Past Performance Is No Predictor of Future Performance

 

Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins. This adage has meaning beyond its original intent when considering our current world. Like it or not, since the earth is now crowded with billions more folks than it had 50 or 100 or more years ago, and thus the free range of motion of our own arms has shrunk. We no longer can pull our nation’s head and legs into our own shell and exist on our own island. The fallacy of this isolationistic perspective is being tested with the self-defeating policies that the Trump administration is attempting to implement.

According to the Trump doctrine, in order to make America great again, it is necessary to reverse decades of stitching together the nations of the world in greater interdependence so as to allow American exceptionalism to reign supreme. The world we knew when everyone who wanted entree into the middle class could walk into the nearby factory and punch their timecard in a manufacturing plant, that world no longer exists. We can mourn the absence of the world that existed when the US served as the only intact manufacturing entity after WWII, and thus held an immeasurable competitive advantage for decades. Those were the decades of greatness that the America First agenda wishes to bring back.

It is always foolhardy to craft national policy on the basis of nostalgia, but that apparently is what is motivating the America First crowd. Instead of looking behind us for inspiration (Immigration Act of 1924, Leave It to Beaver, Homestead Works of Pittsburgh belching sparks and smoke), I prefer an attempt to steer our country and its economy towards the future. What does the future hold? Where are the opportunities for new jobs that can provide a true middle-class lifestyle?

First, let’s acknowledge that many of the jobs of the future look a lot like the jobs of the past. In particular, skilled craftsmen and women have a bright future ahead of them. Manufacturers cannot get enough skilled welders. An industry trade group projects that the nation will need 290,000 new welders by 2020 in order to accommodate those welders who will retire, plus handle the new jobs being created within manufacturing and the energy industry. There will always be opportunities for plumbers, and electricians, and for skilled carpenters. These professions also offer the chance to become an entrepreneur, since most opportunities in these fields are local. The demographic wave of the baby boom generation crested long ago, and that wave is withdrawing from the shores of the labor market. The vacuum in the labor market must be filled, and for those who have desires to work with their hands, there are opportunities. What is needed is strong vocational training and/or apprentice programs to transition folks from novices to skilled craftsmen and women.

Next, let’s talk about energy. This field runs the gamut from solar panel installation, to wind turbine construction and maintenance, to electrical grid modernization, to drilling rig worker, and to pipeline construction worker. In my state of West Virginia, where the coal industry has scalped the tops of our small mountains, leaving behind ground denuded of topsoil, but a relatively flat surface, we have the opportunity to develop large-scale solar farms. These farms can be integrated with small scale agriculture intended to take advantage of the shade provided (ginseng, anyone?), and can serve as a career option for the last generation of coal miners and those who currently have no hope and are surrendering their future to oxycontin and heroin.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room – the Republican-led conspiracy to deny that changes in energy policy are necessary, in order to mitigate a warming environment due to burning fossil fuels. I’ve seen the entire range of beliefs of those who refuse to acknowledge that atmospheric effects from anthropogenic emissions are changing the thermometer setpoint of the earth. Some of their stated beliefs are possibly correct (example – we may be entering a solar minimum period that may overwhelm any changes from atmospheric composition). Some of their beliefs are simply incorrect (temperature records are invalid since they represent a change from rural to urban temperature measurements, and besides, climate scientists have fudged their records, and besides, you know, thermodynamics is just so wrong). Some of their beliefs are based upon religious claims, like mankind has no capability of overruling God’s control over our environment. And some are purely conspiratorial in nature, such as the belief that claims of global warming are a tool of the one-world agenda deep state that wishes to impose political control over each and every aspect of life in our country, causing us to cede our sovereignty to a one-world government.

