Fewer Newspapers Readers, More Fake News

Fake news (or just plain false stories) about politicians have been around for over two hundred years but certainly not to the extent as in recent years; we can blame the internet and social media for that.

It’s sort of ironic because the great hope of the internet was that it would bring much needed knowledge and understanding to the masses.  No one can argue about the availability of unlimited information, but with no oversight on news; distortion, exaggeration and omission of facts are commonly used to promote biased agendas that satisfy and embellish a particular ideology.

The overall purpose of the news media in general should be to keep the public informed of things that will directly or indirectly affect their lives. That’s the only way a democracy based on the voting public can function fairly. Those who get their exclusive news from facebook are subject to deception that clouds their ability to reason in an objective way.

It’s not a coincidence the spread of fake, partial truths, and distorted news has increased while readership in mainstream newspapers has fallen off.  Newspapers are written for the general public and articles are based on the most accurate non- partisan information available. Unlike many internet sources of free news, they have a reputation to their paid subscribers based on trust.

The editorial page may have a liberal or conservative slant but that’s the opinion of certain individuals; that’s why they call it an editorial. You may agree or disagree with the editorial but it’s important that citizens consider diverse points of view. In general, with the possible exception of the Wall Street Journal, major newspapers are written for working class people and are not subject to the pressures of special interest and big money that heavily influence TV networks.

News programs on network TV (with the exception of PBS) are beholden to sponsors.  As such, the quality and scope of the news is secondary to the number of viewers. To increase ratings the news is high on drama (such as shootings, car chases, disastrous weather conditions and other human tragedies) and low on thought provoking content, especially stories on how the latest major political or international news affects the average citizen.

In an effort to fill in the 24 hour cable news cycle, FOX, and MSNBC are long on opinionated political commentary (FOX promoting Republican views and MSNBC supporting Democratic- Liberal views.)  Nothing helps viewership (and ratings) like controversy and FOX and MSNBC are complicit in mudding up the water by giving a voice to biased information.  In an effort to bridge the partisan divide, CNN has created the most redundant, repetitive, news of all. Their continuous coverage of one or two stories, while ignoring other important worldly news, makes it the most boring  unintelligent news of all.

Presenting both sides of an issue equality may be a disservice to the public.  If there are two opposing beliefs such as Global Warming where one is 98% fact based and the other is  98% ideological B.S., it doesn’t make sense to give the same respect to both sides. This just results in public confusion and apathy.

Since there is usually some truth to any ideology, all relevant statistical information should be used to evaluate or measure the validity of political opinion.  Agencies such as the GAO, CBO, ORIA, USFACTS or other non partisan scientific studies, subject to peer review, should be part of all pertinent factual news coverage.

Most fake, distorted and biased news is created to promote an ideology. It’s imperative that the viewer or reader be somewhat familiar with the political views of the source to evaluate its accuracy or truthfulness.

When the founding fathers included the phase “promote the general welfare” in the preamble to the constitution, they declared the government had a responsibility to create laws that best serve the people. But the people have a responsibility to evaluate issues and vote according to keep their democracy. That requires an understanding of what’s true and what is subjective opinion.

The best source of news is still major newspapers, weather printed or on line. In the words of Thomas Jefferson “Our liberty depends on freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost”

 

 

Laissez Faire and Off-Shoring

 Laissez Faire and Fifty Years of Off-Shoring

While serving in the Navy during the Viet Nam war in 1966 our ship, the USS Talladega, stopped at the Yokosuka naval base in Japan for some much needed liberty. The town part of Yokosuka consisted mostly of bars and small stores typical of towns that sprung up near naval bases. In the middle of town and seemingly out of place was a large industrial plant with the big bold letters RCA on the roof. I though it strange that this giant American corporation, (at the time one of the largest manufacturer of TV’s, radios and stereos in the world,) would be making stuff in Japan. Little did I know this was indicative of the process of off- shoring that would over time decimate large scale manufacturing in the U.S.

A half century later, Donald Trump’s idea of stopping and reversing job loss due to off shoring by renegotiating trade deals in conjunction with higher import fees, was a major factor in his surprising victory. It was a great sales pitch by a known huckster, but workers whose jobs were lost due to cheap labor in other countries, were tired of being ignored by congress. The process of off shoring had been going on for over fifty years with over 30 million good manufacturing jobs lost, and it took  Donald Trump a republican  reality TV star, to make this a political issue. The Democratic Party, that was supposed to represent the working class, was caught napping and Trump stole their voters and the election.

The Democratic Party miscalculated the discontent of many hard working people who blamed the government for their lost jobs. Apparently the Democrats felt the whole idea of stopping off shoring and bringing back manufacturing jobs was not realistic and just a campaign gimmick. Trump wasn’t concerned about possible consequences or the truth, just told the voters what he thought they wanted to hear.

The people who lost their jobs liked Trump’s simplistic approach; just increase tariffs to those companies who off-shored manufacturing and ship back products to the mainland. They couldn’t understand why government hadn’t taken similar action to minimize off-shoring and save American jobs years ago. However, a lot of simplistic ideas that sound good in principle fall apart in practice.

To start with, as the leader of the free world, the U.S. has some essential responsibilities such as promoting democratic principles and being the head of international commerce. The whole concept of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which this country has led and promoted for over twenty years,  is based on minimizing restrictions such as tariffs and quotas between countries.

