Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bring in the New Year Oz-Style

December 31, 2011; 2:30 PM
Ahhh Oz, you really know how to bring in the New Year.
Take that New York . . . let's play, "Can you top this??"
More later . . .

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Ending of a Year

And so another year ends. Not one of the great years one would say—a dismal economic performance worldwide, and a broken US political system. Might we hope that it can only get better from here (despite the dismal forecasts for 2012)?

But, as I was in that half awake-half asleep mode this morning, I thought of 60 years ago, as I was approaching the end of 1951 and looking forward to my high school graduation that coming June.  My excitement at the coming graduation and my planned attendance at Stanford University in the Fall of 1952 made the closing out of 1951 and the upcoming year look to be exciting. 
The downer in all that excitement, of course, was the ongoing Korean War. That war provoked considerable discussion and not a little consternation among my male friends, most of whom were either already 18 or soon to turn 18. The magic 18 had nothing to do with conventional stuff like drivers’ licenses or legal drinking, but rather the draft.  Would the war continue and would we all, therefore, be drafted to serve in that war?  My “coming of age” date was December 17, 1952. I would be at Stanford at that point, so whether I would be drafted at all might depend on whether the war turned into a larger conflict.
I was just becoming aware of politics and I was excited about the coming election, even though I could not yet vote. Eisenhower was the great father figure who had played a major role in World War II.  Hopefully, we all thought, he would be able to act in such a way that Korea would be contained, although China was widely regarded as a serious wild card.  Happily, for me at least, my student status prevailed and I remained out of the draft.  Happily too, the War finally ground to a halt with an Armistice. The shooting stopped.
So, as we approach 2012, some 60 years has passed and we still have one ongoing shooting war. We really don’t seem to get it—we the World of adults I mean.  It is difficult to escape the notion that adult males especially, love to shoot things, people especially, and now, especially if it can be done at a distance, using somebody else’s son or daughter as the instruments of destruction.  If it isn’t organized religion, it’s oil, or territory, or to remove somebody we don’t like at the moment (see Sadaam Hussein and George W. Bush).  We seem to possess an inexhaustible supply of reasons to shoot people.  “Love thy neighbor” seems a passing bad joke.
And to listen to all the chest thumping going on amidst those royal, loyal republicans running for that very high office, I remain confident that one or more of them will dream up some argument for invading Iran, once elected (except for Ron Paul who, although terminally nuts on most fronts, seems predisposed to stop getting us into wars).  I remain hopeful that this parade of delusional clowns will all self-destruct on election day 2012 and go back to their main business—getting really, really wealthy.  If there were only some legal way we could imprison them, and the global bankers,  for their roles in crashing the world economy. But alas, they will all go scot free and continue to grow their fortunes. Such is life.
So, as the year ends, I am visibly older than the young sprout anxiously looking forward to 1952, but I nonetheless continue to look forward to the coming 2012.  Who knows, maybe common sense will suddenly strike the world of adults . . . it could happen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eve of Christmas

December 24, 2011.

The table is set with dishes aplenty. The stockings hung by the chimney with care.  The fresh bread fills the kitchen air, while the meat cooks slowly and the red cabbage simmers, all adding to the aroma.  Everything begins to be ready, awaiting children and grandchildren.  The ghost of Christmases past hover about the house, but all the memories are sweet, the images warm.


We wish to all the good peoples of the world, “may you find peace, and love, even a fraction of what we hold dear within our little home.  May all the terrorists of the world stop and return to their homes to consider a different future, one devoid of violence.  Look upon the children, and smile; do what is right for them and all will be well.”

So, to one and all, have a safe, and happy Christmas Eve and Christmas. If you look to Hannukah, or to some other celebration, may yours too be filled with joy and love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Days

Well, I missed Beethoven’s birthday this year—December 16th seemed to just come and go.  But Ludwig, we love your stuff, especially that 9th that you completed but never heard yourself. Deafness in a composer is the definition of cruel irony, huh?

And then December 17th came and went, and I embarked on my 78th year—78 . . . wow. What can I say? I ain’t middle-aged any more. Nice celebration, though . . . lots of family members, lots of hugs, a lot of love flowing about. Nice.
And now we approach Mrs. Schmidt’s 76th—Thursday to be precise. Wow! My child-bride turning near middle-aged.  It’s amazing this one day at a time thing. Before you know it, serious history has come and gone.  And it’s the history thing that grabs at us. Our grandson has been writing papers on contemporary history—you know, the New Deal, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs. For him, ancient history; for us the stuff of our lives.  His paper on the New Deal was a great piece, but the thing that struck us most is that he could have been writing about today, without the Roosevelt rescue team. I see republicans today playing the same role as the Hooverites did in 1930—“let’s do nothing and maybe all this crap we brought about will just go away.”  And when our grandson asks us questions about the Cold War, or that JFK fiasco, the Bay of Pigs, or the mess called Vietnam, our memory banks tend to go into overtime, flooding us with that time—sitting around drinking martinis, after our work building deadly intercontinental missile systems, and arguing about whether it would be better to head to the hills (the Sierra’s) or head for the coast if the Russkies and the Americans got into a full-out pissing match involving nukes because of the Cuban mess. Yeah, those were good times, huh? Saber-rattling it was called, but when the sabers turn out to be hydrogen bombs that can reach cities within a few minutes, it seems of a different order.
So, we hope for Mrs. Schmidt’s birthday, to get rid of all those memories for at least the hours of celebration.—dinner at our splendid Italian restaurant, Gianni’s in Concord. It’s a place we hold dear as a special celebration venue—great food, hospitable company, great staff helping us to enjoy special evenings.
And then on to Christmas, where the sparkle in our grandchildren’s eyes is real, and their smiles sublime.  On Dancer, on Prancer . . .

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SOPA

So, what are we to make of this Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)?

On the one hand, who doesn’t want online piracy stopped? On the other hand, many, many people believe that this Act is akin to destroying the village in order to save it, to fall back on that old Vietnam War saw.  One Twitterati whit noted that the current Congressional debate is somewhat like a family gorging themselves on wine and rich food at a Thanksgiving dinner, while attempting to discuss String Theory.  Not a bad analogy, I thought. And an added problem is the timing. It would be difficult to imagine worse relations between the warring political parties than that which exists today.  Every time the Dems want to pass some bill badly, the Republithugs attach some poison pill non-germane amendment.  The Dems are apparently too timid, or perhaps too stupid to do the same in return.  So, really nothing rational is taking place and debates on any subject must be somewhat akin to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, with John Boehner playing the role of the Hatter.

