Posts tagged ‘energy policy’

America is the Greatest Country in the World…

Let’s see, what is the Greatest Country in the World (GCITW) doing today? Well, after watching Europe put in place an austerity campaign to “restore confidence” that ended up contracting their economies*, warnings by Economic Nobel laureates, Paul Krugman, Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz, and Robert M. Solow, that our debt is not our problem, a growing economy and jobs are, and even our Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke tells us the near term debt is not the problem, the sequester will further weaken the economy, and we need to be increasing spending right now, we are, you guessed it boys and girls, implementing the sequester. The sequester is austerity on steroids.

The GCITW’s Republicans cheered their leader for not negotiating some kind of solution. How did we get here? The GCITW put in place a doomsday device that would gut the government assuming no sane person would actually activate it, thus they thought, forcing compromise. But the people controlling the GCITW (Tea Party Republicans) are crazy and they activated it. For the GCITW, facts, logic, and science no longer hold sway and we are lead by VSPs** and the Tea Party with bad data and unable to read charts and graphs.

And what is the GCITW’s news media doing to alert us of the coming self-inflicted disaster? Well they are reporting and hyping a spat (made up) between Bobby Woodward and the White House because it titilates the twitter world (where deep and important thoughts can be expressed in 146 characters while the English language degenerates into acronyms) and sells advertising space. Oh, and least I forget, continues the both sides do it nonsense that confuses the voter on who is really preventing any progress, although I think even that is breaking through.

So the GCITW is unable to move forward in any discernible way, cannot ban assault weapons; can’t come up with a viable immigration policy; can’t deal with global warming; can’t recognize that our medical care system, which is the most expensive in the world, isn’t working; can’t invest in pre-kindergarden education which is the most effective way to ensure a successful life; blames both sides when a small minority of Republicans in the House and the Republican use of the filibuster in the Senate blocks everything; and is about to throw out the Civil Rights Act that has prevented states from trampling on the rights of their citizens while attempts to disenfranchise voters grows. If this is the GCITW, I would like to see some that aren’t doing so well.

But what do I know? I am old and grumpy. YOU KIDS GET OFF OF MY LAWN! Is it too early to crack open a nice bottle of wine? (Disclosure: I live on almost 22 acres of Sierra forest in the middle of a vineyard and the most pesky critters are gophers who along with Republicans, really are a scourge on the earth).

*If the results of the election in Italy are any indication, not only are the policies of austerity being rejected, but harsh economic conditions forced on the people bring out the crazies and there are disturbing parallels to the rise of Hitler in post WWI Europe.

**VSPs – Are those that look at a problem and appear serious because they call for harsh measures and self-sacrifice to seem serious about the problem when those measures are actually counterproductive, but makes them appear to be serious thinkers. Very Serious People hear other Very Serious People citing an alleged finding that supports their conclusions, then repeated it themselves, and it became part of what Everyone Knows — after all, everyone they talked to said it was true (this is also known as the Scarborough effect).

Fixing It

Vineyard pruned, rows sprayed, and debris chopped up in the morning rain

We seem to be facing insurmountable problems and we are deeply divided.  But As I sit here on a rainy day in the vineyard, I realize what frustrates me the most, is that the solutions aren’t hard.  They are right in front of us and are so easy to implement if we could just get everyone to sit down and actually listen.  Of course for Republicans this is going to sound out in left field, but since that is where they reside, who cares what they think.  What they have done has been a miserable failure so far.  Meanwhile Obama and the Democrats try to be a little bit pregnant with Republican ideas and the ship of state flounders.  So here are the solutions to all our problems and if we just had the political will to implement them, we could be on top of the world again:

  • The deficit – No the deficit is not our number one problem, but that is the conventional wisdom so here is how we fix it:  Let the Bush Tax cuts expire for everyone;  throw out the tax code and implement a consumption tax (value added) of about 10%; re-evaluate the income tax and greatly reduced from what it is now to be a flat rate on all income (no loopholes) – Note that we pay less than almost every other industrialized nation as a percent of GDP in taxes and they have figured it out with the value added tax.
  • Medical Insurance Reform – It is time to end the nonsense.  The rest of the world has gone to a single payer system and so should we.  Of course there is going to be rationing, there is rationing now but it is based on your ability to pay.  Then we need to end fee for service medical reimbursement and incentivize healthy outcomes (See Kaiser Permanente).  Once again it is what the rest of the world does, but we just can’t seem to get there.
  • Global Warming – This is a no-brainer:  See California.  At the least we should be planning for the impact and attempting to ameliorate the damage.  Second, and this does not require a science degree, dumping all that CO2 in the air can’t be good so lets create industries that don’t do that, and this fits right into Energy Policy.  Continuing to deny it is the height of stupidity as its impacts are all around us (see melting polar cap).
  • Energy Policy – Another no Duh moment.  We need one.  People complaining about $4 gas should count them selves lucky.  You can’t get it that cheap elsewhere in the industrialized world and it is going to get more expensive.  And it should.  Our problems are exacerbated by our addiction to oil and the sooner we go all out in alternate energy, the more strong we are as a nation.  The military are no dummies as they have seen the problem with long supply lines for oil and gas and are actively increasing their use of alternate sources.  But we have vested interests in the coal and oil business that fights rational policy every step of the way and they have of course bought both Democrats and Republicans.  So we add a $1 gas tax and fund major R&D on alternate energy.  Now where can I buy a hybrid truck.  I can’t.  That in itself is amazing.
  • Environment – Of course we need to regulate CO2 and a carbon tax is a great way to use the market system to move to more efficient ways of creating energy for the rest of us.  Oh, and air and water?  Remember what they did to us when it wasn’t regulated?  Let’s just use science and its findings and quit screaming economic impact.  If it is your kid who ends of dying of cancer, no price is too high to pay.
  • Jobs – There will be no jobs until the middle class gets out from under its debt and its income starts to increase.  This won’t come from more tax cuts.  It will come in this period of a liquidity trap from government spending.  Once again, this is a no Duh moment and one only has to look to our own Depression and the post WWII period.  We put everyone to work, and after WWII we turned all those war industries into peacetime endeavors and we GREW out of our deficit.  That is what we have to do again and as long as we continue this nonsense of tightening our belts as we defund education, healthcare, and improvements to our infrastructure (austerity), we will continue our decent into Republican Hell.
  • Financial Reform – Here we have another no-brainer.  The answer is transparency and regulation.  The regulation is to make sure there is appropriate transparency.  The latest “JOBS” bill did just the opposite and sets up another great swindle because it allows businesses to hide things.  When people tell you that the last financial crisis couldn’t be  foreseen, remember some did, and they had a special view into the risks that were piling up.
  • Afghanistan – The war is over and we have lost.  It wasn’t winnable and you can’t win a war for another country when they aren’t willing to fight the war themselves.  Our presence there is counter productive and maybe 50 years from now we could effect change, but we have bigger fish to fry.  I feel bad for what will happen to women’s rights as they float back to the 5th century, but it is their fight and sooner or later they have to fight it.
  • Military Spending – No, we cannot be the policeman of the world.  We cannot continue spending more than the combined total of all other nations on earth on our military.  We need a rational defense strategy that recognizes we are not going to fight land wars anymore and don’t need a standing army to do it.  We have to stop listening to the John McCains of the world who think military action will solve all problems and don’t really have the ability to recognize the unintended consequences (can you say Syria or Iran?).
  • Trayvon Martin – Another no-brainer.  Had the police arrested Mr. Zimmerman and then done a full public investigation, there would be no outrage.  Let’s face it, an unarmed kid walking home got harassed and then shot.  All the rest is really irrelevant.  If they had done that, and even if they decided that stand and defend applied, we would at least know how stupid the law was instead of what looks like the police looking the other way because the kid was black.  But by not charging and doing a full investigation, they simply created the outrage surrounding this tragic killing.  So arrest him and do a full and open investigation and let the cards fall where the known facts let them fall.