Bringing back manufacturing jobs by increasing tariffs,  will likely lead to trade wars which is what the WTO was designed to prevent.. This is not what is expected from the leader of the free world and such a bill would never get through congress; the potential consequences are too great.

When the WTO was formed, the option of off-shoring labor to maximize profits and remain competitive became an acceptable part of free trade and globalization. Large U.S. companies could gain access to trade in developing countries, which were desperate for employment, by creating manufacturing plants there and take advantage of cheap labor, low taxes and fewer regulations in the process.

It was a win, win, win for Corporate America whose primary consideration under capitalism, is and always has been, short term profits to the share holders. If the workers though the government was somehow responsible for their plight, they apparently didn’t understand the implications of Laissez Faire as promoted by the chamber of commerce and corporate lobbyist.

This philosophy of free markets seeks to eliminate regulations and potential social responsibilities such as consequences to laid-off workers. The plain truth of the matter is corporate America has prospered from international trade by treating labor as a commodity and hiding behind  the ideology of Laissez Faire to justify lost American jobs.

Free markets are great for creating profitable companies that reward its principle managers, stockholders and those with expertise in high demand, but not for workers with limited skills. There is a surplus of such workers due to many years of out-sourcing and moving companies out of the country.

It’s obvious to everyone except those in government who have been paid to look the other way for years; the loss of these manufacturing jobs has led to an increase in poverty,  crime and drug use.

Governments’ reply has been:  it’s all due to Globalization, technology and automation; the displaced workers will just have to adapt. But how? Companies that laid them off have shunned responsibility for adequate compensation or retraining. Older workers in particular have found it difficult to re-train for other careers.

There is something very unpatriotic with a system that rewards companies and their share holders when U.S. workers are replaced with foreign labor. It’s not like the government couldn’t see this coming; we have had over fifty years to come up with a plan to minimize the detrimental effects of off-shoring.

Many of these workers have had to settle for retail positions such as those at WalMart  or McDonalds) at a fraction of their previous earnings. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class, growing inequality, and more people needing public assistance to make ends meet. The Republican Party, in particular, berates public assistance programs, yet has been resistant to government intervention  which could reduce job losses.

Trumps saving 800 or so jobs at Carrier in Indiana (a drop in the bucket) made national headlines.  But, the process of giving multimillion dollar tax cuts to secure   manufacturing industries has been going on for decades by state government officials eager to land these businesses and enhance their reelection chances.

This competition between states has resulted in the race to the bottom in terms of tax revenue. The developmental cost and lack of revenue impacts public services necessary to run the government effectively. The threat of moving the business out of the country keeps taxes low and often results in poor or unenforced environmental regulations.   Everybody likes low taxes, but nobody wants to live in a town with dirty water, inadequate police departments, poor roads, Schools, parks, and sanitation facilities.

These gifts to manufacturing to lure industries to their particular state are in contrast to the Free Market principles of Laissez Faire, where cooperation with the federal government is shunned. The greed of  maximum profit to the stockholders trumps cooperation with the federal government to keep manufacturing jobs in this country.

It doesn’t have to be that way; we could take a lesson from Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Canada  and the Scandinavian Countries who have managed to hold on to a higher percentage of their manufacturing facilities by ignoring the dogma of  Laissez Faire. The result could reduce poverty, grow the middle class and improve social conditions. It’s another example of fixed ideology trumping the benefits of social good and patriotism.

 

 

Make America Great Again

Whenever I here that Trump slogan of “Make America Great Again” I think of the spoken intro to the song “Try To Remember, The Way We Were” by Gladys Knight released in 1994.  It goes like this: Everybody talking about the good old days. As bad as we think these times are, these will be the good old days of our children.

The logic is simple enough; if you’re young, healthy, have few responsibilities and a multitude of opportunities, life is good. That intro is followed by “The Way We Were” which contains the classic lyrics: Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.

Together these two poetic lines are descriptive of why most of us consider the past as being better; hence the slogan “the good old days.” Every generation of young people, regardless of their social and economic status, will create favorable memories they can relate to.

So, Trumps slogan of “make America great again,” (that he plagiarized from Ronald Reagan), is just a ploy that takes advantage of most people’s fondness for the past. The slogan “take america back” that has been used by Ron Paul and other republicans takes advantage of the same sentiment.

However, different age groups see the good old days differently, consequently there’s no agreement on when or what made America great to start with or what circumstances or year America should be taken back to.  In the context of these  slogans, most flag waving citizens would have trouble articulating what the word America means to them .

Does it refer to human rights, the federal government, states rights, various cultures, job opportunities,  social conditions, the laws that govern, ……What does the word America really mean?

How exactly can you say that America was great if you can’t spell out what things or qualities were lost or diminished? To have any validity, that loss would have to be relative to past and present conditions in other countries (which most people have never lived in) because greatness needs comparisons to have any meaning.

I wonder about the people who make a display out of burning the flag.  What are they trying to say?  Making people who don’t know why they’re patriotic angry, accomplishes nothing.  When politicians such as Donald Trump boast of his love for this country I say to myself; Really!! What does he love about it?; certainly not the government or the people who run it.  Maybe he loves his own buildings.

 

 

 

 

Ideology and Politics

Ideology and Politics

Indiana Governor Mike Pence flatly states he is a Christian first and a governor second. That’s makes his religion a major influence on how he governs.  His approval of legislation to limit gay rights and abortion are surely a result of his religious beliefs, or at least his interpretation of them. This shows a disregard for the constitutions’ separation of church and state and brings up the whole concept of religion as ideology relative to government policy.

