The Value of Money–More Trouble Than It’s Worth

A coin clattered to the floor as a young man at the bar pulled his hand out of his pocket. From a corner booth I saw his ears perk to the sound but he didn’t turn his head until a voice–my own–knee-jerked “Oh you dropped…” I glanced at the ground to see a quarter, “…money.”

He made a sound between “meh” and “yeah” as he waved it off with a flick of his wrist and an eyebrow shrug and turned away again to his beer and hockey game on TV behind the bar.

I stared at the quarter on the floor, wondering how long it would stay there, wondering if I should pick it up, wondering if an unsuspecting server would slip, banana-peel-style with drinks and hot wings flying. Then I realized how long I had awkwardly been staring at the floor and I looked away. But I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that things are not as they should be.

The Fugio Cent was designed by Benjamin Franklin and known as “America’s first coin”

As the paramour of a person who has recently taken up coin hunting, I was taken aback by this man’s dismissal of that dull metallic disk. For those unfamiliar with coin hunting (as was I only three short months ago) this is a hobby that is both more fascinating than it sounds, and just as dull as it sounds. One aspect that is really engaging (for nerds) is engaging in history to pinpoint the best locations to find coins in the ground with a metal detector. You can search historical records online, hit up local historical societies, view areal photographs to see how the area around you has changed and where buildings or fairgrounds or whatever used to be, and ponder the activities of those that lived in other eras: What were they doing? Where would they have amassed and dropped things? And what about the coins themselves? What years are they from, where minted, how did the metal composition change due to current events like war? What about different designs or printing flaws and how did they come to be? For example, that failed experiment of a dollar coin–the Sacagawea-well, a number were made in gold and shuttled on the Columbia into space as an intended gimmick for collectors, but a dispute arose between the US Mint and Congress as to whether the Mint was authorized to do so, and most were melted down, though some were kept for display; and some Sacagaweas were minted early for a Cheerios prize-in-a-box, and it turned out to be a real prize as the mold was subsequently altered. That’s some fine numismatic nerdery right there.

So one begins to realize that what’s printed on that coin or piece of paper is not necessarily always its “value”. Coins from 1964 or older, for example, are worth more than their face value in silver content. I can put it in a parking meter or I can keep it in a safe as an investment. So how do we really know what something is “worth”?

At this point, it seems, we believe what we’re told. There’s this agency named the Federal Reserve that isn’t really “Federal” at all that makes up the “value” of money and we believe it. But why?

It wasn’t always like this. If you really want to have your mind boggled, start reading about how the modern day banking system began, how we moved away from the gold standard, and how the precious metals and stock market is manipulated…it seems like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but this is on the record. I won’t even begin to try to explain this because I’m still wrapping my head around it. You can start with this video if you’re interested:

How the Markets Are Manipulated, James Corbett.

I had a conversation with my father years ago that stuck with me. My father was generally quiet about his thoughts but occasionally he opened up. On this particular night, I was ranting about money and wealth, as I was wont to do in my teenage and college years as “What do you want to be when you grow up” came to fruition, and I fancied myself quite the do-gooder. I therefore had/have a challenging relationship with money. He asked me “What is money?” I immediately and smartly answered “Power.” He shook his head and asked again, “What is money?” I was deflated and perplexed. I didn’t know where he was going. “It’s paper…?” He was nodding; he said “Money used to be necessary for survival.” I pointed out that salt used to be currency. Yes, he said, it was essential in society. Now what is it? It’s obsolete.” I had the light bulb moment: “It’s an idea.” Exactly. And having been in the oil refining business for three decades, he continued “And the most tangible equivalent today is oil. Without it the world would stop. We need oil to survive–to run our cars and use our computers and wear our clothes…”

The value of money is mutable in our increasingly global society. Lacking a solid foundation of tangible items to back the promise of paper causes more trouble than its worth, perhaps. We rarely even use the bills and coins nowadays to remind us that money is supposed to be something–most of it is transacted with the swipe of a plastic card as we become increasingly flippant about its value. I will never forget the moment in law school I acquired $10,000.00 more debt in a matter of minutes. I was walking across the center of campus on a bright sunny day from the financial aid office to my next class, with my cell phone attached to my ear. I had called my student loan provider to let them know I needed additional money for the semester. Those Stafford loans don’t cover tuition, you know. I was put on hold for only a couple of minutes and the voice came back and said, “okay, can I help you with anything else today?” That was it. I hadn’t even gotten from one building to the next yet. I remember thinking about how that was way too easy, and it felt like it meant nothing.

