Saturday, November 12, 2011

Human Trafficking in Houston


photo source: the marketing analysts
When you think of Houston, Texas, you think of big oil companies, cowboys, football and steak houses right?  Would you be surprised to know that Houston is becoming known as home to a fast growing slave trade, with more sexually oriented businesses per square mile than Las Vegas? [1]
Of all human trafficking victims certified in the United States, 25% of them were in Texas, the majority of whom were in Houston. Of all human trafficking victims certified in the United States, 25% of them were in Texas, the majority of which were in Houston. [2]

Steven Goff, project director for Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition, says "A lot of people think that trafficking just occurs in seedy places, you know in dark alleys or something like that. And while it does, it also occurs in plain sight. There are places that people in Houston pass by on a daily basis where there is human trafficking — modern-day slaves — inside those places that are housed there for two to three weeks at a time and then rotated somewhere else.”  

How are these SOBs (sexually oriented businesses) getting away with ugly crimes against humanity, such as the physical abuse, rape, imprisonment or forced prostitution and exploitation of women and children?  By hiding in plain sight and operating in new ways that law enforcement and the public won’t easily suspect.

We may expect businesses such as bars, escort services, and massage parlors to be business fronts for the sale of illegal drugs or sexual services.  Just as drug dealing spread from the back alleys to the white collar crowd, human traffickers can be the family man next door who operates a small construction or property management company, lingerie or photography studio.  These businesses launder money and market their service to clients while using prostitutes as an incentive to close deals and contracts.

source: usatoday.com
For example, let’s say Xtra Ripoff Company (XRC) rents an office space, puts up a website, prints some business cards and hires an expert “salesman” to hustle the property manager soliciting bids for construction or maintenance work.  An office building property manager needs the flooring replaced and asks for an estimate.  The “expert salesman” claims that XRC will do a first class job on the floor and takes the manager out to a sports bar or strip club where the proprietor has prostitutes ready to service the client(s). The bid that XRC turns in for the work may be around $24,0000, which is enough to more than cover the special perks provided to the property manager.  On paper, the bid may look high but nothing that appears to be illegal or embarrassing for the property manager to explain to his family, the property owner or shareholders.  Meanwhile, XRC turns the job over to a “real” flooring company to complete the work and pays them $14,000 for the new flooring.  The salesman may put in appearances at the job site to "manage" the job and keep in contact with the client.  At the payout XRC pockets $10,000, pays the proprietor handling the prostitutes a kickback of $700 in addition to the costs of drinks bought for the clients and hookers.  The hookers, of course will receive a token payment or nothing at all.

Such a business as XRC may refer clients to sexually oriented businesses and in so doing funnel dollars to their motel, lingerie, video or boudoir photography fronts.  Prostitution promoters may receive free or discounted lingerie or photographs to recommend their services so that XRC will handle all their "jobs".  In this manner, thousands of dollars are laundered between businesses with a built in clientele that keeps the records legitimate looking to local officials.

“Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry.” (Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition website – www.houstonrr.org) 

Even if you believe that everyone should mind their own business and let adults do what adults want to do, the problem is that many of the people working as dancers, escorts and hookers are enslaved to work at these occupations.  Slaves of the sex industry are unlikely to ask for help from clients because they fear there is no chance of escape from their captors and are resigned to the life of a slave.  Sex traffickers condition women and children for the sex trade through various methods such as drug addiction, mental and physical abuse, rape, gang rape, shame, imprisonment, and threat of violence to the victim’s family.  Trauma bonding is a form of brain washing which trains the victim to perform for his/her captor in the hope of winning approval, comfort or favor instead of punishment.

logo source: socialtimes.com
“Few activities are as brutal and damaging to people as prostitution. Field research in nine countries concluded that 60 to 75 percent of women in prostitution were raped, 70 to 95 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent met the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture.” (U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, June 3, 2005. http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2005/46606.htm.) 

