Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama Wins (well, sort of)

Some call the present recovery a sham. I'd simply say that it is a managed economy, as usual. Mostly, it has been managed by bankers and intended in their own interest but sometimes with unexpected results. A good computer program could stabilize our economy much more successfully. Human beings are hindered by very short time horizons and a desire for quick satisfaction. The consequences frequently resemble what has been known as "the tragedy of the commons." In a word, they greedily foul their own nest and produce tragic results for many of the innocent.

Money rules; human beings primarily act as place holders for accumulated capital which continues to accumulate in good times and bad. Unfortunately, the human element only makes things worse. Incompetent hogs are Mammon's Achilles heel. They rig the "invisible hand" of the markets and create bubbles and crashes like there is no tomorrow. They will, if not restrained, destroy the biosphere of this planet. They create their own "facts" and slander all contrary science as "junk science." They employ an eagerly bought army of servile professionals; politicians, scientists, intellectuals, pr experts, media commentators, money managers, lawyers and, yes, even thugs. It pays well to lie and to spin and to legislate in their service.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bipartisanship Rampant

Today, the compromise tax bill's romp through the congress seems to have become unstoppable.

When the two parties and the electorate come together like this, it is possible to infer that they are going to borrow even more money than had previously been contemplated. Even the staunch defenders of the "unborn" are not protesting loudly. After all, the debt is a long term problem and, in the long run, we shall be dead.

In the short term, this bill is good for almost everyone: the unemployed, the middle income taxpayer, the rich who just love to get richer, the businessmen whose main concern is the next quarterly report, the wall street crowd through whose sticky fingers pass the most lucrative transactions, and even me because my modest investments will be made moderately less modest.

So much for the class war, which will just bubble along quietly until the next election campaign is underway. The screams will probably be very audible a year from now.

Is there a point to all this? Yes, it is clear for all to see: it is not lack of information that afflicts us. The fault is in our nature. It will take more than a few deaths and modest ecological disasters to change us in any constructive way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We are not all Sheep

In his hastily called press conference today Obama gave a very slick defense of his compromise with the Republicans on taxes.

It has not escaped me that the extra x00 billion dollars we will borrow to pay for it will be just another excuse for attacking important social programs. It is a part of the "starve the beast" strategy that is being used in a long standing and vicious class war against the American people.

Obama is a skillful shepherd but we are not all sheep.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What the Political Parties D0 Best

There are three important USA deficits that urgently need to be reduced: the budget deficit, the trade deficit, and the jobs deficit (we are exporting more jobs than we create internally). In addition, the swollen concentration of wealth needs to be reduced or there will never be enough American demand for goods and services to sustain economic growth. This growth will be needed in order to make the servicing of our huge debt tolerable.

Tax laws can be used in order to correct these monumental problems. What are the two main parties up to? Well there seems to be a "compromise" in the works. There will be a temporary extension of all Bush tax cuts, which the Republicans want, in return for a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and maybe a few other tax breaks for the middle class, which the Democrats want.

The tax cut extensions mean lost revenue. The unemployment benefits mean more expenditures. The tax cuts for the rich mean more money to invest, mainly abroad because that's where the profits are. Tax cuts and benefits for the middle class mean more consumption, largely for imports because we don't make much anymore. So we are still in the mode of increasing the deficits. The Bush tax cuts also accelerated the longer term increase in the concentration of wealth.

What are the two parties up to? Kicking the can down the road. That is what they do best. This is unsustainable!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good Fiscal Policy versus Bloody Awful Fiscal Policy

The USA, as well as most developed countries, is now faced with a chronic and worsening fiscal problem: the national debt has been rapidly growing as a percentage of the gross domestic product. This is an unsustainable trend and it must be remedied by some combination of revenue enhancement and spending cuts.

In the political arena and in the media that report on it many aspects of this problem are being vigorously debated but there is a near silence concerning the central issue. One notable exception to this silence is in a New York Times op-ed column by Nicholas Kristoff, who cites Timothy Noah of Slate:

"The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana."

