Middle (age?) Spread to Prosperity

This post is a little longer than usual, even for me, so I’ve made it in a slightly larger font to make it easier to read, which, of course, made it LOOK even longer than it already is.

I watched a documentary film a couple of days ago, and there on my screen tonight was one of the “characters” from the documentary in the middle of the PBS Newshour. It was not quite the blending and bending of finding “Ironman III” in the midst of the “news” although that in itself is not such a strange event any more since the commercial side of television has subjugated the News division of the networks under the Entertainment division.  What once was “news” is now actually “infotainment”. All you have to do is count the number of letters in the term to divine the implied emphasis. But this was a genuine billionaire plucked from the politically liberal documentary (well, I assume it was intended to be “liberal” since it was taken from the notes and lectures of Bill Clinton’s secretary of Labor, Robert Reich’s course at Berkley, a strongly liberal pedigree if ever there was one) and plunked down in the decidedly liberal “news” of the Public Broadcasting System.

Now admittedly the Public Broadcasting System is perhaps a little more socialistic than purely unbiased “in the PUBLIC interest”, though it does seem to me, being a liberal sort, that is has more right to the claim of “fair and balanced” than the network that claims that slogan (Fox, if you didn’t know). But here we are amidst the “debate” about how to improve the economy, and the “liberal” side is being defended not by a “community organizer-in-chief”, nor any of his cabinet or any such person, but one of the first Amazon investors (number seven according to the stock certificate he showed us on his wall during the Reich documentary) who also sold his second company to Microsoft for some six point some odd billions of dollars as well (though I presume his was not the sole proprietor of that business either). Still, during the PBS news multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer was making the same point that he had made in Reich’s film: One billionaire can still only drive one car at a time, even if he buys five or six.  That is no way to stimulate the economy compared to paying thousands of people a decent wage so that those thousands of people are each able to afford to buy and operate a car. Making tens of thousands of cars employs a lot of other people who would then be able to afford a car, and so on. It is the middle class that will be the make or break factor in the economy, and we’ve got to find a way for them to get past their long stagnated wages and back into something like a middle class life style. The “American dream” of a comfortable lifestyle was not based on “chicken” as the standard meat to support the nutritional needs of a family. The consumer price index, which was attuned to that American dream was “adjusted” (downward) to the much cheaper meat (to chicken from beef) so that the market basket of consumer goods would not appear to be inflating so rapidly. It was an accounting trick, or more specifically a political trick to make people think that things were “fine” as the economy was “adjusted” to favor the already wealthiest people’s acquisitive financial capability.

The middle class meanwhile has been going through various strategies. Most recently, they were using the equity in their homes as a “piggy bank” to finance their lifestyle, and that is one factor that helped bring on the mortgage crisis. The so-called mortgage crisis was also brought on with a liberal dose of help from the mortgage companies lending practices (more on that in a moment) and Wall Street bundling those supposedly solidly collateralized loans as stable investments, when they knew the underlying collateral, the mortgages were not investment quality. And for that matter that the equity value in the homes that were mortgaged was not sufficient to satisfy the criteria for investment grade. Meanwhile all of this was being insured against losses by similarly worthless paper known as debt-swap insurance from AIG.  The banks, and especially AIG got bailed out by the government. I say “especially AIG” because claims against AIG were paid in full, with little or no proof of loss, and no haggling in the manner typical of insurance adjusters over the actual value of loss (if any). But the ones who got little or no help were the homeowners who lost their homes (and in some cases substantial amounts of equity, which was due to a large extent of the vast availability of foreclosed homes), the homes themselves lost most of their equity value anyway.  Whether led by their own greed to overspend or misled by misrepresentations of the stability of their mortgages’ low, low rates, which were variable, not fixed. That was a fact that many borrowers either failed to understand or were led to be overly optimistic about by the nearly constant news reports that the federal reserve bank’s prime lending rate had been virtually perpetually low, at least for a very long time, with announcements that they had no plans to raise it. Ah, but our greedy mortgage bankers got very itchy, very early on, to bump those rates, a notch or five higher, generally to the maximum increase they were allowed under the terms of the variable rate changes permitted by those variable mortgages.  That put the “regular” mortgage payments well beyond the rates that the borrowers had originally qualified to pay, and put them out of reach of their actual ability to pay, thus the mortgage default crisis came into being, self-created by the mortgage lenders. And by this time, mortgage subsidies from the federal government were not enough to put a stable footing under the FANNIE MAE and FREDDIE MAC bundles in which those institutions had “invested”.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were virtually obligated to buy up those mortgages under the terms of their charters, although some sense of discrimination should have prevailed over the ACTUAL viability of both borrowers and the ACTUAL equity value in the homes. There were, after all, minimum standards that had to be met for the mortgages to qualify, and one of those was real equity, which in many cases just wasn’t there.  And everyone, every over-reaching, and greedy or unknowingly vulnerable one was spread over-a-barrel, or living in one, especially since the IRS still wanted its share, and its share of ordinary income was double or more (in at least some cases) what wealthy, top 1% had to pay. The bite it was taking out “ordinary” (earned) income was often more than double compared to the “unearned income” the kind received mainly by the people earning so much the last thing they needed was a lower tax rate than their employees as Warren Buffet himself eagerly pointed out was the case in his own office.

 Before the “piggy bank” strategy there was also a more disruptive social trend that was a positive step toward social equality, but away from that “American Dream” as conceived in the earlier part of the 20th Century. That dream which looked so promising and really possible by mid-century following the end of the Second World War. This “progress” was accepting that a single wage earner in a family was insufficient to pay the bills, the spouse also had to find a job.

Not only was this a major tilt from a more-or-less level field for lower middle class and the lower classes to attain that middle class “dream” status, it became an uphill struggle in several different ways. Let’s just start with the change that came about in the field of “child care”.  Now, as wages stagnated and prices kept rising, forcing both parents to seek employment outside the home, the practice of sending the little ones off to pre-school or kindergarten was no longer a brief respite during the day for the homemaker to be able to have a couple hours relief from the hectic pace of caring for the children and “relax” by “merely” dashing out to pick up new socks for the boys at Penny’s, and groceries for the family at Safeway, and stop by the local bakery for some fresh bread, and pick up the dry cleaning from the corner outlet, just in time to greet the tiny van delivering the children home, all of which was facilitated by “borrowing” the family car (the one and only family car) after dropping the spouse at work in the morning, expecting them to catch a  ride home with a co-worker who lived nearby.

Of course this happened starting in the 1960’s and led to the “Women’s Movement” because spouses (mainly women, of course, at that time) were only given the opportunity to take lower paying and relatively menial jobs.  After all, the “wage earner” was supporting the family and spouses were just supplementing income, a little “pin money” as it was known at the time. Employers exploited this attitude to its maximum in those years with never a thought about equal pay being “fair”. But over the next 20 years, the “need” for a second income grew as wages continued to fall behind inflation (and the Consumer Price Index continued to hide it by masking the real price changes behind market basket adjustments: You will notice that the CPI is now quoted as being “excluding food and fuel”, because, the claim is, that food and fuel prices are “too volatile” to be included, and thus, at any given point in time would disproportionately skew the index number in one direction or the other). Of course we still have to buy food and fuel, but that doesn’t figure into the pure “index” of how the economy is doing. The fact that it is the “consumer” price index is an historical anomaly. But one of the areas that continued to inflate the cost of living was that now child care, outside school hours as well as for pre-school and kindergarten age kids, was now essentially a necessity.  Demand exceeded supply, and prices for child care rose to the point where the lower classes either had to rely on relatives and skip “professional” care (I use professional in the loosest possible sense here, since training for being a worker in a child care facility is about as rigorous as being a dog walker in Billings, Montana), or pay through the nose (well, not quite but in many cases the cost of child care ate up almost the entire second salary). There is no question that the demand for child care did create jobs by the thousands, that is, by the time you count every town in North America. The fact that child care of any sort was expensive made the cost of “private school” prohibitively high for most lower middle to middle middle class families.

