Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Super Delegate problem and Bernie Sanders

I've been busy with Twitter lately and I've noticed quite a bit of support for Bernie Sanders on Twitter. I've added many Bernie supporters to my Twitter following list - that is, I'm following them for the news about Bernie.

I got a tip from one of my friends on Twitter about a website called Bull Moose Nation. This Bull Moose Nation models itself upon the original Bull Moose Party of 1912. That party was the party of Teddy Roosevelt, a populist who had the same goal in this country then as Bernie Sanders does now:
“To dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day”
— Bull Moose Party Platform, 1912
This is what I know of Teddy Roosevelt, a man dedicated to preserving our natural resources, cutting the ties of private control from government and serving the public interest. The irony is that he was a Republican then.

Let me give you an idea of how much things have changed. While Roosevelt would have fought to preserve the national parks, the Republican clowns in Congress have passed a bill to make it easier for energy companies that burn coal to dump coal ash into directly into water sources. They want to return the regulation of the coal energy companies back to the states, as if that would make things better. Somehow, I have my doubts.

Bull Moose Nation has brought to light a very interesting and compelling problem: getting the Super Delegates in the Democrat Party to support Bernie Sanders (I would use the term "Democratic Party", but Super Delegates are anything but democratic). Much like the Electoral College, the Democrat Party has Super Delegates that can vote for whomever they please rather than who the people want. This is all explained very nicely in this Bull Moose Nation video and in their website at this location

The summary is this:
In the 2016 primary 747 of the 5,083 total delegates are superdelegates.  What this means is that in a worst case scenario where Bernie Sanders cannot get any of the superdelegate votes he will need almost 59% of primary voters to vote for him.
And they explain the problem with an observation from the past election with Hilary Clinton in the fray:
The irony is that no one knows about this problem better than Hillary Clinton.  When she ran against President Obama in 2008 she won the popular vote counting the ballots in Michigan - it was the superdelegates who ended up making the decision. She was unable, however, to secure the needed superdelegate votes and lost the nomination as a result. The Bernie Sanders campaign is vulnerable to falling into a similar trap since the majority of Democratic Party leaders having been falling in behind Hillary Clinton. If we as a public truly believe that Bernie Sanders is the man who will best represent us, the first step that we need to take is making sure that he gets the nomination.
The solution? Double Down for Bernie! Bull Moose Nation estimates that we will need at least 8 million additional primary voters nationwide to ensure that Bernie is nominated. If we're going to elect Bernie, we will need to gather our forces and bring them to bear against an enormous establishment opposed to such a possibility. That means getting people registered to vote and getting them to the polls for the primaries. Bernie needs to win in the primaries to get a shot at the nomination at the Democrat Convention next year.

I know, it seems daunting, but somehow, this country managed to elect a black man with a Muslim sounding name, apparently against the odds. 

We need to also remember that the right of nomination has already been stolen from us by the 1%. The 1% believe they are exercising the right of nomination with Hilary. Through a grass roots effort, we can call up the votes we need to restore the right of nomination back to us, the people. This is just (a big) part of what we need to do to get Bernie elected as President. Together, we can make it happen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Punishment, reward and addiction

I'm still thinking about what I've learned from Dr. Ross Greene, Ph.D at Lives in the Balance. Dr. Greene has made some very interesting observations about kids that I've applied to my own life. I can tell you that in the short time that I've watched videos and read the tour there, my attitude has changed completely and I've developed new habits as a result. To summarize, I'm making a shift from punishment and reward for my kids to helping them solve problems.

I had this experience last night with my daughter Emily, who is two years old. She takes a bath every night and with that bath she has discovered the magic of a cup. She can fill the cup with water by submerging it and then pouring it out. In the past few nights, she has found a problem she wanted to solve: Can she empty the bath tub with the cup by filling it with water and pouring it out into the bigger tub surrounding the little tub she was in over and over until the tub is empty?

