Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

To Do IV. Education

The COVID-19 pandemic is just what the Doctor ordered for American education. Well, it could be. First, we must, as is our wont, muddle for as long as possible. Plenty of time. What with students and teachers being quarantined one right after another, it’s going to be a long year. Time a plenty to fall for all that state propaganda about how classrooms are safe and kids need to be in the classroom just like before. You’d think we would learn. It’s been a long year already.

Dr. says: In order to safely open the schools, class sizes need to be reduced by at least one-third, by one-half being even mo betta. Class schedules need be staggered in order to reduce hallway, bathroom, and cafeteria crowding. Extra staffing required. Ventilation needs to be improved. Things that will require money and money was always the problem; before the pandemic, for a long time now. The big con that let them get by without properly funding the school for so long now was to blame it on the teachers. Who else could they blame, themselves? Koch Bros weren’t being stupid all these years, didn’t pack school boards with masochists; they wanted folks on school boards who liked pointing fingers. Wanted the media to tell people what to think about schools; right away. No experience needed. Opinions and jokers wild. It was all about taxes in the end, you know.

Poor teachers were being given advice from left and right from people with absolutely no knowledge of what it was like in public school classrooms. Born to teach, they just bowed their necks and took more of the load. Teachers work for the board. The board works for the parents and other residents; board’s a political job, often seen as a possible first step to a career in politics. The parents of kids with issues didn’t want to be blamed for these issues, and no one running for school board was about to do so. District residents living in their dream homes didn’t want to, couldn’t afford to, pay anymore taxes on something they paid more for than they could afford in the first place. Higher taxes lower real estate values. School failure was all the fault of overpaid teachers and their damned teachers’ union.

A quick look at when, where and why it all began to go awry. When – the year was 1978. Place – California. Why – the Jarvis-Gann Amendment, aka, Prop 13. Prop. 13 limited all property taxes to 1.0% or less of assessment. Gang aft a-gley. It started an avalanche of clones nation-wide. Worse, a guy named Grover Norquist caught wind of the excitement; decided there was gold in California’s Prop. 13 and began mining a national tax rebellion for a living. Convinced the National Republican Party to adopt a no new taxes platform, he did. Neither California or the nation has been quite the same since. Before 1978, schools in most states were pretty well funded. Since, across America, public schools have been systematically starved, infrastructure has deteriorated, …; it’s been all down hill. Prop. 15 on this year’s California Ballot is designed to overturn the most egregious aspects of the 1978 Prop. 13. If 15 passes and other states copy, that’s a big first step toward righting an egregious wrong. The implications are huge. Prop. 13 played a big role in increasing the price of housing. Increased housing prices drove homelessness. One might expect the opposite effect if it’s undone.

Where to get this extra money for schools? Given the momentous changes in the economy over these 40 plus years; a look at other sources for school funding might be in order. Given that the industrial base is all but gone, retail is fading fast, and wages have long been stagnate; follow the money and tax the flows of money and goods, and tax wealth. Today’s and tomorrow’s ka-ching is the mouse click; that’s when the sale is transacted, when and where to collect a tax. At the port of entry’s another ka-ching, ka-ching with each scan of the bar code. By electronic transfer only.

History

What is this that we call history? What is it good for?

History is: a chronological record of significant events (such as those affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes, a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events, the study of the past, …, the past in context. History is all these things.

What is missing from ‘a chronological record of significant events’? History without context is meaningless. And context is? Context is all those things that were going on before and during those significant events; the environment of their occurrence, if you will; and the events that followed these significant events; their consequences.

A branch of knowledge that records and explains past events, the study of the past, … No doubt, those historians who recorded these events sought to provide us insight into what was going on at the time, and as to what had transpired before; provide us context. Successive historians were privy the consequences of these events; provide us evermore context for these events. The knowing of what was going on at the time of significant events and the consequences of these events allows us to assign cause and effect to these significant events of history. This assessment of cause and effect forms the basis of our knowledge of the past.

What good this knowledge of the past? Is it that we need be concerned about the possibility of history repeating itself? That’s not really possible, is it? This assessment is information or knowledge that we can use to increase or decrease the possibility of something similar happening in the future. Information or knowledge that also helps us understand what is happening at the present time, happening now. We need to know what is going on now in order to better plan for the future. Planning that applies the knowledge that we have gained from our study of history.

We can never undo history; that would be like reversing the big bang. We can use the knowledge gained from our study of the past to improve the present, to make the future better.

