Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31 2014: Do we have to own stuff? I’m increasingly of the view that we don’t need to own very much. We need our immediate personal belongings, the tools of our trade, a few mementos (and a few thousand books). But, that is tons of stuff! What can I say! I like to read—and I truly love books. Each book is typically the distillation of years of focused work. Besides, I can—I guess—go electronic. The same thing? I need persuasion.

The model of ownership, in a society organized round mass consumption, is addiction.

Christopher Lasch

She plucked from my lapel the invisible strand of lint (the universal act of woman to proclaim ownership).

O. Henry


A rendering of what Google's car that takes the driver out of the equation could look like in use.

As doubtless you know, Google are building a number of self-driving cars—which simply won’t be drivable by people. There will be no steering-wheel, for instance. You’ll just get in the thing and tell it what to do—or tell it in advance, for that matter. Before long, I suspect, you’ll be able to communicate your destination through thought alone.

Well, self-driving cars are interesting enough in themselves—and clearly they are going to arrive soon—but I was even more interested in Google co-founder, Sergei Brin’s comment when asked about the business model. See NYT May 27 2014 for the full piece by John Markoff.

“When asked directly about what he thought the business might be, Mr. Brin pointed to ending the connection between transportation and vehicle ownership.

“Regardless of Google, I think the right model for most of the world will be not through vehicle ownership,” he said. “These should be provided as services for the most part.”

He added: “The fact is that we have the technology to deliver and it’s likely we’re going to have a lot of partners who might be automakers, parts suppliers, service providers, cities and countries.”

He said that a clear decision had not already been made, and that it might be different for different parts of the world.

I grew up in big houses filled with expensive antique furniture—and we drove a Bentley--but, even then, while quite young, began to realize that there was a substantial downside to owning things. Owning stuff was expensive, it restricted your mobility, it took up time, it was socially divisive, and—in a fairer world—it was unsustainable. There just wouldn’t be enough space for everyone to have a 20 room house and five acres—and it would be environmentally disastrous.

Sorting the possessions of the recently deceased also made me re-think the importance of things. It is sobering to think you can’t even take your body with you after you die. 

Technology has made not owning things much easier. What counts, in a great many cases, is having use of them. As far as I’m concerned—and it took me some time to reach this point—access is the key, not ownership.

Essentially, I am driven by ideas—they are the basis of writing, my passion in life. Do I feel the need to own them? No, I don’t—and, of course, I can’t. I feel the need  to weave them into different forms, and—if I can—to improve them. But, above all, my imperative is to communicate them, and in some small way, to enhance the human condition.

Since our world is an endless font of ideas, I guess that leaves me rich beyond belief.

Am I joking? For preference—always! But, in truth, if you knew the pleasure I get from linking this thought with that insight—hell, you would tax me.

I love it so.


 

 

 

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30 2014: Will it soon be possible to fly a plane through your mind—through thought alone? It seem that it probably will. Now what are the implications of that?

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

Mark Twain


The technology has been tested in a flight simulator

The brain impulses are run through an algorithm to separate the control commands

This is what that excellent site gizmag.com reports.

Flying is most definitely a hands-on (and feet-on) job, but it may not always be that way. Turning science fiction into fact, researchers at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics of the Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen (TUM) and the TU Berlin are developing a way for pilots to control aircraft with their minds alone. According to the team, they have not only demonstrated that it’s possible, but that it can be done with a surprising degree of accuracy.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 29 2014: What kind of personality do I have? And how accurate was the test? Pretty accurate is the answer—though I have mellowed with age. I haven’t lost my temper in over four years. “Mechanically skilled?” I should be so lucky.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

 

THE PERSONALITY TEST

An ad for chemistry.com popped up so I thought I would give it a try.

Apparently, I’m part EXPLORER and part DIRECTOR—but, primarily I’m an Explorer.

You know I guess I am.

It doesn’t make for an easy life—but it is ever an interesting one. 

 

EXPLORER (PRIMARY)

You seek adventures of the mind and senses.

You are very curious and creative, and you are willing to take some risks to pursue your interests. Adaptable and optimistic, you can be easily bored when you’re not doing something interesting. You have a lot of energy, and you tend to be spontaneous or even impulsive.

You are more creative than other personality types and usually have a wide variety of interests. You find it easy to focus intently on what interests you, and your enthusiasm promotes motivation and a drive to achieve. You can be very generous to family and friends, and you’ve always got something going on.

 

Things Explorers should be aware of:

  • They are so mentally flexible and spontaneous that they can appear indecisive and unpredictable.
  • They tend to be impatient with cautious people or those with more rigid views of morality.
  • They focus on many things at a time.

 

DIRECTOR

When you add Director [Your secondary type]

You are very independent and admire self-control. Analytical, skeptical and exacting, you can be tough-minded and decisive. You enjoy competing and achieving, and you are usually mathematically or mechanically skilled. You generally have a few very close friends, rather than a big social circle.

 

Things Directors should be aware of:

  • You are susceptible to anger, exploding into generalized rage when you feel hurt, disappointed or frustrated.
  • Your ambition can lead to workaholism.
  • You can become uncompromising and demanding.

 

Explorer in love

As an Explorer, you look out not in; you are foremost interested in the world around you. So you are attracted to a mate who is also intellectually and physically adventurous and interested in dissecting this complex, tangible universe. You particularly like imaginative and theoretical people, a “mind mate.” And you like a partner who is sexual, because you regard sex as an important aspect of a relationship. You have nerves of steel and thrive on the edge. You are also decisive and direct. So you are unconsciously drawn to those who can balance out your highly independent and tough-minded spirit—those who are novelty seeking, yet compassionate, verbal, intuitive, trusting, flexible and emotionally expressive.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 28 2014: The U.S. Economy as a detective story. Lots of clues and lots of crime—but who are the good guys? Indeed, are there any (myself excluded, of course)? And, if there are (good guys, that is)—why aren’t they speaking up and saying what is self evident? The economy is rigged to favor the ultra rich—and is not serving the interests of the typical American.


The money to fund great things and innovations and programs is gone in our lifetime; it's all gone to debt. So we won't be able to solve global warming or have the transportation that we needed for the 21st century. We should be supporting people with great ideas, but it's gone, and now it's gotta be paid back with interest to banks in China.

Michael Moore


total wages and debt 1984

As far as most Americans are concerned, our earning power—after inflation is factored in—has been virtually stagnant for over 30 years. Interestingly, that has not be experience of the citizens of many other developed nations. Their earnings have increased.

So, what do we, Americans, do? Someone else in the household goes out to work—and then we go into debt—because the system is set up to encourage that, and the alternative is a decline in our standard of living. Besides, everyone is doing it.

Our last foray into housing based debt didn’t work out so well (the Great Recession was the result). Now, we’re doing it again (student loans and auto debt, for instance).

Should we be incurring all this debt? Almost certainly not, but there is little choice in a more and more of the workforce is being—quite deliberately—inadequately paid.

I regard the economy as a sort of real-life mystery story. I haven’t quite got the ego to assume it is all staged for my benefit, but I get as much fun out of it as if it was.

And I feel the pain more than I want to admit. Forgive me. I seem to lack the character to see so much preventable human misery—and be indifferent.