In the past, I would have interrupted her with the excuse that her quest would take too much time and we really need to get her to bed to sleep. I've done that and have had drama instead. Last night, however, I let her run her course. I let her see that when the water gets too low, it's harder to fill up the cup and at that point she lost interest, handed me the cup, stepped outside the little tub and dumped the water out. Problem solved.

Better yet, she had the satisfaction of learning the solution to the problem that she wanted to solve and can more easily move on to something else. I suspect she will want to try it one or two more times again before she gets bored and finally moves on. But I found that letting her have that experience demonstrates something very important: she can find her own motivation from the inside. I don't have to do anything to motivate her.

I only need to present a quiet, safe and nurturing environment for her to learn from it. She is already motivated and she only engages in drama when the environment presents demands that are beyond her ability to adapt to. This is not a question of motivation, it is a question of skills. As parents, our job is to teach kids the skills to adapt to the environment, not to punish them for failing to adapt.

In my move away from punishment and reward I have realized profound and lasting benefits from that experience, one being an almost complete absence of drama with my daughter.

There is another aspect of the punishment/reward philosophy that has become apparent to me in the past few days: punishment/reward leads to addiction. The punishment/reward philosophy leads to a dependence on external stimulus for motivation. In other words, if I engage in punishment and reward with my kids, I'm saying that they will find their motivation from me, not from inside their own heads and hearts.

A person raised on punishment and reward will spend the rest of their life going from stimulus to stimulus to find that reward instead of finding his own motivation to act from the inside. This also includes the motivation to manage and control impulses. Addicts cannot control their own impulses. Healthy people can.

Addicts can be addicted to many different stimuli for the reward, sex, drugs, money and people, to name a few. Here's the rub: we have no control over people, places and things. It is far easier to find peace and contentment from inside through our own motivation to do so than to depend on anything else outside. You know, like making a choice to be happy with what we have now rather than to be constantly seeking a hit from people, places and things.

Making a decision to be happy is a sign of maturity. Being grateful for what we have now is actually a skill. It's something we learn from our parents, mentors, friends, family, spouse and if we're lucky, our children. No matter what our disposition, it is still up to us to make a decision to be happy.

I know this because I've seen very wealthy people flit from thing to thing seeking that hit and just making a miserable time of their lives. I've also seen people of very meager means find happiness. Finding happiness is not just a decision, its a skill that we must learn in life so that we're not so dependent on people, places and things for it.

As a member of this culture, the one we call America, I see that so much of our culture promotes dependence on people places and things for our happiness. Buy this and be happy. Drink this and be happy. Wear this and be happy. Watch this and be happy. Send brave young men and women to war and be happy. Send those other people to prison and make them change so we can be happy. See where I'm going with this?

Our culture is all about addiction to people, places and things, and the only way we're going to get our next fix is by keeping all that stuff ready for our next hit. But if we learn the skill of finding happiness we can wean ourselves off the dependence of those people, places and things.

It seems to me that every form of therapy, from 12-Steps to Jung, is designed to teach us the skill to find happiness without dependence on other people, places and things to change or stay the same. Every addict requires someone else to change or stay the same. Every addict requires something to change or stay the same. Every addict requires some place to change or stay the same.

In the broader context, when I read about people doing really nasty stuff to other people, including war, I see that event in the context that one group of people want anther group of people to change. I also see war never ends because you can't change people.

People decide to change on their own without any help from anyone else - change is automatic. People change when they learn a new skill, like how to be happy. The diversion of our country's great resources from teaching and learning skills to war is evident in the shape of our economy.

That diversion is the great tragedy of our country. We went to war when we could have rebuilt our crumbling bridges and highways. We could have built more schools and hired more teachers. We could have built more hospitals and trained more nurses and doctors. We could have built a pervasive fiber network sea to sea, an internet for everyone here. We could pay tuition for everyone who wants to go to college. All for the cost of two wars.