There has been an alarming rise in human trafficking and child prostitution in the world, including the United States and particularly Texas.  Law enforcement and research studies indicate that the internet has made it too easy for predators to connect with one another and use the internet as a resource for human trafficking operations.  The overload of pornography and online violence toward women and children has desensitized the public to horrific images.  We adults like to mind our own business and even give a wink and a nod at the men who suggest there is no harm in using pornography, or the services of a hooker to entertain, promote business relations or satisfy a man’s needs.  The evidence clearly indicates that there IS great harm to the victims of these practices.

Not a sunny subject to discuss around the dinner table, but the topic is an important one to discuss if we want change to be effected.  What can you do to stop the degradation of your city by human traffickers?

·          Become aware of the signs of human trafficking in your surrounding community and report suspicious activities to local authorities or the National Trafficking Resource Hotline: 1-888-3737-888.  
 ·         Visit www.PolarisProject.Org for in depth information on how to help stop human trafficking.  

 Spread the message and raise awareness of the growing slave trade.  I’ll say the unpopular thing that many (men in particular) don’t like to hear which is there is a high cost to our society for the use of porn and it comes in the silent acceptance of ugly behavior and treatment of poor men, women and children.
 
 Changing attitudes IS done through one person who shares an idea with others to stop a trend or start a new one.
  
Please click on the below video links for more info related to this subject:


[1] http://app1.kuhf.org/articles/1285968465-Human-Trafficking-Houstons-Hidden-Problem.html
[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rescue and Restore Campaign Results, 4/04 - 01/06

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Edmund Burke


All copyrights reserved by the Honest Despot. 2011-12

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tax Reform Polls & Tolls


GOP candidates 2012
Have you noticed lately all the politicians are jumping on the flat tax rate bandwagon in the hopes of winning favor with voters?  According to today’s Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll[1], President Obama’s approval rating is at a new low.  40% of Americans strongly disapprove of the President; this drop comes on the heels of Obama’s Buffet Rule and Jobs Act proposals.  Don’t Americans want lower taxes and better education and transportation infrastructure?


Cain/AP Joe Burbank pool file
To answer these questions, we must understand the popularity of the 9-9-9 plan proposed by GOP candidate, Herman Cain, and why his plan has won support with Republican voters.   Cain’s plan proposes a flat 9% income and 9% corporate tax rate.  According to another Rasmussen poll[2], 56% of GOP voters like Cain’s tax reform plan.  No wonder the GOP candidates loaded up the wagon and started rolling out their own flat tax rate and tax reform proposals.  Governor Rick Perry unveiled a  20% flat tax rate plan this week, Newt Gingrich wants a lower 15% rate, Michelle Bachman and Ron Paul both want to drop federal income taxes altogether.


Sugarplums are dancing in our heads!  No more shock and awe when the government takes a sizeable chunk out of our paychecks?  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The “catch” is this:  there is another 9 in Cain’s plan - a 9% federal sales tax.  It would tack on an additional 9 cents for federal sales tax to every dollar spent on consumer purchases.  Consumers will pay in the range of 13% to 25% in sales tax, for all taxable goods and services, under Cain’s tax plan.


According to data from the IRS tax returns filed in 2009, 47% of Americans had no income tax liability.  That would change and everyone who filed an income tax return would pay the same percentage under a flat tax rate plan.  An analysis done by the Tax Policy Center found that while the majority of all filers would see some increase in their taxes, the wealthiest filers would benefit from a sizeable decrease.  The analysis also determined that the total tax income would not generate more revenue than our current tax plan.[3]


Congressman Ron Paul
Half of all Americans agree their taxes are too high[4] (and this agreement likely comes from the half who actually has a tax liability).  Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, would like to completely scrap the IRS and federal income taxes.   The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential Campaign Committee website states that “While a Flat Tax or a Fair Tax would each be a better alternative to the income tax system, Congressman Paul believes we would have to guarantee the 16th Amendment is repealed to avoid having both the income tax and one of these systems as an additional tax.”  Ron Paul has been voicing his plan for reform for many years.  He claims that funding to the federal government would be sufficient in the form of excise taxes, non-protectionist tariffs, and massive cuts in spending.


