Sunday, September 29, 2013

That's my Robot!

An article that I stumbled across got me thinking about the implications of robots going mainstream. Yes, I'm looking down the road at a time in the near future when a person may decide to walk down the street with his metal companion or worker beside him or in tow. Why would someone take or have a robot with them? To carry things, do work, personal protection, as in a bodyguard, or because you just want to attract attention and turn heads. Questions immediately begin to surface and problems arise when you are told at the mall that you can't bring that "thing" in here.

Robots Will Have Huge Effect On Our Culture
The article I referred to was written by Arik Hesseldahl on Sept 21 and posted on the website, All Things D. It explores the idea of building your own robot, what would you have it do? If you're the type who’s into building stuff and coding, you may soon get your chance to answer that question for real, courtesy of an interesting project coming from the labs of chip-maker Intel. The company’s futurist, Brian David Johnson was recently in New York at the Maker Faire to let folks get a look at Jimmy, an open source robot assembled from parts fabricated on a 3-D printer. He also showed off a non-working model of Jimmy on CBS’s Saturday Morning today.

Once assembled, Jimmy — or whatever you choose to name it — would be as readily programmable as a smartphone. You could also download and install apps that other people develop as easily as you would install them on an iPhone or Android device. Johnson said the plan is to create a kit that would be available for purchase for less than $1,000 no later than May of next year. He said he hopes to get the whole cost down to under $500. He was also giving away copies of a book called “21st Century Robot” that contains the open source files for printing the robot parts.

Imagine some of the ways our culture would begin to change if robots started to appear on the streets of our cities in the same way wireless phones have. Most likely robot ownership would become a status symbol. People may soon choose to buy a robot and finance it the same way they purchase a car. When you begin to see how man has linked himself to machines and even given them personalities and gender traits we begin to move into the area of a robot companion. In the 1999 Austin Powers movie "The Spy Who Shagged Me" a humanoid fembot appears, this gives new meaning to the term sex doll.

Depending on the price the most sophisticated robots may become a toy and tool only for the wealthy, this could cause mass envy and resentment. A robot has the potential to assume the role of a servant or slave without much of the negative problems each present. What kind of laws and regulations might develop? Some of these issues are already surfacing when it comes to the "driverless car" recently being talked about in the news. Remember robots can come in many sizes and forms with a variety of capabilities thus often making them hard to define.

To extend this idea of private robot ownership in the near future imagine how as the capabilities of robots increase they could become multifunctional and fill many needs. Think of the children's toy transformers and how a robot could extend limbs and thus change size. Imagine if a robot would have pegs on his legs and when it leaned over you could step on and ride it like a Segway, this could replace the car in many urban settings.  As robots take our jobs and displace our relationships it could become very interesting.  Yes, we could be looking at the face of a strange new world.


Footnote;  Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other posts that may be of interest to you. Another article about robots can be found below,
                      http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/04/robot-factories-mean-less-jobs.html

Footnote #2;  A newer post looks at the ugly side of technology that is being pursued,
                      http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/11/drones-killer-robots-and-ugly.html

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Time To End QE

It is time to end QE. Those of us who are very skeptical of the state of the economy saw more proof that we are only held together through props from the Central Bank and government deficits when the Fed failed to start tapering this week. Stocks leaped to new highs on statements from Ben Bernanke that the Fed would delay cutting back on bond purchases until the economy was stronger.  Even recalculating the way the GDP is figured and other tricks have not been able to produce numbers to support positive views. Many see the market jump as a positive, I contend it is the result of massive short covering with bears again running away as stops above the market were hit.

This move doesn't change the economy. In all reality a 10 billion dollar cut in Fed bond purchases each month should not make an overwhelming difference in a 16.7 trillion dollar economy. What is important is the signal it sends. Not being able to cut back QE should send a shiver of fear throughout the investment community. The negatives of continuing QE far outweigh the positives, if anything this only confirms that the economy has serious problems, is too weak to stand on its own, and that something is very wrong. A drastic change has occurred in our economy as it evolved over the last several decades and we must determine how to fix the problems and adjust accordingly. 

For example, and here is where it all gets slightly surreal. The mere expectation that the Fed would start to create less money and thus buy fewer bonds had caused the yields on them to rise. The yield on these bonds are one of the most influential and important interest rates in the US economy, they determine many other interest rates in the US and the rest of the world. Recently we have seen an increase of a full percentage point in arguably the world's most important interest rate that of the US Treasury's 10-year bond. The ramifications have been felt across the world, as international investors reacted by pulling a ton of money out of the worlds riskier economies such as India.

Much of what we see on the economic landscape is a mirage caused by massive amounts of money flowing back and forth across the borders of countries. Now reality has raised its ugly head and it is becoming apparent that our consumer debt driven economy is unsustainable. The entitlements and promises that have piled up have begun to overwhelm those forced to honor them. All of us who own businesses would be adding workers if our phone was ringing off the hook or demand existed for our products, but that situation does not exist. Like everyone else in my industry I'm sitting on empty office space and buildings, cutting cost, and waiting for demand to increase.