As a people, a nation and a culture, we must learn to find happiness from the inside or we shall surely perish. Finding that happiness is a skill that we must learn and teach our kids. When we can move away from punishment and reward and focus on the skill of finding our own happiness, then and only then shall we know everlasting peace. That is the problem we must all solve. Together.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

States' rights vs the DARK Act

How interesting. In Utah, we have 4 representatives in the House and all except one voted yes on The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, aka, The DARK Act, an act that would preclude state and local governments from requiring food with genetically modified organisms to be labeled. All of them are staunch supporters of "states' rights", yet 3 of them voted yes on a bill to consolidate the power to require such labeling into the hands of bureaucrats in the far away land of Washington, D.C.

They are likely to be joined soon by Senator Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, two Senators who claim to be staunch supporters of states' rights. But when it comes to this vote, states' rights go out the window. And it's not just with Utah, without question, a Red State. The vast majority of Republicans in the House voted yes on HR 1599. Here is a screenshot I found floating around the social media networks to show the final tally:

Of 246 Republicans, only 12 voted no and 4 didn't vote. The Republican rhetoric and voting behavior is about supporting states' rights and how the federal government should let the states alone. Not with this vote.

It is sad to see so many Democrats vote in favor of this bill. Maybe they have been swayed by campaign contributions from the people who deign to write public policy in spite of everyone else, the 0.1%. If you want to know how your representative voted, you can get the full list of of the vote here, at eatlocalgrown.com.

This vote shows in very clear relief the hypocrisy of the states' rights advocates in the House because HR 1599 would reserve the right to require labeling of GMO foods to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of the federal government. Compare this vote to their animosity pointed at the FCC when it comes to broadband. When it comes to broadband, their attitude is states' rights or bust.

What is the motivation for this kind of public policy? GMOs are patented and the royalties accruing from those patents are the result of an enormous government intervention in the market. This is not the free market at work. This is the government essentially handing over our money to companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer. Those companies make money from crops that are modified to withstand their pest and weed controlling chemicals. They also tell us that those foods are safe, but when asked about food safety, they point to the FDA for answers.

Patents are offered as an incentive to inventors to share their inventions so that others may license the patent and propagate the benefits of the patented invention. In most cases, inventions are proudly labeled as patented by their inventors. They are righteously defended when copycats fail to pay their royalties on the use of a patent without license.

Yet, the people who modify genes in seeds for profit strenuously object to and vigorously fight any effort to require labeling. Why? They fear that people won't buy their food if they are labeled as "GMO". States and municipalities that wanted GMO labeling passed their own laws to get what they couldn't get from the federal government. The intent of this bill is to preempt state and local laws that require GMO labeling, concentrating that power into the hands of a few well placed former employees working at the FDA.

Groups like The Non-GMO Project and Just-Label-It oppose HR 1599 for the reason that the bill was written for the food manufacturing industry, not for the consumers. To get an idea of the advocates for the bill, here is a letter from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food (PDF), urging Congress to pass HR 1599. Read the letter then check out who signed it - nothing but corporations and associations of food manufacturers who see nothing but money in this bill.

Now who is this Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food? Those same business organizations, none of which are grassroots organizations of consumers that want strict labeling of GMOs.

So for Congressional conservatives, states' rights are only important if business interests are served. As far as they're concerned, consumers can take a hike. Why? It's OK to deceive consumers by withholding information about the food on the shelf as long as there's a check in the mail.

Friday, July 24, 2015

If you want GMOs labeled, now is the time to act

I am an advocate of GMO labeling. "GMO" stands for "Genetically Modified Organism". A genetically modified organism is an animal or plant with genes that have been altered in some way other than breeding. Breeding is what man has been doing for thousands of years to encourage desirable traits in plants and animals for agriculture. Genetic modification is a direct change of the genes in a plant or animal through some other means.

