Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness is a 1936-1939 American propaganda film revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana. It shows how the drug leads to a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, and even to a descent into madness. The film directed by Louis Gasnier and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors was financed by a church group under the title "Tell Your Children" and was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of using this drug.
This Is The Root Of Many Myths!

We should not underestimate how the propaganda film, Reefer Madness has greatly and quietly influenced the views of a whole generation of Americans towards marijuana also known as cannabis. The film strongly promoted the idea that if a person used or tried marijuana even once they would be hooked on it and that it was highly addictive. This has caused society to view marijuana as a gateway drug and fear it will be the pathway to even worse and more dangerous drugs. As a result of this film, we have generated laws throwing a large number of people that have cultivated, sold, possessed and even used marijuana in prison.

Now with prisons across America bursting at the seams we are finally beginning to question the wisdom of these costly policies. Society is changing and the legalization of marijuana by states in a rush to get tax revenue will most likely have ramifications on other social norms and laws.  Expect the debate to spill over into areas such as laws governing the smoking of cigarettes and age limitations on drinking. For years many people have sought the legalization of marijuana or viewed its use as a victimless crime, this is about to become a reality.

With states hungry for tax revenue expect a rush to clear away legal roadblocks to mainstream it into American life and society. Other taboos may also be rolled back as we become more tolerant and open. Even cities are jumping on the bandwagon and leaping in front of action taken by individual states. This will massively muddy the water as conflicting jurisdictions must hash out what is legal and constitutional. The next few years should end the influence of "Reefer Madness" the silly little film that has held our culture hostage and sparked needless fear of a plant that grows everywhere.

Footnote; The trailer for "Reefer Madness" and the entire movie is available on U-Tube for those interested. As always comments are encouraged. If you have time you might also be interested in a post about how Indiana is going against this trend and toughening laws against this drug, or the cost of our war on drugs. The links are below.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Super Low Interest Rates A Disservice To Housing

I have owned an apartment complex for many years and we are currently experiencing the largest number of vacancies we have ever had. Many houses in the area are empty or under leased. In 2005 and 2006 prior to the housing collapse many people were looking at second homes, for investments or as a vacation getaway, today not only have they shed the extra home many have doubled up with family or friends reducing the need for housing. We are pushing on a string and calling it demand when someone who can barely pay the rent is encouraged by the government to buy a house they can neither afford or maintain. We have a shortage of "qualified" buyers and renters.

I have been busy trying to make sense of the current economy, this is not an easy job. To do so you cannot take what you hear at face value, you must delve below the surface and peel away layer after layer of what is being said. Many of the messages being promoted as common knowledge do not past serious scrutiny. Those of us in the trenches and with our boots on the ground often see things from a different prospective then the economist in their ivory towers, the Washington politicians, Wall Street elite, or the media. As we are told about the new construction of badly needed houses and apartments it seems we may be at that point once again.

Lower interest rates do not necessarily bring the right kind of growth or prosperity, decades of slow growth in Japan is proof of this. Years ago Lee Iacocca who had brought Chrysler back from the brink and made the company once again viable said something to the effect of when you special out all your cars on Monday you have no sales for the rest of the week. You just moved sales forward with no profit. This is one of the sad accomplishments of  the Fed and its low interest rate policies. They have created a false demand that is eating tomorrows lunch today.

When it comes to real estate low interest rates at some point becomes a double edge sword, that effects both the value by making it easier to purchase thus driving up prices, and at the same time allowing more building to take place and increasing the supply. Often we reach or exceed demand, this eventually has a dampening effect on rents and people stop buying it as an "investment". Prices must rise and real estate appreciate more then the natural depreciation from the wear and tear from age or the main driver for owning it vanishes. Oversupply is the bane of real estate and crushes the value of this hard and expensive to maintain commodity.

Like a spoiled child a certain segment of the economy has benefited from the props of low interest rates and an easy money policy. In reality many segments have not, those dependent on interest on their savings have suffered and the same can be said about those forced to compete against these policies. This has the effect of weakening parts of the economy while putting others on easy street. This has distorted markets and created an unlevel playing field. The easy way often does not make society better. Many of the most productive people in the world were driven by a parent that was a tough task master and hardened by adversity. Policies that undercut the real economy are a disservice going forward.

