Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PLASTIC BAGS - December 31, 2009

A strange disease of the mind has come over to us from somewhere. I encountered it when living in London. There is a campaign to get people to save their plastic grocery bags and recycle them. Those who now use them for disposing of their kitchen garbage are told that they should use specially prepared bags for that purpose, under penalty of being heavily fined for wasting. This is in spite of the fact that re-making the small, light ones requires more energy, including human effort, than making them from scratch. The attention is paid on the re-use of materials, rather than the re-use of the bags themselves. I observe that each of the big black bags carries about two or three times as much as the little ones, and uses even more plastic. And then there is the fact that many of the used bags are not suitable, due to contamination by the likes of spilled milk. And there is the cost, in money and oil, of packing the big bags, distributing them into the supermarkets and taking them home, together with the groceries in the condemned little ones. A little consideration would tell us that using the same bags twice each would save on cost, on energy, on convenience and that no bag, on average, is saved as thoroughly as the one left on the supermarket shelf and unsold. The attention to only a single feature, as well as the attention to a current idea, leaves us with a poor attention to the wrong feature of the problem. I do not think that this campaign is motivated by the desire to get people to pay for additional bags, under the illusion that they are contributing to the solution. I really do think that those pursuing the problem by a campaign of punishment are following an old folly that the answer to every difficulty is to be found in outlawing the imagined problem. That is a folly especially common in Western Europe and North America.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TEACHERS - December 24, 2009

So we have finally heard the solution to the fact that the standings of American students in the international comparison continues to fall, as measured in the master of one’s native language and the command of elementary mathematics. And the self-appointed wizards of education have put their finger on one cure-all: fire the teachers. And this firing will be put in the hands of people hired by an establishment consisting of many who know no more than the people badly enabled by the last generation of teachers. No one tells us where we will find the people who will do better in the classroom. In fact, the supposed experts have found no way to improve the facility of those being turned out by the departments of education. It is developing that very few of those who teach even in high school have qualifications comparable with a BA in Mathematics, and the situation is even worse in Physics and only slightly better in Chemistry, while the expertise of most elementary teachers of Arithmetic display no understanding of the subject better than the ability to get a good B in an 8th grade test. But many people who are themselves anarithmetic consider that they know who is a bad teacher. Worse, many of them take the word of their children and the children’s classmates. In the meantime, ever fewer of the entrants to our university know what was taken as the basis for pursuing a scientific education a mere 5o years ago. But that does not prevent them from imagining that they can make a wonderful difference by firing people the principals finger out as incompetent and replacing them with others of equally shabby preparation. People with the rare competence to handle difficult conceptual problems are lining up to get to Wall Street, not to our overcrowded, underpaid, harassed and criticized classrooms. The evidence is there for us to see. The cure-alls are just snake oil.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DEBT, AGAIN - December 17, 2009

Once again the question of debt shows up in the national confrontation and once again it becomes patent that our nation can be induced to shrink from paying our account, or even acknowledging that we must pay it. The national habit of paying with a credit card, not as a way of marshalling the means without carrying around wads of money, comes to the fore. We have seen the banks luring our children into accounts on which they can charge legendary amounts of interest, having committed the scam of admitting them to the vote but actually having made them easy targets of the money-lenders. In fact, we have learned that after the first vote, these children overwhelmingly do not bother to visit the polls, but they can be seduced into spending money they do not have, with no concern about how the accounts will be settled. What is more concerning is how many of the supposedly adults of our nation think that we can mount wars, cut taxes and run on spending sprees in our marts without any idea where the money will come from to free us from the usurers. But a nation that cannot pay for its extravagances and shrinks from the reality of debt is not one that lenders will be willing to entrust with a loan. So the unspoken words in the debate about paying the costs of our high living is that no one who has even a bit more caution than we would be willing to extend credit to us, certainly not in the trillions of dollars. And those of us who have saved for our retirement are sure to see our nest eggs crumble into dust while our government, Dem and Tory, look out for the self-indulgence of the rich, who have arranged not to be bothered carrying any of the load they have managed to inflict on all the rest of us. Those of us who do not have riches, to say nothing of those who have no jobs and no homes and no health, will be forced to bear the load of the banksters and their ilk.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

HUBRIS - December 10, 2009

As we cross the threshold into another period of imperial war, we must look back on the wisdom of the classical world and consider how we came to be impaled on the horns of yet another dilemma. The US has come through a long period when it was the shining torch of the Enlightenment, though there was always the grubby details of the human condition to mar the wonderful story of human flowering. The initial period when the rebels of the New World considered how to build a civilization eventually gave way to the Jackson Era, when the Man on Horseback started rebuilding the republic to look more like the party system of the British semi-democracy. But they were always ahead of the game, even though they did not lead, but followed, in the elimination of slavery. Eventually the temptations of power led them into the XX Century as they consumed much that remained of the Spanish Empire and we moved to replace them and the British and French Empires into the flourishing of the power of money and the money of power. Since WW II, we have styled ourselves the leaders and saviors of capitalism and when that was challenged, if only in theory, by the rise of a nation that called itself socialist, our ruling class took up the task of seeing that the threat to the power and wealth of the Robber Barons would be dedicated to bringing them down, as Napoleon was brought down in 1815. We called everyone democracies, even those that were military dictatorships, provided they were dedicated to preserving the power of the proprietor class. But we discovered that supporting every tinpot dictator in the world eventually led us into wars we could not win, even with conscription. But by that time we felt ourselves the rulers of the world, hubris had set in, and the Light had begun to go out. Now, with the riches of capitalism shrinking again under the pressure of unlimited greed, US is so consumed by the imperial hubris that even well-wishing liberal leaders are joined in a war that may finally finish the American Experiment.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

BANKRUPTCY - December 3, 2009

In the past few years, we have seen several plaintiffs take up the weapon of bankruptcy, always to their own advantage and the robbing of legitimate claimants. There was the classic case of United Airlines, in which the executives put cash for their own accounts with a financial corporation while leaving the fates of their many thousands of working people dependant on the assets of the airline. At the opportune moment, the same executives declared bankruptcy without going out of business and continued operating in the same old way. The working stiffs were left holding the bag. A similar thing happened at GM, where the incompetent front office continued in the same old way, stuffing their own pockets, spending off the means by which the workers might have had pensions, not reacting to changes in the industry, but taking care of themselves. Now the big bankers have done the same, and are already gobbling up the bonuses, and the more they take, the sooner they will call on DC for more rescues, to save the economy. At the same time, the creditor class are wringing out the little bankrupts, like college lenders and mortgagors, for money in excess of the agreed settlements in excess of the pledges. Bankruptcy has the advantage, rare in our anglosaxon society, of allowing those who make errors to start again and maybe succeed, but the creditor class has taken that decency away from those who are without power and lots of money. Meanwhile, they have taken care to feather their own nests and are busy doing it to us again. In theory, the threat of financial failure is a mark of responsibility in capitalist society that distinguishes it from the stone face of socialism, but that apparently is thought too harsh for those too big to face punishment. Capitalism has its failures, and so does socialism, but bureaucratic capitalism has all the faults of both. Welcome to the Brave new World.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

