Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

On Alliances

March 19, 2017

I was just thinking about Trumpsky’s comments. About how other countries should pay the US for defending them. About how much we pay for defense, and his rationale for spending more.
He’s a fool. You probably knew that, but maybe someone will explain.
The US, to the best of my knowledge, never spent a dime to benefit other nations.
Ponder that carefully.
The money was for our benefit primarily. If it also helped them, great.
Consider Germany; we spent quite a bit keeping folks like me there in the mid to late 20th Century, in my case on various hilltops waiting for the Soviets to roll across the border. So why did we do it?
Think how many men and women we had in the armed forces, how many machines we bought, and how much this nation spent fighting WWII. Just off the top of my head, I think we had around 7m people in the armed forces.
But not now. We don’t maintain a huge standing army, and that results in an enormous savings. I’ve seen it called the ‘peace dividend’.
Because we have allies. They have men and women in uniform, machines, ammunition, you name it. They maintain armies which allows us to keep ours relatively small.
Sure, we might want them to spend more, but even that has limits. If they expand their armed forces too much, the temptation is there to use them. Sort of what a number of American presidents have done, send troops to fight in wars against nations that had not attacked or even threatened the US.
What we’ve bought with our alliances (including NATO, whose nations are closest to our immediate threat, Russia) is peace and savings. Also security.
Someone should explain that to the guy who works more on his golf game than on governing.

Recommended: An Amendment to the US Constitution

May 18, 2016
There’s a failure built in to our system of government. It’s lack of accountability of our federally-elected officials.
Part of this has to be laid at the feet of the two major political parties who control our government. But regardless of who’s to blame, it’s time for a change. It’s time to hold our national elected officials accountable to the populace they were elected to serve.
I suggest the following be added to every national election. Since that’s held every two years, holding officeholders to account after that period of time gives them time to do the job that the Constitution and their oath of office requires. If they aren’t doing the job, we, the taxpayers who pay them, can demand their resignation and if that isn’t offered, fire them.
Add the following at the end of the ballot every two years:
‘Shall Senator/Representative Blank be permitted to continue in elected office? _____ Yes _____ No.’
If a majority of voters choose ‘Yes’, then the Senator can continue to serve and the Representative can stand for reelection. If no, then he/she will resign or be fired after 30 days. If a politician loses this vote of confidence, that’s it; no running for the same office later on. Rationale: their activities affect the lives of all of us, but only a few from a limited geographical area get to decide whether they should continue in office. And that is controlled by a political party, which in turn is controlled by special interest groups with the money to hand over thinly-disguised bribes called ‘campaign contributions’.
Whether any party truly has
our interests at heart is questionable, but unquestionably both parties work for themselves first, the public a distant second. As for politicians in general, they  work for themselves first, for special-interest lobbyists second, parties third, and if that leaves room for the voters, they’re a distant fourth.
So what would happen if a politician is forced from office?
We already have a mechanism for that. The state governor appoints a replacement, who will face the same referendum in two years. If the one forced out is a Representative, the governor would be required to appoint a new Representative from the same congressional district.
Meantime, that new replacement and his/her party will be watching voter attitudes very carefully.
While you think this over and perhaps shake your head, consider this: the Congress has an approval rating overall that’s abysmal. It’s somewhere below the 20% rating and occasionally dips below into the single digits. And there’s not a thing we can do about it.
Instead of voters, politicians listen to the NRA or other special interest groups. The Senate Majority Leader has publicly said that he won’t hold hearings on the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court, despite having a Constitutional duty to do so, and he further stated that he wouldn’t hold hearings of any nominee who was not acceptable to the NRA. This shows the failure of the original Constitution, which was written before parties and special interests with money subverted the original intent.
It’s time for a peaceful revolution. This is one way of accomplishing that.

A Recommendation

February 5, 2016

I signed up yesterday with They send a nonfiction excerpt to your email every day. I got my first one this morning and I was very impressed.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with, nor with the authors of any of their source documents.
As with any email, you’re free to read the excerpt or trash it. I read today’s short excerpt, an article about Thomas Jefferson and how he dealt with what he perceived to be corruption. You can find the excerpt here:

I recommend you also keep an eye on the author of the book, Zephyr Teachout. You may one day get the chance to vote for her to be president of the USA. I won’t be around then, I doubt she’ll be ready in less than 20 years, but many of you will be. She may well turn out to be the philosophical successor to Bernie Sanders. Google the name, then think about it.