Okay, I have solve the problems of our country and it was quite simple.  We could be well on our way to healing and a strong economy.  But none of that is going to happen as long as we have money in politics, and conservatives who are brain dead.  Just another rainy day.

Dumb Things We Ought to Stop Doing in 2012

For my New Years Resolutions, I am going to think big.  No, not about my waistline which will take some work, but about my country.  I get criticized for using the term moron too frequently.  The criticism is unwarranted.  We live in a world of morons.  My working definition of a moron is a person who continues to do the same thing over and over and expects a different outcome.  Republicans are morons because they want to continue cutting taxes and transfer wealth to the few and think our economy will take off.  Democrats are morons because they continue to pander to these ideas thinking they will win the middle.  We are creatures of habit and in that habit are the seeds of moronism.  But lets focus on some of the larger policies we have implemented that do not work and yet we cannot bring ourselves to change them.  So think about the following and ask yourself why do we continue to implement failed ideas:

  • My favorite is Cuba.  We continue a policy of isolation that has failed us for almost 50 years.  In China we understand engagement, but we can’t seem to bring ourselves to applying that lesson to Cuba.  We let a small focused group of voters in South Florida define a policy that is counter productive and if ignored, could have brought Cuba into the 21st century years ago.
  • Then there is the war on drugs.  Need any illicit drug?  Ask your kid and they can probably get it for you.  We spend billions on a program that fails over and over, apparently from a fear that legalizing most drugs would create chaos.  What do they think is going on in the drug market today?  We learned absolutely nothing from Prohibition.  One of my favorite quotes from the Ken Burns PBS special on Prohibition was one woman who said before the end of Prohibition you could get anything you wanted at anytime.  Once alcohol was legal again, there were all kinds of limits on what, when, and where you could drink it.  Think there is a lesson here?
  • While we are on the topic of drugs, the ban against Marijuana is ridiculous.  Its is available everywhere and that is a good thing.  I have few friends whose only relief from the pain of cancer is that horrible illegal drug.  I will bet if you stood in a room full of people, very few would say the have neither smoked or had access to it.  Then there is the ban on hemp in this country which makes no sense whatsoever.  Please, can we ever be rational?  The amount of money being wasted by the Feds trying police California’s marijuana crop could go a long way to fixing our schools.  By the way, whatever happened to the Republican mantra of less regulation?  Only Ron Paul seems to get this one.
  • Speaking of drugs, we have the resulting incarceration.  Are you aware that we have more people incarcerated per capita than any other country in the world?  The greatest, most powerful nation on earth warehouses a larger percentage of their population than any other country.  In California it cost the same to incarcerate a person for a year as it does to send them to Stanford.  Maybe we ought to rethink mandatory sentences, three strikes laws, and look at real options for rehabilitation.  That would be a nice change.
  • Failed Immigration Policies.  Oh I love this one.  If you want to know if someone really doesn’t understand our economy, see how they feel about illegal immigrants.  If they launch on how illegal immigrants are stealing jobs, then you are up front and personal with a moron.  Our country was built on immigration and next time you go to your high end hotel, see who is driving the cabs, making the beds and doing all those things you don’t want your children to do.  My perspective here is shaped by the need for reliable and knowledgeable labor in my vineyard.  I can’t hire anyone who wants to do the work at twice the minimum wage because it is very hard and trained labor from Mexico is becoming very scarce.  We are putting our crops and our economy at risk while we pander to xenophobia.  Worse is that we can’t recognize innocent children who are illegal and have nowhere else to go.  What a country where we talk about our Christian faith and then destroy families and people’s lives so we can have a scapegoat.  Get real.  Pass the Dream Act, put in place a real guest worker program, and yes, get on with amnesty.  Latinos make us stronger.
  • Gitmo.  Close it.  It is an open sore on lady liberty and makes a mockery of our system of justice.  And by the way, repeal all of the Patriotic act.  We are starting to look like East Germany.
  • Abortion.  It is not about abortion, it is about giving a woman the right to make an informed decision about her body in the first trimester without government interference.  How hard is that?
  • Homophobia.  Why is it taking so long to understand that part of the basic foundation of our government is the freedom to choose.  Why are we still being led around on this by people who are terrified they might catch gayness.  We should be equal under the law and gays have a natural born right to be married and face all the pitfalls of married life that the rest of us face.  Thankfully on this one, most kids, unless they have been brainwashed by their Bible thumping parents, simply don’t care.  They are not threatened by gays and lesbians.  vive la différence
  • Religion in Government.  The last two items are really an example of religious intolerance.  Instead of believing in the freedom to choose, many in this country only believe you get to choose from a menu from their religious beliefs and want to use government to enforce it.  The founders were clear, the lessons of the enlightenment are clear, and yet a large segment of the morons in this country want to reinvent history and ignore those lessons and start religious wars again.  Government is about rational decision making, not faith based dogma.  And organized prayers in school – whose prayers?  What part of tyranny of the majority did these people not understand when the Bill of Rights was established?
