Hillary’s convention speech – draft

July 28, 2016

To: HRC

From: FSR

Re: Tonight’s speech

You didn’t use my last speech draft – but I’ll bet you now wish you had. So here’s what I think you should say tonight:

imagesMy fellow Democrats – my fellow Americans –

First, a salute to my honorable opponent, Bernie Sanders, and all his supporters whose great enthusiasm has been inspirational, and good for our democracy.

OK, enough of that.

Now, I want to tell you what this speech will not be about. I could go on and on about all sorts of programs, day care, pre-K, health care, family leave, minimum wage, trade, college debt, tax credits for this and that . . . Those kinds of policy things are important, and in the campaign to come, we’ll be talking about them. But tonight I want to talk about the bigger picture – the country we love, where it stands, and where it’s going.

images-1However, the Republicans, at their convention, spent a lot of time talking about me, saying some pretty horrible things. Well, let me tell you something. I am an imperfect person. I am human. Like most people, I have made mistakes. I try to learn from them and do better. But at least I never created a phony so-called “university” whose real aim was to cheat people out of their hard-earned savings. At least I never abused the bankruptcy laws over and over to cause financial ruin for investors who believed in me. I never refused, over and over, to pay contractors and others who worked for me, causing them too financial ruin. I never insisted I saw people in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. I never expressed admiration for bad guys like Putin and Saddam Hussein.

How can anyone with self-respect even consider voting for such a creep?

OK, enough of that.

Now, the horrible things Mr. Trump says about me — I can take it. But what I cannot take is the horrible things he’s said about the country I love so dearly. And that’s what this campaign is about – not about me, not about Mr. Trump, but about this wonderful nation and its future.

He made it sound like the country is in terrible shape, going to the dogs, falling to pieces, and if we don’t make him president, we’ll have nothing left. He actually said this.

Well, look. We do have problems. We do have challenges. Heaven knows that’s true. Some of the things the Republicans talked about – a few, at least – really are problems. We do need to make some changes, and do better. Business as usual cannot continue. That’s why I’m running for president.

UnknownBut telling us America is totally on the skids is just ridiculous. And here’s why: it’s why America is indeed such a wonderful nation. Because it’s a nation full of wonderful people: optimistic, positive-thinking people, people with can-do spirit, brimming with energy and ideas. A nation of good people, generous people. Who have always risen to our challenges, always met them, and always made the nation even better than ever.

And we are better than ever. Is everything better today? Of course not. Life never works that way. But more things are better than are worse. Crime and violence, for example, are way down. Our standard of living today is the highest that human beings have ever experienced anywhere on Earth. Nobody on Earth has more freedom than we do – freedom to do what we like, live how we like, say what we like. Today’s America is the most open society the world has ever known. In all these ways we continue to make progress.

With such a great nation of wonderful people, must we really elect a slimeball like Donald Trump in order to tackle our problems? His speech was an insult to America, and an insult to intelligence.

It placed great emphasis on violence and terrorism. Nobody should be blasé about those things. But ask yourself: when was the last time you personally actually experienced violence, by a stranger? Is that the biggest problem confronting you in your life? I don’t think so. Yes, radical Islamist terrorism is a problem we have to deal with, forcefully and comprehensively. But for God’s sake, get a grip. This is not our biggest problem and not something we can’t handle.

Unknown-1We’ve handled a lot worse. In 1814, Washington was occupied by enemy troops who burned down the White House! We had a civil war in which 600,000 Americans were killed! And a Great Depression where a quarter of our people were unemployed! Not to mention a world war or two! And you know what? Not only did we get through all that, we came out an even better, greater nation than ever.

So now two nut-jobs in San Bernardino kill fourteen people, and Donald Trump says America is going down? Seriously? Compared to all the past things I mentioned?

America dealt with them. America will deal with radical Islamic terrorism. Calmly, rationally, but energetically.

That is the America I love so dearly, and the America of which I am so proud to be a citizen. Unknown-2Why do you think so many people, all over the world, are so powerfully motivated to get to this country? Surely if America were really the dark, doomed nation that Donald Trump portrayed, people would not be struggling so hard to get here. They know what a wonderful country this is – with a wonderful future. How sad if some Americans can’t see what they see.

They see an America that is great. I do too. Not an America that somehow needs to be made “great again.”

