Friday, November 27, 2015

End of the World as We Know It

In a very methodical, efficiently systematic, and very timely manner; and with the aid of the information revolution and social media, a hybrid business model, masquerading as the Capitalism described by Adam Smith, has eroded the middle class, the economy, and democracy in America.

Capitalism has become synonymous with, forgive the Civil War analogy, Sherman's "March to the Sea", in order to provide unfathomable wealth and power to the few. Fast food corporations are selling diabetes and obesity. Phillip Morris is selling lung cancer. And virtually all corporations are destroying the planet beyond repair.

In the wake of economic crises and the challenges of climate change and resultant instability in the world, corporations are practicing inversion to avoid paying for the damage they do.

Pfizer Pharmaceuticals' union with Allergan is the latest example of corporations running amok. Over the years American taxpayers funded grants for research and development and tuition for employees. And Americans currently pay the highest prescription costs in the world and constitute the largest block of consumers. Yet Pfizer doesn't want to help pay the bills of America while continuing to reap the benefits.

Our government is under attack from the far right. But the lessons of the economic crash of 2008 show that without government, capitalism would have destroyed itself. If the Federal Government didn't bail out the banks and auto companies, it would have been the end of the world as we know it. Remember, George Bush, a Republican, began the bailouts.

If the extreme far right-wing of the Republican party is able to severely disable the Federal Government, capitalism, all versions thereof, will end in a blaze of golden parachutes. And America and the world will enter a system of feudalism and the New Dark Ages.

It began with Sarah Palin and the omnipresent social media. Statements, opinions and positions all of a sudden could be transmitted instantly to everyone without regard for facts, the truth, or reality. The American population was saturated with misinformation smartly masquerading as the wisdom.

The disparaging remarks by Republicans regarding education illustrate the intent. From the Koch brothers' offer of money to forgo college and the buying of curricula in some colleges, to the Republican attack on political science typified by Tom Coburn's bill to kill funding for research, to Sarah Palin's own term, "Nerd Prom", when describing the White House Correspondences' Dinner, it is clear that critical thought, logic and reality are under attack.

It must be noted that political scientists study how to make our democracy work better. They aid in understanding terrorism and identify global threats and help develop strategies. They develop public policies that improve response to natural disasters, health challenges, and many challenges we face as a nation.

It is clear that, in this era of flawed thinking and social media, critical thinking, a product of formal education including the liberal arts, is more important than ever.

Decades ago, back prior to the era of social media, back in the time of the newspaper and critical thinking, people examined their existences. In the era of social media, people are having their existences molded by the medium, and ultimately the powers behind the medium.

Four decades ago, in the America I knew, the prevailing thought- stated in various ways- was to examine your existence and maximize upon it. Put simply, figure out what you are capable of doing and be the best you can. And go after the necessary education, training, and experience.

It use to be a sign of stupidity and futility to aspire to and seek a position that you were totally unqualified for; a position where you lacked the understandings, values, competencies, and experience to perform that position with any degree of success. This is laughably obvious for pilots, sea captains, physicians, et al, but much less so for those seeking public office. Maybe this is one reason that Congress has had so much difficulty performing in the last decade.

Hillary Clinton, though a flawed candidate, is the best hope for America in 2016.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Are Climate Deniers the Greatest Domestic Terrorists in American History?

A terrorist performs heinous acts for political gain, either economic or psychological.

The projected impact of climate change on America, both domestically and in terms of national security is almost beyond human comprehension. And climate change affects virtually every aspect of human existence.

Hard evidence of climate change can be found in the oceans, at the poles, and in everyday life. Dying coral reefs, strange shark migrations, vanishing glaciers and species, and the warmest temperatures on record are reality and not a product of a vast liberal conspiracy.

Another glaring example is the 2015 water shortage in California coupled with lowest winter snowpack in recorded history. I have a client who is working on a process to extract water from the atmosphere in California. He is also attempting to work with the Chinese.

Man-made global warming has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the production of food for human beings. Rising oceans have and will further alter and damage peoples' lives, and increase the costs borne by our government to deal with the climate related catastrophes. New weather anomalies and diseases have and will continue to be created. Every facet of human existence will be increasingly challenged.

These ever-escalating challenges will tax resources to the point of near chaos. Domestic catastrophes coupled with scientific realities- exemplified by the effect of ocean warming on sonar- will gravely impact our national security at some point.