To refute each of these beliefs would take more space than my blog normally uses, and besides, my argument is that in order to transition away from fossil fuels, it is actually necessary to use one version of fossil fuels more extensively than we have in the past. Of course, that fuel is natural gas or methane, which has the virtue of emitting much less carbon dioxide per kilogram of input than any other hydrocarbon. Simply put, displacement of a high carbon fuel source (coal) with methane is the main reason why the US has reduced CO2 emissions over recent years. According to the US Energy Information Administration, CO2 emissions in the US decreased 12% between 2005 and 2015, and the drop is mainly attributed to replacement of coal by natural gas in electric power generation. So if we are waiting for renewable energy to take its place as the primary power source , or if we are awaiting for advancements in either fusion or fission (see thorium reactor cycle) in nuclear energy, then methane serves as a reliable bridge fuel.

Methane also offers many opportunities for jobs. Since much of the methane resources available through fracking are not in areas with pipeline infrastructure, it is necessary to build new pipelines, and that is a key source of job opportunities. Fracking also requires many more drill rigs due to the rapid depletion of fracking hydrocarbon reservoirs. I know that there is much dispute over environmental damage done by pipelines and by fracking. But it is not realistic to transition directly from dependence upon coal, to a totally green energy solution. Methane offers a transition period that enables maintenance of the living standard we enjoy that relies upon intense consumption of energy. Those who rely upon and believe in the moral superiority of coal and oil will not give in easily, though. In West Virginia, one of the bumper stickers used by the proponents of coal is “Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark”. Those stickers are often affixed to the bumpers of diesel pick-ups that have been fixed with special combustion controls that dump excess fuel into the cylinders, causing a cloud of black smoke that they use to obscure the visibility of Prius drivers, like myself. I’ve been coal rolled a few times.

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Photo of rolling coal from Jalopnik.com. Justin Westbrook credited on story.

Jobs in agriculture have been decreasing for generations. Many city dwellers are now several generations removed from the farm and from rural life. Yet amazingly, farming is now coming into the cities. High technology hydroponic farming is making it possible to use some of the urban real estate that used to house factories, and convert it into high-yielding produce farms. In the suburban/rural interface, high-tunnel greenhouses are allowing intensive cultivation on small plots, enabling small-scale farmers to supply the local produce markets for cities that want organic produce sourced locally. As western diets move away from corn and soy based food chains to more vegetables, look for the number of people making a living growing food to increase steadily.

One area where the job demand is increasing is also one where the wages earned do not reflect the value provided to society. That is in the personal care industry. Whether we are looking at home assistance provided to the elderly, or the labor needed for assisted living facilities and nursing homes, these workers provide a service that our society should value. The low wages provided for these workers shows that the current job market does not value these workers, and as a result, those who are in the field are often overworked. Abuse (either intentional or not) can result, since in our society we do not properly value this form of labor.

What should we not look for in the future job market? We should not look for low-value manufacturing to return to this country, regardless of the tariffs imposed on those exporters who are accused of manipulating their currency to hurt us in the US. It is unlikely that we will ever see inexpensive metal implements to be manufactured in the US again. It is also unlikely that we will see basic garment manufacture to be sourced domestically again – unless the manufacturing processes are automated to such an extent that the number of jobs associated with the manufacture is reduced by an order of magnitude from the old garment mills. US manufacturing jobs will increasingly be focused on huge, high-tech machinery, or on processes that can be completely automated. Either way, the new manufacturing worker must be educated and trained well beyond the existing labor forces capabilities.

What we will find as we swing our nation’s fists wildly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the rest of the worlds increasing integration, is that our fists are as likely to strike ourselves in the nose as we are to rain blows down upon our perceived adversaries. The world’s economies are too tightly interwoven to enable one country to extricate ourselves from the tentacles of commerce without ripping our own economy to shreds. Beware the effect of unintended consequences as we try to make America great again.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy!

The story in the paper finally explained to me why I feel like an alien in the land of my birth and an alien in my chosen religion. Dr. Robert Jeffress, who had previously escaped my notice as a pastor of a megachurch in Dallas, explained to me how it is that Donald Trump is God’s weapon of choice to take out the evil exemplified in the North Korean government. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

That statement and the belief system underlying that statement are so alien to me that I am seeking vainly to forge any type of reality-based connection to someone who would make such a horrendous statement and issue it as speaking with the authority of God. How to begin? Well, first I would say that anyone who would defend the taking of military action resulting in the deaths of millions of humans is not speaking with the authority of God. Those who take the name of nuclear holocaust in vain share the unimaginable consequence of being responsible for the immense loss of life and the innumerable lives that will be changed due to the detonation of nuclear weapons. To think that such a consequence would be due to someone just demonstrating to Vladimir Putin that he has cojones makes the potential devastation just that much more sickening.