  • Infrastructure and Taxes.  On this one it is really simple.  We have been cutting taxes for years now.  We have the lowest rates and smallest percentage of GDP as revenue from taxes in 50 years.  There are no jobs, the rich are getting richer, our infrastructure is falling apart, our kids are being priced out of higher education, and our Treasury is empty.  Refute any of those facts.  So we are going to elect Republicans and do more of this lower taxes/less regulation thing?  We need massive investment in our water and sewage systems, roads and mass transportation, schools and higher education, and we think the market place is going to provide this?  When has it ever?  But let’s cut taxes and expect things to change.  Morons rule.
  • TSA and screening.  Don’t you love going to the airport?  Still taking off your shoes because a moron tried to light his on fire, and still getting full body screening because another moron tried to blow up his underpants?  No other country in the world does this.  The most threatened and effective system is that of the Israelis and they profile.  Are we wasting tons of money on screening people who are no threat to the country when we should be focusing on behavior and profiling to identify real threats?  The people who are most effective at this business think so.
  • Here is one outside the box:  Political Party primaries.  We can all agree that the caucus system is stupid where in Iowa, less than 4% of the population decide who is the candidate that gets their votes at the convention.  But the whole system of political party primaries is simply focusing the electorate on the extreme which has nothing to do with the general election.  So, and this is not a new idea, open up the primaries to all voters.  Top two or three vote getters get on the general election regardless of party.  Think that might force the nation back to the middle and this moronic pandering to the least inform in our country?   Do we really need conventions?  Well maybe if you suffer from insomnia.  Okay, maybe this idea has a hole or two in it, but are we getting the candidates we want now?
  • National health care.  The rest of the world uses some kind of a single payer system and control cost so much better than we do with better outcomes (I dare you to try to refute any of those facts and they are facts) and we can’t figure this out?  So we muddle on with employer based health care and private insures and then are shocked, shocked, shocked that cost continue to spiral out of control.  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
  • Energy policy.  We continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars and then say let the market place work for alternate energy.  If only we would and level the playing field by ending our subsidies and making fossil fuels pay for their environmental and health damages.  Oh I am such a socialist.
  • Speaking of TSA and energy policy, why are we the only industrialize nation in the world that does not have a high speed rail system.  Even Mexico has one.  This is a smart investment in our future and for those who say it cost too much, read the history of the transcontinental railway and how it would not have been built without massive government subsidies.  It opened up our country.  And for you competition nuts, wouldn’t you like an alternative to airplanes?  We really needed that after 9/11 when planes were grounded, but everyone has forgotten those days and those lessons.
  •  Here is another of my favorites:  Super majorities for almost everything.  We are a country in paralysis and it is because the majority is no longer good enough.  In many states we have a two-thirds majority required to raise revenue.  In the Senate we have the filibuster where the minority can control the agenda.  Change is hard.  Doing something different is scary.  It is hard enough to make the hard decisions with a majority.  It is impossible with a super majority where we let the minority control everything.  We will always have a minority that is clueless.  The Constitution set aside what would require a two-thirds majority.  We should have trusted their wisdom and not tinkered with the system.
  • The problem with Medicare and Medicaid is out of control cost growth and the only way to resolve it, is to cut benefits.”  I love this one.  Since most countries pay half what we do for similar programs maybe the issue is not what we cover, but how much we pay for it.  Maybe, oh just maybe, fee for service is the worst way to control costs.
  • Last but not least, the role of government.  This argument has been going on forever and the answer, if anybody looks at our history is obvious.  All our major achievements that have allowed the engines of job creation and wealth to operate has been done by our government.  The rest of the world has figured this out and you ought to watch China.  Government is to set the big bold goals for our country and then put in place the incentives to allow industry to do it. The government has to build the 21ast century infrastructure and provide a well educated and healthy workforce.  Left to the market place, we are approaching last place.  But don’t worry.  If we want to go to the moon, the Chinese might give us a ride.  The Russians are already our taxi of choice to get to our own space station.  We don’t need no stink’in taxes.

Well, there you have it.  For me all these are obvious as I sit on my hill over looking my vineyard with a glass of wine in hand and ponder on our path.  I guess when you are running around in the day to day crush of activities and pressures, it fogs your mind.  That is only way I can explain why we keep doing so many stupid things over and over again and expecting anything to change.  Isn’t it time to stop having the same stupid arguments and move off the dime?  Sadly at the end of 2012, I will probably have the same complaints.  The bright spot this year was the revolt of the unions in Wisconsin and the 99% OWS movement.  Maybe there is hope.  I hope so.  Happy New Year.

Urgent Report From Earth On the Demise of the United States

The following is a top secret emergency report intercepted by the NSA from a Planet Xeon agent stationed to observe behavior in the United States, and sent back to the planet Xeon Governing Council.  It was delivered to me anonymously and I am posting it on my blog as a public service.   Wikileaks, eat your heart out:

FLASH MESSAGE:  TOP SECRET – PLANET XEON GOVERNING COUNCIL EYES ONLY

SUBJECT:  INCREASINGLY IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR WITHIN THE UNITED STATES AND THE THREAT TO CIVILIZATION ON EARTH