There are many important details to be considered but the central issue of solutions to our fiscal problem is just this: does it increase or decrease the concentration of wealth? This will determine the kind of nation the USA is to be.

The political parties have long made a game of this in dealing with the issue that is of central importance to them: winning the next election. The centrist Democrats have pandered to their base by always advocating increased social programs, while the rightist Republicans have pandered to their base by always advocating decreased taxes. The natural consequence of this has been alternating decreases in taxes and increases in benefits. Sure, there have been instances in which government has been forced to increase taxes or to decrease benefits but these are exceptions to the long term trend.

How do the political parties stand on the obvious need to increase taxes and reduce social programs? True to form. of course. The Democrats want solutions that will tend to decrease the concentration of wealth while the Republicans want solutions that will clearly increase the concentration of wealth.

The Republicans have an important advantage in this: their base has much more money for political persuasion, including corporate money, and that is available at all times. Money is incredibly effective in buying professional services, for example, pr spinners and intellectuals, media groups, lobbyists, legal firms, elected politicians, back room politicians, and even thugs.

The Democrats have a larger electoral base, including organized labor, some intellectuals, some politicians and some media (mostly internet). They are almost always outspent during political campaigns and it is harder for them to maintain focused popular enthusiasm for a long term struggle, particularly when compromises are necessary.

The question for independent minded people is, above all, what kind of nation do they want the USA to become? In this, opinions are divided but I believe that the Democrats, warts and all, are on the side of the angels. Less concentration of wealth means less misery, more social mobility, better education, better health care, more equality of opportunity, and a more productive nation. More concentration of wealth means more corporate control of government and, inevitably, serfdom or violent resistance.

Friedrich Hayek, in "The Road to Serfdom", wrote that government control of the means of production will lead to serfdom, but it is clear that plutocratic control of government can have a similar effect. We stand at a cusp of history.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Midterm Critique

Our President is one of the sweetest, most reasonable men ever to grace this office.

That's a pity because those who have our economy by the throat and who own most of our politicians won't give up their privilege without a very hard fight. This president seems to have no spine for a hard fight. Up to the present time, he has acted as an agent for the status quo (with minor adjustments aimed at preserving it more than reforming it) and he has made himself increasingly irrelevant.

While he smiles benevolently and offers surrender to the uncompromising GOP, the concentration of wealth continues, investments go overseas in search of profit, and the American middle class is being devoured. American entrepreneurship will inevitably also decline and most of what continues to be invented here will be manufactured elsewhere.

Among the sad failures of this administration is its weak response as its Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate were used as piƱatas by the opposition amidst a flood of anonymous corporate campaign ads.

Monday, October 25, 2010

CODS, the Corruption of Democracy Syndrome

There is always a competition between classes for a division of the rewards for economic activity. In modern states, including democracies, the competition is between workers and the owners of capital. This is the normal state of affairs and it can be carried out within the bounds of civil dialog provided that the government acts as an even handed arbiter and things don't get too far out of balance.

What I mean by "out of balance" can be discerned through a number of signs. The most fundamental one is purely economic. If the concentration of wealth has a perceptible long term increase, the system is unstable and, eventually, very painful things will happen. That has been going on in the USA for at least a couple of decades.

There are a number of reasons why this should be so but it is perfectly obvious that wealth can have more influence with government than labor when the government can be bought.

Well, political campaigns have become very expensive in the USA and our government has become as bought as anyone could imagine. We have a scandalous condition of legalized bribery, a revolving door between government service and very well paid lobbying activity, and private ownership of the major news media. What more could anyone do to undermine our democratic institutions - other than to install one party rule.