A thought occurred to me the other day when Donald Trump complained about the rigors of campaigning and appeared to be contemplating an exit strategy for his 2016 presidential campaign if he decided to withdraw.

The compos mentis segment of the GOP base appears to not want to be in positions of leadership.  John Boehner was joyous and appeared almost intoxicated when he announced his resignation as speaker of the House of Representatives. And the Republican controlled House has yet to find anyone that is willing, and at the same time, able to meet the "requirements" of the party's extreme right-wing. Even reactionary commentator Bill O'Reilly chuckled when asked if he would become Speaker of the House, the third person in line to the presidency.

I only hope that the GOP's denial of global warming is not at the core of its propensity for obstruction and, merely one of the fanciful vagaries of it's less competent members. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trump's Candidacy Has Value

Donald Trump is an arrogant, narcissistic very successful businessman. I am sure that he greatly overestimates his real understanding of and ability to rectify the things that are truly wrong in the world. Yet he does recognize many of the problems and issues, realities that most other candidates are unwilling or unable to address. And because of this his dialogue has merit.

Trump rails against Mexico and China. And matter-of-factly states that, when elected, he and his gang will put both Mexico and China in their respective places. He will be able to get Mexico to pay for a wall that will keep their undesirable, criminal, illegal emigrants from entering our country. He neglects to discuss what Alan Greenspan told Congress years ago: that illegal immigration has a profound positive impact on our economy.

He proclaims that he will stop the Chinese from devaluating their currency which is hurting American businesses. He neglects to say that his clothing line is manufactured in China, that his best clients are Chinese, or discuss the staggering amount of our Treasury securities China holds.

It is obvious that Trump has never read Metternich or essays by Henry Kissinger. And he lacks understanding of the complex political and economic interconnections of nations today, which are more so today then at any time in America history  (See Post: Is America Being Purchased? 10/10/10).

I will concede that his analysis of the Middle East, a region full of internal contradictions, is pretty sound and decision makers might consider utilizing cost/benefit analysis as part of their decision making process. Most of the Middle Eastern countries and territories share a combination of policies that support American objectives and, simultaneously, policies and behaviors that are abhorrent, detrimental to our objectives, and ones we are trying to eradicate. And I applaud Trump's opposition to the War in Iraq and his dialogue on the reasonable use of force.

Trump has also talked about corporate inversion and his own bankruptcies. He has stated that he is against inversion and that the corporations should be forced to return to the US and pay taxes.

He has talked about his bankruptcies and explained that they constituted legal means to build wealth. He intimated that these shenanigans, along with inversion, should be illegal. Students of history will remember that Franklin Roosevelt appointed Joe Kennedy as the first Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission after he had used every "trick in the book" to build his wealth. 

Trump has talked about political correctness and stated that by focusing on it we are wasting time, loosing sight of the truly important things, and the Big Picture. I don't think that Trump is a racist or a misogynist, in the same way that many Tea Party Republicans are. His political incorrectness is a perfunctory reaction to what he views as annoyances. It is pragmatism versus the abstract for him.

He has countered his PC critics by stating that America has an obligation to take care of its poor. He briefly outlined an upgrade to Obamacare that must be driving all other Republicans crazy. And, he has stated that with the exception of abortion he supports the work of Planned Parenthood.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Cause in sleepy London Town there's just no place for a street fighting man." Jagger/Richards

"When a plutocracy usurps economic and political control of a democracy, the only remedy for that democracy, save a  violent revolution, is a system of taxation, aimed at the plutocracy, that enables economic and political power to be distributed to the citizenry in a more democratic manner."  

Will Poor and Lame

The week of June 21, 2015 was historic in terms of social change. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld Obama Care. The justices interpreted the law enacted by Congress and deemed that it was not contradictory in intention and was constitutional.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that same-sex marriage is an unalienable right, granted by the Constitution, and must be honored in all 50 states.

And, as a reaction to the massacre of 9 Africa Americans at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston by a white supremacist brandishing the Confederate flag, many leaders in Red states are taking down that flag, and distancing themselves from that symbol.

I do not want to underplay how momentous these rulings are or what a big deal it is for reactionaries to acknowledge that the Confederate flag is divisive and a symbol of hatred, racism and bigotry for many.

These rulings and actions certainly illustrate  the potency of the Obama presidency and they will contribute to his legacy.

After celebrating this historic change, the likes of which we have not seen since the sixties, let us focus on and work on the truly momentous problems that this country and mankind face.