No one wants to pay taxes, so why not do away with the IRS and income taxes?  Without federal income tax returns, there would be no budget for social programs.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that 61% of all federal income dollars go to Social Security, Defense/Security and Medicare programs[5].  Only 3% of those dollars went to education and 3% to Transportation Infrastructure in 2010. 
Vote 2012/peacemonger.org
Unless Americans are willing to see senior citizens homeless and without basic healthcare, we will be stuck paying federal income taxes.  The solution to our current economic mess can only be found if “We, the People”, elect a president and representatives who are capable and willing to reform the tax system and the federal spending budget.    


[1] RASMUSSEN Reports, October 26, 2011.
[2] RASMUSSEN Reports, October 11, 2011.
[3]http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxtopics/Cain-9-9-9-plan.cfm
[4] Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 7-11.
[5] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities / www.cbpp.org

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**All copyrights reserved by the Honest Despot, 2011-12.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Class Warfare in America?


____________________________________________
What is class warfare and why should we be worried about it in America?   
     Class warfare is simply defined as a conflict between social or economic classes.  America is supposed to be a land of equality but even in this country, there are three clearly defined classes: the rich, the middle class and the poor.   The problem for America in 2011 has been the steady increase in the jobless, homeless rate at a time when there is a gain of wealth for the top 20% of the country’s rich.  How do we account for the change and what, if anything, can or should we do about it?

One of the world's most successful investors has a suggestion.  Back in November of 2010, Warren Buffet gave an interview to ABC News reporter, Christiane Amanpour , in which he stated that the rich should be paying more taxes and that the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy should be left to expire.  [1]   Then in August of 2011, Buffet drew the ire of many wealthy Americans when he wrote a piece for the New York Times entitled, “Stop Coddling the Rich”.[2]

President Barack Obama and his economic advisors were listening to Mr. Buffet and used his advice to launch a controversial presidential campaign.  Recent Bloomberg polls showed that as many as 66% of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy. [3]  Can the President go wrong following the advice of a man who was 2008’s richest man in the world and still currently ranked 3rd on this year’s Forbes list the World’s Richest People?[4]

According to another Bloomberg poll, the answer is a firm maybe.  Americans seem to agree on a need to reduce the deficit by cutting spending, but are divided over the idea of raising taxes.  This data begs the question, “Why do the poor feel the need to protect the rich from paying the same rate of tax as lower and middle class Americans?”
 
A Facebook account was used to put the question to a spectrum of online friends with varying political views and economic backgrounds.  Here are a few examples of the answers received and replies are in italics:
  • ·         Rich people worked hard for their money so they deserve to keep it.  Hmmm, don’t poor and middle class workers also deserve to keep their money?  Why would poor Americans be outraged that the rich are being taxed, but empty their own wallets to the taxman with little uproar?
  • ·         Taxes shouldn’t be raised for any group, including the rich.  No one wants to raise taxes but spending cuts alone aren’t going to pay down the country’s deficit.
  • ·         If we increase taxes on the profits of rich people or corporations then they won’t invest their money in new businesses and jobs will decrease.  Historically, this statement has not proven to be true.  In 1993, taxes on the rich were raised and the economy created 22 million jobs.  [5]Yet in 2001, taxes on the rich were lowered and the economy created fewer than 7 million jobs.  [6]

It seems puzzling that the needy would argue against their self interest.  What drives the blue collar workers to defend rich people’s tax breaks?   Fear.  Fear that our country will become a mediocre socialist union.  Fear that if we take money from the rich they won’t have enough to invest in business which will end job growth.
Could it be that these same middle class and poor workers are unaware of the changes in wealth in this country? 
The majority of studies show that the rich are indeed getting richer in America, while the poor are getting poorer.  In fact, even the annual Forbes 2011 list of the 400 Wealthiest American reports that members of the list saw their net worth ($1.53 trillion combined) rise 12 percent in the past year.