I have wondered how the group of folks associated loosely as evangelical Christians could ever have supported such an overt sinner as Donald Trump. Yes, I use the biblical term sinner to define his existence prior to seeking the Presidency. Donald Trump revealed himself to be a sinner as he failed to pay multitudes of small contractors what they were owed for services to his multiple properties. Why? Mainly because he could and it would be too expensive for a small contractor to demonstrate harm from the behemoth that was the Trump empire.

Donald Trump revealed himself to be a serial adulterer and as someone who used his position of power to extract sexual benefits during his association with the Miss Universe beauty pageants when he ran that obsolete version of an event aimed at objectifying women. For evangelistic Christians to overlook the multiple adulteries of Donald Trump while they crucify his predecessor for imagined sins of, well, I’m not sure what sins Barack Obama was actually accused of. I never heard an accusation of womanizing as he has been faithful to his only wife throughout his marriage. I never heard of an accusation where Barack Obama admitted to taking liberties with women because it was overlooked for those individuals who were blessed with power and status. Even taken from the biblical perspective of “he who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone” does not seem to apply to Donald Trump’s predecessor. Although Donald Trump certainly lobbed many paving stones at Barack Obama accusing him of being a less than 100% American born citizen.

Donald Trump demonstrated his ability to steal from his lessers when he established his ersatz Trump University. Can you imagine someone audacious enough to attempt to cash in on his bogus reputation as a master real estate developer by offering a cascading offering of real estate courses, each level purporting to reveal more and more secrets from the man himself (of course for a much higher price), only to reveal itself as a fraudulent enterprise aimed at preying on the dreams and aspirations of those who had been damaged beyond redemption by the financial crisis and the subsequent financial collapse. That Donald Trump was ever required to provide financial reparations for his rapacious greed is a miracle of contemporary jurisprudence.

Donald Trump demonstrated that he has no concept of the term of bearing false witness. Through innumerable statements he has made, he continues to bear false witness even against himself, due to the volume of falsehoods

he has made that he subsequently contradicts in a later statement. Or tweet. We haven’t even gotten into the issue of him using a new media offering as his unfiltered access to his base. Well, if he has a base, it is pure sodium hydroxide solution, and his credibility is softening into mush as it soaks in this solution.

No, what I realized when I saw the comments from Dr. Jeffress, is that Donald Trump is a manifestation of a phenomena that first revealed itself when I was a teenager. At that time, a Presidential candidate by the name of Richard Nixon invoked the Silent Majority as critical supporters of his bid for office. He was able to convince enough voters that his view of America as being intolerant of dissent, insufficiently strong to withstand opposing viewpoints, and convinced voters that he alone held the secret answers to solve the external problems that plagued America in the era of Vietnam and hippies.

The same divide that was enunciated in our culture in the 1970’s TV show All In The Family still shows up as fault lines in our current society. We are still divided into the hard hats and the hippies of those days. You either support Archie Bunker, or you support Meathead. The difference is that now both sides of the cultural divide have our own media environments to reinforce our biases with the 24/7 proclamations of our chosen media service. Since we can inoculate ourselves against exposure to opposing viewpoints, let’s do so now and therefore prevent us from ever considering that we may be wrong in our beliefs.

As I reflect upon the comment from Dr. Jeffress, I realize that indeed, the perspective he espouses could be found in the Bible – deep in the bowels of the Old Testament, where the sexploits of the leaders of the Israelites are documented. Where the cruelties inflicted upon the enemies of Israel are celebrated throughout the books of Judges and Kings, where the will of the Lord is reflected in an angel slaying one hundred and eighty-five thousand Syrians, leading the sons of the King of Syria to slay their own father. This is the mentality that is reflected in someone saying that it is the will of God to bring untold misery into the world by unsheathing the nuclear sword once more upon the world.