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  Current events are indicating that there may be a virulent plague that is affecting the brains of humans in the United States, preventing them from thinking logically, drawing logical conclusions and may involve memory loss.  Although I have no scientific evidence for assigning this disturbing behavior to a virus or other biological cause, the fact that the onset has occurred quite rapidly over the last 10-20 years seems to point to this conclusion.  While this nation was a leader in the world in freedom, education, health, innovation, science, and commerce, it has rapidly lost this lead according to world organization studies (they call it the United Nations, but they appear to be arguing all the time so I am unclear on why it is called “United”).  Further, they seem to be taking actions to further their decline.  IF THIS TREND CONTINUES, THEY WILL BECOME A MINOR PLAYER ON THE WORLD STAGE.  In colloquial terms the inhabitants call this becoming a Banana Republic, although this also makes no sense to me because you can not grow a popular fruit, called bananas, in most of the country.  The following is a summary of some of the behavior that supports my analysis.  The full report is attached along with a request to extract me if this trend continues for my safety and to prevent a similar decline in my logical thinking due to an exposure to them:

  • Instead of building things, the U.S. moved all of its capital into investing in the loan industry.  It then used highly inflated housing prices to create more loans which were sold around the world as “good” investments.  Credit rating agencies rated this loans as triple “A” even though they were paid by the folks who created the loans and needed a good rating.  Loans were made to people who had no hope of repaying them but thought they could get rich quick by turning them over.  Government regulators who went along with the schemes were given great jobs in the financial industry.  When the Ponzi scheme crashed and destroyed the world economy, nobody saw it coming.  This demonstrates truly illogical behavior and shows an inability to comprehend consequences of behavior.
  • All those financial leaders who “did not see it coming” are now advising the President and being listened to as wise sages for what should be done about the still lagging economy.  This indicates an inability to learn from mistakes or recognize stupidity.
  • A large segment of the population thinks that taxes are too high.  Yet they are the lowest in 50 years and their economy continues to crash.  Then they scream about the deficit, but refuse to raise taxes back to a level that can sustain reasonable government spending, promoting the general welfare of the people.  This demonstrates that their basic math skills are deteriorating since they can’t seem to add and subtract to see that cutting taxes decreases the ability to lower the deficit.
  • In 2010 Earth years, after two disappointing years of the present administration’s dithering, the electorate voted back in the same people who destroyed the economy under the previous president, only more rabid, and expected people to work together.  Here we have a graphic demonstration of memory lapse and inability to draw logical conclusions about outcomes.
  • Some of their most devastating disasters were man made which includes a major oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, the flood damage and failure to respond after Hurricane Katrina, and of course, their economic meltdown. Major contributors to these disasters were a lack of regulation by the government to prevent excessive risk taking by the private sector, and then incompetence by the government in their response.  But now there are calls for less regulation and smaller government.  It is incomprehensible how less regulation and smaller government will improve this performance.  Here we have a direct illustration of their declining ability to connect the dots or to draw logical conclusions.
  • Their economy is now in the doldrums with high unemployment, yet they think the problem is their deficit.  Instead of pursuing policies that will employ people whose earnings will then help lower their debt, they want to make further cuts in spending, decreasing employment, and further restricting revenues that could pay off their debt.  With the savings from cutting, they want to further cut taxes, further increasing the debt, and assume this will fix the problem.  Again this demonstrates a total degradation of their ability to add and subtract.
  • They are becoming delusional and have started believing in a “confidence fairy”.  They think that businesses that are sitting on large cash reserves and idle capacity simply lack confidence in the economy to invest, and once they see the deficit problem being managed, the confidence fairy will sprinkle her confidence fairy dust and they will start hiring and investing.  The reality is that with the cutting and high unemployment there is no demand for businesses to make things because no one has disposable income.  This demonstrates their delusional magical fantasy belief system that is taking over logic and good sense.
  • One party that took power in 2010 claimed to want to fix the economy.  Since being in power they have fired teachers, police, and firemen, tried to gut unions and their standard of living, passed 63 laws on abortion, passed laws on making voter registration harder, passed laws for more tax cuts to the wealthy, usurped local jurisdictions, rejected money from the federal government to hire people, and demanded federal help with floods and tornadoes.  This irrational and schizophrenic behavior also shows a decline into religious intolerance bordering on fanatical ideological driven behavior.
  • The United States based its governing system on majority rule (with Constitutional Protections) and only for very important things like changes to their Constitution did they require a super majority.  Then one of their governing bodies introduced a “filibuster” which requires a super majority, but was only to be used in special cases until cooler heads could prevail.  In the current crisis, with this bizarre behavior where there are no cooler heads, it is being used for everything.  Thus the minority sets the agenda and is in charge of government, majority opinion no longer matters.  This demonstrates how their thought processes have been corrupted and they are paralyzed by the craziest in their government.
  • The rest of the modern world utilizes a public medical insurance system.  Even though these systems provide on the average better outcomes, and cost half as much, the United States hangs on to its private market approach.  When those who receive Medicare, depend on it, and are highly satisfied with it, found out that their Medicare was a public system they were shocked.  These were the same people who were claiming that the government would wreck their wonderful health care if they ran it.  This demonstrates not only their lack of perception skills, but their inability to understand basic facts, much less know what facts are.
  • They believe, counter to recorded history, that more religion in their government will be a good thing.  Many believe that they are a “Christian Nation”.  This ignores 500 years of history and the period of Enlightenment when religious wars were finally controlled by getting religion out of government and becoming governments of logic instead of religious intolerance.  This is also evidenced by their attempt to rewrite history through children’s school books to reinvent reality.  Again this seems to show a growing amnesia or forgetfulness about history or their ability to learn from history.  It also demonstrates their inability to tell fact from what they want to believe.
  • They have become totally paranoid.  They fought a war in a country called Iraq to remove WMD which did not exist, then to remove a real threat, Al Qaeda, which turned out to be only a minor part of the war, and then to create a beachhead for democracy in the Middle East.  They spent a large portion of the treasury on what turned out to be not worth the effort and false assumptions.  They seem to be doing the same in a country called Afghanistan where the real combatants are sand people who can’t read, involved in a religious and civil war.  The real threat left the country ages ago.  This demonstrates a true paranoid behavior and an inability to tell apart friend and foe.
  • They consider themselves to be the beacon of democracy in the world, but after a large terrorist incident in New York City, they scrapped their Constitution, suspended habeas corpus, use rendition and torture, and basically reverted back to the dark ages because their fear grew so strong as to reject all the advances they had made.  Although they have recognized some of this irrational behavior, they just reauthorized a bill to continue many of the attacks on privacy and have failed to prosecute those who broke international law torturing many innocent people.  Then they use their great justice system to go after a presidential candidate who covered up an illicit affair and love child with campaign contributions.  This demonstrates an inability to set priorities or understand what is important or how to use resources wisely.
  • They have the largest per capita incarcerated population in the world with a great majority of the incarcerated there for drug violations.  They have had a “war on drugs” for over 40 years and drugs are more prevalent than they have ever been, earning billions for drug traffickers.  Yet they see no reason to revisit either their throw away the key approach to criminal justice or their drug policies.  This again shows their inability to understand cause and effect.
  • The country is showing signs of distress from climate change caused by global warming.  The scientific community has overwhelmingly embraced the concept, yet the country denies it and refuses to even consider an energy policy which might help the nation cope with the coming changes.  They seem to think that scientific truth is what an opinion poll tells them most people believe.  This shows the population’s inability to comprehend reality, understand science, or to take meaningful measures to protect themselves.
  • The political party in power seems unable to stand for anything, and although generally understands what needs to be done, keeps compromising away any progress (See reference to filibuster above).  Meanwhile the other party that wants desperately to be in power has not had a new idea in 50 years, and their policies of low taxes, little government, and no regulation have proven to be a disaster, which the people can’t seem to remember.  I fear this may also show that whatever is affecting them is robbing them of their memories as well as their intelligence.
  • Finally and most telling, when the opposition’s bizarre and zany leaders or presidential candidates get on the media and say the most inane and bizarre things (Example:  “If you see me quoted about what I said last Sunday, it does not represent what my position is”), no one seems to question either their logic or the factual basis of their claims.  This shows that they no longer have any connection with reality, and they believe anything they hear if it is said enough.

