RSS

Tag Archives: politics

The Freedom to Fail

San Diego — A liberal acquaintance published a link on Facebook where one of his progressive sites attempted to define the major political/economic “isms” of the day with the clear implication that only liberals understood what the terms really meant; and that conservatives, libertarians, essentially any non-liberals did not understand the terms and so used them incorrectly.  Liberals and progressives on the other hand, in this as in all things, had the pipeline to ultimate truth which, at least in this case, they would share.

But if they accept that post’s definitions they are no closer to the truth than those they disparage.

The essay attempted, in a vastly oversimplified way, to define “Nazism,” “Fascism.” “Socialism,” “Communism,” and “Capitalism.”  Clever.  Unfortunately it was incorrect in several places, and incorrect by ommision and selective inclusion is several more..

It tried, for example, to frame Nazism as a political philosophy, but in practice it was basically a cult of personality run by paranoid and power hungry people using a very flawed belief in a sort of social and biological Darwinism wrapped in theological fervor.  It incorporated the belief in and the creation of a fantasy “race” incorrectly using the term “Aryan” which was the original label for an Indo-European group who would have looked nothing like the Nordic ideal the Nazis deluded themselves into thinking included them.

The closest to a coherent economic philosophy the Nazis got was the simple expedient of blaming others for their problems by feeding upon latent hostilities toward several groups of, to them, sub-human “races.”

The closest political model for the Nazis would have been Fascism.  Named for the bundle of reeds and axe that was the symbol of power of the Romans, the fasces, they even modeled their structure to some extent on Imperial Rome.  But the essay’s section on Fascism was poorly defined and failed to note that economically, the Nazis (National Socialist Worker’s Party) was not even true to the socilistic part of their name and allowed private ownership of the means of production though it was totally under the control of the government.  Think Krupp and his steel mills.

We usually associate Fascism, another combination of economic and political philosophies, with the Nazis but in fact it was formulated in Italy under Mussolini who drafted the only official definitions of it in which he outlines three principles of a fascist philosophy:

1.”Everything in the state”. The Government is supreme and the country is all-encompassing, and all within it must conform to the ruling body, often a dictator.

2.”Nothing outside the state”. The country must grow and the implied goal of any fascist nation is to rule the world, and have every human submit to the government.

3.”Nothing against the state”. Any type of questioning the government is not to be tolerated. If you do not see things our way, you are wrong. In practice you were also likely… dead.

 It was also the foundation for a warrior culture.  In 1934 Mussolini wrote,

Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism — born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision — the alternative of life or death….

…The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others — those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after…”

Socialism, a polar opposite of Fascism on many levels, was also poorly defined by the essay and its hallmark approach of “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” based on Rousseau’s complete misunderstanding of simple, tribal communal structures was ignored.  Socialism requires the belief that production per se is a zero sum game and that in order for some to survive others must be held back.  This may be true in small, primitive tribal or family band units; but it is not even remotely true in modern industrial societies.

Though couched in the language of fairness to support the downtrodden, reality has shown otherwise as everywhere it has been implemented it devolves quickly into a situation where the government takes from the productive to support those who will not participate in production.

Socialism, an economic philosophy, in seeking social justice, puts the means of production into the hands of the “public” meaning, from a practical standpoint, the state.  It allows the state to define, based on the goals du jour, just who can be taken from and who is to be given to in order to establish economic equality throughout its populace.  It sees people as poor pawns driven wherever the winds of class warfare drive them and therefore deserving of an enlightened state authority to set things right and level not just the playing field, but the results as well.  It harbors the notion that for one to succeed, another most fail; that if one person gains it is only through the taking of things from another.  Wealth, it argues, should be distributed evenly not based on skill or effort but on the goal of social equality.

In that sense of “public ownership” socialism and communism, a term coined in the 1840s, are the same.  But under communism, a combination of political and economic philosophies. or at least its theoretical proposition, the role of the state is more extreme.  Not only does the state own everything, but people, regardless of job or work, are paid essentially identically.  Regardless of effort or productivity, all get the same results.  It usually results in only the equality of common misery but it does take the traumatic decisions about life’s.  The state and its autocracy are, of course, distinct from the common man and in exchange for their care of the masses are not precluded from reaping the spoils of their social depredation.

The linked essay further noted that Communism requires a violent overthrown of the existing system in order to establish a state where all property is owned communally.  That is not true.  Marx and Engels wrote that while it might come to that, it was better if it could be done by fiat and subterfuge, with out and out revolution a last option.  He feared that it likely must be done but not because it was an ideal approach… simply a probably necessary one.

Where the essay really fell down was in trying to define Capitalism.  It said capitalism believed in profit but, recognizing that not all can make a profit required the government to step in to help those who failed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Capitalism does indeed use success and its rewards as a motivator for effort and energy.  But it has never seen government as a safety net for those who chose not to participate or whose failure was through their own poor choices or activities.  Indeed the most critical freedom in a capitalistic society is the freedom to fail and face the consequences.

Someone blind-sided by life or nature or circumstances beyond their control aside, a capitalist structure specifically does not allow government to be in the rescue business precisely because of the ease with which that power devolves into “crony” capitalism where government can decide who to help and who not to help.  Helping those hurt by forces outside of their control is a human, ethical duty, but it is not, in pure capitalism, the prevue of the government.  When government, unable financially to save all in need from its treasury, can pick and chose, corruption is inevitable.