Much ink has spilled over the differences between conservatives and liberals. It seems to this follower of Jesus that the conservative position is for those who long for the Old Testament vengeful God, those who believe that strength defines right, those who believe in subjugation of the individual to the majesty of the government. The liberals favor the wisdoms revealed in the words of the Gospels, where the government is addressed as having authority (render unto Caesar), but the kingdom defined is not mainly of the government. Instead, the entreaty is to treat the stranger as a friend, to share with those who have the least, and to express righteous indignation at evil being done even in the house of worship. Of all of Jesus’s faults in the eyes of the Pharisees, the one that was unforgiveable was interfering with commerce in upsetting the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.

Maybe just gaining this perspective for myself can help me to deal with having to coexist with a segment of the population who share few of my values. At least I can understand their frame of reference, and maybe that is a start in trying to bridge the gap between two diametrically opposed perspectives. That it took referring to texts from thousands of years ago to gain this perspective, is indicative that the differences in perspectives has always existed, and we as a species are no closer to closing the gap between us. Only now, the stakes are higher since our tools of destruction have grown immeasurably more deadly.

 

Make! America! Great! Again!

Trump's world

 

Let’s make America Great! How do we do that? First, let’s piss off every ally we’ve had for the past 75 years by insisting they all are out to rob us blind, and they don’t have the guts to fight terrorism the way we do. Next, let’s make it way harder for others to come to the US by implementing half-baked bans against certain religions to enter this country (we have to be oh so careful to be politically correct and not call them bans or the namby-pamby courts will rule against us, as if they actually are a co-equal branch of government).

We can make America great by creating our own sense of reality, where only what we say is the truth. And we can convey that sense of reality directly to the American People (We do love the people. They voted for us hugely.) in our tweets. Someday the tweets we make will be the basis for a little red book like that Chinese guy used to have. Everyone will wave a copy around to show how much they adore us.

We can make America great by leaving a lot of these government positions empty. Who needs all of these folks anyway. I can fire all of the US attorneys and not nominate anyone to fill the slots, and no one will notice. And diplomats? Do we really need diplomats, except for our favorite countries?

We can make America great by showing America how great leaders work. Like this guy Duterte in the Philippines. Wonderful how he’s leading by enabling those mobs to kill all of the druggies. Wish we could do something like that here.

We can make America great by cutting back on a bunch of silly spending. Why in the world do we need to invest in scientific research? What has science ever done for us? It’s not like our lives are longer than they used to be because of medical research. Or how is it that we gained anything from research into solid state physics. What a waste of time and money! Losers, all of them. Can’t wait to use my cell phone to post a tweet about not wasting money on basic research.

We can make America great by showing America how fake the media is. They won’t acknowledge our greatness all the time, so they are fake. Fake, fake, fake. We’d be better off if everyone just used my twitter feed to learn all they need to know about the world. Boy, I wish they wouldn’t keep asking those damn questions. Why do they keep harping on all of these things we did with our friends the Russians? You’d think they thought someone out there in the mid-west actually cared about selling out to the Russians. Love the mid-west. They voted for me when no one ever thought they would. Led to my huge electoral college victory. Biggest one ever for a Republican. Did you know I’m a Republican? I used to donate money to Democrats.

We can make America great by passing the biggest tax cut in history. I can get the Congress to do just what I want. Just give them the talking points and they take it from there. That’s Leadership! We haven’t had leadership in this country since Andrew Jackson. Tax cuts. Get rid of that stupid death tax. Do you know how much that would cost my children if we don’t get rid of that? Of course, I plan on living a long time. Did you see how my doctor said that I had the best health of any President EVER! No, we can just keep cutting the taxes and watch the money pour in. I can see 5%, 6% growth coming just because of these tax cuts. Just watch and see.