GMOs have been around since the late 80s. I read a book about them in high school and was fascinated that these molecules could do work without anyone telling them what to do. Molecules such as DNA and proteins give us life. DNA codes for proteins, and the proteins do the rest of the work. The entire process of life has one central, overarching purpose: to keep reproducing DNA. That's it. We are a product of that process.

Even though I read about GMOs in high school, I didn't really form an opinion about them in food until a few years ago. GMO food has been around since the early 90s. GMO corn and soy were quietly introduced into our food supply without consent from the majority of the world's population. No labels were provided.

In the last decade, particularly within the last few years, there has been a fast growing awareness of GMOs and their impact on our environment and our health. It is becoming very apparent that we cannot assess the positive impact of GMOs with any particular accuracy. On the other hand, we do know for sure that glyphosphate resistant crops have encouraged farmers to use much more glyphosphate to kill weeds in their crops. Glyphosphate is now pretty much everywhere, and that is just one example of how GMOs are used.

Glyphosphate is the active ingredient in the Monsanto product known as Round-Up. We generally refer to glyphosphate resistant crops as "Round-Up Ready", a phrase coined by Monsanto. Here is the irony. Monsanto is happy to label their GMO seeds for farmers to use. But they don't want food to be labeled at the grocery store as GMO. Happy to have the patents and all the royalties that accrue, but they really don't want consumers to know what they're eating.

As awareness has grown about the harmful effects of GMO agriculture, various counties, cities and states have passed laws restricting GMO use and cultivation. This of course has upset executives at companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont.

The biggest names in GMO seeds don't want us to know what we're eating. They claim that any attempt to label the food as "GMO" will disadvantage their position in the market. People will unfairly discriminate against their products even though, as food manufacturers claim, "it's safe". When the Food and Drug Administration is stacked with former employees of Monsanto, it's hard to trust GMO food as safe. There is so much money at stake that judgment in the eyes of the regulator becomes clouded.

The debate over GMOs has now reached Congress and the House has passed a bill forbidding state and local laws requiring the labeling of GMO food. It's called the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" but critics call it the "Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act" for the very simple reason that the bill is designed to preclude our right to know what is in our food:

  • The bill allows the developer of GMOs to determine the safety of said food rather than requiring the FDA to make that determination. That is a conflict of interest.
  • The bill pre-empts all state and local authority for labeling requirements.
  • A food can be labeled as non-GMO even if it is produced with a GMO processing aid or enzyme or derived from animals fed GMO feed or given GMO drugs.

It is interesting to see how strenuously seed and food producers are resisting any requirements to label their food as GMO when it contains GMO products. The message we're getting from them is this: We want protection from the government in the market and we want to reserve the right to deceive our customers with impunity.

We can do something about it and we must do it today because the DARK Act has been passed by the House and is now heading to the Senate. Tell your Senator to vote no on the DARK Act if you want to retain the right to know what is in your food. Follow The Non-GMO Project on Facebook, and Twitter, and Just-Label-It on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The facade of a free market in fossil fuels

In school, we are led to believe that America has a free market where people can apply their talents and skills to earn a good living, perhaps even become independently wealthy as a result. While it is true that people can prosper from their efforts, it would seem that the subsidies provided by government aren't really discussed.

For example, despite the taxes we pay in order to inhibit the use of fossil fuels, the fossil industry received an estimated $4.9 trillion subsidy worldwide in 2013, according to a recent IMF report. Subsidies for fossil fuels are projected to grow to $5.3 trillion in 2015. This very large sum is expected to exceed the total cost of health care, worldwide.

To put it differently, for the cost of all of the fossil fuel subsidies alone, we could provide universal free health care for everyone on the planet. But we don't do that because that would be "socialism".

What is also unstated is that these subsidies contribute to enormous profits captured by the fossil fuel industries. Those profits can be used in turn to influence public policy in a way that neutralizes the influence of all others when it comes to the regulation and taxation of fossil fuels.

This is not a free market in action, as any economist will tell you. Worse, the subsidies flow to those at the top of the chain, not the bottom. The subsidies support inflated compensation for fossil fuel executives and do not trickle down.