That corrupt cronyism so completely tilts the playing field as to render the concept of equal opportunity to TRY but with no guarantee of result pointless since in cases of its own choosing government does indeed guarantee the outcome.  That is not capitalism per se but a rather bizarre mixture of socialism and fascism.  The very concept of something “too large to fail” is anathema to real capitalism.

So read such biased “explanations” with a grain of salt.  Francis Bacon said that humans prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.   Even minimal experience shows that we will go so far to accept “evidence” that supports our own beliefs and reject “evidence” to the contrary that often even the admonition to research the truth for one’s self is wasted.  H.L. Menken opined that the chief occupation of mankind was indulging in passionate beliefs that which are palpably untrue.  And it is that conflict of unshakable faith in opposing but equally unsupportable positions that has brought us to the political gridlock, animosity, and danger point we are currently in.

One side of our current political divide holds tight to a fantasy world that cannot be because it violates the very core of human nature.  The other side holds equally tight to a highly filtered and equally fanciful history that never was.  Neither side seems to hold any stock in the principles and documents upon which this nation was founded and from which we rose to greatness on the world stage.

I do fear we are seeing the beginning of the end for our country and the hopes with which it was created.  We are on our way to becoming just another in a long sad litany of great nation states that forgot who it was, eschewed its founding principles, and threw itself on the midden heap of history to make way for the rise of the next great power.  How sad.  What a waste.

 

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Ugly Reality of How it Works… And Why

San Diego — The sequester — so-called although it is a semantic oxymoron… but then again, it is elected officials we are talking about — is about a week old.  Thus far the apocalypse we were told was inevitably descending on us like a financial tsunami has failed to materialize.  But an odd dance is now playing out that ought to tell everyone willing to watch and (dare I say it?) THINK, just what kind of stuff our leadership is made of… and how badly it smells.

After the administration started making a career of complaining loudly and with a degree of pathos that makes a dog begging at the table seem disinterested, that due to this Draconian and unthinkable axe, critical governmental activities would be curtailed, the House offered a Bill to allow the president to be more flexible in picking and choosing what would get cut so long as the final tally was undisturbed.  Sounds reasonable.

But he reacted as if they has offered him the hot end of a branding iron… which of course is what they did by calling his bluff.  If accepted, he would now have to publicly be seen not only as the author if the idea in the first place, which he was, but now would be seen as the person picking and choosing.  That is a task guaranteed to make no one happy even though it offers the best opportunity to date to selectively get rid of the financial weeds while hoeing around and sparing the good stuff.  Worse it means he would have to make a public decision and stand by it, unable to vacillate and worm out of it with his prodigious rhetorical abilities.

At first blush though his response makes absolutely no sense.  Despite the PR danger attached, if he wishes to fundamentally transform America as he says clearly, this is probably the best chance to do it. If he is truly an enlightened leader then he would jump at the chance to demonstrate his nearly superhuman wisdom in a way to make the ghost of Solomon writhe in envy.  Even his economic God, Keanes wrote that the way to bring down a government was economics and the debauchery of the currency and Obama is doing both.  So why not go all-in and make it clear what you want to kill and what you want to protect?  After all, he claimed the almost 2% majority that voted for him was a “mandate” of biblical proportions for his policies.

But Thomas Sowell — a real economist — wrote the disturbing answer in his own blog.  And it is as frightening as it is ugly, mostly because it has that inescapable ring of truth to it that can only be associated with politics.  With apologies to Dr. Sowell since I do not have it in front of me, I’ll paraphrase it but the gist is the same.

He wrote of an exercise he used to give his students in which they were to imagine a government bureaucracy that was created and, over time, evolved into having two activities under its charge (neither of which was the original intent but then, hey, it is the government and it is a bureaucracy).  The first was to feed hungry and homeless children.  The second was to build statues in parks across the land to Benedict Arnold trying to change his image and pointing out that before his little indiscretion, explainable easily to an self-entitled populace, that he was a hero, a brilliant strategist, and that despite that, he was passed over unfairly and so therefore justified in changing sides in mid stream and treasonous stabbing his country and his benefactor in the back.  And both activities of this agency were working just fine, getting lots of government money to keep them running, and a cadre of desk-bound bureaucrats fed and coddled.

But then the budgets were slashed by the evil opposition and they would have to curtail one of the activities.  But which one?  The children or the statues?  The students, after a careful examination of other governmental decisions, came to the only politically savvy conclusion: stop feeding the children.

What?  What kind of cold-hearted wretches could come to such a stance?  Politicians and bureaucrats sadly find it a no-brainer. You cut the kids because that does two things in the agency’s benefit.  First it makes an emotional case against the cuts per se, and second, that humanitarian cause is valid and needed so sooner or later the money will be returned.

But if they cut the statue activity, too many people will look at that, wonder why we were EVER spending money on such a hare-brained scheme, and kill that activity forever.  THat is death to a bureaucrat.

Now if you have been paying attention to the news and the government’s responses to the budget cuts, this ought to start making a sort of malevolent and highly Machiavellian sense.  Good ol’ Nicollo wrote in “The Prince”  that now and then the Prince needs to turn the dogs loose on the people so they will be so grateful when he calls them off.