I’m sure, like all politicians, he considers himself to be a fair minded person, but all self-righteous leaders tend to be repressive if given the chance. In fact, any kind of legislation based on fixed ideology of any kind is likely discriminatory and cannot be considered government by the people, for the people.

This begs the question; how do those in congress who strongly identify themselves as conservative (most liberals tend to be less ideological) evaluate proposed legislation without prejudice. The very nature of their ideology is an obstacle for thinking objectively.

This is so because fixed ideology affects the perception of how information is interpreted. We all tend to simplify new ideas into familiar concepts we can easily understand. Our ideology acts like a filter that emphasizes the information that is consistent with strong beliefs and downplays or ignores what doesn’t seem applicable. It’s a given, strongly ideological people are inclined to evaluate complex ideas in a subjective manner.

It is my opinion Conservative members of congress are primarily responsible for the present gridlock in congress today because their rigid beliefs limit the scope and ability of the federal government to function. To some extent, philosophical differences have been around since the signing of the constitution. But in recent years, fixed ideology has eliminated the middle ground necessary to get things done. It seems Conservatives in general are OK with a do nothing congress that provides low taxes with minimal influence in the private sector.

Ronald Reagan personified this line of thinking with his famous quote:  “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m with the government and I’m here to help.” This got lots of laughs, but I wondered why anyone with such a low opinion of government would want to be part of it, much less the chief bureaucrat. There are too many members of congress with similar views. We need people that can evaluate proposed legislation in a pragmatic non ideological, non partisan manner.

 

If you truly believe “promoting the general welfare” as stated in the preamble of the constitution is part of the government’s job, you have to have an ideology that permits the government to be an active partner in the economy. Those who create gridlock by refusing to be open-minded enough to compromise on their ideology should not be in government.

 

 

 

Fear Factor of Guns

Fear Factor of Guns                       7/20/016

In the quest for higher TV station ratings to appease its sponsors, many of the gun related 30,000 incidents of gun violence in the U.S. last year made the local evening news. Unfortunately, this appetite for news drama creates fear and insecurity among its viewers and  stimulates the demand for more and more guns.  Nothing sells guns like fear.  This fits perfectly into NRA’s Wayne Lapierre quote of “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” I’m sure the gun manufactures couldn’t agree more. However, there are several problems with this heroic logic.

This quote is a response to terrorism where someone is randomly shooting into a group of people to maximize fatalities.  When rapid gunfire breaks out in a crowded area, (like the nightclub in Orlando Fla.) invariably mass chaos sets in and people start running and screaming in all directions. From a patrons’ standpoint (even if armed), the first instinct is to get away from the gunfire not confront the shooter.

To get into a gun battle with a person or persons shooting indiscriminately with a semi automatic weapon during a stampede of people is just not logical. The bad guy has a plan, the element of surprise, doesn’t care who he shoots and is fighting for a principle or belief (however distorted), that is greater than his/her fear of death.

If armed citizens were to act courageously, they would first have to identify the shooter or shooters correctly.  But, how would they distinguish themselves or other good guys with guns from the bad guys?  It’s not like they are going to have labels stating; I’m the bad/good guy.   It’s unrealistic to expect the average citizen to make that kind of decision in a chaotic situation.  Trained police officers in Orlando Fla. took three hours to come up with a plan to minimize innocent bystanders and take out the shooter.

It’s totally inaccurate and grossly simplistic to break gun violence into good guys and bad guys anyway. Although gun violence from terrorism gets a ton of national TV coverage when it occasionally occurs, on a yearly basis, it makes up less than five percent of all shootings.  The vast majority of everyday incidents are the result of gang violence, out of control tempers, suicides or just plain accidents.

Unlike other weapons that can lead to severe injury or death, gun violence is in a category by itself. There are three obvious reasons for this:  (1) you don’t have to be close to someone to inflict damage. (2) It doesn’t require strength or skill to fire a gun.  (3) The fear of being shot leads to overreaction by others who are also armed.

Unlike being threatened with a knife or other hand held weapon, you can’t move away or fight back against a gun unless you have another gun.  Compared to other weapons, this makes accidental self defense violence a common occurrence.

The two recent police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and St Paul are perfect examples of this.  You can accuse the police of racial bias, poor judgment or just plain incompetence, but if the suspects were unarmed, they would still be alive today. It’s clear the fear of being shot by the suspects was the deciding factor in the outcome. I’m sure both black men felt being armed gave them a sense of security; they didn’t comprehend the fear factor imposed by the gun.

The logic is simple; a gun is a tool. If you carry a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you carry or have quick access to a gun, your perception of being threatened and what to do about it, includes the use of your weapon for protection. This mentality leads to the assumption that many others are also armed and may use their gun first.

As a result, if someone overreacts during a heated argument and perceives a threat erroneously, the mistake can be deadly. The stand your ground law makes this scenario even more likely.  You don’t have to be a bad guy to be shot, just a victim of misunderstood intentions.

However, the probability for gun violence is heavily influenced by the type of gun, location and culture. In Switzerland, where rifles are in most all homes as part of a civilian militia, shootings are practically nonexistent.  It’s not much of a stretch to connect the low crime rate, lack of pistols and concealed weapons with this phenomenon.