Just Saying

We the majority 60% are being tyrannized by the minority 40%. Other the democratically elected House of Representatives, we are being governed by a President and Senate that are not representative of us, that oppose our majority positions. We the majority are being particularly tyrannized by the current Senate Majority leader who is from the small state of Kentucky. Kentucky is a state of less than 4.5 million population that gets back about $2.40 for every dollar it sends to Washington D.C. No doubt, Kentucky has a lot of poor folks who really need the money. If indeed it’s the poor getting the money, and if it’s not going through the hands of some multimillionaire republican farmer before they get anything at all; then you are more than welcome folks. It does seem hardly fair that in return for our hard earned money you give us a couple of sorry arsed Senators like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Hey Kentuckians, America needs you to wake up before McConnell destroys America, the very goose that lays your eggs, and ’tis you Kentuckians who are responsible for Mitch. Surely you can do better than this? Could you, just for the sake of the nation, please at least try a little harder?

Kentucky is one of six states that receive at least twice as much as they pay in. In addition, there are other red states like Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi that benefit disproportionately from defense spending; receiving roughly twice as much defense largesse per capita as most other states. Most of this defense money is coming from blue states which is not that different from them sending money to poor people in Kentucky, excepting this money goes first through the hands of defense contractors who: are not at all poor and hire lobbyist whom they pay with … defense money. Glad to oblige with the jobs, but, as thanks, could you please quit sending such sorry pols to Washington DC? For a change, maybe send some that put people and the nation first? Some that work to serve the people and not the interest of the wealthy?

Easy enough to point out the awful nothingness of the likes of Texas’ Cruz, Cornyn, and Gohmert; Kentucky’s duo; Louisiana’s Kennedy, Missouri’s pair of Jokers, Georgia’s pair of deuces; …; but, it was you Texans, Louisianans, Missourians, Georgians, … that sent them. When Mitch and Donald gave blue states the bird, your elected good for nothings lined up in support. Is this any way to treat us blue staters after all we’ve done for you over the years? America can’t make the changes needed in order to survive with this caliber of legislators. Surely you have better to offer. Some of your young black leaders are really smart; well deserving of a shot. This bent white southern male politician, given to pontification, on the make, shtick has gotten real old. And, please, oh pretty please, send us no more goddamned Baptist preachers.

What say ye my fellow majority of Americans, shall we hold those responsible responsible? Madam Speaker, is it not time to do a little something to get these folks attention? To send the message that they need to be more responsible? The writer from North Carolina said, “To the south, the Civil War is not over, it’s just half-time.” It is time and time for this crap to stop. No more. They have already done our nation more than enough harm. Time for whites in the south to let go of the south, to fully embrace democracy, to be Americans first and only; or to just get out of the way.

While you are at it Madam Speaker, we of the majority are of majority opinion that it sure would be nice if there was some way of exacting direct retribution on Mitch’s sorry arse this side of the hereafter.

Wages and The Market

In the 19th century, employers stove off employee demands by bringing in immigrants willing to work under existing conditions. In the 20th Century, consequent the Great Depression, prohibition of child labor, immigration reform, … it was no longer so easy for employers to ignore workers demands. Unions took root and membership grew and so did the workers’ wages and benefits; welcome: the end of child labor, the 40 hour week, living wages, and paid vacations.

Fast forward to the late 1960s: Beginning of the end for US manufacturing dominance. Unionized industries moved south in quest of lower wages; thence to Mexico, … Fewer and fewer union jobs, fewer and fewer union members. 1970S, manufacturing exodus to Asia begins; labor becoming more and more irrelevant in US, unadjusted wages stay the same. 1980S, Immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Asia brought in to work for less. Wages continue decline. 2000, Bush II mounts assault on labor and small business. They didn’t call; it that, but that is what it was. The intent was to put labor in its place. Dems remain on sideline, clueless. 2008-2016, Dems still clueless, went with rhetoric and old fashioned religion. 2016, Trump. 2020, Dems still clueless, keeping talking about the good old days, the good old union days.

All My Children

Though more different than alike, they do have a lot in common. All are, in some way, progeny of the microprocessor. Some were born in around Silicon Valley, others quite distant. The first generation was born in the US early in the last third of the 20th Century. The second was born near the end of the late 20th — early in the 21st Century. None of them could have been born in an earlier era. Microsoft* 1972, Apple*1976, and Oracle*1977, were instrumental in developing the power of microprocessors either through developments in software, hardware, or both. Amazon*1994, Google*1998, Facebook*2004, and Twitter*2006 were all about utilizing the vast computing power of microprocessor based computers. They grew like weeds. The nation had not seen the likes since Carnegie and Rockefeller of the 19th Century. Now, as then, it didn’t quite know what to do with them. Now, as then, the Nation found itself being jerked about economically, socially, and politically by these new giants. What are to be the standards when all is so new?

