A Three-Party System

Yeah, these signs say a lot about our two-party system of government. 

“Republican: Because everyone can’t be on welfare.”


“Democrat: Because everyone can’t be greedy.”


Sort of the age old story of competing interests. 


Certainly also a good dose of Fear vs. Greed. 


And where the rich get richer and the poor get welfare.


It’s good to have the 2 extremes of the political thinking spectrum, because it shows us perhaps where the middle is. 


Neither extreme is good, but rather it’s a balancing act. 


We can’t have more than 50% of the wealth owned by the top 1% of the people. 


And we can’t have everyone on entitlements where no one is working, innovating, and producing. 


Yes of course, some people will have more than others and some people will need help. 


There needs to be motivation to “get ahead” and there must be a social safety net for when bad things happen. 


This is life.


But the to extent that we can have the most people in respectable jobs earning a reasonable (true living) wage and that there is equitable prosperity to go around for everyone–this is ideal.


Really 2-parties is not enough, because extremes tend to get more extreme–this is the momentum of polarization and politicization until the extremes tear us apart. 


Instead we need a strong centrist party (or parties)–that can not only play to, but also execute the middle of the road approach. 


It’s not all or nothing, but rather compromise to a logical and reasonable solution on every issue. 


No, we don’t want to get rid of ICE, and we don’t want open borders. 


No we don’t want entitlements that bankrupt the nation, and we don’t want people down on their luck going needy. 


No, we don’t want women who have been raped or incested or otherwise can’t raise their children being forced to have them, and we don’t want babies being murdered in the late stages of pregnancy. 


No we don’t want to blow up the planet, and we don’t want our enemies besting us. 


We don’t want pollution in our air, water, and streets, and we don’t want to strangle the economy with endless and mindless regulation. 


And on and on. 


It’s high time to move to the center where common sense reigns.


It overdue to have a legitimate 3+ party system that talks real solutions to the people. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What’s Cool Is Being Oppressed

Eyes

So we were having this discussion with this lady in synagogue who prides herself as an activist and participates in numerous groups for social justice.


What was most striking to learn is how these days everyone is vying for the title of most oppressed. 


It’s no longer “cool” or “in” to be part of the elite privileged rich, strong, and powerful.


If you are any of these, you are part of the corrupt 1%–that have more wealth now than the other 99% of society combined–and you are leeches that feed off of the legitimate working, middle class society. 


The privileged are the bullies, the racists, the occupiers, the unjust, the thieves, and the liars. 


Today, people and groups are arguing to be put on the pedestal for who is underprivileged:


The poorest in society


– The ones with the greatest inequality


– The most discriminated against and oppressed


– The smallest of the minorities


The prize for those that attain the marks of distinction for worst status can hope to achieve:


– Sympathy (protests, petitions, and actions for boycotts, divestitures, and sanctions)


– Economic Assistance (donations, grants, loans, scholarships, and advanced technology)


– Preferential treatment (college placement, training programs, hiring, promotion, business awards, and board seats)


– Votes (elections, laws, resolutions, decisions, and court awards)


The super underdog has it way up over the superpower. 


Discontent by the masses, supercharged by social media, is leading to an overturning of society from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.  


Socialism even for presidential candidates is no longer a dirty word in Democratic America and terrorists around the world are now “freedom fighters.” 


Regimes such as Iran that sponsor terrorism, abuse human rights, and build weapons of mass destruction now just need to be “opened up” to the outside world and sanctions and non-proliferation is just more western bullying and infidel occupation.  


Other countries like Syria that are ruled by tyrannical leaders that besiege their own cities, starve and torture their people, drop barrel bombs indiscriminately, and use chemical weapons are no longer crossing a “red line”, but are simply in need of a political settlement and even can enjoy two or more years of continued rule. 


Small but flourishing Democratic countries like Israel–the size of New Jersey and the only Jewish state in a world of 50 majority Muslim countries–is demonized as Apartheid oppressors of the Palestinians–those very people who are sworn to their destruction and to throwing them into the Sea–just 70 years after the Jewish Holocaust. 


Back in the United States and in Europe, waves of mass immigration across borders is perfectly fine and perhaps even desired to file the ranks of needed employees, obtain desired future voters, and alleviate the aggrieved hearts of those that committed past atrocities or closed their doors to refugees in the past, while those that speak of vetting, border control, and homeland security are Nazi fascists.