Perhaps the greatest mystery—which I commented on yesterday—is the average American’s reluctance, or inability, to try and figure out what is going on. I would have thought that sheer self-interest would have dictated more intellectual curiosity—but apparently not.

Damnably odd.

Right now, the general scenario being promulgated by media pundits—and by this administration—is that, as from 2009, we are recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and though we are growing more slowly than we would like, unemployment is coming down, house prices are going up, and corporate profits at a virtually all time high, the stock market is booming—so we’ll be back to normal real soon now.

What is “normal?’ We don’t define that very well—or even attempt to, because we have a habit of fudging fundamental questions—and of measuring our economic welfare the wrong way (our growth rate is an entirely inadequate way to measure this) but many would probably describe “normal”  as unemployment of five percent or less, and a growth rate of three percent or more.

“Normal” within the context of the current economy is not a goal we should be aiming for.  As I have written so often before, the American Business Model is suffering from serious structural problems. As a minimum, it needs a drastic overhaul. The issue is less the nature of capitalism itself (which certainly has its weaknesses)  but the American version of it (rigged to favor the ultra-rich, and the corporations they largely own, financialized, legalistic, monopolistic, authoritarian, confrontational, anti-union, predatory, environmentally hostile, and socially unjust). Other nations—including most of Northern Europe—are also capitalist, but (as far as the average citizen is concerned) are delivering superior results.

What do I mean by “superior results?”  The list is long—but the totality adds up to a superior quality of life as far as most people are concerned—which may help to explain why Northern Europeans live in excess of three years longer and are healthier. The list includes:

  • Less stressful lives overall.
  • Management through co-operation rather than confrontation
  • Better—and increasing—take-home pay.
  • Vastly superior social safety-net.
  • Vastly superior worker rights.
  • Longer vacations.
  • Superior education
  • Superior training.
  • Superior—and much less expensive—healthcare.
  • Better public transport.
  • Better infrastructure.
  • Better protection for the environment.
  • Higher productivity.
  • Greater energy efficiency.

But surely, all of this makes Northern Europe internationally uncompetitive—and discourages investment?

Well, this what the U.S. Right Wing likes to say—and is a theme which our (corporately owned) media harp on continually—but the evidence says otherwise. Indeed, most major U.S. corporations are heavily invested in Northern Europe—and the only reason they are is because they do well there despite the fact that corporate power is decidedly more restricted there.

Here are a few current thoughts on the U.S. Economy.

THE ECONOMY IS SUFFERINGFROM A SEVERE LACK OF DEMAND.  Having vastly weakened the union movement in the private sector, for some years now (in ways both legal and illegal), business has been forcing wages and salaries down—with considerable success. However, well paid employees are fundamental to domestic demand—and that has been severely squeezed in the process. So, where is demand going to come from—particularly as the wage squeeze is continuing? Sectors such as aircraft construction and energy are thriving, but other sectors employing large numbers of people—such as retail—are lackluster.

You can make a strong case that the public sector could have a major role here—and I would so argue—bur currently such action is politically impossible.

The lack of demand issue is fundamental to our current sluggish economy—and is receiving inadequate attention.

THE ECONOMY IS SUFFERING FROM A SEVERE LACK OF INVESTMENT BY BOTH THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS.  We all know that today’s prosperity is based upon yesterday’s investment—but we have been under-investing in both the public and private sectors for decades. By international standards (though many Americans feel otherwise) this has kept taxes low and pushed share prices high—but at vast longer term cost. We have been eating our seed corn.

The shortfall is in trillions of dollars. It is most evident where infrastructure is concerned—but we have severe problems in the private sector as well, despite the fact that corporations are flush with cash. They have chosen not to invest. For instance, the average age of capital equipment used in business is 7.4 years, the highest in 20 years. That doesn’t seem particularly old—but more and more of it is computer related, and that is a very long time in computer terms. Our competitors, who save vastly more, are also investing more across the board—and, thanks to superior educational standards and cultural differences, are investing better.

Where the latter point is concerned—and it is controversial—let me contrast our vast investment in (overpriced) defense with Europe’s vast investment in infrastructure.

THOUGH THE FINANCIAL SECTOR HAS BEEN REFINANCED BY THE FED, IT IS STILL NOT LENDING. The financial sector has fundamentally been refinanced by the Fed lending the big banks money at near zero interest rates which the banks then use to buy risk-free government and other securities—which pay higher interest rates. An idiot could make money under such circumstances—and such a system is viciously unfair to U.S. taxpayers.

In fact, it is hard to find a better example of how this economy is rigged to favor the ultra rich (who largely own the banks). Ironically, the now financially flush banks are not investing to a significant extent in the real economy—which is the stated object of the exercise—but are busy lending to the government and speculating. In effect, they are up to their old tricks.

BIG BUSINESS CONTINUES TO WORSHIP SHORT-TERMISM. Short-termism has become the cultural norm for U.S. Big Business. Essentially it involves a pattern of behavior intended to optimize short-term profits—but which tends to put at risk the longer term health of the enterprise. It tends to drive share prices up which rewards CEOs and other senior executives who are primarily rewarded through share options. It includes layoffs, driving down wages and salaries, minimizing training, cutting back on research and development, under-investment, mergers and acquisitions, share buybacks—and financial engineering of all kinds.

All of this pleases Wall Street, but is disastrous for the National Interest. It helps to explain why so many of our competitors from developed nations—and elsewhere—can out-trade us.

BIG BUSINESS CONTINUES TO HAVE AN ADVERSARIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH LABOR. The U.S. has the worst labor relations of any developed country—and U.S. management has the most authoritarian and confrontational attitudes. Quite how this is supposed to enhance worker performance and productivity defeats me. It is a fundamental and largely unrecognized problem.

THOUGH SMALL BUSINESS IS CREATING MOST JOBS, IT IS STILL NOT BEING ADEQUATELY FINANCED.  It is something of a paradox that while the Fed has recently been pointing out that small business is creating most jobs, virtually its entire program is focused on supporting big business. The financing of small business remains inadequate. A great deal could be done in this area.

CORPORATE PROFITS EARNED FROM COMPANIES DEPENDENT ON U.S. TRADING ALONE ARE BEGINNING  TO SUFFER.  U.S. corporations used the 2008-9 Great Recession to cut costs ruthlessly—and, in particular, cut labor costs and cut back on investment. These measures have had the effect of boosting corporate profits considerably since the recession but the longer term effects are questionable because domestic purchasing power is being eroded. This has impacted numerous corporations from Wal-Mart to Sears to the Red Lobster chain (owned by Darden).

PRODUCTIVITY IS NOT IN GOOD SHAPE. Productivity has been growing at less than half its historical track record since 2011—and actually declined in the first quarter of 2014. Why so? Lack of investment is certainly one reason. Another may be that that labor cuts have been excessive. Dissatisfaction with working conditions may well be a third.

EXCESSIVE HEALTHCARE COSTS REMAIN A BURDEN.  The fact that we are paying nearly twice as much for healthcare—for a generally inefficient service—puts us at a permanent competitive disadvantage to the competition. This is partially offset by advantages we have in other areas such as energy costs (though we are inefficient in its use compared to many of our competitors). However, we have a further serious problem where health is concerned: as a population we are less healthy—which has both cost and productivity consequences.