Meantime, the lack of national collapse is not escaping attention and is instead calling attention to all of the cries about impending doom and disaster as being, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic and, worse, political gaming.  That, of course, cannot go unpunished.  So I would expect to see, using the story example above as a metaphor, more starving kids’ programs being very publicly cut and the other side more roundly blamed for it so the current Prince can make everyone so happy when he “convinces” the spineless opposition to capitulate and give him the money he wants.

And then, just as Maciavelli predicted for Lorenzo de Medici, the people will feel gratitude and once again line up behind his banner no matter where it is actually leading them.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Are Voters Mathematically Challenged?

San Diego — Tomorrow the world as we know it ends.

At least that is what the whiner in chief and his sycophantic minions are telling us.  When the sequester — that was his idea in the first place, which, in an interview in October with the Des Moines Register, he said was part of the grand bargain that included the cancelling of the Bush tax cuts and would set on a balanced road to stability – kicks in he is now trotting out his department heads to prophesy everything from closing school to closing airports to cutting back on military capabilities to having to set free illegal aliens held in jails for other infractions.

But in order for that to happen, or even come close to happening, one of two things would have to occur.  Either the laws of mathematics would have to change significantly or the administration would have to make specific choices and decisions designed to bring about the greatest harm to the country while ignoring solutions that really should have an effect only on those wasting money or defrauding the system.

Since I am skeptical of the first option occurring, I am left with the second.  And why would I say that?  Simple… I own a calculator.

We have a current debt of about $16.6 Trillion dollars (which is currently much higher than it was when Obama first proposed the sequester idea as a means of forcing action which was, to his enormous surprise, accepted by the opposition.  But that increase and the increases currently planned are extra-budgetary meaning they are planned by the administration but are not contained in any budget initiated or approved by congress which is what the Constitution requires for a budget to be valid.

We have not had a budget for over 4 years; the lack of which allows the President and his departments to sneak in spending increases under the radar and such is the case with the increases currently being proposed.   They have never been approved by congress.  Nevertheless the President proposed and congress accepted a plan to decrease the RATE OF INCREEASED SPENDING over the then $15 Trillion debt by 2% across the board, exempting those areas that, by law, cannot be cut without specific congressional approval.

What is critically important for you to remember is that was not 2% of the total budget; it was 2% of the rate of increased spending being planned over the current expenditures.  Now the debt is up another $1.6 Trillion from the data of that plan’s acceptance.  Money being committed for which there is no budget and no revenue to cover it.

When one factors in that by the time this happens what was calculated to be a total decrease in increased spending of $85 Billion is actually only about $44 Billion, and not a penny of that cuts into the budgetary base line, it still works out to a reduction of the national indebtedness figure of about 2 cents per dollar.

Additionally we are told that all cuts must be made equally “across the board.”  But that is not precisely true.  The bill itself the cuts to be equally made across the non-exempt DEPARTMENTS’ budgets but makes no mention of any restrictions on how, WITHIN a department the cuts are allocated.  Those decisions can be made sensibly with a sort of economic triage or they can be made based on politically desired outcome.

The Defense Department spokesmouth said, for example that Coast Guard rescue missions would be cut.  But later the commandant of the Coast Guard said he could find the money from other non-essential areas.

FAA talks about cutting air controllers but does not even look at such things as a subsidy they pay for snacks on flights (you thought the airlines paid for that, huh?).  The FDA talks about health issues but does not talk about cutting subsidies for tobacco growers while the Health Department then also pays huge amounts for anti-tobacco campaigns.   Or how interior pays some farmers to NOT grow a crop it pays others TO grow.

And if ANY part of the government is able to be called “non-essential” why are we paying for it anyway?

Bottom line even if all of the apocalyptic cuts are made as prophesied, we will still be spending more in 2013 than we did in 2012 because we have only cut the rate of increase not the actual existing budget items.

So get a grip people!  And hold your elected folks’ feet to the fire to allocate the cuts wisely, as you would expect.  As it is now, it is as if an individual had a cable contract but when their bonus check was cut, they decided to deal with it by cutting back on food for their kids and leave the TV offerings alone.  But when the government does an exactly analogous thing it is OK with you and you just accept it because you think the enlightened folks leading it have an imprimatur from God to act wisely in all things?

In the end it is all in YOUR hands.  You can tell the representatives that how they allocate money and how the President’s minions allocate money in their departments is going to have an effect on your voting.  And if you do that I can nearly guarantee things will get better.

If you don’t, if you remain minimally informed about the details of these things that can, if used poorly – or maliciously – have a very bad effect on you, then you have only yourselves to blame for whatever the outcome will be.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Real Crime Stats and Gun Control

San Diego — The FBI has released their 2007-2011 report on homocides by weapon used.  Please note these are not statistics created by the NRA or any of the other gun-rights advocating groups. They are from the FBI who annually publishes crime statistics sorted just about every possible way you can imagine.

Unlike the utter nonsense I’ve seen passing for data on Facebook, fabricated by true believers on all sides of this issue, these are numbers gathered by the government agency we made responsible for such data… the FBI. And if you think I am cherry picking data or, worse, making it up myself then all you have to do is do a Google or Yahoo search on “FBI Crime Statistics” and there will be the links to the FBI’s own site and the various tables containing the data from numerous perspectives.