As with so many things, the Act seems well-intended. We should really do something to stop or at the least disturb the ability of various people and companies to steal copyrighted music, and films. One might imagine, in a “best of all possible worlds” (certainly unlike the one we inhabit currently) legitimate companies such as Google and PayPal would refrain from providing financial cover to piratical firms.  But apparently in today’s world of commerce really almost anything goes (which is of course why we are in the midst of this Great Depression II).  However, as we imagine, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.  And so it is with this SOPA.
The primary problem, according to its antagonists, is that it would allow government to shut down any web site it (government) doesn’t like.  Could that be?? Oh, it sounds familiar. Oh, I know, isn’t that at least conceptually similar to that republithug bill attachment that allows the executive branch to arrest and incarcerate for life without lawyer or trial any individual it deems a terrorist???  So, we know that at least the possibility for some such mischievous outcome is possible with SOPA, especially in the hands of the wrong President.  It would seem we have another of those, “be careful what you wish for” things.
Perhaps we need to find some other way to shut down the piracy.
And on exoplanet Congress, I wonder whether the Senate, instead of just passing or trashing the Boehner-inspired bill that adds the pipeline to the tax relief for the middle class, has considered adding a provision that would pay for the bill, and then some, by, say, quadrupling the taxes paid by the top 1%? Think of the blood pressure readings that would be experienced by Mr. Boehner with that one.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bookends

It is getting increasingly difficult to understand the fervor displayed by some of the 99% for Republican candidates like the Newt. The Newt represents in the whole all of the folks whut brung us to this low state, the one we now lovingly refer to as The Great Depression II.

My life has begun resembling bookends. I was born into this odd place called Earth in 1934, the dreary middle of Great Depression I. My grandparents—the Scottish ones—had lost most of what they had accumulated since coming to this Great Nation from Scotland around the turn of 20th century. Their losses were a direct result of greedy bankers/investment brokers, and corrupt corporate CEOs . . . you know, the same sort of folks who have brought us to our current state of despair. So, it’s sort of, “been there, done that”. One major problem is that I don’t see an FDR waiting to produce a rescue plan. I guess the Newt is playing the role of Herbert Hoover, the guy who refused to do anything rational to get us out of the Depression, and who led fairly directly to the election of FDR in 1932. FDR, perhaps like Obama today, had to do battle with his republican foes in order to get anything done. Except that FDR wasn’t faced with the money machine that a corrupt and very republican Supreme Court has unleashed on the country.

When I see letters to the editor indicating that the writer would vote for the Newt, despite holding many reservations, because he would never vote for Obama, who, after all, has done nothing to bring us to full employment, I despair. The guy intends to vote for the guy who, along with his good friends, delivered us into this state. Excuse me, I am tempted to write, do you not understand who is responsible here? And when you all croak that the President cannot/does not produce jobs, only the 1% can produce jobs, does it not ever occur to you that, therefore, it is the 1% and their republican faithful, who are at fault . . . not Obama??? Do you people never engage your brains before speaking/writing? Ever? Know this republican faithful. The Newt represents one of the gravest dangers this Nation has faced in perhaps the past 50 years.
And on Planet Penn State, Mr. Sandusky has been arrested again, this time for Victims 9 and 10. Victim 9 testified that Mr. Sandusky’s wife was at home, while the boy-child yelled for help as he was being raped, but no help ever came.

Monday, December 5, 2011

All-State Strikes Again

So, someone runs through a red light at an intersection with blind corners and hits my car. He accepts responsibility, and asserts that he never saw me until we collided. His insurance, All-State, claims that I am partly responsible under North Carolina's1% contributory negligence statute, so they refuse to pay my claim for damages. I assume, instead, that All-State adjusters get paid partly on the basis of how many legitimate claims they can deny.
"You're in Good Hands with All-State" is kind of liking assuring bank tellers,
"You're in good hands with Willie Sutton."

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Season

The season is nigh . . .
Which season you might ask? The season of good cheer, high hopes, a touch of snow, and large credit card expenditures.  Black Friday has passed and Black Cyber-Monday is almost finished. We can only hope that Americans have gotten over their grief at being screwed by the Nation’s bankers, and have decided to buy more Chinese crap anyway.  Apparently our entire economic future depends on Americans being willing to suspend disbelief and buy more stuff this month.  Only then will we emerge from this dreadful thing called (by some) The Great Depression II.  Let’s hope.

In the meantime, the Republican hopeless-hopefuls will continue battling amongst themselves for idiot of the month. This month, we are assured, the Newtster has regained the crown, having achieved the dubious distinction of being anointed by the New Hampshire Union Leader as candidate of the month. In their endorsement, they said, apparently without intending to be funny:
We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing... A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again,"

Oh, yeah, I guess that’s when he shut down the government in 1995.
But maybe, said he hopefully, the Season can go on with only minimal interference from the idiot parade. Maybe Santa will still arrive on his sleigh with his 8 tiny reindeer to treat the nation’s children to the good cheer and happiness we used to associate with The Season in days of yore—it could happen. I do so hope. The little ones need this infusion of normalcy, and we big ones also need to be able to pretend again, even if for just a little while.  I know, I know, 2012 is then just around the corner, and the parade of idiots will recommence, to even more vicious standards, to the extent they have any standards at all.
But in the meantime, let’s all turn on the lights, decorate the trees, dream of snow, and buy, buy, buy.  And if you have a neighbor in need, or see someone who needs a hand, lend yours. Our communities are filled with families who have little and are barely getting by. So, reach out and give a hand folks. Your gestures of good will may be just the ticket to turn a sad season into a happy one.  Even if you’re not a billionaire, try to make someone else feel happy.
Get in the spirit, folks, and stop thinking about politics, even for just a little while . . .

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

The season is upon us. That season within which we are given to understand that peace is near, or perhaps it surrounds us, were we only smart enough to understand.

Thanksgiving is a peculiar celebration. On the one hand, it is a celebration that the nation’s Pilgrim ancestors managed to survive, and perhaps even to prosper. The Pilgrims needed to survive the winters, potentially hostile critters, and the actual Native Americans who did not yet understand the intent of the incoming European hordes.  There were not yet bankers roaming the land looking for ways to steal from them. But they survived, and led us to this land of plenty.
So, it is a time to give thanks for the plenty in our lives, and, in our case, we have much to be thankful for. Given the state of the world, we are fortunate that we live in a place that is based, sometimes, on  law, and on civil values . . . sometimes.  King Bloomberg in New York is trying his best to stamp out such foolishness. For the time being, the police seem to be on his side . . . for the time being.
But we do not live in the police state of Manhattan. Here in Concord, life for us is still peaceful. Despite the best intent of America’s bankers to rob us of our retirement assets, our financial planner has been diligent, and some money still survives. So, we must also give thanks to Mr. Keith Riley for his due diligence.
We will enjoy a Thanksgiving meal worthy, at least, of the nation’s ancestors—the Pilgrims. Surely, our groaning board exceeds anything they enjoyed, for this is still the land of plenty.
Our children and our grandchildren are healthy and prosper in most useful ways.  We give thanks for that and we wish our friends and family all that is good in the world. May life be fair to you in this holiday season.
And to all, Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

All the News . . .