Moreover increases in taxes and spending is in vogue, while general fiscal disciple, paring the national deficit and debt, and sequestration are lunatic concepts by those seeking to suppress the middle class and destroy America. 


Don’t get me wrong, we as a country can and should go a long way to decreasing inequality and improving the lives of everyone with a living wage, universal healthcare, paid maternity/paternity leave, free or reasonably-priced advanced education, and decent retirement benefits.


However, when we call everything and anything discrimination, racism, and inequality, take away individual accountability, make every grievance into a revolution and opportunity for a lynching or guillotine, things have gone from one insanity to just another. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Unsustainable U.S. Economy

Unsustainable EconomyThe U.S. National Debt often touted at an enormous $18 trillion is really more than 3 times that amount and closer to a whopping $65 trillion!


That’s when you actually count all the unfunded liabilities for civilian and military pensions, retiree healthcare, social security, and medicare.


For each of the 318.9 million people of that United States, it mean $203,826 of debt or for a family of four that’s a debt of $815,303.


Put another way, the entire net worth of Americans is $84.9 trillion, but after subtracting the debt of $65 trillion, it drops to just about $20 trillion–coincidentally around the amount of our new debt ceiling.


Moreover, with the richest 1% owning more than 50% of the wealth by 2016 that leave only $10 trillion or $31,675 for each of us–not so hoity toity for 239 years of independence and founding as a nation or all the blood, sweat, and tears we put in every day of our lives.


In terms of our escalating debt, just this last year alone, social security spending went up to $944,143,000,000 or the equivalent of $6,345 for every American with a job. and this is projected to dramatically rise with the retirements of the baby boomers.


Projections are for social security to exhaust its funds by 2035, which could result in across the board 20% or more cuts in benefits of the already meager program where many seniors end up eating cat food.


Additionally, the retirement age already set to go to 67 by 2027 could be forced to go even higher, and social security would likely be curtailed or eliminated entirely above certain income levels.


Is this the financial security and brighter future we are leaving our children and grandchildren?


We can kick the can down the road, but the unsustainability of it all will eventually come back to haunt us. 😉


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Pictures of Money)

Bittersweet Green

Sweet Green
So lately, passing by Sweet Greens in the morning has not been so sweet.



The tables outside are being used by those unfortunately with no place to sleep. 



When I see the homeless people under the Sweet Green awning lying on the tables wrapped in ripped clothes and blankets trying to get some much needed sleep, it is completely heart breaking. 



At the same time, I wonder about the health and safety for people who come later to eat on those tables that only hours earlier were somebody’s bed for the night.



Not a good situation all around…and can never understand why a wealthy society such as ours can’t feed, cloth, and shelter ALL its citizens–so they don’t have to sleep at Sweet Greens anymore. 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Debt Default–Now Or Later

Debt Default--Now Or Later

So reopening the government, narrowing our deficit spending, and raising the national debt ceiling is coming together in planned negotiations this week.

Despite all the talk, we continue to spend beyond our national means and basically we must raise the debt ceiling or else the game of borrow and spend is over.

Almost like insatiable gamblers, we use up our money at the table, head to the pawn shop to sell our watch and car to replenish for the next game, and then borrow against our credit card to fuel our addiction to the game some more.

Eventually though the house always wins and the borrower must pay up (or they get their legs broken or something nasty like that).

So while the question posed by the pundits this month is whether the U.S. will default on its debt now, the real question is whether a default is just a matter of time anyway–as we continue to spend more than we generate in revenue as a country.

Sure can we raise the debt limit again–hey, why not borrow more, if others are willing enough to lend to us (and for little to no interest too)?

And can we through sequestration or more surgical spending cuts, decrease the rate of our deficit spending–however actually balancing our budget is not even on the table anymore, as booming entitlements for Social Security and Medicare are expected soon with the aging baby boomers to drastically increase our spending again.

The hope that we will somehow, magically grow our way out is fanciful thinking–almost rising to delusions of national grandeur–that just don’t mathematically add up (since we have a median GDP growth rate over the last 80 years of just over 3%).

Perhaps, we don’t care if we can’t pay our debts, because we are the superpower and what is anybody going to do to us about it anyway?

Or perhaps, we rely as a backstop on our ability to print more money and pay off old borrowed sums with worthless new money galore?