Citizens United is real. The plutocracy is buying political power. And their objectives are detrimental to the majority of the citizenry.

Income inequity is a complicated issue and real. With defference towards those that practice alternative lifestyles, the positive human impact of being able to marry, gay or straight, is minimized if couples can't afford to feed themselves or go to the doctor when they are sick.

Obama began his presidency with "The Audacity of Hope".  And to continue forward America needs this audacity followed by clear thoughts and actions.

West Palm Beach, Florida, the home of Rush Limbaugh and Newsmax, recently instituted the most advanced and cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in North America. The plant will provide energy to 40,000 homes and businesses while processing more than a million tons of municipal solid waste. This will reduce reliance on the landfill by almost 90% while recycling 30,000 tons of industrial metals. And it will create 200 full time jobs.

For the life of me I can't figure out how this got by Rick Scott.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Marco Rubio, Rex Nutting & Reality

It has recently come to light that the golden boy of the Conservative wing of the Republican party has a benefactor.

The New York Times, on May 10th, 2015, made us all aware that a billionaire auto dealer named Norman Braman is the money man behind Senator Marco Rubio's rapid political rise.

"As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio's campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio's legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio's personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income."

Inherently, there is nothing wrong with having a patron. Many artists, musicians, and intellectuals have them. One can only speculate where Rubio would be without this benefactor. But what is especially troubling, is the hard Social Darwinism that Rubio espouses when, in fact, his situation is prima facie evidence that it is false.

Rex Nutting is a real person and has written a very relevant article in MarketWatch documenting how the stock market destroyed the middle class.

Put very briefly, for the last three decades a pervasive business model has encouraged top managers of American corporations to raid their companies of the funds they need to build and expand, and invest in their workers for the long haul.

They, according to Nutting,

"Loot their company, by using large stock buybacks to... manipulate share price, which allows them to use inside information to time their own stock sales. By using buybacks to funnel most of the company's profits back to shareholders (including themselves)." Wow.

I can only wonder how Senator Rubio feels about all of this. One thing is clear. His benefactor, who benefits from the propagation of misinformation, is happy to continue subsidizing Senator Rubio as long as he continues to espouse Horatio Alger myths which help facilitate the destruction of the American middle class.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Save the Middle Class But Don't Touch My Salary!

Back in February 2015, Rex Nutting wrote an article for MarketWatch outlining seven means to slow the erosion of the American middle class. He acknowledges that "history shows a prosperous middle class makes the economy stronger." His caveat is that these seven measures will accomplish this "without soaking the rich."

Full Employment. By increasing employment for "could be" workers, wages will rise for all workers. And this objective can be facilitated by Congressional action that authorizes money to repair and upgrade our forgotten infrastructure. A fantastic idea but requires government spending (tax money) and will never get through our current Congress.

Give workers a voice. The GOP has literally been at war with workers and unions since the beginning of the Bush administration. Unless it is accompanied with pro-worker legislation, regulations and tax policy, it will result in the further exportation of jobs.

Give workers better skills. I have been arguing and documenting in this blog, for years, that in addition to legislation and tax policy that has hurt American workers, technology has played a major role in rendering obsolete many skill sets. Machines have and continue to displace many workers.

Encourage more profit-sharing. I still come across American companies that offer their employees profit-sharing and 401K plans. However, due to the evolving nature of employment in this country, these benefits are dwindling and are currently an endangered specie.

Enforce and strengthen laws protecting American workers. Mr. Nutting argues that millions of workers are being cheated by the companies that they work for. And that they have a right to pensions, health care, disability insurance, and workers' compensation insurance. He continues that Social Security and Medicare should be reinforced, not gutted. Workers PAY for these entitlements and are relying on them more and more because of the aforementioned.

Raise the minimum wage. A truly good idea short term. Our country is beginning to act on this suggestion in certain political regions as well as on the federal level.

Require our foreign trading partners to respect their workers' rights. At this point in my critique I am beginning to wonder if Rex Nutting is in actuality a computer program. If he is not a virtual cousin to Harvey the Rabbit, I sincerely hope he continues to advocate for the Progressive agenda.

Though his goals are truly noble, and a more equitable distribution of wealth is necessary to preserve democracy and the America that most of us know and love, what Mr. Nutting fails to realize is that these proposals "soak the rich" only by slightly different means. Spending on infrastructure must come from taxation and is a very Keynesian notion. What Mr. Nutting fails to acknowledge is that the super rich and global corporations have significant control of the American government and, short of a revolution, these whimsies will never come into being. The powers that be see democracy, justice, and equity as an anathema to their world and vision.