The conclusion is simple enough; it’s not the number of guns per capita; it’s the intended use of the weapons. If the guns were purchased primarily for hunting and as part of a standing militia (which is what the second amendment’s intent really was) it’s unlikely to be used as a means to solve personal problems. When guns are purchased as a crime deterrent, the fear factor ups the odds the weapons will actually be used in a reckless or deadly manner.

Although the NRA’s influence has prohibited statistical studies, (gee I wonder why they legislate against statistics) there is no evidence to support the idea that having a firearm will make you safer. If purchased out of fear, it’s more likely to result in accidental usage. All other things being equal, an increase in armed citizens will result in more gun violence because of the fear factor. You don’t need statistics to prove this, it’s just common sense.

Unless you are shooting at multiple targets that are close together, the large magazines available for semi automatic weapons serve no practicable purpose. If used in hunting, any animal would be long gone if not down by the fourth or fifth shot.

To guard against an intruder in your house, all you really need is a shotgun.  The sound of the pump action alone would be enough to scare away  most any  bugler.  The fear factor can work for you or against you; it’s all a matter of circumstances.

Ultimately, the only way to reduce gun related deaths is to implement background checks and drastically reduce the availability of pistols on the market. This can be done by creating a buy-back plan similar to what was used in Australia  in conjunction with a ban on new weapons sold in the U.S.  Eventually (after many years of buybacks and no new weapons being sold)  pistols will become expense and hard to find. The result will be less gun violence and less fear of guns.

 

 

Apple Vs The FBI

Apple vs. the FBI

In order to be effective, all security organizations weather it’s the FBI, CIA, NSA or the local police department need pertinent information to prevent, deter or solve crimes.   Sacrificing a degree of privacy to gather such information is necessary for these agencies to function and provide us with necessary law enforcement and crime prevention. Without it, society as we know it will deteriorate into chaos and tribal warfare.

In Apple vs the FBI, the president of Apple, Tim Cook, is portraying the request to help unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino’s killers as a civil liberty matter. But in reality, it’s a financial issue; a less secure phone loses some value and that has a negative affect on  Apples’  bottom line. Using the old slippery slope syndrome, Apple is trying to justify its lack of cooperation by creating worst case scenarios resulting from the phone being hacked.

To start with, Apple is not in the security business. They are not in the position to evaluate or predict what affect a less secure phone would have on information relative to personal use or national security. The transfer of confidential or top secret information has been going on for decades before the smart phone was invented, so it’s ridiculous to assume we can’t communicate securely without an encrypted iphone.

In this particular case, the phone could be sent back to Apple to unlock and returned without disclosing the method or software necessary to do the job.  The idea that Apple couldn’t internally contain the secret of unlocking the phone just doesn’t hold up. The R & D department has to have a multitude of trade secrets just to keep up with the latest updates or new product designs.  One more secret wouldn’t make much difference.

That of course wouldn’t solve the many other similar cases involving not only Apple but other encrypted phones, tablets or computers, etc.  There could (and probably should be) be a secret backdoor built in specifically for, and with the cooperation of, the FBI/ NSA which could use this information only for cases involving national security. The FBI and NSA have better things to do than spy on private citizens without just cause. For those citizens paranoid to believe otherwise, there are always: disposable phones, secure land lines, the post office, or trusted messengers etc.

However, sharing information  between the government and the manufactures could not be mandated because most of the phones are made outside the country. Therefore the companies would have to disclose the secret backdoor in cooperation with the FBI/CIA.

Unfortunately there is public support for not sharing such information because trust issues with the federal government are at an all-time low.  But, any agency of the government is no better or worse than the people that make up the agency. Despite all the negative press about the federal government, I would much rather put my trust in professional career criminal investigators than a bunch of high tech geeks of dubious integrity.

Remember when JFK famously said “Don’t ask what the country can do for you but what you can do for your country” Well, you can’t have a safe, fair and free country without federal agencies. Perhaps it’s a better idea to support and cooperate with them instead of being confrontational. That not only applies to individuals but companies like Apple who seem more concerned with their bottom line than national security.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Justices and the Constitution

The passing of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia nine months before a presidential election has created future legal and consequently legislature implications for both republican and democratic parties. Obama  will likely nominate a left of center candidate to replace the conservative minded Scalia   The  republican controlled senate has vowed to stall the process and hope the next  president (being a republican) can nominate a more  conservative minded candidate.  All  justices are supposed to be above partisan politics, but (assuming the nominee is a court judge) the influence of ideology on decision making can be reasonably deduced from public records.

As a representation of fairness without preconception,  (Lady Justice with scales, sword and blindfold) all judges consider themselves neutral in all matters. I doubt any judge considers himself or herself biased in deliberations leading to a verdict.  Ideology comes into play because decisions by the Courts are supposedly  based on the Constitution.  Although one of the most revered documents in the world, diverse interpretations leave plenty of room  for Justices to utilize their own  ideology, creating  philosophical issues regarding the function and fairness of the Court.   Consider the following:

The history of the document indicates there were vast  disagreements between the framers, particularly about the power  and scope (designated as federalist or anti-federalist) of the federal government.  In order to get the document ratified in 1778, interactions between federal and states were purposely left vague.  Controversial issues such as slavery and women rights were deliberately left out.   To appease some of the states about the clarity of civil liberties,  the Bill of Rights was added to the original document.  Still, disagreements among the delegates resulted in a series of compromises with only 39 of the 55 framers (probably many reluctantly) signing the much needed document.  It would be naive to think ,if alive today, there would be a consensus  agreement  by the founding fathers on today’s issues of contention.

