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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Significance of 11-11-11

Plenty of folks read into the digits some significance, including that it was a ones in a lifetime event. for me, it was 40% more significant when I got up late and finally went into the kitchen to see the stove clock read 11:11 and I was completely blown away. Not.

The 11s notwithstanding it was also a Friday, and we know who to thank for THAT. The Gregorian Monks, for it was they who set the start date for Our Calender and decided that the fifth day of the 5-day workweek would forever be a Friday.

It all seems so silly to me because there is only one day and that day is tomorrow. Never comes the day...

I'll have to look into this bit of information is as much as I do not know the answer yet. The Hebrew, Chinese, Muslim, Hindu and Gregorian calendars all point to a different year number that we label 2011, but do they all agree when it is Monday? I know that the Mayan calendar says this is Thursday, or as they spelt it Itxanolipanalwattimogan (with the accent on 'nolip') I cannot help but think that they were just being shortsighted to only chisel a calendar that was 600 years long.

Maybe it was as I have said and the Emperor hired a consultant to etch the calendar. When the consultant asked for partial payment for the 600 years worth he had already etched, The Emperor had died and the son who took his place was a fiscal conservative. With a refusal of payment due to widespread debt load for prior obligations, the consultant decided to stop his work right where it was. That was a bad move for the consultant because he was sacrificed to the Asteroid god, Utupiky, and there was no one left to continue the calendar. As far as the young Emperor was concerned, he saw no reason to have to pay for additional dates because he and everyone he knew would be dead long before the 600 years were up. And besides, as a hansom young Emperor, he NEVER had to pay for dates.

So now when those 600 years are almost up, Dec 21, 2012 on our calendar (aka 12-21-12), we think that the end of the world is at hand when all it is is the result of a reduction in public sector employment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's No Wonder that the Economy Sucks

Economic prosperity is heavily dependent on one primary factor. That factor is confidence.

We don't have it – the economy sucks. When we had the Great Depression there was more than enough misery to go around. People were hungry, they were cold and they waited for a miracle to bring about a recovery that could once again sustain themselves and their families. Not merely one measure was employed to bring about the change of direction that eventually led back to a level of existence where people could live without wondering from where their next meal was coming. A lot of spending bills were passed by Congress. A lot of programs that did something tangible were implemented and people worked. Most of all they were lifted by a sense of confidence that there was indeed hope for the future and people strived to get there. The government channeled money to workers, who worked then spent that money up the chain to the wealthy at the top. Some of the money was taxed and send down to workers once again. Hope was strengthened and money moved. The economy recovered.

In the 2008-2011 stagnant economy there is little hope for the future. There is no consensus for what to do to get everything moving again. It is like a bunch of college Freshmen trying to push a car out of the soft sand with some leaning on the front bumper and other pushing on the rear. Still others are standing on the sidelines calling one group or the other a bunch of idiots for trying to push in the wrong direction. Meanwhile the middleclassman behind the wheel is spinning the wheels and shifting the gears from forward to reverse and back in an attempt to rock the car out of the rut. Nobody is instilling confidence that the car will ever get out of the sand.

Here in the latter part of 2011 we have the two houses of Congress at odds with each other and with the Executive Branch of government. We have staff economists who support one agenda and others who support the opposite. We have banks who received billions in taxpayer funded bailouts who paid bonuses to executives rather than make loans to people who wanted to buy a house, expand a business or fund an education. Those banks had so little faith in using that money for the business they were in they decided to give it to themselves.

Nobody wants to make any big purchases when they are being told that tomorrow the EU might implode. Business is off when China might not be able to ship product to America because Americans have decided that food and heat are more important than Plasma TV, yet another pocket phone, or toys that might have lead paint, melamine or mercury in them.

Every time the news media tells us another round of mortgage foreclosures in about to happen, the housing recovery gets pushed back another fiscal quarter or two. When there are millions of vacant foreclosed houses on the market, most buyers will not buy a newly constructed one. When state and local governments are laying off public sector employees and the Republican media calls them leeches on the taxpayer, few of them will be able to engage in economic activity above subsistence level.

All the activity that was the hallmark of the American economy has been strafed and left as scorched earth. Republicans and their uber-conservative Tea Party arm have undermined the hope that Americans have for economic prosperity. With out hope there will be a further decline in economic activity.

For the GOP and its supporters this is a good thing. Our economic prosperity was funded by taxation and the incurring of debt, both of which can only be paid off by the very wealthy who still have money. Meanwhile the middleclass taxpayers continue to pay the current operations costs of society.

Government jobs require government funding and that means taxes. If public sector employment is decimated, then so is the need for taxes. Less need for taxes means no more to be paid by people who still have money. When one is counting their money, they cannot see the people who were supported by the funding that used to be available.