OUR EDUCATION IS INFERIOR. Although some of our schools, colleges, and universities are excellent—our overall standard is mediocre. Worse than that, blatant income inequality is leading to the production of a vast, socially deprived, under-educated sub-class which represents both a vast cost and a staggering waste of human resources. Yes, an under-paid, under-educated, undertrained, sub-class does tend to keep wage costs down, but at a major cost to society as a whole.

OUR WORKFORCE TRAINING IS INFERIOR. Many of our competitors have highly developed public/private apprenticeship and other training programs. These are expensive, but demonstrably effective. U.S. business, subject to some regional initiatives, has nothing comparable.

OUR LIMITED GROWTH IS HEAVILY DEPENDENT ON HOUSEHOLD DEBT. It is hard for most of us to appreciate how badly we have done—by international standards—over the last three decades or so. In effect, if inflation is factored in, most of have experienced virtually no increase in earning power—whereas our costs have rocketed. In order to maintain our stand of living, additional household members (typically women) have started to work—and we have gone into debt. In fact, whereas wages and household debt were roughly equal in the early Eighties, household debt has now doubled.

HOUSING PRICES ARE UP PRIMARILY BECAUSE INVESTORS HAVE ENTERED THE  MARKET. Financial commentators tend to give the impression that it is a good thing for housing prices to go up. That is not necessarily so. If owner occupiers are bidding prices up through healthy demand, that is one thing (though it can be problematic in itself). On the other hand, if houses are bought on a large scale for investment purposes, it is likely to bid prices up above the level of general affordability—which is exactly what has been happening.

Currently, we have a situation where household income is either stagnant or declining—yet housing costs are going up. That, in itself, drains more purchasing power out of the economy.

An additional problem re housing stems from student debt which provides a disincentive to the young to commit to housing debt, Student debt is currently $1.2 trillion—and rising fast.

THE STOCK MARKET IS PRIMARILY OWNED BY THE RICH AND OPERATES NEAR INDEPENDENTLY OF THE REAL ECONOMY. The Stock Market is supposed to serve the real economy—not the other way round. It is supposed to ?channel scarce resources into the most deserving businesses while preserving liquidity. Primarily, it doesn’t do that anymore. It has become a casino for the rich. Worse than that, because of its focus on the short-term, it has fostered a short-term culture which has proved detrimental to the U.S. economy as a whole.

UNEMPLOYMENT IS DOWN BUT THE REASONS ARE CONCERNING. Job creation has increased but two causes of concern are that  so many have dropped out of the labor market—and well paid jobs have been largely replaced by badly paid jobs. Labor force participation is at an all time low.

Does this signify disillusionment with the American Business Model—and the long unfulfilled promise of the American Dream? Well, it is certainly suggestive that all is not well.

Recently, the International Trade Union Federation graded worker rights over 139 countries. 97 worker rights metrics were evaluated. Each country was graded on a scale of 1 to 5—with 1 being the best and 5 the worst. Only Denmark achieved a perfect score.

The U.S. scored a 4, indicating “systematic violations” and “serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers.” The map below shows the results—with darker being the worse.

worker rights map

CONCLUSION. The worrying thing about all this—and it is scarcely a mystery—is that we are not discussing it and doing something about it. Is this crazy or what? The good news is that I haven’t listed a single issue which we could not resolve with relative ease—given political will.


 

 

 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27 2014: I am consistently surprised that we don’t think more about the economic system that supports our way of life—and even more surprised that we don’t try and make it work better. Instead, we have turned the American Business Model into something akin to a religion—despite plenty of evidence that it is a false, treacherous, and malign god. The issue is not capitalism, as such—but our current form of it.


real household income

median us income

Here I would like to point out that the above median income is PER HOUSEHOLD—not per individual. The typical individual American earns $27, 519 per year. As you can see from the above, far too many earn a great deal less.

You don’t have to be an economist to know that declining household income plus costs going up (and they are) equals trouble.

The thing about our economic system is that it is man-made—so we can change it if we so wish.

True, it is dependent on a great deal that isn’t man-made—like raw materials that are taken from the ground—or the air we breathe—but that still leaves us a lot of leeway. After all, an economic system is no more than a matrix of customs and practices and laws and regulations supported by a mass of methodologies and technologies. In fact, all in all, it seems tailor-made to be tinkered with—or even knocked down and re-built. We do that with buildings all the time. In fact, we even change important systems fundamentally—and, if push comes to shove—we don’t hesitate to kill each other.

Once polygamy was all the rage. Then—for some insane reason—we decided that marriage should be solely between a man and a woman (and for life at that). Then divorce entered the picture (probably to cut down on the murder rate). And more recently, same sex marriage has become acceptable. At this rate, polygamy will be making a comeback—perhaps same sex polygamy at that.

Well, if we can change something as significant as marriage,  we really shouldn’t be afraid to change the way our economy works—especially when it isn’t delivering what most Americans need.

Yet, most of us haven’t even admitted that the American Business Model poses an existential threat to our economic wellbeing.

Curious, don’t you think?


Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26 2014: Why do Americans age sicker and die several years sooner than the inhabitants of other developed nations? There are a number of reasons. One is the poor quality of our food (and not just fast-food). Thanks to industrial farming, its nutritional quality has declined dramatically—and it is further significantly degraded during processing. Overall, we have a food crisis—which also means a health crisis—but seem largely unaware of it.

Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.

W. C. Fields


The following is from mercola.com of May 25 2014.

Dr. Dunning's work shows that in order to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples! The reason food doesn't taste as good as it used to is also related to the deterioration of mineral content. The minerals actually form the compounds that give the fruit or vegetable its flavor.

Fewer Minerals = Greater Disease Rates

As demineralization increases, disease rates rise, as indicated in the following chart. Dr. Dunning also scoured the archives of the CDC, NIH, American Heart Association, and other agencies, tracking the incidence of disease over the same periods, and came up with the second chart below. As you can see, a very clear pattern emerges when all this information is combined.

The figures relating to American health and longevity are appalling—and it’s a sad thing that we are doing virtually nothing about them. Fear of terrorism has caused us to spend trillions of dollars on essentially futile wars—while creating untold misery in the process.

Meanwhile vastly more serious threats to our national wellbeing go unanswered. On the one hand, we are the richest country in the world. On the other hand, our health situation is more indicative of a third world country. Hundreds of millions of us are sicker than we need be, and are dying too soon.

We should be up in arms over that.

The following are the main reasons why our health situation sucks.

