Saturday, May 30, 2015

Does subliminal advertising have a place in a free society?

After publishing my post yesterday on subliminal advertising, I read it again because I had an intuition that there might be some grammatical errors in it. I found a couple errors and fixed them, but during that reading, I started to wonder about the implications of subliminal advertising in a free society.

Subliminal advertising can introduce incentives and motives in the mind that the viewer may not be able to explain later. The viewer of such advertising may find that the choices he makes go against his interests and prevent him from noticing or realizing opportunities that have passed.

To put the subject in the broader context, subliminal advertising doesn't just work in the commercial sphere. It works in the political sphere, too. The use of television to influence political outcomes has been going on since the first television broadcast (you know, the one with Hitler). With modern television production methods, slipping a subliminal message in a political ad is a temptation too big to pass by the monied interests. Who among them wouldn't want to play the public on their fears and induce them to make choices that go against their interests, without any conscious understanding or recollection?

The foundation of a free society is that we make our statements and our motives clear. Laws must be public so that we know how to avoid breaking the law. Contracts must be be clear, with the text available for all interested parties to see so that we know what we're getting into before we sign. Every transaction must provide benefits to every party to the transaction or the transaction could be seen as unconscionable.

If subliminal advertising is so powerful on adults, imagine what it can do to our kids. Kids have young minds that are open to learning and suggestion. TV commercials promoting cereal, toys and clothing can have an enormous impact on kids and how they think. Advertisers would be loathe to give up the Nag Factor when it comes to promoting their products. But would we be surprised to learn that television programming and the commercials therein are being used to shape political outcomes?

For all the transparency we expect from a free society, why do we allow subliminal advertising? Maybe subliminal advertising is protected by the 1st Amendment. But it would seem that if we can't hear it or see it, and we're not intended to notice the message, except unconsciously, then perhaps it's not speech. And if the the source of the message is a corporation, then almost certainly, it's not speech in the context of the Constitution. Corporations are not people. Yeah, there are people in corporations, and those individuals are protected by the Constitution. But corporations have limited liability in perpetuity. Natural persons do not. So whatever a corporation says may not be protected by the Constitution.

I want to leave you with a rather startling statistic:
"According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube."
I can't imagine spending that much time watching TV. Well, I've tried, but life beckons. I see the sun outside. I see the white puffy clouds rolling by. I see my family and experience the pleasure of being in the gaze of either of my daughters.

So when I look at that statistic, I see that so many Americans are making themselves vulnerable to subliminal messages with a commercial or political gain at the other end. If we're all adults, we can make a choice to turn off the TV. Long ago, my grandmother (on my Mom's side) said to me, "We don't watch TV. We watch a program. Now pick a program and watch that." So I watched some golf.

But I never forgot what she said. She made it clear that watching TV is intended to be a passive activity, but that we should be active and aware of our choices when we turn on the tube. We should take notice that at any time, during a commercial or even during the program, there could be a hidden message in there to influence our political choices without us noticing.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The anti-morality of subliminal advertising

When I was an adolescent, I was exploring the bookshelf in our living room and found a book on subliminal advertising. I can't remember who wrote it or the exact title, but I will never forget the picture with the word "sex" in the ice cubes of a caramel colored soft drink. From that point on, I was on my guard about advertising.

As an adult, I have been wary of advertising and found ways to avoid it by watching PBS, using VCRs to zip through the commercials and to spend time reading. I did a lot of reading in books and magazines then.

So today, it is with some surprise that I find an article on the same subject. I was trawling through Facebook and found a link from The Anti-Media. That link led me to an article on The Mind Unleashed website. You can find the article here with all the gory details. That article has very good suggestions on how to protect your mind from subliminal advertising on TV.

But what I want to talk about today is the anti-morality of subliminal advertising as a consumer. As noted previously, I know that it's out there. I avoid watching TV on the air because I know that there I have to expend extra effort to fight off the images, sounds and hidden messages in advertising. If I can't skip the commercials, then the source isn't worth watching.

That means you too, Hulu. I hate Hulu and don't care to watch anything there. If I want to watch a television program without the advertising, I go to Netflix. Then I can watch my program in peace, even it the program has been cancelled long ago. I'm just not that desperate to watch current content.

I have a basic principle that I follow when it comes to advertising, and it's very important when it comes to food, but I still follow it as a general rule. If I see a product advertised, I make an immediate assumption that I don't need it. The message in advertising video is "you want this thing so that you can feel better about yourself in the presence of others". From mouthwash, to soap, to a shiny new Lexus, it's all about feeling better when I'm around other people.

I also make another assumption about advertising. If I need or want your product, I'll find it myself when I'm good and ready to buy. You don't tell me when to buy your product. Ever. But if there is a sale price on the product, I might consider that when other priorities have been factored in. You know, like feeding my family homecooked meals with fresh fruits and vegetables. Or taking my kids to the park. Yeah, those are priorities.

When I go to the grocery store to stock up, I see the produce section as the safest place to go. There is simply no shiny, sexy or flashy packaging. It's just fruit and veggies. I need fruit and veggies and because they are unprocessed commodities, there isn't that much that can be done to them to alter their appearance beyond breeding. GMOs are making their way in, but that is another article. The main principle I try to follow there is to buy organic.

Consider the dilemma then of a company that wants to sell their product. If a company CEO believes he has a good product to sell, that will stand on the merits relative to other products, why stoop to subliminal advertising? Why should any manufacturer need to manipulate me into buying their product if it is that good? Because everyone else is doing it?

I think about this anytime I happen to see two bears discussing the merits of toilet paper. Every time I see Tony the Tiger discussing the merits of corn flakes. Every time I see that guy with the glasses saying, "Can you hear me now?" Every time I see the Apple icon. These icons, like the golden arches of McDonald's, are there to remind us that we need or want some product. They have nothing to do with what our needs are.

This is why I avoid watching TV. This is why I cut the cord for television. There is plenty of good content out there online that is not intended to wash our minds of our conscience, our will to survive or our desire to make our own choices about what we want to buy. There is CSPAN and PBS. There is Al Jazeera Online and the BBC. There is 24 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute. There is Vimeo and and a plethora of other sources that have user created content. They all have something to share, not something to buy.

Sharing is what the internet is made for. Advertising is not about sharing. It's about a struggle for the mind of our society. Then the question is, do we want our content from people who want to share or people who want to sell?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Even criminals get better if you actually help them

Still thinking about the topic of government help in society. You might recall my post from yesterday where I show that kids, when helped, will eventually find independence. I believe that the same principle is true for adults. Social programs help adults who have lost their way so that they find their independence again.

Criminals can be helped, too. Criminals are men and women convicted of crimes, crimes they committed because they didn't know a better way. This is not to say that I support or condone criminal behavior, it's simply a fact. Humans have an instinct for cooperation, but that instinct is thwarted when we begin to think that we can't get our needs met by working for it or by saying, "please".

So instead of recognizing criminal behavior as a symptom of an illness, we make a moral judgement and assume that the criminal just wants to be evil. Saying someone is evil is like being too lazy to ask why. Why are people evil in the first place? I think that the judgement of evil has more to do with the concept of original sin than anything else. People make mistakes by errors in judgement, not intention.

