Friday, July 15, 2016

HATRED AND FEAR ARE ENDANGERING CIVILIZATION

Terrorism as a symptom should concern us all.  Of course by itself it is frightening, but underlying it is a greater danger to us all.  The actual number of deaths directly attributable to terrorism is really a very small percentage of humanity but it and the response to it indicates something worse.

The current focus is on Muslim extremists (who are only one of many terrorist groups), but the response from Westerners is emotional.  Terror is meant to frighten and is used primarily when other methods do not succeed.  In many ways they are winning by provoking us to change our daily habits and react like frightened animals.  Someone failed to set off a shoe bomb and it is now common to take off your shoes before getting on a plane.  More importantly it has caused us to point our fingers in a much wider swing taking in people who wish us no harm.

The problem is really more basic than real and imagined grievances of a very small group of people.  The most basic cause is inequality that is not really linked directly to the hatred that is being expressed.

There is the matter of wealth which is concentrating in fewer and fewer hands.  There is the matter of young people being held back.  There is the matter of minorities who in a world of increasing communication find themselves second class.  Resentment comes out in different ways, but almost always involves blaming someone else for life's frustrations.  Sometimes it is fairly direct, but too often it is misdirected.

ISIS apparently is happy to recruit young people who are not knowledgeable about their own religion, but feel a sense of grievance and a desire for meaning and/or excitement.  It is depressing to think of the many ruined lives.  It is also upsetting how others have let their own frustrations and fears be misdirected.  The terrorists want us help them unite other Muslims who are trying to fit in to a new culture.

The primary beneficiaries of this misdirected hate and fear are the terrorist recruiters and political opportunists.

What can be done?  An individual has limited power, but they often underestimate what they can do.  We set an example and encourage others to change their attitude.

First acknowledge there are underlying grievances.  When Westerners realized cheap oil was concentrated in Muslim controlled countries they bolstered the control of "friends" who enriched themselves while suppressing their own citizens.  Perhaps a greater concern would be they felt it was in their best interests to keep their people ignorant except for the elite.

Western countries were horrified with the Holocaust, but at the same time many restricted emigrating Jews.  We agreed to let them set up their own state in Israel, but somehow never got around to letting the Palestinians who were already there to also gain a state.  There is still discrimination against Jews, that all too often reaches violent levels in some parts of the world and Jews take comfort that there is one sanctuary where they can be safe.  They feel frightened by the surrounding Arabs and a mutual hate/fear cycle has set in.  In one sense they have to settle their concerns amongst themselves, but we should be careful to be neutral yet encouraging.

Unfortunately in the United States especially, people have taken sides, not so much average voters as  those in power.  Much more financial and U.N. veto power is exercised on behalf of Israel than on the plight of displaced Arabs.  Some individuals have organized to boycott Israel, somewhat comparable to similar efforts to confront South African apartheid, but this has been met with political resistence. Many state governments are threatening to cut off support to any group that supports an Israeli boycott.

By itself a Palestinian political resolution will not stop terrorism, but it will undercut a very significant driving force.  Are there are other grievances?  Yes, but now perhaps the greatest is how too many of our fellow Westerners treat our new Muslim neighbours and talk about those still in the Mid East.  We fear the refugees fleeing violence and make it more difficult than it needs to be.  There is no escaping that we will all have to make adjustments.  We need to acknowledge the world is changing and has many other threats that we can only solve through co-operation.

Education is vital.  We cannot afford to be ignorant.  We cannot afford for others to be ignorant either.  The poor in many countries are limited in education options.  We need to learn about others and they need to learn about us.

Inequality is the real cause.  Those in power want to stay in power, while others are angling for ways to upset the status quo.  Appealing to  prejudice works.  Blaming the "other" relieves pressure from those who are benefiting from inequality.  How can someone earn over $20 million dollars and only pay 14% tax.  Someone is helping to pick up the slack.

As an individual one of the most important things to do is ask questions.  Why do you think that?  How did we get to this situation?   Can we resolve our differences?  Or tolerate them?
There are already assumptions as answers, but they seldom suffice in most situations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

GLOBALIZATION SCARES MANY PEOPLE

This post is inspired by the Brexit vote, but the concerns are truly global and have been accelerating over several centuries. Hard to say exactly when globalization started, but really once humans overcame their distrust enough to trade goods with strangers there developed a rise in our standard of living.  Long distance trading was significant well before the time of Christ

More choice in food, clothing, utensils.  Most people did not directly take part in this and were mostly marginally beneficial.  As trade stepped up more people benefited.  Marco Polo was an interesting example.  He, his father and uncle risked their lives and fortune traveling to China.  Trade had been going on over the centuries within and between Asia, Europe and Africa , but for most people we saw only the products brought back.  Ideas were also traveling, but the average person was unaware.

