Saturday, September 15, 2007

Death and Taxes (and Profits)

This job ad has now been removed from Serco's site.

The position is for a "Personal Effects Specialist" (67 openings available!) who;

“...receives, inventories, sorts, cleans, photographs, packages, and ships to family members (next of kin) all personal effects belonging to military service members and others, including defense contractors, who are killed or severely injured worldwide, especially incident to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words not only do contractors get a guaranteed profit from their "cost-plus" deals with the Pentagon whilst their employees are alive, they charge the expenses of their deaths to the taxpayer too--and make a profit on that!

( hat-tip to Wonkette! for finding the ad--but rather missing the point of the story).

I wrote a lengthier post on this at NEWSHOGGERS, where Marcie Hascall Clark left a comment with this highly pertinent information...

The Defense Base Act Insurance coverage that each contract company must provide relieves the company of any responsibility of any kind to the employee or their family.The premiums are 10% or more of the employees salary and are included in the contract (taxpayer pays). When an employee is injured or killed the DBA insurance company is reimbursed all medical, repatriation, lost wages, and death benefits they pay out by the Federal Government (taxpayer) plus a 15% admin fee under the War Hazards Act.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Blog Factor

It’s been two years since I started my blog, and in that time oil prices, the uninsured, the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan and the number of Republicans in jail and under investigation have all gone up. The genocide in Darfur continues and ‘freedomocracy’, once thought to be on the march is actually face down in an alley somewhere being eaten by rats. (None of this is my fault; it is mere coincidence I assure you.)

So why blog, or continue to blog? Simple: Because it matters. The effort of writing a serious post forces me to think, to research, to justify my arguments and opinions. For the few who read my blog, my arguments may inform them. Their comments and their own blogs in turn inform me. And the whole informed conversation that results percolates through an engaged society.

TV news-shows now report-on and reference blogs (to a limited degree); not because they want to but because they have to—some even have their own blogs. But most of them still don’t “get-it” –their posts are either copies of existing print articles or transcripts from their shows that fail to properly exploit the medium, and where original content is offered it is often as dumb as their traditional products—poorly researched, poorly written and condescending (and offering little in the way of discussion as having posted the author often disengages from the comments and in some cases disallows comments altogether).

There’s no question that a few blogs have had an effect on public discourse and current affairs. Several prominent right–wing blogs have done a fine job in rumor-mongering, character-assassination, and in manufacturing pointless “controversy”. A few left-wing blogs have broken important stories of corruption and drawn attention to important issues the traditional media has ignored.
But such blogs are well organized and focused. What purpose then do small personal blogs such as mine, and the hundreds of thousands like it, serve? Are we all just a bunch of whining egotists, yelling at strangers in the hope we’ll get the attention we crave, demanding to be taken seriously? Do our blogs serve anyone (or anything) but ourselves?

As far as I know, no one has bothered to find out, but I suspect that individual bloggers, by virtue of the hypertext link, form a collective that does serve the community and affect change.
Consider the results of the 2000, 2004 and 2006 elections.
In 2000 e-blogger was just getting started. The political dialog was still shaped by the oligarchy of TV, Talk-Radio and the major newspapers. At that time any mention of blogs was relegated to computer columns and “tech” segments and was discussed in terms of personal entertainment or as a new-fangled marketing tool or consumer resource.
By 2004 the media oligarchy had begun to reference particular blogs as news sources on occasion (most notably the Drudge Report). Some current-affairs shows set aside air time to highlight what was “on the blogs”, though the selections varied widely in what was deemed noteworthy.
Iraq was the dominant topic and discontent was brewing, but the narrative in the traditional media remained the same and Bush returned to the White House.

From 2004 to 2006 the media oligarchy continued to parrot and promote the administration’s and the GOP’s positions. The Republicans and right-wing pundits continued to dominate in air-time and column inches and the message was always the same—tax cuts helped the economy, the economy is strong, jobs are being created, global warming is a myth, we’re winning in Iraq, if we don’t fight them over there, if the Democrats were in control there’ll be more terror attacks and higher taxes, gays threaten marriage, immigrants threaten America and on and on.

But from early 2005 opinion polls showed that the general public was becoming increasingly skeptical of the messages they were receiving. First, opposition to the war in Iraq edged into a slight majority. Then confidence in the economic outlook for workers and the middle class began to wane. Bush’s popularity began to decline as did the assessment of how well he was conducting the war. The administration’s messages were no longer molding the masses’ opinions. What had changed?

Several surveys found that the public was now more reliant on the internet for their news and information, than on TV, radio and the paper Press. But if the transition from TV, radio and newspapers as sources of information was simply a matter of convenience, and as all the big players had a long established web-presence, wouldn’t their audience simply have migrated from the traditional medium to the new medium, from Fox News to Fox, for example? If the information remained the same, and the sources remained the same, opinions shouldn’t have changed. But they did. Why?

Personal experiences at odds with the optimistic assessments of the government and the pundits wouldn’t necessarily reverse an individual’s opinion of the larger picture—particularly as there was no shortage of pundits spouting grand statistics and telling the public that their problems were their own fault and not the fault of policy makers. Those reliant on the traditional media might not have believed everything they were being told, but they had little or no alternative sources of information.
The internet however provides unlimited sources of information which take little effort to discover. Furthermore the internet user can concentrate on a specific issue without distraction, observe discussions and actually participate in them. The passive news consumer becomes an engaged news user and through blog-commenting and blogging itself the ordinary citizen can disseminate news and information as well.

Between 2005 and 2006 opinion polls showed increasing dissatisfaction with not just Iraq, but with domestic policy issues as well—employment, health, environment, security, justice, corruption, energy, immigration, education and civil rights. As the mid term elections loomed, the GOP’s policy priorities were the exact opposite of the public’s priorities. Clearly the Republicans dominance in the mass media and their infamous message discipline had lost its effectiveness. The public was rejecting their message, because in their gradual rejection of the traditional media in favor of the internet, the public had the option to be better informed, and I believe even the small blogs played their part.

A blog such as mine has an irregular readership of perhaps three-dozen people. My readers tend to have their own readerships, and we all have our own blogrolls where some of the links are common but many others unique. The shared interests we have and the unique links we have create networks of exponential scale. New and useful information is disseminated quite easily, new contacts made, new communities, though mutable, established. News and ideas are transferred very quickly, far and wide. Small blogs that discuss large issues can create a “collective conscious” by virtue of their accessibility. Again, I ask; if the move from traditional media to the internet was just a change in the medium, but not the “message”, why does the message no longer hold sway over public opinion?---because the source of information is different, and because the audience is no longer passive. The public doesn’t have to put-up with being spoken-to, they can speak to each other and they can talk back—and that’s what blogs provide.

I think blogs have made a difference, and that’s why I will keep on blogging. And I hope everyone else does too.