  • CORRUPT SYSTEM. We have a systemically corrupt for profit healthcare system that not only costs far too much, but delivers an inferior service to most of the population. Just by itself, our healthcare system kills large numbers of Americans every year through medical error, gross carelessness, unnecessary procedures, and over medication. It’s a system without a moral code and it’s a disgrace.
  • TOO SEDENTARY. Not enough of us take responsibility for our own health. In particular, we are excessively sedentary (sitting for too long is hazardous in itself) —and we don’t take nearly enough exercise. We could do a great deal about this through changes in work practices, more public transport etc.  The automobile is excessively dominant in U.S. society—and we are paying the price.
  • WATER QUALITY ISSUES. We have serious problems with water quality. We test for certain known threats like lead and arsenic, but not for medical waste etc. even though contamination of our water supply by meds is widespread.
  • AIR POLLUTION. We have serious problems with air pollution—and we are making them worse through fracking. Air pollution, of course, affects not just the air we breathe, but the soil we grow our crops in—and the water we use.
  • SUBSTANDARD FOOD CHAIN. Our food chain is sub-standard from the earth we grow it in to the way we process it, to the materials we package it in. In addition, our meat is contaminated with antibiotics—fed to animals in vast quantities to counter disease ridden industrial farming operations. Such antibiotic overuse is rendering us immune to antibiotic effectiveness.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25 2014: There is virtually no discussion about it—though there certainly should be—but the American Business Model (American Capitalism) is broken, and is serving most of us ill.

It isn't the oceans which cut us off from the world - it's the American way of looking at things.

Henry Miller


THE POWER OF MYTH. The myth that American Capitalism is the best economic system in the world is so entrenched that it is virtually impossible to convince any American that the reality is otherwise—and that the U.S. is in rapid and serious economic decline. Somehow, the necessary cognitive capabilities needed to assess the abundant evidence that we are in trouble seem to elude the American character. It seems to be regarded as somehow un-American to assess the facts dispassionately. As a consequence, the quality of American life—as far as most Americans are concerned—continues to decline.

Yet what are most Americans doing about it. Absolutely nothing. It is truly remarkable. Optimism—something of an American characteristic—is a fine thing, but it is not a substitute for clarity of mind, followed by the requisite action.

PROBLEMS NOT CONFINED TO ECONOMY. The situation is actually much worse than that because the U.S.’s problems are not confined to the economy. They are widespread and fundamental, and extend to the lack of a moral core to guide us—and we are doing very little to resolve them. Instead we are proceeding as if everything will return to normal.

It won’t. Ever.

NORMAL HAS GONE FOREVER. Normal—in the sense of an equitable economic system and near full employment combined with a prosperous middle class began to be deliberately and systematically undermined by the ultra rich in the early Seventies—and they have largely succeeded. The class war is nearly over, and the ultra rich have won.

  • CONSTITUTION. The constitution is woefully and blatantly out of date.
  • PLUTOCRACY. The U.S. is no longer a representative democracy, but is now a plutocracy—a government dominated by the ultra rich for their own benefit.
  • EXCESSIVE CORPORATE POWER. Corporations, primarily owned by the ultra rich, now have excessive power—and are virtually unchecked. Virtually everything has been monetized down to, and including, our values.
  • FINANCIALIZATION. A financial system is supposed to serve the real economy. In the U.S. it is the other way round.
  • LEGAL SYSTEM. Our legal system from the Supreme Court to our prisons is biased, unjust, unfair, racist—and both expensive and destructive. It also blatantly favors the rich and the financial sector in particular.
  • HEALTHCARE. Our healthcare system is both a disgrace a serious drain on the U.S. economy. It costs nearly twice as much as the systems of other developed nations—and delivers inferior results. Beyond that, Americans are sicker and die several years sooner than the citizens of other developed countries. In fact the projected life span of some Americans is actually declining. 
  • FOOD CHAIN. By now most Americans should be aware of the dangers of fast food—though don’t seem to be doing much about it. However, the fact that our food chain is seriously deficient does not seem to be either known or accepted. The problems with our food system are widespread and span the use of antibiotics in meat to excessive fat, salt and sugar in processed food, to excessive use of herbicides and pesticides, to declining nutritional value.
  • EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM. Our educational system is demonstrably inferior.
  • ECUCATIONAL DEBT. Third level education, while inferior in many cases, is saddling a whole generation of college students with excessive debt. As of this date, it is $1.2 trillion and rising.
  • TRAINING. Most of our competitors invest vastly more in worker training than we do. As a consequence, they have more and better skilled workers—who have been better educated in the first place. No wonder the Germans, for instance, can out-export us—while being paid more and working shorter hours.
  • SAVINGS RATE MINIMAL. Our savings rate is woefully inadequate.
  • IGNORANT AND DELUDED. Neither our educational system nor our media are keeping us adequately informed—especially in relation to our standing in relation to other developed nations (which delivers the stand we need to reach or exceed).  However, when combined with an unceasing barrage of commercial and political propaganda, they do a fine job of keeping us both ignorant and deluded—and, above all, either incapable of, or unwilling to, fight back.

Robert Reich is one of the few people who has spoken out about what has been happening. His blog is well worth reading. The following appeared on May 21 2014.

Robert Reich: American Capitalism is Broken

For years Americans have assumed that our hard-charging capitalism is better than the soft-hearted version found in Canada and Europe. American capitalism might be a bit crueler but it generates faster growth and higher living standards overall. Canada’s and Europe’s “welfare-state socialism” is doomed. 

It was a questionable assumption to begin with, relying to some extent on our collective amnesia about the first three decades after World War II, when tax rates on top incomes in the U.S. never fell below 70 percent, a larger portion of our economy was invested in education than before or since, over a third of our private-sector workers were unionized, we came up with Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor, and built the biggest infrastructure project in history, known as the interstate highway system.

But then came America’s big U-turn, when we deregulated, de-unionized, lowered taxes on the top, ended welfare, and stopped investing as much of the economy in education and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Canada and Europe continued on as before. Soviet communism went bust, and many of us assumed European and Canadian “socialism” would as well.

That’s why recent data from the Luxembourg Income Study Database is so shocking.

The fact is, we’re falling behind. While median per capita income in the United States has stagnated since 2000, it’s up significantly in Canada and Northern Europe. Their typical worker’s income is now higher than ours, and their disposable income – after taxes – higher still.

It’s difficult to make exact comparisons of income across national borders because real purchasing power is hard to measure. But even if we assume Canadians and the citizens of several European nations have simply drawn even with the American middle class, they’re doing better in many other ways.

Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now 75 percent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.)

If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weeks paid vacation as the norm, along with paid sick leave, and paid parental leave.

We’re working an average of 4.6 percent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 percent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 percent more than your typical German worker, according to data compiled by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and Northern Europeans are.

They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in these countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 percent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 percent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished – and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.

Yes, the American economy continues to grow faster than the economies of Canada and Europe. But faster growth hasn’t translated into higher living standards for most Americans.

Almost all our economic gains have been going to the top – into corporate profits and the stock market (more than a third of whose value is owned by the richest 1 percent). And into executive pay (European CEOs take home far less than their American counterparts).

America’s rich also pay much lower taxes than do the rich in Canada and Europe.

But surely Europe can’t go on like this. You hear it all the time: They can no longer afford their welfare state.

That depends on what’s meant by “welfare state.” If high-quality education is included, we’d do well to emulate them. Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 rank near the bottom among rich countries in literacy and numeracy. That spells trouble for the U.S. economy in the future.

They’re also doing more workforce training, and doing it better, than we are. The result is more skilled workers. 

Universal health care is another part of their “welfare state” that saves them money because healthier workers are more productive.

So let’s put ideology aside. The practical choice isn’t between capitalism and “welfare-state socialism.” It’s between a system that’s working for a few at the top, or one that’s working for just about everyone. Which would you prefer?