Granted, there are a few abused souls out there who are beyond rehabilitation. They are psychotic, or sociopaths who cannot empathize with human suffering. They feel no pain. They are sick, to be sure, but they should be separated from society until they make a choice to accept help. They should not be forced to endure the hell on earth that people who are "tough on crime" have created: the American prison system.

America has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the industrialized world at 52% and is numero uno for incarceration. Seems like we're doing something wrong. Well, in Norway, their recidivism rate is 20% - what a shocker. Why do they have it going so well?

They treat people in prison like people rather than animals. As the report in the link above states, "The Norwegian penal philosophy is that traditional, repressive prisons do not work, and that treating prisoners humanely improves their chances of reintegrating in society." That is the difference.

In Norway, they understand that criminals need help. By helping them to live a normal life again, to socialize again, criminals are better able to ask for help. When people ask for help, it's not forever. it's just to get through a rough patch. Isn't that justice?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Proof that people are not naturally born to be lazy

Conservatives in Congress will tell us that the welfare state makes us a lazy nation. They tell us that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and find a way to make a living. Yet, there is compelling evidence that people do not want to live on other people's money. Most people would rather have a job, a sense of industry, a sense of contributing to society. The problem is, nowadays, most people don't have any influence on how the rules are written.

I'm a dad as some of you may know already. I've been observing my kids to see how they find their own sense of autonomy, of independence. Based on what I've seen so far, kids don't grow up to be lazy. I offer three examples for you to consider.

The first of course is walking. Every kid grows up from a peanut to a crazy kid running around, walking, talking, jumping on the bed and grabbing things they shouldn't grab. Locomotion is the first sense of autonomy that kids get as they grow up. They do not want to be carried as they grow older until they are too big to carry, and by then there is simply no desire to be carried.

My oldest daughter Emily has a child safety seat. It's a nice big captains chair of a seat that I had to attach to the car seat. I used to carry her and set her into that seat. Then about a month ago, she decided that she wanted to climb into the car herself, and then climb into the car seat herself. She would refuse any help if I offered it to her. She saw a puzzle and wanted to figure it out for herself.

She has a little rainbow chair that we got from Ikea. Months ago, she figured out she could use the chair as a sort of ladder to gain some elevation to reach things she wanted to touch, to climb places she wanted to go. But when she first started working with the chair, she asked me for help to carry it. After awhile, she insisted on carrying it herself. Again, if I offered help, she refused. Kids are like that, they only ask for help if they want it.

Then there is YouTube. Some time ago, Mom got in the habit of showing our daughter kid cartoons on YouTube. Then Mom left the computer unattended with our daughter at the chair. Over time, she figured out how to use the mouse and how to find the videos she wanted to see. Left to her own devices she can keep herself entertained for quite awhile.

In every case, she asked for help, got it, then learned how to do it herself and refused the help. This is what a safety net looks like in adult life. Most adults, when faced with a situation where their family might be short on food, shelter or water, will ask for help. They will continue to ask for help until they return to self-sufficiency again.

In past generations, that's how it worked. The government filled in the gap when the economy went south and then when things got good, the government could relax and didn't have to lend support. This support was financed with very high taxes on the wealthy as well as payroll taxes on the working class. Most working class people understand that payroll taxes are social insurance so that if they get into a jam, they can get help because they bought insurance.

Insurance is designed to distribute risk. Everyone buys insurance, even the wealthy. In a sense, social insurance, like social security and medicare, are really "social unrest" insurance for the wealthy. If you don't give people a way to help themselves, you're going to have social unrest.

For the past 30 years, there has been an unrelenting effort to remove that social insurance. Its  as if, somehow, the wealthiest among us have figured that if they keep pushing their agenda, that if they remove all of the social insurance, that we'll somehow be forced to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. But at much lower prevailing wages than before.

During those 30 years, they've been finding ways to deny or remove social insurance for the rest of us, while keeping it for themselves. They've built what is best known as The Conservative Nanny State. The way things are going now, if we get a Republican president, with a Republican controlled Congress, the most likely outcome is far more social unrest.

That's why I work to educate my kids and help them when they need help. For the only way they will know how to help themselves is if I help them first.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You know how important a court case is by the way the media enforces a blackout

I "like" a fair number of pages and entities on Facebook. I was actually going to mention the source of the post here, but Facebook is like a river. One moment you see a bottle in the river, the next moment it's gone. It's gone.

Wait. I found it. I had the presence of mind to share it so it's on my profile page. The source of the post is Occupy Monsanto. I "like" them, so l follow them when they post. Their post points to this article here.

So let me re-start by saying that I found an interesting story about a class action lawsuit filed in state court in California. The lawsuit names Monsanto as defendant and alleges that Monsanto falsely advertised that its product, RoundUp, does not target enzymes present in humans. In fact, the lawsuit alleges that the active ingredients in RoundUp target enzymes that happen to be present in our gut bacteria.

Once you start interfering with the gut, a fair number of health problems can ensue because if you can't digest food properly, you can't assimilate the nutrition you need for the growth and maintenance of your body. The lawsuit even makes a connection between autism and glyphosphate, something that I've mentioned before on this blog.

What I find so interesting is that I did a search on the case number, "Case No: BC 578 942" just to see what would come up. I found only 7 hits on Google search. Of them, only one was a newspaper, a local newspaper in Seattle. There were no major media outlets to speak of. The rest were not even relevant.

After reading all of that, I am reminded of films depicting the dogged reporter trying to get the story out, but his editor won't run the story. So he has to go somewhere else to get it published. That somewhere else is the internet. The internet makes "leaks" possible. The internet makes it easy to go "worldwide" with a story. The internet has no gatekeeper. The internet is information and information loves to be free - it has a natural tendency to propagate, just like light.

The fact that not even the LA Times is running this story is instructive. The lawsuit was filed in LA and the attorneys that filed the lawsuit have contacted many major news outlets including the LA Times about their work and no one even took a bite. Not even the Huffington Post. The lawsuit was filed on April 20th, so I would expect that the major media would have had plenty of time to read the pleadings and figure out if the story was worth publishing.

My guess is, advertising revenue is at stake here and the major media are ready and willing to remind us that we didn't buy the newspaper. The advertisers did. I recall a term I read of a long time ago: "newshole". That's the hole in ever page where the story is surrounded by advertising. You didn't buy a paper for 50 cents. That's a token of your appreciation. The paper, and all the news in it is supported by advertising dollars. Advertisers have enormous sway over the contents of the paper and they have proved it once again with this blackout.

I guess when 6 media giants own all of the major media outlets, they are entitled to a blackout when one of their biggest advertisers, with perhaps one of the greatest legal teams assembled, might come calling with a cease and desist letter.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What's this? Bernie beat a billionaire to the US Senate?

More than a few pundits have repeated the following quote from Bernie Sanders, "Don't underestimate me." When I first read that, I figured that his statement was typical for a politician. But then I noticed an article mentioning how in 2006, he beat a billionaire in a hotly contested election for a Senate seat, and won.

The opponent running against Bernie was Richard Tarrant, a Republican candidate who spent $7 million of his own money and still lost. He was almost completely self-funded and ran the gamut of negative ads, doing everything he could to smear Bernie. Of course, it might have helped if Tarrant actually had his residency verified. Since he didn't get that part cleared up, most people figured him for a cocky billionaire living in Florida, thinking that he could pick off a Vermont socialist from Congress. That didn't work out quite like he planned.

