Upgrading the U.S. Constitution: Guns for Everyone!

my first rifle

By John Lawrence

It has come to my attention that some of my conservative friends think that the American Constitution was chiseled in stone. Well, no, actually unlike the Ten Commandments which were written in stone, the American Constitution was written on parchment. I have a lot of respect for the Founding Fathers who came up with this document based on the best Enlightenment thinking at the time with the help of French philosophes such as Montesquieu who believed in the separation of powers and checks and balances. Unfortunately, the Founders didn’t heed the advice of the Marquis de Condorcet who came up with a better voting system than majority rule.

Condorcet and my other friends, Voltaire and Rousseau are entombed in the basement of the Pantheon in Paris where I visited them a while back and thanked them for their efforts in getting the fledgling United States off the ground. But speaking of being “written in stone”, did God really hand Moses two tablets or did Moses have a little workshop up on the mountaintop where he meticulously chiseled out the Ten Commandments?

If Moses had handed them out on a piece of paper to his constituents, they would have laughed in his face so he had to make them believe that they were inviolable because they came directly from a Higher Power.   [Read more…]

Tyranny of the Majority: The American Winner Take All System

tyranny of the majority

No wonder that, among the 21 democracies in Western Europe and North America, the United States is next to last in voter turn-out…

By John Lawrence

A lot of people these days are concerned with getting the money out of politics. That’s an admirable goal, but it doesn’t solve the problem that’s built right into the American political system: a voting system in which the majority rules and there is no minority representation because the winner takes all. At every level the US is divided up into districts whether its state assembly and senatorial districts, US Congressional districts, San Diego city council districts or what have you. Citizens in a particular district can only vote for one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins in that district.

Even states can be considered voting districts and in each state you can vote for two US Senators, just not at the same time. If there are candidates you like outside of your district, you have no democratic decision making process with which to vote for them. For example, I can’t vote for Bernie Sanders for Senator because I’m not a resident of Vermont. Similarly, I can’t vote for Elizabeth Warren because I’m not a citizen of Massachusetts. The US voting system on every level is archaic.   [Read more…]

Bernie Sanders, American Socialist

Berniebw

By John Lawrence

Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds to his rallies. The American media cannot ignore that. But they will never use the S word to describe Bernie even though that is how he describes himself. Bernie represents those who would tax Wall Street to preserve social security and a host of other common sense proposals. He dares to suggest that college should be free rather than the first stage of a life of indentured servitude and indebtedness.

People are listening – especially young people. Bernie has been saying these things for years but the media for the most part has been ignoring him. Now he has a bigger megaphone. His decision to run for President in order to get his message out there is paying off.

As Bernie himself has said: “the ideas and the points that we are making are reverberating very strongly with the American people.” Whoever would have thought that Bernie Sanders, Socialist, would be reverberating with the American people, the American people who love freedom and think that society should be set up in such a way that everybody has a chance, no matter how small, of getting rich?   [Read more…]

US Mayors Fed Up With Paying Wall Street Interest and Fees

wall street flags

They Will Consider Establishment of Public Banks

By John Lawrence

At their meeting on June 19-22, the US Conference of Mayors considered the possibility of establishing public banks as an alternative to Wall Street. Instead of spending a fortune in Wall Street fees and interest, a public bank would keep the money right in each Mayor’s jurisdiction. Finally, Mayors are wising up. The Mayors Resolution on Strengthening Municipal Finances addresses the millions of dollars in fees that Wall Street banks charge cities and challenges mayors to negotiate with bankers to reduce these fees or to consider the possibility of a public bank.