Draining this swamp is not optional, it has become a painfully clear necessity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dear DFA

Gandhi allegedly said when asked what he thought of Western civilization, "that's a nice idea." I feel the same about a "just, fair, pragmatic and humane nation." I would add "productive" to your list of adjectives. If such a nation were to exist, it would be a big step up the evolutionary ladder. No such thing exists today nor will it exist during my lifetime. We are what we are and evolution is usually a slow (and very wasteful) process.

It is a lovely idea!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Really, Really Simple Observation.

Conservatives, following President Reagan, like to say that government will not solve the problem, government is the problem. This is at least partly true.

What problem are they talking about? Inasmuch as we need government to deal with a number of societal problems that cannot safely be left to the "invisible hand" of the market (particularly, unregulated markets that invite monumental white collar crime, that is, very UNfair markets), the problem seems to be to get a government that effectively solves societal problems in the national interest.

There, that was simple - and there is a simple solution: create a government that cannot be bought! However, even a simple concept can be difficult to implement. The difficulty arises from a flaw in human nature. Many politicians LOVE to be bought if that will assure their continued incumbency and prosperity. Consequently, one very likely evolutionary course for a democracy is to become a representative plutocracy or a corporate state.

Of course, we could, in principle, replace expensive, privately financed campaigns with publicly funded campaigns. That would be much less costly in the long run if it improves government integrity.

What about assuring incumbency? Well, public financing can't do that. Therefore, resistance will be fierce, both from the bought politicians and their corporate benefactors. Its a fight we can't afford to put off indefinitely.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dear Obama Administration

I have been hearing two diverse comments concerning the upcoming elections. One is that they will be a referendum on the Obama administration. The other is that they will be a choice between Democrats and Republicans.

Obviously, the administration has decided in favor of the latter view. I concur that, given the destructive nature of the Republican Party at this time, this will maximize the chances for Democratic survival.

To sum it up, the progressives are not inclined to a suicide pact.

So those of us who supported Obama in the past will mostly support the Democrats in 2010. This does not mean that we are happy about all of the administration's deal making with the very powerful groups who have been bleeding the nation white and their loyal bought legislators. These people will not make deals that are not in their interests but, it seems, the administration is unwilling to fight them.

OK, even pragmatists can have differences of opinion. However, in a transparent administration, differences can be freely discussed.

Much of the really gritty reality of this administration has been hidden. When that lack of "change we can believe in" is criticized, we get a Lardnerism: "shut up", he explained. That kind of snotty elitism could be interpreted as a lack of good character and, moreover, gutless.

Do you plan to continue in this manner - or will you shape up?

It's no sweat to me. I am 86 years old and I've seen enough for one bf lifetime.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Political Science 101, Part 2

In part 1, I observed that, in order to create a humane, productive and relatively stable civilization, we must culturally mold individual motivations that are more in line with the common good. We are far from that point today.

The evidence for that is clear. The ancient habit of sacking cities, taking slaves, and killing everyone else is now relatively well contained but there are numerous alternatives that have been developed for controlling people's lives and mercilessly ripping them off. Among these are tribalism, nationalism, xenophobia, militarism, corporatism, free-marketism (ie, Randism), representative plutocracies, and know-nothing-ism. Perhaps there are others as well but these will do for a start.

The last four: corporatism, free-marketism, representative plutocracy, and know-nothing-ism are so fully in play in the USA today that only the deliberately blind can fail to see them. To be sure, many who do see these problems would like to find compromises that could, probably, mitigate them. American political institutions could make this possible but every step of the way will be hard fought. Human beings are not known to give up privilege without a struggle. Alas, that is one of the most difficult compromises to achieve: how does one engage in a hard fight without creating chaos? Political science must grapple with that, and it seems to present a moving target. Technology and commerce are evolving at an alarming rate, relative to even one human lifespan.

Representative plutocracy is the fundamental pathology while corporatism, free-marketism, and know-nothing-ism are its facilitators. In effect, the intimate and corrupt interaction between the wealth establishment and the political establishment maintains the trappings and institutions of a representative democracy while remaining in control of events. As one anonymous internet poster has complained, "first we elect them and then they get bought." That is a very correct observation but the details are quite complex.