Whether the fragmenting of hope of economic prosperity is an agenda item or merely the collateral damage of fragmented policy and conflicted opinions, the outcome is stagnation. The people who have retained their wealth are also victims of the loss of hope in the system the have come to rely upon. They sit on trillions of dollars of wealth waiting for the dove to return with the olive twig that signifies that there is solid dry land out there to land on. Until then they float without a captain and rudderless at the whim of the currents.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

BWI Airport Rail Station Electric Car Parking/Charging

Even as I write this posting, workers are converting a half dozen first level parking spots at the BWI Airport Rail Station to charging stations for yet non-existent electric cars. They certainly will come soon. When they first arrive I will see them and make additional comment here (with pictures.) This is a good element in the plan to make our continued society a bit more sustainable. We all know (though many won't admit it) that what brought us through the last century will not sustains us through the next (refer to National Debt, heating with coal, residential sprawl, driving everywhere burning oil.)
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Today's Reasons to Exist

If there is a picturesque landscape, a town may be able to attract visitors. Rolling hills and green pastures are not very effective at attracting people unless there is something to do. With many Americans accustomed to eating burgers, fries and sodas in their cars, fine dining in the country is not a high volume opportunity. Outlet stores are a dime-a-dozen and must be clustered on one site to attract a variety of customers. Unless the location is really far out of the city, few people will stay overnight.

Swimming and water craft are good attractions if there is water and the body large enough to accommodate the use. Skiing is seasonal and must generate an entire year of commerce in the few months of winter.

Business and industrial parks are a viable attractor of commerce but the community must also have a suitably aged drug-free workforce who can do the work. There is little use for such a business park in a community if all the labor must commute to the location. There must be ancillary commerce like grocery shopping, medical services, car repair, etc. collocated such that people will leave a portion of their earnings in the local community. Newcomers who seek to live nearby need available housing.

Many businesses that seek to locate in such prepared sites demand tax abatement as an inducement to come therefore, tax revenues will not be immediately benefit the community. Some industries are so mobile that when the tax abatement expires they can relocate once again to some other community that is hungry for commerce.

Retirement homes as a viable option if there are adequate medical services available to treat older residents, transportation available to get everyone to where they need to go and local amenities where their money can stay local.

Private house ownership is far more affordable in small presently economically depressed towns. What is lacking are the grocery stores, doctors, dentists and pharmacies. Without such services long distance travel is required and that offsets the affordability of the location.
Other posts in this series
Community, Reasons to Exist, The Making of Place This is the introductory section
reason-to-exist Every town, village city and region originally had a reason to exist.
todays-reasons-to-exist Every community needs a a reason today for its continued existance. Otherwise it will wither and die.
factors-that-are-missingThe economic system we use today removes critical factors tat allow a community to stay vital.
a-shared-historyThe people of a community need a sared history to stay cohesive as a community.
sustainable-community all of the essential factors must remain present for a community to continue its existance.
sustainable-unemployment As manufacturing and the services industries ccontinue to evolve, human labor and attentjon is diminised. We need to devise a society where most people do not labor for their living.
sustainable-consumerism A balance between product durability and its replacement neds to be reached in order for an equilibrium to be reached.
sustainable-populations The human population cannot continue on its present trajectory without a terrible price to pay in the coming decades and century.
suburban-sprawl Sprawl is only possible when tere is ample buildable land and ample resources available to service thiose locations.
complete-streets Our transportation ways are not just for the automobile. People must walk, bike, and use other modes of transport on tose public rights of way.

Factors That Are Missing

The local bank or Savings and Loan was a wealth builder for the community. Farmers and merchants, miners and the schoolmarm but their money into savings at the bank and the bank lent the funds out to local people who needed it to build their house, buy a tractor, stock a General Store. The interest paid increased the value of the bank and thereby its ability to grow the community.

Today with all of the NAs, banking and the wealth it helps build is drawn away from the community to disinterested investors who live on the few percentage points that loans generate. The rural areas and small towns pay that interest to them. When a big box store moves in on an area, they come fully capitalized and ready to mine the money from the communities they serve. They don't lodge their revenues at a local bank and don't fund their store construction with local money that will keep a portion of the cost of operation in local hands.

When ones food come in a metal can from 1,000 miles away, little wealth is kept in the small towns. Local food works the other way. It keeps local money local and may bring wealth into the small economy. When Wal-mart locates 30 miles away from a dozen small towns and rural areas, all the clothing and appliance money leaves the community.

Sustainable economic activity depends on the ability of a dollar to recycle in the community several times before it evaporates. A dollar spent externally is gone at once. This is why many small communities try to trade on their status of being a place where people will come to spend their money. In the absence of MMFF to generate raw wealth, tourism and visitors provide the money the communities keeps spending externally. But if the town or area that is not much more than a few homes along a now bypassed highway, they have little hope of being such a place where people will come and spend money. A tiny strip mall or building supply center cannot sustain an entire community.

Not every town can be the home of an antiques market or an outlet market for several coat and shoe manufacturers. Unless there is a lake, a mountain with snow, a navigable river, vacation villas are not going to be built. Being too far out from an urban area is also a barrier to survival.
Other blog posts that are related in a Series


Monday, July 4, 2011

A Shared History

What makes a human settlement into a community? A suburb of culturally diverse homeowners may be a community but mostly they are not. In any population of approximately 5,000 people who live in a set of suburban subdivisions may attend as many as 50 different churches, buy groceries at a dozen different supermarkets, bank at a dozen different banks and have children who attend a myriad of public and private schools. Each new arrival came from a unique origin and settled there for the wide open yards and greater distances between front doors. In those residential land uses, people come and go isolated in their automobiles and may not know the names of the families even as close as two doors away. They all share a physical location but they do not have a shared history.

