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

Political Consciousness From the Daily Grind

Commenter Dale Coberly asked for this particular story to be posted.

Renown Covid Restrictions Defier is Really Asking For A Better Government 

“We got a government that has taken the stimulus money and gave it to special campaign donors and special interests, abandoning me, and putting me in a position where I have to fight back, okay?

You could’ve given me money and I would gladly walk away for sixty days and let this virus settle down. I’m not gonna do it (without help) alone.”

Dave Morris, owner of D&R’s Daily Grind Cafe, is not afraid to say what is on his mind. He is curious though, whether anyone in power cares to listen. Though the Portage, Michigan business owner has garnered a good deal of attention since his impromptu broadside against the government and COVID-related shutdowns went viral, his curiosity remains justified. Because while figures like Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh implicitly tokenize Morris as some sort-of antigovernmental warrior, it appears the substantive frustrations of Morris and the millions of other people in this country have remain unheeded. In reality, these frustrations stem from the government not serving as a guarantor of adequate material conditions for its people.

“I see the things we’ve lost since I was a young man raising my children. Pensions are almost non-existent for the normal working man and healthcare is non-existent. Twelve years, I can’t afford it, Affordable Care Act – not affordable,”

Morris laments.

Tort

When Fox News and Newsmax recently accused voting machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems of rigging the 2020 election results, Dominion quickly and vigorously struck back at the two with a threat of civil lawsuit; a suit claiming that they, Dominion, had been harmed by the actions of Fox News and Newsmax. Consequent Dominion’s filing, Fox and Newsmax began to quickly and forthwith profusely apologize for and correct their ‘misstatements’.

For years and years, and years, tobacco companies were, with political immunity and lots of good lawyers, allowed to sicken and kill Americans by the tens of thousands with their products every year. In the mid 1990s, more than 40 states commenced litigation against the tobacco industry, seeking monetary, equitable, and injunctive relief, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Zooming in on the Defects of PowerPoint

Zooming in on the Defects of PowerPoint

 I’ve just finished several days of staring, hour after hour, at the year’s economics meetings via Zoom.  What really struck me, beyond the content of the talks, was the way Zoom exacerbates “death by bullet point”.

PowerPoint’s capabilities encourage speakers to load up their slides with lots of text and graphics, which then leads the audience to glue their eyeballs to the slides and not the speaker.  This defeats the core purpose of public speaking in the post-Gutenberg era, which is to use the audience’s engagement with the speaker as a vehicle for communicating thoughts and feelings that the written word, even accompanied by pictures, can’t express.  The worst scenario, which all of us have experienced way too often, is when a speaker crams lots of text in tiny fonts into each slide and then reads it word for word.

Are we headed to fresh water shortages?

(Dan here…I lifted reader Michael Smith piece on water use in open thread Dec. 22. The topic is well worth writing about…AB used to discuss this issue regularly starting in 2008 during the severe drought in the US when the southeast was contemplating court action amongst themselves to ensure their own supplies.. Search “water” in AB for a sample)

Michael Smith writes:

I should probably write a longer piece on this but I’ll try to summarize the best I can.

Had lunch with a prominent client scientist in my region that frankly scared the crap out of me. The hydrologic cycle is being seriously disrupted.

Here is what we know:

The Powell 100th meridian has moved east, by a lot.

Approximately 85% of our produce comes from drought areas (Mexico, California, etc)

Approx. 50% of water usage is due to agriculture and most of that happens in western states. My farm is in cow town, Texas and we have very poor surface water and rain patterns, so we pump from the aquifer.

Major municipalities are being forced to stop pumping from aquifers. City of Houston vs. Dow Chemical Co. is and interesting case where the fight over land to impound water is being fought over.

Distribution

These days, the nation, the world, is faced with the problem of how to distribute wealth, wealth that is being created using less and less labor input? How to distribute the profits from highly capitalized, highly automated, production? Unions, that had been much a part of the solution to the distribution problem in the early 20th century, are becoming more and more irrelevant. A new economic model is desperately needed.

Since the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, wealth has been created by the production of manufactured goods. To date, the sharing/distribution of this wealth has been by way of exchanging labor for wages. Except for the brief period from around 1940 to 1970 when union jobs commanded good wages, this method never really work all that well; much of the time, the god awful of Zola, Dickens, and Sinclair Lewis. In this, the age of technology, for a price, many task can be, have been, partially or completely automated using a combination of computers, servo motors, sensors, and programming. Now, many tasks, once performed by well paid union workers, are being performed by ‘robots’. Today’s work force tends to be either professional, highly technical, or service, with the professionals and technicians being well paid and the service workers often being paid less than a living wage. Good paying blue collar union jobs have become rare. In the heydays from around 1940 to 1970, the wealth created from the production of manufactured goods was distributed via the good union salaries to the economy as a whole. As a consequence, merchants thrived, towns thrived, schools thrived, farmers thrived, contractors thrived, … Much of society, including municipal governments, was premised on this model.

We now need an economic model that will somehow directly distribute the profits from production to the population in a somewhat equitable manner that doesn’t rely on the exchange of labor for wages. If, somehow, sufficient numbers of the population shared in the profits from automated manufacturing, and distributed their share into the community at large by consuming goods and services, thus giving others the means of consuming, such a model wouldn’t look a great deal different than the one existent from 1940 to 1970. If, for example, in exchange for the federal monies granted corporations during the COVID pandemic, the government had demanded corporate shares in return, in a sense, the public, via the government, would now be part owners in these corporations. The federal government could then distribute any future returns from this ownership to the public. In another example, a government, federal, state, or local, could exact a share of a corporations profits by way of taxes, then distribute those revenues to the populace. Governments can nationalize corporations. And, no doubt, there are, will be proposed, other ways of accomplishing distribution going forward.

There has to be another way. Not changing isn’t an option. It makes no sense to continue doing something that does not, cannot, work.

Daylight spending more than you have

by David Zetland

Daylight spending more than you have

Some countries are changing their clocks this week while others will do so next week.

These changes are labeled “daylight saving” (DS) even though the number of daylight minutes stays the same. Marketing at its finest!

Indeed, there’s abundant evidence that this twice-annual ritual is useless or even harmful. As I’ve written before, it would be a triumph of global collective action to  get rid of DS and even better to move the entire planet to one time (UTC) as a means of reducing numerous problems with time zones, at a cost of losing some anachronisms (“lunch at 12 noon” as opposed to “lunch at midday”).

But let’s look into the psychology and goals of DS.

First, are you saving an hour by setting the clock forward in the Spring and then spending that hour when you set it back in the Fall, OR are you borrowing an hour in the Fall and repaying it in the Spring? In either case, there’s zero interest paid or received in this +1 – 1 = 0 or -1 + 1 = 0 calculation. So that’s why the concept is a lie.

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.