By the "wealth establishment" I do not mean to point a finger at only the wealthy. On the contrary, many of them are quite decent citizens. What happens is that the concentration of capital has a life of its own and it feeds off the work of many who find that work seductively rewarding: money managers, lawyers, accountants, news media owners and employees, pr experts, bankers, corporate executives, and venal politicians. That is quite an army and it would be very naive to imagine that they are reluctant to exercise their power.

Unfortunately, the problem grows with the inevitably increasing concentration of wealth and it leads to political, economic and even environmental instabilities. Therefore, the central problem of political theory at this stage of development must be: how to put a brake on this process without serious disorders.

Some of the countries of Europe seem to be ahead of the USA at this time, probably because they are also ahead of the USA in cultural progress and education. I find it difficult to believe that the political problem can be solved in the USA without a serious educational effort.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dear Congressman Boehner

I have little expectation that you will put the national interest ahead of your own so I have had little reason to contact you. However, having read about your recent economic policy proposals, I am inclined to believe that I have underestimated you.

Yes siree, your proposal to couple a mildly stimulative extension of the Bush tax cuts with a job-killing reduction of Federal spending during a major recession is a stroke of political genius.

I have reached a higher state of enlightenment. I now understand your view that a large part of the electorate is cognitively challenged, bigtime. I cannot agree more. I know that you can represent them very well.

We Deliver

And now for something completely different.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dear President Obama

I am 85 years old and my stake in the left-right political battle of the sound bites is minimal. But I do care very much about the struggle for a productive, humane and relatively stable society.

At this time, I find your contribution to that struggle to be minimal. I am of course not utterly shocked by the discrepancy between campaign rhetoric and actual performance. All the same, I cannot recall any previous instance when an administration spat in the faces of its most energetic supporters so publicly and unrepentantly.

If press sec Gibbs does not speak for the President then he should go. If he does, then this administration should not last beyond its present term.

Why? Because cutting deals with the very people who are bleeding the country white will not do what is necessary. It just prolongs the misery. Some battles are worth fighting even when the first battle is lost.

You just don't seem to get it.

I do not have the resources of the bankers or big pharma and my personal decision will have no significant effect on the next elections but I intend to do what is right in my own eyes.

Whatever I can contribute will be given solely to those progressive organizations who have not abandoned the fight for genuine change in Washington.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Macro-economics 101

See if you can connect the dots.

The number of poor is increasing.
The number of millionaires is increasing. Why?

Corporate executives, as a class, have been bleeding the country white. Bankers have been the most prominently successful. They did this not by creating value but by gambling with other people's money.

Congressional campaigns are very expensive.

The millionaires and, particularly, their corporate engines of wealth accumulation have much more influence over the Congress than do the rest of the public. One disgusted senator, referring to the banks, said "they own this place." OK, but this poses a serious economic problem by increasing the concentration of wealth.

The real rate of unemployment is about 16 percent.
Employers are not hiring enough people because they can meet all of the consumer demand with the ones they already have. Why?

Too many people are out of work or working for depressed wages. They are also in debt up to their eyeballs and don't have any discretionary income.

When the millionaires gather in more income, they can invest most of it. Some of it goes into US bonds and gold bullion. A bf part of it is invested abroad. Why?

Cheap labor and large reserves of natural resources are where the profits are to be found.

OK, our economy has a serious imbalance: lots of accumulated investment capital but too little consumer demand. What to do? Here are some possibilities.

Abandon the American people to privation and invest abroad. Problem: some of the people can see the big picture and they will tell the others. This strategy is exactly what has been in effect but it is not indefinitely sustainable - even with the undying loyalty of one political party and significant influence over the other.