The environmental and health damage from fossil fuels is almost beyond comprehension. Spills from oil and coal ash, and damage to the water supply from fracking impose enormous costs on ordinary citizens, yet the fossil fuel industry is rarely held to full account. At most, they get a slap on the wrist. No one goes to jail (unless except for China - then execution might be in the wings).

So when conservative American politicians work tirelessly to gut Medicare, or to repeal Obamacare, while at the same time, writing a blank check for fossil fuels, I'm not amused. I see the hypocrisy of our so-called leaders when they encounter a conflict of interest. It's time to use full cost accounting when calculating the costs of the fuels we choose to help run our daily lives.

For a market to be free, there must be transparency and accountability. The current political environment provides very little transparency or accountability when it comes to fossil fuels. Full cost accounting is just a start, but at least then we can start to bring all of the costs of our energy choices into view in any debate on the subject.

Perhaps then, we will see that investments in solar, wind and nuclear power are far less expensive and taxing on the environment compared to fossil fuels. Perhaps then, we can see what it will take to avert total decimation of the world's resources and leave a habitable planet for the next generation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let Trump feed the GOP these words, "money is speech"

Donald Trump is an icon that represents money, money, money. He's a billionaire that inherited money from his family and used that money to make more money. Of course, few of us are aware that he's also declared corporate bankruptcy 4 times - corporations are people too, right? Few of us know this because Trump can use money to control the message from the press.

Since Trump has made incendiary and insult remarks about certain Mexican immigrants and calling a a sitting Senator and Vietnam POW a loser, it would seem that many Republicans are upset with Trump as a GOP presidential candidate. Some are worried that Trump is killing the GOP. Some are calling for him to quit the race.

But Trump says otherwise. He says that he is leading in the polls and that he finds ample support in many states for his candidacy. Trump swears he's not running as a Democrat plant.

There is no stopping Trump. Why not? He has money and he's going to use it to push his message. If the GOP truly believes that money is speech, then Trump is going to force feed those words to the GOP, although I'm not sure that's what he had in mind.

With his money, Trump can buy all the airtime he wants. With 90% of media ownership concentrated in the hands of 6 parent corporations, most of which are sympathetic to neoliberalism, Trump will also get plenty of free air time, too.

When the decision of Citizens United was handed down, the leaders of the GOP rubbed their hands together with glee. Will they still feel the same if Trump wins the GOP nomination?

On the other hand, we have Bernie Sanders. Bernie is not a billionaire and probably not a millionaire. He's not using much of his own money to finance his campaign and he's campaigning on the promise of refusing corporate contributions to his campaign. He's received his campaign contributions from hundreds of thousands of supporters in small denominations. $20 here, $45 there, and it all adds up.

Bernie doesn't have to pay people to show up and cheer for himbecause he's packing stadiums and auditoriums. Best of all, Bernie understands that this election is not just about getting him elected, that this election is bigger than that. It's about a social movement to end inequality fomented by public policy, to end The Conservative Nanny State.

Trump is all about inequality. His name, his casinos and his words underline his cause. He could be the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party if Democrats are willing to take advantage of it. All they have to do is nominate and support Bernie Sanders for president.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bait and switch with the Fed

Readers familiar with me know me to be a progressive. I wasn't always that way. I grew up in a conservative Republican family. I loved Reagan, but felt he wasn't enough to really change the system. By chance I went to an event sponsored by the Libertarian party as a young adult.

It was there that I was introduced to the "Patriot Movement", the entrance to a long lost weekend that I will never forget. I learned more about how government functions during that time than I ever did in school. Not because of the Libertarian Party or the Patriot Movement. It was because I took the time to write more than 300 requests for documents pursuant to freedom of information acts at state and federal levels (see FOIA).