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gender equality again—or rather the lack of it. Why women put up with it escapes me.

Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.

Evelyn Cunningham

I think it's about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we've been voting for boobs long enough.

Claire Sargent, 1992 Arizona senatorial candidate


A Huffington Post story of May 23 lays out the following:

Female 'A+' Students End Up Making As Much as Male 'C' Students

  • by | By  Jillian Berman

If you want to make more money, it helps to do well in school, but it helps even more to be a white man.

The better your grades in high school, the more money you are likely to make later in life, according to a study by researchers at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University. But gender apparently matters more than grades: A woman with a 4.0 high-school GPA still makes less, on average, than a man with a 2.5 GPA, the study found.

The study also found that minorities tend to benefit less dollar-wise from getting good grades than their white counterparts, even though African-American and Latino high-school students with high GPAs are more likely to continue their schooling than white students with good grades.

The chart below, from the study, shows the difference in earnings for men and women based on high school GPA. Men are in red, women are in green. These are average salary figures for people aged 24-34.

chart

Women do at least enjoy better percentage pay bumps than men as their grades improve: The study, based on high-school transcript data and interviews of more than 10,000 students, found that, for men, a one-point increase in GPA translated to an 11.85-percent increase in annual earnings, compared to a 13.77 percent annual earnings increase for women. Still, the higher percentage increase isn't enough for women to catch up to men because their base salary starts off so much lower.

The research, which will be published in the upcoming issue of the Eastern Economic Journal, adds to the growing body of evidence that women earn less than their male counterparts, even when they have similar qualifications. That gap begins as soon as women enter the workforce. Both high-school and college-educated young women earn less than men with the same degrees, according to a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute.

That gap only widens as women advance in their careers. That’s partly because women are more likely to take time off to have and raise children. In addition, women often face conscious and unconscious discrimination as they climb the corporate ladder.

Another factor is that women often end up in lower-paying fields like education and health care. While there is certainly some self-selection involved, many girls are also socialized from an early age to be less interested in careers that tend to make more money, like engineering or technology, experts say. In addition, some argue that majority-female occupations are often valued less monetarily simply because they’re made up of mostly women.

Other research shows that minority job-seekers face widespread discrimination when applying for jobs. Indeed, the black unemployment rate has been almost twice as high as the white jobless rate for the past 60 years.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is the internet more likely to accelerate change—or dissipate outrage?

“Real change doesn't start with the introduction of legislation. Instead, it starts years earlier when a visionary group frames a problem, advances research, and formulates possible solutions—and then keeps on pushing the issues into the public arena. Without those years of hard work from Demos, the [Credit CARD Act] would never have been conceived, much less made it into law.” 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

CARD Act signing in 2009—which so far has been estimated to have saved consumers over $50 billion in fees alone.


OF COURSE THE INTERNET WILL SUPPORT CHANGE. For a time I accepted the general view that the internet—and social media in particular—would accelerate change. Why so?

  • It is a uniquely powerful global way of communicating and searching. It is an extraordinary and unprecedented global, and near instant, resource.
  • We would have more access to the facts.
  • We would be able to agitate and organize more effectively.
  • We would be able to present more cogent arguments in a vastly more visually persuasive way (thanks to all the low-cost, yet powerful, graphic tools available via the internet)..

Yet here we are—with all kinds of disturbing things happening, and most of the trend lines going the wrong way—and there there is scant evidence of outrage. On the contrary, by and large, people—while many may well be privately worried sick—profess to be reasonably (given the circumstances) content.  Certainly, there is no feeling of mass outrage (of the kind that is strong enough to overcome the inertia of the status quo).

DISTURBING THINGS. What do I mean by “disturbing things?” Here are some examples. The list could be a great deal (pages—perhaps chapters) longer. We bury ourselves in distraction—much of it, ironically, being internet based—but meanwhile Rome burns.

  • The fact that the earning power of most Americans is in decline.
  • The fact that the Middle Class is being steadily squeezed into oblivion.
  • The fact that we are no longer a genuine representative democracy.
  • The fact that we have a truly lousy and expensive healthcare system whose costs are increasing—even now—significantly faster than inflation. This system works pretty well for the rich—and crucifies the less well off.
  • The fact that Americans die several years sooner than the citizens of other developed nations.
  • The fact that we not only imprison vastly more of our citizens than other developed nations, but we also treat many of them badly while in custody—and then make it near impossible for them to get a job when they get out.
  • The fact that nearly half our unemployed are so despairing that they have given up even looking.
  • The fact that Congress, large thanks to the intransigence of the Republican Party, is gridlocked.
  • The fact that a whole series of issues of vital importance—from climate change to the quality of our food chain (highly suspect) is not even being addressed. We are being poisoned—and we are are being complicit—in our own premature deaths.

THE INTERNET SEEMS TO DISSAPATE OUTRAGE. Though the internet still seems to me to have the potential to be a force for change—and doubtless is enabling it in some sectors—I’m increasingly of the view that the internet acts as a sort of outrage shock-absorber, and may even be stopping more effective action—such as meeting up physically—from taking place.

Do I know that for sure? No, I have no hard data to back this up. I’m merely looking at the issues—and the relative lack of overt indignation—and wondering.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21 2014: Combine the photographic talents of my sister Lucy with the beauty of France—and the results are spectacular.

France, and the whole of Europe have a great culture and an amazing history. Most important thing though is that people there know how to live! In America they've forgotten all about it. I'm afraid that the American culture is a disaster.

Johnny Depp


I love France—and have been there many times, though have never actually lived there. Accordingly, I have mixed feelings about Johnny Depp’s comments. You only really get to know a country—I would suggest—when you live there for a considerable period of time, and have to experience the same pleasures and frustrations as the citizens of that country.

For instance, France is notoriously bureaucratic, but that is not something you normally encounter much during a three week vacation. Yes, Europeans really do take three week vacations—and are all the better for it. Similarly, a business trip to Paris doesn’t normally involve an encounter with its income tax system.

However, I’m also deeply fond of the U.S.—so don’t regard U.S. culture as a disaster. That said, I do think the American Way of Life would benefit from a drastic overhaul—and I worry greatly about the decline of this extraordinary country.

Be that as it may, France is an astonishingly beautiful country—rich in tradition—and with a culture we could learn much from. If you haven’t been there, you have missed a great deal.

Go visit—and wonder.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20 2014: If the Democrats had any sense…(they are better than the Republicans, but it’s a moot point) they would zero in on a small number of critical political reforms—and would lead with gender equality. In the context of 2014, it is totally unjust, unfair, and morally wrong for women to to paid, and otherwise treated, as second class citizens. We men haven’t done so well. So, let’s share everything 50/50 and see what happens. In the context of 2016, it would be—and should be—an election winning strategy. It would also be the right thing to do. And, by the way, it would boost the economy.

One of the factors a country's economy depends on is human capital. If you don't provide women with adequate access to healthcare, education and employment, you lose at least half of your potential. So, gender equality and women's empowerment bring huge economic benefits.

