pants to denote a male doll. A realistic looking adult doll would be too sensual for children, and too disturbing for puritanical parents. Barbie is, of course, a pre-adolescent girl with a cinched waist and impossibly huge breasts (her only adult feature, which may be why it’s so grossly exaggerated). In short, she’s a non-threatening doll for parents to give their daughters.

The problem, of course, is that Barbie gives girls the illusion that she’s an accurate model of an adult woman’s body. Little girls use Barbie to act out the more powerful roles that women have in society (as opposed to little girls), regardless of the fact that women’s roles are still limited. The argument should focus on allowing Barbie to be a little girl (physically) and allowing little girls more power over their lives; however, most progressive women still argue that Barbie should be made a “more realistic” looking adult. This is a too simple solution that will never solve anything.

More women need to break out of their traditional roles in our patriarchal society. Girls need more responsibility and more choices in life. Until then, Barbie will remain their primary role model … with her pouty lips, silicone breasts, and anorexic legs.

Crowd Control

What does the U.S. Army do with surplus weapons? It gives them to local police departments. According to an Associated Press article, $204.3 million of excess military gear was handed over to 11,000 government law-enforcement agencies in all 50 states in the past year.

For instance, the Los Angeles Police Department accepted 42 bayonets. The LAPD, however, says it’s going to give them back to the army, because the department has no use for them. Of course, that doesn’t explain why they accepted them in the first place.

The LAPD is backpedaling because of a complaint by ACLU attorney John Crew, who complained: “We can imagine no circumstances whatsoever where it would be appropriate for a local police agency to put a bayonet on the end of a rifle.” But the LAPD is not known for its attention to propriety, especially when it comes to brutalizing speeding motorists, or eating out of the public trough. A different California law-enforcement agency, however, managed to hog even more of the swill.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Dept. is not giving back its 50 bayonets. They claim the bayonets will be useful for chopping down marijuana plants in the heavily forested redwood country of northwestern California. Of course, that same territory is heavily populated with tree-sitters, environmentalists, and various eco-activists (who’ve already experienced having their eyes pried open and dowsed with pepper spray)-soon they’ll be facing bayonets.

The surplus program originally began in 1990 with a requirement that agencies use the gear only in the war on drugs. That rule was dropped in 1996, when the program was expanded. Now police departments can choose from an arsenal of surplus helicopters, armored vehicles, body armor, assault rifles and night vision gear to combat the ever decreasing number of violent criminals. What’s next–surplus land mines? Leftover anthrax virus?

Gosh, I’m feeling safer already! (choke)

Bond-Doggle

When politicians ask the public to vote for big, glamorous projects (like new stadiums or convention centers), they often claim that these projects won’t raise taxes. Instead, the government will simply issue bonds to cover construction costs. But raising taxes and issuing bonds are really one and the same thing, and here’s an explanation why.

If we compare how governments borrow money with how businesses borrow money, we find out why there’s never enough money to cover basic services, like transportation, road maintenance, or emergency medical services.

Governments have to borrow money to finance large projects, just like businesses do. When borrowing money, a business usually does one of three things: it takes out a loan, issues stock, or draws on a line of credit through a bank. In all of these cases, the business pays interest on the money borrowed to finance the project. In the case of issuing stock, a company usually pays a quarterly or yearly dividend to its shareholders (lenders), which is similar to interest. The higher the dividend the company pays, the more its stock is worth on the market (investors really slurp up those high-paying stocks!). The higher the stock value, the more money the company can collect when it needs to borrow money again by issuing more stock, and so on.

Governments, on the other hand, are barred from issuing stock, but they can issue bonds instead. Bonds are not simply “sold” to bondholders. No investor would pay $30,000 just for a piece of paper. Bondholders buy bonds because they pay interest. When the bond reaches maturity, the government pays back the full amount of the bond to the bondholder, thereby paying back its loan. Bonds are issued with different maturation dates so that the government doesn’t have to pay them all back in the same year.