But when you do that, I mean when you actually look at real numbers, there is an inescapable conclusion that not even the most close-minded can ignore if they believe real numbers mean anything. The results are completely opposite of what you would expect if you bought into the anti-gun crowd now claiming that not reinstating the ban on assault weapons will cause more crime.  After reading the report with figures gathered from law enforcement agencies across the country, to conclude otherwise means you have to take as evidence something other than the actual data on crimes, in this case homocides.

The report indicates, among other things that you are more likely to be killed by knives, hammers, even hands or feet than by a rifle or shotgun which does not play into the hands of those seeking a ban on scary looking guns.  They call these fearful looking guns “Assault Rifles” but the facts are a true “Assault Rifle” is, by definition, capable of fully automatic as well as “burst” (usually three shot) fire and are tightly controlled by BATF regulations and special licensing requirements.  They say it does not take 10 bullets to kill a deer and that is true.  But on more than one occasion it has taken more than that, even in the hands of police, to stop a drug soaked felon.

Here is a really inconvenient truth.  While gun ownership has dramatically increased since 2007, murders for both the shotgun and rifle categories have seen declines faster than the rate of personal weapons (knives, hammers, bats, hands and feet, etc.) related homocides.

The rates of decline for the shotgun and rifle categories are 22.1% and 28.7% respectively. In 2011 there were 356 shotgun murders and 323 rifle murders for a total of 679 murders by “long guns.”  Don’t misunderstand me, I think that number, indeed ANY number, is unacceptable in a civilized society and I have already set in writing my proposals for regulations addressing it.  But it does indicate that long guns of all types are not used that often to murder someone and if eliminated entirely from the face of the earth would make a very small dent in the overall murder rates.

Lets take a closer look at the 2011 stats.  As of this writing 2012 stats are only compiled from Jan to June so those tallies are not good numbers for annual comparisons although the trend, as noted above, indicates further decline in murder rates from all types of weapons (poisonings are not counted in this particular set of tables since it is not, strictly speaking, a “weapon”).

So far, homicides in all categories are down.  Here are some of the specific numbers by states where there is either massive onerous gun control or very lax control.  I’ve selected these so that we can compare them and see how well the controls now in place are working in the real, not the fantasy, world.

 

State Population Firearms Total Hand guns Long Guns Other (knives, hammers, etc. Personal (hands/ Feet)
California 38 million 1220 866 95 469 101
Arizona 6.5 million 222 165 23 108 9
Colorado 5.2 million 73 39 8 53 21
Texas 25 million 699 497 85 309 81
Illinois 12.8 million 377 364 6 58 6
Oregon 3.8 million 40 13 1 32 5
D.C. 0.6 Million 77 37 1 30 1
New York 19 Million 445 399 85 309 85

So what does this data tell us… really?

Well for one thing it tells us that the states with the strictest gun control laws (New York, Illinois, California) have higher per capita firearms related homicides than those with more relaxed gun laws such as Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.

It also tells us that firearm homicides using long guns (rifles and shot guns, including scary looking guns) account for a tiny fraction of firearms homicides so the assault weapons ban is essentially worthless.

It tells us, as noted above, non-firearms related homicides per capita are no lower in states with strict gun control laws than in states with loose gun control laws and in some cases are higher.  For example, in California and Texas the percentage of firearms homicides is about the same per capita but California, with very tough gun laws, has more per capita non-firearm homicides.

Now these statistics make absolutely zero sense to those who believe it is the access to guns that causes violent homicides.  But there are more guns in civilian hands now than ever before in our history yet the whole list of violent crimes is declining in occurrences.  How is that possible?  For those who believe people don’t kill people, it is guns that kill people, it is not possible.  Without access to weapons we would all, they seem to believe, play nice in the communal sand box.

But that is not what real statistics seem to tell us.  In New York with the strictest of all laws except D.C., there are as many non-firearms homicides as those with firearms.  The comparisons of Texas and California show that a person desiring to kill another will find a way even if firearms are not readily available.

So I repeat my conclusion of a number of posts ago when writing about the 2nd Amendment and gun control laws: we do not have a gun problem; what we have is a morals and ethics problem. 

Ethical people with high morals, including gun owners, do not normally murder others.  People without ethics and low morals murder others by any means they can do it.  We have a morals and ethical problem and it is a very big one.

Until we address those issues, all this madness over blaming a tool for the owners use of it, will go on and on but not solve a single thing because we are looking in the wrong direction.  So long as we continue to support situational ethics and moral relativism, this problem will not ever go away.  Until we stop passing laws that favor the perpetrators and place the onus on real victims, until we stop passing laws that remove the consequences for bad behavior and bad choices, until we as a society are once again willing to assert values into the political equation, demand those same values of our politicians AND of our citizenry, then we will have people who believe it is OK to settle disputes by killing their rivals.  These statistics shout out that we can take away all the guns and the bad actors will still find a way to do harm to others.

This is not about party affiliation.  There are as many murders per capita in the ultra liberal states as in the ultra conservative ones.  It is about having and instilling values and an internally consistent standard of behavior and until we regain those, then except to erode liberty even further, any effect of enhanced gun restriction by itself will be as effective as spitting into a hurricane.

And if you REALLY want to tackle some behavior dangerous to society then I would look first to driving under ANY influence.  Every two years we kill as many people on the roads as in ten years of the Vietnam war.  Of course that is a problem of values, ethics, and morals so we will not seriously look at it.  But if we are determined to look at and ban tools that are responsible for human suffering and deaths then I would also look at the item most responsible for accidental death: ladders.  Not guns or knives or other weapons… ladders.