Now as I have already pointed out, this prompted the so-called “Women’s Movement” which began in the 1960’s and continued through the 1980’s and even into the 1990’s.  (Actually, of course, the “women’s movement” began in upstate New York in Seneca in the mid-19th century, but that’s outside the scope of this discussion.) The equal pay for equal work efforts have never reached actual parity, but opportunities did start to open up. The “glass ceiling” has been broken, several times in the Supreme Court of the United States, twice in a major party candidate for Vice-President of the United State (so far), female governors pepper the states, and so on. But even with both parents working outside the home, incomes have failed to keep pace with the demands of home ownership for most of the lower echelons of the economy. Recognition of this fact spawned a brief subsidy program for first time home buyers that was intended as much to try to revive the home construction industry as to put those first time buyers into homes.  It was a costly experiment that essentially failed to accomplish either of those goals, though it did help a few people a little bit.

What the first time buyers’ subsidization package failed to do was a more important lesson than what it did accomplish. It failed to be a broad stimulus to the economy as a whole. It did create some jobs, but it was seen for what it was, an attempt to see a blip in the uptick on construction employment as a positive sign that the economy as a whole was on the mend from the disastrous financial crisis of 2008. It fooled very few. You can pull the wool over almost the entire American public’s eyes, but this was not one of those times. The now famous quote of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin actually applied to the initial stimulus package that the new President managed to get through Congress, loaded with tax cuts that the Republicans considered “stimulus” but you can’t tax cut your way to prosperity.  The so-called US$800 billion in “stimulus” was, in fact, “lipstick on a pig,” heavily burdened with tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations (“small business owners” was the term favored by Republicans), with very, very little for the kind of massive infrastructure projects that would have created massive numbers of new middle class employment. This stimulus was nothing like the interstate highways system that President Eisenhower managed to get through Congress. Unfortunately, while it was a visionary and highly worthwhile deficit spending program, it was passed under the (secret) guise of a military spending bill because the very “definition” of an interstate highway was such that it must create a whole national system of emergency “airports”, which is to say, emergency landing strips of highway to allow rapid airborne deployment of American forces anywhere they might be needed within the United State in case of invasion by a foreign power. Since it was “military” spending, as well as infrastructure, in the wake of the Second World War, it was not hard to convince Congressmen (still almost exclusively men) that this was a wise application of taxes being collected, and even deficit spending to accomplish this defensive military goal. It was not a goal that received a lot of public attention, the military deployment purpose of the landing strip designs was intended to be a “secret” national defense strategy based on the experiences of the previous war. As they say, the military is always fighting the previous war (or in this case, anticipating that the next war, whoever “the enemy” might be, would be fighting in roughly the same manner as the last war, a strategy which was fairly self-evidently unwise since the Americans had been a significant factor in winning the prior war.

However, with his attention elsewhere (on social welfare problems, as could be expected from a President whose previous employment had been oriented toward just such problems of urban blight) President Obama failed to produce a vision of equivalent inspiration and scope. Of course, too, the previous Democratic administration had been waiting eight years (through the 2nd Bush interregnum) to try again to put forth a national health plan, and were no small influence (especially in the peacemaking process following the rather bitterly fought primary campaign between Clinton #2 and Obama).  But worse still, the insurance lobby had grown “fat”, which is to say, even more powerful than it had been, especially by the introduction of a diversion of Medicare money to the insurance companies’ “Medicare Advantage” plans that siphoned off a considerable (approximately $700 billion per year) in administrative fees from actual Medicare benefits, and their buddies in Congress, were not about to let “socialized medicine” (a single payer plan, like Medicare itself) take away that rather rich icing from their “cake”.  The rhetoric arising from this eventually became a Republican claim that the Obama administration plan for their “Affordable Care Act” (eventually known as, proudly, by President Obama himself, “Obamacare”) was “taking $700 billion away from senior citizens” while the administration said it was adding the $700 billion which the (Republican) Congressman Ryan’s proposed Republican budget diverted away from public health care. None of which created any jobs (except for the lawyers who already worked for the politicians drafting legislation to counter the other party’s proposals, and a few ad agency jobs to publicize the fight).

At that time (early in the Obama administration), which was, you will recall, shortly after the financial debacle that virtually coincided with the 2008 presidential election, the various calls for stimulus was a virtually a shouting match between Republicans calling for tax cuts and Democrats calling for spending as the best economic stimulus. The resulting compromise (some claim that governing is the art of compromise) did very little to stimulate the economy largely because of smallness. That is, the smallness of the size of stimulus that President Obama’s colleagues managed to squeeze from Congress. If President Obama had been able to pull out as visionary an infrastructure project as President Eisenhower had done with the Interstate Highway System, say, as an interstate railway system upgrade to equal the quality and speed of tracks and trains that now crisscrossed Europe and Japan (and more recently selected routes in China, too), it would have been the kind of economic stimulus that would have “kept jobs at home”, a key element of stimulating the domestic economy, and put thousands upon thousands to work across the country. Again, flooding the demand for workers, pushing up wages, moving out of wage stagnation for the lower middle class, and under girding the lower classes, too. You can’t lay track in Malaysia using Malaysian labor if you are upgrading the track between Baltimore and Boston, or Atlanta and Houston.  In fact, this is exactly the kind of national infrastructure project that could be initially targeted to begin in areas of depressed economic conditions, starting in multiple locations, eventually joining up at distant points (a lot less tricky than joining the eastbound and westbound track of the first transcontinental railroad now that we have pinpoint accurate GPS. So even if you had to spread the political “pork” of government spending across every state in the nation, all of those joints would be laser aligned and GPS positioned. Would $700 billion have been enough?  Not a chance, but once undertaken, the commitment to making a nationwide system workable would draw in private capital wanting to gain advantage, state and municipal budgets being applied to assure that railway stations were attractive not only to passengers but to concession lessees who would profit from the foot traffic of passengers boarding and unloading.  Then too, there would be all the private shipping companies who would be eager to add loading and unloading facilities. It might be expensive to load flatcars with trailers from trucks, but trucks can’t travel at near airplane speeds across the country for less fuel per ton than they can as part of a high speed train.  Once the tracks can handle the speeds, the overcrowding and delays of airports reduces air travel costs too (not necessarily airline ticket prices, which are, today, operating on very thin margins already).

Was Obamacare the greatest social program since Medicare?  Since Social Security, perhaps?  Well, no, not nearly, especially since it still ended up in the hands of the insurance companies whose overhead was still far higher than the single payer system of Medicare itself, but added regulations that required insurers to pay back a portion of premiums not used on actual care of the subscriber, and other details of the overall plan, like no exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions, made it better than it appears on the surface as just another means of funneling federal money to already profitable insurance companies. But did it create jobs? Did it mean that more of the middle class went back to work? It did not. In fact, fairly significant reductions in the jobless rate from over 8% to around 6% more recently are reportedly due more to long term unemployed persons simply leaving the workforce, no longer seeking jobs and therefore no longer being counted as officially “unemployed”.  The size of the workforce itself adds about 200,000 persons per month.  Young people mature, though, unfortunately fully one third of them are not even graduating from high school. That is not exactly the kind of highly skilled workforce one would want to be expanding every month.  So job growth has to keep pace with that expansion just to stay at the same level.  New jobs must be created at the rate of 200,000 every month just to keep up with population growth.

There are those who advocate an increase in the minimum wage, but there are two flaws with that plan.  Firstly there is the inflation that will cause, not only will a hamburger now cost $11 instead of the already over priced $4 for a pretty plain burger at the corner burger joint, which will hit the poorest the hardest, but they want to “phase it in” over several years to allow people to adjust to the higher wages, which will merely guarantee the price inflation time to phase in as a parallel effect.  And worst of all, rents will rise and landlords will reap the majority of the benefits, exactly the richest 1% who are already excessively compensated (but in this case not taxed until the real estate asset is sold, so essentially this is a tax deferred increase in income, like an IRA for rich people).