What do you think?

Facebook, and Censorship

June 8, 2015

I’ve begun sending Facebook messages of complaint.
Have you tried to share something and been told “Sorry, this feature isn’t available right now,”?
I’ve seen it twice this morning. The first ‘controversial’ subject was a post describing how Charles Darwin was a geologist before he made the discoveries that led to his Origin of Species book. The second said that Bernie Sanders was less than 10 points behind Hillary Clinton in a recent poll.
By refusing to allow me to share the articles, Facebook has managed to impose censorship on my right to express a belief that runs counter to that held by religious fundamentalists and to express my support for Bernie Sanders. I also mentioned that Hillary wouldn’t get my vote if she refuses to stop straddling issues and express an opinion I can support. I don’t vote for parties, I vote for candidates based on issues; it’s why I’m an Independent.
While Facebook is a private company, they’ve become so dominant that what they do transcends that ownership. Like a newspaper, FB has responsibilities, and at the moment the way they exercise those responsibilities denies my rights to freedom of religious belief and freedom of political speech, through censorship.
Why would an essay about Charles Darwin reflect on religion? It mentions that his discoveries (others had made similar discoveries before Darwin) counter the opinion of Bishop James Ussher that the Earth was only some 4000 years old. Why would this be controversial? In most western nations, this is conventional belief. Only in America is there controversy, because fundamentalists not only believe in Biblical literacy but also in interpretations by churchmen.
If you’re a fundamentalist and you’re pondering this, consider that other churchmen denied the discoveries of Galileo. They placed him under house arrest and he lived out the rest of his life under that restriction. Churchmen also burned Joan of Arc…you may have heard of her…for heresy. I will only mention, but without dwelling on it, that churchmen in general have established an unviable record in modern times.
But according to Facebook, Darwin is controversial.
Pointing out that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton is controversial.
IMO, censorship by Facebook is more worthy of controversy.

Of Riots, and Causes

April 29, 2015

The president has condemned the rioters, as have most politicians.
I’m not happy with them either. They did indeed burn businesses, loot them, put their neighbors out of work. All those and more beside.
I read a few statistics about that neighborhood in Baltimore. I hope you’ll take the time to look up things for yourself. I certainly don’t know everything about it. I don’t know anything at all about the police who arrested the young man or what they did to him. I’ll only say it’s suspicious, and that officials are looking into the matter. Six officers have been suspended. Some will probably be charged, although it hasn’t happened yet. An investigation is ongoing, although it seems to be moving far slower than a similar investigation would take that involved a civilian.
So what’s the neighborhood like, other than that it’s filled with minorities who are likely overwhelmingly black?
Less than half of the residents have jobs. Why?
One in four young men have been arrested by the police in the past. Why?
There are gangs in the neighborhood, criminal gangs. We know that because the police know it and implied that they’d received intelligence that major gangs were allied and were going to ‘take out cops’. The gangs quickly responded and said that no, there was no such alliance and they weren’t going after the cops. Duh.
I wonder how these folks live? You can be sure their income is less than the official poverty income. So how do they buy food, buy clothing, pay for electricity and gas service, things like that?
And of all those politicians, from President Obama all the way down to the mayor and city council, how many have had an opportunity to do something about the impoverished, black neighborhoods of Baltimore?
And decided that no, it wasn’t worth fighting the entrenched interests who insist on no taxes. No taxes to improve people’s lives. No taxes to build good schools, hire good teachers, hire enough policemen to suppress the gangs and the drug trade that supports them. No taxes for urban redevelopment.
It’s a vicious slope. The residents don’t have enough money to do anything, including pay the necessary taxes. State and federal politicians aren’t willing to spend the money on a blighted neighborhood filled with blacks.
And then, when a trigger point is reached, the riots erupt. Arson. Looting. Violence and vandalism. Police cars torched. Rocks thrown, sometimes shots fired.
Most major cities have neighborhoods just like the one in Baltimore. And, before Baltimore, Ferguson.
It will happen again. Los Angeles? New York? Kansas City? Atlanta? Birmingham, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston…
I expect a long, hot, summer of unrest.
And all the politicians, including the wannabe’s, will wring their hands and condemn the rioters.