Michelle Bachelet


WATCH WHAT THEY DO, NOT WHAT THEY SAY.  All political parties are coalitions of interests—s0 the acid test is how they vote. Currently, and since the George W. Bush administration, congressional Republicans have voted as if they were all solidly ultra Right Wing. This adds up to a self righteous, extremist set of beliefs which demonstrate a remarkably lack of  social concern.  In essence, they seem to believe that you are on your own—and if misfortune strikes, well, it’s up to the individual to cope—in most cases—without government assistance . In essence, Republicans pretend not to believe in government—except where National Security and the Legal System are concerned. Everything else, they seem to think, should be the province of the private sector which will self regulate. 

  • ANTI OBAMA. They are opposed to anything and everything Obama either stands for, or wants to do—regardless of the merits of the idea or the National Interest.
  • PRO ULTRA RIGH. They are consistently pro the ultra rich—regardless of the interests of most Americans—and pro corporate management.
  • ANTI FINANCIAL REGULATION. They are anti any and all financial regulation—even though the Great Recession, which practically wrecked this country, could have been prevented if there had been adequate regulation.
  • HYPOCRITES RE FREE MARKET. Contrary to what they say, they are anti the free market—because the special deals they cook up with corporate lobbyists essentially give one group or other a competitive advantage—which is the antithesis of free competition.
  • PRO UNFETTERED CAPITALISM. They purport to be in favor of unfettered capitalism—which essentially means the free market operating free of regulation. The argument is that left free, markets naturally regulate themselves. The evidence does not support that view.
  • ANTI WORKER RIGHTS & TRADE UNIONS. They are vehemently opposed to worker rights and trade unions—even though U.S. corporations working abroad have no problem at all respecting worker rights and dealing with unions—and in many case are more profitable than in the U.S.
  • RACIST. They are racist without actually talking about overtly about race. It is no accident that the Republican party is so strongly entrenched in the South and in the hearts of white males.
  • ANTI WOMEN. They are anti-women in a host of different ways. If they were not, gender equality would now be the law.
  • ANTI GOVERNENT. They are consistently ant-government regardless of the issue—even though a series of popular government programs underpins the American way of life. They have devoted particular efforts to destroying the credibility of government and thus destroying the trust—social capital—which helps to make government and a nation work. This deliberate and systematic destruction of the credibility of government—which we need whether we like it or not—has had entirely negative results.
  • ANTI ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS. They are consistently anti environment regulations even though the first serious pro environment legislation was passed by a Republican, Richard Nixon—and despite the fact that the health consequences of a polluted environment are self evident.
  • MINDLESSLY PRO CORPORATIONS. They are pro corporations unconditionally despite the blatant malfeasance of many corporations—from financial institutions to fast food. They support the legal fiction that corporations are people when it is self-evident that they are not.
  • MINDLESSLY PRO DEFENSE. They are mindlessly pro defense regardless of the requirement. Virtually all Americans want the U.S. to remain strong, able to defend itself, and capable of deterring aggression—but that does not mean we need to spend as much as we do (or as carelessly as we do). The MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) has become a deeply corrupt corporate welfare system which costs this nation over $1 trillion a year (if all National Security expenditures are included).
  • MINDLESSLY PRO LAW AND ORDER. They are mindlessly pro law and order even though the end result of ill considered law enforcement and excessive sentencing is to imprison a disproportionate number of citizens relative to the rest of the world and to have an an equally disproportionate impact on African Americans. Both the costs and social consequences of all this are devastating.
  • ANTI IMMIGRATION REFORM. They are opposed to immigration reform despite the fact that the current situation is clearly so detrimental to the economy as a whole, and to millions of undocumented residents in particular.
  • ANTI TAX REFORM & TAX INCREASES. Even though there is broad recognition that the existing tax system is excessively complex, grossly unfair, and offers too many loopholes which favor corporate interests and those of the ultra rich, Republicans are—generally speaking—opposed to tax reform—and are utterly opposed to any and all tax increases. No one likes tax increases but, in the US., we have the indefensible situation that currently the ultra rich, and many of the rich, pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes that those earning a fraction of their income. It makes no sense at all, for instance, that dividends should be taxed at a lower rate than regular earnings.
  • ANTI NATIONAL PLANNING. They are opposed to any kind of industrial policy or national planning even though our competitors—who are mostly doing better than us (at least where the average citizen is concerned) all plan. In other words, Republicans reject planning—even though it demonstrably works—for ideological reasons.
  • ANTI DIRECT ACTION TO HELP THE UNEMPLOYED. Unemployment undermines worker bargaining power so helps keep labor costs down. Republicans seem to believe that this is better for society than taking a range of possible actions to eliminate unemployment. They overlook the vast scale of the human misery involved together with the direct and indirect costs.
  • PRO-AUSTERITY EVEN DURING A RECESSION. Even though the track record of austerity—tried both in the U.S. and Europe extensively since 2008—is one of dismal failure, Republicans seem addicted to it (with disastrous results).

Given the above, almost entirely negative, set of beliefs and policies—’most of which fly in the face of the evidence (and which Republicans do not adhere to anyway when in office) you would have to wonder why the Democrats have such a hard time getting their message across.

More on that issue later.


 

 

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19 2014: Accidental attempted suicide—by chair

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”


G.K. Chesterton


TRADITION OF IMPRACTICALITY. I have written before about the family’s long tradition of impracticality—and I’m embarrassed to say I seem to be maintaining the tradition. My grandmother, for instance—a truly admirable woman, and someone I loved to bits—never learned to drive, was an erratic cook at best, and lived in a state of chaos. On the other hand, she did a vast amount of good both politically and on a personal level—so the fact that she couldn’t change a light bulb was a small matter in the scheme of things. And she spoke fluent French, was an outstanding poet, and was a completely wonderful person.

Paradoxically, my grandmother was an air raid warden in London during the Blitz in WW II—and apparently was quite expert at putting out incendiaries with a bucket of sand—so her impracticality wasn’t total—but based upon my observation of her during peace, it took a war to get here going. In WWI she was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment)—a nurse’s aide who tackled the more unpleasant tasks because it wasn’t ladylike to be trained in nursing.

LATIN, A GREAT LANGUAGE OF LIMITED USE TODAY. The common denominator where my grandmother, mother, and my own lack of practicality is concerned is that all three of use grew up in houses where the practical was the province of servants. Whereas they, the servants, knew how to cook, clean, sew, and fix a leaky faucet—all useful, practical skills—I was taught italic handwriting (which I haven’t used for years) and Latin. Quite how such skills equipped me for life, I have yet to determine. That said, I have considerable affection for Latin—though have forgotten most of it.

I’m not entirely impractical—I do some things very well—but I have a tendency to think about abstract issues like unemployment rather than practical things like advancing my own immediate interests—or assembling a chair. I also have a peculiar sense of time (which is something I will endeavor to explain on some other occasion).

But, I’m dodging the issue. Let now now describe a perfect example of my impractical/absent-minded streak—which helps to explain why I haven’t blogged every day recently. I have been a casualty.