Bernie never ran a negative ad against Tarrant. He only rebutted the ads that Tarrant ran to show that the statements made by the Tarrant campaign were wrong. Bernie still does not run negative ads, and has nothing negative to say about Hilary Clinton, his likely opponent in the Democrat primaries coming soon, and in the debates for the Democrat nomination.

Seeing a man run for the highest office in the land, unbeholden to corporate cash is really quite a sight to behold. Here we have a man who doesn't owe anything to anyone in Wall Street, the military industrial complex or Monsanto. What can we extrapolate from a man who doesn't make uncomfortable alliances based on money? We know that some kids might find that unsettling, but someone has written a guide for how to talk to your kids about Bernie Sanders.

We know that without alliances based on money, he can look at legislation and make an assessment based on the merits. Instead of determining if the legislation will benefit his relevant funders, he can look at the legislation with new eyes. You know, to see if that legislation will actually help everyone in the country more than hurt them. That sort of attitude is sorely missing from even many Democrats in Congress. Bernie is an independent, but he's running for nomination as a Democrat.

Hilary on the other hand, has a lot of Wall Street cash piled up on her side. She's very friendly with corporations like Monsanto and has hired long time Monsanto lobbyist Jerry Crawford to help run her campaign. That action speaks of a candidate beholden to the interests of the Monsanto corporation rather than the people she purports to represent.

As to the Republican clown car, I doubt there is a single candidate in there who is not beholden to corporate money. If the election comes down to choosing between two corporate cronies, I'm going to put my vote somewhere else. But if Bernie gets the nomination at the Democrat convention, we will finally have a truly progressive Democrat we can send to the White House.

How important is this? We haven't had someone we can describe as a true progress running for president since Jimmy Carter. To put this in perspective, let's compare Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. What is Jimmy Carter doing these days? He's been building houses, working as an activist for social causes, and generally trying to make the world a better place.

How about George Bush? Well, he suffered extensive brain damage from serving 8 long years as president, a job that he really wasn't prepared to do. Now he is resting comfortably at home, sipping wine and painting pictures. That's it. That's all he can do. At least he can rest assured that his friends have made plenty of money from two wars.

To me, that's the difference between Bernie Sanders and everyone else. Bernie is unafraid to speak the truth that Americans so desperately want to hear from our president. He's not working for any corporation. He's working for the rest of us.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What public policy looks like when it's written by the 1% for the 1%

It has been proven that big business and elites (that's the top 1% and up to you and me), have independent influence over Congress. The rest of us are ignored. Scientists have reviewed the data to show that across more than 1700 policy issues, Congress doesn't listen to us. They listen to them. The 1%.

Given this result, it can be fairly said that the 1% and only the 1% are writing public policy. Some have even gone so far as to identify the United States an oligarchy, not a democracy. I'm inclined to agree.

There are a few bright spots in Congress, though. Elizabeth Warren is working hard to show the hypocrisy of the conservative right, bought and paid for by Wall Street (I know, some of them are Democrats). Bernie Sanders is running for president and promoting crazy ideas like free education for everyone, a more progressive taxation system and even breaking up banks that are too big to fail. And then there is Rand Paul. He's a nut, but he's doing something I never thought I'd see anyone in Congress do - filibuster a bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

Other than that, most of Congress could care less about the average citizen. They spend on average, about 60% of their time on the phone and on their knees, begging for money from the relevant funders. Contrast that with Bernie Sanders who won't take money from corporations and requires attestation online that you're using your own money to donate to his campaign. I made my first political contribution in my life to him even though I hate giving money to politicians. Bernie has my vote if he gets the nomination.

What is important here is to understand that most of the stuff that average Americans are willing to protest against, are public policy agendas that serve the 1% and only the 1%. Hundreds of Americans are taking time off to protest low wages at McDonalds at their headquarters. Thousands of people are marching today against Monsanto. That's apparently the 3rd annual March Against Monsanto. Occupy Wall Street was a protest against the finance industry and their fetish for self-dealing. The list goes on. In almost every case, we see self-dealing.

Monsanto has former employees working in the FDA to pooh-pooh any notion of danger with genetically modified foods. Yet, the bees are dying off due to their pesticides designed to work with genetically modified crops designed to withstand their insecticides and herbicides. Nevermind that superweeds are building resistance to their poisons and that the UN released a report saying that small scale organic farming is the most sustainable and economical way to feed the world. But large corporations can't seem to figure out how to make money with an organic seed market. Why? There are no patents in it for them.

The fracking industry is literally screwing the earth to force out oil and gas. The wasteland they leave behind cannot support life as we know it, unless you can see it under a microscope. Fracking is approved all the way up the chain in the federal government and for many state governments. When small towns ban fracking, they get the state government to ban the bans. They often use leases on public land for the right to destroy the land and leave the taxpayer holding the bag to clean it up. Worse, they are pumping their waste back into the ground, poisoning water supplies. So break out your reverse osmosis water filters boys and girls. Our water supplies will not be potable after the frackers get to it. And they will when they sue town after town for access to water supplies.

The final example of self-dealing I want to talk about is Wall Street. Sure, they like to talk about the free market, but they don't seem to mind taking turns manipulating the market for personal gain. We found yet another example of this recently with a $5 billion settlement among the 5 biggest banks in the world. Currency traders among competing banks were found to be coordinating their trades for maximum profit while messing with currency exchange rates. What they did was a felony, but no one is going to jail. Why not? They're too big to fail - without government intervention in the market.

These are just a few examples, but they are all a result of public policy written by and for the 1%. They get their money without taking any risks or accepting accountability for their errors, mistakes or crimes. Ordinary people go to jail for possession of marijuana. They go to jail for protesting. They are shot and killed by police. They have no say in public policy.

This is the choice we are facing in the next presidential election. Do we want someone in the Oval Office and in Congress who is thinking of us, or not?

Friday, May 22, 2015

The double standard of fitness as a utility in Utah

Having a membership at a fitness center is considered a luxury. The odd thing is, Salt Lake County has a network of fitness centers. I know, I finally went to one so that we can provide some recreation for my kids. I was blown away by what I saw.

For a very reasonable fee, my entire family gets access to everything: gym, pools, table tennis, classes and God knows what else. I haven't been able to see everything since our focus lately has been to introduce my oldest daughter to the pool. She's had a blast in the pool, splashing in the water, playing in the fountains, riding the slides (all with Daddy within arms reach) and wading in the pool with Mom and Dad.

Membership options in Salt Lake County provide for one or all, and even for access to every fitness center, the pricing is very reasonable. They're probably not as good as privately run fitness centers, but they are good enough. They're not exclusive like some fitness centers, but if you want to appeal to the middle class, you can't be exclusive. Besides, they're partially funded by taxes we all pay here in the county.

Fitness as a public utility competes with private fitness clubs. Yet, there are still plenty of fitness centers here like Gold's Gym, 24 Hour Fitness and get this, there is a place called Gym Jones. How ironic.

I live in a Red State so it would seem that conservatives would scream "bloody socialist" if someone were to even suggest that public fitness centers should exist in Utah. But here, where it's pretty cold for half the year, they take their health and fitness very seriously. Someone in power here knows that not everyone can afford to buy their own fitness equipment or a membership at some exclusive club. So making fitness a public utility provides greater access to exercise at an affordable price to all. This is a fantastic arrangement for everyone concerned and I take part by signing up and showing up with my family.