It is heart breaking to see the toll time takes on a empty building. Constructing more new buildings while paying the staggering cost of taxes, insurance, and maintaining a huge supply of empty space makes no sense except to those in government that are not using their own money. At this time new construction is not where new and sustainable jobs will be created, nor will they be created by the government running a higher deficit to expand its role in the economy. Government must lift it's foot off the throat of small business that creates jobs and trains workers on the most basic level. Policies that favor the large box stores and companies like Amazon hurt Main Street.

Following the crisis of 2008 the Federal Reserve Bank poured liquidity into the economic system and lowered interest rates. More liquidity is only helpful up to a certain point then begins to distort markets, the same is true of lower interest rates. As lower interest rates become the new normal they tend to lose their ability to push us forward, we are at the place where the cost they place on "savers" far outweighs their benefits.  So the question is, what happens after QE can no longer increase demand and after most or all of this money has flowed into the investment "of the day," what happens when it begins to flow out? The problem is this recovery is being constructed on an unstable base. QE is not the answer and this will not end well or soon.

http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2012/01/mess-that-is-built-to-linger.html

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Syria Must Be Split In Two

The red line was crossed in Syria, but few people have yet to talk about the most likely and only real solution which is to break the nation into two parts. If Assad remains in power those who have suffered and been displaced will never forgive him and live under his rule. A change in ruling factions is also not a viable solution in that it would probably unleash a wave of killings, and reprisals. Remember the Shiite-related Alawites rightly fear an Al Qaeda led triumph as the worst possible outcome, they would make the mass killing of Alawites their first priority. The secular leaders of the Syrian rebels, clustered in the exile group known as the Syrian National Council, also must worry about the extremist threat they themselves would face if the Assad government fell.

Many opinions and options exist as to taking action in Syria, thoughts range from, doing nothing to the opinion that intervention is long overdue. Secretary of State John Kerry recently called what is happening in Syria a "moral obscenity".  We must also factor is Iran and speculation about the message inaction sends to those in power, this elephant in the room cannot be ignored. During the election on August 20th, 2012 Obama running as a anti-war president drew a red line in the sand concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, this is now coming back to haunt him. Recently at the G20 conference in Russia he back peddled claiming it wasn't his red line, this cost him credibility and made America appear weak.

The pictures being broadcast across television screens throughout the world of city streets bombed and blown to smithereens, dead women and little children killed by a chemical weapon attack shows Syria to be a country far from different from what we were facing when we decided to go into Iraq. Syria is not a stable country with a bad leader, it is a humanitarian disaster. The best solution will ultimately be to push towards a breakup of Syria with Assad or one of his people in control of the Alawite area in exchange for freeing the remanding part of the country to rule itself.

This is a very fluid situation. Word has come out in recent days that America is beginning to arm the rebels and now the water has been muddied by what appears to have been a off handed comment made by John Kerry during a news conference. Russian President Putin quickly picked up and ran with the idea that if Assad gave up his chemical weapons America would back off. In a masterful piece in the New York Times the shrew Mr. Putin elevated himself to the level of peace maker. Putin has now been moved into the running as a candidate for a Nobel peace prize. He did this while poking a stick into the eye of Obama and questioning America's claim that they defended the world against evil.

News out of Syria continues to provide more evidence that chemical weapons have been used. Expect things to heat up as the rebels begin to see more weapons flowing into their hands. This is all occurring just as Iran turns up the heat and warns the United States to stay out of the conflict. With Americans tired of war and frustrated after years of spending a fortune with little to show for our efforts we are facing a debate as to which is the "best worst choice" in how to proceed. The media has been fast to point out the complexity of the situation and how muddy the politics will be going forward, no easy answer or silver bullet exist for the problem plaguing Syria and the whole region.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that a no-fly zone in Syria could cost about $1 billion a month, and that the risks "include the loss of U.S. aircraft, which would require us to insert personnel recovery forces. It may also fail to reduce the violence or shift the momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fired weapons such as mortars, artillery, and missiles." He went on to warn: it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power and that we must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.

Many people feel that the time for intervention is long gone. The rebels seem to have lost a lot of ground, the momentum has shifted back to Assad.  To make things worse the press has spent the week telling the American people that its simply impossible to do anything about Egypt, but that launching a war in Syria is absolutely necessary and nobody seems to have even sensed the contradiction. By the logic in Washington, the failure of the insurgency is the reason for intervention. As far as getting more involved or not opinions are all over the place, but polls show that most Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to military force or involvement. Below is a sampling of just a few of the comments I ran across;

                    ___________________________________________________________

        *Given earlier reports about the Syrian rebels using chemical weapons, I wouldn't be surprised if there proved to be more to this story than meets the eye. Remember when the US invaded Iraq under the pretext of Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs? Let's err on the side of non-intervention this time around.