All these thoughts went through my head as I was jarred from my reverie by watching the dude at the bar get up from his stool, toss down some tip money as he tossed back the bottom of the glass, and walk out. My curiosity and sense of duty to my coin hunting partner wouldn’t let me leave that coin on the ground. And it was now officially abandoned. I got up from my seat and snatched it up: A 1995 quarter–no silver to speak of, but I get another hour in the parking meter.

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Interesting post from a fellow wordpress blogger.

International Liberty

I realize the sequester kicks in tomorrow and I should be writing about that rare opportunity to control the burden of government spending.

To be sure, my fingers are crossed that Republicans won’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I’ve been busy on Capitol Hill talking to folks about the issue, but this post already says everything you need to know about that topic.

It’s time to switch gears, particularly since I have a soft spot for feel-good stories.

And what could be more heart-tugging than a story about the right to keep and bear tanks?

Here are some blurbs from the Wall Street Journal.

Weapons buffs may stock semiautomatics in the gun safe. But nothing makes a statement like having an Army tank in the garage. …there are several hundred to 1,000 private tank owners in the U.S. …Brothers Ken and Gene Neal, owners…

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War on Drugs or War on Cognitive Liberty?

An interesting TEDx discussion of the use of mind altering substances, including ayahuasca and marijuana, and the relative stigma associated with these drugs in our culture, as opposed to the glorified stimulants and depressants such as caffeine and alcohol. It’s interesting to ponder why it is that drugs such as LSD, ayahuasca, MDMA, and marijuana, which have successfully been used therapeutically or for treatment of such problems as PTSD and addictions, are villainized in our culture. On the flip side, we have substances that numb us to reality and our selves and are highly addictive, and quickly create chronic health problems, yet are celebrated. Heck, some people even group standards of the American diet such as meat, refined carbohydrates and alternative sweeteners and stimulants (like energy drinks) into the latter group of substances that repress the individual’s physical, mental and spiritual health. Let your mind play:

Small Farms Find Affordable Care Act Not So Affordable

“Obamacare,” as it is affectionately called, has been slowly creeping into our lives. While this legislative maneuver was pragmatic–such  sweeping reform could not be implemented overnight–the incremental adoption perhaps bears the imperceptible perk of stealth. While many are dreaming of a world where Americans have access to desperately needed health care, this massive piece of legislation is integrating itself into the fabric of our country in ways that cannot be easily undone, and will slowly reveal itself to add more gunk to the gears.

Easily, the most controversial aspect of Obamacare is the “Mandate.” What is mandated, however, is not simply for the individual, but also for businesses. Businesses with fifty or more employees are required to provide a health care plan for their employees, or pay a fine ($2000 per employee), just as individuals are required to purchase insurance or pay a fine.

The impact on small businesses, especially those that hire seasonal help, such as farms, is enormous.

Farm-Out-of-Business

 “A lot of farmers may think they are immune from the law, but this is the biggest change to health care since the creation of Medicare or Medicaid almost 50 years ago,” said Matt Coffindaffer, regulatory affairs manager for the National Council of Agricultural Employers. The Federal Register notices on the law have run about 14,000 pages and three federal agencies — Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Treasury Department — are responsible for implementing 550 separate provisions in the law.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and these details (a.k.a. regulations) are still being worked out. You can read more about farmer’s fears here.

Nothing Funny About It–Comics, Politics, and Propaganda

dc-green-team-movement

It’s no secret that comics and graphic novels are a forum for discussing politics, social policy and propaganda  On one end of the spectrum, we have creations such as Maus, a Pulitzer prize-winning exploration of Holocaust survival, and Persepolis, a depiction of growing up during the Persian Gulf War of the 80s. And on the other end we have characters such as Superman and Captain America, WWII propagandists extraordinaire. Somewhere on that spectrum lies series like V for Vendetta and The Invisibles, each having to do with common man rising up against authority, be it governmental or corporate.