Increase American consumption. Government can do this by building infrastructure and by subsidizing science and industrial R&D, and by subsidizing social services such as education and health care and by subsidizing certain large purchases such as automobiles, energy saving appliances, home improvements, and houses. This will make more government income necessary. It cannot be done forever on borrowed money. When more progressive taxes are enacted the Right will howl about "redistribution" and "class warfare."

OK, what's your alternative?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Political Science 101: Keeping it Simple, Part 1

Political science is not just political tactics or political organization. It is also about getting things done that are in the national interest. It is about governing a humane, productive, and relatively stable society. If you don't share that point of view, don't bother reading further.

Two things ought to be abundantly clear: any "science" that deals with human beings is not yet very well advanced and whatever institutions we have, or think we have, are not nearly ideal. We need to do some critical thinking, particularly, about the necessary compromises. First of all, we need to identify and define these compromises. In addition, We shall need to be objective and pragmatic about what we already know, or think we know. This is not an attempt to create yet another wacky ideological cult. Ideology can constrain thought to the point of egregious stupidity.

There are many wacky ideologies and some of them are widely held. I'll name just two of the less bizarre examples. One of them is the notion that the human species is the product of "intelligent design." Just open your eyes and see our world as it is.

Another one is based upon the confusion between free, meaning unregulated, markets and fair markets. It is true that "free" and "fair" are both four letter words beginning with "f", but we know that words fitting that description can have widely divergent meanings. The belief that the invisible hand of unregulated markets can produce beneficial economic and social consequences is a wacky triumph of deceit and delusion over bitter experience. As Thomas Hobbes wrote, the lives of men unregulated by law are likely to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Well, what do we know fairly reliably about most human beings?


I first heard this important principle about half a century ago from an MIT professor of engineering. I do not claim the truth of this assertion solely upon his authority; I have had about 50 years in which to evaluate it, based upon my own experience and that of others.

There is nothing mysterious about this. We are all the descendants of individuals who survived, reproduced, and evolved under the competitive rigors of natural selection and sexual selection during the roughly 200 million years of mammalian life. Pain and pleasure seem to have been the primary psychological driving forces during this period and we are immersed in them today. This shows up very clearly in the competition among teenagers for status in their groups by bullying and by setting up pecking orders. It also shows up clearly in the considerable prevalence of crime and in addictive sexual behavior and in drug addiction.

Obviously, the human psyche, left to its own devices, is not yet ready for prime time as a social entity. There is a clear contradiction between the needs of society and the innate needs of the individual. This is the salient point at which compromise is necessary.

Cultural evolution moves at a faster pace than biological evolution but, recently, technology has outpaced culture. Technology today is not what it was during my formative years. Therefore, we have yet another disconnect: we are reasonably well equipped for a tribal society of hunter-gatherers but, individually and culturally, not nearly so well adapted to a technologically modern and dynamic society.

Until we learn to engineer better people, our principal sociopolitical tools will have to be law, cultural engineering, and education. The principal use of these tools needs to be to develop personal motivations that more closely parallel what is socially desirable than is the case today. We have a long way to go.

Part 2 will address what seem to be some necessary compromises and massive political obstacles to achieving beneficial changes.

Friday, April 30, 2010

O Giant Techbrains, Are You Listening?

This post is a customer's amused view of the interaction among three outstanding products of our hi tech culture: the Imac computer by Apple, the Pixma MP830 all-in-one printer-copier-fax by Canon, and the BE750G uninterruptable power supply by APC.

When I received my Imac I already had the printer. I found that the Imac Tiger OSX had a feature that allowed me to point and click a command that would put it to sleep, after which pressing a keyboard key would reawaken it in virtually the previous condition. I say "virtually" because there was a delay while it reacquired its wireless network. The successor OSX has the same feature.

Because my printer could be used independently as a copier or fax I turned it on while the Imac was asleep. Whoop-de-doo! When the printer turned on it woke the computer. So I put the Imac back to sleep and completed my work with the printer. Then I turned the printer off. The computer woke up again! I subsequently learned to turn the printer off before I put the Imac to sleep but I frequently forget that and it has been a nuisance but a livable one.