But are you going to believe the government’s own numbers when they go against your ideology?  I doubt it.  You would not believe the GAO (Government Accounting Office) when they published their own estimations of the true costs of your messiah’s economic plans especially as it pertains to health care so why believe these?

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

More BS Flowing Down The Political Sewer Pipe

San Diego – Oh how soon we forget when it serves our purposes…  But sometimes there is that pesky videotape that someone forgot to erase when the agenda changed.  And now we have a glaring example of it.

The year was 2006.  The President was the hated Bush demon and in his evil machinations sought to raise the debt ceiling.  The left was simply apoplectic.  Senators Reid, Pelosi and, yes, Senator Barrack Obama each took to the dias and bloviated in soaring rhetoric how this was an outrage!  This was, they ALL chanted, simply so we could spend more money but we did not need to raise it for current spending obligations because all of those had to have been approved under the debt ceiling as then defined.  This was, they shrieked, merely a way to allow the administration to spend NEW money on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan beyond that already approved, which they hated.

In fact, they were right.  Congress cannot approve borrowing more money than the debt ceiling in place at the moment will allow.  So every debt and liability incurred by the country at the moment has had to fit within the debt ceiling when the liability was enacted.  And, sure enough, we have the revenue to at least service the current debt even though we do not have the revenue to pay the principle down or to fund new debt.  That was true when Reid, Pelosi, Obama, et al rose to say it in 2006.  And it is still true today.

It was still true in 2008 when Obama, on the stump, called the Evil Bush Demon irresponsible and unpatriotic for allowing the national debt to reach $4 trillion on his watch, to create, he noted, a debt exceeding the total debt run up by all presidents before him.  He was correct.  But that was $6 Trillion ago.  And that additional $6 Trillion was run up not by the Evil Bush Demon but by the benighted Obamessiah,  How can that be when he was telling the truth back then.

However, he was not telling the truth today or anything even close to it.  He had to be assuming, (and with every reason to make the assumption based on the election results), that the populace is so ignorant and so burdened with short attentions that they will not only have forgotten it but those few who remembered will think they remembered in error, our Spender in Chief rose Monday morning to warn the people that if the evil right wing continued to hold America hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless some equal cuts in spending were added, we would fail economically, fail in our promises to the world, our credit would be shot, and we would no longer be a powerful nation.

Sorry Chief, that is simply a bald faced lie.  And worse.  Trying to frighten recipeients of social security and VA benefits is disingenuous because he knows full well that the payment of those specific benefits is protected by Federal law.  It is more than disingenuous, it is sleazy and duplicitous.

And, Dear Leader, it contradicts your own surprisingly well reasoned diatribe against raising the debt ceiling for the Evil Bush Demon which, against all odds, actually caught you doing something unusual, telling… the truth.  Well, some of the truth anyway.

Raising the debt ceiling is wanted and needed solely so we can raise our debt.  Duh.  Obama’s problem is that as a country, we do not take in the revenue to pay for the desired levels of spending especially when the leadership wants to turn us overnight into a Scandinavian model socialist democracy.  But this is not a result of incompetence.  I believe it is an obvious part of strategy 101.

If we continue, year after year to raise the debt ceiling and then borrow up to it so we need to raise it again to spend and borrow more, sooner or later that house of cards will come crumbling down just as it does to a family who tries the same thing.  And then we have a choice.  We can do what we are doing now which is simply push the day of reckoning down the line so our kids and their kids will have to deal with the catastrophe we are creating, or we have to belly up to the bar and cough up the revenues into the public coffers to pay for it.

The problem is then we will have to believe that a Congress known most of all for its profligate spending (and yes, this includes the mainstream Republicans as well who differentiate themselves from the liberals only be want to spend a little less and a little slower, will take that added revenue and put it toward paying down the debt instead of simply expanding new programs.  You do all believe they will all suddenly be bitten by the bug of restraint, don’t you?  I’m sure I do…  NOT!

The only chance this generation has of getting the debt under control is to stop increasing the debt faster than it can be paid down.  And that needs to start now.  Will it happen?  I doubt it.  The citizenry unburdened by any real knowledge of the issues or the consequences, hearing only what they want to hear and even then only if buried in the speech is a promise for more stuff to flow down into the public trough, are apparently clueless.

Obama has an uncanny ability to avoid issues and solutions while successfully painting any who oppose his view as the enemy, not just of him, though that is bad enough in his eyes, but of the country, of the children, of the poor, of the minorities, of women, of anyone whose status allows the inference of some ugly label to be applied to his opposition.

Amazing.  Sad.  Maddening.  I think perhaps we need the object lesson  now rushing at us like an out of control freight train while we, in our economically and ethically broken jalopy sit here broken down on the track.  Maybe those left standing, after they have clawed their way back to fiscal responsibility and productivity will, at least for another generation, remember.

Despite government promises to the contrary, there really is no free lunch.  And this lunch is going to have one Hell of a bill.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power

San Diego:  As many of you know I am a HUGE fan of the private intelligence company STRATFOR.  Their analysis of geopolitical realities around the world and domestically sets the standard for insight and accuracy because their clients — big business — does not care about political spin such as the government imposes on the intelligence it gathers, it cares about success.  And success only comes from knowing, with accuracy, what your field of “battle” is really like.  Ideology rarely if ever defines reality.