         *The Washington Post editorial board is very misguided in calling for a US war against Syria. The US is still sorting out the mess that is Egypt, has managed to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again, and so the last thing the US needs is to jump into a really nasty situation in Syria. As Don Rumsfeld famously said about Iraq: "There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also things we don't know we don't know."

        *The killing in Syria could end tomorrow if the rebels simply put their weapons down and faded back into the citizenry from where they came. They need to realize they bit off more than they could chew. Why should it be our problem? The Syrian people are clearly not united against Assad, and if Assad was acceptable to us all these years, there's no reason he should be unacceptable to us now.

        *American Presidents are no longer concerned about children being massacred, they only want the Fed to print more money to keep the economy from reality.

         *Who is going to look out for the children of Syria? Not Obamerica, shame on you.

        *Many people would be screaming that Obama violated the Constitution by usurping Congresses' power to declare war if we went in. They don't like Obama. We get it.

         *I am not the type of person you are who is happy to hide behind red tape when children are being massacred. Keep children safe and then deal with Congress. Only LibDemos like you hide behind the skirt when it suits you. You don't get it, the children got it - happy now.

         *The images of dead children coming out of Syria are enormously disturbing, and a person would have to be cold and dead inside not to be moved by them and want to do something proactive to prevent future attacks leading to more dead children. I wish I could un-see a lot of those images. However, US intervention in Syria does not guarantee that we will somehow prevent the death of children in Syria.

         *That is why if it is shown that Assad did use Chemical weapons the United States should launch a one night bombing raid (using cruse missiles and stealth bombers) targeting every chemical weapons depot we know of. Then stop, no fly zone, no taking out his air defenses just target the chemical weapons.The next day you inform the Syrian gov. that if they ever use their chemical weapons again you will order a similar attack against their air force. Zero need for a protracted war or campaign.

          *The national security crowd in the US want a US war in Syria very badly. They don't care about the consequences now anymore than they did when they launched the Iraq war years ago. Babies are at Stake! We have to act. And as with the NSA, what the population thinks doesn't really count.

         *No Fly Zone" means an all-out air war against the Syrian Government. That is what it turned out to mean when one was established in Libya. Its another case where the words imply one thing but mean something else.

         *Whats going on in Syria is tectonic plates realigning, not a little revolution between the evil Darth Assad and good Rebel Alliance. Syria was and is a failed state. It was poorly constructed by French and British diplomats, its a mess of peoples and politics that don't work well together and this civil war has been a long time coming. The best thing for the United States to do is stay the f__k out!

                   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

As I write this reports are coming in that the U.S. and Russia have agreed on a framework for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles. The U.S. says Syria has as many as 45 chemical weapons sites, under the agreement, the initial on-site inspections would be completed by November and Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure would be dismantled by the first half of 2014. While this is a promising development full of opportunity it is also fraught with danger and it's success is not carved in stone. It also does not halt the war and allow Syria to begin to heal.

The crux of the problem is how it end the violence and allow refugees and the rest of Syria to go about rebuilding their lives. Life in a refugee camp will have a long-term negitive effect on these people and especially on the children. The people in this part of the world are a hardy bunch seasoned by hundreds of years of war, but millions living in tents and bombed out buildings is saddening and heart breaking. Again I return to the message at the beginning of this post, few people have yet to talk about the most likely and only real solution, that is to break Syria into two parts.



Footnote; Obama's attempt to weasel out of drawing a red line in the sand at the recent G20 meeting reminded me of President Clinton claiming that a statement he made was not a lie. Clinton said "it all depends on your definition of is." For more on Syria plese read my earlier post;
                               http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/05/syria-going-forward.html

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Implications Of Poor Job Creation

The implications of poor job creation are massive. The biggest may be that a huge number of people are dropping from the work force. Often these people have little in the way of savings, this means the burden of caring for them will be transferred to society. If to many people shift into this category we will slowly wear down through attrition. Finding a fair way to share and balance the work load that goes on every day may be one of the most important problems facing our modern world. Not discovering a solution to this dilemma bodes poorly for our consumer driven economy and adds to the toxic problem of inequality.

The recent increase in U.S. productivity in the first quarter was a bit lower than initially thought and hourly compensation for American workers posted a huge decline according to newly revised government figures. Hourly compensation plunged 3.8% in the first quarter instead of rising 1.2% as initially reported. That's the biggest decline since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1947, with the largest drop occurring in the manufacturing sector. Over the years as government grew it tended to offer good salaries and benefits that pulled pay throughout society upward, with budget cutbacks the effect has turned in the other direction.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly all the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population. If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today.