Fitness as a utility in Utah is not just ironic, it demonstrates a double standard. Utah is mostly rural and people can have a hard time getting broadband where they live. There is a public utility for internet access. It's called Utopia, short for the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency. The promise of Utopia was to provide high speed internet access to every home and every business in the service area - but that promise wasn't kept by the lawmakers of Utah.

Instead of being allowed to thrive, Utopia was attacked by politicians and private enterprise alike. Spokesmen for Comcast and Centurylink go on and on about how government should not provide access to the internet. Legacy incumbent providers that use copper for transmission backed legislation written by ALEC to hobble or prohibit public internet access service in this state. That service is collectively known as municipal broadband.

At the same time, those same companies profit from a business model based on scarcity and, at least in my neighborhood, they don't compete directly, probably by tacit agreement not to. Every month or so, I read another story about terrible customer service by companies like Comcast and ATT.

In the last week, I've read at least two stories about homeowners who telecommute to work but could not get wired service from incumbent providers. They were so unhappy with the situation, that they each started their own initiatives for municipal broadband. But that can't happen here in Utah. Municipal broadband is mostly prohibit since Utah conservatives like to cheer private enterprise while intervening in the market in favor of private enterprise.

If government can build a network of fitness centers when the need arises, then surely they can build a public internet service. The need arises when incumbents are too busy managing a business based on scarcity to ensure profits at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve. That seems like a betrayal of the public trust to me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An existential quandary for opponents of the Export-Import Bank

I see in the news that conservatives in Congress are declaring victory over the Export Import Bank of the United States. Despite the loss of thousands of jobs, they want to see the Ex-Im Bank go. Seems like anything that costs jobs is a good thing for conservatives in Congress, doesn't it?

Let's see if we can put this situation in context. The Ex-Im Bank exists to provide loans, insurance and guarantees to American businesses to ensure that American products can meet demand in foreign countries. It's not allowed to compete against private banks, yet, that is what it does. To put it simply, the Ex-Im Bank takes the business that commercial banks don't want.

Getting rid of the Ex-Im Bank actually makes sense, if you have balanced trade or even a trade surplus. But we haven't seen that in decades. According to this chart, we haven't see a surplus since 1982:

Seems rather interesting that we haven't seen a trade surplus since Reagan was elected to office. Granted, the Ex-Im Bank was created in 1945 so it would seem that even during surplus years, there was a need for the bank. But considering the trade deficits of the last 30 years, wouldn't the need for the Ex-Im Bank be even more pressing? Why would anyone be so hot to see it go?

Robert Samuelson, an economics journalist and contributor to the Washington Post has this to say:
"The central fact about the Ex-Im Bank is that, in the $3.5 trillion federal budget, it is a pygmy. It has about 400 employees. In 2013, its operating budget — its overhead — totaled $90 million, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). But these expenses were fully paid by fees and interest from Ex-Im’s private customers. There was no direct drain on taxpayers. Indeed, the bank turned a profit in 2013 and paid $1.1 billion to the Treasury. If it were eliminated, future deficits would probably increase, albeit by small amounts."
Wow. They pay their own way and they gave money back to the Treasury. Yet, Republicans want to toss thousands of people on the street looking for jobs just to eliminate a government bank that makes money for the government? Shouldn't *that* be the news?

If Republicans really want to get serious about trade, they should look no further than the strong dollar policy they started in 1981. The shortest path to balanced trade is fighting currency manipulation. Sure, there are some who like to manipulate currency for fun and profit, you know, like the traders at the 4 biggest American banks that just pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $5 billion in fines. None of the C-class executives or traders who took part will ever see jail time, but no one is talking about their impact in trade either. Besides, that's pocket change compared to the broader context.

China has $4 trillion in currency reserves, the largest of any reserve in the world, 3 times larger than #2. They don't say much about the composition of the reserve, but most economists say that it is almost all denominated in US dollars. This is currency manipulation, to keep the trade deficit looming large in the United States. China isn't the only one, either. Many of the Asian countries have amassed large dollar reserves to keep the dollar strong, to ensure that their exports are competitive.

Asian countries have been collecting dollars since the currency crisis in Asia in 1992. But the trade deficits started long before then. All this dollar hoarding has been largely unreported by the mainstream press. What I mean to say is that the dollar hoarding has been unreported in the context of maintaining a strong dollar. It's almost as if the intention is never allow the middle class to notice that the hoarding is permitted in order to keep the dollar strong.

If you want to profit from imports, keep the US job market weak to suppress wages and not get noticed, ensuring that the link between large foreign reserves and the trade deficit are obscured would be a priority. If Congress wants to let the Ex-Im Bank die, so be it. But they need to be clear about the trade deficit and do something about it. Instead they're letting the debate over the Ex-Im Bank obscure the real problem with trade, the strong dollar.

Maybe a threat of default on the debt would be a good thing. But it might not be enough to balance US trade with the world.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Right to Work laws are government intervention in the markets - for conservatives

I see that the Deseret News has noticed a problem with wages in Utah. Utah ranks about 37th in the nation for wages and wage growth. The article notes that wages are not even keeping up with inflation. Worse, wages have detached from productivity. That is we can learn from the source of the article, the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Utah is a right-to-work state. That means that wherever there is a union, non-union employees can get the same pay and benefits without paying the dues. Utah has a right to work law that makes this possible. Proponents say that right to work laws allow the market to work. No, not really. If that were so, employers would find a market based solution rather than run to the government seeking help.

Unions started before there were even laws regulating them. They were a market response to unethical employer behavior. Unions have enjoyed great popularity in the United States up until Reagan started his first term as president. I remember how Reagan fired all of the air traffic controllers and set a new tone for the debate on unions in the marketplace. That new tone is this: when government intervenes in the market, they will side in favor of the employer not the employee.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services recognizes the detachment of wages from productivity and inflation as a national trend. Utah just happens to be at the lower end of the trend. It is worth noting that there is a pocket of brightness in Utah: The information sector - companies that work with storing and managing very large amounts of data - they're doing quite well. Data processing and management has been one of the biggest contributors to productivity in recent years.

When we say "data processing", think of applications that went from being an application you installed on your PC to an application that runs through a web browser. The application in a browser has been a revolution in productivity in the office. The browser interface that the employee sees is connected to a database on the back end. Such an application is easy to maintain, easy to manage and easy to update relative to the applications we install on our PC. This increase in productivity is not attributed to the employee, it's attributed to the IT department. Information technology workers in Utah are seeing unemployment rates of about 1/2 of one percent.

The detachment of wages from inflation and productivity is a symptom of a public policy decision, it is not simple economics. For at least the past 30 years, government at all levels has intervened in the market in favor of capital rather than labor.

Now that people are getting wise to that fact, and the mass media can no longer ignore it or cover it up, the emphasis has shifted to trade agreements negotiated in secret. You know, like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. They are called "free trade agreements" but really, they are business friendly legal frameworks designed to give even more cover to business. As if helping businesses any more would grow the economy.

