What Are We Voting About?

May 21, 2016

While the political-media complex is busy spinning the reality show aspects of the current political season, Bernie Sanders has been focused like a laser on the real issue at stake: economic justice. The reality is that American society is on a precipice: the economy has become so bad for all but a few hundred families, that social division and unrest is emerging. When a society no longer offers economic hope or even security, then it can choose to change or to destroy itself. The present economic system is transferring wealth to the richest so rapidly that we are beginning to look like a Third World country. Since the Great Recession, our average life expectancy has dropped to the lowest of any advanced, industrialized country in the world – and continues to decline. The average wealth of all but 400 of the richest families in the country has declined 40 percent, while 75 percent of the wealth generated since then has gone to the top 5 percent of the already richest Americans. The average income for Americans, adjusted for inflation, is now lower than it was 20 years ago.

Those are just the facts, statistics that only hint to the real pain being experienced by the lowest income families in America. Sanders is the only politician proposing a solution to the crisis. Recognizing that the economic injustice of our society is the direct result of political policies being implemented by a government controlled by the “donor class,” Sanders proposes the only real solutions – a Constitutional Amendment to correct for the absurd idea that money is “speech,” single payer health care, free college education, and a significant raise in the minimum wage – the latter proposals as a temporary fix to the more intransigent problem of an emerging plutocracy.

In the next few blogs, let’s talk about the social and political costs of economic inequality, because it is affecting more than just income.

The Cost of Economic Injustice

May 20, 2016

Income inequality is one aspect of economic injustice that is getting some exposure this election cycle, primarily from Bernie Sanders. The fact that there is economic inequality is now widely accepted by economists, and felt by most Americans. This may be a good outcome, even if it did take widespread suffering to crush the usual stereotypes about poverty being a function of laziness or some other pejorative.

Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” America no longer exists. Even with heroic effort and working two full-time jobs, most Americans will not realize economic security. Since the Great Recession, the wealth of 50 percent of Americans decreased an average of 40 percent, while the average hourly wages of the 400 wealthiest Americans increased to over $97,000 per hour. There are structural aspects of our economy, built by political policy, that not only created the recent “Great Recession,” but have also increased the rate of the transfer of wealth since then. This comes at great costs to many social aspects of American life.

A deterioration in health and life expectancy are other negative consequences of inequality. America in the last five years has begun to imitate the conditions of Russians after the Soviet Union fell. In the last five years, the average life expectancy for white women in America has decreased at the same rate as Russian men after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In fact, American women now have the lowest life expectancy of women in any advanced country in the world! One factor in this decline is that the American economy has decreased the wealth of the majority of its citizens, resulting in decreased access to health care. One of the objectives of ObamaCare was to remedy that lack of access to medical treatment, but that was sabotaged when the Supreme Court gave the right of states to opt out of Medicare.

So it is not just a lack of access to education, or any of the traditional vehicles for upward mobility, that have been destroyed by this economy. It is also causing a deterioration in health and other aspects of a quality life. Reagan championed the “trickle down” economic theory that set into motion the greatest transfer of wealth in the world’s history. Since then, the political system has only increased that trickle to a torrent. Our children may be the first generation of Americans to live in a Third World country.

The Universe

May 19, 2016

We can get so caught up in the minutia of the daily grind that we lose our sense of wonder at life and the universe. Science can provide us with a perspective that never ceases to awe me. Here’s a couple of tidbits to divert your attention away from the mundane.

Looking into a star-filled night can disorient us to scale and move us from being self-centered to insignificant, but when we take the time to look at what is out there, it becomes absolutely amazing. For example, this past week there was news of the discovery of 2 “exoplanets,” which are planets orbiting other stars. These two planets are 470 light years away, orbiting a star at a distance, and have a spectral profile nearly identical to Earth’s. As of this time, we have identified nearly a thousand planets orbiting other stars, many of them with potential for life similar to our planet to exist. One wonders what those planets are like and what kind of life has already evolved. However, none are stranger than one object orbiting a star that was discovered several years ago that utterly baffles science. It’s called “KIC 8462852.”

The “object” is not a planet, at least not a planet like anywhere else in the Universe discovered so far. It is not round, but has sharp angles and appears to be changing shape and growing. Amazingly, it is growing with time and now blocks nearly 20 percent of the background light of its star. To give you a perspective, Jupiter would block less than .01 percent of our sun to a telescope looking at it from a similar distance. No natural process can explain its characteristics. It appears to be 3000 times as large as Earth, and growing. Even the most skeptical scientists are entertaining the idea that it may be an artificial structure!