ENTER THE CHAIR. My colleague—who is exceptionally good at purchasing the right thing—bought me A new swivel chair recently. As normal, I worked late so didn’t start assembling the chair until it was dark—and then I chose a less well lit part of my study to do the deed because there was space. I could and should have brought over extra lighting—but I was tired and just wanted to get on with it.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF IMPRACTICALITY. The task was tricky but finally I thought I had it done. I set it down and then sat in it. I had inadvertently left out two bolts. As I leant back—feeling rather proud of myself—the whole chair collapsed backwards, the back of my head smashed against the tile floor, and I not only fell, but twisted my body severely in the process. Over three weeks later, I’m still feeling as if I had survived a severe kicking—and I’ll spare you the rest of the details—but much pain was, and is involved. Distracting, when one is trying to write.

Ironically, I was able to fix the chair the following day—when there was plenty of light—without difficulty.

DECIDEDLY EMBARRASSED. Yes, I feel extremely stupid—and now you know why I particularly admire anyone who has a practical skill. I was brought up to think of people who work with their hands as second-class citizens—never quite believed that—and have longed wished that I was more physically skilled myself.

But, I can write—and that, as far as I am concerned, is a gift beyond price.

And the good news? Well, the chair, now properly assembled, is the most comfortable working chair I have ever sat in.

 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May 15 2014: Is our media biased in favor of the plutocracy—and does it self-censor?

The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.

Malcolm X


MANIPULATED PUBLIC OPINION. I’m fascinated by how the U.S. media works—together with the quite extraordinary extent to which U.S. public opinion is manipulated.

No matter what the facts are, we are almost always deflected from an understanding of the reality—and the full implications of the consequences. Yet, on the other hand, most information is out there if you really go and look. But the important stuff has a tendency not to get the coverage it deserves—and as a consequence, a critical mass of outrage is rarely reached.

Clearly, secrecy plays a role too—to what extent, by definition, it is hard to know—but what intrigues me is how truly devastating news is neutralized to the point where it has almost no impact.

WE ARE TOLD WHAT TO THINK. It all adds up to a series of highly sophisticated and successful information operations which keep the U.S. population largely ignorant and unconcerned about a series of issues which are steadily degrading the American Way of Life. Here, the word “unconcerned” is worth stressing. If the media don’t appear to be concerned about an issue, then—by and large—people won’t be concerned either. We think of ourselves as independent thinkers guided by the facts—but the evidence would suggest, that is not true. Mostly, we are told what to think, what to  take in our stride, and what to worry about. And we accept this—primarily because everyone else seems to..

How do they do this? And who are ‘they?’

A number of methodologies seem to be involved in keeping public opinion relative docile in the face of facts which should have most Americans in a state of outrage. The following is a selection.

  • OWN THE MEDIA WHICH THEN SELF CENSORS.
  • OWN THE THINK TANKS
  • IGNORE THE STORY
  • LET THE STORY GET LOST IN THE SHEER VOLUME OF NEWS
  • UNDERPLAY THE STORY
  • BALANCE IT (which really means neutralize it) WITH AN OPPOSING POINT OF VIEW
  • DENY ACCESS TO SOURCES
  • DELAY THE STORY
  • CONFUSE THE ISSUE
  • EITHER DON’T GIVE—OR UNDERPLAY—THE CONTEXT
  • RARELY—IF EVER—CONNECT THE DOTS
  • LEAVE OUT INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS
  • DISTRACT, DISTRACT, DISTRACT.

WHO ARE THEY? They are the people who own the U.S.—the 1 percent, if you will—and who like it this way.

WHAT BROUGHT THIS PIECE TO MIND.  A major Princeton study by Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page concluded:

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In short, the U.S. is no longer a democracy. It has the trappings of one—but in reality, it is a plutocracy.

Now, this was a major study based upon examining 1,700 policies over 20 years—issued by a highly regarded university and coming to a highly significant conclusion. But was it covered by the corporate media? Largely, it was not.

An incident like this doesn’t prove the point, but it certainly illustrates it.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 14 2014: We writers tend to be a sedentary lot—but the truth is that you write better if you are fitter. Besides, we now know that sitting all day is, in itself, bad for your health. Is thinking?

That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs


WHEN WORK ISN’T WORK. I love to write so much that I’ll happily spend twelve hours a day working (except that it is not work to me—it is sheer pleasure). However, I have become increasingly concerned about the adverse health effects—so have been giving a great deal of thought as to how to counter them.

EXERCISE MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY. Apparently, exercising alone is not enough—or it’s not enough if you do it in one burst. However, reportedly what does help is getting up and moving around at regular intervals—so I have been successful in building that into my regular routine. Next is to exercise—albeit for short periods—multiple times a day. Will I be able to that?

I’m increasingly beginning to think that I will be able to. Where writing is concerned, I’m becoming increasingly disciplined—and the downside is dire.

THE ALTERNATIVE. Which reminds me: I recently commented that I was freaking out at the prospect of being 70 in just over a week’s time (May 23 2014).  Actually, I’m not freaking out—or even close—but it does make me think. Anyway, my friend, Tim—in his normal witty way—commented: “Think of the alternative.”

He has a point. In fact, given the number of siblings and friends who have died before their time, he has a very good point.

Still, I had to laugh.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 13 2014: American entrepreneurship—like so much else in this awesome country-- is in decline. This, folks, is not good.

“I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

Richard Branson, Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way


REALITY UNAMERICAN. I hate to say this—though I’m going to—but Americans are so well brainwashed (conditioned) into a particular mental image of this Great Country that facing up to reality is considered to be virtually un-American.

FATALISM. It’s a great pity, because we’re not going to change until we see the need for change—and, more to the point—agitate for change. What does agitate mean? It means getting attention by every legal means necessary including million person marches. It means doing a great deal more than we’re doing now (which wouldn’t be hard because currently we seem sunk in a swamp of fatalism). That, by the way, is un-American. We are supposed to be a can-do nation—and once we were.

We were Americans once—and young. And then, starting in the Seventies, the ultra-rich got going and seized back the power they though they had lost as a consequence of the New Deal. In the process, they learned to rig the system in their favor—and, since it worked, they went on rigging it so much that the income of the rest of us started to decline—and it is still declining. No, that’s not fiction. It’s a well document fact.

NOT A DEMOCRACY ANY MORE. The core problem is that our politicians no longer listen to the average American any more. They listen almost exclusively 0nly to those who support them financially. And most of that money comes, in one way or another, from the ultra rich. That makes us a plutocracy. We are supposed to be  a representative democracy—which means those we elect should represent our interests. Clearly, they do not.

Mind you, where reality is concerned, I’m in no position to lecture. I’m so reluctant to face up to reality myself that I write fiction for a living. Where my fiction is concerned, reality is no more or less than what I choose to make it. How cool is that!

JOINER OF DOTS. But, I digress. Actually, I am also a trained economist, researcher, keen observer, analyst, and joiner of dots—and that side of me zeroes in on reality with the zeal of a Sherlock Homes. Confusing? Be glad you are not my subconscious. I am a great believer in the notion that my subconscious does all the work.

MYTHS. Here are just a few of the American myths:

  • The U.S. is the greatest country in the world.
  • The U.S. is the richest county in the world
  • The American Business Model is the best in the world.
  • The U.S. is the most innovative country in the world.
  • The U.S. is the most socially mobile country in the world.
  • The U.S. has the most prosperous middle-class in the world.
  • The U.S. has the best infrastructure in the world.
  • The U.S. has the best healthcare system in the world.
  • The U.S. is the most entrepreneurial country in the world.

