Tuesday, October 30, 2007


High Price of Gasoline

Finally, here in Southern California, the cheapest unleaded gasoline costs more than three dollars a gallon. Some of us wonder why and what the government can do to get the cost down. Last night on the TV news I saw the report on the latest price for crude oil. It has reached a new high. Gasoline is made from crude oil and the price of crude affects the price of gasoline.

Why does crude oil cost so much? The same news account reported that the dollar has become cheaper. When the euro was introduced in Europe to replace the various national currencies, it was on a par with the dollar. Now it costs about $1.40 to buy one euro. The cheap dollar helps domestic firms to export their goods. It helps farmers to export their crops. It makes imported goods, like crude oil, more expensive. In time, it will make it less profitable to ship labor-intensive manufacturing operations to countries with low wage scales. There are advantages and disadvantages for a cheap dollar.

Why is the dollar becoming cheap? It's a result of a deliberate policy of the present Bush administration. The administration is running the country partly with borrowed money. Rather than increasing taxes to pay for the cost of the war in Iraq, the administration sells treasury bonds to many foreign countries, such as China and Japan. Eventually this increasing debt tends to make the dollar cheaper. The cheap dollar can be traced to the Bush tax cuts that have created a permanent deficit and caused us to increase the national debt each year by hundreds of billions of dollars.

The tax cuts were justified as (1) gifts to the wealthy supporters of candidate Bush, who deserved a reward for their generosity in funding his campaign in 2000; (2) stimulants to the economy, by putting more money in the hands of the wealthy so that they would be able to invest in new factories and employ additional workers; (3) rewards to conservative ideologues who believe that the government is too big and spends too much money and the way to make it smaller is to reduce its revenue so that those wasteful Congressmen won't be able to spend money on things not specifically called for in the constitution of 1787.

There's a moral in all of this. Perhaps one of these sayings will express it:

What do you think?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007


Belief in the Absolute Right to own and use Property

I've lived a long time and I've known many individuals who chafed and complained about restrictions on the use of their property as well as on the taxes levied against it. As a child I heard a local business man complain in Kent City, Michigan, about government interference and regulation of his lumber business. He complained that "government should leave business alone." I remember, years ago at a cocktail party, a man who complained about the high taxes on his house. It was a nice house and he was a well-clad, affluent man, at least by all appearances. I wasn't very sympathetic about his complaint; I told him that he should be happy that he had the means to pay the taxes.

I have a friend who owned a tract of land in California that he couldn't get to except by hiking. His land was surrounded on one side by part of a national forest and on the other side by mountains. He wanted to farm the land but couldn't because government policy wouldn't permit building a road through the national forest to his land. I don't know how he got the land in the first place. Perhaps he'd bought it before the intervening land became part of the national forest. Perhaps he'd bought it during an administration that was more friendly than the Clinton administration to building additional roads through national forests. Naturally my friend complained about the government regulation that prohibited building the road he needed to exploit his piece of land.

I've never met any of them as far as I know, but I've read about a group of people here in the West who advocate "wise use" of property. These people chafe under restrictions on the use of property intended to protect the environment, endangered species, and fragile ecological systems. I realize as well as anyone that such limitations on absolute property rights can not exist very long unless the local people affected support them. The limitations usually effect developers who can make fortunes by changing the use of a piece of land from pristine wilderness to human residences. The developers have political cash available to support congressmen and other officials who will agree with their "wise use" of the property.

The same individuals who adhere strongly to a belief in the unlimited right to exploit land for profit are the same individuals who object strongly to any popular resistance to their projects for exploitation. They insist that the local sheriff and police departments see to it that any such demonstrators are intimidated and locked up. The same mentality is often found in the officers of a large corporation devoted to processing iron ore into steel. Steel workers should be complaisant; strikers should be beaten and sent to jail. Workers who organize and conduct strikes and other public actions in support of improved wages and working conditions are no better than traitors, for they are trampling on the right of the owner of a company to do whatever he wishes with his property.