The full report goes into even more bizarre and zany behavior (See Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, States with North and South designations, Very Serious People, Barack Obama, Conservative Democrats, Republican Governors in the South and Middle America, FOX News, Media Outlets in general, et al.).  The evidence is overwhelming that without a doubt the United States has lost its way and does not possess the mental acuity to either perceive it, or to make rational choices about how to change their behavior.  With an election coming on, I foresee more degradation in rational thought, with little or no improvement in their condition.  Therefore request a posting to Canada or Europe where the disease has not spread and they have affordable health care.

Your Faithful Servant

(Name was not divulged)

Note:  NSA sources indicate that this Xeon Agent lives somewhere in Northern California, in the Sierra Foothills overlooking a vineyard, and indications are he has become quite fond of local beverages.

A Nation and Its People Who Has Lost Their Way

Oh we have so lost our way.  We have become small, think little thoughts, fearful, hording what we have at the expense of others, and failing to invest in our future.  It is all so counterproductive and mindless, yet we ignore the very facts in front of us.  How can we be in such denial?  Here are some examples:

  • We faced a financial meltdown due to policies of no regulation and greed.  We instituted the TARP bill to revive our banking system and then failed totally to reorganize this system to prevent “too big to fail”.  Banks are not lending, they are making higher profits than ever, they have restored their “bonus” system, have not tried to help the mortgage crisis, and as noted, have become even bigger.  See Where the Bailout Went Wrong by Neil M. Barofsky, who was the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008 until today.  And we do nothing.
  • We lived through this financial meltdown during a Republican era of no regulation and relentless cutting of taxes for the wealthy and corporations that emptied our Treasury.  Then two years later we put the same fools back in office, only more radical.  They claim that our corporate tax rate is too high at 35%, but fail to mention that two-thirds of large corporations in the United States pay no taxes.  GE, the largest, not only did not pay taxes in 2009 on record profits (we don’t have the 2010 data yet), but got a $3 billion tax rebate.  And we do nothing.
  • We are watching as world oil prices go up affecting all of us and further hurting our nascent economic recovery (if there is one), and we have no energy policy.  We are horrified at the disaster in Fukushima, yet we fail to compare the threat of nuclear power to our primary source of power, coal, that shortens the lives of over 14,000 people each year, and that does not include black lung disease and mining disasters.  Dylan Ratigan, a journalist for MSNBC is the only one honestly looking at this issue (Is Coal Still Good for America).  And we do nothing.
  • We are horrified that our schools are falling behind the rest of the world’s schools, especially in math and science, yet we are in the biggest layoff and cutting of education this country has ever seen.  Once again the morons from the Republican party have held sway in our state governments and they are wiping out our education system.  Kids going to college are now taking on the largest debt load in our history to pay for their education with no promise of jobs because we refuse to invest in our future.  And we do nothing.
  • We have seen the largest transfer of wealth in our history to the top 2% of our country, with a declining ability of the middle class to have the buying power to sustain a recovery, and we think further cuts and the private sector is somehow going to save us?  Let’s kill the rights of the middle class through the destruction of unions and collective bargaining so they will never have a living wage.  We have Democrats letting the Republicans set the agenda and the debate in Congress and in our state governments, and it is all about cuts, cuts, cuts.  Nowhere is there a discussion about how the failure of investing in our future is what will build our economy and help payoff the deficit.  What we are doing right now is emptying our Treasury and making our economy smaller so the deficit will only get worse and our infrastructure will crumble.  And we do nothing.

How is this possible?  Why did not anyone in the mainstream foresee ENRON, the Libby Mine disaster,  the financial meltdown and the mortgage crisis, the Challenger disaster, the failures at Fukushima, the explosion and blowout of BP’s oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the disaster during Katrina, the sex abuse in the Catholic Church, the lies behind the WMD in Iraq, and how cutting is going to solve our systemic problems?  The answer is that there are people who raise the appropriate alarms, and they get slapped down and ignored.  Margaret Heffernan, in a most important and relevant book, Willful Blindness:  Why we Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, calls them Casandra’s.  In Greek mythology, Casandra was a daughter of Priam, the king of Troy, endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated by Apollo never to be believed.

This book, which I think is one of the most important and revealing books of our times, tells us why we are failing to deal with reality.  It starts with the troubling insight into how incest happens and is not acknowledged or recognized by those so close to it until after it is exposed.  It then goes on to examine why in all the events listed above, some people saw the problems, raised the alarms, and in many cases were ignored, and why the majority ignored them.