Called Technology Companies because they were the children of this Age of Technology; some sold software, some hardware, some both; some provided a service in exchange for the users eyeballs, and personal info, which they then sold to others. Some sold stuff for others until they became so rich they took these others’ business from them, bought others, and did some of everything. One thing they held in common was that they all, excepting Theranos and Twitter, had quickly grown to be very prosperous, and to be very big and powerful. Amazon has enough cash on hand to buy General Motors outright; so does Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. Another thing held in common; they all started up in an unregulated environment. And another; these Technology Companies were all, with the exception of Theranos, started up by young men, some of whom were very young.

For nigh on fifty years now the US Government hasn’t seemed to know enough about what was going on with this new technology to step up and impose needed regulations. In some cases, those running these companies couldn’t have told you what was going on. It has all been a wild ride. Now, in the early 21stCentury, as in the early 20th, it is clear to most that something must be done. As in 1904, the first step is to break them up. They are so big that no one else can compete. Sound familiar? As with the titans of the Gilded Age, these guys have tremendous influence on national economics, society, and politics and policy. These guys have world-wide influence.

As in the gilded Age: Too big is when a company has its own Representatives and Senators, and writes legislation meant to benefit itself. Too big when, as a result of that legislation, immigrant labor is used to suppress workers wages. In the Gilded Age, Capitalism was next to god; strikers were shot. In Myanmar, Buddhist nationalist beat, raped, and killed Rohingya Muslims because of anti-Muslim hate-speech postings on Facebook. When confronted with this fact, Facebook expressed concern.

As in the Gilded Age, these new Titans of what was now the Technology Age have been hailed as geniuses. Fair to say, some of them are of well above average intelligence. Also fair to say that some of them are not. That some aren’t all that well rounded, or educated. That some are amoral. Wise? We have seen little or no evidence of that.

The Combination of Things

What about all the forest fires in the West? The most proximate cause of these fires is high temperatures along with associated lightning and high winds; both of which, directly or indirectly, can easily ignite a fire in tinder dry forests.

Beyond beyond being dry, many western forest are far from being healthy. There are large areas in the southern Sierra Nevada Range where the forest are dead and gone; they were the first to go. There is less damage to the forest as one goes farther north; still, going east on Highway 108 up over the Sonora Pass, it is not unusual to see forest areas where upwards of half the trees are dead or dying. Most are dying from infestations of bark beetles. Healthy trees can survive bark beetles, but these trees were first weakened by long periods of drought. The damage has being worsening for decades.

Drought is not new in the West; there is ample scientific evidence of at least two extended periods of drought in California over the past 1200 hundred years. There is the possibility that we are entering such a period now. It is far more likely that what we are seeing is what has long been predicted by climate Change Models. Speaking of models, has everyone seen ProPublica’s, ‘New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States’ https://projects.propublica.org/climate-migration/ ? Poor Texas. Near the end of the piece, future predictions down to every county in the US. And the models will only get better at predicting with more and better data.

To Do I, II, & III

The COVID-19 Pandemic, the inadequate response thereto, and the incompetency of the Trump Presidency in general, combined, have exposed our nation’s weaknesses and failings to an extent unknown since at least the Great Depression. This is likely a do or die moment for America. Recovery will be difficult. Improbable unless we are careful in our choice of goals and daring in our efforts to achieve them. The margins for error do not allow for dawdling. Attempting to just return to a time before Trump and The Pandemic would be disastrous. A time like this should also be seen as a time of opportunity.

First, we must rid ourselves of denominational economics such as Capitalism, Socialism, Hayekism, Free Marketism, … These, but ideologies, dogmas, that some would impose on economics, on the rest of us; have done the Nation great harm. They are, at their very best, reasonings of a time past. As likely to be the answer to today’s problems as Adam Smith is to rise from his grave.

As a first step toward becoming again competitive in today’s world; we must stop blindly paying twice as much for inferior healthcare, internet, and cellphone service,… as is being paid in other developed nations; and while we are at it, we need to solve our homeless problem. These are all essential services that should be provided to all. In the grand competition of things; we’re losing. Have been for a while. Were before the pandemic. Ideology is a luxury we can no longer afford.

Let’s pay for these things that need to be done, and help with our wealth distribution problem, too, by taxing the piss out of the too rich and too profitable. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Sheldon, Warren, …; fun and games are over guys, time for you to pay up.

Let’s pay for these things that need to be done by cutting the ‘Defense’ Budget in half. Halve the number of Generals, the number of Admirals, the number of Aircraft Carriers, the number of Missiles, …; and full-stop attacking other nations. Half of $720+Billion is $360+Billion; $360+Billion is aplenty for Defense, nothing for Attack, and about right for expanding Medicare to Medicare For All. Ike was right about that and Harry was right about health care.