In a way, since they seek to destroy property and to change public policy, terrorists are no better than other groups who seek to interfere with the rights of property owners. They, too, must be intimidated and put out of business. A good government is one that does everything physically possible to destroy the terrorists. Destroying those who would interfere with their property rights is more important to the property owners than maintaining a democratic government. A dictator is more efficient than a democracy in marshalling resources to destroy the terrorists.

It is no surprise, then, that the propertied class in this country generally supports the Bush"war" on terror in all its anti-democratic actions.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007


No Agreement on Fundamentals

A long time ago, at Michigan State College, now renamed Michigan State University, I had a course in political science. The professor remarked one day that democracy as we know it is possible only if all political parties are agreed on certain fundamentals. We seem today to be in disagreement on fundamentals. Some of us are so afraid of terrorists and still so shocked by the terrible events of September 11, 2001, that we consider the danger of other terrorist attacks to be something that overrides all other considerations, such as the preservation of civil liberties and the preservation of a republican form of government. We are willing to grant to the Commander-in-Chief unlimited and unwatched power to do whatever he decides is necessary to save us from the terrorists.

Others of us are afraid of our republic turning into a dictatorship in the manner of the Roman Republic 2000 years ago. We fear the arbitrary power of a corrupt dictator more than anything Al Qaeda may do to us. We watch with dismay each new power that our Commander-in-Chief decides to grant to himself. Even though the Commander-in-Chief has a very low popularity rating among the people, the people seem to be nearly evenly divided between those who fear the terrorists or fear the dictatorship. Our representatives in Congress reflect this division in public opinion. The structure of our government makes it impossible for a nearly evenly divided Congress to constrain the Commander-in-Chief. Our constitution was constructed by men who distrusted government and wanted to make it as difficult as possible for their government to do anything. They didn't foresee a President like George Bush who would simply claim a power and ignore anything written in the constitution that would counter the claim.

The logical conclusion is very depressing. The American Republic will follow the example of the Roman Republic 2000 years ago. For the next 400 years or so we will have the Imperial Presidency. Eventually, like Rome, our civilization will collapse. Barbarians who believe in democracy will invade and establish their little republics. I wish I could live long enough to greet them.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007


Robert Reich's New Idea

Professor Reich has written a book titled something like "Extreme Capitalism." He argues convincingly (to me, at least) that we should stop expecting corporations to behave in a manner that benefits society, the employees, etc. We have to remember that American corporations are now competing with other firms all over the world and they must do whatever is necessary to stay in business and please their investors and customers. If it is cheaper to close a plant in the United States, lay off all the workers, and open a plant in China or Malasia or Indonesia with workers that earn only a tenth as much as the laid-off American workers, then the corporation will do it. If not, a competitor will and will then undersell the "good" corporation and put it out of business.

Some fans of globalism argue that it's OK if the American workers are laid off. They can get other jobs. The customers will benefit from the lower prices. The investors will benefit from the greater profits. The change has a net benefit on the American economy.

These fans do not point out the ultimate result of this rush to be globally competitive. The laid-off Americans will indeed find other jobs, but they will be jobs that pay less. Eventually all workers all over the world will have their wages equalized by this process. American workers will earn no more than their Chinese or Indonesian counterparts. We Americans will have to give up our relatively high standard of living. When it is no longer profitable to move jobs overseas, the process of globalization will have produced a kind of stability - a stability in which nearly all of us are miserably poor.

Robert Reich points out that we must apply strict rules and enforceable laws to the conduct of corporations. If we want Wal-Mart workers to receive wages sufficient to put them above the poverty line, we must impose minimum wage requirements, not only on Wal-Mart but on its competitors, such as Target. If we want to prevent American plants from being closed and replaced by plants in low-wage countries, we must impose a penalty, a tax or fee or whatever you want to call it, that is sufficient to make such a change unprofitable. Perhaps the workers laid off should be given money equivalent to several years at their previous salaries to enable them to obtain training for new jobs, or just to enable them to go on living for a while, or to supplement the low wages in the new jobs that they find. Norway imposes such a rule on its corporations.