Opening the newspaper lately practically requires one to be either stoned, or equipped with a large flagon of wine, preferably red. This morning, for example: Joe Paterno and his partner in crime, the President of Penn State, have been fired.  Well good, I thought. They most closely resemble those Catholic Bishops and Cardinals, and their Nazi Pope, who thought it Ok to ignore the sexual abuse of young, vulnerable kids.

Then there was Italy. Turns out that Mister Sarkozy and Ms. Merkel have been discussing Europe without the Italians. Yeah, Mr. Berlusconi and his buddies in Rome are getting to be, well, hmmm . . . unaffordable. Italy seems to be going the way of Greece . . . and Ireland . . . and Portugal . . . Except that Italy’s too big, so they could well bring down the whole show. So, maybe Europe could be a Northern thing, without the pizza and spaghetti.
Oh, and then there’s that little notice that the Dover Mortuary—that’s the place where our dead serviceman arrive back into the US, after having been killed defending the US of A.—well that mortuary has been dumping remains of our  dead loved ones in a landfill. Yeah . . . a landfill. Oh and they forgot to tell anyone about their little practice. Nice huh? Nothing like the military honoring its fallen heroes.
On the environmental front, China is at it again: In the run-up to the international climate negotiations in Durban later this month, China has responded to efforts to ban the trading of widely discredited HFC-23 offsets by threatening to release huge amounts of the potent industrial chemical into the atmosphere unless other nations pay what amounts to a climate ransom.  In a shocking attempt to blackmail the international community, Xie Fei, revenue management director at the China Clean Development Mechanism Fund, threatened: "If there's no trading of [HFC-23] credits, they'll stop incinerating the gases" and vent them directly into the atmosphere. Speaking at the Carbon Forum Asia in Singapore last week, Xie Fei claimed he spoke for "almost all the big Chinese producers of HFCs who "can't bear the cost" and maintain that "they'll lose competitiveness".  Wow, what great guys. Walmart, aren’t you proud to be one of their biggest sponsors??
And then there’s that one about Rick Perry who had three major points to make about Federal agencies he would immediately eliminate, except he could only remember two of them. Yeah, Texans must be so proud of their guy. And that one makes me wonder whether it’s true that someone has invented a new game. Remember that one called, “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” Well, the new game will be called, “Are you smarter than a republican presidential candidate?” The game has been designed for third-fifth grade reading levels.
But I digress . . . maybe a big pull on the flagon will make all the day's stories blend together into  some nice foggy short story - - - you know of the fiction variety . . . .
PS
Oh, but I neglected to include one of the biggest ones. You know how Pat Roberts and others of his ilk are always saying that God is displaying his displeasure at some part of America by tossing  hurricanes, or an earthquake at us?? Well, I'm thinking that God must be really pissed at Alaskans, because she has now tossed one of the biggest storms on memory at Alaska . . . just to send them a message about their support for Sarah Barbie . . . Wonder whether Juneau will just sink into the sea like one of their glaciers???

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Awareness of Today

Yesterday, just before going off to the land of wink and nod, I thought about the day.  What kind of a day had it been? Well, we went to our usual very early workout at the Y, We had voted earlier, so we didn't need to go to the polls. We managed to place the net over our pond, in advance of the coming big leaf drop from our oak trees.  And I had printed a couple more artsy family calendars for the coming New Year of 2012. Not a bad day, I thought.
Increasingly, as I age a bit more each day, I have begun thinking more about each day, and how it is necessary to examine the day, to see whether it was in some way meaningful. I have become acutely aware, as part of the aging process, that life is just a sequence of days and that, if we rush through a day without paying attention, we are thereby not paying attention to our very life.
I don't really think we all need to do something big every day, just that we need to think about each day. Mostly, I observe people ignoring their days, perhaps always looking forward to something that will be happening later. But, since we are always in the present, it is now that we need to pay attention. Otherwise, we risk losing our lives to the future.
I often see a neighbor who seems to stand outside smoking, I guess because his partner does not allow him to smoke indoors. But I note also that he and his partner seem never to do anything. They seem to me to be "taking up space" on this planet, without ever contributing anything.  And that seems a shame, because someday they will cease taking up space, and then what? What would their lives have meant . . . to them or to anyone else?
I don't pretend to any knowledge about what life is all about. Unlike some of our counterfeit republican presidential candidates, God has chosen not to speak with me directly.  I guess I'm not special enough. So, on this big question of what life is all about, I plead ignorance.  But I do know that we each have a finite number of minutes on this planet, and it seems wise not to simply waste them.
So, each day, I will think ahead and behind a bit to decide what kind of a day I had and will have ahead of me. Because thinking about it will increase my awareness of life and how precious it is. We dare not waste it, because we may not be back this way again . . . unless you're a Hindu and still somewhere in the middle of finding Nirvana.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Banking & Gambling

See, it’s not so hard . . . MF Global has entered that hell called bankruptcy. And we the people are going to just let it be.  No bailouts. No rush to stabilize the firm.  Just let it go the way of all things. They were gamblers who gambled and lost. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Now, it we can only let the others go as well.
Assume for a start that any “trading firm” is akin to the Las Vegas gambling organizations . . . sort of like the Mafia, but not as skilled.  Force them to label themselves as gamblers—you know, like Morgan Stanley Gamblers, Inc. Then the public will know what they are doing when sending them money to “invest”.
Then establish rating agencies that rate the investment vehicles these firms try routinely to flog.  If the investment portfolios are too complex to rate, the rating agencies have to declare,  We cannot untangle the mess they are trying to sell to the public, so  this investment portfolio belongs in the category called “Caveat Emptor”. “ The rating agencies and all auditing firms would be financed by contracts with the government, paid for by fees charged by the government to the firms being rated/audited. Both the rating agencies and the audit firms would have to be changed every, say, three years to avoid becoming corrupted by the gambling firms. It might also be a good idea to make it mandatory that the broker-gamblers (those trying to flog their deals to the public) would have to buy into these same portfolios.
Then take all “banks” out of the gambling business. We would, of course, have to define what is meant by “gambling”. Loaning money to a couple who wish to buy a first home would not be “gambling”, strictly speaking.  Also, loaning money to someone who wishes to start a business would not be classified as “gambling”.  I assume that smart people (people not working in the banking industry) could define the difference between gambling and investing.
Looking at the Eurozone mess that finally crashed MF Global, it might be smart to take private banks out of the business of financing other governments.  Maybe it should be the case that loans to foreign governments would be the province of governments. If Greece wants a loan of $50 billion, maybe that should be debated in Congress and then the US Treasury would be the lender of last resort. MF-Global Gamblers, Inc. should probably not be in that business.
Then finally, there’s the issue of banks “too big to fail.” We need to define that term carefully, Then we should divide the world of banking into two categories—“banks too big to fail” and “all other banks.” All banks in the first category should be “restructured”, i.e., broken up into, say, tenths. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about them failing—if they fail, well, they had a good run. Get me a beer hon . . .
And on exoplanet-Cain, we see that the current front runner must have been studying the Clarence Thomas hearings carefully.  And we know how well that has turned out for America.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Corporations as Persons

I keep thinking about our corrupted Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are now persons.  That decision was designed by the Supremes to allow corporations to donate unlimited cash to the republican fat cat candidates. Never mind that it remains an absurdity on its face. Justice Scalia cares not about such things as logic and sense. He cares only about electing republicans, as when he appointed a republican, George W. to the presidency.