Another interesting proposal that has backing from both Nick Hanauer and Robert Reich is an increase in the EIC, the “Earned Income Credit”. This, in case you haven’t heard of it or benefited from it is a “bonus” from the government that they hand out at tax time (April 15th each year) to people who have had a poor income (lower classes and lower middle classes) especially mothers with children who have no husband to help support those children (or even one child) although it also applies to single fathers too, but that is a relatively rare occasion.  One of worst features of this program, the income from which can be quite substantial (in terms of the small income these people earn in the first place). It is intended to assure as the name implies that they have at least some non-government income, this program subsidizes their income, in other words encourage people to have at least part of the annual income from actual “work” from someone, preferably backed up with a W2 form to prove that the work was actually done.  The BIG problem with how this is handled is that although there is an “option” to spread out the payments over the entire year, adding it to income being earned by the low wage earner week by week supplementing the low pay to make it something closer to a living wage.  That option, however,  is almost never chosen by the person receiving this subsidy from the IRS/government.  They take it as a lump sum, on the day they file their taxes. Ask the folks at any tax preparation firm.  The early filers are almost always, mainly, the ones who expect the Earned Income Credit, because it is like Christmas to them. Indeed, the onslaught at tax preparation firms starts a couple of days before the deadline for employers to deliver those W2 forms to their employees, which since it comes around the end of January is very much like a late Christmas (bonus) for them. They take the “bonus” and spend it so quickly it almost never affects the lifestyle, the nutrition of the children, or any of the other benefits to poor families that the legislators intended it to fulfill when they passed the law funding this program. Typically they pay off the huge credit card debt that they have accumulated over the prior year, or they pay off the debts to merchants who have been kind enough to lend them credit (usually at a very profitable rate of interest), or they use it to go out and buy a “new” used car, trading up from the old piece of junk car they are already driving that is sapping them dry with repair bills to one they hope will get them through to the next Earned Income Day, when they will be able to afford to do the same again. That is how Earned Income Credit is actually used by the typical recipient.

The economists have wisely, I think, settled upon this mechanism as one which can have the maximum benefit to the people who need it most, and without causing a general inflationary trend like raising the minimum wage would (which, as we know from the above, tends to benefit the rich more than the poor anyway).  I would endorse that move, except that they need to FIX the Earned Income Credit FIRST.  They should make it mandatory that the EIC be distributed to the eligible recipients over the course of their employment.  The EIC should also be scaled the amount of employment that they have managed to engage in.  If they work 20 hours a week for 40 weeks a year, the EIC should be proportional to those 40 weeks, perhaps inversely proportional to the wages they earned, but NOT as it is now, increase for every child they have.  Tying EIC to number of children may benefit the elected officials by keeping their electorate population high, or even the churches in the district by adding annually to the number of potential parishioners. But there is no provision in the EIC that the parent must feed and clothe the child adequately.  It is entirely local provisions that the parent must educate the child, and believe me, I have heard tales from social workers that would make your skin crawl if not outright vomit at the kind of treatment (no let’s call it what it is, “neglect) that children supposedly being educated at home, were receiving. I am not talking about children who could not merely read, I am talking about kids wandering nearly or actually naked around an apartment in which dirty diapers line the walls and a dead, already stiff from rigor mortis dog was still being ignored under the television set, the drunken mother, well pickled in her favorite alcohol, asleep on the kitchen table. It may sound unbelievable, but it was a true story told to me by a social services worker about the work she was doing. Lump sum EIC should immediately be abolished.

Most important, however, is to create and follow an inspired vision for the future.  It doesn’t matter in the short term whether that might be high speed railway system across the nation. North and South, East and west and everywhere in between, or some other environmentally beneficial program, like a national flood prevention program that created adequate levies, and drainage alternatives everywhere there has ever been a devastating loss of life and property.  I am admittedly biased. I would like to see that “vision” being a renewable economy based on renewable energy resources, including a re-envisioning of agriculture as an industry that used less water than the human beings on the planet (aqua-culture, aquaponic farming, recycling both water and nutrients in leakless containers that allow water to enter the ground and the natural water table only after multiple cycles of use on the cultivation of plants that feed people, or for that matter switching to algae as a main source of food, fuel and feed for animal “crops”, while also feeding the algae its favorite food, excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from fuel burning energy stations, smelters and furnaces. But whatever course we choose, it must be soon, it must be before the legislatures stall action until it is too late to reverse the effects of climate’s changing patterns of more and more devastating storms, years of drought including failure to resupply aquifers with adequate snow pack in the mountains to replenish the aquifers in the spring, and scorching hot weather in spring, cold snaps in summer, rising sea levels that threaten to completely submerge island chains. Whole island nations in the Indian Ocean are rapidly decreasing in size as rising ocean levels actually have already covered some of their island lands. We need to pay attention to the fact that we have warm the sunny melts in Winter causing runoff that is forced to be contained between frozen river banks, unable to moisten the land needed for Spring crops and generally highly unfavorable conditions for the survival of humans on the planet.

 Some vision is needed.  Any vision that puts people to work on worthwhile projects. Helping American is also not the only solution.  Creating economically viable nations in other parts of the world, whether by shoring up failing bureaucracies in under-governed countries, or showing them how small scale capitalism can benefit local communities.  We need to put thousands of people to work, and we need it now, to get the middle class back on track toward a living wage, preferably a living wage from a single family member so that the other spouse can choose to be the homemaker/childrearing patent, because neglect of children, especially failing to instill in them a sense of the real importance of their education to their future success is going to be the ruin of our society if we don’t reverse the trend toward 30 to 50% high school drop-out rates.  People with that little education are not destined to join the middle class, they are destined for a life of poverty and misery and I do not want to see that happen.  Do you?

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

War,Freedom, VITAL INTERESTS

SCOTUS lets the Greens (Hobby Lobby) redefine abortion based on their religious “beliefs” that preventing pregnancy IS abortion,  That’s a little to the right of Attilla the Hun, isn’t it?

Due to a wandering cursor and an inadvertent “enter” I lost a whole editorial on that subect, so i will proceed with the original intent of this post.  It is a copy of an email ( sent to some friends who are veterans of the Canadian military, and among my best friends.  (though I confess I am not as fond of soldiers as was my deceased sister,she married, in order, a captain in the reserves a Major who was a trainer for Special Forces, and a Colonel who was part of the command staff in the capital as well as former commander of the base where the Royal Military College is based,)  Anyway here’s the whole email.

Karen (and Doug)