Swissvale, Pennsylvania is a small urban center now incorporated as part of the City of Pittsburgh. It was originally settled by Germans and Scandinavians who arrived from Europe to work in the steel mills on the Monongahela River Valley far below the bluffs where the streets of houses were built. So common was the employment in the valley and residence on the hillsides that several electric streetcar companies laid tracks through the neighborhoods and pointed them straight at the mills. It seems that everyone went to the mills each day to earn a living. They all spoke the language. They all had something in common: Emigration and working in the mills.

The next town over is Braddock. It was home to a large population of Polish immigrants. Their churches and fraternal association buildings still give testament to their former dominance of the area. The level of homogeneous character has since diminished considerably after the exit of steel making in the valley. These towns were sustained by the common history of the people who lived there. Today, Braddock is dying while Swissvale still lives. Both towns rely heavily on the pensions and retirement income of the people who still live there. The difference is Swissvale did not see the influx of lesser unskilled people who replaced the original population that left when the mills closed.

Railroad workers, lumberjacks, farmers, miners, steelworkers immigrated here from all over Europe and found work in company towns where they shared a past and the present. Wilkinsburg, another urban area just outside of Pittsburgh's city limits, is the town of churches. There are cross streets in that borough where each corner has a church. Although there might be a common employment in an area, people of diverse cultures did not mix well and formed their own communities. Irish and Chinese men and their families may live adjacent to each other and interact on an economic basis, but they lived apart. Still they share a common situation as cheap labor to a young growing land. And when the railroad was done they all shared the same fate of abandonment.

Today towns and rural areas struggle to find purpose that will keep their dreams alive. If they do not have an income stream on which to levy taxes then they need people to move in and bring with them the incomes and saved capital they have. If the newcomers still spend their money at distant stores then the community is still without revenue to maintain their physical presence and institutional needs. Newcomers don't have that shared history that is essential for "community" to exist. Efforts to gentrify a distressed community suggests that there is a reason to be renewed or that one can be created. Generally, though, there must first be a reason. That reason might be that it is suitable as a bedroom community to a larger urban area, new public transit options are expanded to the area, or that a large employer is locating nearby. In this latter example the jobs would need to be far better paying that a big box retail store or catalog fulfillment warehouse. Failing those requirements, the revitalization efforts will surely fail. They fail primarily due to the lack of a shared history where people will join together and assure the community success.

Other blog posts that are related in a Series

Community, Reasons to Exist, The Making of Place This is the introductory section
reason-to-exist Every town, village city and region originally had a reason to exist.
todays-reasons-to-exist Every community needs a a reason today for its continued existence. Otherwise it will wither and die.
factors-that-are-missingThe economic system we use today removes critical factors tat allow a community to stay vital.
a-shared-historyThe people of a community need a shared history to stay cohesive as a community.
sustainable-community all of the essential factors must remain present for a community to continue its existence.
sustainable-unemployment As manufacturing and the services industries continue to evolve, human labor and attention is diminished. We need to devise a society where most people do not labor for their living.
sustainable-consumerism A balance between product durability and its replacement needs to be reached in order for an equilibrium to be reached.
sustainable-populations The human population cannot continue on its present trajectory without a terrible price to pay in the coming decades and century.
suburban-sprawl Sprawl is only possible when there is ample buildable land and ample resources available to service those locations.
complete-streets Our transportation ways are not just for the automobile. People must walk, bike, and use other modes of transport on those public rights of way.

A Reason to Exist

Human settlements need a reason to exist. Unlike businesses and industry, people need both a functional reason and aesthetics to make a location worthy. Maybe it was a river landing or a placid flow area to run a ferry. Maybe it was the "head of navigation" where overland freight could then be floated down stream. A crossroads. A pass through the mountains. A gold mine or where there was energy to run the mill and transportation to move the goods. First was the energy and the transportation then the people came to fulfill the needs of the industry.

Every industry and every mode of transportation has its natural aging process that makes it more or less sustainable. Regions built canals to float freight across long and short distances. Most of those canals succumbed to the railroads as soon as the rails became operational. Each new system renders the last one obsolete.

Highways and trucks rendered the shortline railroad obsolete. When timber was plentiful and the coal mines flourished, a railroad ran a spur out to their location. But as the logging and mining operations became smaller in size at the outset of a new section, laying a new track was not a viable option. Rubber tires on dirt and gravel roads made more sense.

Industries moved leaving the human settlements behind. With a decimated income from labor, the towns dried up leaving only the most vulnerable people behind. Children left their families to follow work wherever it could be found.

"My own children will go, as soon as they grow, for there is nothing here now to hold them." North county Blues. Bob Dylan.

Today some American towns rely heavily on the Social Security checks, public assistance, and the pensions of aging residents. There is no industry there to create local wealth from commerce. All the money that does come into the town is spent externally in distant places. The grocery store is located 20 miles or more away and is operated by a national chain that sells items processed far away. All the money spent there leaves the community not to return. Gasoline and heating fuel is the same. A foreign supplier, international price speculators, regional distributors take away all the money spent on energy. Telecomm companies suck away another share. Doctors and pharmacies take more away from the community. While all these enterprises are essential to the people who live in the community, they do nothing for the sustainability of the community. As far as each of these enterprises is concerned, a person equals one person, no matter where he lives. He will eat as much, drink as much, heat his home as much and need the same pharmaceuticals. The place that the people consider home is not important to the businesses.