But I keep wondering how we, the non-fat cats of the world, could use his inane decision to benefit non-fat cats. Then it came to me. If banks that commit patent fraud against the people, or their shareholders, or people buying investments designed by the bank to defraud, why can’t we bring such corporate-persons to justice? You know, convene a Grand Jury to indict, say Citigroup for its fraudulent one billion dollar investment deal that screwed a whole bunch of ordinary people. Yeah, I know, they have been fined $280 million for their dishonesty. But that means they’re still left with over $700 million in dollars that represent a fraud. Or how about the banks and other corporate entities that, by screwing with their retirement funds, have managed to rip off their retirees and future retirees, by taking money out of the retirement funds to pay very healthy payouts to their execs, while simultaneously claiming that their pension funds cannot pay out necessary retirement packages for ordinary folks? Their actions there may also be fraud.
Now, as I best understand it,  fraud can be a felony offense.  And yes, fraud is not easy to prove. Still, it would be healthy were we to indict, say, a Citigroup for fraud and force them to defend themselves against a local or Federal law enforcement agent. Now, it brings me to wonder about who we might commit to the slammer, were we to be able to indict and then convict, say, Citigroup of major fraud.  I would assume the agents of that “person” would have to stand-in, i.e., be incarcerated as the living incarnation of the Citigroup person. Otherwise, Citigroup could not be viewed officially as a “person” under any meaningful definition of person (not that Justice Scalia cares such things).
It is fun just to think about Citigroup facing time in prison.  I assume, incidentally that, being convicted of a major felony, the Citigroup person(s) would lose their licenses to continue in the banking business.  That in itself, might be useful outcome.
And on that other planet known as the Strange Land of Cain,  the Godfather of lousy pizza, Mr. Herman Cain has proposed a very basic tax structure, he calls the 9-9-9 plan. He boasts that it is simple. Of such plans, H.L. Mencken once said, For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Bill



October 18th – that was yesterday of course.  But October 18th, 1931 . . . that was a while ago . . . 80 years to be exact. So, yesterday, my brother William would have reached 80 years. We always joked that he was 4 years older than me . . . on his birthday.  But he never made that big number, 80, for he is now gone.  But I think about him often.  He remains the most important man in my life, since he was always forging a path for me to follow. Arguably, we had no father to do so, and Bill picked up that mantle.
When I see our grandchildren being fathered properly, I smile, because whether they are girls or boys, a father’s influence will later be cherished, as a Mother’s.  So, William, I don’t know whether you are simply forging another path for me or that perhaps your energy has just been transformed into another form. We know that energy is always conserved, neither created, nor destroyed. So, your energy remains somewhere in our universe. And your life was full of your energy. That energy spurred me on, I continue to thank you daily William. While you were a man, you were a good man. Now, I hold you fast in my own mind.
So, thanks Wiiliam for all you were and are.
Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In Pursuit of Efficiency in the Private Sector

I’ve been thinking a lot about this great debate going on in our nation about Capitalism vs. Socialism, and about the ostensibly greater efficiencies achieved in having the private sector do stuff vs. the government doing that same stuff.  I should first note that the TeaBaggers and others of that ilk, who keep yelling that Obama is a Socialist really need to get a grip. I assume they keep yelling stuff like that because, well they’re just not very smart.  Most of them don’t really know what Socialism is in any meaningful sense.  Socialism basically means that the “means of production” are centrally owned, i.e., by a central government.  In only a very few countries has socialism been tried in a pure sense, e.g. the Soviet State and a few others of that ilk. Generally, they have not been notably successful. A lot of the problems seem to stem from that old Russian adage, “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