The fear of losing the freedoms and the rights that our great country was built upon is justified and these rights and freedoms must be protected.  How do we find a way to build roads, schools and other infrastructure to support citizens and pay for it all without losing the values that America was built?  To find the answers and maintain our capitalist economy, the public must be aware of the difference in socialism and capitalism. 
                                                
So·cial·ism  n.
1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved.
Cap·i·tal·ism  n.
An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

Based on the above definitions, it would seem that capitalism is failing as corporate owners are often sitting on cash reserves and not reinvesting the profits gained back into the very country that built and nourished it.  Socialism is where we are headed if the wealthy members of our country don’t assume responsibility by giving back to America in the form of investing in local jobs, taxes and even charitable programs.

But can we automatically expect the rich to take care of the less fortunate?  Not according to one class study, “ Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm”.   [7]  The study found that without resources and education, people from the mid to low classes rely on other people to survive.  They learn how to read one another’s facial expressions and act to help each other.  When people are needy, they tend to give more and are helpful more often.  Whereas the wealthier upper class of people have the resources and education to focus more on "self".  The upper class tend to hoard their resources and help others less than they are capable.  Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study, says, “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back”. The ‘thousand points of light’—this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society—is improbable, psychologically.”

Warren Buffet said it best:  "The rich are always going to say that, you know, 'Just give us more money, and we'll go out and spend more, and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.'   But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."[8]
 
According to a September 15-18, 2011 Gallup poll, the majority of Americans are favoring the close of some tax breaks.

The number of Americans who are millionaires is approximately less than 1% of the population, while almost 50% of the members of Congress are millionaires.  How are these changes going to take effect?  Who will lead the way to tax reform, spending cuts and the creation of jobs on American soil if not those that we elected to represent the voice and vote of the people?

Warren Buffet jump-started the tax reform movement recently, President Obama took up the cause for his upcoming Presidential campaign and now it is time for "the people" to act.
Although the president has introduced the “American Job Act”, he has yet to introduce the proposed “Buffet Rule”.  Whether you agree with Obama's plan or not, it is time for spending cuts, tax reform and deficit reduction.  Contact your local representatives!  Let them know you want a proposal of the "Buffet Rule" implemented.  No action.  No changes.  No improvements.  It is time for a grass roots movement, so take the time to get involved instead of just waiting for something good to happen.
Find your local representative through the following link: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

* The ads on this site do not reflect the views of the Honest Despot.

[5]WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 1, 1996, A1.
[6] Source: IRS SOI Table 3.5.


[7] c.Kraus, M. W., Piff, P. K., & Keltner, D. (2011). Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20 (4), 246-250 : 10.1177/0963721411414654
[8] ABC News interview with Christiane Amanpour of Warren Buffet from November, 2010.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Honest Despot: Dream

Lenny Kravitz:  Black and White America
Track: Dream
Roadrunner Records

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Crazy Making" of Michele Bachmann

Today I’m taking on a controversial subject.  Many people have advised me not to speak or write about politics or religion, but these matters are at the root of too much debate to be completely avoided.  For instance, I was reading a short article yesterday about Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann that warranted further investigation.

I must confess that although I’ve heard her name, I never took much interest in the woman until I read the 
Michele Bachmann, Newsweek
recent Michele Bachmann story in Newsweek, with the crazy eyed, image of her on its cover.  The biased article created a storm of controversy, with reports of Democrats and liberals drawing fire from Republicans and conservative fans of Bachmann.  Seems par for political course, right?  Only there’s more to this Newsweek story than the standard GOP vs. the DNC.


When I looked at the cover of Newsweek, I saw an unappealing photo of a woman that was taken from an unflattering angle, below eye level, making her appear wide eyed.  The magazine article describes Bachmann as the "Queen of Rage", in a demeaning, dismissive tone.   There are several online news editorials regarding Bachmann with a similar slant.  After reading through volumes of comments following these articles, I realize the “crazy eyed woman” mantra is gaining momentum and is an effective ad campaign.


Now, STOP, before you get it into your head that I’m advocating Michele Bachmann, because I am NOT.  Since the controversy began I took it upon myself to learn more about her background and political agenda and can adamantly say that I DO NOT support her as a presidential hopeful.  But, I will passionately argue her right to run for political office without casting her in the role of a crazy witch, slut or any other chauvinistic stamp.