God bless America.

Males, females, and chicks with dicks

July 24, 2016

UnknownSome people believe God created men, and women; that men should be men, and women should be women; and everything else is wrong (including using “incorrect” bathrooms).

Reading Amy Ellis Nutt’s book, Becoming Nicole, enhanced my understanding of the transgender phenomenon. Many seem to think it’s people trying to be the opposite sex for perverted or deranged reasons, a form of mental illness.

Nicole

Nicole

Not so. The book chronicles Nicole’s early life. Born male, genetically and anatomically, she always identified as a girl. The biological explanation is illuminating.

True, the basic human blueprint envisions two distinct sexes. But if this was “intelligent design,” it sure uses a Rube Goldberg scheme for realizing it – so complicated and tricky that it sometimes goes awry. Of course, this actually came about through evolution; and its complexity is wondrous.

An embryo begins sexless, able to turn either male or female. Either path entails a lengthy to-do list of things that have to happen for the baby to conform to the blueprint, all regulated by elaborately choreographed chemical signaling (via hormones).

Gender entails three elements. It begins with genetics: females have two “X” chromosomes, males an “X” and a “Y.” (One chromosome comes from each parent.) Each genetic ensemble triggers its own sequence of chemical signals to govern development of the other two elements of gender: the hardware and the software. The hardware is the anatomy (what’s between your legs, etc.). The software tells you how the anatomy is to be used, and is installed in your brain.

Unknown-1In mine, that software makes me conscious of being male, and sexually attracted to females. The latter is normally so powerful that we’re all quite cognizant of it. But the other aspect – feeling male – is so second nature we don’t even think about it. It’s just part of our operating system, humming along in the background.

But what if there’s a signaling glitch and incorrect software gets installed? Obviously, some males have software telling them to mate with males instead of females. But, more rarely, some get entirely the wrong package – telling them they are female.

This is where the book helped me understand transgender people better. It’s not some psychological hang-up, confusion about gender, or wishing one’s gender were different. Male and female brains are different, not just in how they work, but even physiologically. And it’s possible to be genetically male, and anatomically male, but to have a mismatched female brain.

Again, most of us, with all three systems matching, don’t even think about this. Our gender identity is simply taken for granted; it’s hard to imagine what it would be like otherwise. But that’s the transgender situation. A basic incompatibility with one’s own body.

images-1Someone born with male anatomy but a female brain can’t make themselves simply adjust to it, or not obsess about it. It’s something fundamental to who he/she is. There’s no way to correct the brain. But we can alter the body. A woman I know did it at seventy. She said, “I didn’t want to be a chick with a dick.”

A remarkable fact about Nicole, the transgender girl in the book, is that she’s an identical twin. Her brother is normal. How can that be? This shows just how sensitive are the processes molding gender in a fetus. Identical twins have the same genes, of course, yet are positioned differently in the womb, causing slight variances in the hormonal contents of their surrounding amniotic fluid. That was enough – just a few molecules in the wrong place at the wrong time – to send one of the twins on a path toward developing a female brain.

Nicole ultimately had sex reassignment surgery. It’s a wonderful sign of progress that people can now do this, instead of being stuck for life in what must be a very difficult situation, going to the heart of one’s identity as a person.

A world in which men are men and women are women would be simpler. But if people believe that’s how God intended things, they might ask him why he screws it up so often. And why we shouldn’t fix his mistakes.

The Angry Party national convention

July 19, 2016

imagesThis is my 14th GOP convention. Past ones often reminded me why I’m a Republican. Last night made me wonder if I still am.

The repression toward the “Never Trump” delegates is frightening; echoing what’s happening in Turkey right now. All semblance that this is an exercise in democracy is gone. At past conventions, the names of losing candidates were placed in nomination, and cheered. That won’t happen in Istanbul, er, I mean Cleveland. With the party more divided than ever, it’s overcompensating by making itself a monolith of enforced Trump obeisance. This display of authoritarianism is a scary foretaste of what a Trump presidency would be.

The convention’s emotional tone is also frightening: all anger, resentment, and fear. UnknownThe pain of the Benghazi victim’s mother is understandable, but was perverted into a sorry spectacle of vicious accusations and insults. General Michael Flynn’s eyes looked like blowtorches that would burn through steel.