As a boy in the 1960's, the model for living a "good" life was to go to college, get married, buy a house, and save for retirement. The millennials will attest to the flaws in this model in our current world.

Also, for some, landing a well-paying government job was akin to hitting the lottery. Not only did this offer security in one's life but might also serve as a spring board for the formation of a small business or "private sector" venture with a grant or a lucrative government contract. Conservative Republicans and their wealthy puppeteers, despite trying to dismantle most of the federal government, have taken this concept to the extreme.

Monday, March 16, 2015

President Donald Trump is Tough on American Terrorists

I expect that SNL doesn’t take unsolicited ideas for their openings, but I think a brilliant one in view of recent events would be to open with a faux Fox News (a little redundancy there) special bulletin on international terrorism from 2017 and have their commentator cut to a White House briefing by President Donald Trump, announcing that the President of the Teamsters International had been apprehended by special ops forces and was being taken to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation.  He could then reiterate his campaign promise to track and hunt down other “international” terrorists who threaten our way of life.  As a final absurdity he could dramatically announce that just prior to his message, the FBI and Military Police had staged a coordinated night raid on the State Department and Pentagon, where terrorist cells of the American Federation of Government Employees and National Federation of Federal Employees had apparently infiltrated our most sensitive government installations disguised as janitors.  He could point out that these terrorists were given free reign by the Obama administration, and even allowed to meet regularly with their spymasters at their union locals to discuss their plots, and then resolutely face the camera and tell the American people that they now have a President who isn’t afraid to tell terrorist organizations, “live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Economics of States' Rights

A co-worker said to me the other day that we all want nice things but none of us wants to pay for them.

This simple statement encapsulates the economics of states' rights.

The conservative leaders of Red states, as a whole, tend to advocate strong American influence in foreign affairs, ostensibly for the cause of democracy and to ensure national security, but more often than not, primarily for the economic gain of the wealthy and global corporations. And deficit spending is never a consideration when allocating funding to reach these ends.

Ironically, conservative leaders tend to be more concerned with sustaining democracy abroad then they are domestically, here at home, where they appear to view the American populous in almost the same manner they viewed the people of developing countries during the era of imperialism.

Vis-à-vis Federal programs, Red states are quite content to allow Progressive states to subsidize their states. In too many cases they bend Federal laws and divert Federal funding intended for the populous to the uber-wealthy and corporations. Red leaders and their mouthpieces use vague talking points and political labels to justify their actions, and avoid facts and figures. Regrettably, facts and figures don't lie.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Do American Football and Capitalism Have in Common?

American football is a very competitive fast-paced sport that incorporates aggression with complex planning, preparation, and strategy. Because of the nature of the competition it requires evolving rules and codes of conduct; and referees, boards and offices to enforce those rules and codes.

Players on the teams, seeking to maximize their economic value, seek to be "accomplished"; and the teams seek to win, again for economic value, and to satisfy complex human needs.

In the game of football, without rules and regulations, it is not inconceivable that chaos would ensue, on all levels, and the games would cease to exist in a season or two. Professional football would cease to be economically viable on the legitimate and "underground" markets.

Capitalism is a competitive economic system that incorporates assertive, confident behavior with planning, preparation, and strategy. Idealists postulate that through hard work and merit, exhibited by the individual or organization, success will be achieved. They also believe that capitalism is inhibited by rules and government regulations. Some go so far as to argue that government involvement forces out "private sector" participation.

The ugly truth of our "free" market system is that it would simply not exist as we know it without the presence of an active government that creates and maintains the rules and conditions that allow it to operate efficiently, anymore than football would exist without highly circumscribed detail and regulation.

Staying with football, last year there was much talk about the name of the Washington football team and the use of the name "Redskins". Though the term redskin most definitely could be construed to have pejorative connotations, somehow I feel that changing the name of the team will not improve the plight of America Indians, or improve the game of football, or significantly improve our country in any way. The New England Patriots haven't gotten any outrage over their name from anyone that I'm aware of.

We Americans tend to be reactive. Decades from now, if we continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated by Conservatives, and we are living with the effects of global warming, and it is apparent that we are killing the oceans and mankind in the process, nobody will give a damn if the Washington football team changed its name or not.