We can make America great by getting rid of that terrible thing Obamacare. Just get rid of it and we’ll have the greatest health care ever. Costs will go straight down. People won’t have to spend money on insurance since we will get rid of the requirement to have it. Shoot, I’ll just tell the IRS not to enforce the requirement. I can do that you know. I love to sign executive orders. I can get a huge crowd in the office just to hold one of these signing ceremonies. I love ceremonies. It’s like a parade, only just in one room. Did you see the parade for my inauguration? Biggest Parade and the Biggest Crowd ever! And those executive orders. Sometimes I read them before I sign them. Sometimes not. But we’re not going to cut Medicare or Social Security. That’s my pledge to the American people.

We can make America great by getting us out of all of these agreements and treaties with other countries. We never do well in these things. Get taken advantage of bigley. Like that NAFTA thing. Or was that the NATO thing? Both of them – worst treaties ever. Tear them up, start over, we’ll show them that you can’t take advantage of the United States! Did you see about those children over in Syria? I showed them who’s boss. Gave them a dose of Tomahawks! Just wait till that fat little punk in North Korea tries something. I’ll show him. Of course, it’s hard for a young kid to be running a country. I can understand why he’s had to be tough with folks, shooting them with anti-aircraft rounds. I know I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and my supporters would cheer.

 

Whew! I’m sure glad that Donald Trump didn’t get elected as President. What a horrible dream! Can you imagine someone thinking and acting like that? Wait. What’s that you’re saying? All of the things in my dream – they’re real? And all have taken place in less than 5 months? And we have 3 years and 7 more months to go? Where is that alternate reality we were talking about? I think I’m gonna need to live there in order to stay sane.

 

Media? We Don’t Need No Lying Media! (Or Do We?)

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And now the coarsening of the political discourse continues. To think that a candidate for Congress, on the eve of his election, would be so easily provoked by a reporter’s request for a response about the CBO scoring of the AHCA that he would physically assault and tackle that reporter. That is amazing, but unfortunately it is part of a long chain of events that show a significant decline in the civility towards political discourse.

This coarsening is non-partisan in nature. Both the right (especially the alt-right) and the left are guilty of these incidents. The series of incidents with provocative right-wing speakers on college campuses where the speakers are prevented from speaking due to organized left-wing opposition, combined with anarchist activists who foment violence, has turned college campuses into no discourse zones. As for the right, we have only to review the footage of Donald Trump’s rallies where he excoriated the press, leading to situations where angry crowds surrounded press representatives, causing them to worry that physical violence would follow. And the reaction of Donald Trump to any protestor at his rallies did lead to protestors being assaulted by “right-minded patriots” as the protestors were being led out of rallies.

So the next phase of this war against free speech and the press has begun to play out across our land. In my State Capital building in West Virginia, a credentialed reporter trying to get a response from HHS secretary Tom Price was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of governmental processes”. As of this date, two weeks later, reporter Dan Heyman is still facing these charges.

In a little-reported incident in April, a cameraman for a Las Vegas television station was arrested for filming a tax-day protest on the Las Vegas strip. His crime? Not knowing that the sidewalk in front of an establishment was private property and thus subject to trespass limitations.

Now, with the overt hostility of the Montana candidate towards the press being expressed in a physical takedown of a reporter, the war against the press has taken a sinister turn to violence. It is only a matter of time until someone who feels empowered by the new attitude towards the press takes matters into their own hands and kills a reporter.

Both the right and the left need to step back and cool down. The lack of tolerance shown by the left against conservative speakers needs to dissipate. There are plenty of acceptable ways to demonstrate disapproval against a speaker instead of violently keeping that speaker from talking. And the phenomena of shouting down Republican representatives at town halls does not improve the political climate, as the attitude from the Republicans seems to be that those who protest, must be professional outside agitators paid by George Soros.

I am more concerned though, about the hatred shown by Republicans towards the press. There is a long-standing antipathy towards the press from many Republicans. They view the press as biased towards liberals and Democrats, and thus feel antagonism towards reporters. Then, with the ubiquitous use of cell phones for documentation, there is a paparazzi-like sense that politicians are legitimate targets for harassment from the press. But it is the characterization of mainstream media as “fake news” that is most disturbing. President Trump overtly declaring the media as “The Enemy Of The People!” Trying to delegitimize media as propagating only fake news and being the enemy is very dangerous, since many people no longer have a cultural reference point to distinguish between reality and illusion. The rise in social media as a primary news source for many people is a significant reason for this newfound lack of a cultural reference point. Ongoing balkanization of media sources leads to a lack of knowledge of real facts.