The United States, the land of opportunity, freedom and equality, has not allowed women to rise to political power in numbers that should be expected for equal representation of both men and women.  Why not?  The simplest answer is that old habits die hard.  Historically, the physically strong oppressed the physically weaker of our species.  As societies have evolved we have come to value traits beyond brute strength and promote equality for all…Yet in America, where the overall population has a few million more women than men, only 16% of the seats in the current congress are held by women.   

 In fact, the United States ranks below the world’s top 60 countries with the highest percentages of women in government.  Women today testify to the fact they don’t receive equal pay for equal work in today’s market and studies show that women still only earn about 77 cents to every dollar men earn for the same job.

The numbers are even lower for minority women.  This unfair practice can be expected to continue without fair representation of women in government and in the media.
* Sources:  The White House Project , Center for American Women and Politics, SCSU, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


So, I’m not saying that we should elect an inappropriate candidate just because she is a woman.  I’m saying do not suppress ANY female candidate under the stereotypical labels of witch, slut or crazy lady because it hurts all future political candidates.  Where do we draw the line on insults when we open the door to anti feminist slurs? If you don’t agree with Michele Bachmann’s political agenda then point out the flaws in her ideology, but please don’t fall to the backward insults traditionally used to oppress women.


Let me reiterate that I DO NOT support Michele Bachmann as a presidential candidate because I do not believe she can effectively represent the American people.  Not because she is a woman, or because she is religious or CRAZY, but because her opinions do not reflect the majority of American people.

Here's a table I put together for quick reference to some of Michelle Bachmann’s political issues:

Michelle Bachmann on the Issues
For
Against
Reduce the role of Government and reduce business regulations to stimulate growth in the business sector and job formation. 
Repeal Obamacare/national health care system.  Wants to phase out Medicare and Social Security benefits.  Encourage options and choice by patients of physicians, medicines and medical facilities..
No debt ceiling increase to stop the continued growth of national debt.
Against downsizing of the military.
Strengthen relations with allies such as Britain and Israel.
Stop the environmental Protection Agency's cap and trade policy.
Open up restricted areas to drilling for oil and gas reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf, Gulf of Mexico and Alaska in order to lower energy prices.
Bar foreign currency from being used in the USA as a substitution or replacement for American currency.
Evolution and Creationism to be taught side by side in school science classes.
Opposes mandatory public service programs.
Pro Life 100% and anti abortion.
Renounces expensive trips for public officials and entourages to foreign countries on taxpayer's tab.
Promotes CFLs or fluorescent light bulbs over conventional light bulbs.
Opposes minimum wage increases and has supported legislation to delete the minimum wage altogether in order to increase employment.
Supports limiting the amount of personal information the government collects for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Would like to ban gay/lesbian marriage 100%.
*Sources:  Honest Despot, Michele Bachmann.com/issues, and Wikipedia – Michele Bachmann.

Whether you agree with Bachmann or not, she clearly isn't crazy.  I believe the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota is a conservative American who would like to bring back this country's glory days.  However, I question her willingness to put the choices of the American people above her own personal religious beliefs.  


For example, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted by telephone March 10-13, 2011, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults, over half of Americans now support gay marriage. Bachmann is adamantly against it.

A similar Time poll conducted on June 20-21, 2011 found that over 60% of Americans strongly agree that women should have the right to choose abortion during the early months of pregnancy.   Americans also split their opinion on Medicare and Social Security entitlement, with roughly 60% of us wanting to maintain the benefits as is.  Bachmann is Pro Life and would like to phase out Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Contrary to what many political commentators are reporting, it is not only Tea Party supporters, Republicans or fans that are outraged by the recent unflattering Newsweek cover & article of Michele Bachmann.  It is every fair minded individual who would like to see an end to the demeaning personal attacks on women candidates for their looks - eyes, hair, weight, etc. Let's get back to some objective reporting and debate on each candidates merit, regardless of their race, religion, gender...or eyes.

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