Public banking is distinguished from private banking in that its mandate begins with the public’s interest. Privately-owned banks, by contrast, have shareholders who generally seek short-term profits as their highest priority. Public banks are able to reduce taxes within their jurisdictions, because their profits are returned to the general fund of the public entity. The costs of public projects undertaken by governmental bodies are also greatly reduced, because public banks do not need to charge interest to themselves. Eliminating interest has been shown to reduce the cost of such projects, on average, by 50%.   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: July 2015 – Huge Number of Wildfires in CA Force Evacuations

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By John Lawrence

As July drew to a close, 8000 firefighters were battling 18 large fires in the state of California. A lot of people are being forced to evacuate their homes. In fact evacuations are becoming a way of life. Triple digit temperatures, bone-dry vegetation and gusty winds are spreading fires everywhere.

A fast-spreading wildfire north of San Francisco has torched homes and is threatening more than 450 structures. At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. 23 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, have been charred.

A separate fire near the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta burned six or seven mobile homes. Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate last Thursday.   [Read more…]

Pope Francis: “We’ve Turned the Earth into a Pile of Filth”

pope francis

By John Lawrence

Add Pope Francis to the world’s leaders who are calling for immediate action to combat climate change. In the Pope’s own words the earth has become a pezzo di merda, a piece of you know what. He has also described unbridled capitalism as the “dung of the devil.” Popes are not often given to scatological imagery to describe the predominant American economic system.

However, the Pope’s words are very important because he wields enormous moral authority. Would that the leading moral authorities from the world’s other major religions had the gumption to stand up and add their voices in the fight against climate change.

The Pope blames human greed for exploitation of the environment and an economic system that is geared to profit making rather than to rational development of natural resources which would benefit all mankind rather than just those at the top. The Pope’s 184 page encyclical is a radical statement: a condemnation of business as usual and a call for a restructuring on political and economic priorities.   [Read more…]

1915: It Was a Very Good Year

Sinatra

By John Lawrence

1915 was a very good year because three giants of twentieth century music were born that year: Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and Billy Strayhorn. This year is the hundredth anniversary of their births.

By far the best known is Frank Sinatra, born in Hoboken, NJ to a middle class Italian family. His mother, Dolly, was a real go getter who became a political force in Hoboken. She secured Frank his first real job as a singer with the Hoboken Four, and got her husband hired by the Fire Department. When they told her they didn’t have any openings, she told them, “Make one.” They did.

Frank’s stories of growing up poor were so much BS. The Sinatra family moved into a $13,400. house in Hoboken in the middle of the Depression, an astronomical sum in those days. She had befriended so many people in Hoboken that, when the Democratic machine needed votes, Dolly could deliver them. She also had a thriving business as a midwife and an abortionist. Unfortunately, she died in a plane crash, a plane that Frank had chartered to bring her from Palm Springs to Las Vegas for his opening at Caesar’s Palace.   [Read more…]

Natalie Cressman and Band a Hit at Dizzy’s Jazz Club

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By John Lawrence

Singer-songwriter-trombonist Natalie Cressman brought her quintet to Dizzy’s Jazz Club Saturday, July 11. Natalie has been creating quite a stir lately with her 8th place finish in the trombone category of the Down Beat Critics poll, Rising Star division.. Her band has a very contemporary sound, sort of a jazz-rock groove. And groove they did.

Natalie wrote most of the songs. I’m assuming she did the arrangements too which were fantastic. She made the most out of two horns – trumpet and trombone – and a killer rhythm section consisting of Mike Bono on guitar, Michael Mitchell on drums and Adam Goldman on bass. I particularly enjoyed the drummer although he stayed in the background the whole time. There was an energy to this band especially when they cut loose on the last number.   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: June 2015 – Deadly Heat Wave in Pakistan

Extreme Weather Watch

By John Lawrence

Pakistan’s heat wave took a toll of more than 1200 dead, the deadliest heat wave on record. Power outages added to the misery, leaving many without fans, water or light at the beginning of Ramadan, when many Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. More than 14,000 people were hospitalized in Karachi, the nation’s largest city. The heat wave came just weeks after torrid temperatures caused nearly 2,200 deaths in neighboring India. This devastating weather is being seen as the effects of human-caused climate change. The Pakistan heat wave will join the heat wave in India as one of the 10 deadliest in world history.