RIGHT - November 12, 2009

I was stunned last week to hear that the prosecutor in Council Bluffs has made the defense in a legal action that there is no constitutional bar to framing a defendant in a legal case, and I understand that prosecutors around the nation are alleging that they are protected by something like the sovereign immunity of States from being charged with deliberately denying a defendant a legal trial by keeping secret evidence of innocence. I have always been impressed by the supposed rights conferred by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, no doubt taken in by the immense brouhaha about the perfection of democratic law in this country, but to hear lawyers state that they have no constitutional obligation not to frame a defendant is more than even my cynical mind can bear. And yet I know that in Wisconsin the Attorney General’s office can connive in firing a professor out of tenure, which means out of the profession, with no evidence whatever except for the public reaction to a planted story in the local press. That and the Attorney General’s belief that he is a bad man. Even the law’s explicit requirement is defended on the claim that the State government can give the prosecutor leave to secure the firing even when the legal committees, both faculty and in the Regents, have spoken in explicit terms that there is no evidence against him. But if one can jail an innocent man for decades on forged evidence and claim that the Supreme Court should and will say that he has no remedy against deliberate fraud on the Court by the prosecutor puts the actions of State functionaries above the provisions of constitutional bars against State takings of life, liberty and property without due process. Opportunism of this magnitude makes a complete mockery of US prattling about democracy and the rule of law, operating very close to the rule that might makes right. Is the Supreme Court so openly corrupt?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

HOPE - November 5, 2009

It seems that Obama has shot his wad, and has little but hope to offer those who are suffering in the early stages of what appears to be the opening years of a very long Depression. Following Cheney, and listening to the self-proclaimed economic scientists of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush cabinets, Obama has dealt with the banksters with a very open hand, not knowing what they would do with hundreds of billions of Federal dollars, stalling the auto industry for a while, but leaving the States and the working class to reap the results of what the future might bring them. It has been a year now. Many of the States, pinned between constitutions that forbid deficit spending and the urgent needs of the moment, and workers, whose jobs have decreased by about 8 million, not counting those on short hours. And now there has been a trickle of recovery money and a temporary reduction of about 8 % in the number of jobless, even without counting those who have come of working age in this year. And all Obama has for them amounts to crocodile tears and Hope. But Hope delayed, as Proverbs tells us, maketh the heart sick, and hope has little to give to those whose jobs and contracts have been cancelled. The Dem party has little to offer, including many who think that they can leave the jobless to the restoration of time, rather like a farmer who is waiting for his wheat field to plant itself. And while Obama, like Hoover 80 years ago, is a decent man wishing the best for those who are suffering, he is also similarly without a program. And he is leaving the weak with little more than crocodile tears to ease their agony.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HEALTH - October 22, 2009

I have been interested in the constant comments being made about the increasing cost of health care. Like many similar comments, this fails to take into account what we buy with that money. In short, we buy our lives and our good health, where that has become possible. A notable example was the carping we heard a few years ago about the cost of MRI diagnosis. It would seem that the complainers would rather that we were without that machinery, with all its costs. What many fail to take into account is that many of the uses we put MRI to are investigations that we would never have made before, because the cost, pain and danger of the investigative diagnoses would have kept us out of the picture in certain cases. I had an instance myself where such an investigation revealed an edema in my femur, a condition that was unknown until the investigations of a certain physicist from Columbia made possible the deep picturing of the inside of the human body without cutting into the flesh. Indeed, in this case I might have taken on an investigative surgery. And it would have done no good even then, as no reputable surgeon would have cut open the bone to find the cause of the pain. It was never heard of until the invention of the machine based on Prof. Rabi’s investigations into a never-before suspected phenomenon called NMR. And now it costs some money, where before all it cost was bearing the pain of the illness. In addition, we now make some medical coverage available to people who formerly had to bear the pain without recourse, a supposed disadvantage that conservatives think we could get away with by pretending not to notice the suffering of the victims. As in many other things, it is time we were paying the cost of our new blessings. And it is well worth the cost, so let’s all stop that particular complaining.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PROFLIGATE - October 15, 2009

Much verbiage has been expended in the past week over the enthusiastic and (some say) excessive way in which the Nobel Peace Prize Committee received the nomination of Pres. Obama for that Prize. Lots of jokes, some pretty bitter, and much laughter, almost hysterical, attended that announcement. And almost everyone, including Obama’s friends and supporters, commented on the apparent haste of the action. To put it in its proper place, we must remember the position of America in the political and intellectual life of the world, and especially of Europe, over the past 250 years. It was the first nation to embody the (mostly French) thinking of the Enlightenment, and while France joined in shortly afterwards, was highly successful for the first century of its incorporation. Those who believed in the thinking of the Age of Reason could look over the ocean and behold it in operation, more or less, and yearn for its triumph. Meanwhile, France tumbled from republic to empire to monarchy throughout the XIX century while fighting its wars of imperial domination on the European continent. The Germans had a small revolution of their own that was put down quickly and many of the survivors fled to Wisconsin to found the Progressive movement. Meanwhile the dreams of the American founders were compromised by Jackson and their moral integrity tested by the ordeal of slavery. But in all of this, the Dream of the Enlightenment burned in the New World and bore the hopes and wishes of the cream of humanity. But in the past 50 years it has been growing harder for the rest of the world to swallow the Empire of London transplanted to Washington and New York. There was no substitute site for the impeccable moral leadership of the Enlightenment discarded by the American empire. So the resurrection of the illusion of the City on the Hill signaled by the election of Obama was hailed with millennial enthusiasm. Halleluiah!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

AFGHANISTAN - October 8, 2009

The news these days concerns the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to be no-win, in which the only choice seems to be between 2 unacceptable routes. Yet it is possible to expand the suggestion about buying Afghanistani poppy resin as a means to stem its use in the illegal drug trade and at the same time to provide low-cost morphine for medical use, in both the industrial and developing world. A bit of additional thought might be given to further methods to accomplish even more. It involves making Afghanistan a trading partner by paying more for the agricultural material than the illegal trade can match. A basic thought in that trade is that the heroin powder, so expensive in the supply to addicts, is far cheaper in the raw, and represents the asset that enables the Taliban to afford its costs in the arms trade. Despite the great wealth of some of their underwriters, it is hard to believe that they can keep a competition with America, especially in light of the costs of the illegal operation. If America bought the bulk of the crop and manufactured the opiates in legal factories, we should easily be able to keep ahead of the drug barons. Into the bargain, we might have found a reason why the Afghanis would want to be on the right side of US. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, we have tended to put all our reliance in discouraging antisocial conduct on the practice of extracting punishment if people don’t do things the way we think we would want, rather than by socializing them to see the benefits in voluntary cooperation. It might be, after all, that we get more favorable response from the Afghani farmers as trading partners, even at some cost to us, than in trying to force them by what we imagine is our overwhelming power to live the way our puritanical nation wants them to.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WINNING - October 1, 2009

Gen. McChristall has assured Pres. Obama that if he does not authorize a substantial rise in the number of US troops in Afghanistan within a year, then it will not be possible to defeat the insurgency there. People not trained in logic might miss the fact that he has not said that pouring in more troops WILL make that possible. Indeed, when asked that question, he carefully does not say so. So that leaves the possibility that it will never be possible to say so truthfully. That actually reflects my own opinion and that of a growing number of American people. Indeed, we should notice that in the lexicon of victory, there are many levels, some noted by the points Winning, Never Losing, Never Winning, and Losing. Indeed, the majority of Americans, and of Afghanis, seem to believe that we are stalled at Never Winning and that number seems to be rising. As it rises, we must be moving ever closer to Losing. The Cheney regime started with armed forces in deep trouble and moved them to the edge of Ruin. Based on the false belief that we could establish a democratic regime in Iraq, they have left us with the shreds of an Army and Marine Corps. With the failed effort in Afghanistan, the illusion of Winning has faded and left us only with a situation in which no one wants to be at the helm when this once proud ship sinks. The US armed forces have not had a victory since vanquishing those of the proud Empire of Grenada, an island with the area and population of Sheboygan County WI. Now Obama wants to intimidate the Islamic Republic of Iran, which he can order bombed or shelled, but dares not attack on the ground. All to resist Losing. And he can order a sanction, until someone needs their oil too much. As we shall see, I am afraid.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TIME - September 24, 2009