6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.dpuf
hat brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population (the CNIP). If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today. Figure 4 illustrates the foregoing.
Figure 4. Labor Force Participation Rate: Different Scenarios
6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.dpuf
hat brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population (the CNIP). If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today. Figure 4 illustrates the foregoing.
Figure 4. Labor Force Participation Rate: Different Scenarios
6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.dpuf

hat brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population (the CNIP). If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today. Figure 4 illustrates the foregoing.
Figure 4. Labor Force Participation Rate: Different Scenarios
6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.dpuf
hat brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population (the CNIP). If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today. Figure 4 illustrates the foregoing.
Figure 4. Labor Force Participation Rate: Different Scenarios
6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.dpuf
hat brings us to the heart of the matter: Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population (the CNIP). If the Labor Force Participation Rate had not fallen from October 2009, when unemployment hit its Great Recession peak of 10 percent, unemployment would today still be around 10 percent. Moreover, if the LFPR were held constant from its highest pre-recession level of 66.40 percent in January 2007 (when unemployment was 4.6 percent), the U-3 unemployment rate would be nearly 12 percent today. Figure 4 illustrates the foregoing.
Figure 4. Labor Force Participation Rate: Different Scenarios
6.png (742×458)
- See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/danalperts2cents/2013/07/24/the-new-sick-onomy-examining-the-entrails-of-the-u-s-employment-situation/#sthash.q75jZVyu.While many drone on about training and additional schooling the most important skills many workers learn are those only garnered from real work experience, so called on the job situations.This makes "entry level" positions even more important then in the past. Years ago these skills were developed and picked up through the family business or on the farm where you lived. Many of these opportunities no longer exist as big business and government regulations have laid waste to these small community rooted and based enterprises.
While people drone on about the need of additional training and more education the problem goes far deeper. Issues such as will a job exist after training is complete and does a demand exist for their skills is of major importance. In the past family businesses did much of the basic training and prepped many people with the basic skills that they needed later in life. Over the last few decades as big business and government regulations crushed smaller community based enterprises this training has ceased to exist. This means that many of the lessons and values that were passed on including responsibility and dependability are not nearly as common.

After leaving school if someone cannot find employment they never really learn to work, getting up in the morning, having to do unpleasant task you would rather avoid, taking orders, these are why it is called work and not fun. Sadly when you hear a person talking about getting a job it is often a vague and distant thought, like a wish instead of a goal, something that may do in a few months, after they finish doing this or that. To many people the problem is not getting a job, but keeping one, employers have little incentive to keep workers of poor quality and who show little initiative.

Another quiet and often somewhat unnoticed cultural effect of  long-term underemployment is a marked increase in corruption and other low level crime. Unemployment is corrosive to society, it can in effect create an army of downtrodden hopeless victims. Prostitution, gambling, and human trafficking  as well as other forms of  black market activity tend to fill the days of those needing money. Illegal businesses and a shadow economy that sidesteps regulation and laws may take root as a way for people to "get by" as they wait for things to get better. This creates a decline in the moral fabric of society and acts as a cancer on the values we often hold dear.

Many of the numbers and budget projections of the government have been based on far better employment numbers then we are currently facing or will be facing if this continues. The long-term implication of poor job creation will drastically impact in a negative way both the wealth and future of our children and America. It will mean some people never work or go decades without a job. The alternative to working and producing is to use up your savings or be sustained by the government, family, or friends.  The longer someone is out of the workforce the harder the adjustment to reentering becomes, they call it work for a reason, and one of those reasons is that often it means doing unpleasant things.


 Footnote;  Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest to you. Below are three other post related to this subject,
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/04/society-must-better-divide-labor.html
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/01/unemployment-and-its-effect-on-culture.html
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2014/04/planning-sustainable-future-for-mankind.html

200% of nothing

An interesting book that I picked up at a garage sale years ago gives an eye opening tour through the twist and turns of math abuse and innumeracy. The book "200% of nothing" by A. K. Dewney goes into how percentage pumping and irrational ratios can be used to make and reinforce a point that has little validity. Sadly this practice has become far to common in modern society. Aided by super fast modern methods of communication facts are seldom checked, "if you saw it on the internet" it has to be true.

 This delightfully witty excursion into how figures are manipulated sheds light on the fact that truth can quickly be buried by those who choose to mislead us. A favorite quote of mine that has been attributed to no less then five people goes as follows "There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics." These abuses are committed and spread by institutions and organizations devoted to skimming and scamming the public, changing opinion, or promoting their goods and agendas. Often they ice the cake by topping off their presentation with beautiful charts and graphs skewed in scale adding to the illusion of truth.

To my delight, attention is also focused on how many people fail to internalize large numbers or when faced with them become numb to their size and are unable to relate to them. This has become the bain of our relationship with Washington and our government. Politicians pass into law and spend massive and ungodly sums of money with little idea of what they our doing. In today's world innumeracy is an even greater danger then illiteracy and is perhaps more common. Needless to say the results of not understanding and being able to grasp the reality of the cost and how enormous these programs are can be devastating.

Far more attention must be paid to this very important subject in school. For us to intelligently shape our future we must have a sound and basic understanding of numbers and how to relate to them. When math is joined with other much used disciplines then used in forming projections and predictions building on a false premise undermines the whole endeavor. An inability to understand the rules of percentages, ratios, statistics, and basic math logic is highlighted by the rather harmless ad for a light bulb that claims you can save up to 200% of energy cost, the fact is it is impossible to save over 100% of  anything.