Economics, Consumerism, and Individual Responsibility

August 6, 2014

I posted this today on Facebook; it represents my musings about trends I see in the American economy, but it also reflects on world economics.
Something worth considering:
We’ve built a middle class consumer economy in this country based on Henry Ford’s model; pay the workers enough that they can afford to buy the products. I’ll note that Ford didn’t go broke doing that; he got pretty rich, if I recall. And soon other industries leveraged that prosperity by paying steelworkers and miners and construction people better, albeit with a lot of union arm-twisting thrown in.
But then unions became overly powerful and many became corrupt. Membership declined; it’s a great cycle when looked at in this way. Much of the reasoning behind unions went away as government began doing what only unions had done before. To make it seem as if they were still needed, unions demanded ever higher amounts of money, so a cycle of inflation boomed; people got more wages, but they also paid more because everything else went up.
And government pushed quality of life issues; reducing pollution, cleaning up mine and industrial waste residue, things like that; these cost manufacturers instead of increasing profits. So they went offshore.
Gradually we’re taming this; other nations are also being faced with the necessity of controlling pollution of water, earth, air; safety of workers is also a rising issue. The great consumer market in the US, the one China leveraged to raise herself from backwardness to leadership, is faltering.
Competition has become something that companies avoid in the drive for ever greater profits. Those profits are concentrated at the very top. This really is a ‘zero sum’ game; what goes to the oligarchs isn’t available to those who once fueled the great consumer market. Not even the insane advertising industry can prop it up for long. Simply put, there’s just not enough money at the bottom or in the middle.
We once turned our economy ‘outward’ when recessions hit; we employed people making exports and brought in money from other nations. But now they’re largely in the same boat we are. All those developed nations are attempting to export goods and bring money home to aid their economies. Europe calls it ‘austerity’, but it’s the same problem; profit isn’t to be found in manufacturing, in making goods for people to buy, it’s increasingly gained by manipulating money. The stock market is part of that, banking is a large part of it, real estate and speculating in general is a part of it.
And the fallout is distrust in major employers, as well as in the oligarchs controlling our political system. People are fed up in general, disgusted with political scheming and manipulation, they dislike what the president is doing and detest Congress.
One immediate improvement is to begin teaching children that self employment is preferable to employment by a corporation. Once, an employee had a living wage, benefits, and job security if he/she worked for a large corporation; and if the corporation was multinational, that provided security against economic downturns.
No more. All those things have largely vanished. You can spend half your working life becoming skilled at making widgets, only to find yourself turned our with no prospects because a worker in some foreign nation can afford to work for half what you can work for without starving or becoming homeless.
If you become a plumber or an independent mechanic or dentist, you’ll never be unemployed; you might not get rich, but you also need not suddenly find yourself homeless.
It’s time we stopped aiming our children at a future of neo-slavery under the corporate whip; it’s time to emphasize individual initiative, individual responsibility, the necessity of taking care of our individual selves rather than expecting someone else to do it for us.
Corporations specifically won’t. Unions won’t, or can’t. Government won’t, because they’re the lackeys of the oligarchs who run the corporate world.
For those in the middle, there probably isn’t a universal solution. What’s left of your working life is more bleak than rosy.
But maybe it’s not too late to let the future learn from what’s happened in the late 20th–early 21st Centuries.

Gun Control, and Why You’re Not Likely To See It.