My point is that America is on a mindless path, raping and pillaging our government, and we need to wake up soon before we destroy America.  But I fear I am also a Casanadra.  I can see it.  I can point it out, but no one is listening.  Or as my good friend, Will Shakespeare penned in King Lear:

King Lear:  Kent, on thy life, no more

Kent:  My life I never held but as a pawn to wage against thine enemies; not fear to lose it.  Thy safety being motive.

King Lear:  Out of my sight!

Kent:  See better, Lear!

I fear I am a Kent, beseeching America to wake up to their blind path of destruction, to “see better”, and America continues to push me out of its sight as it continues down its road to destruction just as Leer did.  Shakespeare pretty much covered everything.

Note:  This wonderful quote I found in Margaret Heffernan’s amazing and well researched book.  Read it at your own peril and then I challenge you to look in the mirror.

Who Said It Best Today

It is no secret that this blog writer finds President Obama a miserable disappointment (See Only Getting Worse).  The country badly needs leadership, not accommodation in the form of fake bipartisanship.  We have for too long let the Republicans set the agenda without fighting back and painting a different picture of our future.  Well, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times took up that mantra today in his op-ed piece (Washington vs. the Merciless) and said it best:

“President Obama has the right convictions on all these issues, but he has not shown the courage of his convictions. The Republicans have just gone nuts.

If you listen to Obama, he eloquently describes our energy, climate and fiscal predicaments: how we have to end our addiction to oil and cut spending and raise revenues in an intelligent way that also invests in the future and doesn’t just slash and burn. But then the president won’t lead. When pressed on energy, he will say that he just doesn’t have the Republican votes for a serious clean energy policy. But the president has never gotten in the G.O.P.’s face on this issue. He has not put his own energy plan on the table and then gone out to the country and tried to sell it.

It is what a lot of Obama supporters find frustrating about him: They voted for Obama to change the polls not read the polls.”

Looking presidential and being presidential are two different things.  Once again we have confused form over substance and it is at our own peril.  I have little hope for the man as I turn off the TV when he is talking now.  Our hope for our country’s future resides in an awakening Democratic Party Base that must force the issues.

In the Bubble

Back in the Katrina Days we watched as President Bush was totally oblivious to the fate of the hurricane victims.  It wasn’t because he didn’t care, he simply did not know about it and his staff finally had to show him video the rest of us had seen watching 24/7 news.  I have come to the conclusion watching President Obama that maybe this is a systemic problem for Presidents and they need a new cabinet position, Secretary of Reality.  Since almost everyone in Washington is a toady to power, and sooner or later falls into the trap of telling them what they want to hear, the only way this would work is that this person be totally detached from the whole Washington scene.  Just call in on Skype wearing shorts and a t-shirt from time to time, beer/wine in hand, and just launch on a “What the f@&k, over” diatribe.  Here is how mine would go:

Oil Spill – Yo, Mr. President, I understand you are now “in charge” of the oil spill so where is the national mobilization?  How come we still have all these different agencies giving different directions?  What is our long-term plan?  Is there a backup plan if, as some scientists have suggested, the well pipe may be compromised and a relief well won’t work?  There are reports of dead animals being rounded up and hidden from public view, press being prevented from access to many sites, and scientific data being withheld. So are you in charge of this?  You think money is going to fix this damage as if a price could be put on what is lost?  Nice to know you are unafraid to eat the local fish caught before the real damage hits the beaches.  Hey, the water is fine, come on down, just don’t breath the air or swim in the water.  If you are in charge of this train wreck, I want another train.  Oh by the way, while you are down there talking to those Southern governors, why don’t you remind them that they want the federal government out of their lives and you are just doing your part.

Republicans – You know the guy/gal who keeps trying to pet a rabid dog and gets bit every time?  At what point do you get it?  They are tilting more and more to the crazy side and you still treat them like they are not foaming at the mouth, pretending that this is just politics as usual.  Time to call a rabid dog a rabid dog and put them out of their misery.  Drool is drool, not responsible public policy.

Wall Street – Are you nuts?  These guys are the enemy and you keep painting yourself in a corner with them.  Ask yourself, does Wall Street make money playing Russian Roulette with derivatives or lending money to innovative start-ups?  Hello, are you there?  Everybody in country gets it that to continue these guys in power is to kiss Main Street goodbye.  Quickly and with great since of purpose, walk away from this bunch and support real reform.

Energy Policy/Global Warming – Okay Mr. President, say the words, Global Warming.  All your scientists tell you it exists yet you still bow and scrape to the deniers.  Tolerating morons just begets more morons.  We are looking at the result of oil as our only alternative and if the spill tells us anything, the risks are too high.  The one thing your opponents have right is that the market place does work sometimes.  Time for the old carbon tax to make alternate energy price competitive.   Set the money aside to rebuild the planet after the oil guys have destroyed it.  This is the real cost of oil.  Get a grip.

Gays – I thought you were a constitutional lawyer.  Heard of civil rights?  You have been hanging around fat old white guys who are afraid of their latent feelings and want to study this thing to death.  Most of us out here in the real world could give a flip about sexual orientation.  It doesn’t threaten us normal people, so just get on with it and do the right thing.

Secrecy – Oh, Mr. President you are such a fool.  Stuff about our torture tactics just keep coming out so why not just get on with it?  Right now you are aiding and abetting conservatives who want to return to those good old days of George Bush so why don’t you just expose those days for what they were.  Oh, and this witch hunt you are conducting for “leakers”, what ever happened to an informed electorate?  You are starting to look like a paranoid Republican.  Oh, I am sorry, that was below the belt.

Well I could go on, but you get the drift.  They are so busy calculating the political consequences, they lose sight of what is really going on and what is really good for the country.  I like that: Secretary of Reality.  Maybe I will change my blog to Secretary of Reality and see if I can register it as a .gov site.

You Wouldn’t Vote for Me

Let’s just say I decided to run for public office.  Now one has two choices here:  One can be a values candidate, and by values, you can stand up for what you actually believe, or you can be a poll candidate.  A poll candidate tries to find what the most voters want and then gives it to them.  Pandering to the masses is another way to say this.  There are two forces pushing you toward a poll candidate.  First is the idea that you are elected to represent your electorate no matter how misguided their ideas might be.  Somehow or other, that got ingrained in our idea of American democracy.  The second one is that is where the money is.  If you do what others want, they will pay you handsomely.  It is called campaign contributions.