What can be done to reverse this trend towards abandonment of first amendment principles? All of us, regardless of political leanings, need to speak up in public against the war being waged on free speech and the media. This blog post is my own attempt to add my thoughts to the public discourse. I encourage anyone else who believes that we are heading down a dangerous path to also speak out in whatever forum you have available to you. We must stop this before we find that we have lost our freedom of speech and ability to conduct political discourse in public.

To Bee? Or Not To Bee?

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I read a very disturbing story in Science magazine this month. A German amateur scientific group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has conducted surveys of insect populations since 1989. These surveys show that the total mass of flying insects collected has declined by almost 80% in this time. Though the story in the May 10 issue of Science (Where Have All the Insects Gone?) does not make an assertion as to the cause for the decline, or whether the decline is limited to the European sites monitored by this society, they do mention the windshield effect. That is, are drivers encountering fewer bugs as they drive in the summer months, and is that symptomatic of a decline in insect populations?

If the monitored decline is widespread, then what does that say about potential effects on wildlife populations and diversity? At this time of year, we are very aware of the insect population, especially as we watch parent birds deliver squirming loads of protein to the next bird generation. If flying insects are in decline, then it indicates a decline in overall insect populations, and that has to be harmful to the species that live off of the abundance of insects in the warmer months.

The story does go into potential causes of the decline in population. Habitat loss in particular is mentioned as a potential contributing factor. But the story implies that a class of pesticides already identified as a factor in bee colony collapse, may also be contributing to the observed flying insect population declines. Neonicotinoid pesticides were developed in the 1980’s and were used for seed coatings beginning in the 1990’s. These pesticides have extremely low mammalian toxicity. But they are mobile in the environment, and are water soluble. Studies have shown that wildflowers adjacent to crop plantings can have concentrations of neonicotinoids higher than on the crop plants.

So this clearly is an issue that requires swift study, and if studies indicate it is justified, then it necessitates new regulations for this class of pesticide. Now let me state something from a personal perspective. I worked for a company that manufactures both herbicides and pesticides. For a good part of my career, the Ag Products division was my work home. I believe that agricultural chemicals provide benefits that outweigh their risks to the environment. I am not one who is chemophobic. And herbicides and pesticides are already among the most heavily regulated chemicals ever manufactured. But occasionally, a class of compounds is commercialized, only to discover decades later that there were unintended harmful consequences to non-target species. This happened with the chlorinated hydrocarbons like DDT. They had low direct mammalian toxicity, but when they accumulated in animals, they caused reproductive harm.

Another series of articles in Science recently discussed the ongoing extinctions that are occurring in the new anthropocene era. The anthropocene is the new geologic era defined by the effects that humanity is causing to our planet, and is now officially recognized by scientists. One of the points of the articles was that the inter-relationships between species are complex, and it is difficult to predict the effects on the system as a whole if one of the pieces disappears (becomes extinct).

What this means is as humanity continues to impose its will on the earth, resulting in the extinction of more and more species, the unexpected effects will continue to grow. At some point, a step-change in the system will show up, and suddenly a large portion of the ecosystem will not work. Bee colonies are a good example of this. Humanity is reliant on bees serving as pollinators for a wide variety of foods. So if we continue to use insecticides that harm bee colonies, then sometime soon we will not have many of our fruits and nuts and oil seeds available as our food sources. We are all related in life on this earth, and we are not immune to the ills of the ecosystem as a whole.