December 19, 2012

To all my progressive friends: I regret having to throw cold water on your efforts to enact gun control legislation.
What are you willing to give up in order to get that?
The same political figures that constitute the ‘opposition’, the ones who oppose government programs that protect the poor and support the middle class, are the ones who will spinelessly roll over for the NRA.
So if you’re a young Mexican, brought here illegally by parents when you were a small child, are you willing to trade any immigration reform for better gun laws?
If you depend on Social Security or expect to do so when you retire, are you willing to give that up?
Health care? Would you want to go back to pre-Obamacare conditions?
Unemployment, even in a recession? How about SNAP, the food stamp program?
Tax hikes on the wealthy? Tax reform that will perhaps force huge corporations and very rich people to begin paying a fair share of taxes? Or would you let them continue to profit obscenely as the middle class shrinks and the only jobs available are working in fast food or perhaps a temporary job at Walmart?
ALL of these are things that Republicans support. And we’re watching the politics continue even as I write this. The President, who ran on a campaign pledge to raise taxes on those with incomes above $250 000 and to not cut Social Security benefits, has already signaled agreement to trade those things away, and the deal isn’t done yet. He may yet trade even more. And the people who LOST the election are still in the driver’s seat. I’m disappointed; even after winning his last election, he’s apparently not able to break out of the community-organizer mold. Or in other words, cooperation at any cost. Even when the cost is to be borne by the people who elected him.
Don’t expect much to happen. And that’s a shame.
We needed a Lyndon Johnson or a Harry Truman. We didn’t get one.

Management, labor, unions; influences on the economic transition.

December 11, 2012

Economic cycles see management (owners, in earlier times; management in the modern age) vying with production for profits. Go back to the beginnings of the industrial age and you’ll find management firmly in control. Political moves and periodic shortages of labor provided changes that weakened the near-absolute control of management. The long term trend has seen empowerment of labor and a diminishment of the control exerted by management. The relationship between the two was changed in the past by such things as disease and war and famine; more recent changes have been based on the rise of labor organizations such as unions.

Let there be no doubt: labor unions came into being as a counter to the power and exploitation of workers by management. We’re seeing some of that again where long-term employees are tossed out with no regard for the years they’ve spent building up a company by their work. Management feels free to make such decisions because once again power has shifted to the management half of the equation.

Unions began as a way to protect workers against the excesses of management. But unions then joined together into large aggregations which were capable of exerting national political influence. What was necessary in the beginning became something that had to demand ever more in benefits for workers in order to maintain power and relevance. A single powerful union could, and frequently did, demand more for employees. Under the umbrella of cross-union agreements, where one union would refuse to cross the picket lines of another, a single union could shut down not only a company but even an industry. In some cases they demonstrated the ability to shut down the national economy by strikes that closed ports or shut down rail services. Military personnel were sometimes used to break strikes. On one occasion, President Reagan acted to destroy a union; he fired all the air traffic controllers who’d gone on strike, and made it stick.

Meantime, unions had exerted a ratcheting effect on the economy. Autoworkers would begin negotiating a new contract for more wages and benefits. During the 20th Century wages were subject to taxation and unions worked to increase benefits such as health care insurance and retirement policies. Such benefits, being not taxed, became popular. The negotiations were between a company, say Ford or perhaps GM, and the Autoworkers Union.  Negotiations  were backed by threat of a strike, and inevitably workers received more in wages and benefits and prices of the product would rise to reflect the new cost structure. Prices would go up on autos, and steelworkers and other unions producing the materials that supported auto manufacturing would also see price raises as their unions demanded more in wages and benefits. And soon it would result in a slight but recognizable rise in prices and compensation across the national economy.  At some point even the national minimum wage would rise.

Unions needed to always demand more. By the late 20th Century, unions had the status of medium-sized corporations. They paid their top leadership salaries in the hundreds of thousands and donated millions to political campaigns. Dues paying members expected that the union would always provide raises in the next series of contract negotiations as well as protection from arbitrary decisions by management. A citation is appropriate here: Largest unions pay leaders well, give extensively to Democrats. The citation is from the Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2011.

A long term trend thus came to fruition. Management used their money and influence to gain power in politics; labor gained influence and power through money and the ability of union management to influence the voting patterns of members.

The economic result of the union vs management contest was to slowly raise prices in the US. The American national economy thus became considerably higher in nominal value, compared to Asian economies and even the economies of Eastern Europe. Foreign governments often resisted raising their own monetary system to true parity, because the differences acted to encourage export versus imports in their domestic economy.  The result of this was to effectively price many American products out of world markets.

Still, the American market was the largest in the world. As American products became more expensive, Asian and European products became relatively cheaper and so gained a long-term competitive advantage in the American market. At the same time, transportation costs were dropping worldwide. Larger ships, fewer crewmen, containerized shipments, computer routing, ever more efficient (and thus cheaper) ports…add this to low labor costs and a new paradigm became possible.