America has problems; overall, I disapprove of Obama’s record; I loathe Hillary. images-1But the convention’s over-the-top rhetoric not only didn’t reinforce my Republicanism, I found myself reacting as though I might have been a left-wing Democrat. My head is spinning.

These Republicans have whipped themselves into such a frenzy of Hillary-hatred that all objectivity is lost – especially toward their own, ahem, flawed candidate. Whose faults of character, honesty, ethics, sense, and all other qualities desirable in a president, are mountains that make hers look like molehills. Not to mention his spitting on principles long dear to Republicans. Again the comparison to Turks whose hero-worship of Erdogan blinds them to his being a monster leading them to perdition.

Unknown-1Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs spoke of his “reality distortion field.” The GOP is in one too. I was gobsmacked by Giuliani mocking Obama’s 2004 speech about there being no white nor black America, but one country. As if Trump is the emollient figure to heal all our divisions. What planet are these people living on?

Yes, America has real problems, but I actually didn’t hear any of them addressed last night. Instead, I saw a crazed fixation on terrorism. Fact: America’s own gun culture kills a thousand times more of us than terrorism. But of course Republicans are ga-ga for guns.

Meantime, I heard not a word about our dire fiscal outlook, on a path toward widening and ultimately ruinous deficits; about obstacles faced by American businesses, especially the small ones so crucial to our economy; about diminished opportunities for less educated Americans. In fairness, last night’s theme was security; tonight’s will be the economy. But don’t bet on any serious discussion. In fact Trump, the business genius, has laid out plans to make our economic problems much worse, with deficits even bigger (by far) and insane trade policies that will screw U.S. consumers while making the whole world (including us) less prosperous.

Unknown-3Americans have always been fundamentally optimistic, positive-thinking people. That’s one of our great national strengths. And conventional wisdom in politics has always said Americans favor positive, upbeat messages over negative, bitter ones (think Reagan vs. Carter and Mondale). The Trump campaign is betting otherwise. They think this is the year of anger.

Yet is America really in such bad shape? The economy is growing, unemployment is relatively low, median wages are rising, the stock market reaches new highs. The great majority enjoys a living standard better than ever, especially considering all the boons of modern technology. Race relations are hugely better than in most of our history. Crime is way down. (And your chances of being a terrorist victim are something like one in a million.)

images-3Time to march with pitchforks and torches? Hardly. I’m angry about some things myself — but not so blinded by anger as to commit the cosmic blunder of handing the presidency to the vilest creep American politics ever vomited up. (What I’m most angry about is Trump.)

Unknown-2Some say Trumpery is a passing madness, and after he loses (big, I hope), the GOP will take some Xanax and recover its senses. I don’t think so. Trumpy voters won’t repent. There’s no reason why what happened in the 2016 primaries won’t be repeated in 2020. Nearly all elected Republicans have drunk the Kool-Aid. Sadly, Doctor Frank says this illness is fatal.

361224938926_1I’ll conclude by paraphrasing Henry Clay, after another national convention: I am a Republican still – very still. And I will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee.

Turkey’s phony “coup” plot

July 17, 2016

Turks are out in the streets, celebrating the supposed triumph of democracy over a supposed military coup attempt. President Obama has naively congratulated them.

UnknownTheir President Erdogan once said, “Democracy is like a train. When you reach your destination, you get off.” For him, it’s been apparent that the destination is personal dictatorship. Can’t those Turks cheering in the streets see that’s where the train’s going?

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. But when I first heard the news, the idea of a military coup in today’s Turkey seemed rather implausible. Far more plausible that the whole thing was orchestrated by Erdogan himself, as a pretext for grabbing more power and ramping up repression of political foes. He’d already gone far toward crushing them, silencing dissent and press freedom. Now this “coup attempt” has prompted a ferocious response, with the immediate arrest of thousands. Could so many have really been so transparently implicated in a huge coup plot?

Hundreds have been killed too. And, reportedly, 2,745 judges unseated, some arrested. Pretty fast work. Tell me the hit list wasn’t prepared beforehand. I’d call this a coup by Erdogan.

Gulen

Gulen

All the alleged “coup plotters” are being linked to the Gulenist movement, headed by Fethullah Gulen, a moderate cleric, democracy advocate, and one-time Erdogan supporter, now in exile in Pennsylvania. Turkey has sought his extradition. God forbid.