Footnote;  Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest to you. The post below looks at our deficit spending and is an eye opener.
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/01/ugly-math-made-simple.html


 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11 Blackout?

A footnote on the day; In past years the media has pandered to the memory of the victims of 9-11 and the scar it left on the nation yet as of 7:00 AM today I have not even heard it mentioned. In past years we have always had a massive buildup to this day. Has a gag order been sent out or fear of bringing about attacks or chatter and threats caused the media and politicians alike to go mum? Are we that controlled? Even as stories and articles dribble out it is nothing like the coverage prior to Benghazi and in years.

I choose not to live in fear and I feel that there is a limit to how much of my money should be used to protect me. I choose not to sacrifice either my freedom or privacy. Those of us who want programs that spy on us disbanded has created a bizarre alliance of the far left that often calls more government action and the less government libertarians. For more on how America should press on with a stiff upper lip see the posts below,

              http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/08/americans-should-show-little-spine.html
              http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-terrorist-under-every-bed.html

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

War On Drugs Is Far Too Costly


Building More Prisons Has Not Worked!
Public views and attitudes continue to shift concerning the cost of the "war on drugs" in America. A while back the Huffington Post carried a story about how even Sen. John McCain indicated he may be changing his stance on marijuana legalization. During a town hall meeting in Phoenix, Arizona McCain is reported to have said  "Maybe we should legalize. We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people". If McCain had taken a softer stance on marijuana as a Presidential candidate back in 2008 he would have drawn more of the youth vote and might well be President today.

We can only hope that John McCain’s words on marijuana legalization will encourage more Republicans to be more open minded on social issues and follow suit. There are numerous reasons that Republicans should support marijuana reform. Republicans support state’s rights, smaller government, and want to stop wasteful spending. The war on drugs has been far too costly. We can surrender, redefine the enemy, or change our tactics, but it is clear that victory in not in sight. After the U.S. government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs at a rate of $500 per second victory remains elusive. To that figure, we can add at least another 25 billion dollars of spending by state and local governments. 

Rehabilitation In Prison Is Largely A Myth
In the last decade, due almost solely to the surge in drug-related arrests, U.S. prisons are massively overcrowded and underfunded.  The rehabilitation aspect of incarceration is slim to nil.  Marijuana constitutes almost half of all drug arrests, and between 1990–2002, marijuana accounted for 82% of the increase in the number of drug arrests. In 2004, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense. The fear that President Carter voiced in 1977 that penalties for drugs are doing more damage than drugs themselves rings true.

At the time Carter put forth the following recommendations to address the abysmal failure of the War on Drugs policies:
  1. Decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and add a full program to treat addicts.
  2. Remove mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws.
  3. Don’t rely on controlling drug imports from foreign countries. It doesn’t work and is responsible for a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.        
  4.  Experiment with legal regulation of drugs and thus take away the power of organized crime.

America Puts Way Too Many People In Prison
A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would benefit  taxpayers $76.8 billion a year in the United States — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, remainder from other drugs). It is true that many law enforcement lobby groups don’t want to end America’s war against drugs which has cost $1 trillion and counting, but that’s because they’re the reason it’s so expensive. In 2010, a full two-thirds of federal spending on the drug war, $10 billion, went toward law enforcement and interdiction.

Law enforcement rank and file know the truth about the drug war’s profligate and ineffective spending, since marijuana prohibition drives the drug war, these huge costs would end when federal cannabis law changes. Currently, the lawyers, law enforcement officers, and prison systems are the biggest beneficiaries of these laws. Sheriff Tom Allman in Mendocino County, Calif., helped permit, inspect, and protect local cannabis farmers in 2010 and 2011. When asked why, he said: “This county has problems: domestic violence, meth, poverty. Marijuana isn’t even in the top ten. I want it off the front pages so I can deal with the real issues.” Laws that are considered unfair and unevenly enforced weaken trust and faith in our legal system.

As for adult use and how it might change if marijuana laws are relaxed, the numbers are mixed. A 2011 University of California at Berkeley study, for example, showed a slight increase in adult use with legalization in the Netherlands, though the rate was still lower than in the United States. When the United States’ 40-year-long war on marijuana ends, the country and society are not expected to radically change, but we will see a great deal of drug cartel profits move from the criminal economy to the taxable economy. I'm not advocating marijuana and other drugs become totally unregulated only that a more realistic mature attitude towards them be adopted. Some of the taxes from their use should be used to educate people on how not to abuse drugs and use them in a responsible way. It is time we grow up and end this costly war that damages so many young lives.




Footnote;  Below is a post that delves into how the 1930s propaganda film "Reefer Madness" greatly influenced a whole generation and the laws towards marijuana.
              http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/12/reefer-madness.html
                               

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Are We Creating An Orwellian Society?