The idea that capitalism works better if strict, fair regulation is applied than if it is allowed to operate completely free of all government restraint goes against the thinking of may modern economists and politicians. However, I am old enough to know that this idea did not originate with Robert Reich. When I was a child in high school, my father explained to me that our economic system was "regulated capitalism." That was the conventional thinking in the 1920's and 1930's. Robert Reich's great idea is older than he is.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Petitions I have not signed

Over the years I have received many requests by mail to sign a petition in favor of one thing or another. There is an organization devoted to "saving social security" that sends me a petition occasionally. I get petitions to save snow leopards, polar bears, wolves, and other forms of wild life. Just today I received a petition from AARP in favor of "Strengthening the Four Pillare of Retirement for America's Seniors." In case you're wondering, here are the four pillars of retirement:
  1. Social Security
  2. Affordable Health Care
  3. Pensions / Retirement Savings
  4. Supplemental Earnings

A petition to strengthen these pillars has to be addressed to the federal government, particularly the administration of George Bush. Mr. Bush has expressed himself as opposed to government-sponsored social security (it should be private, supported by savings accounts), to government-sponsored health care (except Medical and a shrunk SCHIP program), and to spending government money on anything that might smack of creeping socialism. It is clear to me that, until Mr. Bush leaves office and is replaced with a President with more compassion for the people in need, petitions are a waste of time and good paper. The AARP perhaps should devote its considerable clout to advocating impeachment of the Bush-Cheney team.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


The Right to Own and Control Property

Conservatives believe that the right to own and control property is the most important right established in our federal constitution. We know that the constitution was written by men who owned and controlled property. In fact, they were rich men, with large tracts of land devoted to farming. They were not going to set up a government that had the power to take property from them unless it paid them fair value for it. They also were not going to set up a government that was going to place limits on what they could do with the property they owned.

In those days (1787) the fathers of the constitution lived in a land that was mostly empty, as far as they knew. Of course, there were a few people who lived on the land, descendants of the people who live there at the time of Columbus's voyages. They didn't count. They wrote into the constitution that "Indians not taxed" could not be used in the decennial count of humans to determine the number of representatives each State could send to the federal Congress.

I am wandering off my point. I was inspired to compose this essay by a news item in today's paper about a demonstration on the island of Kauai against the continuing development of the island as a tourist attraction. The natives fear that soon the island will be covered with high-rise hotels and condominiums to cater to the tourists. The pristine beauty of the island will be lost forever. The demonstrators made their point by preventing a new ferry from docking on the island. The ferry finally had to turn back to Oahu with its load of passengers.

Anybody who believes in the absolute right of the owner of a parcel of land to do whatever he likes with it will be severely annoyed if not outraged that the demonstrators were able to stop the ferry and, by inference, stop the flow of tourists that make the development projects very lucrative. Land speculators who bought land with borrowed money will lose their investments if the development projects don't go forward. It's terrible that a "mob" is able to cause them such a great loss.

I don't know what our federal courts will decide about such matters. I suspect that, since a majority of the judges were appointed by conservative Republican administrations, the courts will decide in favor of the land owners and land speculators. They will accept the argument that the demonstrators, the protestors, the opponents of development are not themselves going to lose any money if development proceeds. Therefore, they are not harmed by the development and have no basis for suing to prevent it. In fact, any Kauai native who owns a tract of land that is potentially suitable for development is bound to be able to sell it to a developer at a very good price. Instead of protesting and trying to stop the development they should relax and enjoy it.