However, governments are limited in the amount they can borrow, just as you have a limit on your personal credit card. If a government borrows too much money, then it may have problems paying back all of the bonds it has issued. In theory, it would then default on the outstanding bonds. In practice, however, governments never declare bankruptcy and get their debts forgiven like individuals and businesses do. Instead of defaulting on the bonds, governments simply raise taxes (yours and mine) to cover the shortfall, or cut social services and redirect the money to pay off the debt (sometimes referred to as “belt-tightening” or “austerity measures”). That’s why investors consider government bonds to be a very safe investment: bondholders will always get their money back, even if it means the general public gets a property tax increase, or single moms get kicked off welfare.

It’s obvious why our roads are in shitty shape, and why people voted down a tax levy for emergency services in King County. Funds for road maintenance and emergency services used to come out of the general fund, but those monies have been redirected to pay the debt on enormous boondoggles, like the bus tunnel and the Convention Center–which has operated at a deficit since it first opened. We’ve already added a couple of new projects to the debt load: two new stadiums in Seattle (one an obvious give-away to Paul Allen) and the opening of an international convention center at the Bell Street Pier (which directly competes with the downtown Convention Center).

It’s also no mystery why people voted for the monorail initiative. We’re all tired of waiting for local politicians to get off their butts and do something about the RTA (other than searching for ways to dig a tunnel under Capitol Hill). And those of us who ride the bus during rush hour are sick of standing shoulder-to-shoulder like sardines in a can, while politicians glibly encourage more people to ride Metro as the only solution to traffic congestion. Furthermore, the monorail initiative specified that the project would be funded in part by an increase in the B&O (business and occupations) tax, not an increase in property taxes. Maybe people are smarter than we give them credit for.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop suburbanites from voting for the Seahawks stadium. They fell for the number-juggling and outright lies of the pro-stadium campaign. It’s more important than ever for people to understand that issuing bonds is just another way for the government to increase taxes and decrease basic services. We’re just now beginning to pay for the boondoggles built five to 10 years ago; if we don’t stop now, this trend will only get worse.

Sports News: APEC Conference Draft Picks!

Slick Willy and Co. are coming to the Pacific Northwest to down a few brews and size up the free trade contenders in the Pacific Rim. Clinton and his pals have got their eyes on a few hopeful draft picks among the players in the APEC Conference.

APEC (short for “Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation”) is a loose organization of 18 Pacific Rim countries, whose governments range from wealthy plutocracies (Canada, Australia, Japan, and the U.S.) to outright dictatorships (Indonesia, Chile, Brunei, and Malaysia). They meet annually to discuss how to help U.S. and Japanese corporations profit from the misery of Asian peoples. It’s a veritable beauty contest of the corrupt, where third world nation states vie to attract the attentions of first world trading partners by accentuating their commitments to human rights violations in the name of maintaining a positive climate for business.

The natural draft picks for Slick Willy’s team will have that unbeatable combination of low wage rates, no minimum wage law, lack of labor protections, an exploitable prison population, a hefty and well-trained military schooled in the use of clandestine murder and torture against civilian populations, and a booming sex-tourism industry (including child prostitution). Sure, natural talent helps, but hard work and perseverence set the real pros apart. Let’s have a peek at the likely top five picks:

5) Mexico. Our 52nd state (Canada is the 51st). Always there when you need ’em, especially when it comes to cheap labor only a stone’s throw away. The Mexican maquilladoras (or “sweatshops,” for you gringos) are a businessman’s paradise. No labor unions allowed, no safety rules to follow, no employee benefits to pay, and low, low tax rates. As a bonus, the Mexican government is privatizing everything from its telephone service to its oil industry. U.S. investors are lapping it up.

4) Chile. An aging dictator left over from the early ’70s, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, works hard to keep on top of the heap in human rights violations. Chile’s army is staffed by experts in torture techniques, clandestine terrorism, and is heavily armed with gringo “consultants” and weapons purchased from U.S. defense contractors. Labor unions are illegal (labor organizers routinely “disappear”) and political dissidents rot in jail or turn up dead in the streets. A very favorable investment climate.