I’m reminded of Turkey’s “Ergenekon” affair, a few years back, in which again large numbers of soldiers and others were prosecuted for alleged involvement in a vast underground anti-government conspiracy. The details were murky; and a lot of those charges eventually proved bogus.

Erdogan

Erdogan

In more halcyon times, Erdogan seemed to be doing the right thing, in moving toward a peaceful settlement regarding Turkey’s restive Kurdish regions. But then he threw all that progress away and turned back to violence, exacerbating the conflict as a way to get the country to rally behind him. Faking a coup plot would be another move in this cynical, criminal game.

Democracy is not a train, and not merely a political system either, but a culture; as John Dewey said, a way of life. At its heart is acceptance that other people are equally entitled to a role in society. Given our evolutionary tribalism, that concept is difficult for many folks, and hence it’s constantly under assault. For a long time, it seemed to be nevertheless winning, but lately the war against it has intensified, and too few people grasp what’s at stake.

images-1Democracy can be one bad man from the abyss. We’ve seen this too many times. Putin in Russia. Chavez in Venezuela. Erdogan in Turkey.

Let’s not add “Trump in America.”

Evaluating Obama’s presidency

July 13, 2016

UnknownPresident Obama’s approval ratings have risen as his tenure nears an end. That’s a typical pattern. And there may be anticipatory Obama-nostalgia, given his potential successors. And some always considered him the most wonderful president since FDR, or Lincoln, or Jesus.

I give him points for intellect, integrity, eloquence, and demeanor. In such respects he’s actually a model president, so the admiration is understandable. Alas however, he’s failed in three crucial respects.

images-1First, he promised a new post-partisan politics. But it was all talk and no walk. Obama’s intellect here disserved him, by making him arrogantly contemptuous toward lesser mortals with different views. It started even before he took office. There was never an effort to meet the other side half way, or even a tenth. Instead he was all about demonizing them, imagining he need only point out their errors, and they would just capitulate, or be punished by an enlightened electorate.

It doesn’t work like that. Opponents usually have reasons for their stances. And please don’t quote Mitch McConnell about making Obama a one-term president. For a political party, winning the next election is its raison d’etre, entirely legitimate. And while Republicans did refuse cooperation with Obama, that was only after he’d established a modus operandi of disregarding them.

Obama felt he could, having congressional majorities at first. He didn’t change that when the landscape changed. The result was a political climate so poisonous that Trumpery is a natural upshot. There’s blame all around. But it rings hollow for Obama to complain of partisan enmity by people he’s relentlessly sneered at.

Unknown-1Secondly: Obama fans point to the economic crisis he inherited, and how well we’ve done since. Fair enough. Though really the credit belongs far more to the Fed than the White House. But meantime, Obama’s biggest economic legacy lies in the future, and it’s not good. As ever more people are not working but collecting benefits, deficits and debt will explode. We’re skating along for now only because interest on our borrowings is so low. But at some point unsustainable debt levels will spook the markets, interest costs will balloon, and we’ll be busted.

To head this off, Obama appointed the Simpson-Bowles commission, which came up with a balanced deficit reduction plan. So far so good. But then Obama just ignored the whole thing. Now, his wasted eight years make the problem far tougher. That’s his chief economic legacy.

Third: the world situation has undeniably deteriorated on Obama’s watch. Queered by Bush’s bungled Mid-East intervention, Obama fell into the opposite mistake of hands-off. Iraq was making progress when he took office, but then he disengaged, and all hell broke loose. It also did in Syria where again his phobia of involvement made things much worse. How many times have we seen this movie? – where a little action at a critical juncture could head off so much agony later.

imagesHis signature moment was drawing a red line on chemical weapons in Syria, then funking it when the line was crossed. Shredding America’s international credibility, making Uncle Sam a monkey’s uncle.

More generally, the Arab Spring was an epochal moment of opportunity, where U.S. engagement might have helped midwife positive outcomes. We’ve done this before, like in post-WWII Europe, where deep and steadfast American involvement helped hugely – to our benefit. The Middle East cried out for this. Obama feared the consequences of acting; but inaction has consequences too.

imagesIt’s no surprise that a villain like Putin, taking Obama’s measure, would push the envelope. Russia’s Ukraine aggression up-ended a crucial norm of international conduct that had prevailed, pretty much, since WWII. Putin basically got away with it, and won. This is terrible for the global future.