In India, a mixed economic system operated. That is, India employed a “public sector” in which the government owned the plants—generally this sector had the heavy industrials within it. They had a private sector, in which the companies were privately owned, and they also had a mixed sector, in which both types of ownership existed. A number of European nations use a modified socialist model in which many types of services are government owned and operated, but the majority of commercial products and services remain private.
In the United States, we clearly use this mixed model, since  much of our infrastructure, e.g., our highways, have been built by the government, some of our health care is financed by the government, much of our education is financed by the government, and many other services are government financed, or run.  But the vast majority of economic activity in this country is privately owned and operated. Given that Obama has not made any effort to dismantle that system, it is at best inane to label him a socialist.  
In economic systems, we often employ two concepts to assess how well we are doing. One is “efficiency” and the other is “effectiveness”.  Efficiency refers to the input-output ratio, or unit cost. We measure how much labor and material cost we employ to produce a unit of output, and then we can use that measure to compare like economic entities on their relative efficiency.  We need always to be careful when employing such comparative measures to be comparing like output products. That is, we should not compare the unit cost of production of, say a Mercedes Benz sedan, with a Chrysler PT Cruiser. One is clearly a luxury vehicle, the other an annoying little knockoff of a 1939 auto design. We could of course compare two Mercedes plants, or even two plants producing PT Cruisers and measure their relative efficiency.  The Republican advocates of capitalism argue that the private sector is invariably more efficient than the public sector at doing really anything. Yet, in a number of cases, for example, health insurance, the public sector in the form of Medicare can be seen to operate at a lower cost, i.e., at a greater level of efficiency. Mainly the difference here seems to be in the form of relatively lower overhead in Medicare, because the upper levels of private insurance providers pay exorbitant salaries and bonuses to their executives relative to the government.
We can also see cost disadvantages in other forms of “privatization” of formerly government services, e.g., the military. When Shrub and his gang “privatized” parts of our military by giving very large contracts to firms such as Blackwater and Halliburton, the overall cost of providing the services increased dramatically over what they would have been if run by the government itself.  Again, the relative salary structures explain the differences.  So, although it remains arguably true that the private sector may well be more efficient at producing many types of goods and services than the government, it is not axiomatic.
The second type of measure is effectiveness. By “effectiveness” is meant the relative achievement of the main purpose of an activity.  For example, an immunization program might be measured on the extent to which it limits or eliminates the incidence and prevalence of specific diseases, e.g. measles.  Measures of effectiveness are not always so relatively straightforward, because the presumed cause and effect relationships are not always so clear.  In education, for example, the “No Child Left behind” program  has been translated into an increasingly simplistic model in which teachers are viewed as the sole determinant of our children’s education achievement as measured by standardized achievement tests.  The entire program is aimed at test gains, and so the educational system itself is slowly being redesigned into a model in which we teach kids how to take the standardized tests.  There are many obvious things wrong with such an enterprise. First, “education” should be as much about critical thinking skills as test-taking skills, but our current approach largely ignores this issue.  Second, our teachers are but one element in the learning process. Kids’ status on entering school, their home environment, their parental interest and oversight, are all equal factors in determining how well and how much kids actually learn. Teacher skills are but one factor.
On effectiveness measurement, because we have become intellectually lazy, we mostly choose not to do the hard work of forging usable and theoretically defensible measures. We tend toward the lowest possible denominator, often electing to measure that which is easily measurable rather than that which is important.
In many private enterprises, we used to compete on two bases, efficiency and effectiveness.  Efficiency is relatively straightforward—unit cost.  Effectiveness would be more complex and used to include the functional performance of the item, as well as its reliability over time, i.e., its “quality”. For example, my McIntosh stereo system (made in New York and not related to Apple-crap) that I purchased in 1968 still produces superb music  and has experienced no “hiccups” over its 40+ years of performance.  Compare that system with most of today’s electronics which are dead within three years.
It would be interesting to compare relative effectiveness of services produced both by the private sector and the public sector. For example, we could compare the provision of services by Blackwater as against similar services by the US military. Many would argue that, not only is Blackwater (now Xe) more expensive, i.e., less efficient, but that they are less effective at what they do—ergo, it would be better overall were the US military (the Government) to provide these services directly.
Over time, I would argue that the private sector has changed the nature of its game dramatically in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, one could see the private sector, in pursuit of efficiency gains, trying to reduce its unit cost of production so as to become more efficient and, therefore, more competitive. Thus we saw a shift in production from the North to the South because of the low labor cost in the South.  That shift never really stopped as our business executives, always in pursuit of higher profits kept moving the locus of production in the direction of lower labor costs, eventually moving their enterprise production plants to other countries.  Over time, less and less of our commercial production of goods and services is carried out within the United States—which explains in part our unemployment dilemma.  If we do not produce anything here, why would we need a labor force?  When, for example, housing collapsed, that was the last bastion of employment, leading to the continued high unemployment rates, despite the theoretic end of the recession.  There are no jobs because our productive capacity has been moved out of the country in order to gain low unit costs of production.
I would also argue that over the last 20-30 years, not only has our executive workforce been focused on efficiency, it has largely eliminated the other measure—effectiveness. In pursuit of greater profits, efficiency has replaced all other measures. Seemingly, we no longer compete on quality.
Now, if that be true, I am wondering whether we still have one more shift needed in pursuit of greater efficiency.  Why not begin “offshoring” our executive class? Since they represent the last really large pool of cost to reduce, we should think about ridding our companies of that executive staffing and moving those functions to India, China, et al. Think of the savings we could achieve and think of how happy that would make our stockholders.  We could shift all boards of directors, all senior executives—say the top three tiers of every US Company. Wouldn’t that be great?
Another great example of “Be Careful What You Wish For, Guys.”
Just thinking . . .

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our First Naive President

If St. Ronald gave us a first brush with an intellectually challenged president, we can say with confidence that George W. Bush was our first truly stupid president. Unquestionably, Ric Perry would make Shrub fade into the background of stupidheadland, since Perry seems to be intent on demonstrating that Bush wasn’t so bad after all.

In olden times, Republicans might have had scary guys as President, for example,  Richard Milhouse Nixon, but they never seemed terminally stupid. Now, for whatever reasons, Republicans seem to prefer their candidates either really stupid, really crazy, or both (see Michelle Bachman).

But Democrats have come up with an entirely new category -- naivete. Who would have ever considered a naïve president? Well, it would seem in President Obama, we have our very first naïve president.

Naïveté or naïve can be defined as:
Lacking worldly experience and understanding, especially, a. simple and guileless; artless as in a child with a naive charm; or perhaps, b. Unsuspecting or credulous.

How else should we characterize our current Democratic President? Somehow, he keeps thinking, "if I give them something nice, then perhaps they’ll play nice." Then they kick him in the nuts. Presidents such as Lyndon Johnson would smile just before he hit his opponents across the forehead with his ever-handy 2 x 4. Then, having gotten their attention, he would help them up, smile and tell them how things were.

Barack Obama, after having been kicked in the nuts, smiles, gets himself up and then asks what else he can do to help his opponents. Jon Stewart showed an interesting clip of a talk by The NRA’s chief sociopath, Wayne LaPierre. His talk took place after the Feds gave up some more goodies to the gun lobby. But, not appeased, Mr. laPierre instead spoke about how the President was trying to sucker them into believing he would play nice, but he was really all about taking their guns away and imposing his own nightmarish police state on all the nice gunners in the country. Talk about paranoia.

But the NRA rant was really just one small part of the larger republican strategy whereby they will never "play nice", regardless of what our president says or does. And our president doesn’t seem to get that. He keeps thinking that he is dealing with rational people who have the good of the country at heart and so will act accordingly. Instead, he has the equivalent of terrorists who no longer care whether their actions damage the country -- they don’t care Barack!! They might as well have dynamite strapped to their middle.
But our president keeps on, thinking, or maybe just pretending, that good will is just around the corner.

I guess this first term has been instructive to our president, and to the nation in general. It is now clear to one and all that republicans who created that house of cards and then brought it down, now wish to return to their glory days of the George W. Bush era, when War was on, and corporations could do anything they wished. Or maybe they just wish to return us all to that late great era when robber barons roamed the earth and we had just two classes the very rich and everyone else.

So, President Naïve, maybe it’s time to awaken to our real world. We need help. Republicans are out and about trying desperately to crush everything that is/was good about this nation. Wake up, man, and smell the roses, before they’re all dead. And, by the way, how about this? So long as the republicans plan to say no to anything and everything you say or propose, then why not begin saying and proposing what you really think is right? Quit trying to play nice. Perhaps they (and we) might grow to respect you more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

In Celebration of Chutzpah

Chutzpah: Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and a grudging admiration. In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

So, that's you Brian, Mr. too-big-to-fail Bank of America. Five bucks a month for a debit card? You little shit!