One of the discouraging things about time is the circumstances in which we are supposed to have plenty in which a solution to a problem may be dealt with and those in which urgent need demands immediate attention. The model for the second is the incipient avalanche where once it starts, it cannot be stopped until it fulfills its destiny, and the destiny might be terrible. The model for the other is the time for a tree to grow and provide needed shade, and little can be done to advance it. We were told that the threat to the big banks was of the first kind, and that a collapse of the 1930s variety was the only alternative to giving the bankers and their ilk everything they claimed, and right away. In the other, the action of the Administration on unemployment, and especially of their opposition, was condemned to let it ripen in the fullness of time, no matter how many decades that would take, rather like the 100 Years’ War. By contrast, I tried to impress upon the new Senator Russell Feingold the terrible corrosive effect of joblessness, and the urgency of stringent measures to bring it under control, even if at the cost of increased debt. I tried to paint the picture of the ways in which it could destroy a family’s life and even lead to illness, divorce, homelessness, mental breakdown, or even death. I failed to move him from the position that the most urgent matter facing the US Government then was the size of the budget deficit. And all this to a politician I had always supported, and do today. But to those facing the avalanche-like collapse of their link on what they took to be the earned status of an American who had faced all the things required, there were not months and years in which to correct the destruction of their economic well-being. And today the involuntarily jobless have again the greatest need facing an inert government, and maybe losing everything they had worked for, there is no time in which to let the problem solve itself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CREDIT - September 17, 2009

The noise over debt is caused by the refusal of the moneyed interests to face the bald fact that this nation, as a people, has been living beyond our means and kicking the repaymentinto the future. Some of it has been in consumer credit, some in outsize mortgages, some in bills carefully designed to be paid later, and a lot in putting off needed maintenance and repairs and chiseling on the costs of keeping our public infrastructure up to the standards we need in order to avoid crippling correction later. All of it comes as debt, to be paid off from the imagined riches we might accrue later. And all of it is treated as an attack when it is time to pay. Right now, we cannot pay out of current earnings, or at least say we can’t. So the need is to borrow the money, hopefully at a reasonable rate, and make the sacrifices necessary to pay off the debt through progressive taxation. But those whose prosperity might be lessened by paying what is owed press the fact that paying what you owe is often not pleasant, despite the fact that some of the complainers are from exactly the group whose wealth was gained by selling installment debt and lack of social responsibility. They hide the fact that failing to pay naturally shoves the cost onto those who are most in need of new social programs. These pay with losses to their jobs, to their children’ educations, and they suffer lack of health care and sometimes lose their lives to the lack of proper attention. That is where the objections to increased debt unavoidably point, and these false maintainers of fiscal rectitude look the other way “and pretend that [they] just do not see”. So much for the hypocritical talk about being unable to pay off the debt, so as to empower people to go back to borrowing from the complainers at usurious rates.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

RAILROADS - September 10, 2009

Some of the recent stories concern the building of modern high-speed railroads in US, including a stretch between Madison and Milwaukee. But when specifics are mentioned, it turns out that the greatest extent that is hoped for would bring the speed up to a level that was already obsolete over a hundred years ago. Still it is comforting to know that the goal was tempting even though this State, and this country, does not have the will nor the wherefore to consider any such enterprise. For decades, I have been advocating building such a high-speed link between the 2 cities and in recent years I realized that we could combine that with an international airport in Jefferson County serving them, all for less than no money if the airport incorporated its own industrial park. The scope of such a project was beyond the thinking of some politicians I mooted it to, who seemed to prefer that Madison remain an air-fare desert, and Milwaukee somewhat also. So the wish for the lost days of rail connection joined as pie in the sky Tommy Thompson’s nonsense of hosting the super-collider project . The French can build a high-speed RR, but not US nor UK. These countries are up to their waists in tax-reduction and dreams of imperial splendor. All genuine interest in civic advancement is dismissed as communistic. The extent of the plans is to gain back 19th Century accomplishment, and even that will fail. The cargo cults of New Guinea built what they thought were airstrips in the hope that planes would land there and deliver large quantities of consumer goods, as they saw happening elsewhere. The dream of 21st Century railroads serves the same function in US and UK. It is a wish that the tax-cutters have managed to render totally unfulfillable.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

PUNISHMENT - September 3, 2009

The stage is set for a confrontation over whether a special counsel will undertake a study of the methods used to torture detainees by the Cheney regime. On the one hand we have the AG, who has read the report of the Inspector General of the Justice Department concerning the violation of the standards of justice in US then. On the other hand there is the word of Pres. Obama that “we should look forward, not backward”. Mr. Cheney favors closing the book on what he has done, as may be prudent on his part, if not just. Many of those who took his word that they were safe doing as he wished apparently are fearing punishment, just as he seems to be. And this is a nation that is very deep into punishment, as we see in the case of Mr. Megrahi, who has been diagnosed as shortly to die and has dropped his appeal on new evidence so that he can go home and die among his kinfolk. The clamor for vengeance by US is very strong, and has swept people widely thought to be of humane persuasion. This need for punishment is strong among people who have been accused of rape and turn out, on the DNA evidence, to look nothing like the men who are much later shown to be the rapists. One explanation given is that they have been recruited to testify against the men accused on the grounds that if they do not convince a jury of the guilt of those particular men, then the prosecutors will drop the case and no one will be convicted. I am on the side that guilt is often wrongly assigned. But in the case of torture, I do think that the truth needs to be shown to the people. The Q of whether punishment should exceed the obloquy that they might have earned should be judged by what that truth turns out to be. That would be a time, if any, to eschew the course of vengeance, not now.

FOREIGNER - August 27, 2009

One of the difficult aspects of spending a lot of time in London is that I frequently find myself called upon to justify the actions of DC or else to join in condemnation of our government. The worst is when I am in sympathy with the basic orientation of the questioner but am conscious of what I take to be his oversimplifications. A great deal of what I hear is blanket assaults on what is taken to be flaws in the US character. Thus I often find that when the DC government has taken up demands by liberal foreign columnists to “do something” about a foreign situation and the actions of US are reflections of incidents in our history, then I try to draw the point that they cannot make that kind of a demand without taking responsibility for our doing it in a way that manifests our national history. Thus when Obama makes gestures or pronouncements in line with what he takes to be the understanding of US about what happened in the past, that must be expected of a leader in a nation which has been governed in the past by other men in accord with their understandings and a people that still thinks that way. An example concerns the statements of Obama based on US understandings of our history in Iran, where we and UK colluded in 1953 in overthrowing an elected government to install a military regime under the Shah, and other similar cases. Explaining US belief without subscribing to it can be taken as waffling. I t results in answering the kind of expressions like those of Rev. Wright last year. He had a position I understood, but not one I subscribed to, and I did not join in the general condemnation, nor did I attempt to justify it. It is even harder when I am abroad. It is also something like the position of soldiers who do not join in the official beliefs, but are in a situation where they are called upon to defend them, and do what they take to be their duty.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PACT - August 13, 2009

There is a notorious cause developing in UK. A young man with mental problems has been demanded for extradition by the US government and is to be handed over to those authorities for trial in the US. The charge is that he hacked into the Pentagon information system and was a threat to US security. Whether that allegation is true is not the issue in this case. The UK court in which the extradition was challenged claims that they have no discretion in this case and must surrender the person named. The newspaper stories about this do not go into the truth of the allegation, or into the provisions of the extradition arrangements between US and UK, but they were much in issue at the time the treaty was signed. It appears that the agreement between the two governments is not symmetric. If UK wants someone extradited from US, they must show that they have a prima facia case against him, as is the traditional practice in other treaties. But if US wants someone out of UK, all they must show is that the person is the one named. This is a notorious inequality between supposed allies and equals. It reeks of the domination between an imperial power and a colony. For that to be the relationship between the nations was excoriated in the press when the treaty was signed. UK, like a proper subservient, whimpered about the insult, but now the high court says only that the US has never refused to honor such a bare demand from UK, but I know of no case in which UK has tested whether they would. UK maintains a large army and navy for a poor country of 60m people and does a lot of fighting at US command, but does not maintain the dignity they pretend to on other occasions. Such is the role of subservient powers and New Labour has been one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