All considered, President Obama has been great on style. Pity about the substance.

How to invest in stocks

July 9, 2016

imagesI’ve been investing in stocks for several decades. Here’s what I’ve learned.

In 2000, during the dot-com bubble, I owned AOL stock, going up and up and up. I thought it was crazy, but held on for the ride. Then came AOL’s buyout of Time-Warner. My rule of thumb is that mergers are bad for the acquiring company; the touted benefits rarely materialize. So I told my broker I wanted to sell my AOL stock. He tried to dissuade me, calling this merger the greatest thing ever.

UnknownIt was one of the greatest disasters ever. Turned out the AOL honchos knew their stock was way over-valued, and they were cashing in by using it to buy Time-Warner. The stock then collapsed.

Am I relating this to show how smart I was? Nope; I heeded my broker’s advice and didn’t sell. What is the lesson? I wasn’t so smart. My broker wasn’t either. Neither was Time-Warner. You can’t expect to outsmart the market or beat the market.

Everybody aims to pick stocks that will do better than average. Thousands of people are paid a lot of money for that. But the very fact that so many very smart people are trying is what makes it unachievable – they all cancel each other out.* Since they’re all so smart, with so many analytic tools at their disposal, so much information, computer programs and models, etc., no one can truly outperform the rest – except by mere luck.

Unknown-1That may be a bit overstated. It does happen. A good example is the housing bubble collapse that triggered the 2008 crisis. Most of the Wall Street herd didn’t see it coming, and continued drinking the Kool Aid right to the end. However, a few did see the true situation, and profited thereby. But that was a special case. More normally, if you’re smart enough to see something, a lot of others will be smart enough to see it too.

Now, since YOU surely aren’t smart enough to beat all that firepower in picking stocks, it might instead seem sensible to buy into a mutual fund, which employs hot-shots to do it for you. There are thousands of funds. Which to choose? Well, you can look at their track records and see which has performed best.

But here’s the thing about track records. Suppose all those mutual funds picked stocks by a random dartboard method. The results would form a standard bell-shaped curve – most performances would be middling, a few much above or below the average. If you choose the one that came top — what are the chances it will again be the best next year?

Unknown-2Of course mutual funds don’t use a dartboard method. They use, again, sophisticated analysis, computer models, etc. And because they all do, the results are the same – mostly bunched in the middle, some better, some worse. And remember, you can’t expect to beat the market, at least not consistently. So a mutual fund’s track record is not necessarily more predictive of future results than if they did shoot at dartboards.

Economists call this “reversion to the mean.” In a given year, out of a thousand mutual funds, inevitably one will clock the best performance. Does that indicate its guys are actually smarter than all the other very smart guys at all the other funds? Not likely! More likely it’s just natural random fluctuation around the mean (average) performance. So next year, its results will fall back to the average – “reversion to the mean.”**

Then too there’s “efficient market” theory. This says every piece of information relevant to valuing a stock is already folded into its price. You can’t really know something about a stock, affecting its future prospects, that the market doesn’t know (unless it’s “insider information,” illegal to trade on). Thus again it’s not normally possible to profit from trading stocks by being smarter than the market.

So you’d expect the entire universe of mutual funds to produce a return simply matching the market average. But actually it doesn’t. All that frenetic activity costs money, and they charge investors a percentage for their services, which makes the net return less than the market average.

imagesI recently read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, concerning all the problems of predictions. Wall Street is a major focus. Silver too notes that a lot of people are highly paid to try, and at the end of the day inevitably fail, to beat the market. Seems crazy. They all know about efficient market theory and that they can’t beat the market; or should know. But if they all actually followed the logical implications, no stock trading would occur at all. Yet having a functioning market serves a quite valuable purpose in the overall economy. The trillions worth of trades dwarfs the amounts “earned” by the investment industry (to essentially achieve nothing) – a small price to pay for having a financial market.

Every prospectus warns, “future results may not replicate the past.” Otherwise investing would be a snap and everyone would be a millionaire. The caveat is true on the largest scale. You’ve been told that in the long run, stocks do such-and-such; the market returns X%. And that may indeed be accurate concerning a very long past time span. But future results may not replicate the past. In fact, the future is quintessentially uncertain. The only certainty is that it will differ from the past.

