Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Growing Disparity: the economic divide in America.

Since the economic down turn the economic divide between Americans has steadily increased. According to recent statistics this country has not been this economically stratified since the 1940s. Until the economy regains a certain degree of stability this disparity is likely to continue to grow. During these difficult economic times politicians, and critics offer various explanations to the public for why the middle and lower class are invariably the hardest hit economically; taxes, illegal immigration, and overly invasive government regulation. The truth of the matter is slightly more complicated, and fails to provide an appropriate subject for public animosity.

Historically wealthy individuals have always remained some what isolated from economic hardship. One of the most important factors in this disparity is the divide between Americans who work for a living and those that subsist off of dividends. Wealthier people possess substantially greater investments than average working class Americans. These investments (even during these tough economic times) help to subsidize their expenses. Where as many lower and middle class Americans are forced to take out loans and credit cards -with high interest rates- during economic hardship, which in turn drives them deeper into debt.  

     The turn of the century commenced the intended period for retirement of one of the largest generations in history. Every generation has fought a losing battle with inflation. Retirement planing and investment is “suppose” to take raising costs into account but too often savings fall short. Poor financial planning along with a total loss of investments, many Americans can no long afford to retire. Creating greater competition for jobs.

With a now overly corpulent work force, and statistically fewer and fewer jobs, there is no incentive for businesses to raise wages. Keeping the cost as well as the number of man hours low allows the company to run cheaply and effectively, which yields increasingly greater returns for shareholders. Shareholders being largely wealthy Americans with greater investments then average working class people. Which is to say that the interests of the shareholders are in direct conflict with those working for the company, part of what has lead us to the economic crisis we are in now.

Coupled with this economic inequality; the high cost of medicine is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country among people from all demographics. This period of economic volatility puts enormous strain on individuals and businesses. Many people who would previously have found secure employment are working in temporary or hourly positions which legally do not have to provide health care. Other people can’t afford the health care plan provided by their employer and many small businesses can not afford to provide their employees with health care benefits. 

This is just a brief examination of the current economic climate, and a somewhat simplistic one at that. The economic realities of the 21st century have become increasingly complex, and would require a greater devotion of interest than I feel everyone is prepared to make to my blog. However I hope that what I have written here might cause some people to scrutinize the economic inequality in this country more closely, although it fails to provide an appropriate subject with whom to assign fault.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Amendment XIV

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Section 1. of the Amendment XIV ratified July 9th 1868

The 14th Amendment has commonly been viewed -like the 13th Amendment- as the extension of the rights of man, put forth by the English philosopher John Locke almost a century earlier, to “life liberty and property." Abolitionists saw expansion of such rights to a previously subjugated population as the further fulfillment of the Enlightenment ideals that this country was founded upon. The 14th Amendment to protect the rights of newly freed slaves would unwittingly aide in the establishment of the most influential organization in modern America, the corporation.

Prior to much of the 19th century, businesses were relatively small enterprises run by individuals. As the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe and into America the scale of business enterprises grew considerably. Business leaders and entrepreneurs sought new forms of organizational structure to support increasingly complex ventures. Joint-stock companies had existed for more then a hundred years in Europe. In America these companies took on new form under the 14th Amendment.

Business representatives argued that companies constituted a person under the law and the Supreme Court went along with it. Between 1890 and 1910 288 cases were brought to the Supreme Court on behalf of these newly formed citizens, only 19 by former slaves. Following Reconstruction in the United States former slaves acquired little land, and lacked substantive economic opportunity unlike their corporate counter parts, who procured vast amounts of wealth for their shareholders. Corporations participated far more actively and effectively in American politics than many other citizens during the 19th century. The modern corporation facilitated westward expansion through the construction of railroads, which connected industrial centers and the raw resources needed to promote further economic growth.

The formation of a limited liability company protects individual investors (shareholders) from being prosecuted should the corporation be found to be abusive, negligent or insolvent. Effectively alleviating those who own the company (the shareholders) from direct responsibility for the actions of the company. This business structure has often put the interest of the company and the shareholders at odds with workers and communities in which they carry on business. Over the last hundred years these corporate citizens have become increasingly complex institutions which permeate all facets of the American economy.