People were moving as well.  Slavery was often the result of wars with many unwilling people forced to travel to strange places to labour for others.  Much of America's early wealth was the result of slave labour forcibly shipped from Africa and dehumanized.  Traders sometimes found themselves living far from their homes and some adapted quite well.  Other ordinary citizens moved for safety or financial reasons, but often bringing new skills and ideas to safe havens.

The United Kingdom is a blend of Scandinavians, Germans and French amongst others.  Other races left tiny footprints in the British Isles.  People went where they could get a job and other countries often reached out for skilled workers and mercenaries.  The British Empire, desiring tea grew opium to trade with China who didm"t want any British goods, resulting in Opium Wars.

North and South America were devoid of any humans until people crossed at Alaska--others speculate that Polynesians crossed the Pacific.  Eventually Europeans landed in America and started to exploit its resources..

We in the west overlook that Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have taken several million refugees and have suffered much more than ourselves.

Admittedly immigrants do put downward pressure on wages.  It seems some downtrodden people are willing to work as hard for a bicycle as we would work for a car.  It is not their fault, but as time goes future generations adopt native attitudes.  Inequality is even more extreme taken on a global scale.

Communications have been increasingly global from pigeons to cables under the oceans and now increasingly wireless.  Language is less of a barrier.  We certainly have better opportunities to learn about people on the other side of the world, and so do they.  Eventually knowledge will prevail, but many barriers have to be overcome.

Free trade rules are set up by those in power for their benefit.  They want new markets, cheap parts and labour.  They don't want any regulations restricting their business practices.  As a small investor there are funds set up in all sorts of foreign countries.  I have invested a small amount in an India fund that I feel confident their hard work and ingenuity will make me seem smarter than I really am.

Multi national companies are reaching out to markets in other countries, setting up manufacturing and even management  Corporations are for profit, meaning reducing costs and increasing revenues.  That means whenever possible they will have labour done in the cheapest areas with the least restrictions on processes.  Taxation often dictates where they operate.

Globalization is viewed by many as manipulation from elite people for selfish ends.  Those who make the rules almost always take their own interests to account.  The best hope is they take a long range view.  Balance is in everyone best interest.

Causes of immigration are always the same:  fear and greed.  We overlook our involvement--we in the West drive climate change, we voted for leaders that saw violence and deception as the way to solve problems.

Does the average person get any benefit?  Well in some cases people who did not have work now do, but unfortunately others lose their jobs or take a hit in wages and job security.  In a cultural sense most people would admit they enjoy many things that come from other cultures, although many might not be aware--pizza, tacos and increasingly sushi are eaten everywhere.  Movies and music and books are enjoyed across borders.  Overall poverty and hunger are being reduced.

All of humanity share future concerns.  Inequality, climate change/pollution, automation, (nuclear) war are all to be feared.  But there are opportunities.  Automation can free up humans from boring, demanding manual labour.  The air, water and soils can boost our health instead of degrading it.  Climate change is a tough one demanding international co-operation if it is be controlled.  Inequality makes it difficult for greater understanding and co-operation for all humans.

Any change to the plans of the elites will be resisted and they are skilled and powerful at manipulation

Some people think the biggest hope is the inter-net.  The elites are still trying to control it, but for the most part more people communicate across borders every day.  Information is power.  Education is also power and there are efforts to control it.

While capital is truly globalized, labour is not.  In many countries unions have declined under political pressure.  The working class in many cases were complicit in this.  For instance in the United States the pro business party has attracted many votes for single issue social concerns such as abortion, gay rights, gun rights but are really more interested in benefiting the elites.  Voter education is key, but very difficult.

Germany is an example of a country that works with unions and it is part of their success.  Employees are stake holders in a company and often have a longer relationship than investors.

Climate change in many ways  has already impacted us, but not to average consciousness.  A big part  of that, drought created pressures in the Mid-East that have fuelled conflict.  This can increase stresses elsewhere--forest fires, floods.  Israel right now is making it difficult for Palestinians to get water.

International trade agreements will not win the support of the working class if they do not participate.  This is true of any strategic plan  At a minimum I would like to see a credible representative of environmental concerns and of labour have veto power.

When we work together we are all stronger.  Freedom is not given so much as it is taken.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dark Money by Jane Mayer Threatens us All.


Most people have been suspicious of the power of money.  Jane Mayer has compiled a great deal of research that uncovers some of the plots so our speculations are justified.  It is well written.

Joseph Stiglitz is quoted "Wealth begets power which begets more wealth."  Almost all of us want more of it.  A few are amazingly lucky.  Some work longer hours, some study and specialize to get more money per hour.  Others invest carefully and maybe take a calculated risk.  Some steal or deliberately mislead.  Many of the masses believe that any one who amasses large fortunes must have done something illegal or more likely unethical.  A bit unfair, but "Dark Money" casts light not only on a lot of dastardly deeds, but strong organized efforts to not only cover it up, but also make more of it legal.