On another scale, we are on the verge of discovering one of the most challenging theoretical qualities of the physical universe. Einstein’s calculations on the nature of sub-atomic particles (Quantum Physics) concluded that an object can be in two places in the Universe at the same time. Subsequent work has been unable to disprove the equations, but until now we have lacked the ability to prove the existence of a single particle existing in two places at the same time. However, scientists at the University of California have successfully developed the ability to isolate a single quantum for the first time, and (for the first time ever) we will be able to test the mind boggling idea of simultaneous existence in different parts of the universe. Subatomic particles can lack mass – they are measurable only by the energy they generate and effects they have other particles. Their qualities are as mysterious as the mathematics that indicate the existence of 10 dimensions (not the three we experience).

These are not entirely philosophical issues as they have very practical implications to our lives. And they do make you wonder, don’t they?


What Does That Mean?

May 18, 2016

One of the mantras of Donald Trump is that he would treat veterans “the way they deserve to be treated.” What does that mean? It sounds good, but there are no plans, no policies – nothing but a flowery promise. We could look to his own behavior in the past for clues on what he thinks veterans deserve. For example, we know he has sued to have homeless veterans removed from any proximity to his hotels and resorts. We know he demeaned the service of Viet Nam veterans by comparing their experience with his own attempts to avoid STDs. But that was Donald the real estate magnate. What would the “presidential” Trump do?

We know that the “presidential” Trump demeaned the heroism of John McCain, and every other POW. He did have a relationship with a man who ran fraudulent fundraisers for veterans groups, even participating in one fraud on the USS Iowa. Then there was that fundraiser he ran as an alternative to participating in one of the GOP Debates. Remember that one? He claimed that event raised over $6 million for veterans. The funds went into an account controlled by Trump, rather than an independent account. As of this date less than $3 million has been distributed to veterans groups and the rest is unaccounted for.

Maybe nothing fraudulent has happened other than yet another wildly exaggerated successful Trump venture, but a pattern is emerging. Trump University promised that students would be wildly successful, but despite taking a lot of money from students, the promise was never realized and Trump University is being sued by numerous students alleging fraud. (By the way, they even confiscated the tuition and distributed the business contacts of a student who was a veteran while he was deployed.)

Apparently the crowds love it when Trump promises to “make America great again.” They believe him when he says he will create more jobs “than God” and that he will renegotiate trade deals so that we will win so much that “we will get tired of winning.” Maybe it’s a good idea to ask what those promises mean as well. More jobs? Maybe, but we already know he believes that American workers are “paid too much.” How would you like an opportunity to get a new job working for Trump? Trade deals? How about a trade war to raise unemployment to 10 percent or cause the cost of goods to double or triple?

Many pundits claim that Trump is successful because he is not a politician and doesn’t talk like a politician. He may not talk like a politician, but it seems to me that he makes the same promises as every other politician yet is somehow more believable because he is not a politician.

Creeping Escalation in Iraq

May 17, 2016

This week the news of the death of a Navy SEAL in Iraq was able to break through to the headlines. He was “advising” Kurdish troops near Mosul, the largest city occupied by ISIL when he was killed. Hopefully, it will prompt the media to abandon its addiction to Donald Trump and report on something meaningful — the escalating involvement of American troops in Iraq and Syria.

Quietly and persistently, President Obama has been sending more and more troop to Iraq and Syria to “train and advise” indigenous troops fighting ISIL. The presence of over 500 special operations troops has led to a reversal of ISIL successes and has reduced the areas controlled by ISIL by over 40 percent. Within three months of the arrival of new American troops, over 30,000 ISIL troops have been killed, compared to one American casualty. It has been a military success so far, but things are about to change.

The recapture of Mosul will be an American operation. There are no such things as “advisers” in Iraq because everywhere is a frontline, as the recent casualty near Mosul proves. Iraqi troops and their Iranian allies have proven to be unreliable and ineffective against ISIL. Few Americans know it, but even now battalions of special operations troops are preparing for an assault on Mosul.

Unlike Fallujah when Americans gave every civilian a week to leave the city and declared anyone remaining a “combatant,” ISIL is unlikely to allow women and children to leave Mosul. This creates incredible tactical problems for the rules of engagement. Unlike Fallujah where Marines could fire on any person before being shot at, in Mosul the rules of engagement will put our troops at much greater risk due to restrictions. The result will be many more casualties than necessary. Further complicating the situation, the Iraqi government has banned the use of armored vehicles and certain types of close air support.

So if you thought the war in Iraq was winding down, you were wrong. When Bush called in the cavalry when things got grim in Iraq, he called it a “surge.” President Obama simply does not publicize it. Bush wanted to be seen as a “hawk.” President Obama wants to be seen as a “non-interventionist,” but his actions are the same.