3) Thailand. Ooh la la! One-stop-shopping for the perverted: teenage girls chained to beds in firetrap brothels, six and seven-year-old boys visiting customers in hotel rooms, and peasant women lured to the city to make “big money” working as servants (i.e., sexual slaves) to wealthy foreigners–all managed with the help of the Thai police. Businessmen investing in Thailand, however, are not happy just raping women and young children; they’re busy logging and strip-mining the countryside, too. No environmental restraints, no restrictions on property ownership, and the military will take care of any pesky indigenous people who get in the way. Slick Willy and Co. are so excited they can barely keep their distinguishing marks covered!

2) China. With flexible labor laws (whatever the Party decides), exploitable prison population, and an army that owns and runs its own sweatshops, you can’t go wrong. Not only has China perfected the art of killing and imprisoning its own dissidents, it has also adopted that winning strategy to Tibet, where the army is murdering Buddhist monks and turning temples into tourist traps, and to similar, less publicized genocidal schemes among Central Asia’s indigenous. China gets a special bonus for a burgeoning market in organ transplants–from live donors in its prison population! Workers! You have nothing to lose but your kidneys! (Sorry, we’re keeping the chains.)

1) Indonesia. This year’s winner of the MVP (Most Vicious Psycho) award, President-For-Life Suharto is celebrating the 32nd year of his prosperous reign. In the world’s fourth most populous country, his relatives run the military, own seven of Indonesia’s sixteen banks, and staff most of the government ministries. Businessmen can be guaranteed that “family touch,” whenever they visit Jakarta. Because Indonesia’s an archipelago, it can easily hide the brutal suppression of indigenous people on Irian Jaya, and the slaughter of one-third of the East Timorese population. And you guessed it: no labor unions, wages are a buck per day, and environmental laws are nonexistent. Slash and burn all the way to the bank–now that’s real entrepreneurial spirit!

What a team! Clinton & Co. are playing in a league of their own. And the opposition? Why, to hear Pres. Bill tell it, they won’t even show up.

A coalition of labor, religious, and social justice groups is planning a People’s Summit on APEC to be held during the week of November 17-24 in Vancouver, B.C., prior to and during the APEC Conference to protest trade liberalization and the appalling human rights records of the APEC member nations. For more information, call 604-682-1952, fax 604-682-1931, or e-mail popsum97@bc.sympatico.ca. More organizer contacts: No! to APEC Coalition, 604-255-1509, notoapec@vcn.bc.ca; Democracy Village (Univ. of B.C.), jono@physics.ubc.ca; Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs 604-684-0231. The other APEC members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, The Phillipines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the good ‘ol U.S.A.

 

The Boom/Bust Cycle

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster ride in hell for Wall Street investors. To understand the cause of the current “crashlet,” let’s look at who invests in the stock market, where those profits come from, and why they’re disappearing.

First of all, investors are interested in very high rates of return. Most investors are upper-middle-class, over 40-years-old, deeply in debt, and they haven’t saved enough for retirement by their own estimates. The government is gutting Medicare and Social Security, so investors are driven to make a 30 to 50% rate of return. They’re horrified by the prospect of counting pennies, eating Kal Kan, and living in roach-infested dumps when they retire (like the rest of us will be).

The investments that make the highest, consistent profits are stocks of companies that sell lots of stuff every quarter, year after year. However, companies rely primarily on one thing to ensure high sales volume: public consumption. If average people don’t have the money to buy products or services beyond basic necessities (or even the basic necessities themselves), sales lag, companies report losses, shareholders lose interest in stocks, stock prices plummet, etc. So it’s very important to investors and companies to keep people buying things, consuming, shopping, and spending lots of money.

From the standpoint of an economist (an economic advisor to President Clinton, for example) it’s of primary importance to “take care of your constituency”–i.e., major corporations–by boosting consumer spending. There are two main ways to do this and both are risky, destructive, and rely on stealing money out of poor people’s pockets. First, you can increase workers’ wages so they have more money to spend. The problem with this is that, when wages increase, companies have to pay their workers more, and their profits decrease. To keep their shareholders happy, companies have to raise the price of their products or services, which increases inflation (the cost of living). During periods of high inflation, people spend less money on luxury goods and try to save more, which perpetuates the problem (this is called an “inflationary cycle” or “inflationary spiral”).