When I called Apple tech support about this I was told, after about half an hour for consultations, that tech help can't do anything about that and that I should address feedback on the Apple home site. No doubt this feature was built into a much earlier version of OSX before there were so many all-in-one printers in use and it just got grandfathered into every subsequent release.

The best is yet to come.

When my old APC power supply shuffled off this mortal coil I bought the BE750G. This new unit had two interesting features. It had software and a data cable for connecting to the computer so that, in the event of a power failure, the system could be powered down gracefully before the battery power was exhausted. Great! I attached the cable and called APC tech help for further guidance because the software disk gave me some unintellible gobbledigook about obsolete versions of OSX. Tech help explained to me that the software only worked with those obsolete releases and that it would be totally useless to me.

The second feature is that there are three outputs of the power supply that are contolled by the "master" output to which my computer is attached. When the computer is off or asleep, any peripherals plugged into these outputs would automatically also be powered down.

Great! I tested this by plugging my printer into one of the controlled outputs. The following results were obtained.

1) When the printer and the computer were both off, I could not turn the printer on without first turning on the computer.

2) When the computer and the printer were both on and I turned the printer off, that seemed to work OK.

3) When I subsequently put the Imac to sleep, both machines remained off but the power supply began to make a strange noise about every 6 seconds. It sounded roughly like a drop of water falling upon a metal tray. Possibly, some component in it was switching on and off periodically. I found this noise very distracting.

4) After that, when I woke the Imac, I found it impossible to turn the printer on.

5) When I put the Imac back to sleep, I could still not turn on the printer.

6) When I woke the Imac again, the printer finally could be started.

7) With both the Imac and the printer on, I then put the Imac to sleep and something really remarkable happened. First, the Imac went to sleep, then the printer went to sleep, then both the printer and the Imac woke up again!

I have gone into survival mode by disabling that APC feature.

I hold Canon innocent in this madness. It is a perfectly good printer. But - - -
Apple and APC, are you listening?

white rabbit

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Same Old Power Addiction

The Vatican clerics have responded to the outrage of the faithful who were raped by priests as children or whose children have been raped by priests by calling them "anti Catholic" and dismissing their protests as "gossip."

This is very human behavior. In every age and nation the powerful have clung to power by falsely accusing their opponents of any kind of wickedness they can dream up and by callously dismissing their criticisms. Yup, underneath their fancy attire lurk the same old miserable, lying specimens of homo sapiens we can find in government and many corporate boardrooms. We have met the enemy and it is us.

This is not my fight but I am curious to know exactly how much disgusting, criminal and abusive behavior the faithful are willing to swallow. Can this hierarchy represent Jesus? I have always thought better of Him.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Friendly Note to Obama

Mr. President, perceptions determine support. I have supported you, starting with the primary campaign, but my perception is that you have screwed up, big time.

I respect your energy and your intelligence. I also know that you have much more access to experienced political advice than I but the buck stops with you and you have screwed up. You let the Republicans on the Senate "gang of six" roll you on health care. You gave Joe Lieberman a veto knowing that Lieberman does not work for the folks who elected you. He supported McCain against you and now he is working for the health insurance industry. The corporate Caligulas (big pharma, health care insurance and banking) who have been bleeding the nation white will never give up that privilege without a hard fight. Surely you must know that, but you made a deal with big pharma to oppose the re-importation of their products - after which they raised their prices yet again. You have banksters running the treasury and giving you economic advice. Where are the people's representatives? (Does the name, Spitzer, mean anything to you?)

Are you all hat and no cattle? Carefully parsed talking points will not help.

I think the urgency of NOW has caught up with you. You never had sixty honest votes in the Senate, so please find at least fifty of them and get tough in a hurry. Your present course will have more energetic reformers running against you and your party by 2012.

Bipartisan? What a load of crap! Money makes the monkey jump.