The problem with being a poll candidate is that once you are elected, you are without a firm understanding of your beliefs to guide your decision making, except of course to take another poll.  Robert Redford in the movie The Candidate got it exactly right when he reshaped his campaign to gather the most support, but no longer knew who he was and his famous line after winning the election, “Now what do I do?”  We see this now in our Congress where they are afraid to even make modest changes to anything for fear that there could be a populist backlash.

On the other hand a values candidate has a basic understanding of who he/she is and what they believe in.  We hear voters bemoan the fact that they can’t trust a candidate because he runs on one thing and then does another (a poll or lobby candidate).  Many candidates start out as values candidates, but like Robert Redford, the process of actually getting there corrupts them.  The game is about getting money and to get money one has to cater to the needs of those that have it.  We see it all the time at the local, state, and federal level.  At the local level candidates become captives of real estate interests, at the state level where they become captive of the no new taxes motto, and at the federal level add no new taxes with big government is the problem.

I would be a values candidate.  I would stand up for what I think this country needs to do to fix itself and I would not be shy about going against populist trends.  Here is what I think needs to be done:

  • We need a new stimulus package that is focused on jobs.  Forget the deficit right now and get the economy jump started on things that will enhance our ability to compete in the world market in the future.  There will be no tax cuts in this bill.
  • We need strong banking reform that makes no institution too big to fail.  When and if we ever bail out an institution it will be for our long term benefit and there will be strong conditions for changing the institution and the reasons for its problems
  • There will be at least a $1 gas tax increase to start a real move to alternate energy.  Nothing else works but the pocket book and this money could start to help us get off our addiction on oil whole reinvesting in our future
  • Health care would have a very strong public option and the funding would be taxpayer based, not employer based.  Trying to fund this by cuts out of Medicare or some other clever gimmick is just pasting over our moral responsibility with a promise for a free ride
  • There would be a massive program for a national high-speed rail to offer a alternative to airlines and to increase our ability to move goods, services, and people throughout the country in a cost effective and energy efficient way
  • There would be a consistent program to help the struggling alternate energy industries.  It would allow consistent tax breaks and incentives to start a vigorous industry to complete with the Chinese
  • Education is our seed crop for tomorrow.  We have to start finding ways to make it affordable for everyone without massive loans.  In the end, most four year public institutions would have minimal charges
  • End the war on drugs.  Some need to be illegal, but most need to be legalized and controlled.  The cop and robber approach to our drug problem is a disaster
  • Immigration and our treatment of illegal immigrants is a disgrace.  We need a realistic guest worker program that is not at the whim of some lobby group that gets threatened and then screams the sky is falling.  I would run on a platform of Lou Dodds is an idiot
  • Our approach to law and order is also a national disgrace.  We have the largest incarcerated population in the world, and we are wasting precious resources on throwing people away.  No doubt some need to be locked up forever, but most need help, not heaped on the trash pile of society.  Do I mention I would do away with capital punishment?
  • Did I mention that I would make government a whole lot more transparent?  If we do something bad, then it is for everyone to see.  No more hiding behind the State’s Secret Act on torture and eavesdropping

Bottom line is that I would raise your taxes and make you tighten your belt.  I would challenge the status quo and knock over a lot of apple carts.  My focus would not be on finding scapegoats, but in finding solutions.  Would you vote for me?  Of course not.  And that is precisely why we are in the predicament we are in.  We only vote those who tell us what we want to hear.

“It Costs Too Much”

The House voted on the energy bill, better known as the our first attempt at managing climate change.  The key is a cap and trade program with ever decreasing allowable carbon emissions.  But the vote was close (219-214) with 44 Democrats voting against it.  Republicans called it a tax (and therefore an evildoer), and the 44  Democrats who voted against it were protecting coal states and their fear that producing energy by coal would be less competitive.  Well as one would say, no duh.  The idea that we can solve our energy problems without using the incentives of the market place that punishes hurtful and damaging processes is understood by everyone, but for the 44 Democrats, just not in my backyard.  Don’t you just love short term thinking?

What is the alternative boys and girls?  How are we going to cut our greenhouse emissions unless, oh dare I say it, we cut our greenhouse emissions?  But it will hurt businesses and raise prices to consumers lament Republicans and these Democrats.  No it really won’t.  What it will do is start to realign the economy toward other sources of energy.  Of course there will be winners and losers.  But what these vote no politicians are saying when they say it costs too much is that the status quo is okay.  We don’t need to change anything because change could be painful.  What a bunch of wimps.  But with wimpishness, there is also gross hypocrisy.  The guys that think the market place solves all problems don’t want to use the market place on this one because, well, change would hurt their contributors.  The country be damned.

It is the same with health care reform.  “We can’t afford it.  It will drive the deficit to new heights.  With a government system, your employer will drop or lower your coverage.”  Just where do you think health care is headed?  Well I will tell you , you midget brains:  Higher costs and more and more employers dropping their coverage.  So we should do nothing or just tinker at the edges?  I hear about the horror stories of all the other industrialized nations that have gone to a single payer system, but I keep wondering why their infant mortality rate is lower and their citizens live longer.  Must be the horrible medical care they get.  Maybe it is because we have easier access to guns so we die younger because we shoot each other.  I really like the conservatives idea that kids should be allowed to go to college packing heat.  It certainly will lower health care costs since they will die young and not be burdening our system in their old age.  Let’s face it, we can’t afford not to do it (universal health care).

I think what amazes me the most is that the nay sayers really don’t offer any alternatives.  As though down the road all these things will fix themselves.  Reminds me of that Bobby McFerrin song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.  Here is the thing I really don’t understand:  We have tried it the conservative way for the last 20 years and things are just getting worse.  Can’t we just try a new approach, and if it doesn’t work, the Demos will be swept out of office and we can go back to the old ways?  You conservatives have got us to where we are, so trying the progressive solutions for a couple of years won’t destroy the country.  What have we got lose?  Oh, I forgot.  You might become irrelevant.