Nevertheless, over the long term, stocks should provide a return for a simple reason. Their values are ultimately grounded in company earnings. And the typical company typically does earn profits. ***

Unknown-3If you ask people whether it’s a good time to buy stocks when they’ve been going up a lot, they’ll likely answer “yes;” and “no” when stocks have been falling. Those answers are – of course – wrong. In fact, this is really the most common investing mistake. When the market is high, stocks may well be over-valued; in a slump, they may be cheap. But optimism and pessimism are contagious. Many people plow in when stocks are up, while becoming demoralized and sell when they’re down.

A key consideration is the ratio between a company’s stock price and earnings. This P/E ratio for the whole market has, over the long term, averaged around 15 or perhaps somewhat more. If the market’s average P/E is much higher, stocks may be over-valued; and vice versa. Today’s P/E is above trend, at about 25.

If you want to just capture the market’s long-run tendency to produce a return through earnings, there’s a simple option: index funds that just track the performance of an index like the S&P 500. Since there’s no need for hot-shot analysis, fees to investors are typically quite low.

images-1So, how’ve I done, overall? Not bad. But I’ve had quite a few real disasters like AOL along the way. I’ve finally pretty much given up trying to be smart. That’s a sucker’s game.

* Remember that in general, whenever a share of stock is sold, somebody else is buying it.

** This was explained well in Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Drunkard’s Walk.

 *** “Return” is the sum of dividends plus stock price appreciation. Earnings not paid out as dividends accumulate within the company and increase its net worth.

 

Trump’s trade trash talk

July 5, 2016

UnknownIf America is murdered, it will be in the Rustbelt Room, with the trade club. Pounding away with that club is Trump’s only chance of winning.

He exulted in Britain’s Brexit vote as a win for his anti-globalist line. Brits themselves are less celebratory, many already seeing their vote as an own-goal. Americans should not copy their economic suicide.

The Brexit vote spotlights breakdown of the old left-right political divide; now the more salient one is inward-looking versus outward-looking, open versus closed. UnknownThat has great resonance in America too. The Trump phenomenon is divorced from the conventional liberal/conservative dichotomy. The Republican party, long seen as a bastion of right-wing ideologues, has thrown that all overboard in embracing Trump, with his most telling anti-globalist symbol: a wall.

Alas, no important voices are refuting Trump’s trade tirade. Democrats, for most of their history, correctly saw free trade as good for the masses, with protectionism a means for business interests to screw consumers. But then, bent by the special interests of organized labor, they lost the plot. However, they found the snake oil politically saleable.

Unknown-1They never expected to be outflanked on the issue by a GOP candidate. Hillary, having bought the snake oil from the Bernie-ites, to placate them, dare not tell voters it’s poison. She’s reduced to merely mocking Trump’s hypocrisy in having profited from using foreign labor.

But if neither Republicans nor Democrats will expose Trump’s big lie, then I must.

Those good old industrial jobs, where with barely a high school education you could support a middle class family, are history. The main reason is advancing technology. We actually manufacture more than ever, but do it with ever less labor. Today’s economy no longer needs that much low or middle skilled labor.

This – making more with less – creates wealth and is why global living standards have risen dramatically. In the past century, worldwide average real-dollar incomes increased more than five-fold, and billions rose out of poverty.

And the other key factor, leveraging that benefit, is GLOBALIZED FREER TRADE. Freeing up trade enables nations to export more. They get richer, enabling them to import more, which means other nations can export more. Everybody gets richer; a virtuous circle.

imagesThis is the golden egg-laying goose Trump would kill. He assails the NAFTA free trade pact as a terrible deal that cost us jobs. In fact, the alleged U.S. job loss is very debatable . But NAFTA did cause huge job gains in Mexico, which became much more prosperous. Isn’t that something to our benefit? A richer Mexico buys more goods from us, increasing our exports, which creates U.S. jobs.

Anti-trade demagogues don’t mention that. Nor the real elephant in the room: that free trade, and importing cheaper goods from China and other countries, while admittedly entailing some job losses in the short run, saves U.S. consumers literally trillions of dollars. And when we spend those added trillions, that demand for other goods and services requires U.S. businesses to hire more workers to supply it. So in the big picture free trade really adds jobs.