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_H44IkuSV9qQ/SrxeuPyI7II/AAAAAAAAL34/m8qfFMxSVTw/s320/g20_police_state1.jpg
America was not intended to be this way
One of my biggest concerns about the NSA spying on Americans centered on how much was being spent because if we are spending a lot of money on this consider it a big red flag. It recently came out thanks to information leaked by  Edward Snowden that the "black budget" last year was a massive 52 billion dollars. This is the money used in "secret" spy operations, and it is enough to send shivers down the back of those that have read about the totalitarian society of Oceania described in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Orwell's novel, all citizens of Oceania are monitored by cameras and are fed fabricated news stories by the government. George Orwell paints a nightmarish vision coining several terms such as doublethink, thoughtcrime, and memory hole, these have become part of our vernacular.

Have we opened Pandora’s Box and started down the path to a totalitarian society akin to something out of a novel by George Orwell? Not only is big-brother watching he is leaning on us big time. Oliver Stone the American film director, screenwriter, and producer seems to think so. Stone rose to public prominence between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s for writing and directing a series of films about the Vietnam War, born in 1946 he participated as an infantry soldier in the war. Many of Stone's films focus on contemporary and controversial American political and cultural issues, such as JFK, Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon. Stone is one of the few committed men of the left working in mainstream American cinema and has received three Academy Awards for his work.

Stone recently co-authored an opinion piece that appeared in the Financial Times in July. It was titled "Obama is laying the foundations of a dystopian future". What makes this piece interesting is that it reveals some of the reasoning behind the concerns from those on the far left, libertarians, and even some very conservative republicans that freedom, liberty, and privacy is being sacrificed by big government. This being said if we continue in this direction an Orwellian society complete with big brother and drones hovering overhead could be in our not too distant future. Already many people complain that too many hard to interpret laws exist and that the police and those in positions of authority often apply them unfairly.

Stone points out that on the Presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama lambasted the policies of George W. Bush that had made the US an international pariah, with his wars and contempt for human rights. For us, part of Obama’s attraction as a candidate was that he promised transparency, opposed the Iraq war and repudiated militarism. So it is hard not to feel disappointed. Now it appears to many of his supporters that he now embraces some of the ideas he attacked. This is not just the way that critics on the left see things. Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush’s former press secretary, said: “It’s like George Bush is having his fourth term ... [Mr. Obama] is a hypocrite.”

Stone's article points out that while this administration has, more or less, halted torture, removed troops from Iraq, set a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, paid lip service to nuclear abolition and refused to invade Iran. The president has been more skeptical than most in Washington about intervening in Syria and his efforts to close Guantánamo, have thus far been feeble.  We have learned from the recent revelations made by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden that more than one million Americans with security clearances have been deployed to monitor domestic and foreign populations on a scale hitherto unimaginable. So while he is not Mr. Bush there is a case to be made that Obama is, in many crucial respects, actually worse than his predecessor.

He writes that even as Mr. Obama insists there are safeguards in place to ensure the streams of data and warehouses full of stored records will not be abused; the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appears to be nothing more than a rubber stamp. It approved every request made of it last year. It rejected only two of the 8,591 requests submitted between 2008 and 2012. Let us take the White House’s word that this great power will not be abused. Let us assume the best of Mr. Obama. Even if his administration does not want to trawl through the trillions of emails, photos and phone conversations passing through the NSA there is someone who will. Once such data are collected, it will be eventually accessed. It is a temptation too great.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1935 to 1972, demonstrated the power of spying on Americans over his long and ignominious career. He placed Martin Luther King Jr. and many other people under surveillance to gain the ability to discredit and embarrass them. This proved to be a powerful tool. Future leaders will not need to resort to water cannon and tear gas to stop protesters. Nor will they even need to plant bugs. The NSA now has an interception machine that Orwellian governments could only have imagined. Big Brother technology that has gotten so advanced and so cheap, that the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras are mass produced, almost as if they were disposable.

Stone is concerned that if subtle coercion fails and force is required, Mr. Obama and his successors will have the wherewithal to target anyone, anywhere, with the utmost precision and the deadliest means. The US is establishing absolute mastery over land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, this would mean full-spectrum dominance. We have seen this starting to take form: Mr. Obama pores over weekly “kill lists”. He chooses who to target with drones, new, more sophisticated versions of which are being rapidly developed, and not only by the US. But Mr. Obama and his advisers pay little heed to the fact that these programs create more terrorists than they eliminate. Nowhere is the US more hated than in Pakistan, where drones have killed thousands.

Going further Stone urges caution to anyone who thinks American technological superiority will protect the US. In the 1940s, President Harry Truman believed the Soviet Union was a long way from producing nuclear weapons and that the US would have a long nuclear monopoly. It lasted only until 1949. Stone says the US will be making a similar miscalculation if it deploys drones across the world, sends weapons to space or normalizes cyber warfare. Mr. Obama has become a more amiable and efficient manager of the American empire. And, in the name of national security, he is laying the foundation for a frighteningly dystopian future by combining full-spectrum surveillance with full-spectrum military dominance.