I’ve met more than one Vietnam veteran who would be saluting the kid, and a few draft dodgers who had run away to Canada and were (smart enough?) not to trust the US Government that it meant what it said when it offered “amnesty”.  After all, one of the first things the American government does to someone who enlists (or is drafted) into the army here in the USA is to take away almost every civil right they ever had as a civilian, and substitute the “Uniform Code of Military Justice” for all laws and jurisdictions. That’s one of the main reasons they (the US military) couldn’t agree with the Iraqi government on a “status of forces” agreement to leave a residual force in Iraq.  The US military demanded immunity from local prosecution, in fact total immunity, so that only the “Uniform Code of Military Justice” was the governing law over US soldiers. (And the abuses of that immunity by the Blackwater contractors was one of the main reasons Iraq wasn’t having any of that shit from the US any more.) (Although they seemed to have “caved” on that issue to get US “advisors” back to help fight ISIS.)
The arguments are a lot more nuanced than the writer of this (original) message seems to think. (That email contained a cartoon of a the kid refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and the disabled veteran who “fought for his right” to do so.)   Before the “Muslims” it was the Catholics (who couldn’t even hope to get a President elected for almost 200 years), not to mention the Irish, and the Negroes, and the Jews.  It is SUPPOSED to be for the freedoms of ALL, and especially the 14% who disagree with the 86% for whom the military are engaged in either “protection” or battle.
There is something “noble” about people like you, who (Karen and Doug) are willing to maintain watch, manning the barricades, as it were, against potential threats, willing to sacrifice all if need be.
It has been over 70 years since any of: the US, Canada or Britain; fought a war of aggression against their countries. Terrorism isn’t an ideology, it is a strategy.
Now, I don’t deny that Islamism and the Islamists do mean ill to all our “countries” (although only to the extent that we don’t want to submit to their religion, so the “we believe in ‘God'” really means, in the context of this email (the cartoon contained that phrase from the Teacher character) that we believe in the Christian “GOD”, not just “god” in general, because that would have to include believe in Buddha, or Allah, too.) But Muslims are not the same as Islamists.  Islamists are the UN-crusaders, they just took a thousand years to getting around to doing with the (mostly Catholic) Christians were doing on their crusades through (and especially on the way to and from) the “Holy Lands”, trying to rid the world of “infidels”, although they enjoyed a good slaughter and pillage without inquiring as to the beliefs of small towns before they burned and pillaged to obtain supplies for their massive (hundreds or thousands) or knights and logistical staff.
Unfortunately the Islamists are also a little too like the Inquisition; theoretically if you profess to follow the “true faith” you are “saved” and therefore not subject to death or imprisonment, but like the Inquisition, sometimes that wasn’t good enough and they lopped off your head anyway. Putting away your religious fervour is not quite as easy as taking off your cowboy hat and gun belt, especially if your sword is already drawn. Watching a good beheading was more popular than football in France for a while, and it drove the crowds wild when they combined the football and beheadings in Iran not so long ago. (I think it was Iran, although my memory never was as good as I thought it was.)
Islamists are a little like Jehovah’s Witnesses, except that when they come to your door, if you don’t want to let them in to talk about Allah, they grab you by the throat and say, “You MUST believe in Allah, or I will have to strangle you to death. Two simple choices, yes?”
Muslims are not all Islamists.  One guy I talk to, a writer, in Pakistan says about 10% are on the side of the radicals … wait, more on that in a minute.  I just remembered something.
About 80 or 90 years ago in New York city you could spit on people and not be very likely to be arrested if it was one of those women with the scarves over their heads and dark clothing, or their men who wore the funny hats and almost always had beards … ooops, sorry, that’s what a lot of Muslims look like today, but back then that was the Jews.  My mistake. Never mind.  Back to my story.
But even in Pakistan, only about 10% of the radical 10% are genuinely supporters of violent means of spreading Islam.
Islamists, at least the current violent crop in ISISIL (or ISIL, or ISIS) are almost all Sunnis, which is kind of like the “Catholics” among Christians, it’s the most popular subdivision, but many, if not most, of the Islamists are like the radial Evangelicals (in the USA at least) the literalists in bible interpretation (Islamist also emphasize a lot of “selective” use of the Qu’ran for motivation) and as I say, many from the Osama (or Usama if you like) bin Laden followers are from the Wahabi sect (the “Evangelicals” of the Moslem world), as are a lot of the rest of al Qaeda.
Anyway, if you had your state impose a religion on you, like Henry VIII did to a country of Catholics you’d probably grumble a bit, but when another ruler tried to reinstate Catholicism after a few generations, and well, say 86% were Catholic, there (might) have been some pretty bloody opposition (again).  For that matter, isn’t that what started the last 400 years of war in Ireland?
Okay, I’m getting in over my depth here, but my point is that yes, the Soldier in the previous email’s cartoon, actually ALSO fought for the right of the Moslems to pray in the streets, and the Jews to wear funny hats (not just the yamakas, but those flat black felt ones of the really devote sects too), but NOT for the 86% to impose their religious beliefs on “other people’s children” through state sponsored education, or courts, or city halls.  Us Jews (like Maggie) and atheists (like me, although we both are more “pantheists” than completely any organized religion) can stand up for our own beliefs, but little kids don’t know any better than going along with the crowd, and succumbing to peer pressure to be “Christians” too. Hey even my Jewish wife is a bigger fan of Christmas than I am (she loves to get presents, I was raised in a Protestant home) and I am the one who tries to keep her on the “straight and narrow” of using only blue and white lights consistent with the tradition of Chanukah (not always successfully, since some years I don’t want to participate in the light hanging at all).
Right now, the fighting in the Middle East is a religious war between Muslim sects, the Sunni against the Shia, it involves “the West” because we seem to believe that the political borders as they were drawn on a map by the British at the end of WW I are still “important”.  But that is not the main reason. Syria doesn’t have a lot of oil. Did you notice how “laissez faire” the US has been with regard to the largely religiously sectarian civil war in Syria between the Sunni rebels and the [Shia] Alawites (despite the obvious excesses of the dictator), though removing chemical weapons was a clever “coup”.  Now in Iraq it also involves the West,, i.e. USA, because Iraq is now the SECOND LARGEST EXPORTER of crude oil of all the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC), and that’s a BIG economic interest, especially to the extent that a lot of the shareholders of the multinational oil companies are American citizens (and pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies and other “corporate citizens”), and thereby we are “protecting the vital strategic interests of the United States“, as we were in the first Gulf War.
Now that is not as patently clear as a political rant from Keith Olberman, or “lesson” from Rachel Maddow, but I hope it is a fairly balanced and factual account of how some of us come to our opinions based on more than jingoistic, xenophobic slogans.
So pass THIS along if you believe in religious freedom,or the “right” (??) to chose your foreign military entanglements.  (What was Canada doing in Laos in the mid-1960’s anyway?)
Love,
Doc Williamson

Rape, Carbon, Ukraine, Guantanamo, It is an Interdisciplinary World

A great deal has happened recently and some of it, it appeared to me in the last couple of days was worth a comment here. Foremost in my mind among international events is the rape and subsequent murder to two girls in India (more on that in a minute). Russia rescinding its “gift” of the Crimea to the Ukrainian People’s Republic (formerly the Ukrainian People’s Socialist Republic, at the time of the gift, one should remember), and the subsequent ambitions to re-absorb other certain other parts of the Ukraine where the population is predominantly Russian in heritage (more on that in a minute, too). And, certainly neither last nor least is the Obama administration’s backing of the Environmental Protection Agency’s weak-kneed, (or horrendous, depending on your side of the coal issue, I suppose) regulations on the emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of human activity. Lastly, and probably leastly with respect to this set of world events enumerated here is the prisoner exchange of the five Afghan religious fanatics (and violently insurgent) former prisoners of the illegal prison in the US military base in Cuba. (Yup, you can expect an expansion on those items too, shortly.)

But, meanwhile I wanted to add a couple of comments that American media might call, burying the lead. (That’s lead as in led, as opposed to leading as in stained glass.)  Frankly, I am, possibly too much influenced by local news policy which is so widespread in North American media whether or not it has infected all media across the globe (and with some relatively rare exceptions, like dictatorships or other closely controlled media).  That policy is, roughly stated, as, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And roughly translated that means if it involves violence, bloodshed, and especially death from the expanded borders of the metropolitan area locally, it should be used to grab the attention of the audience as the opening story in any media coverage.  Occasionally, as happened nationally in the USA, in June of 2014, there is a sufficiently violent (and relatively rare) instance of foreign violence (in this case, a young man shooting and killing three members of the Canadian national police force known as the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police]) that it takes the leading position in most news coverage. However I note also with some substantial cynicism, that it was mere hours before the fatal shooting of one person with two additional wounded on the campus of a relatively obscure college in Seattle, Washington that took precedence over the Canadian triple homicide in most venues and media.Americans have such a localized opinion of what constitutes news that airliner crashes in foreign territories, especially of foreign based airlines, such events barely get a mention unless American citizens were aboard. (This is what used to be called “provincial” in France, when people in the provinces considered local issues important, which was the French way of sneering at things of lesser importance, because they happened in “the provinces”, those dirty, grubby farming places outside of Paris, which was [pardonez moi, SVP, naturally I meant to say, “is”] the only important place in the world. So the American perspective is not entirely “new” or confined entirely to American, either.) (In fact it was also called “Chauvinistic”, after the famous Frenchman who publicly declared such an attitude, a term still used today, although not much in most of American popular media, the American educational system being so poor that the majority of Americans would not be familiar with the term “chauvinistic” [notice how it has joined the language enough that it has lost the capital letter from the gentleman’s name].) But as is so often my case, I have wandered rather far from my original point which is that a good number of people “tune in” for the local news, which in my case  is that I have recently graduated from Arizona State University with a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Interdisciplinary pursuits are all the rage now in institutions of hire learning, (and higher learning too) and virtually every discipline has adopted an interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary program of some sort or another. Not only did I “rocket” through that degree in under 12 months total, from start to finish (a program designed to take 4 semesters and be spread over 2 years at least), but by the time I got around to realizing that I might want to continue my education at the PhD level, I discovered that virtually every doctoral program across the country had a deadline for application for entry to the Fall 2014 semester back in December of 2013.  I had no idea that it was such a long process, nor, apparently fairly competitive.  I am hoping my 12 month version of an MA may impress a little, and that my recent overall (for the whole degree) GPA of 3.87 is high enough to put me ahead of most applicants.  (My wife just notice that this would be a “summa cum laud” for an undergraduate degree.) Nor are these the only those factors that are now in my favor. I am not eligible to be considered under  “diversity” criteria. It is now a little bit on my side, since diversity generally extends to all protected “classes”, thus I am now a “minority” because of my age. By next fall, I will be one year short of eligibility for medicare, and still two and half  years (I think) from full retirement age as far as social security is concerned.