The framers were great men, but they weren’t fortune tellers.  There is no way they could have predicted  how the interpretation of this magnificent document would affect future society.  The industrial revolution had not begun in 1787 and the wealth in this country was in the hands of land owners.  Lobbyist were a rare breed. Political office didn’t pay much; so there wasn’t much incentive for making it a career.

Fast forward to today where well paid career politicians, depend on special interest funding to stay in office.  Partisan politics and ideology fueled by these interest have created gridlock.  It’s clear “big money’s”  negative influence on legislation has not been understood by the supreme court because of the ill-defined language in the Constitution.

It is naive to think this 229 year old vague, compromised document is the one and only consideration for equal justice under the law.  I’am not suggesting we do away with the Supreme Court or it’s  reverence to the Constitution. But,  when there is considerable disagreement on interpretation, the prudent consideration for Supreme Court justices should be to weight the consequences to society in today’s world, not the world of 1787.

If that is impossible to predict then there needs to be a mechanism for review and change without a formal amendment.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “No work of man is perfect. It is inevitable that in the course of time, the imperfections of a written Constitution will become apparent.”Most citizens are aware of the 27 adopted amendments, but few realize there have been 1,000 attempts;   maybe it’s time to amend the amendment process as well. Getting 2/3 of the current polarized, divided congress to agree on anything seems next to impossible.

Capitalism and Equal Opportunity

In the last 100 years or so, primarily under free market capitalism, this country has created wealth, measured as GDP/per capita that is the envy of the rest of the world.  It’s a given; the quest for maximizing profit has been the motivation for this success, resulting in a higher standard of living and creating the idea of “the American dream”.  However there have always been issues of fairness based on opportunities between individuals and businesses, with a system that is fixated on profits at the expense of everything else.

Capitalism’s basic premise relative to individuals is:   Competitions between people will drive the economy by rewarding those who work the hardest and contribute to society the most. But, if you ask billionaires how they achieved success, most will frankly admit luck played a huge role. If Bill Gates or Steve Jobs had been born 30 years earlier or later, nobody would know who they are today. Technology had to be at the right stage for them to achieve greatness.  If Elvis or the Beatles had been born 30 years earlier or later chances are they would never have amounted to much.  Sure they were talented, but the world is full of talented hardworking people who have struggled to put food on the table. Over 2/3 of  all new business start ups will fail in the first three years regardless of the dreams, money and toil of the entrepreneurs. At this very moment there are probably a million smart, ambitious talented people in the unemployment line.

Those who have created or invented things that have greatly benefited society are often poorly rewarded.  Do you know any of the following ?  Vladimer Zworykin invented the TV, Joseph Bequn- the tape recorder, Robert Goddard- Liquid fueled rockets, Frederick Banting-insulin, Garrett Morgan-the traffic signal.  There are hundreds of creators and inventors who have died without achieving great wealth or fame.   Luck and timing is often a greater factor to financial success than skill, hard work or one’s benefit to society.

Another major contributor to financial success is enhanced opportunity measured as family wealth or social connections.  College education or career assistance makes life much easier when parents and family members are wealthy and supportive.  If the student or young adult chooses poorly and things don’t work out, the wealthy family can provide other options without much difficulty.  In contrast, student loans will shackle the student of a poor family and limit secondary opportunities. Furthermore, family influence and connections often mean the difference between having a career or being unemployed. The old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” is reality for anyone seeking to better themselves.  It’s not an accident that so many politicians have family members in the same profession even when their expertise and talent is lacking. George W. Bush for example; need I say more?

Even if luck, family wealth and personal connections were not a factor in financial success, outcomes will vary greatly because people are not in any sense of the word “equal.” There are vast differences in intelligence (measured as IQ) and nine types of innate natural abilities (such as mathematical, musical, linguistic, mechanical aptitude etc) which can contribute to our learning abilities and job performance.  Here again luck plays a large part. Suppose for example, you were born with a natural aptitude in music or mathematics but the culture you were raised in didn’t recognized or support the means to explore or expand on it. This amounts to opportunity lost that could have influenced someone’s occupational success.

Another personal contributing factor to success or failure is one’s own disposition.  Ask any parent to describe the differences in their sibling’s (even identical twins) personality. Chances are excellent the descriptions will include such expressions as: He/She is more adventurous, aggressive, talkative, competitive, poised, etc than the other sibling.  These differences in disposition (although hard to measure) will likely influence education paths and future job potential. If you are naturally inclined to behave in a certain manner, it will positively or negatively affect your job performance and achievements.

It’s a given, behind every Ethnic and religious conflict lies unequal economic factors. Even with all the equal opportunity laws present in this country, discrimination, of one kind or another can influence who is hired and who is promoted.

Any combination of the above reasons can affect the potential for financial success. When libertarians or republicans say “Anyone can achieve the American dream and if you don’t it’s your own fault” they are not dealing with reality. Its obvious individuals don’t share equal opportunities under a free market economy and neither do competing businesses.

Maximizing profit in a business usually results in increased gain in one company at the financial loss of another. That’s great for the price conscious consumer when there is a wide selection of businesses. However, it’s an obvious fact; the easiest way to increase profits is to eliminate your competition. If too difficult, the next best option is to collude with your competitors for mutual benefit and keep new businesses from entering the marketplace. This however stifles economic growth and the jobs they would create.