Whether the U.S. is the greatest country in the world or not is really a subjective judgment. However, where countries are assessed across a range of criteria, we do not fare well. As for being the richest country in the world, we are—but most of the wealthy is owned by a tiny minority. Where the other headings are concerned, suffice to say that they are myths. Our healthcare system is an overpriced, deeply corrupt, extortion racket.  We pay nearly twice as much for it as other developed nations and yet we get an inferior service,

ENTREPRENEURSHIP. Here, I’m going to focus on entrepreneurship. Sadly it’s in decline. Let me quote from Brookings:

Business dynamism is the process by which firms continually are born, fail, expand, and contract, as some jobs are created, others are destroyed, and others still are turned over. Research has firmly established that this dynamic process is vital to productivity and sustained economic growth. Entrepreneurs play a critical role in this process, and in net job creation.

But recent research shows that dynamism is slowing down. Business churning and new firm formations have been on a persistent decline during the last few decades, and the pace of net job creation has been subdued. This decline has been documented across a broad range of sectors in the U.S. economy, even in high-tech.

Here, the geographic aspects of business dynamism are analyzed. In particular, we look at how these trends have applied to the states and metropolitan areas throughout the United States. In short, we confirm that the previously documented declines in business dynamism in the U.S. overall are a pervasive force throughout the country geographically.

In fact, we show that dynamism has declined in all fifty states and in all but a handful of the more than three hundred and sixty U.S. metropolitan areas during the last three decades. Moreover, the performance of business dynamism across the states and metros has become increasingly similar over time. In other words, the national decline in business dynamism has been a widely shared experience.

While the reasons explaining this decline are still unknown, if it persists, it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future, unless for equally unknown reasons or by virtue of entrepreneurship enhancing policies (such as liberalized entry of high-skilled immigrants), these trends are reversed.


Monday, May 12, 2014

The time for true gender equality has come. Hell, it’s long overdue. Women are not being fairly treated—and it’s about time women started fighting back and we males did something about it. The current outrageous situation is yet another reason why the U.S. is in decline (and, sad to say, it really is—quite unnecessary).

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir...mighty scarce.”
Mark Twain

“Well, it seems to me that the best relationships - the ones that last - are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is... suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.”
Gillian Anderson


HIGH REGARD. I have known a few women I wouldn’t like to meet in a dark alley in my time, but mostly I hold women in high regard and have long been of the opinion that you are a superior sex (and you’re so much nicer to look at).

WOMEN HAVE THE EDGE. Men are better at breaking things and killing people—our traditional role since we lived in caves and wrote dirty pictures on its walls—but women tend to be superior at just about everything else.

FACTS TO BACK THAT UP. That’s not just my opinion. There is plenty of formal research out there to confirm such things as :

  • Women, generally speaking, being less confrontation politically.
  • Women, generally speaking, being superior executives.
  • Companies, where women are directors, being, more profitable.
  • Women being at least as common as men in the military.
  • Women being superior academically.

THE MAIN TROUBLE WITH WOMEN IS THEIR CHOICE OF MEN. The list goes on and on. Ironically, if women have any weaknesses—which, being human, you/they do, it lies in their physical and emotional need for us men which not infrequently causes them to make lousy choices and to tolerate treatment which, by any standards of decency, should be regarded as unacceptable. Here, I am not just talking about sexual infidelity—a separate issue—but about other issues (which we really could and should resolve).

SENATOR WARREN. Let me quote Senator Elizabeth Warren on the matter.

When I was a law professor, I spent years studying why middle class families were going broke. In my academic research on bankruptcy, I uncovered some grim facts:

  • In one year, more women will file for bankruptcy than graduate from college.
  • Having a child is the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.
  • Single moms are more likely than any other group to file for bankruptcy – more likely than the elderly, more likely than divorced men, and more likely than people living in poor neighborhoods.
  • Single moms who had been to college are actually 60% more likely to end up bankrupt than their less educated sisters.

Women get hit hard. They still earn, on average, only 77 cents to the dollar that her male colleague earns. Bloomberg analyzed census data to find that women are paid less in 264/265 of major occupations – in 99.6% of jobs, women get paid less than men. Yet Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act – a law that would make sure women don't get fired just for asking what the guy down the hall makes.

Minimum wage workers haven't gotten a raise in seven years, and today nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Mothers of very young children disproportionately work low-wage jobs in every state in the country. A minimum wage job no longer keeps a mother and baby above the poverty line, yet Republicans continue to block legislation to raise the minimum wage. 

And seniors? Because women make less than men throughout their lifetimes, they receive, on average, more than $4,000 less a year than men in Social Security benefits, yet women rely most heavily on those checks. At a time when Social Security is the only safety net keeping 14 million people out of poverty, Republicans continue to try to cut Social Security for women.

I know how lucky I was to have a woman in my life who was there when I needed her. She's gone now, but the best way I know to honor her memory is to , help another woman – or maybe join with a lot of people and help millions of women.

It's time. It's long past time. Minimum wage. Equal pay. Social Security. Doing something tangible in honor of the women who helped us.

THE NATURE OF POWER. It seems to me that Senator Warren is entirely right—but history shows that people do not give up power unless they are forced to. Doubtless there are a few exceptions, but, for the most part the powerful put  a great deal of effort into ensuring that they remain powerful. They tend not to be overcome with generosity of spirit. In fact, they tend to become greedier and greedier and they will do almost anything, not just to retain their positions, but to become even more powerful. Power is addictive, corrupting, relentless, ruthless, thoughtless—and cruel. Sociopaths just naturally gravitate towards its centers—and sociopaths are not the kind of people you want to be in power. They have charm but no values.

WE MEN ARE IN POWER. But, here is the thing. When it comes to the sexes, we men are in power—and we are behaving in the classic selfish manner of such such people. For instance, we know perfectly well that there is no moral justification for treating women like second class citizens—yet we prefer to maintain the status quo.

LADIES, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FIGHT. That leads me to the conclusion that if you women genuinely want gender equality, you are going to have to fight tooth and nail for it. We men are not going to give it to you. You are going to have to take it.

IF THERE REALLY WAS…If there really was gender equality:

  • Productivity would rise because women would be more motivated.
  • Companies would be better run and thus more profitable.
  • The country as a whole would be better run—and Congress would be markedly less confrontational.
  • Millions of women would be removed from poverty.
  • Millions of women would be better paid.
  • Such an increase in purchasing power would increase demand—something we are seriously lacking in right now.
  • Growth would increase.
  • People’s sex lives would improve significantly.
  • There would be less stress all round.
  • There would be less sickness and people would live longer.

WHY ARE WE MEN SO MEAN AND SO DUMB? When you look at it that way, you have to wonder why we men are so mean and so dumb. Hell, better sex would swing it for me any day of the week. But then I happen to really like and respect women.

WHICH MAKES ME WONDER. Which makes me wonder about what other men really think—because surely, if they really did like women, they would do the right thing and implement gender equality NOW!


“A woman is human.
She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man.
Likewise, she is never less.
Equality is a given.
A woman is human.”

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I hate to disagree with Vera, because it’s a lovely quote—but as I have said before, I happen to think that women are a little smarter than we males—and they have certainly got more sense.