Today the America corporation is more influential then ever. They represent an integral part of the national economy, and conduct business all over the globe. Americans’ sentiment toward their corporate brethren is often mixed. Free market advocates argue that the modern corporation is one of the most effective models of organization in the world, and fiercely resist regulation. Throughout the 20th century various institutions throughout America have been privatized, including prisons, schools, and hospitals. Billions of dollars of government funds are awarded to private contractors each year to build public facilities, provide school lunches, and various other services. Critics of these measures argue that increasing privatization provides corporations with undue political leverage over the public. Unlike many private citizens, corporations possess substantial means to advance their personal interest. Many civil groups fear that this power will enable corporations to pursue their own interests to the detriment of the general public. In an effort to limit the influence of corporate interests Congress has attempted to draft legislation to regulate corporate contributions to individual politicians and advocacy groups. Modern corporate lawyers argue that financial contributions to campaigns, and political organizations represent free speech, protected under the 1st Amendment. The further interpretation of the law will determine the extent to which corporations can exert their considerable influence on the public debate.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Yosemite; a brief history.

October 1 1890 Yosemite National Park was dedicated in California. Yosemite was the second national park to be formally dedicated to the public interest in this way, but it was in many ways the place that captivated interest of Americans and inspired the preservation of landscapes across the United States for the benefit of the public. By 1890 the battle to preserve the park for future generations had been going on for almost forty years. Since Westerners discovered the Yosemite Valley during the California Gold Rush in 1851 (p. 2). California represented the last frontier; the final push of Anglo-Saxon Americans westward across the continent. The idea of a “manifest destiny” to occupy all of North America had driven its people in a rapid migration westward. It was here, on the farthest edge of the new American territories, that the concept of the national park would take root.

The idea of public parks had been in Americas consciousness for some time. In Europe kings and noble men had historically claimed great tracks of land for sport. And during the Industrial Revolution socialists and humanitarians advocated the building of parks to make to make city life more livable. However nowhere in the developed world were there landscapes as vast and unspoiled as what could be found in America.

A bill to preserve the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area was first proposed in 1864, and was signed into law by President Lincoln (p. 13), making Yosemite the very first recognized nature preserve in the United States. The legal recognition of the park did little in reality to protect the park itself from being exploited. The responsibility for the park was given over to the state of California which expressed very little interest in it, and put forward even less investment. Thus the protection of the park was largely taken up by individuals which included James Mason Hutchings, Galen Clark, and John Muir.

“On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone Park. Unlike Yosemite, which was being administered by the state of California, this would be the first national park in the history of the world. (p. 35)” Following this dedication of Yellowstone individuals began to lobby Congress to bring Yosemite under federal oversight. The bill that finally consecrated the park was signed by then President Benjamin Harrison.

Following the creation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, General Grant, and Sequoia national parks the federal government struggled to manage the vast expanses of wilderness thousands of miles from Washington. Frustrated with ineffective civil administrations the government dispatched remnants of the Union Army to enforce improvised regulations against poaching, vandalism, and negligence with campfires (p.68). The Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, signed in 1906 by President Roosevelt, (p.104) expanded the concept of the American park system to include historic monuments. “On August 25, 1916.... President Woodrow Wilson signed into law an act creating the National Park Service to oversee 5.5 million acres of some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. (p 163)”

Throughout the 20th century the idea of public parks would be extended to wildlife preserves, monuments, memorials, and historic sites all across America and this idea was replicated at the State and local leaves. National Parks would be established in almost all 50 states. As the population has increased and urbanization has spread to what were once remote regions of the country parks act as a refuge for native plants and animals.

What began as an effort on the part of a few individuals to preserve and protect the Yosemite Valley in California catalyzed the conservation of native species, vast expanses of wilderness, and historic sites throughout America. It is not only possible, it is very probable that large regions of Virginia, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona would appear drastically different then they do today. Loss of habitat and over hunting might well have driven various animals into extinction. The Civil War battle fields in Gettysburg and Manassas could be buried under strip malls and theme parks. Because of the efforts of innumerable individuals, American wilderness, and American history will exist for generations to come.

All pages cited from The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I can’t find a justification for colonialism, but that statement is largely meaningless. I have become very frustrated with “the retrospective” tendencies I have been witnessing in this country. I noticed over the last two months as I caught glimpses of television that current events and the world news are being pushed aside entirely by these long retrospectives. The study of history in and of its self is retrospective, and it’s only importance (in my opinion) is in gaining greater compression of the present in order to move forward into the future. The only point in studying history is to better understand how we came to this juncture. Arguing wether or not colonialism can be justified 200 years after the fact is pointless in and of its self. The only thing we can possibly gain from the question at all is our own personal conviction should lead us forward in how best to proceed with the deliverance of annexed American states.