Attending ASU has had a couple of other side benefits, I (and a team I gathered around me) were selected as “finalists” in a business incubator competition held by the intellectual property commercialization group of ASU (with backing from several corporations, including the Mayo Clinic, and Dignity Health, as well as from the ACA, the Arizona Commerce Agency).  We did not get the grant, but we did learn about some interesting intellectual property that I am still pursuing and actually seeking financial backing for a privatization via sponsoring further developmental research at the University.  Another competition held by a “change oriented” (self-evidently) ASU organization called “Changemakers” at ASU also select me (without a team to back me) for another project to create a biomass power station in Kenya. Again, a finalist, although no award, but it was a chance to publicize my G.E.M.P.A.L.A. plan (Green Energy Marshall Plan for Africa and Latin America), which is a much broader and most ambitious plan for food and fuel self sufficiency for every town in both of those continents. So that’s the local news, other than I have applied for another MA program (being ineligible to start a PhD in the fall) with the hope of taking some of those “cross-disciplinary” courses that will be credited toward future PhD degree criteria.

Now, back to the real topics of some import.  The two girls raped and killed in India we also hung up in public to display their bodies for all to see. Reportedly they were not just raped but “gang raped” by several men, before being killed, and hung up on display because these men had no fear of reprisals or even consequences of their actions because these girls were from the lowest “caste” of the ancient Indian caste system, the caste formerly known as “the untouchables”. According to the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/618508/untouchable the whole classification of “untouchable” was made illegal in India in 1949 (and in Pakistan in 1953), although several classes of the caste system are still officially designated as “Scheduled Classes”. But that ancient tradition still holds strong among much of India. Although the Britannica notes that in Southern India “untouchables” were, at one time, forced into living entirely after dark because even the sight of them was consider a form of pollution supposedly such is no longer the case today. But this instance of blatant rape and murder took place in the North of India, in India’s most populous province, and yet police initially refused to take any action, considering the girls to be of absolutely no consequence, and therefore it was not even possible to commit a crime against them. The “Dalit” a broad group that encompasses several of the former low classes including the former “untouchables” (ibid.) rose up in protest, not so much against the crime of rape but against the affront to their illegal treatment as untouchables under Indian law.

It now seems that this class (caste) system is a major contributor to the rash of gang rapes in particular, and to the overall crisis of rape of women in India. Unlike the problem in America of “date rape” (and “fraternity” rape) on college campuses, which is certainly something that is a major miscarriage of justice when sports team members are harder to convict than members of America’s “lower classes”, it seems like a major first step in quelling the rising tide of (publicity if not instances of) rapes in India is to force police  to enforce the existing laws.  America has been through this process, and remnants remain in the Southern states where a white man is highly privileged over black or brown skinned individuals with respect to many crimes, and especially rape, although non-white women being raped is also a lower priority for prosecution (and more readily a plea bargain) than for anyone to rape a white woman. But those deep roots and modern deep seated belief in the caste system in India, has got to be a priority or the rape problem will continue to be an insurmountable violation of basic human rights for a very, very long time. When one group of society does not even consider the other group to BE human, it is essentially impossible to convince them that they owe them respect, or that they have any more right to exist than cockroaches. This example is going to shock and dismay most readers, but I don’t want you to skip it because it conveys some of the horror that I feel in this situation.  You see, to the men involved in these cases, it is like comparing a case of gang raping a Dalit girl, or gang raping a sheep, the main difference being that you don’t have to kill the sheep.

Depending upon your point of view, the bloodless coup of Russia taking Crimea “back” may not be such a big deal. Strictly speaking it was the “Soviet Union of Socialist Republics” and specifically the hand of Premier Khrushchev that gave away the Crimean territory to the Ukraine as a sort of bribe or a dowry for continued friendly relations, much in the medieval tradition of marrying off a daughter to seal an alliance between countries. It was a dumb move, because it meant that that Russia’s only port on the Black Sea was now in a Ukrainian province. Theoretically during recent events it would have been more politically correct and polite to hold the referendum of the people to re-join Russia before strong-arm tactics of special forces of the Russian military effectively stage managed an “un-uniformed” commando coup, but it made very little difference in the world overall.

On the other hand, it was a little uncomfortably like Saddam Hussein annexing the oil-rich Kingdom of Kuwait. In general, however, seizing all that oil wealth was one thing, seizing a sleepy port province on the Black Sea (where the Russians already controlled the port anyway) was far less disturbing to the world at large and to the financial interests of any major multi-national corporations in particular. Bacj ub 1855 and 1856, both sides, or rather, all sides, including France, England, Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Turks, had learned that conducting a war in the Crimea was at best difficult, and ultimately futile anyway. Again, citing the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Crimean War was largely yet another religious war fought over “protecting” Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Muslim Ottoman Turkish empire which also included a dispute over the rights of Orthodox versus Catholic Christians in the Palestinian region. [ http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143040/Crimean-War ] Lord, Allah, Buddha and the rest, please spare us from any more wars over religion (a hopeless “prayer” if ever their was one, I fear). Meanwhile it is unlikely that Ukrainians will be treated any less fairly than Russians were prior to the change in administrations in Crimea. The sad part is the “separatism” in Eastern Ukraine.

It appears that Russian agitators (quite possibly Russian special operations troops, at least according to one set of photos that show what appears to be the same man appearing in pictures from Chechen uprisings and in Eastern Ukraine, and the Crimea) are bolstering fears of the new government in Kiev treating ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine as second class citizen (despite the economic value of both the manufacturing sector there, as well as oil wealth and other strengths of the country derived from the region).  At the same time the are promoting “separatist” feelings (and even declarations) for some regions in the area while also supplying weapons (clearly of Russian manufacture) (remember, I am commenting, not reporting based on any personal first hand knowledge, although even I can recognize the similarities to weapons carried by regular Russian soldiers). Russia’s position tends to be conciliatory outside of Russia, but internally, Putin is beating the drums against European interference in the Ukraine, as well as promoting an anti-gay campaign at home.

President Obama is getting nominal support from European allies and NATO members, but the practical matter is that much of Europe is dependent on Russia for supplies of natural gas to keep from freezing in the winter and has considerably more at stake with respect to spoiling trade established with Russia that is not insignificant to many European country’s economic well being, too. However, in theory, even the Crimean interference was a violation of treaties the US held/holds with the Ukraine to protect its sovereignty, which is what makes the special forces without uniforms such a clever strategy on the part of the Russians in their campaign to take control of the whole of Crimea.  The problem, however is that although they now have control of the province containing their military port on the Black Sea, they have no all-land route to get to it without passing through the Ukraine. It would, therefore be highly convenient for Russia to provoke separatists in Eastern Ukraine to break aways, and due to the ethnic background of those people (including speaking Russian on a day-to-day basis) to merge with their Russian neighbors.  Again this rings an historical bell repeating a particularly unsavory example from the past.