No stranger to social and political commentary for profit or provocation, DC Comics is at it again, hedging their bets with a double release in May 2013. In this increasingly divided world of haves and have-nots, DC is releasing two companion titles in May 2013, inspired by current events: “The Green Team” and “The Movement;” Meet the 1%, and the 99%.

The Green Team will explore such questions as “Can money make you happy?” and “If you had unlimited wealth, could you use that to make the lives of people better?” I wonder in what issue Female Force Ayn Rand will make a cameo? SuperWealth/SuperPower  is a common theme, popularized with the likes of Batman and Iron Man. So what’s different about the DC Universe now?

According to the creator of The Movement, which is supposed to follow the adventures of the 99%, Power is not one single entity, but nameless and faceless masses that may not even know each other. Read what she has to say in an interview with Big Shiny Robot:

The Movement is an idea I’ve had for some time. It’s a book about power–who owns it, who uses it, who suffers from its abuse. As we increasingly move to an age where information is currency, you get these situations where a single viral video can cost a previously unassailable corporation billions, or can upset the power balance of entire governments.

And because the sources of that information are so dispersed and nameless, it’s nearly impossible to
shut it all down. I’ve been in countries where the internet is heavily censored, but they can’t possibly keep up with millions of users from every corner of the world.

The previous generations of superheroes were not created to address this, it’s a legitimately new frontier, both for the real world and for storytellers.

The thing I find fascinating and a little bit worrisome is, what happens when a hacktivist group whose politics you find completely repulsive has this same kind of power and influence…what if a racist or homophobic group rises up and organizes in the same manner?

It makes you wonder where the next battlefield will be.

Frankly, by the middle of the interview I forgot she was writing The Movement, and instead thought she was sympathizing with the 1%. Maybe DC isn’t hedging as much as it appears.

Interestingly, DC’s release date is right in the ballpark of another publication, created by individuals sympathetic to the 99%.Though no official release date has been announced, those supportive of the Occupy movement, have been hard at work on a collection of essays, art, and comics have planned to release an Occupy Comics Anthology for Spring 2013.  I’m sure the timing is just a coincidence. The contributor list for Occupy Comics is lengthy and peppered with veterans of the comic book world. It includes none other than Alan Moore, of V for Vendetta fame. Alan Moore’s work inspired millions of the 99%, to the iconic point of putting an anonymous face to the Occupy Movement. Interesting he’s not working with DC on this one, eh?

There are some that think comics have moved away from meaningful social commentary. In common parlance, comic publishers have “sold out.” Perhaps that’s true. A glance at the list of contributors to the Occupy Comics Anthology, as compared to those creating and contributing to DC’s latest attempt at art-influencing-life would certainly support that notion.  It could be interesting to see what the creators of each series do with their opportunity to speak to current social unrest…or it could be yet more encouragement to drink the Kool Aid.

occupy+guy+fawkes+masks

Links of Interest

About Occupy Comics Anthology 

Alan Moore Occupy Comics Teaser 

Facebook, FISA, and the End of Privacy

Excellent report by the Corbett Report–full of twists and turns, come-uppins and Alanis Morissette-irony, slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.

But, for serious, watch Mark Zuckerburg get schooled on privacy, and learn about what your government is doing while you’re busy living life, in a holiday frenzy, doing laundry, taking care of your kids, on facebook, reading email…(Hint: you’re not the only one reading your email.)

A New Dawn For the Worlds Oldest Profession–And Some Words on Sex Trafficking in America

Most people are unaware the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. I was shocked to learn.

I recently attended a movie screening of Very Young Girls, hosted by the Philadelphia Anti Trafficking Coalition. It was an eye-opening glimpse into a very overlooked problem of sex trafficking of minors in the United States.