So, Bryan baby, I suppose this $5 per month fee is your way of saying thanks to the American people for saving your ass?? I’m not sure I quite get your message. I assume it’s something like,

Well people, the government keeps strangling us with regulations and now we can’t even charge companies fees for these damned debit cards. We’re losing so much money here that I personally will not be able to afford the fourth home I purchased in the Bahamas.  And don’t even mention my sailboat.  So look people, I understand your pain, with no job and all that crap. I get it. Really, I do.  But, you have to be reasonable. Unless I charge you the five bucks per month, I just won’t be able to support the Hummer I was going to buy my kid. So, take it or leave it people. I need the dough. Oh, and speaking of dough, if you’re having trouble scraping up the dough to buy bread (hahaha, get it . . . dough . . . bread??) I suggest a nice cake instead.”
So, here’s my suggestion to you Brian, baby. I think the government should take away your gambling license.  See, instead of you taking all of our money and pissing it away on gambling, something you’re obviously not very good at by the way, we think you should go back into the banking business. What’s that? Well, it’s something like this. See, people take their cash and place it in your care. You charge them a small fee for handling it, and then, if they leave it with you long enough, you invest it in actual loans—you know, like when people want to buy a car or a house, or maybe start a small business?? Remember those kinds of loans?  And you also provide people with a thing called a checking account and you can charge them another small fee for that.
But that’s it Brian. You can’t do anything else. Oh, and one more thing, Brian. We’re not going to let you operate in more than one state—so pick your state carefully. Yeah, no more global banking shit. That’s for smart people, not people like you Brian.
So, that’s all for now Brian. Oh, and one more thing. If you ever stray off the reservation again, we’re going to put handcuffs around your wrists and place you in a small jail cell for a really long time.
Ta ta Brian. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Colleges as the Minor Leagues

Reading the Observer this morning about how the University of North Carolina is taking a fresh look at its academic offerings, especially those preferred by its “student-athletes” brings me to a sense of sadness and wonder—wonder that we can go on playing this game of “Let’s Pretend” regarding athletics and money in this country.

I began thinking about this subject a long time ago. When I attended university, we used to refer to one of the schools in our conference as a “football factory”.  The term was intended to denigrate their academic program, which we thought had lost out to their athletic programs.  Then, over time, the Olympics started to come into focus, especially the notion that the games were somehow pure, i.e., the athletes had not yet been tainted by money—they were all “amateur athletes.”  The more I paid attention, the clearer it became that Olympic athletes were really “amateur” in name only. Most were sponsored by some group or another and the ones that weren’t had commercial sponsors who paid them one way or another. When professional basketball invaded the Olympics, I conceded that the amateur athletics notion had just been buried for good.

 Then over time, one college after another got stung by its own stupidity and greed. Money began to dominate college athletics.  The TV rights to games alone made the “amateur” notion of collegiate competition a joke.  So, why would we continue to play “Let’s Pretend”?  Well, apparently nobody is willing to stand up and state the obvious—college “student-athletes’ are paid minor league athletic employees. Unlike baseball, where the major league teams own their own minor league franchises to train their upcoming athletes, in football and basketball (the so-called “revenue sports”) colleges provide the minor leagues.  A recent controversy regarding the true nature of college athletes (are they paid employees?)  has been brought into the daylight via an article in the Atlantic by Taylor Branch—“The Shame of College Sports” –The Atlantic, October 2011.  The true controversy is whether we should consider college athletes as paid employees of the university, in which case they would be entitled to workmen’s compensation when they become injured.  Apparently, the powers that be do not want that, because it would leave them liable. The NCAA “Let’s Pretend” they’re just student-athletes allows everyone to escape such liability.

But the potential damage even goes beyond that done to the athletes themselves. The college academic programs are also damaged, as when we used to refer to that “football factory”.  Real students who graduate from the “football factories” of the country are not treated as seriously as they should. See, even “football factories” have serious academic study programs and real students. If the “student-athletes” manage to trash their school’s academic standing because they are joke students, many real students are thereby potentially damaged.
So, why not just admit the truth—college football and basketball NCAA conferences are the true minor leagues of the NBA and the NFL. The participating athletes are minor league professional athletes—paid employees. Whether they go to classes is largely irrelevant. Maybe we even need to go the extra mile and declare that these athletes don’t actually have to attend academic classes, since they are not real students.
Now the problem with such an approach is that it may punish the real student-athletes, i.e., the students who happen to be both gifted academics and gifted athletes.  Surely we are clever enough to manage such a reality so as to not harm the real student-athletes.
And while we are on the subject of truth in athletics, why don’t we deal with the taboo subject of “performance-enhancing drugs”? Talk about “Let’s Pretend”.  We demand that athletes meet higher and higher performance standards, and then we wonder and are “shocked . . . shocked” when we find that high performing athletes actually cheat by injecting themselves with various Illegal substances in order to become better at their game.  But in the end, who really cares if Lance Armstrong used illegal drugs to gain his mastery over the field of bikers?  If professional athletes wish to screw up their bodies in exchange for gaining mastery (and a great deal of money) why not let them? Nobody is forcing them to choose that path to glory.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The GOP as a Cult

In a recent article in truthOut (http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779) a recent defector (retiree) from the ranks of the GOP Mike Lofgren, a former professional republican staff member wrote:
" A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner. A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media.
Mr. Lofgren includes in his article a quote from John P. Judis, an editor at the New Republic, “Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery."
It seems to me that anyone with even a shred of objectivity left cannot but be dismayed watching the cast of characters who currently pose as actual or potential leaders in the GOP, including most especially the people acting as candidates for the highest office in the Land.  It seems equally clear that republicans in general now are more than simply opposed to Obama policies and program proposals. They oppose almost as a religious experience.  They oppose as the Islamic extremist with dynamite strapped to his middle opposes as he detonates himself in a marketplace of innocent people. They seem no longer to care what results from their opposition.  And that makes them truly dangerous to the future of our republic.
When I observed that New Yorkers, seeking to replace the idiotic Anthony  Weiner as their Congressman, voted for a conservative republican instead of his democratic challenger, I gasped. What could they be thinking, I wondered? You are voting to install yet another person to oppose any ideas of our president to minimize the economic damage done to our country by, guess who, conservative republicans? Really . . . you really imagine that you are sending a smart message to our president? A message to be sure, but the message is, “well we’re just a bunch of ignorant, low-information voters who are unhappy, so we’re installing another of the idiots who got us into this mess . . . as a way of telling you we want someone to get us out of this mess . . . that we’re helping to keep us in . . .” Yeah, that’ll surely work to invigorate the president.  Nothing like making his work harder as a way of hoping he can work smarter.
So this coming election in 2012 may well settle both our economic future, and our future as a democratic society.   It is hard to be hopeful, when visions of America as Iran keep appearing in the rear view mirror.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The GOP Anti-Enlightenment

It is one the world’s true wonders that current republican candidates can be so wrong on so many issues, and how they label our president with the worst of their own faulty positions.  Their main smear against Obama is that he just wants to do “more of the same thing”, which has not worked, and will not work in the future. 