Observant Muslims, who make up the majority of Karachi’s 20 million residents, were abstaining from food and water during long summer days. A single sip of water invalidates the fast, but Muslims are discouraged from fasting if they are sick or if doing so would cause physical harm. “The deadly heat wave that has killed several hundred people in Karachi, Pakistan, is clearly a harbinger of things to come with the changing climate,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh and a prominent climate scientist.   [Read more…]

Student Loan Default a Growing Trend?

student loan debt

By John Lawrence

With over a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, young college graduates are being forced to take jobs they hate in order to pay them back. Their futures consist of debt peonage for as far as the eye can see. Some are opting out of a lifetime of death-in-debtorhood and choosing instead to start over living the life that they foresaw when they enrolled in college in the first place. Such a one is Lee Siegle whose June 6 opinion piece in the New York Times laid out his rational for defaulting on his student loan.

His decision was made based on choosing life over death …   [Read more…]

Why Don’t Corporations Contribute to Charity Instead of Hitting Up Their Customers?

petco charity 1

By John Lawrence

Do you find it annoying to be hit up for a donation every time you make a purchase? You’re out buying groceries or cat food or mouthwash and you get asked to make a donation to some charity. “Would you like to contribute a dollar to help homeless dogs?”, the check out person asks. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you reduce my total by $1.00 and contribute that to charity? Do you think Walgreen’s or Petco could afford that? Give me a dollar off my freakin’ bill. I just scraped enough money together to make sure our cat is adequately fed and doesn’t go homeless.

I really think I am capable of making my own decisions about what charities I want to donate to. I don’t want to be prompted every time I buy something. And is Walgreen’s CEO who made over $13 million in 2013 contributing anything in this campaign? Heck no, and neither are the Board of Directors who make tons of money in stock grants for attending a few meetings per year.   [Read more…]

Qualcomm Exec Gets Jail Time for Insider Trading

Qualcomm1

By John Lawrence

Some guys just can’t resist the temptation to score an extra couple of hundred thousand bucks by using their position inside a company such as Qualcomm and the information they are privileged to know in order to buy and sell stock before the public has access to that information. Such a guy was Derek Montague Cohen, who knew about Qualcomm’s plans to buy Atheros Communications in 2011.

He knew that Atheros’ stock value would go up after it was publicly announced that Qualcomm would buy them. So he bought Atheros stock before it was announced publicly and before the stock price went up. After the announcement and the resultant surge in Atheros’ stock value, he sold the stock making a tidy $200,000 profit. But he was not the only one. Several other Qualcomm employees did the same thing.

Now Cohen faces jail time, something that rarely happens in white collar crimes.   [Read more…]

Getting Money Out of Politics in San Diego City Elections

Patrick Gensel/Flickr

By John Lawrence

Wouldn’t it be nice if money didn’t influence who gets elected and what they do after they get elected? The Clean Elections Initiative aims to get money out of politics so that one vote will truly equal one vote like it’s supposed to in a democracy. Right now money controls elections and lobbyists have too much influence over elected officials which are in turn dependent on rich donors for their campaign funds.

The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is being sponsored by Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, a grass roots coalition that is aiming to place the Clean Elections Initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative, which is also supported by Common Cause, will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge: The pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources and that they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign.

Voters in Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and Albuquerque, NM already have Clean Elections. Why not here in San Diego?   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: May 2016 – It’s Either Global Warming or a Flood of Biblical Proportions

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Torrential Rain, Floods in Texas, Oklahoma

The Blanco River overran its banks sweeping houses and people in its course. At least 41 people have died in the severe weather over the past several days, from either tornadoes or flooding brought on by epic rainfall. Those deaths include 29 in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven people have been missing for a week. In Mexico at least 13 people died in a tornado that hit the border city of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. At least 200 homes were destroyed.