Stone writes that Mr. Obama’s dogged global pursuit of the courageous Mr. Snowden is only the latest shameful case in point. It was almost exactly 60 years ago that Jean-Paul Sartre warned Americans: “Your country is sick with fear ... do not be astonished if we cry out from one end of Europe to the other: Watch out! America has the rabies! Cut all ties which bind us to her, otherwise, we will, in turn, be bitten and run mad!” Mr. Obama, under whom hunger strikers are force-fed and whistleblowers prosecuted with unparalleled ferocity needs to recalibrate before he drives the final nails into the coffin of a once-proud American republic. In my opinion, freedom-loving people everywhere should be concerned, these thoughts on the matter should give Americans something to ponder.

The article by Stone can be viewed at; 
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/de81a466-e40d-11e2-91a3-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2cVawoSVC


 Footnote; As always comments are welcome and I urge you to glance at the blog archives for other post you might find interesting. The following post is related to the NSA and current trends,

                http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/06/governments-spying-on-their-citizens.html
           

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Turning Point?

This post is being banged out on Labor Day, it may be appropriate because it is about money. So many people work hard for their money and even harder to save a bit of it but are lulled into complacency when it comes to protecting it. One of the saddest thing to witness is someone who has worked so hard losing all their money when an investment turns south. This reminds me of the story about how many people describe going bankrupt, slowly at first then quickly at the end. This market has far exceeded the upside expectations of many bulls while the economy has languished and in many respects failed to regain all the ground lost since 2007. The question I put forth is, are we reaching the turning point?

In the past I have written about the unpredictability of predictions so I will spare you having to read another one. A random black swan crashing through your front window plays havoc with the idea of always and never. America and much of the world has been washed along on a wave of freshly printed money and the momentum it creates. Housing and auto sales have flourished, maybe to much on super low interest rates. This mask the reality of serious structural problems within the economy. Washington has failed to make the reforms necessary to make America more competitive, problems have been ignored and allowed to fester.

Job creation has been the weakest seen during any recovery on record, not only not enough jobs have been created but the quality of them is poor. The mark is low pay, no or little in the way of benefits, and many are only part-time. Consumers are not in a position to spent the economy forward and out of this mess. Massive numbers of Americans have been unemployed forever and a day or simply dropped out of the work force giving the illusion that the unemployment rate while a bit high has returned to an acceptable level, it has not. The decay and harm being done and the toll this is taking can be seen on city streets throughout America as building and houses sit empty and unable to be sold. The cost of carrying and maintaining this underused resource is staggering.

This leaves the government with the burden of carrying a large number of people that need help, the projections made years ago had not envisioned such numbers. Noise that the budget deficit is rapidly coming down mislead many Americans into thinking that things will be fine but make no doubt we are still spending far more then we take in, cutting more in the near future will be difficult, and last but not least is that in just a few years as entitlement programs kick in things will get really sticky. Even future budgets based on optimistic projections are ugly. Lies and changing rules such as recalculating how the GDP is figured only takes us further down the rabbit hole.

Congress will soon return from summer break, a thing most Americans would call "a paid vacation" to confront many of the budget issues they have continually kicked down the road. Cutting spending is always unpopular with many Americans who want more from their government but has become far more difficult in hard times and when all indications are that interest rates will be rising. Central banks have been printing money for years with mixed results. Figures show the rich have grown richer while the middle and lower class have been smacked in the chin. The "too big to fail" banks have become a symbol of what is wrong with America.

Let us ice this cake of  "difficulties" with a mix of troubles brewing throughout the world and the drumbeat of war in Syria. Currency games, the carry trade, and money rapidly flowing across borders coupled with computer trading has distorted the markets. Forget all the hocus-pocus from the media and clowns about what historically is the best and worst months for the market or how well the market does when a certain team or party wins this or that. This bull market market has gotten long in the tooth and exceeded the average length they normally run, caution would be in order. It might not be a good time to go double or nothing.



Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest to you. The posts below look at how the budget will again be front and center in just a few weeks and also take a close look at recent growth.
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/08/budget-woes-approching-very-fast.html
                     http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-wrong-kind-of-growth.html

A Terrorist Under Every Bed

Terrorist Attacks Remain Rare Events
Terrorist attacks confirm to many Americans that threats remain and no price is to much to pay in an effort to protect American lives. I caution those who think surrendering privacy and removing our freedoms is the answer, we should not overreact. A gender gap has interestingly emerged as to how people see the government’s anti-terrorism programs, with men being more inclined to think the government has gone to far, it also seems that younger voters, those in their twenties are appalled by the intrusions into our privacy.  