OPIUM - August 6, 2009

We are constantly being told that we have no quarrel with the Afghan people, but are just trying to save them from the grip of the Taleban and the drug lords who finance them out of the profits from the illegal opium trade. Yet the Afghans have shown us year upon year that they will not give up growing the opium poppies and gathering the resin for the manufacture of opium. Most of that goes for illegal heroin, but it is also a fact that there is a worldwide shortage for the production of morphine which is essential for the ease of pain and is priced outside the reach of the poor, who make up most of the world’s population of pain sufferers. And even heroin is a less destructive drug than cocaine and methamphetamine, with which it competes for customers. To top it all, the cost of buying the whole of the Afghan poppy resin, even at elevated prices, is far less than the cost of the war that we are fighting and losing, despite the false claims of US and UK to the contrary. And that is just in money, not counting the lives on both sides sacrificed to this hopeless effort at suppression. So why not just buy the whole crop and raise the population to sustainability while distributing morphine at bargain rates through doctors? The reason seems to lie in our approach to unacceptable behaviour, which our culture treats exclusively through punishment, with ever greater brutality as it continues to fail to exact compliance. The code words are that drugs are evil and the drug dealers are evil, and we will not compromise with evil, although the end of prohibition of alcohol is hailed as one of the great successes of the XX century. The dead hand of the Puritans prevents us from taking the action that would free the Afghans and hamper the drug lords, all while saving us from our unavailing struggle.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

HEALTH CARE - July 30, 2009

Following on the leadership in WI and 2 other states that expanded CHIP even without waiting for the US government to do its duty, the failure of Congress to enact Pres. Obama’s Health program lays upon us the obligation to do the profitable thing in that area without waiting for federal action. And the benefit is that it would be without any cost to the State while improving our attractiveness to the best kind of corporations we should be wooing. Those are the companies that make their profits by raising their incomes rather than blackmailing state and local governments out of taxes and cheating their workers out of adequate health care. I have proposed including businesses that will pay the full cost of employee health insurance be included in the plan for State workers. The cost to the State would be less than free, as the large group in operation would cost less in administrative expenses than a stand-alone private plan and would also offer a greater choice to the employees. In order to avoid any ad-hoc adherence by companies with especially sick workers, it should start with businesses of at least a minimum number of employees, a requirement to be slowly reduced as experience shows that it does not lead to losses. State employee unions might complain that this might result in greater premiums for their members. That is unlikely, but a guarantee to them against such increases would provide real benefits for the State, for possibly tiny costs. And it would be a real attraction to the kind of employers we really should be wanting. In time it could put us back in the higher-paid column again. When the new subscribers reached a certain mark, that group could be pared off from the State employees and run in tandem, but technically separate. It is a recipe for prosperity through progressive principles.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PRIVILEGE - July 23, 2009

The UK New Labour is finally showing some signs of being a labor party. They are looking into the question of who makes it into university and how it happens. There are several features to this issues; one of the chief ones is that of who grows up expecting to go there. These people spend a large part of their childhoods thinking not of whether they will go, but where. A child who ends up at a minor college may think of himself as only a marginal success, not to mention one that goes to a former trade school. Children that grow up with less expectation are even more victims to the boredom that legendarily afflicts elementary school pupils. Recent increases in tuition charges make the goal even more remote for people who do not have much money, especially those who are not so poor that an unwilling State will pay their passage. That is most of the working class. These children tend to lack test manuals, college entrance books and test priming. Many have no parental help in preparing themselves for the university selection marathon. Of those who do make it into a strong college, the graduates of modest schools do better, when grouped by test scores, than those from private or U preparatory schools. As a result, the entrants to prosperous jobs tend to come increasingly from upper class families, and the new charges tend to help them be barred from even trying. The attempts to balance out these factors are increasingly attacked by higher class families as reverse discrimination. And it is so also in US, where even state-assisted universities are deemed inaccessible to families with below-average wages. And in these there are many with genuine talent who are condemned by their parents’ circumstances of to be excluded from seeking prosperous jobs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

SUPPORT - July 16, 2009

In the ideology of the Enlightenment supporting the 18th Century idea of the Free Market, it was understood that obtaining labor at the cheapest possible rate was an aspect of economic efficiency. That view has been at odds with governmental support of certain essential aspects of the economy in the 20th Century, as exemplified by the program of farm support and others. In the 1930s, when the US government wanted to pump money into the rural areas, it often proved difficult to get farmers to accept the payments. Some viewed it as charity, which they were too proud to take. Of course, the same thinking did not apply to Dole, Campbell and Cargill. They were happy to take the cash and always had on hand distressed owners of small family farms to exhibit to the Congress while they stuffed the bulk of farm support into their own pockets. It was good for the nation to keep the farmers on the land and supply the fuel to support that part of the economy. In 1990, after the collapse of USSR, the Navy continued building Sea Wolf submarines whose only function was the destruction, if desired, of that country. But the overriding considerations were the wages in New London and the profits to the Electric Boat Co. The introduction of large numbers of immigrants, legal and otherwise, tends to expand the surplus of labor and act to drive down wages, in true Free Market fashion. Thus the answer to the unattractiveness of farm labor is met not by raising the wages of those workers but by introducing ever more impoverished people who would do any amount of work for any amount of money, thus preventing US workers from getting a wage commensurate with the toil that remained in field work. The same comment applies in other areas, where the effect of the many immigrants was to have them scab on each other, often being paid less than the minimum wage. This reality has been kept from the US public by the establishment press, while pretending a concern for their poverty.

Friday, July 10, 2009

BULLY - July 9, 2009

When I was 12 years old, I went to a summer camp for 2 weeks. I slept in a tent with 6 other campers and a counsellor. 1 of the other boys was bigger and stronger than the rest and was a bully. Finally, in order to call his bluff, all the others united and stood to prevent his bullying anyone. It was a lesson that has lasted me all my life. Today the US government has taken up the role of global bully. The presidents of the US, as though the designated emperors of the world, habitually make fiats out of DC calling themselves the leaders of the free world, although not all their clients are free and not all those who are more or less free are their clients. It has been especially so in the past 40 years including 2 Democrats and the current one. For a period, the French showed some spunk, reminding the world that the war in Iraq over imperial power was illegal and immoral, but the Cheney Gang pulled out all the stops, including even the ludicrous ones, like removing the words “French Fries” from the congressional cafeteria but more significantly carrying out a commercial war against Eurodisney and against French products like wine, cheese, and perfume. French capitalists came to their president’s palace to demand that their nation abandon the principled objection to the illegal war and reminded him that US companies were part of the US ownership of the world and its people. Today the US Tsar inveighs against any show of sovereignty anywhere in the world and delivers himself of the veto he seems to imagine lying in the words “the world will not tolerate”, meaning he says no. Thus he continues the policy of saying who may have an atomic program and who has the sovereign right to run their own elections, on the expectation that almost all the world, including France and even China and Russia, will do as they are commanded at the UN. Resistance against this bullying is hardly to be heard.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MOSQUITOS - July 2, 2009