Without a natural means of producing local wealth by Mining, Manufacturing, Farming and Fishing the net worth of the community cannot increase and decreases a little more each day.

Human settlements must possess a reason to exist. Old reason may disappear and not have a replacement. Those settlements will eventually disappear. If a new reason to exist is found and cultivated then survival of the settlement may be maintained.

With all due respect to the hopes and desires of the people who remain, the mere desire to remain in their accustomed homes is not a reason to exist. If they have the capital to sustain their place, they can fund the continuation of that place. No one else will care nor be willing to pay for it.

Braddock, Pennsylvania is a town that is being allowed to die. It once was a vibrant steel mill town where the historic Edgar Thompson Steel Works is located. The steel operation was once the site of a bloody labor strike put down by Pinkerton Guards and is now a shell of industrial decay. There was a hospital there until 2010 when it too closed down. People still live there and a few low-end businesses like pawn shops and a bar or two remain. Entire buildings disappear on a regular basis as they become unsafe and are demolished. This is a town that has no reason to exist. And soon it won't. Its location has potential, but no one who is a part of the community will ever benefit from the massive influx of capital it will take to completely raze and replace everything that is not historic. The old community will cease to exist and a new one will be constructed when the price is right.

In 1989, Actress Kim Basinger put up $20 Million to buy the town of Braselton, GA. Her own financial status went sour and she sold her interest in the town to a developer in 1993. See Wikipedia: Braselton, GA, for details. The idea was to make a tourist destination and the town should flourish. It didn't. The developer still has not made a viable destination 20 years later.

There were the Main Streets grants in the 1990s that were supposed to revitalize small towns and economically depressed areas. The money was given to repave main street business strips, do sidewalk and streetscape improvements. The thought was that a capital investment in the infrastructure would make the place attractive again. They were wrong. If the main street had no reason to exist, the money failed to create one. Decay once again consumed the business district. Some towns did prosper as the result of the grant capital, but the landscape is littered with its failures.
Other blog posts that are related in a Series

Community, Reasons to Exist, The Making of Place This is the introductory section
reason-to-exist Every town, village city and region originally had a reason to exist.
todays-reasons-to-exist Every community needs a a reason today for its continued existance. Otherwise it will wither and die.
factors-that-are-missingThe economic system we use today removes critical factors tat allow a community to stay vital.
a-shared-historyThe people of a community need a sared history to stay cohesive as a community.
sustainable-community all of the essential factors must remain present for a community to continue its existance.
sustainable-unemployment As manufacturing and the services industries ccontinue to evolve, human labor and attentjon is diminised. We need to devise a society where most people do not labor for their living.
sustainable-consumerism A balance between product durability and its replacement neds to be reached in order for an equilibrium to be reached.
sustainable-populations The human population cannot continue on its present trajectory without a terrible price to pay in the coming decades and century.
suburban-sprawl Sprawl is only possible when tere is ample buildable land and ample resources available to service thiose locations.
complete-streets Our transportation ways are not just for the automobile. People must walk, bike, and use other modes of transport on tose public rights of way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Sustainable Community

The work that I do to earn the money to pay my bills and fund my retirement has taken a left turn into a different province. The work that I have been doing is so tightly related to the whole picture of American life that this new direction will circle back on all that has been accomplished by the company and people who work there. The new word is Sustainable.

Individual people have a sense of what sustainability is while businesses and power brokers do not. Built into the human psyche is that biological imperative to procreate. Each person feels a need to pass on his or her genes, ideals, morals and wealth to a next generation. Fathers want sons to carry forth the surname. Fathers start businesses with their name and add "Son" or "Sons" to it in the hopes of sustaining the hard won successes of the father. Boards of Directors will adopt and abandon any name which suits its goals to sell goods and services to make the profit it needs to satisfy the investors. Corporate businesses will hire and dispose any employee who they feel benefits the bottom line. For businesses the world is composed of lines that have a beginning and an end. They prefer it that way.

Consider the timber logging industry. They get legal access to a stand of trees, cut them all down and move along to a new stand of trees leaving the clear cut slopes to fend for themselves. It's a beginning, a middle and an end. No feeling of responsibility remains after the last tree is cut. After all there are more acres of trees to conquer.

Coal mining operations are the same. Dig coal, pile the tailings and move on. They sell the coal, bury the dead and discharge the injured. Coal matters. People don't. Coal is wealth. People are liabilities and expense. As long as there is a vein of coal to dig the mining companies can proceed in straight line along the seam. As long as there is another miner, old miners are put aside like a rusty drag line bucket.

We allowed industries to turn greenfields into brownfields and pull up stakes leaving the land to sit vacant and poisoned. Beverage containers typically track a linear path from manufacture to a landfill serving one portion to a customer.

These paradigms of consumption work only as long as there is an ample supply of materials and energy to make things and ample space to dump the trash afterward. This model of sustainability is depends on the idea of infinite supply and cheap processing. It depends on a society willing to allow a business to ignore the negative side of production – the waste products.