It should be noted that today many Americans have begun to view Snowden as more  of a whistle-blower rather then as a traitor as the White House tried to paint him. What may be more important is the shift among Republicans, the percentage who said government has gone overboard in restricting civil liberties in the fight against terrorism grew to 41 percent in the new poll, this compares with 17 percent three years ago. When you join this group with far left Democrats that are antiwar and adverse to the fascist tendencies of government and with Libertarians who want "less government" the number of people opposed to these programs become quite sizable. As we go forward a question that may and should become the focus of the debate is, what is the actual cost in dollars of these programs and could the money be better spent? This question so far has been grossly ignored.

The following is part of, and contains EXCERPTS from an opinion piece written by Ted Koppel, it was printed in the WSJ on August 7th. The article was titled;  America's Chronic Overreaction To Terrorism, I have dropped away parts of the original printing and simplified it where I could. It should be noted that many of the comments I viewed concerning this article talked about how Koppel was acting as a mouth piece for Obama and his views represent the left and those wishing to leave America open to harm. This is ironic because Obama is in no hurry to stop  the NSA program. We have a bizarre alliance to end the program  that joins the far left that often calls more government action and the Libertarians that want less government.

Koppel starts; Terrorism, after all, is designed to produce overreaction. It is the means by which the weak induce the powerful to inflict damage upon themselves—and al Qaeda and groups like it are surely counting on that as the centerpiece of their strategy. It appears to be working. Right now, 19 American embassies and a number of consulates and smaller diplomatic outposts were closed for the week due to the perceived threat of attacks against U.S. targets. Meantime, the U.S. has launched drone strikes on al Qaeda fighters in Yemen.

In 1998 al Qaeda launched synchronized attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 220 and injuring well over 4,000 people. In October 2000, al Qaeda operatives rammed a boat carrying explosives into the USS Cole, which was docked in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed and 39 were injured. Each of these attacks occurred during the presidency of Bill Clinton. In each case, the U.S. responded with caution and restraint. Covert and special operations were launched. The U.S. came close to killing or capturing Qsama bin Laden at least twice, but there was a clear awareness among many policy makers that bin Laden might be trying to lure the U.S. into overreacting. Clinton administration counter terrorism policy erred, if at all, on the side of excessive caution.

Critics may argue that Washington's feckless response during the Clinton years encouraged al Qaeda to launch its most spectacular and devastating attack on Sept. 11, 2001. But President George W. Bush also showed great initial restraint in ordering a response to the 9/11 attacks. Covert American intelligence operatives working with special operations forces coordinated indigenous Afghan opposition forces against the Taliban on the ground, while U.S. air power was directed against the Taliban and al Qaeda as they fled toward Pakistan.

It was only 18 months later, with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that the U.S. began to inflict upon itself a degree of damage that no external power could have achieved. Even bin Laden must have been astounded. He had, it has been reported, hoped that the U.S. would be drawn into a ground war in Afghanistan, that graveyard to so many foreign armies. But Iraq! In the end, the war left 4,500 American soldiers dead and 32,000 wounded. It cost well in excess of a trillion dollars—every penny of which was borrowed money. Saddam was killed, but what prior U.S. administrations understood, however, was Saddam's value as a regional counterweight to Iran. It is hard to look at Iraq today and find that the U.S. gained much for its sacrifices there. Nor, as we seek to untangle ourselves from Afghanistan, can U.S. achievements there be seen as much of a bargain for the price paid in blood and treasure.

At home, the U.S. has constructed an antiterrorism enterprise so immense, so costly and so inexorably interwoven with the defense establishment, police and intelligence agencies, communications systems, and with social media, travel networks and their attendant security apparatus, that the idea of downsizing, let alone disbanding such a construct, is an exercise in futility. The Sunday TV talk shows this past weekend resonated with the rare sound of partisan agreement: The intercepted "chatter" between al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was sufficiently ominous that few questions have been raised about the government's decision to close its embassies.

It may be that an inadequate response to danger signals that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi last September contributed to an overreaction in the current instance. Clearly, it does not hurt, at a time when the intelligence community is charged with being overly intrusive in its harvesting of intelligence data, that we be presented with dramatic evidence of the program's effectiveness. Yet when all is said and done, al Qaeda—by most accounts decimated and battered by more than a decade of the worst damage that the world's most powerful nation can inflict—remains a serious enough threat that Washington ordered 19 of its embassies to pull up their drawbridges and take shelter for fear of what those terrorists still might do.

Will terrorists kill innocent civilians in the years to come? Of course. They did so more than 100 years ago, when they were called anarchists—and a responsible nation-state must take reasonable measures to protect its citizens. But there is no way to completely eliminate terrorism.The challenge that confronts us is how we will live with that threat. We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves.

Over the coming years many more Americans will die in car crashes, of gunshot wounds inflicted by family members and by falling off ladders than from any attack by al Qaeda. There is always the nightmare of terrorists acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction. But nothing would give our terrorist enemies greater satisfaction than that we focus obsessively on that remote possibility, and restrict our lives and liberties accordingly.
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For once I find myself agreeing with Mr. Koppel,  Mr. Koppel is a special correspondent for NBC News and news analyst for NPR.