I. Internet Access and Cellular Networks

All those fireman who died because of poor communication on 9/11/2001 should have taught us the need for an ubiquitous cellular network. Mobile radio networks separate cellular networks should have shown us the need for one network. A police car with a half dozen radio antennas on the roof is ridiculous.

So, too, the fact that our cell phone uses a cellular network, our computers use a cable based internet service, and that we need a WIFI router to use our laptops. What’s now the cellular network should be the WIFI router and these routers should be all over our homes, all over every floor in every building, everywhere on our streets, and all across and over rural America. Ubiquitous. Today, thousands and thousands of teachers across America are trying to remotely teach kids, many of whom have very limited internet access, over an internet system that is not reliable. When the fires struck Santa Rosa, the cell towers went down. The internet w/ phones must work at all times during normal times and during times of emergency; needs to be bullet proof. This new inclusive internet is too critical to be trusted to the ‘Market’. Cell phone and Internet should be one and that one should be regulated as a public utility; a service, as a service application, and, as always, the application dictates. Not the ‘Market’.

As a Post Office service, maybe?

In order to fully utilize our Nation’s productivity, better fulfill our personal lives, and assist in times of emergency, the Internet needs be ubiquitous and bulletproof. We should be able to access the internet from our backyards, on a hike, in the mountains, in transit, …; from anywhere we are or can be. It was a big mistake letting cable companies have the internet and the cell phone companies the phone towers. Let the cable companies have Cable TV. Internet and cell phone transmission should be one and the same; should be a Public Utility. It isn’t about ideology, it’s about how it should be; what should be. Half-arsed won’t get it. If we continue to stick with ideology and dogma, China, Japan, and the EU will continue to eat our lunch.

Tone Deaf

Working-class Black and Latino Americans, more likely to be paid lower wages, less likely to own significant assets; feel that they are being deprived of a fair share; see this as a consequence of white privilege. Meanwhile, white working-class American’s see themselves as less than privileged, barely hanging on; feel that such demands by Blacks and Latinos amount to a threat to their meager share, their livelihood. Neither group is the other group’s problem, the two groups have a common problem; America’s wealth and income distribution problem.

In a prosperous nation with more than 800 billionaires, no one should have to work for low wages, work multiple jobs, in order to survive. Yet, not enough is coming down to the working class for sharing. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the answer. It is because of America’s unfair income distribution that the two groups are being pitted against one another in their struggle to eke out a living. More needs to come down to the working class in toto. Less needs to go up to the already wealthy.

While the Democratic Party seeks to attract the vote of working-class Blacks and Latinos, Republicans have made significant progress in attracting votes from the white working-class; thus splitting, thereby negating, the working-class vote. Choosing sides is not the answer. These are the same group with an artificial distinction being made on the basis of race and ethnicity. There is only one side here – that’s the side of the working class; the side of a majority of Americans.

Markets and Entrepreneurs

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

That’s easy, First, there had to be a market. Without a market, no matter how good the idea, how well capitalized the enterprise, how competent the management team, or how skilled the workforce; there can be no business.

So, where do markets come from? Markets seem to come in three forms. They may be found in plain sight, they may be hidden in a forest of commerce, or they may be foreseen and realized only by people of exceptional vision. All three forms are available in a wide range of sizes.

Existing businesses, facing things like changing taste, obsolescence, … are obliged to always be looking for ways to expand their share of an existing market or for different markets to enter, and to always be on the lookout for new markets.

Entities and individuals considering starting a business might have a plan for capturing a share of an existing market, think that they have spotted a market not being well served, or have a new product idea that they believe will create a market.

So, how does this search for markets go down? Who are the diviners? A well-capitalized start-up will do market research; have a formal market survey done by professionals. Market Research is a highly developed science. The report will probably be highly confidential, provide great detail, and get really close to getting it all right. A Mom and Pop start-up may be more of the snoop, pry, and mostly dream type of survey. We see the Well-Heeled, the Mom and Pop, and everything between.

What do we call these entities and individuals, and everything between, that start up a business? If they start up another Mom and Pop Pizza Shop; maybe Pizza Shop Opener? Or foolish? Round Table Pizza Restaurant; Franchisee. What if they start up a business that no one had ever heard of before? One that will provide lots of new jobs and save the Nation’s economy?