Through a much maligned Federal oversight and regulation, many industries have been required to restore their wastelands to pre-operations conditions. They have been required to do a better job of not mucking up the environment in the first place. Businesses respond reluctantly when they respond at all. They cite the increased cost of their goods and services to the consuming public as the reason to be allowed to pollute the air, water and land. Businesses are willing to pick up and move when they have fouled their sites. Settlements of people are not so inclined or mobile. They end up tolerating the non-sustainable practices of businesses.
Other blog posts that are related in a Series


Monday, April 18, 2011

My Learned Colleague: Mr. Beck

The alleged pitfalls of the public education system in this country are nowhere more evident than in the person of Glenn Beck. While he and his cadre of like-minded opinionators pound away at the idea that Johnny can't read because his elementary school teacher is both deficient in teaching skills and paid too much, the painful truth is that many young people struggle with socio-economic challenges, parental neglect and legacy intellectual capacity limitations. They will face a lifetime of substandard conditions due to the insufficiency of that education. For them they have a reason for their lack of attainment. Such is not the case for Mr. Beck. His case is characterized by a willful ignorance and pride of buffoonery.

While I suppose he is capable of identifying various colors and counting to higher than 21 on his digits, I doubt that he can delve deeper into the hues so as to distinguish between the primary and the secondary colors. Similarly while he can recite the numbers by rote he seems to have never learned that in every equation there is an Equals Sign. The more complex relationships among factors escape him. The concept of major contributory factors and negligible ones is one of those relationships.

In his protected world of close walls and echoes, he can say anything that comes to mind and be assured that no one present will challenge him. He is the man in the sound-proof booth hearing nothing from the outside.

These attributes make it possible for the man to say that the fermenting of corn into Ethanol in the US is causing world hunger, will result in starvation, rampant hyper-inflation and food riots across the globe. He does seem to understand the connection between what he says and the practice of food hoarding and the buying of gold as a hedge against that hyper-inflation and the shortage of ground beef that is coming because the US make some Ethanol from corn. No so coincidentally several of his sponsors cater to the anxieties of Americans who listen to Mr. Beck.

In one of his broadcasts he pointed out the relative profit margins of Apple Computers and unnamed oil companies. Apple, he asserts makes 47.9% profit on an iPad, while oil companies make < 8%. Here is that first lack of deeper reasoning that escapes the man. Apple had an annual gross sales in 2010 of $18.50 bn. Exxon-Mobile had sales of $52.959 bn, Royal Dutch Shell was $35.34bn, ConocoPhillips was $19.75bn, BP Oil (is down but was) $25.12bn in 2009 and Chevron was $32.055bn. This makes a partial total, just for these oil companies, $168.17bn. This number is 9.1 times higher than Apple. At 7.9% (just less than 8% as touted) the profits are $13.3bn for the oil companies and at 47.9% for Apple the number is $8.86bn. The other 'order of magnitude' factor that Beck neglects is that no one NEEDS an iPad in order to go to work, go shopping or go to religious services.

The matter of corn prices figures prominently in his and everyone else's analysis of Ethanol production. The difference is his is simplistic to the point of non-relevance. The rising cost of corn in the markets is his reason that the US must drill for more domestic oil. There is a significant cost of corn production that is tied to the cost of diesel fuel, i.e. foreign oil suppliers, speculators and refineries. It required diesel fuel to plow, sow and reap a harvest. It requires diesel fuel to move the corn to market, mill it and make food products that are stocked on our shelves. The rising cost of oil is a major contributor to that cost of corn.

And we cannot forget the impacts of market demand. There are 1.3 billion Chinese and about 1.2 billion Indians all of who want a part of both oil production and the corn crop. Their businesses bid in the global market to get the portions they want. This has the effect of driving up the prices. Indians are not adverse to eating chicken and the Chinese have a new found taste for beef and automobiles. It takes about ten pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. If the world were truly in need of the corn to eat, we would eat it directly and not feed it to our livestock. Such inter-connections are a mystery to people like Mr. Beck who can only see one linear path from A to C through a B.

While the only thing that happens in a vacuum is a thought in the head of the person who boasts his lack of education as a virtue, the use of resources in a global market does not. If we need more corn or other ferment-able plant matter, we can plant more of it. We can put fallow acreage into production. We can use chemicals on non-food corn that will be burned in our engines. We can replace crop subsidies with purchasing the increased yields. And finally, we can change the crop to a different one anytime we need the corn to eat.

In our imperfect world we must use the forces of the market, controls of government, the technologies of our scientists, the persuasion of wise proponents, cooperation of numerous points of view and the compassion of influential people to make sure we all can eat, be sheltered, kept warm, obtain and maintain a level of comfort without sacrificing any segment of humanity. All these people and forces combine to produce a complex equation that definitely has in it an Equals Sign.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Government Shutdown Tuna!

Congress has gone fishin’. Fishing for Tuna that is. Both parties hold fast to their ideologies while neither has a firm grip on the big picture or the realities of what needs to be done to resolve the imbalance of the budget. One party says cut the spending!! They are bolstered by the Tea Party faction yelling “Cut it! Or shut it!” The GOP legislators want about $61 billion in cuts while their fanatic backers want $100 Billion. The reality is that cutting the entire $100 Billion would do nothing to either balance the budget or curtail the necessity to raise the debt ceiling. Calls for shutting down the government elicit visceral responses from all factions in the grand debate. One might end the authorization to spend money for a few days or a week, but eventually there would be a resumption of the government activities. The only outcome would be the collateral damage that extends from the brief period of interruption. Much of what doesn’t get done during shutdown would have to be taken up after it is over.