I see from the internet that Dane County is suffering from a plague of mosquitoes. To a greater or lesser degree, that is the story every year, but the remedy offered each time seems to be restricted to long sleeves and insect repellents, which are far from adequate to the assault. There are things in the biological world that could make a difference, but they are not nearly free, so the WI answer is simply to bear it. Among the simplest is the fostering of animals that feed on the pests. Among these, the ones that come to mind most simply are bats, purple martins, and dragonflies. All have drawbacks, of course, but are affordable. The bats require a well insulated place in which to hibernate for the winter, and these need not be close to populations centers. Bats are prodigious in the number of mosquitoes each can eat, most notably at dawn and twilight, but also at night. If their centers were placed rurally, in areas closest to the swamps, they would not be a nuisance to people. And large colonies of bats could keep each other warm over the winter. Purple martins like to live in communal nests, and they eat mosquitoes in the brilliant sunlight. Like the bats, they would leave their droppings near the location of their multiple dwellings. Dragonflies are known in the area of New Orleans as “skeeterhawks”. It would cost a lot to breed millions, but the same swamps that raise their nymphs could provide plenty of mosquito larvae for nourishment. The US DoA raises multitudes of sterilized screw-worm flies to protect the cattle industry of the SW, so why would the safety and comfort of people not bring similar support? There are other means available from the biology of the pests, so why aren’t we investing in those for our health and safety?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PRODUCTION - June 25, 2009

In searching the economic data for signs of a possible recovery, the public press puts its emphasis on the actions of the stock market and the lending of banks. They report the growth in the unemployment figures but fail to tell us that is where the health of the economy lies, at bottom. Indeed, the millions who are skilled and eager to do the work but are sitting on their bottoms collecting insurance is the true indicator of where we are going, as their productive efforts are being blocked by actions of the private economy that seems to private industry as retrenchment. The millions of unemployed, both acknowledged and hidden, idle while important functions go untended and potential consumers are cut out of the active workforce, is a total waste. It may look like saving to GM, but to the States, which should be making use of the reserve, it is a loss of advance and a deprivation to those like GM that want to sell their products. In the meantime, activity in the Big Gambling House we call the Stock Exchange, moves money from the pockets of one punter to that of others but there is almost none going into opening new economic efforts. Despite how we reckon the GDP, no goods or personal services are being produced in the Big Casino. Putting public money into jacking up the gaming will not foster a recovery of the real economy of goods and services. And money being pumped into the pockets of those who are already deep into luxuries will not result in increases of the very commodities needed by the working people who are at the true base of our prosperity. Money invested now, even borrowed money, in health, education and research would pay good dividends in future years, but that is where everyone is cutting back, thus cutting our own throats.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

HYPOCRISY - June 18, 2009

After centuries in which US spoke for the Enlightenment in a world eager for freedom after the Imperial Era in EU, DC is now repeating the worst excesses visible in the last days of the Roman Empire and then the British and the French, and all the others. When our government and our press report on the antics of our geopolitical rivals, we love Democracy so it would make your eyes water, but when our clients do the same thing or worse we either support self-determination or just look the other way. In this week, we have seen a middle-class protest of maybe hundreds of thousands protesting the supposed stealing of the election in Iran, in repeats of the CIA playbook for riots in Chile, Panama, Kiev, Caracas, and any place where the government is not to DC’s liking. Not that I like the government in Iran, or Ukraine, but I am committed to the value of Democracy over Empire. And in the matter of Mexico’s last presidential election, the reporters of the world’s press went to bed on the election night, having taken exit polls, and announced that Obrador had won, though narrowly. The next day outgoing president Fox appeared with the announcement that the election had been won by his party’s candidate. And he made it very clear that he, as president, would deny any demand for a recount, despite the closeness of the race. And I have no doubt that this blatant stealing of the election was cleared with the Cheney regime before the announcement, and the vaunted free press of the rulers of the world had nothing to say. Maybe they were saving it all up for Iran, the obstreperous colony. As for the sanctity of the People’s voice, heard in the streets from thousands, we should remember the nearly two million people who marched in London in the hope of avoiding the Iraq War in 2003. Blair offered no quarter. There were no orange scarves from the CIA in that show.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BORROWING - June 11, 2009

The habit of borrowing to buy things we want has dug so deep into the US Way that we no longer even think that we are doing it. Even for such a minor purchase as gasoline, we pay with a credit card without even thinking of debt. If we charged it, we paid it. And for some the bill comes as an unwelcome intrusion, as though someone were picking our pockets. Of course many can pay these charges as soon as the tab arrives, but some are genuinely taken aback at the demand for payment. The bankers are there every year to induct our freshmen into this mode of apparently free buying. But some are more serious borrowers, and this goes all the way up the ladder to our governments. TT introduced the practice of pushing things into the next biennium as a way of borrowing without violating the constitution’s injunction against debt. So when Gov. Doyle entered office he faced the reality of a heavy debt left by the Thompson administration. And he has had the task of paying that debt while facing rising prices and an unwillingness of the People to pay for the money TT borrowed in violation of the law. And now we must genuinely pay, and the People have gotten used to the easy indebtedness that seduces us all. So often we genuinely can’t pay, because the debt is really so large and the economy so frail. So the only option is to put it on the cuff and actually pay it off. At least we could arrange that those who have the means would pay. But we suddenly hear from the rich a sermon about the sinfulness of debt. We are all used to the illusion that we never have to pay it off, both the gas bill and the schools tax, including what we borrowed over the last few decades. And the only alternative is not to pay it, and take the money from denying services to those who must have it, meaning the poor and the weak. But no one ever says that. They say they are against the corruption of debt, and against taxes. But that is what it comes to.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CHUTZBAH - June 4, 2009

I am constantly amazed at the magic mirror like those at fun houses, in which US sees ourselves. In this mirror we are immensely powerful, both economically and militarily. We see our president issuing orders to other states in the way that imperial EU used to deal with their retainers, if not their serfs. There seems to be no sense even in Obama that the Iranians might still retain resentment over the way Ike’s CIA participated in overthrowing (in 1953) the only reasonably democratic government they ever had. But the DC regime is still nursing their wounds over the Iranian outrage in 1973. So then they issue dicta in which the unspoken words “or else” come over, both from US and Israel. And this to a far more impressive opponent than any of those to whom each of us has lost wars in the previous decades. On top of this, US seems to be the only country that does not know that the Cheney regime has left our military in a state of total collapse, except for the services that can bomb or shell from a safe distance. The story of US economic might was already an illusion ten years ago. Obama is already stinting on the costs of avoiding a Great Depression, and even people called Dems are unwilling to borrow the money to try to reduce the disaster by a million or two unemployed. So the threat to exploit that kind of muscle is a bluff. US is already cutting back on deals that mean money and jobs to EU and China to save nickels, so who is afraid of a boycott and who is willing to join us in a boycott? Nixon was afraid of having US appear as a paper tiger, but our present stance is more like the picture of a tiger projected on a screen, not even a material presence. It is bad to come across looking weak, but it is far worse to rattle the saber one does not even have. And even N. Korea looks like it is up to calling the bluff Obama inherited from Bush.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

OBAMA - May 28, 2009

As I look on our new US government, I have a feeling like watching a movie I have seen before. There is plenty of room between Tony Blair and Barack Obama, and yet the similarities are enough to leave me uneasy, and the delicacy of the present situation is enough to invest the actions of the new Administration with greater fears for the future. When Blair came to power in UK, there was no reason to expect any great reform of the disaster that was the earlier regime, but as the tenor of the campaign raised hopes that there would be a salvational change possible, we all hungered for it. After 12 years of Tory rule a resounding victory of the Labour Party, it seemed a reasonable expectation. In short time, it seemed that our expectations were excessive, and Rupert Murdoch’s were to be fulfilled. Even 4 years later, there seemed to be no choice other than the 2p worth between Blair and the Tories. We are now over 3 months into what some believed would be a new dawn but if so, we are seeing it from the bottom of a well and falling fast. As in the case of Blair, Obama has some concern for the poorest of the poor, but no general promise for all the working people, a few of whom will not suffer too much misery. The needs of Labor seem to stand in line well after those of the financiers and the banks, and even the party of labor may not have the stomach to borrow the hundreds of billions that would be required to do something like the New Deal. And in the wreckage even some of the plutocrats might be having to swallow the demise of companies like GM, because there are not enough working class customers to keep them alive. The economic predators are never sufficiently aware that as they cut the throats of the working people, they also are killing off the customers upon whom their own welfare depends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SAHARA - May 21, 2009