On that point, it is hard to label Obama as a “more of the same thing” kind of guy, since, aside from rescuing the banks, he actually hasn’t done much on the economic front.  Some of the things he says he wants to do—spending on infrastructure for example, are hotly resisted by all of the candidates.  In fact, it seems not to matter what Obama wants to do—republicans have said No to everything.  They do so want him to be a one-term president.
So, what is their prescription?
Repeal “Obamacare” – now there’s a big job creator. Take away health care from the 40+ million who have none, thereby further reducing their spendable income. Yeah, that’s a winner. The main fear of republicans about “Obamacare” of course, is that it threatens one of their core financial supporters, the health insurance industry.
Roll back all regulations – they talk of an ‘explosion” of regulations, “smothering” American job creators. In fact, the near absence of regulations is what got us into the current financial mess to begin with. Their most current bitch was about some proposed EPA regulations on emissions, which Obama just killed. But the fact is, our skies were cleaned up with no obvious deleterious effects on employment some 40 years ago. Republicans are simply lying about it. What we need is to reinvigorate EPA, not kill it. Bush almost succeeded in killing it, and in fact killing all regulations. That worked out real well, huh?
Cut more taxes on corporations, especially on profits earned overseas—oh yeah, that’ll create more jobs, huh?  The main net effect of further cutting corporate taxes, already at a low point, is to fatten the profits flowing to the wealthiest Americans. No new jobs are created by these tax cuts, but they do exacerbate the already perilously high and climbing national debt.
Substitute the Bible for the Constitution – sounds far fetched, except that one of the core constituencies of current republicans is the country’s Christian Taliban.  They are a scary bunch who want to gut public education and replace secular law with religious law (e.g., Sharia). Current candidates cherish this bunch of ignorant miscreants.
Get rid of what remains of the Nation’s Middle Class – this is one of the most baffling of their platform planks. They seem bent on killing the Middle Class, which is the group that made America great, while it was still great. Republicans seem intent on destroying that class and its institutions, including unions, public schooling, Medicare, Social Security and the minimum wage.  They seem not to realize that, if we lose the Middle Class (a serious possibility) we lose much of America.
Talk about repeating the same thing over and over, while expecting different results (one definition of insanity). That platform more or less describes the course charted for America by George W. Bush. I believe we are in the middle of Great Depression II mainly because of those republican policies held so dear by the current crop of candidates.  If Obama hasn’t yet even begun the job of solving the enormous problems of our Nation, willed to him by republicans, it is because republicans continue to resist solutions.  Some of them, Bachman for example, wish to return the Nation to the 18th century, without the enlightenment part, of course.  Call her crazy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Buying the GOP

So Michelle Bachman says now that she was, “just joking” when she commented that God had decided that she needed to send a message to the heathens, and so she ordered both an earthquake and hurricane.  Did seem a bit like “overkill”. I mean she could have done one or the other, but both?? But it’s good to know that God is still ok, or so Michelle now tells us. What a kidder, huh??  I Mean, she talks to her almightiness every day, so one could assume that Michelle would know whether the Godster was making angry noises at us Dems and libs.  Why is it, that I get this uneasy feeling whenever Michelle laughs—she’s so . . . creepy.  But I suppose all batshit crazy folks are like that, huh?? Maybe she was off her meds when she made the joke. I always wonder whether Michelle and Glenn Beck are on the same meds.

But my really big wonderment is how much the Koch’s and their allies-in-crime had to pay when they bought the Republican Party, or possibly what the rent is, if all they did was to rent the party for a decade or so.  And how was the sale advertised. I mean, I never saw it in TV, or the radio (of course, they were unlikely to advertise it on PBS or NPR, huh? I guess the Faux News Network carried the ads. I envision an ad something like that below, with a banner –ALL SALES FINAL! Maybe it was put up for auction on E-Bay.  Who knows, but I’ll bet those wily Koch Brothers brought home the bacon, so to speak.  It does seem clear, doesn’t it??

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Political and Religious Terrorism

When Rick Perry sponsored his great prayer-in and asked the “Dominionistas” to basically help him to organize and run the affair, many wondered about him and what such an event signified for his campaign.  Who are these people  who assisted in this event? According to various sources, Dominion Theology is a grouping of theological systems with the common belief that the law of God - as codified in the Bible - should exclusively govern society, to the exclusion of secular law, a view also known as theonomy. As of 2010 the most prominent modern formulation of Dominion Theology is Christian Reconstructionism, founded by R. J. Rushdoony in the 1970s. Reconstructionists themselves use the word dominionism to refer to their belief that Christians alone should control civil government, conducting it according to Biblical law

In the early 1990s sociologist Sara Diamond and journalist Frederick Clarkson defined dominionism as a movement that, while including Dominion Theology and Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right. In his 1992 study of Dominion Theology and its influence on the Christian Right, Bruce Barron writes, “In the context of American evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life, the distinguishing mark of a dominionist is a commitment to defining and carrying out an approach to building society that is self-consciously defined as exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of Christians, rather than based on a broader consensus.”
Dominionists assert a Christian duty to take "control of a sinful secular society."The following characteristics are shared by all forms of dominionism:
1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
 2. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
 3. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.
Some, hopefully not all, view this religious movement as a mandate to assert control of what they view as the seven main elements of authority in the United States – (1) Business; (2) Government; (3) Media; (4) Arts and Entertainment; (5) Education; (6) Family; and (7) Religion.  They speak of creating “martyrs” among the youth, a term some, me included, associate with Islamic Mideast terrorists with dynamite strapped to their middle.
It seems increasingly clear that this group(s) seeks to dominate the United States, and then the world, just prior to their destruction—the End Times.  
At what stage, I wonder, do these people make it onto the FBI’s terrorist watch list? They seem to me to be advocating the violent overthrow of the United States, in that they disagree and wish to change our basic Constitution, in fact our entire way of life. They promote intolerance of other religions, and other cultural values. Of course, they hate and wish to destroy Gays and eliminate abortion.
And now we have at least one (Rick Perry) and perhaps others (Bachman and Palin), potential candidates to become President, who not only associate with these potential terrorists (could we not say they are “palling around with terrorists”?) but actively promote their values. We already know that Perry has advocated breaking up the United States (seceding is a form, surely, of breaking up the US).
Since this group of potential religious terrorists seems to have now joined forces with the mainstream of the Republican party, I am left wondering how we should now label this Grand Old Party?  Have republicans now become party to a terrorist organization, seeking to overthrow the nation?
So, I ask again, when will the FBI begin labeling as potential terrorists the Domionistas, and everyone who associates with them, including those republican candidates for president who seem to openly espouse their views? Perhaps Mr. Perry should be on a "No-Fly" list?
Or perhaps such a drastic action could be avoided, if the  few remaining rational republicans ever decide to reclaim control of their party from the crazies who seem now so firmly in control.
Oh, and one more thing. People this extreme clearly need to be taken seriously. We trivialize this group at our peril.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Market Woes and Other Jokes

Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling, down, down, down. Even Borowitz is making fun out of the present mess. He reports, in a recent article:
“In what stock market analysts are pointing to as a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy period for Wall Street, manufacturers of downward arrows posted record profits this week.
While makers of cars, computers, farm equipment and practically everything else saw their fortunes plunge this week, producers of downward arrows notched double-digit gains, inspiring investors to snap up their shares like never before.
Companies like National Plunging Arrow Corp and Consolidated Downward Pointy Lines saw their shares rocket as investors rushed to participate in the suddenly red-hot red-arrow sector.” (BorowitzReport.com, Aug. 19, 2011).
The big question in my mind these days is whether I should join in this amusing game and continue making fun of our bankers and investment brokers, or to run screaming around the room, shouting that the sky really is falling this time.  After all, I was born during the first great depression, brought to you by the same folks who have manufactured our current financial disaster. My grandparents went broke during that period, and we survived partly by skipping from one apartment to another, just ahead of the rent collectors.  So, while it’s amusing to make fun of the current group of thieves who are in charge of the world’s money, it does give me pause. We are, after all on a serious retirement budget. We are no longer adding to our asset pool, and, given the mess made by our bankers of the real estate market, our main asset, our home, is likely as not worth less than what we paid for it 15 years ago. So, how funny is that?
And all I hear coming from the current crop of fools masquerading as presidential candidates on the right is, Cut Government Budgets, Give us More Tax Cuts. One doesn’t really need a PhD in economics to discern that more government spending, especially in infrastructure (currently falling apart in the USofA) and energy might well reap both current and future benefits to the nation’s economy.  Yes, more spending would add to our deficit woes, but increased taxes, especially on the upper income groups (see Warren Buffet) will reduce those deficits. Our current deficits spring from the Bush tax cuts, his unnecessary war in Iraq, and the massive illegal and certainly corrupt practices of the nation’s bankers.  Reversing the tax cuts, and moving our tax rates to what they were, say, 15 years ago), and getting out of both Iraq and Afghanistan will go a long way to reverse our economic decline.  To those who argue that we cannot just up and leave Iraq and Afghanistan, I would say, why yes we can.  Both countries will of course go on killing one another, just not us. They will emerge, eventually, as Islamic dictatorships, probably on the model of Iran.  And then they will continue to operate as 12th century oligarchies, with warlords, or Ayatollahs running them.  Like the Brits and the Russians before us, we are incapable of preventing such an eventual outcome, regardless of how long we remain.
We need to leave, now. And we need to pass substantial tax increases, so we can invest substantial sums in employment-based research and infrastructure development. We need to put the people back to work, and stop coddling the Murdoch’s and the Koch’s of this land. They are poisoning our nation. So stop catering to them . . .Now!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

By By Bankers

With the BofA stock price tumbling to the point where it will soon be worth bupkus, it leaves me wondering about the future of Charlotte. Charlotte is nothing if not the home of big banking.  So what does Charlotte become if Moynihan and company dribble off into the miasma. Where do dead banks go, I wonder? Is there some bank hell where the old banks and their accompanying bankers live on, mumbling about their lost opportunities??

I don’t see Charlotte becoming another silicon valley. That needs people with energy and imagination . . . oh and some serious smarts, characteristics not normally associated with banking.  Manufacturing??? Hmmm, what would we manufacture? I suppose we could build a paper reprocessing plant to convert all those old bank deposit slips into, say toilet paper.
How about call centers??? With all the unemployed banking people wandering the streets of Charlotte, maybe we could bring back some of that business we shipped off to Bangalore. Ex-bankers would be great at telling callers to “please remain on the line, your call is very important to us, so kindly listen to our Muzak while we attend to real business.”
But then I thought out of the box. I thought about Italy and all its attendant debt problems, and then it came to me. The Mafia.
Yeah, that’s it. What a great fit. We could contact some folks in Sicily, ask them if they would be interested in setting up business in Charlotte. They could move into the same offices vacated by Mr. Moynihan & Co. I mean, the Bank of America building has got to be better than what they have in Sicily, especially with those nasty IMF folks breathing down everyone’s throat.  
And the mafiosas’ wouldn’t even have to be retrained.  They’re already in the two main businesses run by the BofA—loan sharking and gambling. So, they could just move right in and take over the Countrywide crap that’s choking the country. And, you know, it might be refreshing to have the customers able to deal with real professionals when they default on their home mortgages, and someone is needed to kneecap them. I mean BofA guys were such amateurs at the game . . .
Always thinking . . .
And on another exoplanet, it is rumored that Governor Rick Perry  has declared that all income taxes are patently illegal and unconstitutional, and that, when he is elected President, he will finance all federal government operations by holding bake sales. He’s hoping that Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin will serve as co-chairs of his bake sale committee, them being, you know, persons of the female persuasion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adam & Eve and Other Fairy Tales

It’s hard to imagine how things could possibly go more astray in this nation than it has already. Recently, we learned that the religious right wing, aka Christian Taliban, have been arguing about Adam and Eve, and whether the geologic evidence, coupled with genetic evidence, would support or deny the Adam and Eve Fairy tale.  Really, folks, you’re discussing this fairy tale, as though it has a reality base???
Can we next discuss the alternate universe in which Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are real?
We could discuss, for example:
1.       Does Santa pay his elves union wages, and does he supply benefits, including especially health care? Elves, it turns out, have special medical needs associated with traveling in an oxygen-deprived environment for such long time period, and then having to waiting around on freezing roof tops while the old jolly guy jumps down chimneys and does his thing.

2.     How big is the tooth fairy, and how does she know enough about international exchange rates to keep track of her payment schedules? Does she maybe have financial advisory fairies?

3.       Does the Easter Bunny dress up before visiting the homes of little boys and girls and hiding jelly beans all over the place?  Wouldn’t want to think of our precious little ones awakening and seeing a naked bunny running around their house. And, also, does the bunny now buy her jelly beans from China like everyone else?
We have never to my best understanding had a serious debate among the fairy scholars of our land of these issues.  I’m sure they are discussed in closed quarters within such eminent academic establishments as Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, but it would be good for the main ranks of the fairy believer population to see serious people engaged in these serious intellectual pursuits.