The definition of what Tuna! is tells us that buying and selling without regard to consequences is what make something into Tuna! All sides of the budget issue are using the threats of government shutdowns to leverage their positions to extract the outcomes they seek. At risk are the people who depend on the spending that the government does. There are seniors who need medical services paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. There are children who need food and shelter. There are veterans who need their pensions for paying rent. All and all, a shutdown would pressure the legislators to come to an agreement while the American people sit and wait for funds and services that will come late. The long-term impacts of a shutdown can only be realized if the government stays shut down.

Like the Libertarian philosophy of governance, a government shutdown is not a sustainable scenario. The alleged budget bloat of one ideology is another person's dinner.

The Libertarian and Tea Party ideology can only be sustained for a short period of time. It is in that interval that the believer must derive ALL of his benefits before the system collapses into anarchy. Short term results may allow the Libertarian to keep his income for a year or two longer, but eventually the roads serving his property will need to be repaired. The Tea Party person may get a warm and fuzzy feeling from beating down the budget total and harassing GOP pansies who did not toe the party line in the budget fracas but soon there will be illiterate adults who were mere children when the budget was balanced at the expense of education funding. The health of seniors will not suddenly drop because the Medicare and Medicaid budget got slashed, but time will exact its toll on those people and if the ‘maintenance’ and ‘inspection’ are not regularly performed, people will fail. When they fail, they die sooner after being in poorer health.

The same principle applies to our physical infrastructure. Without bridge inspections and regular repair, some number of bridges will fall into the ravine. People may die in the fall. This will not happen during the days and hours of a government shutdown that has been orchestrated by the posturing and haggling of 536 elected men and women. It will happen as the days stretch into weeks and weeks into years that there is insufficient funding to maintain the essential elements of our society. The cutting of spending can only garner a few tens of billions for the tally sheet that says that some ‘good’ has been had. The larger issue is the increases in revenues that must be raised to meet our growing demand. The contentious $100 billion is only 2.78% of the $3.6 trillion 2010 budget. We have fallen so far behind in maintaining our essential systems that we might not be able to fix them. The bottom line is that we must balance our budget with a combination of better controlled spending and increased revenues. We can accept $100 billion in spending cuts if the people who actually have spare wealth would pony up the funds to not need to borrow any more.

Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid are verbally sparring over policy issues that are keeping the budget battle from being settled. At issue are the funding of Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Administration. In the first theater of war, the issue is the money that goes to abortions. Conservatives do not want to allow women to choose whether to bear a child or not. To the woman it is a choice and to the Conservative it is murder. The woman may see the futility of having another mouth to feed. The conservative sees the sanctity of human life. The Conservatives position on this matter would not seem so hypocritical if they added a provision that every child born would be given sufficient food, clothing, shelter, love, education and medical care even if the parents could not afford to pay for all those thing with their 40 hours per week labor. The right to life equation has an Equals Sign in it. Not-aborted = Taxpayer funded childhood services or a child who is economically and nutritionally deprived due to no fault of its own.

The environment is the place in which we all live. We as a species do not like being told what is good and bad for us. For all this distaste, we do know that there are things we do that are not good, but we are fully willing to deny that relationship. We want to drive automobiles and use electricity, heat and air-condition our homes. These things by their nature pollute the environment in which we live and breathe. But instead of embracing a new paradigm of energy usage that will protect our biosphere, we follow the lead of businesses that prosper by our present energy usage patterns and attempt to shutdown the government agency that was created to protect us from that death. The EPA is the one watchdog that we are insisting that it stops barking instead of wondering why it is barking in the first place. Defunding the EPA will stop the barking but will not mitigate the danger the bark is heralding.

So the fearful few are yelling "shut it down!" lest we anger the gods of deficit and debt. Make no mistake about it, we need to make a systemic change in the way we go about funding our essential services but merely cutting them off only spites our faces. We can limit spending but eliminating the revenues first is a backwards approach that only serves to exacerbate the funding of those services. Cutting the funding serves to protect the wealth of the more wealthy people in the country and creates a perception that spending must be curtailed. It would be a far better plan to make the expenditures more efficient, less fraught with fraud and unnecessary goods and services.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. of CNNs writing staff avers that government must learn to live within its means. This process is quite difficult when the income sources (tax revenues) are stripped away like the income of a laid-off worker who has a fixed expenditure portfolio that includes a mortgage, car payment, college tuition loan, health care costs, food, fuel and taxes to pay that cannot be shed by willing it to be gone. Add to that family budget a new child who must be fed and you see what the government is up against when they cannot keep pace with the demands of the American public. It is not government that is bloated and out of control, it is us. We are the people. We are the beneficiaries of government services. We have committed the sin of getting old and needing others to support us. How can we retire if the next generation is not will to pay our bills? The crushing burden of pensions and Medicare are the consequence of our longevity. So who among us is going to volunteer to live a shorter life in order to save the wealthy class on their taxes? The Twenty-five Percenters would like you to know that they encourage and fully support your sacrifices.