Management regained the advantage. Managers now had the option of evading union demands by simply bypassing the union. A number of strategies were employed in this effort. Outsourcing was one of the easiest; a company could avoid paying higher union wages to janitors and maintenance workers, for example, by laying off employees and contracting with another company to provide the services. There would no longer be any requirement to provide benefits, and usually even labor costs would be reduced. This was a win for management; but those well paid janitors and maintenance workers no longer got salaries that put them in the middle class. They had less disposable income and sometimes not even enough income to sustain mortgage payments or buy items such as new cars. Or even send their children to college. The prospective student thus needed loans to finance education, and paying back those loans in time removed the student from the consumer society for long periods. What went to banks and lending institutions wasn’t available for a house or a new car, or for health insurance or savings.

Offshoring was another option for management. While Boeing was working to move a plant from Washington (a state with union work rules) to South Carolina (a ‘right-to-work’ state, where union power was much reduced), other plants simply closed. Workers lost jobs. The products that had formerly been made by American workers were now being made offshore by workers in various countries: Ireland for a time, then Eastern Europe, and finally in Asia. American companies changed from manufacturers to importers. The goods still came in, but now profits were higher than ever and there was no need to share them with production employees. There was no need to worry about the well-being of foreign workers or rules regarding pollution of the environment. That was the problem of the manufacturing company and the government of the nation where the plants were located.

And management had no reason to consider that they were effectively destroying the American economy that their prosperity depended on. Profits to management was up; the middle class that drove the consumer market shrank. Upper middle class was forced down, and lower middle class became part of a swelling impoverished class.

And unemployment began to rise. As economies contracted, unemployment rose above 10% (and in some Western nations such as Spain and Greece, it went above 25%; Depression levels, in other words). Unemployed workers couldn’t buy; management sequestered much of their swollen income in investments which effectively removed their money from circulation.  Sales dropped across the board.  Bank foreclosures began to rise. Financialization, a major trend in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, even took a hit as subprime loans were exposed as the junk they’d always been. Banks lost billions.

Unions now began to recognize that they were in a weakened position. New contracts were for less money, fewer benefits. And the negotiations were no longer under threat of a strike, but were driven instead by the threat of closure of the plant and loss of all jobs.

Tax structures, the New Nobility, and Social Inequality

November 30, 2012

We’re really going to have to do something about the overall tax structure. None of the approaches put forward by our political leaders will do enough, so I’ve been considering non-standard approaches.  I think this is what is necessary.

I’ve advocated a gross-receipts tax, which forces companies to absorb all the costs of such things as corporate jets and business lunches rather than charge them off to taxpayers. Current tax policy actually reduces efficiency by reducing competition, something that the capitalist economy claims to love but which capitalist companies do all that they can to reduce. I’ve also allowed for deductions from company tax liabilities for salaries and benefits paid directly to American workers, but only if such were available for ALL employees. Anything paid out in bonuses or stock options to executives would not be shielded from tax. And what’s paid to workers, whether in the form of direct salary or bonus or health insurance or company car, would constitute income that would be taxed to individuals. Equally, if it’s investment income or capital gains, that would constitute income to be taxed, whatever the individual tax rate would eventually be.

So long as all income is considered to be taxable, actual tax rates could indeed be lowered. Our current system taxes only a proportion of income from a narrow range of sources, and this turns out to fall heavily on the middle class and the poor while being a shield for the wealthy.  A shield which allows them to acquire and sequester wealth by selecting whichever source of income will reduce their taxable income.  It’s why there was so much effort by Mr Romney to hide his taxable-income information.  It’s the mechanism that allows certain individuals with multimillion dollar incomes to pay little or even NO tax at all.

Inevitably, our current system leads to more and more inequality and reduces social mobility, a major problem for democracies.

It’s led to a USA which has a few, the new nobility who lack only titles to be considered such, and the many, serfs in effect who are slaves to corporate rule. Who do not even have the traditional rights of serfs who were tied to the land; the new enslaved class can be dismissed through layoffs, ‘turfed out’ if it appears that managerial elites might realize a slight gain in profit by doing so. In such a system, the employee who’s worked faithfully for a corporation for 25 or 30 years has no rights and can now be dismissed, to attempt to make a living when they’re in late middle age, no longer able to start over in a new career.