Clearly this country is in crisis.  I watched with amazement, horror, and sadness as, on the Sunday news shows, representatives from left and right talked past one another.  They were far more interested in scoring ideological points that searching for workable solutions. In what has become typical American fashion, they debated how to address symptoms and completely avoided any discussion of underlying causes.

But not STRATFOR.  So once again I’m going to, with their permission, re-publish the analysis by their founder George Freidman and send it off with this warning: if we do not insist our politicians get off their ideological high horses and start facing then coming to grips with reality, our economy, our country, our culture and society all are sitting at the point of balance at the entrance into a black hole.

————–STRATFOR Article follows———————

Last week I wrote about the crisis of unemployment in Europe. I received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem, asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number is. Europe might.

At the same time, I would agree that the United States faces a potentially significant but longer-term geopolitical problem deriving from economic trends. The threat to the United States is the persistent decline in the middle class’ standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it continues, poses a threat to American power.

The Crisis of the American Middle Class

The median household income of Americans in 2011 was $49,103. Adjusted for inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000 less than it was in 2000. Take-home income is a bit less than $40,000 when Social Security and state and federal taxes are included. That means a monthly income, per household, of about $3,300. It is urgent to bear in mind that half of all American households earn less than this. It is also vital to consider not the difference between 1990 and 2011, but the difference between the 1950s and 1960s and the 21st century. This is where the difference in the meaning of middle class becomes most apparent.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the median income allowed you to live with a single earner — normally the husband, with the wife typically working as homemaker — and roughly three children. It permitted the purchase of modest tract housing, one late model car and an older one. It allowed a driving vacation somewhere and, with care, some savings as well. I know this because my family was lower-middle class, and this is how we lived, and I know many others in my generation who had the same background. It was not an easy life and many luxuries were denied us, but it wasn’t a bad life at all.

Someone earning the median income today might just pull this off, but it wouldn’t be easy. Assuming that he did not have college loans to pay off but did have two car loans to pay totaling $700 a month, and that he could buy food, clothing and cover his utilities for $1,200 a month, he would have $1,400 a month for mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance, plus some funds for fixing the air conditioner and dishwasher. At a 5 percent mortgage rate, that would allow him to buy a house in the $200,000 range. He would get a refund back on his taxes from deductions but that would go to pay credit card bills he had from Christmas presents and emergencies. It could be done, but not easily and with great difficulty in major metropolitan areas. And if his employer didn’t cover health insurance, that $4,000-5,000 for three or four people would severely limit his expenses. And of course, he would have to have $20,000-40,000 for a down payment and closing costs on his home. There would be little else left over for a week at the seashore with the kids.

And this is for the median. Those below him — half of all households — would be shut out of what is considered middle-class life, with the house, the car and the other associated amenities. Those amenities shift upward on the scale for people with at least $70,000 in income. The basics might be available at the median level, given favorable individual circumstance, but below that life becomes surprisingly meager, even in the range of the middle class and certainly what used to be called the lower-middle class.

The Expectation of Upward Mobility

I should pause and mention that this was one of the fundamental causes of the 2007-2008 subprime lending crisis. People below the median took out loans with deferred interest with the expectation that their incomes would continue the rise that was traditional since World War II. The caricature of the borrower as irresponsible misses the point. The expectation of rising real incomes was built into the American culture, and many assumed based on that that the rise would resume in five years. When it didn’t they were trapped, but given history, they were not making an irresponsible assumption.

American history was always filled with the assumption that upward mobility was possible. The Midwest and West opened land that could be exploited, and the massive industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries opened opportunities. There was a systemic expectation of upward mobility built into American culture and reality.

The Great Depression was a shock to the system, and it wasn’t solved by the New Deal, nor even by World War II alone. The next drive for upward mobility came from post-war programs for veterans, of whom there were more than 10 million. These programs were instrumental in creating post-industrial America, by creating a class of suburban professionals. There were three programs that were critical:

  1. The GI Bill, which allowed veterans to go to college after the war, becoming professionals frequently several notches above their parents.
  2. The part of the GI Bill that provided federally guaranteed mortgages to veterans, allowing low and no down payment mortgages and low interest rates to graduates of publicly funded universities.
  3. The federally funded Interstate Highway System, which made access to land close to but outside of cities easier, enabling both the dispersal of populations on inexpensive land (which made single-family houses possible) and, later, the dispersal of business to the suburbs.

There were undoubtedly many other things that contributed to this, but these three not only reshaped America but also created a new dimension to the upward mobility that was built into American life from the beginning. Moreover, these programs were all directed toward veterans, to whom it was acknowledged a debt was due, or were created for military reasons (the Interstate Highway System was funded to enable the rapid movement of troops from coast to coast, which during World War II was found to be impossible). As a result, there was consensus around the moral propriety of the programs.

The subprime fiasco was rooted in the failure to understand that the foundations of middle class life were not under temporary pressure but something more fundamental. Where a single earner could support a middle class family in the generation after World War II, it now took at least two earners. That meant that the rise of the double-income family corresponded with the decline of the middle class. The lower you go on the income scale, the more likely you are to be a single mother. That shift away from social pressure for two parent homes was certainly part of the problem.