I’ll bet you one thing: no one in the media will mention the words: GLOBAL WARMING. But what else can you say when 11 inches of rain fall in six hours? With that much rain in such a short time, any river is subject to flash flooding?   [Read more…]

The Greek Tragedy: A Labyrinth of Debt

Photo by quapan

By John Lawrence

How to figure out the ongoing crisis that is Greece? What exactly is going on there? As per usual it’s another chapter in the strange saga that involves Wall Street’s stranglehold over the world economy.

What happened to Greece is similar to what happened to American mortgage holders after they were encouraged to go in over their collective heads borrowing more money than they could reasonably expect to be in a position to pay back. Greece did the same.   [Read more…]

Going Homeless to Pay For College

WSUV

My daughter was entering the freshman class at UCSD in 1992 and the plan was for me to move out of our condo where we had lived for 18 years and in with my girlfriend. Renting out the condo would bring in $1000. a month and let me pay for a good share of my daughter’s college expenses. After about a year when the relationship didn’t work out, I decided that rather than rent an apartment which would cost me what I needed to pay my daughter’s expenses, I would go homeless instead.

It wasn’t that I was desperate; I could have rented an apartment. I just decided I’d rather collect rent than pay it, and not only would I be saving $1000. a month in rent, I wouldn’t have a cable bill, an internet bill or an SDG&E bill either. Such a prospect appealed to the Scotsman in me.   [Read more…]

Gov. Brown on Climate Change: “We’re dealing with it and it’s damn serious.”

Photo by USACE HQ

Then Why Haven’t You Put Any Restrictions on Big Oil and Big Ag?

Governor Jerry Brown is leading the nation and perhaps even the world in his efforts to do something about climate change and global warming which is causing epic drought conditions in California.

He has mandated that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the next 15 years. Brown called this the most aggressive benchmark enacted by a government in North America. All well and good.

But the Governor, formerly known as Governor Moonbeam, has done little to refrain Big Oil and Big Ag from using most of the water in the state.   [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: April 2015 – Tornadoes, Floods Devastate the South

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April Showers Turn Violent

As April drew to a close, drenching rain expanded across the Southeast states, bringing the threat of flooding and travel delays. Strong thunderstorms were also a concern for Florida.

April has been a particularly wet month across the Southeast due to several slow-moving storms that soaked the region over the past several weeks. Mobile, Alabama, has been one of the wettest cities in the entire country last month from a series of storms – recording over 13 inches of rain.   [Read more…]

Fined by China, Qualcomm Losing Chip Business as CEO Departs

Qualcomm Sucks Up To China

By John Lawrence

Qualcomm has been fined almost a billion dollars by China for violating its anti-monopoly law. China has the world’s most internet users and the largest smartphone market so Qualcomm has to tread gingerly with the authorities there since it doesn’t want to be booted out of the world’s most lucrative market. The fine will knock 58 cents a share off Qualcomm’s earnings for the year. Qualcomm CEO Steven M. Mollenkopf thinks paying the fine will make Qualcomm better positioned to cash in in the future.

This could be another front in the brewing economic conflicts between China and the US. To sweeten the pot Qualcomm has offered China deep discounts on licensing its patents for certain systems and agreed to partner with Chinese companies. But all this could be construed as a bribe in order to get access to the Chinese market.   [Read more…]

Public Banking Advocate Ellen Brown Speaks at San Diego State

By John Lawrence

On Thursday April 16, there was a panel discussion at San Diego State with the title: Crisis in American Democracy: Answers Beyond the Two Party System.

There were three people on the panel representing three political parties. The Socialist Equality Party was represented by Mr. John Burton. Dr. Matt Zwolinski spoke for the Libertarians, and the Green Party was represented by Dr. Ellen Brown.

The promo said: “The content of the event will be a debate about their solutions to the problems facing American Democracy today.” The event allowed 15 minutes per person for initial discussion. After the initial discussion, the event was open for public comment and questions. Then there was time for closing statements and rebuttals from each speaker.   [Read more…]

Green Capitalism: A Contradiction in Terms?

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 6

By John Lawrence – This is the sixth and final part of this series. Part 5 can be found here.

Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, debunks the idea that all we have to do is to cooperate with the extractive industries and urge them to get greener. We do not have to go to extremes, but can phase in renewable sources of energy gradually. The gradualist approach is the essence of green capitalism. This will not work Klein says:

[The] bottom line is … our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.   [Read more…]

Buy Now Pay Later: How San Diego School Districts Were Hoodwinked by Wall Street

By John Lawrence

In 2009 then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 1388 which eliminated prudent controls over how much debt school districts could enter into. Wall Street bankers then swarmed all over the state promoting Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs), the equivalent of payday loans for school districts.

One fantastic advantage of these loans was the “buy now, pay later” aspect. School districts could get their money now and not have to raise taxes on current residents. Easy money. There would not have to be any payments made for 20 years. Current residents would be off the hook. But their children and grandchildren would enter an era of crushing debt when the bill became due.

And Wall Street is patient, very patient.
  [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Watch: March 2015

By John Lawrence

Vanuatu is a small island in the Pacific that was effectively wiped out by a Category 5 cyclone. It is emblematic of the plight of small islands at the mercy of global warming. On March 17, Cyclone Pam swept through the Pacific island nation, an archipelago of over 200 islands located in the South Pacific and home to approximately 270,000 people. Packing winds of up to 155 miles per hour, the cyclone caused widespread devastation.

Around 75,000 people were left in need of emergency shelter, and 96 per cent of food crops were destroyed. Since most of Vanuatu’s food comes from subsistence farming, there is a disastrous food shortage in the wake of the storm. 95% of homes were destroyed. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless. There is little or no drinking water and people are drinking sea water to stay alive.

There was very little loss of life considering the magnitude of the destruction. That was because buildings there are made of natural materials and not construction grade masonry. Chunks of falling masonry are what actually kills people.   [Read more…]

Lena Horne: A Great Lady Who Broke the Color Line

Lena Horne was the first black woman to get a contract with a major Hollywood Studio

By John Lawrence

Born into a black bourgeoisie family in 1917, Lena Horne was signed up in the NAACP by her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate, at the age of two. The Hornes owned a four-story residence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.

The distinguished Horne family included teachers, activists and a Harlem Renaissance poet. Lena’s uncle became dean of a black college. According to James Gavin’s biography of Lena, Stormy Weather, the black bourgeoisie were descendants of favored slaves “privileged blacks who, by virtue of their brains or their sexual allure to their masters, had worked in the house, not in the field. During the decade-long heyday of Reconstruction, they’d used their cachet to start businesses and gain social standing.”

Lena’s grandmother drilled into her respectability at all costs. She was to use proper diction, no dialect allowed, and always present herself as a lady. Cora was a determined fighter for black causes, and, despite her disdain for whites, she married a white man. According to Gavin, Cora’s cafe au lait skin, thin lips and delicate nose betrayed generations of intermingling with whites. Her maiden name, Calhoun, came from her father’s slavemaster in Georgia, Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun. His uncle was Senator John C Calhoun who championed slavery as God’s will.   [Read more…]

HSBC: A Criminal Enterprise Too Big To Jail

Attorney General Eric Holder will leave office with a perfect record of not having busted a single senior banker

By John Lawrence

The bank, HSBC, has been involved in criminal enterprises from dealing with terrorists and drug dealers to advising clients how to escape paying taxes. Yet no HSBC banker has gone to jail.

Dealing with drug dealers is nothing new for HSBC, also known as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. They have always been associated with drugs. Founded in 1865, HSBC became the major commercial bank in colonial China after the conclusion of the Second Opium War. That’s the war in which European powers forced the Chinese to legalize the drug trade.

If you or I got caught with a few stems or seeds of marijuana, we would go to jail. HSBC laundered money for the Sinaloa drug cartel, but yet they had to pay only a small fine and got off the hook. The fine, $1.9 billion, is about five weeks of income for the bank. Their executives had to partially defer their bonuses as well.   [Read more…]