Out on a limb.

December 13, 2011

OK, I am going out a limb and predict Obama will win a second term. The question is then,  “what will he do in a second term”,  assuming approximately  the same Congressional split ( a little more Democratic House and a little more Republican Senate). Also assuming the economy has improved just enough to get him back in. Will the GOP just stall and obstruct knowing he’s now a lame duck? Will Harry Reid then take the gloves off, go nuclear, and let a majority move legislation and nominations in the Senate?  Will Obama hold steady (Rope a Dope) for more two years and hope an even better economy and demographics will give him a “mandate” in 2014? Will the ChiComms put a Technocrat in power to satisfy domestic demand for the benefits of the consumer society to take the internal pressure off?  Will there be a worldwide movement to prize the people over the bond market? Will the moneyed interest accept sharing the benefits of technology with displaced workers?  I don’t recall there being a mention of the unemployed on Star Trek, despite replicators and warp drives. While many of my generation wax nostalgic for the 1950’s, I can’t wait for the 2050’s and beyond.


Currently Reading: Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt, Jazz  a History of American Music by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns.


The Story

August 8, 2011

On a recent weekend I flipped the channel by one of my old favorites, CSPAN-2, or BookTV as it is known  on the weekends. I have drifted away from the channel over the last year or so as it devolved into a right-wing corporate mouthpiece, kinda like Faux, but without commercials or the blondes. Now it is mostly a roosting place for the conservative think-tanks (Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institute, AEI, etc.) to pimp their corporate-funded propaganda. I did linger long enough to hear the speaker relate the story of a teenage girl who had gotten pregnant by her boyfriend. Heeding her family and friends advice she went to the clinic. There she was accosted by the self-assured anti-choice zealot intent upon making her change her mind. The teenager went in but had a change of heart and left. The speaker crowed, “End of story.” Now the point of the speaker was for the right-wing leaders to switch from a statistical arguments to  narrative arguments in order to make a deeper connection with the targeted audience. There was an air of envy that the creative types in the past tended to promote a liberal narrative in the arts and on to the mass media. I would posit that the corporate masters long ago learned that creativity can be bought and has gladly served the interests of the powerful to mislead the public. But my central point is that while the right-wing is glad to see a simplistic world of black and white, good and evil, and right vs. wrong, the messy details of reality are to be ignored. In the story of the pregnant girl who will pay the medical costs of carrying the fetus to term and for delivery? What if there are complications? More messy. Who will pay for the infant’s living costs? Who will provide daycare, transportation and education expenses so the girl will be able to gain employment and support her family? More messy. Will the tax exempt religious institutions provide adequate care for those millions?  They didn’t do it before FDR. Do the ends justify the means? Accosting women about a personal matter in the public sphere with screaming condemnation would seem to violate the liberty and the right to be left alone the right-wing propagandists espouse. Maybe they would approve if she resorted to a second amendment solution to being attacked. Just more messy details that spoil “the story”.


currently reading The Years of Talking Dangerously by Geoffrey Nunberg, Jazz a history of American Music by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, and Justice Brennan Liberal Champion by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel.

Currently Reading

June 18, 2011

The World As It Is by Chris Hedges, Jazz a History of American Music by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, Justice Brennan by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel.

As a member of the baby boom generation I was amazed at the vision of the future as seen in Disney’s Tomorrowland. In the near future we would be flying in air cars or at least traveling in vehicles that drove themselves. Building on the miracle of penicillin medical science would vanquish infectious diseases; chemicals would end pestilence and let agriculture provide an end to hunger worldwide.  Nuclear reactors would provide the clean energy at a price too low to meter. Automation and robots would finally free humans from drudgery and tedium, allowing us all to purse happiness through arts and science to improve our minds, bodies, and spirit. After all, we never saw anyone mopping the decks of the Starship Enterprise.  This Utopian vision had one fatal flaw that was never revealed. All those manual laborers, be they file clerks or factory workers, would never be simply liberated and supported to follow their muse. No, the vast economic savings would not be shared with them, but rather funneled to wealthy.  In place of this grand future the displaced were now to be given limited unemployment “benefits” while they pursed not happiness, but their next job. The mantra from the political elite became “Retrain Yourself”.  No time for learning nor enlightenment, but only retraining for a job that technology had yet to obsolete. The direction to file clerks was become computer programmers and to factory workers become computer repairmen. Mankind now serving the machine, that stood the future Utopia on its head. No leisure for you, move along.  Unpaid vacations and hope for longer hours to make ends meet. A result of these workers being displaced governments no longer derived revenues from income or sales taxes, while they were expect to provide the “benefits” and the retraining. But that’s a topic for the future.