Re-engineering the Corporation

But there was, I think, the crisis of the modern corporation. Corporations provided long-term employment to the middle class. It was not unusual to spend your entire life working for one. Working for a corporation, you received yearly pay increases, either as a union or non-union worker. The middle class had both job security and rising income, along with retirement and other benefits. Over the course of time, the culture of the corporation diverged from the realities, as corporate productivity lagged behind costs and the corporations became more and more dysfunctional and ultimately unsupportable. In addition, the corporations ceased focusing on doing one thing well and instead became conglomerates, with a management frequently unable to keep up with the complexity of multiple lines of business.

For these and many other reasons, the corporation became increasingly inefficient, and in the terms of the 1980s, they had to be re-engineered — which meant taken apart, pared down, refined and refocused. And the re-engineering of the corporation, designed to make them agile, meant that there was a permanent revolution in business. Everything was being reinvented. Huge amounts of money, managed by people whose specialty was re-engineering companies, were deployed. The choice was between total failure and radical change. From the point of view of the individual worker, this frequently meant the same thing: unemployment. From the view of the economy, it meant the creation of value whether through breaking up companies, closing some of them or sending jobs overseas. It was designed to increase the total efficiency, and it worked for the most part.

This is where the disjuncture occurred. From the point of view of the investor, they had saved the corporation from total meltdown by redesigning it. From the point of view of the workers, some retained the jobs that they would have lost, while others lost the jobs they would have lost anyway. But the important thing is not the subjective bitterness of those who lost their jobs, but something more complex.

As the permanent corporate jobs declined, more people were starting over. Some of them were starting over every few years as the agile corporation grew more efficient and needed fewer employees. That meant that if they got new jobs it would not be at the munificent corporate pay rate but at near entry-level rates in the small companies that were now the growth engine. As these companies failed, were bought or shifted direction, they would lose their jobs and start over again. Wages didn’t rise for them and for long periods they might be unemployed, never to get a job again in their now obsolete fields, and certainly not working at a company for the next 20 years.

The restructuring of inefficient companies did create substantial value, but that value did not flow to the now laid-off workers. Some might flow to the remaining workers, but much of it went to the engineers who restructured the companies and the investors they represented. Statistics reveal that, since 1947 (when the data was first compiled), corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product are now at their highest level, while wages as a percentage of GDP are now at their lowest level. It was not a question of making the economy more efficient — it did do that — it was a question of where the value accumulated. The upper segment of the wage curve and the investors continued to make money. The middle class divided into a segment that entered the upper-middle class, while another faction sank into the lower-middle class.

American society on the whole was never egalitarian. It always accepted that there would be substantial differences in wages and wealth. Indeed, progress was in some ways driven by a desire to emulate the wealthy. There was also the expectation that while others received far more, the entire wealth structure would rise in tandem. It was also understood that, because of skill or luck, others would lose.

What we are facing now is a structural shift, in which the middle class’ center, not because of laziness or stupidity, is shifting downward in terms of standard of living. It is a structural shift that is rooted in social change (the breakdown of the conventional family) and economic change (the decline of traditional corporations and the creation of corporate agility that places individual workers at a massive disadvantage).

The inherent crisis rests in an increasingly efficient economy and a population that can’t consume what is produced because it can’t afford the products. This has happened numerous times in history, but the United States, excepting the Great Depression, was the counterexample.

Obviously, this is a massive political debate, save that political debates identify problems without clarifying them. In political debates, someone must be blamed. In reality, these processes are beyond even the government’s ability to control. On one hand, the traditional corporation was beneficial to the workers until it collapsed under the burden of its costs. On the other hand, the efficiencies created threaten to undermine consumption by weakening the effective demand among half of society.

The Long-Term Threat

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk. The problem is that social stability has been built around this assumption — not on the assumption that everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit from growing productivity and efficiency.

If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.

The left would argue that the solution is for laws to transfer wealth from the rich to the middle class. That would increase consumption but, depending on the scope, would threaten the amount of capital available to investment by the transfer itself and by eliminating incentives to invest. You can’t invest what you don’t have, and you won’t accept the risk of investment if the payoff is transferred away from you.

The agility of the American corporation is critical. The right will argue that allowing the free market to function will fix the problem. The free market doesn’t guarantee social outcomes, merely economic ones. In other words, it may give more efficiency on the whole and grow the economy as a whole, but by itself it doesn’t guarantee how wealth is distributed. The left cannot be indifferent to the historical consequences of extreme redistribution of wealth. The right cannot be indifferent to the political consequences of a middle-class life undermined, nor can it be indifferent to half the population’s inability to buy the products and services that businesses sell.

The most significant actions made by governments tend to be unintentional. The GI Bill was designed to limit unemployment among returning serviceman; it inadvertently created a professional class of college graduates. The VA loan was designed to stimulate the construction industry; it created the basis for suburban home ownership. The Interstate Highway System was meant to move troops rapidly in the event of war; it created a new pattern of land use that was suburbia.

It is unclear how the private sector can deal with the problem of pressure on the middle class. Government programs frequently fail to fulfill even minimal intentions while squandering scarce resources. The United States has been a fortunate country, with solutions frequently emerging in unexpected ways.

It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And at this point it isn’t frightened but angry, believing that if only its own solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before.