It is easy to understand that lowering a tax rate or reclassifying an income steam to a lesser rate benefits whoever can pull it off.  Some of the very rich want more than that.  They resent the government taking their well deserved income and furthermore resent any restrictions on their ability to make money.  Do you ever wonder why if Americans in polls seem to prefer Democrat policies there is gridlock in Congress that impedes progress?

Before the Koch Brothers hit the spotlight they had some early unsuccessful efforts to gain political power, but after each loss they learned more.  Developing data bases and polling were key instruments gradually getting more sophisticated

The very rich can be hypocritical and self-serving.  Initially the infamous Koch Brothers opposed the government bailout, but reversed themselves when they learned the financial problems threatened them.  After Obama got in office he wanted to start a stimulation program, but Republicans forced him to reduce  the amount and to transfer 1/3 of the remainder to be tax deductions.  Their large donors were behind the votes.  Another example of hypocrisy cites Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager and Koch associate likes to buy up foreign debt and then get government to pressure payments.

Regulation are always painted as a bureaucratic string to hamper legitimate pursuit of profit.  The market is supposed to police abuses, but far too many people have been stung either by paying too much for shoddy goods or suffering their health or even risking their life.  Regulations are set up to control abuses.

Climate change was a big concern of the Koch brothers.  Actually George W. Bush at one time agreed climate change was real and he would do something about it.  Dick Cheney who worked for Halliburton was able to reverse trends.  Big Oil money, including Dark Money diminished support for action.  Climate Gate seemed to tarnish the motives of scientists and helped reverse some legislative progress.  Mitt Romney made a strong effort to court the Koch family--reversed stand on climate change

The Affordable Care Act infuriated a lot of people who see it as socialistic and a drain on the budget.  Yet countries with socialist health care plans all seem to have better results at lower costs.  Although not a priority of the Koch brothers they were pleased to add more muscle to their overall strategy.

The Tea Party is usually thought to have spontaneously developed from dissatisfied voters.  Jane points to a lot of background activity.  Racism played a major role with some members, but the Koch Brothers saw an opportunity to push their agenda.  Big Oil got involved.

After Ted Kennedy died in 2009, money from out of state gave the Republican choice a significant money advantage that was used to change the balance of power in the Senate with the election of Scott Brown.  Much of the money came from out of state.

Big money sought more leverage and over 2009-10 they were able to win a victory 5-4 known as Citizens United that allowed unlimited money to be used in election campaigns under the idea it was necessary for free speech.  Obama found himself caught up in the need to raise money to compete.  Denounced Citizens United decision.  "I'm swimming in the same muddy water."  The Democrats with many wealthy supporters had to temper their pitch so as not to offend Wall Street.

The 2010 election marked a strategic effort to gain control of state legislatures and has many senators and House of Representatives.  The Republicans gained control of mapping political districts for the majority of states.  Another project was ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) where legislature favouring big money interests are packaged and presented in state houses.

As 2012 approached, Republicans manoeuvred to get the big money that was now legal.  
Sheldon Adelson cared mainly for Israeli security and put his money towards Newt Gringrich as he felt he was the most reliable for his number one concern.  Eventually Mitt Romney was able to gather more money and become the nominee.

2012 Republican big money failed to win the Presidency, but won control of the House of Representatives with fewer votes than the Democrats.  Next election in 2014 they won majority status in the Senate.  This makes a progressive agenda next to impossible.

Other accomplishments of big Dark Money includes forcing a shut down by refusing to compromise (at the order of their donors).  Outside money allowed Scott Walker to survive a recall election and continue his crusade against union rights.  John Boehner forced to resign.

Jane and her boss at the New Yorker received a threatening email about to expose her.  It turned out to  be sloppy research (on their end not hers) and was easily repudiated.  She can't be sure who actually did it, but notes that she had done a critical article on the Koch family.

Koch Industries are on a major public relations campaign to position themselves as friends of the environment and benevolent employers.  They do have a legitimate charitable history and I noticed they are a major sponsor of the magnificent Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Along the way they have learned respect for polling, data bases and objective analysis.  They are sophisticated enough to develop better presentations of their ideas.

For 2016 the Koch network had planned to spend $889 million, but with Donald Trump they may change the emphasis more to senators and house representatives. Hilary could get in, but find herself fighting even stronger gridlock.  John Kasich's positive stand on Medicaid ousted him from Koch favour despite the fact that he was generality conservative.

What can be done?  Campaign finance laws must not only restrict the amount any individual (or corporation) can donate and large donations must be public.  It would be best to have total public financing, but that would also require some sort of standards for those who qualify.  You can be sure that big dark money is already at work trying to expand their base and impose a very conservative Republican agenda.  Although big Dark Money can overwhelm many voters, how about you?