Unfortunately, within the US, the ruling political class has grown hostile to considering the health of natural systems as one of the inputs to making laws or regulations. Since flying insects do not contribute to dark money PACS, they have no advocate in the US Congress or in the administration. Instead, there are efforts to roll back science-based regulations within the EPA. Already the EPA has put a hold on a recommendation from a science advisory committee within the EPA that would have banned the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos. See, with this administration, money and economic growth are the only things worth considering. All of this science stuff, well, how much money is donated to politician’s campaigns from scientists anyway? Not nearly as much as from chemical companies. So who should we listen to? Those who say that there is statistical correlation (though not proven causation) between exposure to a class of pesticides, and children with increased frequency of ADHD? Or those who donate?

Simplistic thinking breeds simplistic solutions. The natural world though, is complex, and is shaded not in black and white, but in a rainbow of bright hues. When you have an administration that looks at a problem solely in economic terms, and views regulations as barriers to economic growth, then you will develop solutions that cause great harm to the natural systems we rely upon. At some point, the hubris of the human race will cause us to be dashed against the rocks of reality as nature has its way. If only we can recognize our folly and act to reverse it before it determines our fate!

Ride the Trump Train

Are you quivering, full of anticipation at the first foreign fling from the Trump administration? Are you waiting to see what follies will emanate from our glorious leader? Will Saudi Arabia recoil in horror after seeing firsthand the shallowness of the gene pool in which our President resides? Will Israel succeed in convincing President Trump of the necessity to hold one’s tongue when one is tempted to share the highest level of classified secrets? Or will the President take affront at being chastised, leading him to take off on a twitter tirade linking Israel to the lyin’ media?

Finally, we will have President Trump showing off his wondrous attention span as he attends NATO and G7 summits. Will his performance at these public venues result in someone finally declaring that the emperor is naked? After all, he’s been running through the rose garden since January without the benefit of a cloak of intelligent thought. I am embarrassed as an American when I see that any presentations intended for our President are to be dumbed down to single Powerpoint page, nine bullet points max, and preferably with illustrations. And for the summits, a request was made to limit all presentations to between two and four minutes. All to enable President Trump to not exceed his attention span. If you wish to see a vivid portrayal of the thought process of our President, look at any of his recent published interviews. This past week, in his interview with the Economist, you could see in full color President Trump’s boasting at being the originator of the phrase “priming the pump” with respect to economic policy.

Do I expect our President to be knowledgeable about macroeconomics, and about Keynesian economic principles? Do I expect our President to have some semblance of a knowledge of history in economic matters? As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I expect anyone who has the audacity to place himself in the role of the savior of the nation to be knowledgeable about the problems he claims to have the ability to fix. In his own words at his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, “No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” But knowing the moral consistency of one Donald J. Trump, it is not a surprise to me to see that this was merely boastful bragging.

So enough of the citizens of the US who voted this past fall managed to vote for this charlatan with the attention span of a ping pong ball, resulting in his election via the vagaries of the electoral college. Now we find ourselves at the mercy of an administration careening out of control, with cascading news stories compounding the sense of despair emanating from the White House. Admittedly we have only second hand reports from the press (thank heavens they have not forsaken us in this time of trial), but the picture painted of the mood in the West Wing is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica.

But my fear over the next 10 days is that this immature, insecure, and egotistical President will wreak havoc amongst our allies and supporters. He has the potential to instigate unimaginable chaos outside of the US borders, where the checks and balances of our constitutional system do not apply. And those who are seeking to do damage to our nation and interests, need only to observe how to push his buttons, in order to make him overreact viciously to any perceived insult or slight. The reputation of the United States has been diminished in this century, but President Trump has the potential to turn a mild decline into the plunge after the first uphill climb of a roller coaster. Be prepared for one hell of a ride.

Of Subtle Snares and Nanny States

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Why is it whenever I try to explain a log-normal distribution to folks, eyes start to glaze over? You’d think that such a useful concept would be intuitively understood by everyone, right? Well, the correct response is that very few people have the background in mathematics, and particularly statistics, to understand how a log-normal distribution works, and why it is important.