Obama in Flint

May 16, 2016

Continuing the evolution of the Flint water crisis into a political symbol, President Obama visited Flint. It would be naïve to believe that he went there only because a little girl invited him a few months ago. I suppose you could attribute a beneficent motive to the President … maybe he was just trying to keep Flint in the national spotlight. Certainly the optics of Snyder getting roundly booed and heckled off the stage followed by thunderous applause when Obama took the stage was good for the President. His words were encouraging, and drinking a glass of filtered water was a nice gesture. But an empty glass of water was the only thing left in Flint when he was gone. No federal money, no federal aid of any mention at all. No teams of civil engineers, none of the thousands of backhoes and tractors parked in military bases in Michigan and other states were fired up. Nothing. Which makes the President’s visit nothing more than an empty gesture to the people of Flint.

Flint needs to have its water infrastructure replaced. It also needs a massive public health intervention. It is an expensive and labor intensive task. Michigan under the “leadership” of Gov. Snyder and his fellow Republicans in the Michigan Legislature continues to display the same calloused attitude about the people of Flint that led to the crisis in the first place. They refuse to do anything meaningful. Which means it is up to the Feds, and so far they appear to be no different. Maybe Flint has become a flash point conflict between the political parties. Maybe Dems are holding the feet of Republicans to the fire and refusing to bail them out of the financial responsibility. The problem is that poor kids in Flint are not a concern to the “right to life” Republicans in Michigan. The Republicans in Lansing will continue to do nothing to relive the suffering because they simply don’t care. At least not until November’s election.

Meanwhile, the people of Flint need immediate and meaningful help. How could it be that such a human catastrophe could be tolerated like this? This is less a commentary on the breakdown of the government or the political system, as it is a commentary on the kind of society we have become when human tragedy and suffering is tolerated and even used for political purposes.

Cruz Missile

May 13, 2016

Less than a day after his loss in the Indiana primary Ted Cruz abruptly drops out of the GOP contest, even though he had strongly asserted before the primary that he would not drop out even with a loss. What changed his mind? Let’s go conspiracy theory … Before you go off on the Enquirer consider these two facts. First the Enquirer has broken more political scandals in the last 20 years than the New York Times (Hart, Edwards, etc., etc., etc.), so they can’t be discounted based on their track record alone. Second, the computer hacking organization Anonymous was the first organization to point out the link between Rafael Cruz and Oswald.

The day before the primary Cruz went absolutely apoplectic over a National Enquirer report that his father, Rafael, was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. They published a picture of Rafael allegedly with Oswald passing out propaganda materials in New Orleans, where Oswald certainly was certainly working with the CIA to funnel arms to Cuban counter-revolutionaries. Rafael himself got out of Dodge before any media could get a response. Similarly, Rafael got out of New Orleans shortly after the Kennedy assassination and moved to Canada, where Lucifer was born.

Rafael was known as a Cuban exile and counter-revolutionary in 1962, when he moved to Dallas and later in 1963 to New Orleans. Although the leaders of the anti-Castro movement all say Rafael was never in a leadership position and was in fact a whiny coward, he did travel in the same circles of CIA-Cuban exile community that Oswald did. So, the connection is there, and that connection is a raw nerve for Ted. In typical Trump aplomb, he simply “pointed out” the Enquirer article that just happened to be published that day. It’s no secret that the Enquirer and Trump are joined at the hips, and I guess we could expect a number of Hillary scandals to grace the front pages of the paper soon. In this case, the Enquirer loaded a “Cruz” missile and Donald pushed the button. And man, did he ever push a button.


May Day 2016

May 12, 2016

Most Americans think that “May Day,” celebrated on May 1st, is a Communist holiday. They associate May Day with massive military parades in the Kremlin or Havana. However, May Day is an American holiday with its genesis in Chicago in 1884. In those days the American labor movement was beginning to exert its influence, with unions beginning to advocate for fundamental job safety and child labor reforms. At their convention in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that by May 1st, 1886 an eight-hour workday would be the norm in American workplaces. The normal workday in American factories in those days was anywhere from 12 to 16 hours. It was a seminal moment in the Labor Movement, not only in the United States but around the world.

You know, looking back on the American Labor Movement and its contributions to the safety and welfare of workers worldwide compared to its present state is a bit sad. Destroying unions has been an agenda of the American right wing for decades and more recently successful. Many people blame the trade pacts, starting with NAFTA, which certainly accelerated the destruction of unions and the standard of living for many working Americans. The Labor Movement in the late 1800s was largely funded and populated by American Socialists. Maybe we need another Socialist to restore decent jobs and wages for Americans again…