Sure, that plan will work to direct all the growth in the economy to the top 1%. That kind of public policy is simply not economically sustainable. Henry Ford knew this when he first produced automobiles on an assembly line. He knew that unless he paid his workers enough, no one would be able to buy his cars. He linked wages to productivity and profited handsomely for it. Employers these days seem to have forgotten the lessons of Henry Ford. But they know well where to get help when they can't innovate out of a bad economy.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

No matter what, you can always have a hug

I'm a dad and have been for more than two years now. I've been learning something new every day from my kids as they're very good teachers. Oh, they don't know that yet, but whenever I learn a new lesson, I take note of it in my morning pages the next day. I have a new one to share with you today, dear reader.

I can't remember when it started, but I have gotten in the habit of offering a hug to my oldest daughter Emily whenever she hurt herself. She'd bump this or scrape that and if I'm around, I offer a hug. Then she started to take that cue and work it so that if she hurt herself, she'd extend her arms and say, "Hug?", and I'd give her a hug.

Over the last two weeks or so, I've been extending that idea of hugs for other things besides minor bumps and scrapes. My oldest daughter Emily is in the "Terrible Twos" and she has learned the word "No!". She has learned to make demands and requests, though I'm not sure she knows the difference yet. She will protest mightily if she doesn't get what she wants sometimes. This is normal in the sense that each episode of drama seems to be a way to check in and see if she can get what she wants. She wants to know if she has traction.

She doesn't like to admit that she can't get what she wants and she will make a very strenuous effort to avoid such an outcome. To help defuse these bouts of drama, I've been experimenting with a simple way to give her an out.  For example, Mommy got a new pair of sunglasses a few days ago. Emily likes sunglasses, so when she saw that shiny new pair of specs, she insisted on having them. In response, we told her "no" so many times.

As she continued to lobby for the sunglasses, I told her, "You can't have the sunglasses. Those are for Mommy and Mommy alone. But you can have a hug." Then I extended my arms as a gesture of an offer. Then she wiped the tears from her face and put her arms up to say, "Ok. I'll have a hug." So she couldn't get what she exactly what she wanted, but when presented with a hug, she can still get something that she wants.

I've been refining this message to say, "No matter what just happened, you can always ask for a hug." In my mind, there are no exceptions. The goal here is to give her an out in an untenable situation. Instead of having to admit complete and utter defeat in her quest to get that coveted something that she wants, she can surrender that thing with a request for a hug. This way, she still gets the sense of asking for something she wants, and getting it, even if it is not exactly what she wanted a minute or two ago. She can surrender without defeat.

This is the message. Every interaction with a young child registers in the cerebellum. This is one of the oldest parts of the brain, the non-verbal part, the part of the brain that can associate objects with pain and pleasure - without words. It remembers events and experiences long after we have learned language, but before we can use language to articulate what happened. By letting her know that she can always get a hug, she can let go of what she wanted but that she can't have more easily and get a hug instead. Getting a hug is a far more pleasant memory and it allows her to adapt to situations where she can't get what she wants.

I've done a lot of reading on hugs and I have never seen a negative side effect of hugs in any peer-reviewed study. A 20-second hug can release a nice fat dose of oxytocin, the same hormone that women release when they're dilating just before birth and after birth for bonding with a baby. It's a bonding hormone that we produce to associate and bond with our parents. It's the perfect antidote for envy or just about any one of the other seven deadly sins, pride, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.

Giving my kids a hug no matter what is also a great application of a famous maxim discovered by The Beatles: All you need is love.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A personal paradigm shift with water

For much of my life, I've lived with bottled water. I've had it delivered in big 5 gallon bottles. I've purchased cases of little bottles. I've carried a bottle that I can refill everywhere for as long as I can remember having done so. I don't know exactly when I started that habit.

I know that I started the habit of carrying a refillable bottle because I drink water almost exclusively and detest drinking fountains. I know that I need to drink a lot of water every day and take every measure to ensure that I'm properly hydrated. Rarely do I drink a soda just to drink it. There are certain meals that go well with a soda, but those are few and far between because I do not like to dilute digestion with fluids like soda or water.

I've spent most of my life living in rented rooms and apartments. Therein, water treatment is hard to find and as a practical matter, water treatment is even harder to install. Bottled water was how I chose to adapt for a long, long time.

In 2009, I purchased my first home and it had a PUR water filter on the faucet. That worked great to take out much of what was in the water and that reduced my reliance upon bottled water. I was content to purchase a box of filters from Costco from time to time. As a homeowner, I have been approached by a few water softener salesmen. In my previous home, there was no room inside the house to locate a water softener and I was not comfortable poking holes anywhere to run the pipes for the water softener. So I passed.

In my current home, we have an unfinished basement, with the water heater, air conditioning and all their pipes and ductwork exposed. So when I was approached by a salesman to learn of the value of a water softener, I saw the potential to give relief from eczema to my second daughter. I also saw that a water softener could help to decrease the amount of scaling deposits in our plumbing with a water softener. I live in a house that I'm planning to stay in to raise my family and will remain here until the end. That's the plan, anyway. Over that time, I am hoping the water softener will help to reduce the chance that I ever have to repipe my house.

In the same deal for a water softener, we got a reverse osmosis water filter, complete with a small storage tank under the sink. I've never had that before and after doing some research, found that they are quite effective at removing 99.99% of the junk in water.

I was at first worried about the salt in the water that we release to the sewer, but found that the water softener is so effective, that the rate of salt use is very low. Looking back on the purchase, I conducted additional research to find salt-free water softeners that also require little to zero maintenance. When the beads in this water softener give up in about 15 years, I'll get the salt free softener.

For the most part, the salesman was right. I use about half the soap I used to use. My second daughter is having a greatly improved experience with the eczema relative to the first. Had the first salesman at the first home brought up the eczema, I would have jumped at the chance to get one then and there. But that was a benefit he didn't catch at the time, and neither did I.

I've also had an interesting experience with the reverse osmosis water filter for drinking water. The water at first had these little tiny bubbles in it. That is from the activation of the carbon in the filter and eventually, that went away. The first thing I noticed is that the water tasted better, much better than before, from any other source. That was quite a refreshing change.

I also noticed that our electric kettle stayed clean and shiny from use whereas before, there was scale buildup with water from the PUR water filter and the filters in the refrigerator. Not so with the reverse osmosis filter. I must say that inspires confidence at the very least.

The reverse osmosis filter delivers water with a separate spigot from the tap, and it delivers the water faster than the PUR filter and the filters we had in our refrigerators. The spigot matches the tap in color with a fake patina and it's high enough to fill tall bottles of water.

I don't think I've ever been this happy about water before, but knowing that there is a two stage process removing the crud from water we get from a mining town is quite a relief.

There is a palpable sense of insulation about the water supply that comes with this equipment. Now that we've conditioned and filtered our water so well, it may seem easy to forget that there is a water crisis, worldwide. I am aware that in much of the world, people are still filling buckets and bottles from sources that may not be safe or free from pollution. I'm also aware of a thriving fracking industry that is pumping their pollution back into the ground to remove any sense of their liability from their trade, poisoning the well. And finally, I am aware that companies like Nestle and Walmart have no compunction about bottling water during a prolonged and severe drought. The CEO of Nestle would like to turn water into a private profit center rather than see it remain a public utility.