Post Script:
It is quite fortunate that the factions of Congress put together a plan at the eleventh hour on April 8, 2011 and averted the imminent government shutdown. While there were people who cheered for a shutdown and rallied to crash our system on ideological grounds, the damage that would have been done was far out of proportion to the goals they sought to attain. The savor of shutdown was in the mouths of millions of Americans and the politicians who were doing battle in the committee rooms of the US Capitol. The fever was palpable like the run up to the start of a war. They all knew that the outcome would be felt for many years hence even if the suspension of paychecks was only for a few days. The idea that our unifying governance is expendable and non-essential would a be a seed of thought in the minds of many. Without our social support systems, America would be no different than any Third-world country where there is no hope in the people to be able to have a better existence.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dear Tea Party Members: (an open letter)

Dear Tea Party Members:

This open letter has been written it the hopes that you will read it and come to understand that there is an Equals Sign in the formula that you promote as a solution to all the financial ills of this nation. Taxed Enough Already is a noteworthy sentiment and I support such a notion, too. The question that remains in my mind is just "who is taxed too much?" Who do you rally for?

Do you rally for yourselves? This would be an outstanding undertaking if it were truly for yourselves. While people in your numbers stand and announce their frustration with paying taxes and the influences of a bloated big government in their lives, the fact remains that the same bloated Federal government that you protest is the one who pays your Social Security and Medicare. I should protest people over 65 getting Social Security checks and Medicare coverage. The stopping of ALL of that would swiftly eliminate the deficit and melt away our national debt. But them my mother would need to move into my spare room.

While middleclass Tea Party activists protest government spending that leads to taxation, there is a group of people who really benefit from your fervor. You may save a thousand dollars on your taxes with lower rates, while there are other people who save millions of dollars because of those same rates. You and I created the environment in which they could make millions of dollars and now do not want to give up any of that wealth. If they and the businesses they own paid a fair share of the costs of our society, then everyone's tax rate would be lower.

Instead of looking to the pillars of our society for equitable participation in paying the bills you have turned on your neighbors. Keep in mind that the public sector employees in Wisconsin are taxed enough already too. They are in the same socio-economic level as most of the rank and file people who identify themselves as Tea Party members. Attacking them for what they have is counter-productive.

I attended Glenn Beck's rally back in 2010. This event drew tens of thousands of people who think of themselves as fiscal conservatives and overly burdened with the costs of our society. The age demographic was heavily representing people who were 60 and older. The next group was the 50 to 60 age group. There was a huge population of people with walkers, canes and electric scooters. They were the Medicare class and those who would soon be there. Forgetting that there is an Equals Sign in every formula is a fatal mistake. It is not the "bloated government" that pays out Social Security checks and Medicare. It is today's working people who pay into the fund that pays today's retirees. Without them and the jobs they do, there would be no SSI fund without general budget taxes to pay for it.

The real culprit in this nation's fiscal crises is not Unions, immigrants, or people who don't want to work. The real source of the crises is the numbers of people who have already retired and will be drawing private pensions, SSI and funds from their own 401(k)-type accounts. Following that number is the millions of working men and women who will be retiring in the next few years.

The problem cannot be foisted off on some THEY. We are our own problem. All of us together. We have to figure out how to pay for what is needed more so than how to pay for what we are now getting or giving. The cutting of government spending also cuts our ability to employ people. It was the loss of jobs that allegedly caused the states and local governments to not have enough money to operate. Cutting food programs equals hungry people.

You can't just tell someone to "get a job." There has to be a job to have and it needs to be a job that pays enough to not need all the support programs that the Taxed Enough Already people don't want to provide anymore. You Tea Party folks must work with the rest of America to design and implement a sustainable economic future. This sustainable future cannot be created only by reducing what we spend because doing that only lowers our collective standard of living.

We can have fewer public employees if you will accept longer line at the DMV, snow covered roads in the winter, potholes in the spring that remain until the middle of summer, not having enough police officers and fire fighters when you need them. We would not need public school teachers if we did not care about children learning to read so they grow up and get that high-paying job you want them to just go get.

We would not need school lunch programs if children had food enough to be healthy and alert. But they don't, unless we all make sure they do. Focusing on only the spending side of the budget equation is a Draconian approach to solving the imbalance.

Tuna Blogger

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Invest Versus Spend

What bugs me more than anything else is the people who had the foresight and the funds to invest in a company that was an inexpensive long shot back in the day. Consider the people who had money enough to but what is now ExxonMobile when the stock price was in the $10 range. The current price of $83.00 yields $1.77 per share. With a large enough initial investment, that single stock could be funding several families' incomes. But my family was a late-comer and did not have the resources at the time to take advantage of the opportunities.

Some families had the opportunity to land bank lots of real estate back when land was still going for "a dollar an acre." That was then. Now that type of investment cannot happen. The opportunities that result in massive wealth are few and far between. One is better off lucky than good at discovering those opportunities.

On a larger economic scale, government action is supposed to provide the investments that will pay off in the future for those people who are not yet able to invest for themselves. We depend on the collective wisdom of the elected representatives to do the right thing. Toddlers and those children not yet conceived are the beneficiaries of our good and bad decisions. If we get it right, our children will be able to receive the dividends even if they do not thank us for our insights and financial contributions now that mature into what they will someday inherit. I, for one, would love to have been able to inherit 1000 acres of land outside the 1948 Pittsburgh environs that my father would have bought, if he could have. Some one else did and are very wealthy now.