Maybe it’s not a default if no one acknowledges it or we just get away with it…but somehow, someway, no one and no country can spend more than it generates in perpetuity.

If you believe in the endless virtual cycle of borrow and spend, then the mind control program is working just great, indeed. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Economics, Pendulum Style

Economics, Pendulum Style

To combat the recession of 2007, the Federal Reserve initiated an aggressive policy of Quantitative Easing–purchasing federal debt en masse to flood demand for Treasuries and lower interest rates to near zero to stimulate the economy.

As of June 2013 the Feds balance sheet has swelled to over $3.4 trillion in assets of treasury debt. What happens when the Treasury has to repay those trillions?

Who is the Treasury going to borrow that money from and at what interest rate?

Just like raising demand for Treasuries lowered interest rates, increasing the supply of Treasury debt to pay back the Federal Reserve will make interest rates go way up the other way.

Rising interest rates makes borrowing more expensive–e.g. buying a car with an auto loan is more expensive, buying a home with a mortgage is more expensive–and inflation can skyrocket.

But what is worse is that despite the recent slowing of the growth of the national debt, many economists calculate the total US debt at a whopping $70 trillion when you include the host of unfunded liabilities including social entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as government loan guarantees (mortgage, student loan, etc,), deposit insurance (i.e. FDIC(, and the money owed to the Federal Reserve.

What is really sad about this is that the entire wealth of American families in this country is guess what–also $70 trillion–which means that we are essentially a bankrupt nation:

Family assets of $70 trillion – Family liabilities of $70 trillion = a big fat 0 in the kitty!

To pay back the $70 trillion, it is not realistic that we will simply “grow our way out” of this fiscal mess with a GDP growth rate over the last 20 years of a mere 2.6%. Also, we will likely not confiscate people’s assets to pay off the debt, rather we will print money–lots of it–so that we end up paying back the trillions of past debt in much devalued future money.

Heads we win, tails you lose!

The problem is that devaluing the dollar will mean that American family savings will become worth less as well–with the risk, at the extreme, of wiping out mass amounts of savings altogether.

Despite sequestration reducing the rate of our debt growth, the aging baby boomers with the resulting liabilities for their care will soon escalate the debt problem once again.

David Walker, a former U.S. Comptroller has warned about our national debt problem as well as many prominent economists.

Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, the spendthrift ways of the past will by necessity lead to penny-pinching in the future, and inflation rates of near zero since 2007 will lead to hyperinflation after 2014.

It reminds me of the story of Joseph in the Bible, with the 7 lean years follow the 7 fat years (in Egypt that time)–this is not just providence, but common sense economics.

Good times will come again when there is a return to the mean and the pendulum hovers near center, but the swings until then can be wide and scary.

Of course, like taking your medicine, the earlier we start to course-correct our nation’s finances, the sooner we get healthy again. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to zzz zzz)

Government By Decision

What Is Your Decision?

I saw this bumper sticker on a pole in Washington, D.C.

It says “Puppet for President 2012” and I don’t know whether this was referring to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or whoever.

But it did make a statement about the perceived ability of government to lead and perhaps that someone is “pulling the strings.”

Governance is the act of administering, managing and of course implies leadership and decision-making.

Yet what is driving the American people crazy is that our government seems for all intensive purposes broken, almost paralyzed.

Current reading are of political stalemate, problems that are too big and complex and the compromises too painful after years of excess, where indecision reigns supreme, and with that the popularity of government is at all time lows–10% for Congress and 36% for the President.

Here’s a basic example written about today in the Wall Street Journal: despite a drop in first class mail over the last decade (thanks to email and texting) from 100 billion to fewer than 70 billion pieces of first class mail and cumulative losses from 2006 to March 2013 of $41 billion, we still can’t decide whether to cut Saturday mail delivery that could save over $3 billion a year alone.

Other examples of government indecision are almost too numerous to name:

– Should we intervene in Syria’s civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions?

– When should we take action against Iranian nuclear facilities that violate nuclear non-proliferation and threaten world peace?

– How should we handle militant Islamic and Al Qaeda threats that don’t seem to dissipate?

– What do we do about the mounting federal deficit with a national debt approaching $17 trillion that is still rising about $2 billion a day!