The water softener and the reverse osmosis filter may temporarily free me from the scourge of water pollution, but it will not allow me to forget it. I am grateful that I have such systems in place for the water that I drink every day. Maybe someday, the people who pollute our water will be forced to clean up their mess in such a way they cannot externalize their costs.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fast Track trade authority is not just about TPP and TTIP

Fast Track  is a legal framework for for trade negotiations to grant the president authority to negotiate trade agreements without worry that Congress will seek to amend each deal. Fast Track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, is designed to allow other countries to negotiate in confidence knowing that what is negotiated will not change due to Congress.

The discussion of TPA for the president has been narrowly focused on two treaties, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Both have been in secret negotiations for years and both have tremendous amounts of money and power riding on them. Both are supported by the president and Republicans in Congress and face potentially overwhelming opposition by Democrats. Billions of pixels have been spilled on this topic alone.

But what isn't discussed much is this: TPA lasts for six years and there are 43 other trade agreements waiting in the wings. 43! TPP and TTIP are really just the tip of the iceberg. The goal then, it seems, is that the legislation that the 1% would really like to pass does not originate in Congress. It is in the form of treaties and is intended to upset the checks and balances created by the Constitution.

This potential avalanche of treaties will enjoy a great ski ride down the backs of middle class Americans if TPA is granted to the president. I say this because I can't think of a single trade deal that has resulted in a net of jobs for America. Neither can the United Steelworkers of America.

There is another very interesting part of the debate that is starting to emerge, too. There is talk of providing for rules concerning currency manipulation. Could it be that someone in Congress has finally noticed the trade deficit? Now that would be something to see, for if Congress has a meaningful discussion on currency manipulation and passes a rule requiring any trade deal to include a prohibition on currency manipulation, that could solve the domestic demand problem in a hurry. Eliminating the trade deficit would create 6-7 million new jobs. Could that really happen?

We could rewrite the rules, couldn't we?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Who writes the rules?

I see that Common Cause has brought a relevant question to the fore relating to the Trans Pacific Partnership. They would like to know (among other things):
Full disclosure of the names and affiliations of all “expert” advisors to and participants in the negotiation with access to drafts of the agreement
If the negotiations are in secret, then there must be something in there that a large majority of the populations of the affected countries would object to. It would seem fitting then, for the people affected, to know who has influence and access to the negotiations. Common Cause, along with a few other organizations, are gathering signatures calling upon our leaders to reveal the entities that have access and influence on the negotiations. It is a fact that in these negotiations, Middle Class America is not considered a stakeholder in the TPP.

Curiously, and with nearly perfect timing, The Roosevelt Institute has released a new report, "Rewrite The Rules". A team of economists and policy wonks headed up by Joseph Stiglitz, have assessed the problem of inequality honestly, squarely and in great, elaborate and documented detail. The summary? When you have power, the temptation for self-dealing is hard to resist.

From trade deals to international corporations, to anti-union laws and voter suppression, there is a concerted effort to create a captive audience of consumers who cannot afford to buy what they need unless they buy it on time.

For the past few years in America, 95% of the growth in the economy, all the new income created through gains in productivity, have gone to the top 1%. This is a policy choice, whether we know who writes the rules or not. One thing we can be sure of is that 99% of us have zero influence on the rules.

We need to know who writes the rules and tell them to rewrite the rules. It's that simple, but probably not that easy. People with power do not give it up so easily.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

You haven't heard the last of the riparians on fracking

Many years ago, I read a very interesting book called Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, by Richard A. Epstein. It is a fascinating treatise on how takings are treated within US courts. I read it back then because I was fascinated by the possibility that programs like the Social Security program might be deemed unconstitutional. Yes, I admit it. I was once a libertarian, too.

In sum, the book provides a very interesting analysis of the redistribution of wealth by governments. But that is not the reason I bring that book to your attention here.

Takings was the book that introduced me to the term, "riparian". Riparian is defined as follows:
adjective LAW
of, relating to, or situated on the banks of a river.
"all the riparian states must sign an agreement"

of or relating to wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams.

Riparian rights relate to those rights downstream. Today, I would like to talk about the schism between libertarians (Epstein also happens to be a libertarian), who talk so fondly of small government, and the rights of everyone else. Epstein couches the scene nicely in his book when discussing pollution along a river in his book. He says that we don't really need regulations for managing pollution. We just need access to the courts. See, if a company pollutes a river, everyone downstream has the right to sue for damages. After a few disagreeable lawsuits, the defendant will tire of all that noise and clean up in a hurry, right?

I would think that Erin Brockovich has a different opinion on the matter. Besides, if you want to sue, you need access to the courts and it helps to have a few judges, lawmakers and an entire administration on your side. You know, like the able men and women in the fracking industry. Yes, those men and women have no problem injecting water into the ground with a secret and proprietary broth of chemicals in order to force oil and gas out of the ground. Once they get their oil, they take the waste water and pump it back into the ground, the aquifer, the source of most of our water for farming, drinking and bathing.

Libertarians would say, "Hey, it's cool. Eventually someone will sue and that problem will be solved." The rest of us will have to deal with green, black or grey water. We'll buy water softeners and reverse osmosis filters. We'll have to contend with a government bought and paid for by the oil industry.

So where are the riparians among us? Do riparian rights offer any guidance in the courts? Sure, if your name is not Koch, you're not financed by someone named Koch, and you can get your water from some other source.

Did you know that the Koch brothers claim they are libertarians? I didn't know that until recently, when I started looking into their history. They have been promoting libertarianism since the early 80s and probably before that. But they only promote it when it suits them.

How do we know? Because when people try to fight fracking projects, they are treated to lawsuits, harassment and polluted water, that's how. A true libertarian would allow others to air their grievances and get damages for the fouling of the water, the land and the air. They would allow people to sue for damages relating to health care costs resulting from the pollution. They would allow people to sue for restoration of the land.

Oh, God. You should see what the land looks like when they're done with it. Unlivable, complete and total devastation. No mans land. Not because anyone would want it, but because when they're done with it, no one wants it. What fracking leaves behind looks like a warzone.

The Koch brothers would like to paint themselves as true freedom fighting libertarians. They want to raise $900 million for the next presidential election to ensure their notions of freedom and liberty stay fresh and gain traction. But given their track record on pollution and land use, the only freedom they want is for them to extract profit from the land at everyone else's expense. Who cleans up when they're done?

The bacteria (all the other animals are gone). The rain. The wind. The taxpayer. Give it an eon. Maybe two. Then come back to paradise.

Or you can support and vote for Bernie Sanders. Why? He seems like the only candidate willing to apply full cost accounting to fracking.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Morality comes from the chest and stomach - not from a book

I thought for a moment that I was looking at the late Robert Schuller when I saw the picture:

But that is none other than Jeb Bush, self-proclaimed presidential candidate and champion of Christian values. Although the message from Mr. Bush is that the Christian voice should be louder, the subtext that I hear is this: "All Christians should rise up and make everyone else obey our way of life, for America is a Christian Nation."

The entire premise of any religion, is that religion comes from a book, written by men, for God. The problem with that premise is two-fold. Men are subject to and prone to error. The second is that the existence of God is not a certainty, not among believers and not even among atheists.

The point is, morality doesn't come from a book written by men who are prone to error. Thomas Paine noticed this more than 200 years ago in his book, The Age Of Reason. Thomas Paine, as some of you may know, was also a very significant influence in the wording of the Constitution. He wanted to be sure that government could not be used to enforce "tyranny beyond the grave".