But lets float our attention back to the start of this post. How does the reality of a half empty apartment complex and a slew of empty houses gel with what we hear about soaring rents, the demand for more housing, and more affordable housing? Only those in Washington would be silly enough to think that landlords who had to compete against subsidized housing would be eager to remain in the game or that someone working for a living enjoys paying more for an older apartment then someone on the dole who moves into a brand new unit for a fraction of the cost. By hurting those who have done the right thing the current policies will have long term negitive cost. Everyday we see people move into a new home and leave older neighborhoods thus hollowing out our cities.

Many people find moving easier then repairing and maintaining the homes they have. Low interest rates drive this trend forward. The policy of putting people in older houses that they have no interest or knowledge in how to maintain causes those living around them to flee the visibly decaying area. America has build a lot of housing units over the years, now we must face the fact that they need to be maintained. Policies should be geared to creating jobs by maintaining these units not in making them obsolete. Instead of creating policies to rebuild our cities and housing Washington has doled out low interest money to Wall Street and home builders in an effort to kick-start the economy this has manifested itself in the illusion of growth and rising prices.

Looking behind the curtain we see as a December 20th Bloomberg article titled "Wall Street Unlocks Profits From Distress With Rental Revolution" points out that much of this is being driven by speculative purchases from mega groups. It also leads me to think big business will continue to crowd the average American out of the real estate market. A close look shows many of the future housing starts are multi-family units, these are being built with this cheap money for the markets of tomorrow with little regard for the realities of today. This is a flashing red light warning of danger ahead. America must face its housing problems with long term solutions, this is the wrong kind of growth and encouraging it bodes poorly for the future.

 Footnote; A lot of peripheral issues are clouding reality, including a massive housing bubble forming in Canada and ghost cities being built in China. Below are two other previous articles that may be of interest.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Euthanasia A Dignified Death

Most people would prefer to live a long life, but not too long. There is nothing wrong with a dignified death after a long life. The mores of America are rapidly changing according to those who only a decade ago thought that gay marriage and gays in the military would never become accepted. Sadly ideas like euthanasia and even discrete breastfeeding in public still drive many Americans crazy. With people living longer and technology's ability to extend a person's life well beyond where they feel it has any "real quality" the issue of euthanasia will not go away.

A big problem with the Universal Health Care model in the United States is that we have a much more death-averse and drug-centric mentality than any other nation working such a system. Americans, generally, expect to receive the latest advances in life-extension therapies and life-enhancing drugs. A completely different ideology will have to be established in the relationship between our population and the medical community for this to function in a cost-effective way. Accepting death as part of the natural order would go a long way in solving many of the problems. I contend that a person of reasonably sound mind should have the right to say, "I have had enough! End my life Now!"

In the United States, with its culture of optimism and religiosity, many people want to postpone dying at any cost often including that of pain. Why religious people tend to feel this way is unclear. For some Christians, dying in pain is welcomed or at least endured because it makes them feeler closer to Christ. Others believe that the decision as to when a person dies is reserved to God, this is the stated basis of the official Catholic position that sees suicide as a mortal sin. But not all Americans feel that way and many people who are suffering acutely, anticipating suffering acutely, or find themselves lonely or depressed may want to die.

Teaching and thinking about death without heavy religious connotations often sheds more insight onto life and strip away illusions of one's immortality. Watching an elderly loved one die in pain from an incurable illness or watching a life cut short without notice can bring many issues into focus. The last few grains in an hourglass always seem to rush by faster, we should never take for granted how many good years we have left. Confronting our own mortality sooner rather than later is conducive to living a better and more balanced life, mortality influences our values and feelings about everyday life.

Recent opinion polls show many people want laws changed to allow people to get medical help to die. The word "euthanasia" was first used in a medical context by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, it refers to a painless and peaceful death, during which it was a "physician's responsibility to alleviate the physical sufferings of the body." Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and several U.S. states (Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington). It is quasi-legal in France and tolerated in a number of countries in which it continues to be illegal. Where euthanasia is allowed checks and balances exist to protect against coercion and decisions made by a person depressed or not of sound mind.