Log-normal distributions are one thing. Understanding compound interest is something else altogether. That is a consumer survival skill in this day and age where it can work both for you and against you. It works for you if you use it early in your lifetime to start saving for retirement. It works against you if you depend upon borrowing in order to make it through your life. And what is amazing is the “legitimate” financial growth industry that has developed out of what the mafia used to call loan sharking. Payroll advance services, legal in many states, charge an annualized rate of interest of up to 780% (don’t use one of these services in Louisiana). But the people who use these lenders of last resort are the poor who are just trying to stave off eviction or keep the lights on, or fix a failing vehicle. They are indeed the ones who have the least math literacy, and our free enterprise business system takes advantage of their illiteracy by trapping them in a cycle of loans and renewals of loans. Then there’s the car title businesses – I don’t even want to know the details of their business model.

Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued proposed regulations in 2016 that would cut down the maximum annualized interest rate, including fees for lending, all the way down to 390%. It also is requiring that lenders be prohibited from issuing new loans (with additional fees) for borrowers to pay off their old loans, and also that they verify a payer’s ability to repay a loan. Those regulations were put out for comment back in June 2016, and comments were supposed to close in October. Then November 2016 happened, and now the CFPB is engaged in an existential struggle with the Trump administration. The CFPB has been flagged as a flagrant excessive regulation generator. So as of today, no proposed final regulations have been issued.

Very few issues highlight the ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats like the issue of the CFPB. Republicans invoke the ideology of the free market, and view any interference with its exercise as a violation of their unwritten social contract to allow any predation upon society as a whole, as long as it is deemed legal. Look at sites like Forbes as exemplars of the capitalist ideal in order to receive indoctrination that the CFPB only desires to reduce the choices that poor consumers with no credit options have to meet daily needs. The CFPB is epitomizing the nanny regulatory state that is holding back economic growth.

Democrats on the other hand view the efforts of the CFPB as biblically based social justice, where the poor are protected from being preyed upon by the powerful and moneyed interests of the nation. Yes, there is an element of “We know what’s good for you” in this, in the perspective of the Democrats. Does this version of a nanny state mentality outweigh the monetary crack offered by the payday loan businesses that has resulted in the virtual slavery to the customers of the payday loan complex?

It is obvious in a capitalistic society, keeping score matters. The ultimate score keeping in this instance is the share price of the publically traded companies involved with payday loan operations. Since the CFPB announced potential regulation in June 2016, one would assume that the share price of these companies would have gone down since then had they taken the possibility of these regulations coming into effect seriously. But for two of the largest publically traded companies, their share price does not reflect much of a fear premium. In the past year, two of the largest companies have seen their share price go up by 51% and 14% apiece. In the realm of Trump, it is obvious that for the free market, anything goes.

It is doubtful that the administration of President Donald Trump will allow an agency to issue final regulations that are so opposed to the core interests of the moneyed aristocracy occupying the cabinet. So we will remain with a patchwork of state regulations – in some states, strict prohibitions against this parasitic industry are in effect, and maximum loan interest is capped at 30%. In many others, it is a wild west of freedom, and libertarians can celebrate their freedom to choose to pay annualized interest rates of 600-800% for the honor of accepting a payday loan.

What neither party recognizes is that the demand that built the payday loan industry into a $50 billion annual business is real, and we need to acknowledge that and work to provide real world business solutions. Republicans insist that the exorbitant prices charged by the payday loan providers is necessary to serve the market, since there is a high risk of default. Democrats insist that the providers of the service not be abusers of their customers, profiting exorbitantly on the backs of those who can least afford it.

I ask why do people find it necessary to resort to these lenders of next to last resort? What are the societal issues that keeps people needing to rely upon exorbitant interest and fee rate lenders, and how can we mitigate this need? It galls me to see a huge industry develop over the past few decades where it is touted as an investment opportunity, but it builds its profitability upon the backs of our poor. In our Episcopal hymnal there is a hymn which resonates with me whenever I hear it. It says,

For sins of heedless word and deed, for pride ambitions to succeed, for crafty trade and subtle snare to catch the simple unaware, for lives bereft of purpose high, forgive, forgive, O Lord, we cry

Far too often the rules in our society are stacked against the poor, and those with less education. And then we in our arrogance, blame these victims while we reap the riches they provide to the companies that profit from the subtle snares.