In the early 19th century this country let the rest of the world in manufacturing.  At that time, the major problem with a free market system was the tendency toward a trust or near monopoly. For example, the breakup of Standard Oil and the railroads under the Sherman Anti-Trust act was necessary to create a level playing field. This in turn benefited the general public by creating more opportunities for new businesses and eventually lower cost to the consumer. Competition outside the country was limited mainly because of high shipping cost, and poor communications. But over time, foreign imports in commodities such as sugar, corn, steel, cotton and lumber increased to the point where subsidies or tariffs were necessary to protect large industries in the U.S. from going out of business. We ceased having a pure free market system when government intervened to save these industries at their request.

Most people think of government subsidies as helping the poor but large corporation have benefited considerably more. The pattern of a love-hate relationship between big business and government was set: love governments methods to limit competition and increase profits, hate government regulations that protect the interest of the general public but drive up cost.

Another flaw in capitalism’s goal of maximizing profits is nearsightedness. When all businesses are fixated on their own financial interest, the cumulative unintended consequences can be disastrous for the general public or the country.  This is essentially what happened during the 2008 banking crises when due to a lack of regulations and transparency on trillions of dollars in derivatives (whose value plummeted with the fall of Lehman Brothers)  trust between banks disappeared.  This had a disastrous affect on the entire economy which relies on the secure transfer of credit to function.   Each bank was concerned with their own interest, not the welfare of entire economy. This concept of maximizing profits for the company to the detriment of society plays out in several other ways.

The negative effect on the environment is an obvious example.  When companies deal with externalizes such as water or air pollution, the natural tendency is to ignore or under fund treatment of the problem.   This is cumulative when multiple businesses fail to significantly reduce the amount of pollution thereby raising the consequences to the public at large.

Without doubt, the largest problem with maximizing profits in this country is the affect on unemployment. Reducing labor cost by specialization, automation and technology is an inherent part of capitalism and is necessary to make things more affordable.  However, the very nature of automation of any kind (reducing man hours) affects employment in a negative way.  Compounding this trade-off, and relative to this country, Multi-National corporations, in conjunction with many trade agreements, have shifted American jobs to other countries where labor, taxes and regulation cost is considerably less. Additionally, within the last 10 years, access to the internet and the ability to digitize dam near anything, has resulted in job losses too many white collar occupations previously considered safe from foreign competition.

The free market concept of maximizing profits has benefited owners of large corporations, at the expense of good American jobs and job opportunities. Highly educated technical people have done well but many previous middle class employees are either unemployed or working in retail for a fraction of the pay. The bottom line is: quality jobs created by globalization are considerably less than jobs lost.  The difference has created a diminished middle class and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.  Again, this is a cumulative occurrence, not one an individual company would likely be concerned about.  Maximizing profits at the expense of everything else creates a self-serving somewhat oblivious outlook for the entire economy.

Most conservative republicans and Libertarians continue their dogma of free markets denouncing government intervention claiming regulations and government intervention are to blame. It’s obvious the “trickle down, greed is good” theory of economics is only working for a small percentage of Americans who have a disproportionate amount of political influence.

It’s easy to criticize the government for creating dependency on handouts, but opportunities for gainful employment in this country are lacking due to the very free market system that brought us prosperity.  It’s about time we admit capitalism’s concept of “maximizing profits at the expense of everything else” has created an unacceptable amount inequality and lack of opportunity.

Presently, with the current laws, it’s easier for the rich to get a favorable return with less risk using financial tools such as derivatives or hedge funds than to expand or start a new company in this country.  However, moving money around just to increase wealth is neither responsible nor patriotic. It’s the self serving attitude of the very wealthy that has created inequality, loss of demand and stagnation

Instead of  vilifying the government for the expansion of social programs enabling the poor, the super rich (and there are 65, 000 U.S. residents with assets of over 30 million) need to step up to the plate and invest in this country.  By working with government  in research, education and  job training (similar to what Germany is doing), free market money can be focused on the country’s greatest needs, not just the most profitable for an individual company.

If we assume that government and economics are inseparable, it’s in government’s best interest to pass laws, support institutions and create opportunities for its citizens to prosper. A sure recipe for society and consequently governments’ collapse is to ignore the economic needs of the people.  Being a slave to capitalism and free market ideology is not working for the vast majority of Americans. To minimize inequality and maximize opportunity, Government’s role as a facilitator or partner should be incorporated into the economic system.

Presidential Primary Debates

Presidential Debates

If you’re like me, you’re fed up with the TV presidential primary debates; they are long on theater, but fall short on purpose. By that I mean, the intent of the debates should be to help citizens pick out the best candidate for the job of President of the United States. Instead what the debates continue to give us is entertainment and scripted information, which is of little value in evaluating competence.

Having watched several of the debates, my observation is as follows: The moderator asks a specific question to the candidate. The subject matter the question is derived from (being previously memorized) is discussed for two or three minutes. This, sleight of hand, makes the candidate look knowledgeable and hopefully the viewing audience will get confused about what the question really was and overlook the fact that the candidate didn’t answer it.

So, trying to determine a candidates’ knowledge or expertise is difficult. The influence of advisers or speech writers on how best to answer questions in a general way that appeals to the party’s base is undeniable. It’s difficult to evaluate what, strategy or plan if elected, the candidate would use to solve or minimize real problems facing this country. Donald Trump’s bold ideas are great theater but simple solutions to protracted problems are rarely without consequences or financial concerns, both of which he chooses to ignore.