The second way to increase consumer spending works fine in the short-term, but is a ticking time-bomb in the long-term. You can increase spending by loaning lots of money to a lot of people at high interest rates, so they can buy products and pay banks lots of interest at the same time (which allows banks to continue to loan more money, and so on). This is called “increasing the debt load” or “liberalizing the financial markets” or some other bullshit term. It’s really backwards inflation or “deflation.” As wages stagnate, people have to borrow more money to buy necessities. It’s a house of cards resting on the backs of middle-class and poor people who use high-interest-rate credit cards, home-equity loans (i.e., second mortgages), and personal lines of credit to pay for basics. When too many people assume large debt-loads, all it takes is a critical mass of people who default on their debts to destroy the whole flimsy structure.

The recent stock market “crashlet” began in July, when too many people and businesses defaulted on loans in Thailand. The entire Thai banking industry was at risk. Banks were closed, the whole Thai finance ministry was fired, the Thai currency fell, and the prime minister was forced to retire. Within two months, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and The Philippines found themselves with similar problems. Hong Kong banks, which are heavily invested in all of these countries, began to sell off stocks, which triggered the panic and crashed the Hong Kong market within two days. Markets in Japan and Singapore nose-dived. It took a day or two for the effects to be felt here and in Europe, but no country’s economy is isolated any more.

The IMF is already employing its standard strategy to “fix” the crisis: pour money (taxpayers’ money) to the tune of $37 billion into failed banks to prop them up, while demaning that the governments of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea cut social services. This will exacerbate the problem for obvious reasons–it dips even deeper into the pockets of poor people everywhere.

Even rich, greedy investors who believe adamantly in endless, exponential growth admit that something’s wrong. They’re beginning to talk about increases in wages, imminent inflation, or a further stock market crash. When global recession set in, as it inevitably will, it will open up opportunities for people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder to demand change…and maybe, just maybe, some of those changes will break the “boom/bust” cycle.

Sex Ed for Dummies

Tell this to your local PTA: sex education encourages teenagers not to have sex.

After a review of 68 studies in the U.S. and Europe, the U.N. found that students who attend sex education classes tend to wait until they are older to have intercourse, have fewer partners, fewer unplanned pregnancies, and fewer sexually transmitted diseases. In other words, once teachers debunk the myths surrounding sex, teens are less likely to engage in risky experimentation. Also, youths learn that sexual behavior is not just intercourse, but includes a lot of other, safer behaviors, too–which still encourages them to experience love and emotional development, while discouraging unplanned pregnancies and the spread of AIDS.

Now if somebody would just tell the Vatican…

Pope John Paul II has for years urged parents to pull their children from programs that promote condom use to prevent pregnancy or the spread of AIDS, calling such teachings “dangerous” and “immoral.” He has urged parents to make the family the center for information about sexuality and morality.

But the studies show that most parents are uncomfortable with teaching their children anything about sex and would prefer to leave that job to schools. Many parents, familiar with only one type of sex–heterosexual ~penetration~–are as clueless as their children about a wider range of sexual behaviors that can potentially save their children’s lives. Asking these parents to teach their kids about sex is the equivalent of giving a child a loaded handgun and just telling him or her to “pop off a few rounds.”

The obvious next step would be for the UN to begin a program for western politicians, media pundits, evangelists, and the Pope, and call it “Sex Ed for Dummies.” Ted Turner could be asked to contribute a million or two. Children from countries with exemplary sex education policies–Brazil, Zimbabwe, Thailand, South Africa, and Uganda–can lecture a roomful of Republican Senators about AIDS, condom use, safe sex practices, and life- style choices. In fact, we should fill an auditorium with sexually- abstinent Catholic clergy and force them to earn a four-year degree in sex education before they begin preaching against condom use to their congregations.

And the Pope? Well…he’s intractable on this point. Too bad there isn’t a “three strikes” law when it comes to ideological irresponsibility. He’s murdered enough people already.

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