The “ethnic” origins and protecting their interests was Germany’s excuse for seizing the “Sudetenland” during the early part of the Second World War.  Frankly, the Germans gained less from that annexation than would the Russians if they were to create a land bridge to their currently remote and isolated Black Sea military base. (I may be wrong about that. I don’t know the geography well enough to know if Sudetenland controlled significant terrain of value to the Germans, like well established major river crossing points, or mountain passes, the value of which I am under qualified to evaluate in the first place.) My point, however is not just that there are ethnic excuses for Russia to want to “protect” those (Orthodox??) Russians in the Ukraine, but that like the seizing of Kuwait, or the seizing of Sudetenland, these are examples of what are now considered fairly “heinous” crimes as those sort of things go in the history of the world, at least from the Western Civilization’s point of view generally.

With respect (and I do mean some respect) to the EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, like most regulations from a government elected according to billionaire’s best interests and corporate donations (by any means whatsoever since the “Citizens’ United” SCOTUS decision) these regulations are too little and too late, and too typically of the Obama administration, heavily watered down to the point where if there ever was any “vision” behind it all, it has long since disappeared in the mists of political compromise. As it happens a very pleasant and cordial member of the staff at Waste Management mentioned these regulations to me as “what Obama said yesterday,” to which my stunned reply was, “Oh, I must have missed that.”  Carbon dioxide emissions are, of course, of some direct concern to Waste Management, since much of its elimination of waste is by way of plain old incinerations, with minimal pollution abatement other than to satisfy the long standing EPA regulations with regard to SOx and NOx as well as heavy metal pollutant reaching the atmosphere. Regulation of carbon dioxide emissions will get to them eventually, but they are working on a number of strategies, everything from gasification to landfill “mining” operations.  In fact as my conversation(s) with these couple of gentlemen from local operations of Waste Management wore on, off and on, during a couple of hours the other evening, hardly anything I mentioned was not something they were already doing somewhere, either as a normal course of business in some locale or at least in experimental stages.  I did mention, however that it was a little over 40 years ago that I was telling my undergraduate classmates I was amazed that we (as a society) were not already mining the riches of landfill sites.  “After all, we know where all this stuff is, we’ve been putting it there for a hundred years.”  “We’re doing that,” was their reply, although from the description it was more like the “recovery” operations in India where the poorest Dalits are allowed to pick over the garbage dumps for salvageable, or recyclable goods from which they make their living, the same as happens throughout most of the world, rather  than the modern recycling equipment used in the Western countries that sort recyclables fresh off the collection trucks that arrive daily using automated equipment, conveyors, electromagnets, graduated sifting barrels, and ultimately product balers (which recycled commodities, by the way, the Waste Management guys bemoaned as being priced so cheaply on most goods that they couldn’t make a profit doing this kind of work).

Honestly it shocked me that these fellows who agreed that we were fully 40 years behind-the-times in getting these kinds of programs started were also seeing incineration as a key element in their ongoing corporate strategy (not that these particular people are involved in strategic planning, but you might hope that they had had a more visionary future conveyed to them by upper management). It might not be cheap to switch from incineration to gasification/pyrolysis everywhere immediately, but it virtually eliminates all atmospheric pollutants,and the residual can be either “glass” (slag) or “ash” which can be made into concrete blocks or depending on the content used as fertilizer.  What we all did agree upon because the examples were walking right by us as we chatted was that the failure of recycling programs is not the people who implement them, just the plain apathy of the public to think about recycling.  We watched as half a dozen people in a row tossed recyclable plastic cups and hors d’oeuvres plates into the “garbage” can which stood so close as to be touching the blue recycling bin with the recycle symbol plainly displayed for all to see. Worse yet, this was an event for alumni and recent graduated of the university. Everyone in the room had a least one university degree, and they still gave no thought to the recycling bin.  But I have carried on longer than I meant to, so let me move to my last subject for today.

I don’t understand all the religious “feudin’ and fightin'” of Muslim factions any more than I understand the silliness between protestants and Catholics in Ireland, the whole idea of “my religion is better than your religion” is patent nonsense as far as I am concerned, because, essentially, people are saying to one another, a broken mirror is far worse than walking under a ladder, while a third is shouting, “Watch out! Don’t let that black cat cross your path.” For that matter, none of those holds any more sway with me than those disputing whether it is “dark matter” that holds the universe together, or black holes that recycle matter from one segment of the universe to the other that maintains the balance against gravity that appears to be driving the universe further and further apart all the time.

But setting the religion itself aside for the moment, I don’t mind that some people want to live simpler lives that don’t involve modern mechanical and electrical or gas powered equipment, the Amish people being probably the best known example in North America. And I don’t think them being Christians makes them any better than Muslim, or Buddhists who feel a similar need to live life on simpler terms. But I will state here, without equivocation, that I object to anyone trying to impose such beliefs on me or anyone else. Even though they reportedly place quite strong social pressure on their young people to conform to the life in which they have been raised, they do give them the opportunity to opt out during their teen years.  Not so for the Taliban and some of the other more fanatical Islamist sects, they will cheerfully force their beliefs on others with the sword or the Kalishnikov.  The most prominently known example being the bullet put into the head of a girl whose only offense was going to school.

Still, I think that President Obama’s administration didn’t make any “mistake” by swapping prisoners from Guantanamo for the young soldier who spent 5 years in captivity in Afghanistan.  What he did do was significantly reduce the excuses for resistance to closing the illegal existence of Guantanamo as a “holding pen” for persons the US has “captured” but have no legal status or standing, or rather the “prison” at Guantanamo has no legal standing or status. President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to close Guantanamo (the prison, not the base) remains unfulfilled due to his inability to get it through congress, or more specifically to get congress to allocate the funds to accomplish the closure. What was a major mistake was not to ram it through congress during his first two years when the Democrats held both the House and the Senate.  It was far from President Obama’s radically liberal agenda that cost them the House majority in 2010, it was a lack of leadership that contained a clear and well enunciated vision for where the country was going.  That is not to say that healthcare reform was not a much needed direction for this country, though again, the weak positions taken by the administration and the absolutely excessive concessions made early in the process essentially eliminated any hope of a genuinely strong healthcare system for the country.  Only a single payer system like medicare (which operates with far lower overhead than any private medical system in the county, including HMO type operations). The whole health care system became a corporate welfare system for private insurance companies, those same insurance companies who hold so much cash reserves against possible liabilities of possible holders that they are more significant investors on Wall Street than are most mutual funds, indeed few banks hold more stocks in their portfolios than do the largest insurance companies. But as usual I digress …

My original point about no mistake in the prisoner swap starts with, as President Obama said recently, when it comes to prisoner swaps, “you don’t exchange prisoners with your friends.” With the Qatari’s acting as intermediaries, in theory at least, we were not dealing with “terrorists” or negotiating with terrorists, we were dealing with a friendly government as an “honest broker” regarding a party with whom we refused to establish relations. Those are the facts. Telling any other story is making up fabrications to fit your political agenda. This was not significantly different than dealing with a country like Libya when it was a dictatorship with whom we had no reason to want to have diplomatic relations. The Bush administration, in effect, labelled the Taliban as a terrorist organization because when they were the legitimate government of Afghanistan they allowed the al Qaeda organization to train and maintain camps in their country, and as a “state supporter of terrorists” the Bush administration blurred the lines and claimed that they too were terrorists, even though they were a legitimate government of an actual country.  Then we sent in a couple hundred special forces from the US army (Navy seals or others may have been involved, but of course, that’s “classified” information so we may never know) and rapidly deposed the entire government in a matter of a few weeks.  Chasing down Osama bin Laden took months more in Afghanistan, or rather years more, but essentially the “war” with Afghanistan had been won in the first few weeks.

Now the war is with the corruption in the government(s) in Afghanistan, and the fact that such a huge portion of the national budget is actually the Americans stationed there requiring supplies, so that the GDP of the country last year (I believe I remember the figure) it was about 40% American Aid and military spending. Negotiating a substantial “residual force” of Americans is about the only hope of the country not going into a severe economic depression when the last 10,000 soldier leave at the end of 2015. But meanwhile we have lost some 2000 lives in this longest American war of all time, almost half as many as in the whole of the Iraqi war. But the war is winding down, and as such there is no longer an excuse to hold “enemy combatants” for any reason, much less in an illegal situation where they have no rights, and on what is technically “American soil” since we have leased the land from Cuba. In my opinion, moving closer to closing Guantanamo is the more important of the two halves of the prisoner exchange, and in that respect, President Obama’s administration is the big winner.