The president has to wear many hats such as: commander in chief, guardian of the economy, chief legislature, head of all federal employees etc. The one quality that is necessary to attend to these diverse positions in a responsible manner is diplomacy. This should not be confused with Donald Trumps’ claim to be deal maker, which is usually a matter of financial leverage. A president’s diplomatic skills are critical for his performance in leading the country and getting things done.

In the real world there are very few major issues of contention that can be resolved with win-win strategies. Diplomacy is a give and take reality if we are to minimize tensions between parties, people, cultures and countries. Ideology that precludes compromise may sound good to those who strongly identify themselves as conservative or liberal, but is usually detrimental to resolving issues.

A more pragmatic approach to solving problems requires cooperation between Government and private enterprise. If you don’t believe in governments’ role in “making this country great again” per Donald Trump, then you shouldn’t be running for public office period. Like most things in life, a balanced approach usually works best and diplomacy is a lot more important than authenticity or bluster.

All politicians claim that, if elected, they will seek common ground and work across the aisle. But for that to be effective,  you have be open-minded enough to put ideology and party politics aside and focus on doing what’s best for the country. I doubt any candidate will disagree with that in principle.  So the question I have is: how would you go about doing that?  If they don’t have the diplomatic skills the job requires, they aren’t qualified to be president.

 

 

Table Tennis at Ekin Ave

 

The Ekin ave site in New Albany Indiana is a great place to play table tennis. You can’t beat the price and convenient playing opportunities.  However due to  a lack of foresight and poor leadership, there are serious  questions about the long term use of this great facility.

When I started playing there about 27 years ago play was limited to the west room (about 3000 sq. ft.) above the Boys and Girls club.  The club had to pay something like $27/hr to the parks dept. to open the door and utilize the playing area.  The gymnastic club occupied the 3000 sq ft adjacent east room.

About seven years ago, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, the gymnastic club and the parks dept. moved out and left the east room vacant.  The club  somehow ended up with two keys to the front door.  As a result we essentially were given exclusive use of over  6000 sq ft. of open space with wood floors perfect for table tennis.

Talk about Serendipity! That’s like winning the lottery.   Why would the city of New Albany let the table tennis club occupy 6000 sq ft of space with utilities and restrooms facilities for nothing?

It turns out; the City of New Albany spent a lot of money on handicap access bringing the downstairs Boys and Girls club into compliance a few years back but probably figured the cost of installing an elevator to the second floor just wasn’t worth it. Without handicap access to the second floor, renting it out by the city had the potential to result in lawsuits.

So….. Because the table tennis club had a long respectable history with some  positive press, courtesy of Gary Schroder and Paul Holligier, they decided to let us stay without a lease. Gordon was never shy about boasting about the C501c3 nonprofit status of the club to the players during group meetings, so the city was probably under the impression that the club was a non-profit.  It’s reasonable to assume, creating public good was part of the decision to give us keys to the front door and a free ride.

For the next three years however, table tennis play at Ekin continued to be on  Wednesday only and the club used the vacated east room for storage.   On Sunday’s I played at the Graceland Church in New Albany.  Jeff Napier was the coordinator and the only church member.  Attendance dropped off when, due to his erratic sales schedule, the gym wasn’t always open for table tennis play on Sunday.

I asked Jeff if we could move the Sunday play at Graceland to Ekin Ave and take advantage of the mostly empty east room.  I assured him I would be responsible for it being open every Sunday if I could get the key from Jeff Smith. He reluctantly agreed because the uncertainty of not knowing if there would be play or not was a problem for everybody.  Jeff Smith gave me the key and the OK for setting it up, but I got the feeling he didn’t care whether it worked out or not, just so he had another reliable key holder to open the club.

The floor in the east room was rough and uneven so I spent two days patching and sanding down the grooves to make it more playable. Terry Crowell and I added a fixture and improved the lighting at the far end of the east room. We worked on the air conditioner drain lines to eliminate the water leakage on the floor.  I got a team of volunteers together to scrape off the peeling paint and get the place painted.  It was dirty work, at one point the fire alarm went off and the fire department came.  Later, Gordon bragged to some visiting New Albany officials how we worked hard to get the place scraped and painted even though neither he nor Jeff Smith had showed up to do the work.

I got with Paul Holligier at  Beechmont who sent out an E mail to all the local players about the Sunday hours at Ekin, but even so, attendance was slow at first. There were several players that wouldn’t or couldn’t make the transition from the church to Ekin Ave. To boost attendance, I encouraged players at Beechmont, regardless of their skill level, to come over and check out the site at Ekin Ave on Sunday.

Terry Crowell was the best diplomat for new players; he always made newbie’s feel welcome regardless of their skill level.  That’s critical if you’re trying to boast attendance and expect people to come back.  Gordon Allstott  who didn’t come on Sunday’s  for about a year,  generally ignored new players unless they were near his competitive playing level.  Jeff Smith never showed up; even for  a cameo appearance.    Without a doubt, the success of the Sunday program was due to the effort and commitment Terry and I made when nobody else much cared.

Since we didn’t have any agreement with the city for the use of the building, it was obvious the club was on shaky ground.  I wrote two letters trying to persuade Jeff , John and Gordon  to make a donation to the city for roof repair and donate some money to the Boys and Girls club. There is a long list of organizations who donate to the Boys and Girls club,  the table tennis club is noticeably absent . We would look considerably more worthy of this incredible gift given to us by the City if we had some “skin in the game.”  By not responding to the letters, it was obvious, they didn’t think it was any of my business.