Tuesday last, on NOVA, a group of NASA scientists essentially agreed that the space odyssey we have been treated to since the USSR had the gall to put up an orbiter before US had gotten to it had a most limited scientific impact, hardly warranting the peril of so many lives and such a monumental expenditure. Its benefit, they said, had been mainly in sustaining US as the leading nation. And whatever gains we have realized in the moon rocks and the wonderful pictures from the Hubble Telescope have left us with an agency that must find a motivation for further exploration, no matter the cost. In order to sustain that agency, we have pretended that the planting of a colony of human beings on Mars is somehow essential to our species, especially as we despoil our native planet and render it uninhabitable. But before we can even fantasize in that direction, we must find a way to turn our present knowledge to the needs of Planet Earth, and its existential peril. In fact, if there is any hope of ever implanting a colony on Mars, we must find the means of using our present knowledge in rendering the deserts of Earth inhabitable, including those of the Sahara, the Gobi, and much of Australia. If it makes sense to build a biosphere on Mars, then the same effort would create an incomparably bigger one in one of our deserts, and supplying it with water would be far more feasible. Keeping the air and water would be trivial by comparison, and any one of them could be an Eden compared with the best we could hope to create elsewhere in the universe. Until we can demonstrate that we can make the deserts bloom on a gigantic scale, we must recognize the talk of inhabiting other worlds as almost literally pie in the sky.

IRAN - May 14, 2009

Obama is, by superficial considerations, very intelligent and excellently educated. So when he misstates the truth in a matter of great consequence it must be assumed that he is lying. He may have subtle reasons for his untruths, but his integrity on matters of substance cannot be taken for granted. The hostility of US to Iran has its roots in the unwillingness of Premier Mossadeq to sign on to political subservience to DC in the 1950s in the matter of the cold war. As a result, the Dulles brothers (John and Allen) came to Eisenhower as the first act of his administration to get him to ally himself with UK in a plot to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and install a military dictatorship under the Shah. It was Iran’s only democratic government and the consequences continue to this present day. Thus it has been only one of the governments that have availed themselves of atomic weapons and the pretense that they are outstanding in this matter is a deliberate deception. The truth is available in the public record. At a time when we have are genuinely concerned at our outstanding exposure to the unreliable, atomically armed government of Pakistan we continue to pretend that the desire of other states to atom bombs is a unique defiance of the world’s will (meaning the frequently stated demands of the US in the UN). This is only one of the many instances of the demand of US to be considered ethically flawless and supported by the political myths of the US and the agreement by other states unwilling or unable to demand the truth. We need to deal with Iran on the basis of the record, not the concocted stories our government tells to justify its supposed adherence to principle.

POWER - May 7, 2009

Now we are facing a new incursion into our environment, as well as our wallets. The grid lobby wants to extend the power grid. That will cost a pile, which we will end up paying for in our electric rates, as well as much money pumped into the pockets of cronies and underlings, and also profits. Don’t forget the profits. And they want to continue stringing their wires all over our skies. And to top it all, it is unnecessary, well nearly so. The journals on saving our energy and also our money have been following the benefits of combined heat and power, which is something like the new power plant on UW campus, only cheaper, less onerous, and more efficient. Instead of generating power and sending the heat where it can be used, which involves digging up the streets, laying insulated pipe, and still losing heat to the cold outdoors, we could install gas-run power plants generating power in our basements and circulating surplus power to the grid. Then we could run this system just to the amount that we need heat in our houses, which is plenty in the climate of WI. Also the wires for distributing the excess power already exists, except that we usually send the electricity only one way. At the same time, individual houses would be able to generate power and heat under the rare instances when the weather denies us both from time to time. There is a company in WI that builds a unit that would work fine for individual houses here, and others in Europe and Japan that do much the same thing, at varying prices. Even at high US prices, the return on getting both heat and power from the same gas would mean a decrease of about 30% on the combined bill, and far less heat lost into the atmosphere. I brought this to the attention of MG&E several years ago, but was unable to bring the two sides together. I guess MG&E was possibly more interested in the juicy profits to be had from stringing high-tension wires all over our countryside. In the meantime, the journals I mentioned are telling us of the same idea being used profitably all over the world. The alternative still exists, and is better than ever.

TRUTH - April 30, 2009

Obama wants a commission to come up with the truth about what US did to its detainees and who authorized it and how. He has more or less promised that those whose motivations were exclusively the pronouncements of the legal office at the White House would not be punished, Nuremburg precedents notwithstanding. But as for those who may have chosen to ignore the Constitution, giving as authority their having spoken the word “war”, he has indicated that the AG must pronounce on the validity of their excuse.

Cheney has spoken to keep the truth from the US People, saying that his use of the word “war” confers upon him and his underlings the authority to do whatever they say they need in order to protect us. Some on both sides say they know all they need to pass judgment, but I say that until we know with more certainty what was actually done and before we validate the authority of office-holders to grant themselves cartes blancs we should not extend the Eichmann defense to those who hire and fire those who are said to advise them on their right to go around the supreme law of the land. Even those under military discipline are said to be obliged not to go beyond certain limits, but we do not know what they are. The US People must be careful about what we tell the world our word is worth. After decades, it seems the German People have accepted that there are limits to making excuses for inhuman behavior, which puts them in a position morally superior to that of the Japanese and if the US People decline even to castigate those who went beyond the limit, we will have to live with the opprobrium of Humankind. And in some of those cases, even opprobrium leaves us with the mark of sin and leaves us contaminated before the world.

OBAMA - April 24, 2009

When I was over in UK, I was asked endlessly how I liked Obama. I answered that I preferred him greatly over anyone else nominated recently and that was taken, accurately, as faint praise. My major objection was that he did not seem up to the weight of the task, and that was more in sorrow than in anger. Explaining my hesitation, I compared him to a kindly doctor steeped in the wisdom of the past generations, but not up to the brilliant surgeon upon whom the life of the patient depended. I concede that he expresses himself in terms redolent of most of the ills of the age, but I foresee decades of human waste and economic sloth as a result of the failures of the likes of Larry Summers and Milton Friedman (not to mention Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan and even Ayn Rand). And the result of decades of close embrace of the profession of economics by the large corporations via the business schools has left us with a religious faith in the automatic free market that was already threatening us with economic collapse nearly a century ago.

From those lessons we have been turned by the power of corporate greed. Just as in the age of Louis Pasteur and Paul Ehrlich over 100 years ago in medicine, the received wisdom of the Profession is wrong and again there are millions that will pay with their lives for the simplistic belief in the received wisdom. The faith of the 18th Century is not sufficient to deal with the flexible machinations of those who think that simple maxims would carry us through the consequences of greed and predation run wild. Even the New Deal would not carry us through the panic that is just starting. We need more and better today. We need a smarter, more flexible man than FDR and those (alas) are very few and far between.