My apologies for making this such a long entry. I had a pent up need to vent, it appears. I don’t expect everyone, or even anyone to completely agree with me, but I do hope I have prompted you to think, and perhaps even to discuss some of these aspect of the events that have been unfolding recently.

Thanks for visiting.

 

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

 

 

BITCOIN value Passes US$1 billion

Bitcoins’ suddenly significant perceived value may be news today, but this is hardly the first time for this kind of phenomenon.

Come, now, ladies, and gentlemen, please. Has no one read, or at least seen the television version of “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” by Niall Ferguson ? Paper, as a form of money was not even accepted until the middle classes merchants of the Renaissance started issuing “trade bills”, until the French government began paying their soldiers in Canada with playing card style currency in 1685 (www.econ.ucla.edu/workingpapers/wp815.pdf) followed shortly by the Ameicans in about 1690. (Not entirely coincidentaly my UCLA source says the Americans where paying their soldiers for an unsuccessful foray into Canada at that time.) It only took until about 1730 until the banks in England had a cash crunch crisis when everyone came around demanding real metal in exchange for their paper money. The point being that acceptance of any symbolic medium of exchange of value is dependent not on some underlying government but upon the willingness of the middle class to accept the value that the exchange medium represents.

There is no gold backing the value of the US dollar any more, nor is there any “concrete” value at all to the underground methods of exchange that have existed for hundreds of years

Paypal may have established a system of exchange that interacts with some banks, but their bits are no more or less valuable than their patrons (and cooperating banks) agree to attribute to them, and just like the international money market fluctuations between the “real” currency of the world can cost you more or less on that set of ruby earrings you purchased in Hong Kong today than you thought they did yesterday when you actually struck a deal with the merchant, so too, the value of a “bitcoin” may vary greatly from day to day (you should have tried to get something for your PRC RMB’s a few couple of decades ago, to know what a “nationally back currency” is worth). Hell, I can’t even find anyone who will give me more than a nickel for the 5 Euro note presently in my wallet from my last excursion to France after I forgot to exchange it at the airport before my departure.

Bitcoin may or may not have a bright future. Current bitcoin owners better hope that a few more billion of them are in broad public circulation soon, before some banking industry lobbyist gets to a few congressal representatitives to outlaw them in this country or others. And all of us should remember, that if we want prices for nickel and dime prices to reach the internet (for candy corn or software items), we should think long and hard about opposing any “software based” currency system that will promote that possibility sooner rather than later.

Sincerely,
Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. This item will likely get cross posted to my column on the American Chronicle syndicate of websites, sooner or later, if you want/need to find it again.

This was originally

POSTED on

http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/networks/bitcoin-hits-1billion

 

Obama Summit, Renewable Quiet, Chile Quake,

 

President Obama Lost His VOICE !

The good news is that President Obama has found his voice again.

In what looked like the first bit of public governing the President has ever done, (okay, a few of his speeches have been effective bully pulpit governance, too) President Obama had a “Heath care Summit” at Blair House, across the street from the White House, in which he included key Democrats and Republicans from both houses of Congress. Though it may sound like a liberally biased report (because it, quite frankly, is a biased liberal report) the Republicans did have some key “Health Care Plan” points to offer, limiting physician liability (aka “tort reform”), purchasing health insurance across state lines (a “doozey” that I’ll talk a little more about in a minute), and essentially staying out of the way of private business in the matter of insurance generally. What the President showed, and it was fairly clear that the Republicans were willing participants in their own ambush, was that the Republican “party of ‘NO’” was firm in its commitment to block all progress on the basis that they had “fundamental differences” with the objectives of the Democratic bills that have passed the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that regardless of whatever good it might do, or whatever compromises the Democratic administration and Congress might offer, they would stand firm on those principles they held.

President Obama said in summing up at the end of the summit, that “times up” and that they would work to finalize the legislation in the next month to six weeks, and if they couldn’t get some cooperation and compromise from the Republicans, well, “that’s what elections are for.” President Obama also pointed out that when credit card companies were allowed to market their products across state lines, all that accomplished was a “rush to the bottom”, meaning that all the credit card companies migrated to the states with the least restrictive rules on credit card companies, and the least protection for their customers. The conclusion (or at least the conclusion that was implied) was that without a comprehensive form of Health Care Insurance Reform, in isolation permitting an inter-state trade among insurance companies would likely result in no improvements, and more than likely a repeat of the credit card company example, even though the concept itself has merit and will also be part of the President’s proposed revisions. Indeed the President seemed to fairly deftly handle most of the “talking points” that Republicans reiterated and reiterated and reiterated again. How my wife, Maggie managed to watch all 7 hours of it, I don’t understand. On the other hand, it was one of the highlights of the day when Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the clearly false claim by John Boehner that the existing Senate bill contained the beginnings of federal funding for abortion. As Ms. Pelosi said, the prohibition of federal funding of abortions is the law of the land, and nothing in either bill does anything to change that, “You are allowed your opinion, but you are not allowed your own version of the ‘facts’, Mr. Boehner.”

I “tweeted” a link to the video highlights (from the Democrats’ point of view at least) of the summit yesterday, and here it is again, in fact, here’s the whole tweet: “If you missed the 8 hours of video on Healthcare Summit yesterday, here as some highlights http://tinyurl.com/yfjyppn “ (If you have a really speedy connection to the internet, here’s a High Definition version of some of the same summit meeting

Several parts are available, this one is “part 4” on the deficit/budget issues.)

What was accomplished by this summit? The main outcome, as far as I can tell is that the Republicans’ position is: NO, no matter what; while the Democrats finally come around to my recommended strategy which is to whip their own members into line and pass the legislation because not governing is a far greater failure than failing to please all of the people all of the time. Indeed as former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Donna Shalala said on a Charlie Rose on PBS broadcast this week, there’s a political strategy that makes any complex legislation nearly impossible to pass, it is called a “negative coalition”, in which all of the parties with some particular objection to some particular provision of a bill will form an alliance with all other opponents, and for entirely dissimilar reasons, agree to block an otherwise beneficial law from being passed because it doesn’t suit their special interest. In fact, as Ms. Shalala pointed out, this has got to stop and the recent US Supreme Court decision that corporate money contributions to political campaigns are “protected” as “free speech” the situation is, instead, going to get worse not better any time soon.

Life is Fleeting and So Is Live Entertainment

In this case, it might be more accurate to say life is Quixotic, although the particular instance was NOT the performance of the signature tune from Man of La Mancha the inspirational, “To Dream the Impossible Dream”, which for such a “showy” tune was lackluster at best. The particulars of this instance were last week at the “Pops” concert given by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra (or strictly speaking I suppose what would more properly be called the “Phoenix Pops Orchestra”) at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, of course. The conductor was Lawrence Golan, and the singer was Sean Carter Campbell. I was amazed, held in disbelief at how well he sang, “If I Were a Rich Man” from the Fiddler on the Roof . I have heard it performed a hundred times before, by actors and singers from Edmonton to New York in origin, and as ethnically diverse as Italian and Jewish, but never before with such flare, such passion and such understanding and subtlety. Even the nonsense syllables could not have been better rendered even if he had affected a Brooklyn Jewish accent. Mr. Campbell is a relatively recent graduate of the Arizona State University in Phoenix with a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance in 2006, but despite his relative youth, he has also performed at Carnegie Hall. The singing was excellent but what made it such an exceptional occasion was that he “acted” the song with consummate skill as well. Mesmerizing, entrancing, incredibly subtle in detail and definition, or at least that’s the way I saw it. Congratulations to Mr. Campbell.

Wouldn’t YOU like to Attract Attractive Women?