I reasoned the club belongs to everybody, not just three guys. If the club loses this facility, everybody suffers the consequences.  Jeff’s idea of going down the road with twenty grand or so and opening  another facility was just ludicrous.  It would probably cost  a million just to build, and twenty grand a year for taxes, insurance and utilities.  If we moved into an existing facility and shared space with volleyball and basketball, our prime time, low cost playing opportunities would be gone.

With the success of the Sunday program, Cameron  Luo wanted to start play on Fridays to give us three playing opportunities a week.  But, because we only had two keys, he and I had to pass the key back and forth to ensure someone would be there at the appropriate time to open the door.

Soon after the Friday play started, the club donated ten grand to the City towards roof repair.  Gordon, who opened the club on Wednesdays, started showing up early on Sundays and Fridays  supposedly to sweep the floor.  But, the floor wasn’t being kept clean, there were dead flies on the playing room floor in the east room for months at a time and  a white ball would turn gray after a few hours play.

I thought it was probably a control issue with Gordon, he just wanted to get credit for opening the club.  I reasoned,If we worked together as a team, surely we could do a better job of keeping the club clean, but Gordon didn’t want a group effort, that apparently would dilute his control of the club.

I got a quote of $3000 from a reputable electrician that would improve the  overall lighting in the east room and get rid of the extension cords. To ascertain if this was a good use of club money, I took a quick survey from 14 random players. The survey ask the question:  Using the recent purchase of two replacement tables (for a total of $3 grand as a yardstick),  is this a good use of club money? 12 players said yes, 2 abstained.

When Gordon overheard what was going on he was livid. I wasn’t surprised; he had previously stated he would oppose any and all ideas I had for the club period. He said he would get with Jeff about an alternative plan to improve the lighting. I wasn’t surprised when Jeff ignored the issue entirely. I sent John Allen an E mail to see if he had an opinion on this issue. It was never answered.

There were occasions during the winter of 2014-2015 Terry and I met at the club to hit a few balls, I didn’t see the harm in it. Apparently, that made Gordon furious but he never said much to me about it.  In early spring those opportunities stopped because Terry’s lawn service took up most all of his free time.

Around the first of July, Gordon called Terry (who was an excellent handyman) about replacing a light at the club. Terry called me because he didn’t have a key. When we got there we found the inside doors with padlocks on them.  Gordon had the club all locked up to make a point that he was in charge!  The whole thing was just a setup and an ego trip for Gordon. Terry, the best diplomat and handyman this club ever had, never came back to the club.

Why would Gordon piss off two retired guys with the time and desire to help take care of the club? It just didn’t make any sense.   A truly nonprofit club would welcome any and all volunteer help they could get. ( I never received a dime for anything) This confirmed a suspicion I had had for some time; Gordon was getting paid to open the club and sweep the floor; it wouldn’t look good if other people were helping the club on a regular basis for nothing.

Of course it’s not illegal for the club to pay a member for services, but the deceitful way this was handled just wasn’t right.  I figured, there had to be a backdoor financial  agreement between Gordon and Jeff Smith.   I turned in my key the following week and told Gordon and John, from now on, I’m here to play ping pong, that’s it.

Considering the lack of  interest in the public good or spending money to improve playing conditions, it’s obvious the club has morphed into a for-profit to benefit Gordon and ?   Unfortunately, that jeopardizes  the clubs future at  Ekin Ave in two ways.

First it’s illegal to dissolve a nonprofit corp. without surrendering all your assets. You can’t just decide to convert the club into a for-profit because it has become more profitable.  Second; what would the city of New Albany think if the club dissolved the nonprofit status(and pubic goodwill)  as a result of  the Cities generosity?  What would you do if you were the Mayor and this came to your attention?

It didn’t have to be this way. The club could have remained a non-profit and used excess funds for charitable purposes, like donations to the Boys and Girls club.  It would be easier to recruit volunteers to clean and maintain the club if we (as a non-profit group) worked together for the good of the club.  That’s what small club non-profits are supposed to do.  By changing the club into a for-profit, we have jeopardized relations with the city of New Albany and created legal issues with the state of Indiana.

The root cause of all this is lack of transparency and leadership. Jeff Smith has been both president and treasurer (that combination was a bad idea to start with)  for over ten years. He wants to run the club like he owns it.  He doesn’t own it, the players are not his employees.  He avoids play on  Fridays  and Sundays and has had nothing to do with promoting the expanded playing opportunities.  Yet, he is resistant to suggestions as  to how the money  is spent.

Some questions need to be answered;   Why hasn’t the club had an election or an audit  in over ten years? Will there ever be a plan to promote the sport beyond a “good old boys club.” What are the club’s bylaws ?  What are the club’s plans or goals for the next 2-5  years ?  What are we saving club profits of over $6000/yr for?  Maintenance fees ?  You got to be kidding; it took 3 years to fix the men’s toilet! 

For the players who pay only $3 to play on excellent club owned tables,  it all seems like a great deal; the apathy is understandable. But, the value of those tables is meaningless without a facility to put them in. They have the  same  worth as a 40 ft boat restricted to your back yard.  Our #1 financial priority should be to retain this great facility.  If club money is not being directed to this purpose, players need to find out why. In this regard, present management seems to be deceitful and inept.  

Post-script   After a years absence, Terry came back to the club to play. Neither he nor I talk to Gordon.  No club money has been spent on club lighting or anything else.  Nobody seems to care where the money goes.