BASICS - April 9, 2009

It was amazing to hear the reports of Obama and PM Gordon Brown pronouncing on the supposed triumphs of G20, emphasizing as great gains the small adjustments in the neoclassical model that would once again enact some of the gains after the 1st Great Depression in the new hopes of avoiding another, or at least dissolving the one we are now having. Both beamed with righteous glory when they asserted that none of the tamperings with the basics would touch the rock foundation found in the Free Market and Globalization, ignorant that the manifestations of these righteous-sounding ideas were the very roots of the system that had eroded FDR’s New Deal to the point that a na├»ve reading would tear down the weak dike built 80 years ago against a repeat of the troubles that were bedevilling that time. By the Free Market they meant that each person must be free to pursue predaciously their greed in a manner limited only by law and that they must be free to enact and change the laws by use of whatever wealth and power they had at their disposal. By Globalization, they meant the system that had enabled them to seek out the cheapest labor to be had on the planet and to use it to impoverish the working class and the system of economics they had wrestled out of the last Great depression. And Obama and Brown spoke these principles in such warm tones that they gave every impression of delivering holy writ. So it is hard to imagine what change of heart short of a divine transformation could lead us to exceed the repairs of the 1930s, and none to reach beyond them. Everyone alive today must thus anticipate years of this collapse followed by another forgetting and another Depression 80 years from now.

JOBS - April 2, 2009

When Henry Paulson and his pals told Obama that he would have to dump hundreds of billions on the banking corporations or the country would sink, Obama did not stop to fiddle with the details or to put limitations on how the money would be spent. A large portion of the remaining assets of those companies was parcelled out to Paulson’s pals and cohorts, safe in the knowledge that US would raise whatever was called for to keep them afloat. The auto companies were only a bit more questionable, and the new secretary of the Treasury did offer a deal to buy up the toxic mortgages on the basis of winnings to private billionaires, if any, and losses to USA. We still have hopes that Congress might put its kebosh on that one-way deal. But in the meantime, the States are struggling, CA and WI being 2 examples. There was no running to give them several billion on account while DC mulled over who would get more, and no sense that if a number of States, or even CA all alone, collapsed it would be US that would have to pick up the pieces, and probably bigger pieces than the failure of the banks’ holding companies. The money that vanished from the supposed impregnable bonuses would clearly have been spent anyhow by the billionaires, while the failure of the housing industry is decimating the consumer economy. Still, DC does not hear the pains of the electricians and plumbers as clearly as those of the billionaires, who have representatives in the Administration. And we will have to keep the building tradesmen afloat with unemployment insurance while they do nothing, a cost we do not have in the money manipulators. The banking executives we could safely leave to the vengeance of their stockholders, but the builders are needed a building.

BANKING - March 26, 2009

Barack Obama behaves as though he believes that the only way to put money in the hands of those who will lend it to consumers like those who want to buy houses and cars is to pour huge amounts of it into the pockets of those who have stolen billions from the US taxpayers. In fact that is plainly not the case, except that the US Treasury seems to be in the hands of the pirates. As I read the papers, US is covered by small banks and credit unions who are on sound ground, have not participated in the mortgage scam and who have customers eager to borrow money to buy such things as homes and cars, and there are banks that would be glad to borrow money from the Treasury at the tiny rates that are available to the banksters. For example, borrowing money from US at 1% and lending it to reliable customers at 6% should be attractive for those bankers who know their prospective lenders and can make a good guess at who would be able to pay it back. The papers say there are plenty of credit-worthy customers who just can’t get the money.

So I say the hell with the pirates. US should go closer to the grass roots and turn our backs on those who made the trouble. The small banks would carry some of the risk of non-payment, but who knows the local territory better? Builders could get foreclosed properties cheaply at auction sales, clean them up and sell them at a reasonable rate, and the banks could provide the mortgages. Car dealers could have the money to lend to customers. In a similar vein, US could lend money at about 6% to pay off the consumer loans of those who are now paying usurious rates, providing they would surrender their credit cards. That would clear a lot of decks in a hurry and put the money back in the hands of the People.

COLLEGE - March 19, 2009

A recent development in the party that calls themselves Labour in Britain is the bill to remove the limit on tuition fees, allowing the stresses of the labor market to put the privilege of higher education on the block for sale to the highest bidder. Already we see colleges describing themselves in terms appropriate for a department store, where the ruling paradigm is that the customer is always right. Although the unlimited fees apply only to the rich, it is surprising how little incomes remains in a family before they are ineligible for substantial decrease in tuition charges and how little it takes to defeat any claim for a fellowship due to need. Indeed polling data shows how many people think of college as beyond the reach of their children and available only by undertaking crushing debt, money beyond what they feel they can spare after dealing with ordinary household expenses. Indeed, the middle half of the income pyramid consists of families who think of college for the children as out of reach. And as the decision makers see themselves as those who can afford the cost, the genuine intellectual underpinnings of higher education are the bars to that education of ever fewer among those whose families can pay the bills, and a perversion causes those who can to think of a prestigious diploma as the natural right of whoever can manage to pay the financial costs. And the thought of attaining the level of subtlety appropriate to delicate thought is dismissed as elitism, more like the purchasing of fancy clothes. And surprisingly, even elementary and secondary schooling is also subject to the same thinking in increasingly many school boards. So those districts and school committees who are not driven by genuine intellectual commitment may find that only the richest can obtain the fruits that are said to be the heritage of all.

CHANGE - February 26, 2009

Einstein is credited with noting that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is a sign of mental incompetence. When will we learn the folly of giving over the control of our national economies to people chartered to fill their own pockets results in flights of opportunistic greed that cause near-infinite calamity every so often, with the exact length of the periods between collapses being a random event dependent on the exact stability of a house of cards? And why do the maniacs repeat each time the line about its being different this time? Yet every mention of any plan to put the control of the indispensible factors of the economy in the control of public officials who have no personal financial interest in the volatility is met with screams of “Communism”. So even Barack Obama, who is reputed to be very smart, repeats the line about needing to have the banks in the private hands whose own incomes are dependent on taking chances for which the public must pay in case of failure. Some take comfort from the illusion of increased regulation, yet we have learned that every pirate subject to regulation eventually comes to control the regulators, as we see so clearly in supposed federal regulation of the pharmaceutical racket. The only way to have public control is by having all the day-to-day business in the hands of civil servants. That must bear the possibility of corruption, but nothing is as corrupt as the mismanagement of people who are raised on the maxim that their private enrichment is the legitimate first goal of any manager. And whose second goal is the enrichment of their stockholders. They call it “incentives” but the people in the street here in UK have invented the word bankster to indicate what they think of it, and there is no telling what will follow when their tired patience is exhausted.

EFFICIENCY - February 19, 2009

As I listen to the British Prime Minister describing the economic fetishes he is pledged to support, and which I believe he genuinely worships, there are two that seem to be revered by all or most of the economic gurus of the capitalist world. They are a dedication to the belief that tariffs are destructive of economies and that the principal benefit of globalization is the efficiency of the world’s productive effort. In these beliefs, they are followed by whole armies of people with economics degrees repeating the sacred mantras of what they call the Free Market. And since they call themselves scientists, and even fortify their claim with the purchase of an annual award that they pretend is a Nobel Prize, they get a lot of support from people with power to expend in the doing of Good Things. But a look at the major results of globalization show that the claim of increased efficiency is no more and no less than the success of manufacturers and others in getting the jobs of prosperous workers done more cheaply by much poorer people, often at earnings that border on slave wages. The claim that this transfer is motivated by philanthropy is transparently self-serving. The visible truth is that the same amount of product or slightly more is being created with a smaller portion of the price garnered by the working people of the world. Thus, as the nominal value of the goods grows from year to year, the workers who create it are taking home less and less. This serial impoverishment of the global working class is called efficiency, even as some of the product is notably inferior to what we had before, as is manifestly the case in the phone-answering services. So when we are offered the argument that this impoverishment of the world’s workers is the result of a law of nature, many are not up to refuting it, including the US President and the British Prime Minister.