I have entered the “dating business” which does NOT mean I am in competition with Heidi Fleiss, I am an affiliate for several sellers of dating advice, and I am also doing “life counseling” on a private client video conferencing basis. Marketing affiliates are paid a small commission, but in at least some instances they are paid on every purchase for the life of the account, so the earnings can add up over time. (People who sold traditional insurance are familiar with this kind of earning strategy. It is not a lot for any one policy, but they accumulate over the months and years, so that they can be quite a substantial income.) I’ll let you know if it turns out to be a landslide of cash, but if it just helps a few people live happier more productive lives, that will be sufficient reward for me.

That is not to say I’m going to be a dilettante merely dabbling in matters of the heart. I hope that one or both of the new web sites will really lead to some improvements in at least a few lives. I sincerely hope that it could be a great number of people who benefit from visits to the Dream Driver website which attempts to put people in the “driver’s seat” by NOT reacting emotionally to confusing “signals” from their emotional life, whether those are conscious fears or show up in dreams. The website offers access to a free video on how to adopt that kind of attitude and approach, though personal counseling (via video conferencing) is expensive. But I expect that a great number more will be inclined to at least explore better dating experiences through the Attract Attractive Women site (attractattracivewomen.psyrk.us) since much of the advice available is also in the form of free or low cost videos like this one from Heather on one of the quickest way to get a girl’s attention.

The commonest complaint I used to hear from women was that, “all the good men are either married or gay!” It might have seemed that way to them, but the truth is that most “nice guys” don’t know how to create attraction in a relationship with a woman (or “girl”, and there’s nothing wrong with being a “girl” at any age since my wife’s senior citizen girlfriends refer to themselves as “the girls” as did my mother’s friends when she was alive). There are a lot of dating guru’s out there and most of them tell us that society has trained out of men the basics of “alpha male” attractiveness, with the very inconvenient exception of dumb, insensitive men who have little or no respect for women in the first place. On the other hand, there is also the problem that many women don’t know a “good thing” when they see it. Many men just turn all “puppy dog” they are so eager to please a women who appeals to them that they become non-mating material the moment they open their mouths. They have to re-learn how to be themselves in a way that women find more appealing, thus the nearly unlimited demand for good dating advice.

If by any chance you are one of those guys who is not happily in a relationship with a woman, by all means, check out those websites.

Party Anyone?

For some reason (or possibly no reason at all) my wife received a “survey” form from the Republican National Committee a few days ago. Since she’s a registered Democrat, she was in the process of throwing it away when I caught sight of it, and postponed its trip to the re-cycling bin. The “survey” is, in fact, fairly obviously only a minor part of the document’s function. You see, it is really a solicitation of funds form, that asks the kind of leading questions that attempt to persuade you that you support the objectives of the Republican Party, should probably “fear” the Democratic Party, and therefore you NEED to support the financial health of the Republican National Committee, preferably with the urgency and instantaneous delivery of an online registration and donation opportunity, too.

I don’t know what intelligence or education level they expect to be addressing with this “survey”. Presumably the majority of readers, like the majority of the population, are non-high-school-grads, so perhaps they assume they can pull the wool over your eyes and you won’t notice the distortion in perspective away from any facts that might surround the real issue. But let’s examine some of the questions and just how they distort.

  1. Do you agree with Barack Obama and the Democrats that taxes should be raised for the sake of “fairness” regardless of the negative impact it is likely to have on the economy?1. Commentary: Raise whose taxes? They don’t mention that the raises proposed (for the sake of “fairness”) are taxes on those earning more than US$250,000 per year adjusted gross income. Other people’s taxes have been lowered (slightly) and this increase only kicks in later to remove the tax cuts George W. Bush and his administration gave to some of the wealthiest 1% of the country in the first place.
  2. Are you in favor of the expanded welfare benefits and unlimited eligibility (no time, education or work requirements) that Democrats in Congress are pushing to pass?6. Commentary: What expansion of welfare? What bill?
  3. Do you believe that Barack Obama’s nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?7. Commentary: Notice that it says, “immediate and unquestionably approved”. No one is suggesting that the U.S. Senate be a rubber stamp approval of federal appointees, but neither is there ANY excuse for the outrageous behavior of Republicans of blocking nearly 80 of President Obama’s appointees, just to “call attention” to some minor issue.
  4. Do you believe that the best way to increase the quality and effectiveness of public education in the U.S. is to rapidly expand federal funding while eliminating performance standards and accountability?8. Commentary: Let’s see that would refer to the “no child left behind” program which was an UNFUNDED federal mandate for all states to establish standards and to show progress towards achieving those standards, without one-red-federal-cent to pay for these programs, not to mention that insisting that their only be one type of education, aimed at putting every high school student on the path to higher education (regardless of intelligence or ability, or, for that matter, disability, mental or physical) was a really BAD idea in the first place, and that “streamed” education worked rather well for 70 years of more before this “modernization” dragged the top students down while failing to bring the low and unmotivated students up.
  5. Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?9. Commentary: Let’s see, Medicare is administered by “bureaucrats” of the federal government, and it operates on an “overhead” cost of about 3% versus private insurance companies which are taking home billions in profits each year, yet apply approximately 30% to “overhead” expenses from their income. Medicare is in financial trouble, I am told, largely because it was designed to accommodate a population that was predominately young, healthy working people paying their premiums in advance of their needs for care, goods, and services and that those who did survive to an age where they were eligible to collect (as with Social Security itself) would be relatively few (a small percentage of the total population) and not live very long anyway (average age expectancy was approximately 70 years when I was a child. That has risen in the U.S. to 75.6 for males and 80.8 for females (and 78 years overall). Which isn’t a huge percent of total length of life, but when Medicare (and Social Security) begin at 65, the increase in average age has doubled the length of eligibility period for men, and tripled for women. Quickly phasing in older retirement/Medicare eligibility ages would correct a good deal of the imbalance, whether that is completely “fair” or not.

Happy Thoughts

There may not be any earth shattering breakthroughs in the world of renewable energy recently, but that is to be expected from time to time. The good news is that although Chile experienced a truly earth shattering event of an 8.8 Richter scale earthquake, comparatively few people died (something like 200 times as strong a quake as the Sylmar quake in California some 40 years ago). So the other good news is that there were no earth shattering disasters in the renewable energy field in recent days (not that I am aware of, at least) either.

Love and warm wishes,

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

http://daochienergy.com

All rights reserved Williamson Information Technologies Corp.  2008




“Green” politics can’t wait for the future

I am in a hurry today, because this is NOT my regular weekly brain dump, just a quick note to test a theory.

I hope that people are listening, but I fear they are not. I have been seeing a lot of “biofuels are a hoax” nonsense lately. Some people even try to cloak this negative publicity in the garb of scientific jargon, like “it violates Newton’s First Law” (of thermodynamics) without understanding that the systems are constantly acquiring input, which their calculations never take into account.

I have recently put up a couple of videos, including one called “Algae the Wonderfuel” that I rather like, but frankly I am concerned that all the “research” in the world is not going to get us to a practical level of actual attenuation of the problem fast enough to really be a solution. Endless political debates may actually be needed, but I, for one, think that we need to get something HAPPENING and the debates should take place on the issues to be refined, not the basic premise that we have to change our ways.

Conservation? Well, let’s see, 30 years or more ago, as personal computers were starting to make an appearance, there were all these predictions of “paperless” offices. The opposite result came about. And paper waste in one form or another constitutes almost 70% of the content of all urban (industrialized nations’) landfills.

Let’s make a SERIOUS effort to convert all the administrative work we can to being work-from-home TELECOMMUTER work. The fuel savings there will be enormous. And that means not just the fuel itself, but all the infrastructure wear and tear as well as the depreciation and actual replacement needs in terms of automobiles as well.

Take a look at the “green” videos below and see what IDEAS you come up with, and by all means, discuss it here in your comments.

(Sorry, but as I expected, this version of WordPress (or maybe just wordpress.com) won’t allow me to embed my own YouTube video player, so you’ll have to go to this page to see what I am trying to show you) (at least I hope it works there, it always amazes me how often code does not execute the same way every time). ;o)

THANKS
Love,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

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