– With fiscal cliffs, debt ceiling, sequestrations, and cuts to the U.S. credit rating, can we find our way forward?

– What should we do to get people back to work with an employment level of 58.6%, still around the lowest in the last 30 years?

– How do we reign in entitlement spending that needy people depend on, but where nearly half (49%) of Americans households today receive transfer payments, and entitlement spending has risen to $2.3 trillion annually and now are over 60% of entire federal outlays.

– How do we improve morale of the U.S. middle-class when only 33% think their children will be better off than their parents?

– What should we do about so many hanging issues out there–immigration reform, spiraling health care costs, improving our education system, balancing surveillance and privacy, and much more?

However, the ultimate question really is whether no decision is better than a decision?

With no decision, the problems continue to escalate until they sort of magically go away on their own (they are “overcome by events”) or more ominously, they reach epic crisis proportions.

With a decision to act, we may make good decisions that positively impact the situation or we may make bad decisions that have a negative impact, but even with a bad decision, we can monitor the effects and course-correct until we show true improvement.

Decisions often mean winners and losers–and no one wants to lose anything–and there are lobbyists and special interest groups–and no one wants to be voted out of office…so what do we do?

Oh no, I can’t decide!

The reality is that we will will have to make hard decisions or they will be made for us–we will either be the masters of our own fate of the slaves of our indecision.

We can take back control and fix what is broken or wallow in despair and disrepair.

We can act now or kick the can down the road and have much more painful decisions later.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Back To The Computer Stone Age

Back To The Computer Stone Age

According to Charles Kenny in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (20 June 2013), the Internet is quite a big disappointment–because it “failed to generate much in the way of economic growth.”

While on one hand, the author seems to see the impact that the Internet has had–“it sparks uprisings, makes shopping easier, help people find their soul mates, and enables government to collect troves of useful data on potential terrorists;” on the other hand, he pooh-poohs all this and says it hasn’t generated prosperity.

And in a sense, don’t the facts seem to support Kenny: GDP is still in the 2-3% range, labor productivity growth is even lower, and unemployment is still elevated at over 7%?

The problem is that the author is making false correlations between our economic conditions and the rise of the Internet, which already Jack Welch pronounced in 2000 as “the single most important event in the U.S. economy since the industrial revolution.”

Kenny seems to think that not only aren’t there that many economic benefits to the Internet, but whatever there is we basically squander by becoming Facebook and Youtube junkies.

It’s a shame that Bloomberg BusinessWeek decided to publish such a ridiculous article as its “Opening Remarks,” blaming the failure of the Internet for economic challenges that have been brewing for decades–with high-levels of debt, low levels of savings, hefty entitlement programs based on empty national trust funds, the global outsourcing of our manufacturing base, elevated political polarization in Washington, and various economic jolts based on runaway technology, real estate, and commodity bubbles.

It’s concerning that the author, someone with a masters in International Economics, wouldn’t address, let alone mention, any of these other critical factors affecting our national economy–just the Internet!

Kenny adds insult to injury in his diatribe, when he says that the Internet’s “biggest impact” is the delivery of “a form of entertainment more addictive than watching reruns of Friends.”

Maybe that’s the biggest impact for him, but I think most of us could no longer live seriously without the Internet–whether in how we keep in touch, share, collaborate, inform, innovate, compute, buy and sell, and even entertain (yes, were entitled to some downtime as well).

Maybe some would like to forget all the benefits of technology and send us back to the Stone Age before computing, but I have a feeling that not only would our economy be a lot worse than it is now, but so would we. 🙂

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Dystopia Man

Dystopia Man

I love this picture that I saw in the art gallery here in Florida.

I named the person in the portrait, Dystopia Man, because he reminds me of how people would look in a speculative futuristic society.

The way the man looks askew with bloodshot eyes, head split, and hand partially covering his mouth all make me feel like the future is quite unknown, somewhat risky, if not sort of ominous.

We have lots of national and global challenges–with security versus privacy, openness versus secrecy, sharing versus private ownership, social entitlements versus capitalism, theocracy versus democracy, control versus freedom, and man versus machine.

How will these turn out for society, for us? Will we maintain a healthy balance and respect for individuals? Will these and other conflicts be resolved peacefully?

Hopefully G-d will grant us the wisdom to solve these dilemmas and many others that await us in the present and not so distant future.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)