If we get it wrong, our progeny will have to pay the price of our selfish intents, lack of insights, or lack of funds to invest. If we don't build and staff enough college classrooms, they will go without educations. If we don't now train enough doctors and nurses, it is they who will not be able to see a doctor when they need to. If we don't build entire infrastructures of utilities, roads, rails, and distribution systems, they will be without. We must be willing to spend our generation's money to do these things because they will need their generation's money for their current needs and their investments in the future of their children.

In the American economic system, the government doesn't own the resources. All of it is in private hands. The USDA estimates that 95% of all the land in private hands is owned by less than 3% of the population. That remaining 5% is mostly the small lots that all the suburban subdivisions are built upon. There are a few Federally owned land resources that are leased to business that derive a small revenue for the Treasury. Therefore, the only method of deriving revenues for the workings of the government and all of its obligations is taxes. Borrowing funds is only deferred taxation with interest.

We can leave unpaid debts or we can leave unaddressed needs to our children. It is up to this generation to make the correct decisions now.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Freedom of Consumption

The world is changing and so is America. The many freedoms we cherish are deteriorating and may soon evaporate all together. Generally these freedoms will not stop with the stroke of a pen or the report of a rifle. They will however slip into obscurity one inch at a time as the forces of nature, human nature, economic marketplace realities, and the march of time all take a bite out of our big sweet cookie.

The political right whines about the potential loss of such Constitutional Rights as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. They fret about the loss of unlimited possession of firearms, the right to do whatever they want on a parcel of land that they bought, whether a fetus is a person before it feels the light of day its head, and whether the union of two men or two women can be a marriage.

The political left does their whining about whether a person who does live and breathe has the right to eat, have shelter, protection from official repression. They fret about people being disenfranchised, marginalized and denied basic human needs such as medical care.

Each time one faction of the government attempts to remedy an inequity or injustice the other factions see it as a limit on freedoms, an attempt of the government to take over the country and rule by dictate. People who do have Health Insurance decry legislation that that tries to provide services to a larger subset of our population. They see those attempts as an expansion of government, an intrusion into their lives, and a possible limit on their own access to medical services. They want government out of their lives. On the other hand, almost no one decries the total domination of road building and maintenance by government who fund all such public works. The only time that anyone gets wrapped around the axle is when the funding source tries to alter the mix of what transportation projects receive funding. It appears that building another road constitutes a freedom of consumption, while supporting public transportation options is an intrusion and limit of those freedoms.

One must not forget that there are millions of people in the US, citizens and non-citizens alike, who do not or cannot drive an automobile. Road-only policies discriminate against those people and constrain their freedoms. Such policies misuse those people's tax dollars. Whether or not an individual pays a tax directly (real estate tax on their house) or indirectly (real estate tax paid through a landlord via the rent) it is all individual consumers who pay all the taxes. When their needs are compromised and marginalized and neglected, a fundamental inequity results. Their lack of access to what they pay for funds the ability of everyone else to get what they want at a lower price.

A simple example of this is when the Public Works Department builds a road without adding pedestrian walkways, the non-drivers receive a paucity of value even as the auto drivers get more roads on which to drive. Attempts to fund transportation and other non-automobile access is met with vocal resistance put up by the people who do own and drive automobiles. Their claims are that it is a waste of tax dollars to do anything other than provide them with lanes on which to drive and spaces on which to park their vehicles. Their freedom of consumption is threatened. So there you have it.

When there is plenty of money available, there is much less opposition to ideas that are not the mainstream and expedient. As resources become in short supply the larger majority population seeks to conserve the remaining amounts for themselves. They seek to protect their freedom to consume. Enter: the Health Insurance issue.

Before the health care reform legislation passed in 2010 we were estimating a physician near-future shortage of 40,000 doctors. That quantity was derived from a combination of a historic shortfall, our longer life expectancies, the population becoming progressively less healthy in general, physician retirement, curtailed income due to constrained payments for services, and fewer men and women choosing to enter the profession due to real and perceived legal and liability parameters. With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," HR 3590, in March 2010, 31 million additional people will have access to healthcare services. Our freedom of consumption is therein compromised.

The new estimate is 60,000 physicians. A bad situation only gets worse. With one physician for each cohort of 1550 patients, 20,000 doctors are needed for the newly covered 31 million people.

Employees who do get health insurance paid for by their employers do not like the idea that they will have to share their doctors and medical services access until that shortage is resolved. Medicare enrolled people do not like those prospects either. All of these covered people bristle at the idea that someone, anyone will tell them that they cannot have the MRI that they believe they should be given. Whether it is a government bureaucrat or an insurer's bureaucrat making a decision, the patients don't like limits placed on their freedom to consume medical services.

Our world is changing in natural ways that impacts all institutions and civilizations at some point in their existence. The idea that our economy can infinitely expand to accommodate all spending, borrowing and delivery of services is like believing in perpetual motion. To attempt to do so is the same as setting up a Ponzi Scheme where all the new members pay for the older members. Those arrangements always fail because there are not enough humans on earth to support all the higher tier members. The pyramid always collapses. When it does collapse there are winners and losers, there are survivors and casualties. The survivors bury the dead and try to pick up the pieces. How well they do this is dependent on how much they learn from the experience.