What’s that sound? It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an Entrepreneur! The Nightly News Readers on Cable TV casually toss off the word while affecting their knowledgeable airs. High School Business Academy Teachers always speak the word with a little excitement in their voices. Entrepreneur — a french word loosely translated — describing either a contractor or someone who undertakes doing something, or both…

Webster says: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

Wiki says:

a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome. … is a term applied to the type of personality who is willing to take upon herself or himself a new venture or enterprise and accepts full responsibility for the outcome.

And, yes, the two are not the same.

Or, … Jean Baptiste Say said, “one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediatory between capital and labour.” Or, … choose a level of personal, professional or financial risk to pursue opportunity.

Well that settles that.

Innovator, from Latin, not french, a term less often heard, might be easier to get a handle on.

Webster says, to innovate is to:

intransitive verb: to make changes: do something in a new way

transitive verb: to introduce as or as if new

Wiki says:

Innovators are the persons or organizations who are one of the first to introduce into reality something better than before.

An innovator innovates. Someone like an inventor, a researcher, a futurist, an idea man, … Got it!

Most Business Academy teachers don’t tell their students that SRO Hotels are full of entrepreneurs.; that being an entrepreneur is an extremely high-risk venture. That if the odds are one in a million of making a $million; don’t invest your life. In fact, don’t invest more than $1. That Jobs and Wozniak had a really big idea was much more important to Apple’s success than any willingness to risk it all. Musk has taken tremendous risks starting up Tesla, risk based on the considered conviction that electric cars were the future. Gates and Allen didn’t take the risk of starting Microsoft for the thrill of it. They did it because they, like Jobs, Wozniak, and Musk, were sure that they had glimpsed a future market. They saw the odds of success as being pretty good.

Which came first, the idea or the market?

Trump and Antifa

No one seems to know what or who Antifa is; so far be it from me to pretend that I do. I did meet a self-avowed one once. Interviewed the young man for 30-45 minutes; even talked on the phone a few minutes with his parents who lived in Oakland. By way of providing context; this was during the Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland, CA. Down from Portland, OR, he was looking for a place to stay for ‘up to a week’. Twitchy, desperate, and vague, …, fits the description. I encouraged him to talk on the premise that I would learn more from listening than from asking.

It’s been a while, memory fades, but here’s what I recall: There was some connection to Guy Fox (Fawkes). His parents told me that they were estranged from their son, that he was involved in activities they didn’t approve of, would not allow their son to stay in their home, and couldn’t recommend that I do so. Joining a protest movement in progress was obviously nothing new for him. He was a bit of a Peter Pan; having no visible means of support. Others from Portland had come down at the same time. He talked vaguely about radioactive materials. For sure, he wasn’t down to sit in a tent on Broadway. I came to conclude that the young man was an anarchist, sought to somehow bring the Occupy Wall Street protest to a boil, to get a real revolution going, and, that somehow, he thought that doing so was a good thing. He intimated that he may have somehow been tangentially involved in the WTO riots in Seattle; not sure those numbers worked.

There is little evidence that Trump knows or cares what Antifa is other than a word that spits well. He does seem to believe that it would be good to associate such a mysterious sound with liberalism. Here in the US, it seems that no one is clear on what or who Antifa is. I hear that there is a more defined Antifa Movement in Europe. But anarchists abound. Some of the right-wing armed militia groups advocate Civil War which would certainly lead to anarchy. Many of Bernie’s Bros wished to pull the house down.

What is the appeal of tearing the house down and starting all over again? For the Right, it appears to be a wish to erase all changes to the nation since 1950; 20-30 years before most of the militiamen were born. For Bernie’s Bros, a wish to somehow impose their political philosophy on us all; something straight out of the bowels of 1950s Brooklyn, NYC. Seems 1950 was a very good year.

In the breast of every good anarchist beats the heart of one who sees themselves coming out on top in the end. All takers of shortcuts to the top of the mountain they would reduce to rubble. Hard to think of the armed right-wing militia groups separate seeing them as white supremacists wishing to return us to those good old days when blacks and browns knew their place. Cases of arrested development the both. Fantasies of Anarchism are common to teenage boys; fantasies fortunately most outgrow. What are the odds that these fantasies would persist so long in so many into middle age and beyond? Our times.

What of those who would employ these lost souls for their own purpose? Trump, no doubt saw right-wing, white supremacist, armed militias as part of a coalition allowing him to attain and retain the reins of power. In case of anarchy, Trump would do his fail-up trick to come out on top. Bernie must have thought that he could somehow leverage his <30% of about 30% into his gaining control of those very same reins. As to how Bernie was planning to ascend to the top in the advent of anarchy, don’t know.

In Trump’s case, they did follow. Alas, for Bernie’s, we will never know. Is America a land of sheep, or only a land of half sheep?