CAPITALISM - February 12, 2009

In the wreckage of the neoclassical idiocy, one might hope to detect some understanding that the model of capitalism that dominates the world’s economy these days is in need of fine-tuning in the direction of socialism to prevent continuing repetition of the boom and bust cycle that has now reached one of its episodic cataclysms. Rather than continue in the same direction with the ignorant hope that it will somehow lead to a different end, we see all the major players in the world economy looking for a quick fix that will somehow make it be 1965 again. Yet it must be clear that greed and predation are not a recipe for a fruitful and well-managed economy, no matter how much the plutocrats seek to continue to pull the wool over the eyes of the onlookers. While it is true that socialism on the pattern of the Soviet Union has its problems, so does capitalism. But bureaucratic corporate capitalism, in which greedy predators run corporations owned by a diffuse body of stockholders, has all the vices of both. We see it clearly in the banks, in which short-term gains wind up in the pockets of the executives, while losses must be borne by the stockholders or, in the worst cases, by the public at large. One might think that a sane public would come to realize how it is being abused, and socialize the giant corporations at least. But the plutocrats seem to be able to keep the blinders on the public and their leaders, so that the old untruths continue to dominate the thinking of those charged with finding our way out of the pernicious maze. A public bank, operating through small local banks as agents and dealing in public funds at a reasonable profit and paying sane wages, could surely do better than the kind of piracy we have just been witnessing. But Obama and Gordon Brown and the other leaders of EU nations seem chained to the idiocies that have carried us to this new Depression.

ANGER - February 4, 2009

It is wonderful how much I can learn about the US by watching Britain go through similar problems. Right now, I am watching the tide of anger sweeping across Europe in the wake of the collapse of the world’s finance and banking systems, much of it attributed to the hanky-panky of irresponsible banking originating in the predatory security manipulations around the mortgages in the US. All arose as part of the entrusting of the management of credit And to top it off, the winnings have disappeared, probably into the maze of money-laundering that the plutocrats arranged for themselves as tax dodges, in places like Belize that use their sovereignty to guarantee anonymity to the depositors of their banks. This money-laundering racket is at the heart of what the British call financial services, which has become this nation’s bread and butter since they stopped bothering to manufacture any actual things that anyone wanted to buy. Now into the mix of vanishing jobs and collapsing economies, comes a continental company to grab up some of the few left, in the building of a refinery, while the British workers who could do the work are displaced by more desperate ones from Eastern and Southern Europe, who are easier to intimidate and who have none of the worker rights the Brits have built up for themselves in the course of the turbulent XX Century. When the Brits scream in pain over this loss, the party that has the gall to call itself by the name of Labour reads them the riot act, pointing out that the deal they have made with the continental powers guarantees employers the right to the cheapest and most docile workers they can find anywhere on this continent. It masquerades under the name of freedom of movement for workers, just as the Right to Work laws in US guarantee not the right to a job but the liberty for the employers to smash unions and hire scabs. And all this is covered by endlessly repeating the lie that the Depression was caused by protectionism. But it does not look like the British workers will sit still for this latest betrayal.

NAFTA - January 29, 2009

Once again NAFTA was in the news recently, as representatives of the governments of Canada, US and Mexico met to celebrate their great accomplishment and polish the edges of the accord. They announced that it had been a triumph, and good for all the nations involved. The validity of the statement depended on whom they were in fact speaking for, i.e. whom they thought of as the nations. The one sure thing is that the cost of manufacturing and processing had gone down. That was due entirely to the lowering of the wages paid in each process. In short, the total labor bill in the three countries had been cut. And since no one would have gone to that trouble if the whole saving had been passed on to the consumer, that must have meant that the employers had taken some of it, in fact most of it, for themselves. And even if only some of the consumers were the workers that had drawn the lower pay, the cost to them would have been greater than the benefit, with the difference going to the employers and the non-working public. This kind of quantitative thinking was not evident to the working people generally. They, like most of the rest of the public, are mostly not arithmetic and have difficulty following a long line of logic, especially if it involves numbers.

What is especially poignant is that in each of the three countries, the proprietors’ press had portrayed the trade-off of as the workers in each profiting from their intrusion into the natural market for labor in the others. Like every successful scam, the mark was convinced that he was a junior partner with the con in victimizing someone else. And the economists, who are largely sufficiently numerate to understand what is going on, either don’t bother to make the calculation or keep quiet about their results. And the calculation is only made by the unions, who are successfully ignored.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

BANK SHOT - January 22, 2009

The Royal Bank of Scotland is one of Britain’s biggest banks and has been a recipient of major government money, to the extent that the Government now more or less owns 70% of it, but that is not enough to keep them in business. They just announced losses of another L 5B, and the Government is going to bail them out some more, to the point that it does not make sense to allow them to remain in private ownership. The stocks, which up to a few months ago were selling for over L 5, have sunk to just 11p, which is just about 15 c. In fact, it is the opinion of most financial commentators that their actual value is negative, but the price represents a gamble that the Government can be harassed to pay more than that as the cost of buying them out instead of seizing them. Seizure is a lengthy and messy business and the Labour government is very touchy on the issue of whether they are sufficiently friendly to business. An example of this was seen in the collapse of Railtrack, the company that was created when British Rail was split into a number of separate companies, one to own the rails and real estate and others to run trains over them. BR had run a deficit of L 2.5 B per year, and Thatcher had told the nation that private ownership would make a profit instead. In fact, all those companies required subsidies to keep in business, with Railtrack alone getting L 6.5 B yearly. So instead of letting them run into the ground, which would have meant a discontinuing of train service while that company pretended they could get things together, the Government pulled the plug and renationalized them. They screamed so loud and long that finally Gordon Brown, then head of the Treasury, gave in and paid them a hefty ransom to shut them up, and even that didn’t do it. So now everybody knows about the ransom game and the Government has the reputation of being a pushover. All the commentators agree that if they are too fierce on the bank, all the country’s banks will collapse as soon as the bankers start yelling Nationalization, which they use like a magic spell whenever their hostage game is about to be trumped by government action. You’re supposed to fear the ghost of Joseph Stalin and give up. It works like a charm. The British people can’t afford that kind of superstition, and neither could we.

TRAGEDY - January 8, 2009

I have mentioned earlier the similarity of the rise and prospective fall of the US to the model of tragedy given to us by Aristotle. It began with the rise and glory of a worthy
hero, who would be brought down by hubris, the unforgiveable sin of being too big for
his breeches. The history of the US seems almost to fall into the Aristotelian pattern. It is almost divided into five acts, each about 50 years long. In Act 1, the nation is born as the
political embodiment of the Enlightenment, to the plaudits of learned and sensitive people in EU and grows in strength and glory as EU descends into a century of war. In Act 2, as EU fights its imperial wars, US takes on the challenge of secession and defeats it, and then grows to the Pacific Ocean. Act 3, the climax of the play in Aristotle’s model, sees US emerge as a major power, arising from the Great War as prime among the empires of the world and in Act 4, as the Arsenal of Democracy, seems to lead the world into a period of peace and prosperity, although the Cold War, a challenge to its supremacy, seems containable. In Act 5, the small clouds that have accumulated since the Civil War finally coalesce in a debacle of imperial failure, leaving both the armed might and the economic strength of a formerly admired system lurching into military and financial disaster, the condition named by Aristotle as catastrophe. In all this, the sin of hubris clouds the eyes of the Hero to the limits of its power and leads it into excesses of imagined invulnerability. When nearly half of the nation yielded the White House to a man of no worth whatever, save only the virtue of seeming more human and less wooden than Gore, who himself exhibited only the virtue of being less ignorant and irresponsible than W, secure in the belief that it didn’t matter who was President, it set the stage for that catastrophe, whose middle we now see. It could be the beginning of the end.