People who are smarter and luckier than I am will have to craft the solution. I am simply pointing out the potential consequences of the problem and the inadequacy of all the ideas I have seen so far

The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

—————- End of Stratfor Article————————–

We have reached political gridlock because all sides can accurately see the policies of the other side as failing.  Because all sides, as i’ve said before in this blog, are true believers with no room to compromise.  The problem is the left consists of true believers in a world that never existed and runs counter to human nature and the right consists of true believers in a rosy view of a world that no longer exists and did exist only because of very specific environmental and social factors.

There is no room to compromise when both tightly held belief systems are based in a fantasy.  Both fail to deliver becuase they cannot succeed based on those fantasies.  This article provides an opportunity for a few people, those who subscribe to their service and those readers of this and other blogs that may reprint it or paraphrase it in their own words, to step outside the malestrom of competing political fantasies, and start to think hard about the underlying realities that may need to be addressed (note, I did NOT say “fixed) if we are to pull back from the black hole.

Now, if only i believed that was even remotely likely to happen…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

2013 Is Here…Ready Or Not…

San Diego — Well, 2012 is a thing of the past, of history, a thing whose events and news items will be spun, debated, loved, hated, cheered, boo’d, for many years to come.  It saw a political campaign notable mostly for its ugliness and total lack of substance including an inexplicable avoidance of real issues.  If it truly fielded the two best men America could come up with to run for its leader, an enscounced amateur true believer playing at politics and opposed by a person who seemed sincere but as if he sincerely wanted to trade places with nearly ANYONE.  No wonder we are in such steep decline.

But the sun rose today on the first day of 2013, a chance for new beginnings if we will only take it.  On a national scale, I now believe it is too late and that the demographics of this country have so changed to reflect a new majority of soft, entitled, victims-in-their-own-minds, a people openly written about and feared by the very people whose intellects and courage brought this country into being, that the Declaration of Independence is incomprehensible to them on so many level and their fervent desire is for a new Declaration of Dependence.  I now think that barring some calamitous event there is no longer a viable road back to a land of self reliance, self-accepted responsibilities and accountabilities, in short, the gate has closed behind the types of people who made this a powerful and good leader of the free world.  Third world, or in the near term, second world status here we come… and purposefully so by the leadership.  And we did it to ourselves.

But within that changing political realm being slowly but surely transformed into the dreams of our dear leader’s father exactly as he openly wrote about and proclaimed he wanted to do, there yet remains, entering this new year, our own personal lives and at least for a little while our abilities to semi-control them and do with them as we will.  At the moment our personal lives are still pretty much within our own control.  And even for those things we cannot control, we can still control how we let them effect us, and what we will do about them.

Within the most virulent tyrannies there have been those who still managed, although with greater difficulty, to lead lives of value and worth both to themselves as well as to their friends and families and sometimes, it turns out, to the world itself.  And if they could do it from under the boot heel of their government then surely, since we are not yet arrived at so desperate a point, we can do it now.  We may no longer be the home of the brave (individual exceptions duly noted) but we are still the land of the mostly free.

For me, personally, the arena of new beginnings can take several forms, but most especially my art and my teaching.   Like most artists I do not create imagery because I want to, rather, it is a deep inner itch that must be scratched.  I do it because something inside me forces me to do it and makes me crazy (well, crazier than normal) if I do not.  A work of fine art does two things to the audience: it generates reflective thought and it engenders an emotional response.

That means of course that the artist had to have those things during the creation process in order to have something to infuse into the piece.  And that means they have to keep their sensory, emotional, and intellectual databases as full as possible.  Unlike popular myth, they cannot hide out in their squalid little garrets, embracing angst, anguish, and synthetic trauma because though they may have a command of composition and some technical skills, any cerebral and visceral component in their work is as phony as they are.  It may be interesting but fine art is a very different product.

I can tell that my own work is in a transition phase.  I still see the traditional “grand landscape” but I’m also now feeling the need to use ALL of my art training to explore my subjects’ inner core – at least as I sense it to be.  I’m moving away from the more literal documentation to a more personal narrative.  I’ve no idea where it will lead visually and artistically but 2013 will be a year to explore it.

So, for me, the art comes first because it is needed to inform my teaching.  Indeed I think good teaching is itself a form of art.  Being able to have a positive impact on students’ lives and futures is perhaps the most serious form of art one can practice.  And consequently I take it very seriously.

An acquaintance of mine on that paragon of infantile interaction and comment, Facebook, who seems completely unburdened by any need to verify facts before he leaps headlong into the most scurrilous accusations about people holding beliefs other than his own, as part of his current cause célèbre du jour asked me if, since I owned guns, I would be willing to use them to face an armed intruder at school.  What a rock stupid question to ask of me.  I walk with a limp because long ago I was willing to risk everything up to and including my life for something as intangible as my flag and my sense of what my country – at that time at least – stood for.  But there is nothing so important to our future than our children.  Nothing existing is so in charge of the future than the students of today.  Of course I would use my guns to defend them and stand between them and the Devil himself if need be.  And I would do the same for people I care about.

But I think in the meantime, what my students deserve, is the best I can give them and so 2013 will see me trying to be better and better at that aspect of my art that is teaching.

So what about you out there in the vastness of cyberspace?  Did the sun rise today on a new year and a new resolution of improvement for you?  I hope so because if that was the case for more of us then perhaps it will not be too late for the country.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,