The Individual Mandate

January 8, 2011

     Perhaps the most unpopular component of the Healthcare law going into effect in 2014 is the Individual Mandate. The special interests have been working to declare the individual mandate as unconstitutional. They profess that our sainted Founding Fathers never intended that the government require citizens to purchase a commercial product. These references to our early days as a nation are sprinkled with calls for liberty, freedom and independence. These modern day “Sons of Liberty” wannabees missed one nasty little complication from the earliest days of the new Republic. Those same patriots who forged the revolution then had to govern. And govern they did. The Congress passed and President Washington signed the Militia Act of 1792. To wit,

“That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act. That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack. That the commissioned Officers shall severally be armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this Act, all muskets from arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempted from all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes.”

That’s right, your Defenders of Liberty mandated their fellow white male property owners to equip themselves with items prescribed by the “guv’ment” at their own expense. All this before Karl Marx, before Trotsky, before Lenin, before Obamacare.

Why don’t the self-described conservatives express the same concern over this incursion on their precious liberty? I expect most don’t know enough history to identify the Militia Act, but those who do and most of those currently informed would still not object. Could it be that the Militia “individual mandate” required the citizen to buy weapons with their potential for physical violence, while the Healthcare act will require citizens to buy health insurance, a component of improving the wellness of society at large?

 Currently reading The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson and Supreme Injustice by Alan Dershowitz

Who’s Got the Numbers?

January 4, 2011

We have heard a lot since the election from the Republicans that “the people have spoken”. They claim the change in the House shows that the American public have flocked to their philosophy and rejected President Obama’s agenda. They point to the enthusiasm boost the the TEA Partiers brought to their party. But do the numbers actually support their claim? In 2010 the combined total of votes for GOP House candidates was 45,091,248. Which certainly is a large number of the 308,000,000 Americans. However, Obama in 2008 received 69,456,897 votes out of a smaller population. That’s 54% MORE than the entire GOP total two years later. This vote deficit was despite a massive corporate disinformation campaign, thanks to the Citizens United decision, and despite the . So some Obama voters in 2008 have voted for the GOP House candidate in 2010 but certainly not a “mandate” to reverse course and go back to the Bush agenda. To be sure some of the GOP vote was a protest that Obama had not pushed his mandate for “Change” hard enough.


 In America’s glory days of manufacturing, the 50’s, hundred of thousands of factory workers, postal workers, telephone repairmen, clerks and their managers earned a paycheck and contributed to the Social Security trust funds. Over the next 40 years automation and the Information Technology revolution swept these occupations into the dustbin of history along with blacksmiths and icemen.  Replacing people with robots and computers added trillions to the corporate bottom lines, but starved the SS trust funds. The increases in productivity slashed costs and let consumers buy better products at lower costs.  The cost savings also went to corporate dividends and investors profited handsomely. Unfortunately, these distributed profits are not subject to SS withholding, but do fuel demand and therefore counteract downward pressure on prices.  Resulting increases in the Consumer Price Index then siphon SS trust funds.  During the recent economic disaster corporations were cutting their workforce to maintain profitability.  The productivity gains that have been realized will be not surrendered easily.  Once economic recovery resumes employment will lag behind pre-disaster levels.  Some of these same cost savings have been funneled into the corporate messaging machine to convince the public that all taxes are toxic.   Now given their civil rights the corporate money machines can purchase politicians and judges to avoid correcting the dynamic. The continuing squeeze to cut workers amplifies the problem exponentially.  Taking the remaining work offshore dooms the public safety nets. Trading good high wage jobs for minimum wage level jobs that can not be automated lowers SS trust fund revenues. Nobody wants to give up the benefits of technology. We all applaud machines doing the dangerous work and the drudgery. Luddites never envisioned iPhone apps. Clerks, who went back to school to become computer programmers, now sit in their cubicles worrying about those jobs going to India. Even the professions of the past, e.g. radiologists, attorneys doing document review, are finding their services are being automated or performed by foreign workers who receive a fraction of American pay levels. Computers designing computers, robots building robots, the future is now. Productivity and efficiency will allow a smaller workforce to sustain a greater unemployed portion of the population.  Perhaps we will approach levels from the 50’s where half the population (women in that day) was not employed outside the home.  Wives of that era were entitled to a SS benefit based on their employed spouse’s earnings. We just need to share current benefits equitably and figure out what to do with “surplus” workers. Science fiction has projected a future where robots handle all the mundane chores and humans are free to explore their pursuit of happiness in leisure. Well, maybe for very few with inherited wealth.