The Constitution was written to protect citizens from the excesses of government.

There is nothing to protect us from the unrestrained greed that has become the hallmark of the new nobility.

A REAL tax overhaul might the first step in that effort. And along with it, government programs that provide more protection for citizens than is currently available from Social Security or Medicare.

A best approach might be to start with a commission that included not only the members of the new nobility but also representation from the middle and lower classes.  Such a commission would look at what’s fair to those lower classes as well as what benefits those elites who have a system that they can exploit differentially to gain ever-greater wealth.  Such a commission would consider where society should go, and would have the best interests of all American citizens at heart.

It would do what Congress was supposed to do, but what Congress has failed to do.  Our system of laws is in large part a listing of failures by past Congresses.  Failures patched here and there, but with ever more failures tacked on top of past failures and patches.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a real rewrite of the Constitution.

I won’t see any of this in my lifetime. But maybe, if we think about it and force our elected officials to represent VOTERS rather than those who bribe them with ‘campaign contributions’, something like this might be possible in your lifetime.

Toward a Better Tax Structure

November 8, 2012

Written in answer to a friend; political, but not party-political. Instead, it’s economic theory applied to tax structures.
Ruth, I’m not advocating a flat-tax, although that would be much more fair than the system we’ve now got. Cain wasn’t wrong in his overall idea.
But we’ve ended up with a progressive, then regressive, tax system.
I believe that the best system is a corporate tax system that’s lower than what corporations now pay, but based on gross receipts. And I believe that any company doing business in the US should be susceptible to that tax on a proportional basis. If they sell a million dollars worth of goods in the US market, then they should pay the same taxes to the US government that a company doing business in New Mexico pays. I would have one deduction from those gross receipts; money paid directly or indirectly to employees. Any money remaining that goes to building the corporation or increasing its wealth or assets would be taxed as gross receipts. No more jets for executives or 3-martini lunches as ‘deductions’ and ‘business expenses’. Corporations could still DO those things, but not deduct them. These are all ways that corporations/companies reduce competitiveness.
As for what gets paid to individuals: salaries, retirement benefits, health care, perks, all are income. And all income of any kind forms the tax base. Speaking of health care and retirement accounts, they would be paid into a federally-supervised fund. No more of this situation where a corporate raider can come in and take funds that were intended to pay for employee healthcare or retirement because the investor acquired 51% of the company; that’s one of the things that Bain and Romney did. A better approach would be to increase Social Security and Medicare and make them available to all, despite the howls of the wealthy who would have to help pay for it.
Lots of benefits here; no longer would American companies have to support salaries, health care costs, and retirement costs, and then pass all that on to the consumer. Instead, it would be paid into funds that would be protected possibly by Constitutional amendments.
Individuals would be taxed on a progressive basis just as has been the case since our tax system was adopted. Probably at slightly lesser rates for some, more for the wealthiest. They have more to lose, after all, and American society protects their wealth. So it’s appropriate that they pay into society on a commensurate basis. And income is income; no difference from an hourly wage or a dividend from investment. And no more hiding income by calling it ‘health care’ or ‘retirement accounts’.
So how could one accrue wealth in such a system?
No so easily, for sure. But it would be possible. The guaranteed way would be to invest in growing companies. Currently it’s possible for a wealthy person to buy into GE, say, and wind up paying only 10% of dividends. GE has paid NO taxes for several years, despite profits of billions. Apple too hides much of it’s income from taxation by shuffling it around from corporate entity to corporate entity. Bain Capital did that, too, and Romney directed the operation.
But if you invest in a growing company, then the company will pay out taxes on a gross-receipts basis, but the investor won’t pay any taxes at all on this. So that maximum gross receipts tax, say 15 or 20% as a beginning point, is all that would be paid.
One additional point: the neo aristocracy. We’re going to have to tax estates just as Britain found it necessary to do. Otherwise, the Waltons or their equivalent can sequester giant amounts of money and wealth from the system. That money must be returned to circulation if society is to prosper.
Ideas; what do you think of them? You can post replies to or find Jack Knapp on Facebook. I welcome dialogue and constructive criticism.