I was having a discussion the other day with one of my conservative friends (that is all we have up here in self-serving thinking land).  The topic was the approaching California meltdown.  My opinion was fairly simple.  We have to decide what it is that is important, and then gut up and pay for it.  Their opinion was that the whole problem is waste in government.  Then I got an earful about how California State workers have too many benefits. I bet that would be a surprise to them as they are about to be forced to take another day of furlough while no one is being asked to raise taxes. So I asked them to give me an example.

I was told a story about one of their friends who worked for the State and when this person went on travel, used their mobile home and made a bundle because they got all this per diem while staying in her mobile home.   I pointed out that because it was more cost effective for most business and agencies to pay per diem instead of collecting receipts for meals and incidentals, the mobile home had nothing to do with it.  They then claimed, oh no, this person also got a per diem for her lodging.  When I pointed out that even the State, like the Feds, requires a receipt for lodging (and establishes maximum rates by locale), I was told I was wrong.  So based on this one fairly inaccurate description of someone gouging the system, the self-serving conclusion is that is where the problem is.  Once again it is those evildoers.

I wish it were that simple. One person’s waste in another person’s life line.  Sure there is inefficiency in government and I am all for rooting it out, but it is not the root cause of our problems.  But, and this is the moral of this story, the focus is on what they want to believe, not what the reality is.  They all think they pay enough and if it costs more for what they want, then it costs too much.  I think we can’t continue down this road and there is no free ride.  Sure there are smarter ways of doing things and we all know government can be improved, but failure of all of us to step up to the plate and realize that gutting education, infrastructure spending, help for the helpless, because it cost too much is a path to disaster for all of us.  Failure to make changes in the status quo because it costs too much is a quick trip to oblivion.

A Reality Check

I think it is time for a reality check.  In America we only seem to remember the last problem as long as it personally affects us and then it is forgotten to come back and bite us another day.  Take ex-Vice President Cheney.  Here is the guy who had the memos and intelligence to prove WMD and an Al-Qaeda connection in Iraq and now we are listening to him on the efficacy of torture?  Oh well what can I say?  More importantly have we missed the lessons of our latest problems as things seem to be abating and we have changed nothing,  Here are some things that I think are patently obvious or as one of my math professors used to say, glaringly obvious to the casual observer, but totally being ignored by the mainstream, media or otherwise:
•    Economy – On Tuesday there was an article in the New York Times that the economy might be getting better (Markets Rise on Consumer Optimism).  Simon Johnson in his Baseline Scenario blog noted that “…among the people I talk with on Capitol Hill, there is a very real sense that business is returning to usual; certainly, the lobbyists are out in force, they want what they always want, and it’s hard to see many of them as seriously weakened.”  If this is correct then nothing has really changed and we still have a fundamentally flawed market and banking system.  But I don’t think they have it right.  I think the worst is yet to come.  Those on Wall Street are all patting themselves on the back because the banks haven’t failed, but the U.S. is up to its eyeballs in debt bailing them out and they have not been restructured.  They are still too big to fail which is how we got here in the first place.  Almost every state is facing cutbacks and layoffs.  More and more mortgages are defaulting as people lose their jobs.  I think what we have is that the middle class and working people are continuing to suffer and that suffering is getting worse, while the investment class has been saved from feeling the effects by the bailouts.  As more states tighten their belts and more people get laid off, there is going to be anger like we haven’t seen in a long, long time.  There is a real disconnection between working men and women and our upper classes.  We have corrected nothing and restoring the status quo is a recipe for disaster.
•    Iraq – The reality here is that it is going to get bloody and there is nothing we can or should do.  The “Awakening” is over and the results for the Sunnis were not what was hoped for.  Now we will see a great deal of violence as each party jostles for position in the coming power grab.  This is inevitable and the Iraqis will have to sort this out among themselves if they are ever going to stand on their own two feet.  Delaying our withdrawal will simply delay the inevitable and get us caught up in the middle of their local power politics.  Al-Qaeda will be a minor player and should be of little concern as Iraqis dual for power and control, use Al-Qaeda if it suits their means, and then abandon them when they secure power.
•    Afghanistan – The reality here is this will also get a lot bloodier.  As we step up our efforts to eradicate drugs and empower a very corrupt government, we are going to be in the middle of tribal warfare.  I have mixed emotions here as I see that if we are willing to fight the hard fight, the fight that should have been fought seven years ago (thank you Dick and George), it is going to be another 10-15 years before Afghanistan is stable.  I really wonder if it is worth it.  I guess I would have to say no since if I don’t want to sacrifice my own son for this endeavor, then I cannot justify sacrificing anyone else’s.
•    Health Care – This one is a no-brainer.  Without a single payer, government option, nothing is going to get accomplished.  I have written at length about the business model of health care insurers and nothing is going to fundamentally change that until you take profit out of health insurance (See Health Care Wars and Scare Tactics and Reinventing the Wheel – Universal Health Care).  We need a pared down Medicare plan for everyone as a choice with the ability to add additional services and benefits by piggybacking private insurance.  That really is their only role and the only place where profit makes sense in health care.
•    Energy – I don’t think we are getting anywhere fast on a real energy policy that will change our country in a fundamental way.  As soon as gas prices dropped, our eye was off the ball and the forces of the status quo swiftly reasserted them selves in our choices.  But the reality here is that this is the lull in the storm, but in the meantime we are losing precious time.  The cap and trade bill to reduce our dependence on polluting fuel sources is being watered down by special interests invested in the status quo.  If you are not even going to make a dent, why bother.
•    Infrastructure – On the infrastructure side, there may still be hope if I am right about the economy.  If I am, and the economy will stagnate further and a massive infusion of money this time actually focused on rebuilding our infrastructure is our only hope.  It provides good jobs in the short term, and is a long-term investment in a viable economy in the future.  I am not the only one who sees this no brainer.  See Bob Herbert’s column in the New York Times on Tuesday (Our Crumbling Foundation).

I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems like we are being lulled asleep again and we are failing to make the big changes that are necessary to really change our direction.  I almost feel like we have lost our momentum for change and the Republicans will be allowed to obstruct any real progress as we lose our sense of urgency.  I hope I am wrong.