I'm here to reiterate the point. It doesn't matter if you're atheist, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim. Morality doesn't come from a book. Books can only be used as guides to morality, a sort of string to your little finger to remind you to get the milk, a reminder of how to act when you don't know how to act.

I've reviewed different religions and their texts to see what fits for me. I've never really found one that is a perfect fit, but I've found bits and pieces that work for me. There is something in Christianity that works for me: A faith and reliance upon God, or a higher power. I don't know if God exists, so I act as if he or she or it, might just be there. It's all about faith.

Then there is the Buddha way, the middle. I look for the middle every day. The middle path, away from the extremes can help me to find my peace. With it, I avoid excess and deprivation. I find peace and contentment with what I have, and can relax knowing that happiness comes not from wanting or having more, but of taking stock of what I have and making use of that.

But there is one other part of life that can be used as a guide for happiness and contentment. The stomach and the chest. They are my barometers of morality, a sort of morale compass. I've done things in my life, like anyone else, that have caused my chest to burn with guilt. I've also done things in my life that have caused my stomach pangs of regret.

After repeated experiences, I've learned to think through any actions I am contemplating before I do them. If the ultimate conclusion results in a burning chest or stomach, I rethink my plans until there is no burning sensation. I might write about it, talk to a friend or family, and then plan my action. But above all, I avoid taking action out of anger or desperation.

If I'm still not sure, I can always read up and see what other people have done in similar situations. There's a book for any topic, any time, anywhere. But one book does not fit all. There is a reason why there are multiple religions. Not everyone wants to be Buddhist, Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Some even want to be atheist.

Allowing a stronger Christian voice, at the behest of any President, is dangerous. Not only to our nation, but also to our conscience. Some of the most horrific acts against humanity have been done in the name of religion. Some of the greatest acts to support humanity have been done by people of many faiths and beliefs. But to ask an entire nation to follow one belief, one book, and one "savior" is to go against everything the founding fathers have said. They have all consistently said that America is not a Christian nation.

I am here to say that morality doesn't come from a book. It's comes from our culture, our experience, and our gut. If you want morality, look inside and outside. Then check in and see how you feel. But be wary of any politician who says that the answer to our nation's problems are found in a book, written by men who didn't know what happened to the sun when it went down.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Medical charitable organizations could promote free medical trade

Do charitable medical organizations such as the March of Dimes support medical trade as an effective means of lowering the cost of health care? I honestly don't know what they're thinking. But I do know that our favorite medical charities also happen to be very powerful lobbies in health care. They can be heard in Congress when the average American has essentially no voice in public policy. They can be called upon to testify in committees the have oversight of their work. They exist to conduct research in their respective domains and to help mitigate the costs of health care. Often we can see them providing generous support for people who can't afford to pay for expensive medical procedures.

Yet, I can't recall even one of them asking for or supporting a treaty or law that would subject American doctors to the same competitive forces of global competition that middle class working Americans endure year after year. Where American manufacturing workers must compete with third world countries, doctors have a Congress ready to restrict the number of doctors who are taught medicine. They have a Congress that will not even consider any bill or treaty that would make it easier for foreign doctors to practice medicine here, in the United States.

Could it be that to do so would be counter to the interests of a health care charity? What if the high cost of health care is a part of the medical charity business model, and that doing anything to reduce those costs would go against the purpose of the business? Charities are businesses, just like any other business. They're just non-profit businesses and the CEO often earns 6-figure and sometimes 7-figure salaries to manage them well.

I believe that if the average American can't get a voice in Congress, they can make themselves heard through their charities. I know that charities shouldn't engage in politics. But that doesn't stop the American Association of Retired Persons from expressing their opinion, does it? Maybe the health care charities of America can help average Americans by working to help reduce the costs of health care through free trade.

For example, medical charities can help to establish standards of education and training for foreign doctors to come here and practice medicine. They can contribute research to the Department of Health and Human Services to help research and define such standards. They are international organizations that can share their information worldwide and help to get governments to cooperate.

A common argument I hear about free trade is that if we lower trade barriers, other countries will develop faster, they will be come industrialized and eventually, their standards of living will rise. They will also earn more money with better education and skills. If we're at all concerned about health care in third world countries, free trade in health care is a great way to solve that problem.

If it works for cars, clothes and electronics, it's probably going to work out well for medicine, too.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Mitt is all about money for nothing

I just finished reading one very scary story about Mitt Romney and people like him. It was written by Matt Taibbi and published in Rolling Stone with nearly perfect timing in August of 2012. Taibbi is one of my heroes in journalism. His articles are factual, backed up by interviews and research and they have a point: check out this massive transfer of wealth without work. You can find that story here, it's called, "Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital".

While reading the story, I was recalling presidential campaigns of long ago and the most recent campaign with Mitt Romney. I recall Reagan's call for personal accountability, at least for everyone else but him and his cabal. I had a suspicion we were seeing the same thing with Romney before the 2012 election, but this article confirms it. Romney wants money for nothing, and he got it. In spades.

That Rolling Stone article is a fantastic analysis of the Romney mindset. Money is made from government subsidies, corporate debt, and bonuses for everyone on the board when the takeover is done. Companies are loaded up with debt, forcing them to layoff workers or to go bankrupt. Pension funds are vaporized after sending the money away to the new bosses (don't worry, the government will often find ways to replace that money). The architects of these takeovers that Romney took part in or designed himself, get paid millions in fees and take money out of their targets after the loans are cleared. Then they sit back and watch the company fail after putting as much distance as possible between them.

Mitt Romney personifies The Conservative Nanny State. He uses government subsidies like there is nothing better to do. Even if he put on lipstick and a wig, who would ever believe that he's a welfare queen? But journalists who dig deep, like Taibbi, are finding more and more, that we very nearly elected a welfare queen for president, except that he wears a suit and tie.

I am even more appalled when I see that in 2012, Romney represented the GOP. I know people who vote Republican. I like those people. Some are family and I love them. So when I see the layers of deceit propping up a man like Romney to be nominated as a presidential candidate for the Republican Party, I don't see that he really represents the people I know. He cannot share the same interests average Americans have and do all the things he does in business at the same time. Actions speak louder than words.

This is what I will be thinking about when I see the GOP presidential candidates for 2016. They all support the Reagan Revolution. They are all pro-business and seem to have a hard time grasping the fact that business needs consumers and that if you reduce the rights of workers, you reduce demand for business. None of them seem to get or understand the sociopathy of the Romney mindset, either. All of them are in the GOP clown car.

Men like Romney are exactly why I support Bernie Sanders and write about him here on this blog. We need someone in the White House who is thinking and talking about the rest us, and that is what Bernie does.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

the creation of money and credit is a sovereign power

I've been taking note of posts from the Public Banking Institute on Facebook regarding the benefits of public banking. But one particular set of posts are unnerving, and they discuss the way private banks create credit with loans or debt. You can learn more about this from the Public Banking Institute website. The concept that I speak of is more generally known as fractional reserve banking.

Most people are under the impression that banks only loan out money they have on deposit. Actually, most banks rely upon a privilege to create money from nothing. Banks are required to have a 10% reserve relative to loans outstanding. To put it differently, banks can only leverage loans to deposits by 10-1. Each time they create debt, they are creating money. That is a privilege granted to them under law, by the Federal Reserve.