What we need is not more barriers to trade, commerce, and enterprise, but fewer. People losing jobs to globalization won’t be helped by walling off America, but rather if they had more job prospects in a more open, dynamic economy. Ours has become sclerotic. We need to dismantle protections of all kinds enjoyed by special interests, restrictive practices, and roadblocks to open competition.

Slobovian widget

Slobovian widget

Here’s what anti-free-trade protectionists like Trump are really saying: that if Slobovia wants to sell us widgets cheaper than we can make them ourselves, we should refuse. Will that benefit us? Or Slobovia? It will benefit U.S. widget-makers at the expense of everyone else.

So Trump wants to impose tariffs – that is, import taxes – on Chinese goods, to keep them out. He doesn’t tell you this means you’ll pay more for much of what you buy. It won’t be a tax on China. It will be a tax on you. To protect business profits.

This is what some call populism.

Will Hillary play the double women’s card?

July 1, 2016

UnknownThe leftosphere is all aflutter imagining its darling, Elizabeth Warren, may be Hillary’s VP. After all, they say, nobody ever objected to two men on a ticket.

As if Hillary needs to shore up the feminist vote. If she’s not already getting it, against Donald Trump, it’s game over anyway. But while America is ready for a woman president, a female duo would be too in-your-face, too gendery. We’d elect a Thelma, but not a Thelma and Louise.images

We also hear the usual ticket balancing/pandering scenarios. An Hispanic, like one of those cute Castro brothers (no, not Fidel and Raul). Or an African-American like Deval Patrick or Cory Booker. But again, if Hillary hasn’t already got those demographics locked up, it’s hopeless anyhow.

Conventional wisdom meanwhile says she needs to play to the party’s base, all those lefties gaga for Bernie. Hence the Warren flutter. But this is one election where conventional wisdom has proven unwise. It won’t hinge on which party energizes its base more. Allegiances are scrambled. And for every Bernie-ite Hillary gets by pandering leftward,* she stands to lose a sane Republican repulsed by Trump, who might have voted for a palatable alternative.

images-1If Hillary loses, it will be for one reason only: trustworthiness. Yes, it’s brazen chutzpah for mega-crook Trump to be all “crooked Hillary,” but it has enough truth to make the issue a wash, at least in many voters’ minds. If they saw her as just halfway reasonably honest, she’d be crushing him.

At the end of the day in 2008 America elected a black man over a war hero because Obama was viewed as more capable, the safer choice. That is Hillary’s trump card against Trump, the one she should play for all it’s worth. She should play it in her veep pick. No politics-as-usual ticket-balancing ethnic pander. Instead a serious man (yes, man) of gravitas, who voters can see as president, to heighten the contrast against the GOP clown car.

Unknown-1And if she wants to attract bummed-out Republicans, why not go outside the box and take a Republican, like Robert Gates? Let the lefties shriek. It would be a game-changer, altering the view of Hillary as a congenitally divisive politician.

Alas, Hillary has never shown much thinking outside the box. Nor ever heeded my wise counsel.

* Most of whom are in states like NY, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, which Hillary shouldn’t have to worry about.

The Shakers: happiness in an ant colony?

June 27, 2016
Round barn at Hancock Shaker Village

Round barn at Hancock Shaker Village

My humanist group recently toured Hancock Shaker Village, in Massachusetts. The Shakers were a religious sect that set up communes of a sort, preaching equality and, famously, celibacy. They pretty much died out. No surprise.

Unlike some sects (notably the Amish), the Shakers loved new technology and were often clever in applying it; they were efficiency freaks. They lived dormitory-style, men and women separate. Unknown-1However, during the work day, they inter-mingled, though no touching was allowed. They ate together – but there was no talking either. A family joining the sect would be separated.

The attempt to write sexuality out of human life has many antecedents. At least the Shakers did not go as far as Russia’s Skoptsy, a religious sect whose answer for controlling sexuality was castration. But sex being dirty is a big theme in many religious contexts. imagesIt’s partly down to the abominable story of Adam and Eve, who were “pure,” and didn’t know from sex, until they “sinned” and started doing it – staining not only themselves but all their descendants, until Jesus got himself tortured to death to expiate the “sin.” Yet not even that sanitized sex for future generations.