I think our belief in the absolute right of a property owner is wrong. It is a belief that has outlived its usefulness. As long as homo sapiens was a rare species and there was plenty of vacant unspoiled land for those who wished to live in unspoiled land there was not harm and a great deal of usefulness in the belief of the absolute right of property. What some millionaire did with his estate wouldn't affect me; his estate was far away or, if not, I could easily find another place to live. We homines sapientes are no longer members of a rare species. In fact, we are now the most numerous warm-blooded creatures on the planet. The planet is going to become increasingly crowded with us. If we are going to get along with each other, we will have to give up the concept of the absolute right of a property owner.

In fact, those of us who live in cities already must accept severe limits on what we can do with the bits of real estate we own. On my 12,000 square feet of land I am allowed to have a house, a garage for a car, a swimming pool, and various beneficial plants. I am not allowed to raise pigs. I am not allowed to play a steam calliope that will waken any neighbor within half a mile of me. I am not allowed to grow marijuana or oriental poppies or coca. I do not "own" the minerals that may be discovered in the earth under my lot.

Our federal courts are always behind the times regarding social and economic questions. The judges were appointed by past administrations, most of whom were interested in maintaining laws and other rules that had been in existence during their early lives. Change comes slowly, too slowly for an old geezer like me who doesn't have time to wait for it.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007


I get no respect from my children

When I was growing up I considered my father to be the ultimate authority on the correct pronunciation and spelling of our language. Of course, his pronunciation was that of the area in which we lived - west-central Michigan, near Grand Rapids. We had some pronunciations that I have since learned are peculiar to that area and to part of Wisconsin. One of them is a word for a small river or stream: "creek." Most people that I know pronounce that word to rhyme with "meek" or "weak." I was taught that it rhymes with "stick" or "crick." I know now that my pronunciation of that word is a peculiarity of a dialect within a limited area.

I was also taught that the following pairs of words are NOT homonyms; that is, they are to be distinguished in pronunciation: whether, weather; while, wile; when, wen; where, wear; what, watt; which, witch; whale, wail. They rhyme but they are not homonyms. The difference is in the initial consonant or consonant cluster: wh- and w- are to be distinguished in pronunciation. In fact, wh- should be pronounced as if it were written hw- as it was in Old Engish.

My children, both daughters, do not have the respect for my pronunciation as I had for my father's. They laugh as Old Dad for his fussing about "wh-" and such. To them and to most radio announcers the "h" in the combination "wh-" is a silent letter and means less than the silent "gh" in such words as night, sight, drought, and taught. At least the "gh" indicates something about the pronunciation of the previous vowel. Night and nit, sight and sit, and so on, are nowhere near to rhyming, although taught and taut are homonyms.

Another pronunciation that annoys me is the insertion of an "l" sound in words like palm, psalm, and calm. I was taught that "l" in those words is a silent letter, which serves only to indicate the pronunciation of the preceding "a." Thus, palm does not rhyme with pam nor does calm with cam. These silent-l words are all words borrowed from Norman French in which the "l" sound had already vanished but was kept in the spelling. There are other "-lm" in English that came from Old English, such as helm and film. In those words the "l" is not a silent letter.

My daughters will read this and nod to themselves about their rather peculiar father.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


About Rush Limbaugh

Again, for the umpteenth time, Rush Limbaugh has shown the world what a stupid idiot he is. He's got all the Democrats that I know or know of excited about his recent tasteless remarks about fake soldiers. Everyone in the Democratic Party, from Harry Reid down to my friends in my Democratic Club are writing and agitating to have Mr. Limbaugh punished. The punishment proposed is to take him off the radio network that supplies news and entertainment to our armed forces.

Why should we Democrats bother with him? Let him continue to speak and be heard, so that everyone will know just what kind of a nut he is. By attacking him, we Democrats are going to make him a martyr. Do we really want to do that - give the ultraconservatives a martyr? It would be far better to let him continue without our comments so that they would have an embarrassment. For us, an embarrassment to our opponents is better than a martyr.

Why are we so dense that we can't simply keep our mouths shut and our pencils and pens put away? The man made a fool of himself, but we have rescued him by our barrage of criticism.

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