I saw an interesting video with Ellen Brown, one of the leaders of the public banking movement and the Public Banking Institute. In the video, she shows a chart that shows how the creation of private credit has exploded over the last 30 years. You can see that chart here, at about 3:30.

So I guess I have a question. When conservatives wring their hands about inflation, about government debt, are they even thinking about credit created by private banks? Or do private banks get a pass?

It's an interesting question because I think anyone who is concerned about inflation might want to be looking at Iceland. In the aftermath of the collapse of the economy worldwide, the government of Iceland went after the bankers. They let the banks fail. They arrested, charged and imprisoned anyone and everyone they could find that was responsible for the collapse of the banks. They let the investors and the creditors shoulder the losses, not the consumers - you know, the people who generate demand. They did it right.

Seems like anyone who wants a strong dollar would be in favor of strictly regulating the power to create money. Why permit that power to be used by bankers who helped to crash the economy in 2008? Why not restrict that power to government banks like the Federal Reserve and the Bank of North Dakota? That is exactly what Iceland is considering right now. They are actively considering a law that would reserve the power to create money to the central bank. No one else would be able to create money.

I think that is a very interesting proposition. Proponents claim that such action would take away the power of private banks to create and profit from the boom and bust periods we go through. It would eliminate the banking crises that we seem to have at regular intervals, like buses. Hey, there is an old saying, "Investment opportunities are like buses, there always another one coming". If I were a cynic, I'd say that these crises are planned, they are not accidents.

So why would a country, any country, delegate a power reserved to the sovereign government to a cabal of private banks? Probably because such a government is not working for the people of the country it serves. Rather, it serves the bankers.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Which presidential candidate is loyal to the middle class?

It is great to see Bernie Sanders running for president. With one hand tied behind his back. I mean to say, he is only taking small donations from people like you and me. Anyone who wants to make a donation must aver that the donation is a first party donation, that it is not made on behalf of anyone else. That it does not come from a corporation. That would be most of us.

With just small donations alone, Sanders has received $1.5 million in donations in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy. It is a great pleasure for me to see, finally, a candidate I can trust, someone I want to make a donation to in his quest to run for president, the highest office in the land. Note that if you have tweeners that are confused about Bernie Sanders, send them here.

Yes, there is Hilary. But Hilary was hired by a former Monsanto lobbyist to run for president. Hilary, wife of Bill Clinton, has decades of neoliberalism behind her. Bill Clinton approved and supported NAFTA, the free trade agreement that did nothing to free trade, unless we're talking about imports not exports. Bill Clinton helped to maintain a strong dollar policy, guaranteeing that demand would be sucked away from the United States. I want no part of Hilary in the White House if I can help it. But I would still take Hilary over anyone in the GOP Clown Car.

With Bernie Sanders in the race, we can expect him to put Hilary in a very tough position. Bernie is going to be there, in the debates. If the Democrats try to shut him out of the debates, there is going to be a really big stink. It will be big enough to make Hilary look bad. This is not a prediction, this is a fact. Bernie has the power and the support to ensure that he gets a podium in any debate with Hilary Clinton.

Once the debates get going, Hilary is going to have to answer a man who has a sincere desire to ask the tough questions we're never ever going to hear on Meet The Press. He's going to raise issues that will require Hilary to decide if she is going to betray her supporters in Wall Street or her supporters on Main Street. Bernie knows who his supporters are. He offers no uncertainty about his loyalties.

In fact, I think he's the only candidate we can be sure of. In the GOP Clown Car, we see no one who is loyal to the middle class. I'm even surprised to find former HP CEO Carly Fiorina scrunching herself into that clown car. Why would anyone consider a former CEO who took part in a merger that cost about 17,000 jobs? Because, as she put it, she "understands how the economy actually works". I guess that means she knows how to lay thousands of people off and still go to sleep at night.

Bernie Sanders has undisputed loyalty to the middle class. He sees the moral dilemma of an economy that lavishes the top 1% with all of the economic gains when the economy grows. He's willing to talk about it, too. On national TV. On radio. On his Facebook Page. Wherever we see him, he'll be talking about it when the other candidate refuse to do or say anything about it. He will be the only candidate to admit that the biggest reason the top 1% get 99% of the gains when the economy grows is due to government intervention in the markets. You know, public policy.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Creativity is not about money

Creativity is not about the money. Although it's true that people can make enormous sums of money from allowing their talents to express themselves, that is only because of government intervention the markets. This intervention comes in the form of patent and copyright protection of ideas and works of creative expression. But I don't think that people wake up in the morning with an urge to create something just for the money. I'd like to share with some of my observations on this point.

Many of you may remember the television show, Seinfeld, featuring Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld was a standup comedian before getting into television sitcoms, indeed, every episode of Seinfeld has a short segment of Seinfeld's stand up comedy. Production of Seinfeld stopped at ten years with high ratings and billions earned. The series has earned more than $3 billion in syndication for reruns since the last episode aired in 1998. Jerry Seinfeld turned down an astounding $5 million per episode to keep the show going.

But few know about the movie Jerry Seinfeld made after the movie, "The Comedian". I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Seinfeld show. After ten years of working the sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld went on the road to perform standup comedy with all new material. Here is a man who quit one of the popular television shows in history at the top of his game so he could drive around the country in his Porche and get on stage with new jokes.

In the movie we watch him bomb on stage. He even gets heckled. But he persists. He complains of his experience with two jokes, one that he loved he nurtured and polished, but saw no joy on stage. The other joke he hated, but the fans loved it. He had to face the fact that the fans get to decide which jokes get the laughs. Jerry is not doing that for the money. He's doing it because he loves doing standup comedy and he didn't want to stop.

Then there is Paul McCartney. I'm a big fan of his music and I appreciate the fact that he made enough money with the Beatles to never have to work again if he didn't want to. He's currently worth around $750 million, more than any other musician out there. But he's still writing. He's still touring.

Take the venerable album, RAM. McCartney didn't set out to make every song a hit song as far as I can tell, though some of his songs did become hits. The album got negative reviews among critics, but was eventually hailed as a classic. The most memorable song from the album, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is a medley of tunes that is just pure creative expression. During that recording I don't think McCartney was thinking about money, more likely, he was thinking about how much fun it is to make music.

I've seen video of McCartney on tour and on late night TV. I kid you not, the expression on his face when he's on stage playing his bass guitar and singing is priceless. It says that there is nothing he'd rather be doing right at that moment than performing.

I'll close with a note about Gene Hackman. Back in the 70's, Gene Hackman was famous for movies like The French Connection. His tough guy persona proved popular and people took him seriously. But Hackman got word of a movie in production, "Young Frankenstein", featuring Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. He called Wilder and asked if he could have a small part in that movie, and he didn't even ask for money. He just wanted to be in it. Where does Hackman turn up in a beloved 70's comedy movie? He's the blind priest pouring hot tea in Young Frankenstein's lap. I learned that from watching the extras on the DVD.

All of these people participated in the creative arts out of a sincere desire to share their works. Yes, they get paid for their work, and sometimes the sums were incredibly large. But none of their efforts are really any fun unless their work is shared.

I know this from my writing, too. I write every day. I try to blog every day and I'm mostly successful at getting a blog out every day. But none of this would be any fun if I kept it all to myself. I enjoy writing alone, but sharing it with you makes the effort worth the while.