The documentary centered around a prostitution recovery house, GEMS (Girls Education & Mentoring Services) in NYC, the first of its kind, and the struggles of about a half-dozen girls to get out of the Life.  In one heartbreaking scene, Rachel Lloyd, the founder, is counseling a group of girls; one points out that her pimp will always be there for her. “But be there to do what?” It doesn’t matter. The simple security of having someone never leave them is enough to withstand all the abuse.

One of the most compelling aspects of the film is just how hard it is for these girls to escape the profession once they are in. Pimps become their father, boyfriend, drug dealer, and captor all at once. Many fall in love with their pimp, and not knowing another kind of love, fervently hold on to this relationship regardless of all the abuse. As Rachel Lloyd points out in the film, these are extremely difficult bonds to break. Here’s what one victim has to say:

“Most people don’t understand why we stay with a pimp. Many of us have been exploited by our peers, society, and often by the people that we trust. When we’re the most vulnerable, pimps attack, promising us stability, a family life, a future. They reel us in. He becomes our father, and our boyfriend, until we see what he really wants. Then he intimidates us and reminds us constantly about the consequences if we leave. Most tell us that they’ll find and kill us, no matter where we go. We’re afraid of being afraid. Resources are limited and many of us do not see a way out.”

Getting away from the pimp is just the beginning of their journey. These women then have to deal with recreating their identity, both literally and figuratively. One of the techniques used by pimps to keep their girls under control is to confiscate identifying documents–license, birth certificate, green card, etc. Another is getting them hooked on drugs they supply. Further, the girls are homeless debt slaves. Regardless of how much money they earn they don’t own any of it. Basic needs like housing, clothing, and food are arranged as long as they stay with their pimp, which could be more than they were getting at home. And if they are to escape, how can they start over with no money, no ID, and no place to go?

Prostitution is no stranger to the courts. For centuries, those who perform an act sought by paupers and kings alike have been vilified, regardless of their motivation, and despite lenient laws and societal views against those seeking sex.  Shockingly the prostitute is punished far worse and more frequently than the “John” who may get a slap on the wrist if anything. For those that are forced into prostitution as slaves, this is an especially bitter pill to swallow. As pointed out in the documentary  in any other circumstance an underage girl wouldn’t be recognized as able to consent to sex, however, they’re being charged with the adult crime of prostitution. It is unlikely that a John would be charged with statutory rape, if charged at all. With respect to trafficking, there are some legal protections in place for illegal immigrants, but our own most vulnerable end up behind bars and back on the streets. New York recently passed safe harbor legislation for those charged with prostitution that are underaged, but other state and federal law has been slow to follow suit.

But a new dawn is breaking for those who want to get out of “the Life.” The pendulum of Justice is swinging from retribution to rehabilitation in Philadelphia for some sex workers. Instead of fines, jail, or drug rehab, some women have the chance to recover from a dangerous lifestyle, and reenter society.

Philadelphia started the “Project Dawn Initiative” in 2010, the first court of its kind. It consists of a specialized court with a designated judge that places individuals charged with repeat prostitution offenses in a recovery program, with the chance to expunge their records. The aim is recovery and a decrease in recidivism. The program is voluntary and must be applied for. It consists of four phases, two in a recovery house and two at home, intense therapy both for substances and trauma, and monthly updates with the judge. If completed without any relapses the program takes a year to complete. If the woman relapses or otherwise doesn’t comply with the program’s requirements she may be required to complete a task like write an essay or sit in a jury box to watch prostitution cases, and she must start her phase over. At the judge’s discretion a woman can “fail” the program and be sent to jail. If she is successful, their last case is dismissed with prejudice and she “graduates” into society. Read more about the program in a very excellent article here.

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Hear from a participant of Project Dawn

In 2010 Project Dawn accepted 28 women, and claims a 70% success rate. It recently received a $250,000 federal grant. In Philadelphia alone, it’s reported that about 800 women per year (and 200 Johns) are arrested.

The Philadelphia Anti Trafficking Coalition is working to improve legislation for victims. I urge you to contact your representatives to educate them about the extent of the problem of trafficking, and tell them to support this legislation. You can find out who your congress people are here, and contact PATC for more info.

If you or someone you know is struggling as a victim of sex trafficking, or if you have any information about a victim, there is a hotline to call. 1-888-3737-888.