With the Shakers, it may really have been rooted in their founder Ann Lee’s bad experience with marriage and procreation. She was not the only 18th century woman who felt that way, and that women would be better off free of it all. But that notion was very politically incorrect – better to cloak celibacy in a mantle of religious justification. So the Shakers were told celibacy enabled them to get closer to God. Or something like that.

Anyhow, one can see why women might buy into this. Less so for men. And indeed, over time, more men than women abandoned Shakerdom, which became mostly female.

But not only was celibacy a fundamental denial of human nature; so was the equality fetish. As our tour guide explained, that would be attractive to people who were not being treated equally in the outside world. However, the thirst for status is deeply rooted in the human psyche (by evolution – higher status meant more mating opportunities, so genes for status-seeking proliferated). And Shakerdom was down on the whole idea of self-actualization. Everything you did was supposed to be for the good of the community, and to please God – not yourself.

Unknown-2It all sounded to me like living in an ant colony. So why would people do that voluntarily? Only at gunpoint did people join communes in Soviet Russia or China. And even there sex was allowed.

It helps to remember that the concept of happiness is a modern invention. People in earlier times did not think that way. The point of life was not to be happy, but just to get through it. That was a hard enough challenge. (And entering a Shaker commune freed you of worry over your next meal.)

Of course people always craved pleasure and shunned suffering. Only a robot wouldn’t. But what differed was how they thought about it. Indeed, actually, that they didn’t. Unknown-3Many today seem to obsessively measure their happiness temperature. Doing so would never have occurred to our 18th century forebears. Moreover, like the Shakers, most people were brainwashed into the paradigm that whatever they did was to please not themselves but God. Even the most rapacious would strive to rationalize that he was pleasing God. Fear of Hell was very real.

Hancock Shaker Village was enjoyable to visit. But I was glad to return to modern life.

How Trump got rich*

June 22, 2016

imagesWhat some never seem to grasp about capitalism, market economics, free enterprise, is that profits come, mostly, not by exploitation or at people’s expense but by making them better off.

Steve Jobs epitomized this. Not a nice person; but he got rich by providing great products, that we buy because they confer more value than the money paid. He didn’t extract wealth, he created it, not just for himself but for us all.

UnknownDonald Trump is a different animal. A predator, not a creator. His billions were made mainly at others’ expense. His casinos, hotels and resorts were basically schemes to get money from investors, which he siphoned off. The businesses were not well run or profitable, partly because Trump looted them, by paying himself exorbitant salaries, consulting fees, rent for use of his helicopter, etc. Thus he walked away with the money and investors lost their shirts. (Now he’s pulling the same scam to make money on his presidential campaign, routing contributors’ cash to himself and his family’s businesses.)

He meanwhile screws his suppliers and contractors on all his construction too, never paying them the amounts owed, forcing them into costly litigation trying to collect. Over three decades Trump was involved in an astonishing 3500 lawsuits.

Unknown-1And, of course, he also used multiple bankruptcies to shirk debts. When a business goes bankrupt, owners are not personally on the hook; so again, Trump walks away with pockets full, leaving others holding the bag. Many were the victims financially ruined. All perfectly legal, he insists. What a disgrace.

Then there was the mis-named Trump University. Supposedly to teach the real estate game. However (unlike Steve Jobs), Trump’s aim was never to provide value for money, but instead to fraudulently extract it from naïve schnooks. He promised lessons from his “hand-picked” experts. A big fat lie. Trump University was staffed by high-pressure salesmen whose real job was to squeeze ever-escalating sums, reaching $35,000, from suckers for the next set of promised higher level seminars.

Unknown-2Trump claims that students’ course evaluations show they were satisfied customers. The evidence reveals they were browbeaten by instructors into signing dishonestly positive evaluations.

He says the judge in the Trump University fraud trial can’t be fair because he’s Mexican. (Actually, Indiana-born; maybe Trump wants a birth certificate.) How racist can you get? And wasn’t Trump also claiming, “Hispanics love me?” Which is it?

images-1Now this so-called “successful businessman” wants to run America with his same methods. Ignorant fools supporting the slimeball creep might be fathomable. Republican bigwigs doing so betray their party and country.

* Besides inheriting a bundle from his dad.

 


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