As a member of the Patriot Movement in good standing, I learned about the history of the Federal Reserve. I read The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, by Eustace Mullins. I found websites parroting the same lines about how Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, two days before Christmas while no one noticed. I believed the line that the Fed is a private bank and that the money making power was given to private hands that year. I also believed that the Fed loaned money to our government at interest.

What I didn't know at the time, that is, what I know now, is that the Fed actually pays more than $80 billion a year to the US Treasury in interest each year. The Fed is making money for the US government. And while it is true that the money making power has been given to the Fed, that money making power has been delegated to private banks.

Banks in the United States and around the world have the privilege of creating money with every loan that they make. They are allowed to engage in fractional reserve banking. Investopedia's definition of fractional reserve banking is as follows:
A banking system in which only a fraction of bank deposits are backed by actual cash-on-hand and are available for withdrawal. This is done to expand the economy by freeing up capital that can be loaned out to other parties. Most countries operate under this type of system.
When we hear in the news that the Fed is raising the reserve requirements for banks, they are trying to ensure that the banks don't fail when the loans go bad. The financial crisis we saw in 2008 was a result of many more loans going bad than going well. Investors who put up the capital to make those loans possible were at risk of losing their money. The banks were still on the hook for investor money, but they could pass the buck to the person who took out the loan in the first place. Fortunately for the biggest investors, the government bailed them out.

Here's the kicker: most of the loans that failed in 2008 were created using fractional reserve banking. In general, banks only need to maintain about 10% reserves to outstanding loans. Thus, banks are collecting interest on money they didn't really have - they just created it.

This is why I rolled my eyes when Congress passed yet another law that made it nearly impossible to discharge a student loan in bankruptcy. The bank enjoys numerous protections for those loans. The loans are guaranteed by the government, so even if students default, they're still backed by the government's guarantee.

Second, the bank is loaning money it created out nothing. Once that money goes into circulation, there's not getting it back. It becomes real and goes from the school that received the funds to the employees who work for the school and then back out into the general economy.

When conservatives complain about inflation, they usually point to the Fed and to the Federal government. They complain that the Fed is creating too much money and that creates inflation. What I find interesting is that the finger is being pointed at the wrong banks. The Fed doesn't create all that much money compared to the private banks. Every home loan, every car loan, every student loan, even commercial loans - they are all created by private banks using their own reserves as a basis.

That is what I mean by bait and switch. While most of us are looking at the Fed, we're missing most of the action with the private banks. The private banks get to decide if the economy should grow or not with their lending power. The private banks are not accountable to voters. They are corporations and act as if they are people, with political contributions that promote self-dealing rather than the public interest.

This is why I'm a proponent of public banking. Public banking is where the bank is owned by the government. The bank makes loans to citizens for the public interest, not the private interest. Public banks are boring. They invest in things like infrastructure, education and farms. We have one in the United States that has been around for more than 90 years: The Bank of North Dakota (BND).

The Bank of North Dakota was created for the purpose of insulating local farmers from predatory lending practices outside of the state, particularly, New York. The BND receives money from the state as deposits for the reserves. The deposits are from taxes and fees collected by the state that are in turn used to finance the operations of the state. The BND pays the interest earned back to the the treasury.

During the financial crisis, the state of North Dakota was the only state reporting a budget surplus. The BND did not contribute to inflation despite its work. In fact, the BND kept the local economy humming along despite misery in the rest of the country.

Now contrast this with the ridiculous fees earned by investment banks for CALPERS for terrible performance. Public retirement funds go to the private banks for investment guidance so that their funds can keep up with or surpass inflation. What they get is poor performance relative to a public bank.

Public banks are risk averse where private banks are not. Public banks are accountable to the public where private banks are not. Private banks serve private interests. Public banks serve the public interest. All of these characteristics are well documented at the Public Banking Institute.

If you've ever wondered why we're thrust through a boom and bust cycle every generation, ask your private bank. If you would like to see and end to the boom and bust cycle, consider agitating for a public bank. You might just get one.