Current government laws conflict with the changing views of many citizens. Some people who want to die commit suicide, but others do not out of fear that their attempt will fail and leave them even worse off than before, or because they lack confidence that they can kill themselves discreetly and painlessly. Suicide also carries a huge social stigma, because of the public character of suicide one cannot dispose of one’s own corpse. People who want to die often shy away from committing suicide because of these issues. Even if one argues that by their inaction they actually are choosing to live many would be far better off if they could deal with their problems in an open way.

In the case of physician-assisted suicide, the "stigma cost" of suicide is reduced or disappears, because if a person who wants to die is allowed to choose a lawful form of medical “treatment,” this signals that suicide is acceptable at least when a physician oversees the act. The religious people whom I mentioned will not be assuaged; but religious people shouldn’t be permitted to impose their sectarian values on others, including both religious and non-religious people, who do not share the abhorrence that some religious people feel toward suicide. Allowing physician-assisted suicide could improve many lives by reducing apprehension about the future and at the same time reduce the suicide rate.

The biography of distinguished federal court of appeals judge Henry Friendly reports that he committed suicide in his 80s because, suffering from a variety of ills that were not disabling and did not prevent him from doing his judicial work, he was afraid that he would become disabled and when that happened be unable to end his life though desperately eager to do so. If able to pre-arrange a painless physician-effected death to occur when he reached a specified stage of disability, he would not have killed himself when he did. Euthanasia is thus an option and a less costly one than killing oneself unaided. To me this is a non-issue, the government should not enter this area of individual autonomy and freedom of choice.

   Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for another post that may be of interest. Below is an article that focuses on how the young will be burdened in the future by having to support the older Americans that have been promised so much. Do not be surprised if the young come to embrace euthanasia.

Footnote #2; It appears this issue is becoming more important in China according to the Bloomberg following article.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dangerous World? No Worry, have some pie!

A recent two year budget in Washington has again kicked down the road and delayed the need to make any major reforms. Again we have avoided facing the tough issues. It seems the Republican's new strategy of how to govern the country is becoming clearer every day. It seems they will just try to sneak in the door as "the only other option" when the other worthless bums are tossed out. This clarifies and acts as a reminder that a crisis is often not a crisis. Often it is just a crisis in the making!

A rising issue is becoming income and social inequality, this means the party in power going forward may just be the one that takes the strongest stand against more money flowing into the hands of a small fraction of the top one percent. Whoever wants to win the chance to lead must figure how to give the impression they will corral this top .01 percent while at the same time allowing the middle class and economy the to flourish. With crony capitalist running amuck actually doing this will be easier said than done.

My latest theory after all I have seen and all the frustrations from both the economy and politics is that things will always more or less move forward. This does not mean that they will not take two steps forward and one step back or that the path will always be smooth and straight. To many the world might appear to be in a state of flux and a colossal mess yet we seem to blunder ever forward. Fear not a systematic failure but instead take heart that the sun will come up tomorrow.

Like the dance band on the Titanic that plays as the ship goes down most the people in this world are often oblivious to what is happening around them. This might be considered more proof that those of us proclaiming doom are wrong and that our moronic cries hinge on a heightened sense of fear. Just because you catch someone in a lie does not mean they will stop lying, often the best way to cover a lie is with another, then another, then another.

Escaping our economic morass will most likely take an interesting route going forward. While those in power, the politicians, central bankers, and the infamous one percenters appear to have painted themselves into a corner they also have super powers that allow the constant creation of new exits. Pray tell you might ask. The power of the pointed finger and the placing of blame should never be underestimated for they are indeed magical. So I say to those who see this as a dangerous world, my solution is we should all try to relax and have some pie.

Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest. Below is an article that list the 10 most crucial problems facing the world, if you have time please take a look.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Reason Dismal job Creation Will Continue

Expect dismal job creation to continue, today many forces are coming together that tend to make this the new normal. Over the years as we have become able to produce more with less labor we have seen the fruits of our work improve the lives of many people. Today we enjoy being able to have far more goods and luxury's then at any time in history, but soon we will find ourselves competing with robots for jobs and see many of our options for earning a living swept away. This comes at a time when America looks back at all we have built in recent years and suddenly finds all these things aging and increasingly calling for expensive maintenance.

It does not help that the President and most of Washington lack solid backgrounds in both business and the economy. Obama has displayed this on more then one occasion such as when he validated the job crushing model of "job shifting" by visiting and praising a new Amazon distribution center and by giving kudos to the way Amazon's website works to fill customer needs, this constitutes free advertisement for a damaging business model. While trying to aline himself with big business and what appears on the surface to be a success he cuts away at those that do the real job creation. When we cannibalize and promote one sector of the economy at the expense of another we harm our ability to grow and compete.

Today many people forget that small business is the backbone of America, this is the real job creator and the place where people "with skin in the game" do real work. This is where useful training takes place, where skills are learned and honed. Main Street was built by locally owned family businesses that competed on a level playing field. Giving small business a fair chance has added diversity and strengthened the fabric of our communities.  We need a private sector that builds and maintains things here in America, a private sector developed and grown from small business and "hands on owners" that are rewarded for the risk they take. Real job creation will languish until credit is again given to this key sector of the national economy and the vital resources they provide. 

Over the last several decades a "bigger is better" mentality that often yields huge competitive advantages to larger firms has taken hold. This business model also contains several flaws and is unbalanced.  It tends to suck all the air out of the room killing its competition and using them as its primary fuel for growth. If people do not produce and earn money they cannot consume or pay taxes. It is easy to connect the dots on how this relates to big government and promises made to providing certain benefits to people through what is known as entitlement programs. When things become unbalanced the system can no longer be sustained.

The so called "new economy" risk being no more than a transfer of wealth using a deficit spending government as the conduit. An economy fueled and based on a 52 billion dollar infusion into things like the NSA collecting data on average Americans does little to create sustainable jobs or promote long-term growth. Programs where educational money is spent on providing third grade school children with I-Pads made overseas is not the ticket either. Fact is the whole concept of buying an wireless phone or computer from China then spending on a monthly data plan tend to transfer money into an area that does little to promote a healthy economy.

Many people fail to internalize and consider that the "past cost" of government if not paid results in a carrying cost that is also known as interest on the debt. This can become substantial if allowed to accrual. When it rises beyond a certain point it begins to act as a drag on future growth and the ability to move forward. Often how we view the economy is based on prior performance, if it is not growing each year the momentum is gone. The exploitation of small business through a constant flow of new laws and regulations from Washington comes at a high price that we will be paying for many years.

  Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest. Below is an article that focuses on how society must allocate the rewards of our labor, and also a post about how robots are replacing workers.

More Budget Woes Unaddressed

As we enter the holiday period more budget woes lay ahead only the times and dates are different. Like the remake of a bad movie we have little to look forward to. They may have changed the backdrop and tried to clean up the worse lines but it is the same old bad movie, again. Washington has done a great job of doing nothing. For every reason to take action now they come up with an argument that delay is the best policy considering the weak economy. Leaving the spending issues unaddressed has become the easiest solution.

Back on August 3rd of this year I penned an article saying that America had been lulled with the rest of the world into complacency as we have kicked the can down the road and I continued that as a nation we have yet to feel much pain from the sequester. Not dealing with what we were told was a massive problem has only reinforced the idea that far too much has been made as to the ramifications of an out of control budget going forward.

This time expect the strategy and posturing to be somewhat different, what I'm seeing develop is an "almost surreal" feeling of indifference. Expectations have dropped to such a low level that it appears most Americans no-longer seek a solution but that they only want Washington to do no more harm to the current situation. After some grandstanding and a bit of theatrical outrage both republicans and democrats seem ready to agree to a deal that extends the status quo.

 Footnote; Your comments are welcome and encouraged. If you have time check out the archives for other post that may be of interest. The posts below are my August post on the budget issue that was fast approaching followed by an artical hoping the shutdown would have a positive effect.