Thursday, February 28, 2013

MeanMesa's Sequester Investment Tips

How Long Do I have To Keep Remembering 2008?

For the long, seemingly unending decades of MeanMesa's youth a few unceasingly repetitious bulwarks of investment advice were as dependable as every spring's dandelions in the watermelon patch. They never faltered.  Most the the participants in the American dream in those days probably assumed that they were -- somewhere -- in the Good Book, itself.  In fact, these "American axioms for a future of individual prosperity" were so reliable, anticipated and trusted that the prospect of seeking out any additional possibilities actually amounted to little more than a sort of arcane "hobby."

Investment-wise, the promise was simple.  Just stick to the old tried and true, "simple stuff," and your future would inevitably be "roses, simply roses."  Any one who followed this "readily available everywhere" advice would just about certainly get rich in the end.

Buy real estate.  The value of real estate always increases.  If you somehow buy real estate, and it doesn't evaluate over time, it's your fault.

Invest in the stock market. Sure it's risky, but actually, it hasn't been really risky for years. After all, riding the subway is risky.  There is no possible way for someone like you to ever become a millionaire unless you make a big pile of that money on Wall Street.

Work hard, and save your surplus earnings.  Everything good in the investment world requires personal savings to get started.  If you work somewhere with a pension plan, pay into it.

Get a college education.  After you graduate, you'll be able to get a good job with good pay.  A college education opens up the opportunity for career advances in your future.

There were the "investments" which had most often produced the famous middle class prosperity Americans enjoyed until around the 1980's.  By the time that Ronald Reagan accomplished the now notorious, first penetration of the $ Trillion dollar debt barrier, the economy was already quietly beginning to falter.  Further, although there were booms and busts, that precise kind of "faltering" had more to do with steady state systemics than with the predictable "ups and downs" with which the country had been familiar previously.

This development really occurred along two rather disparate routes simultaneously.

First, a relentless, self-feeding, national wealth redistribution had begun in earnest.  The top money classes of American society had mastered the political techniques they would successfully employ for the following decades.  More than ever before, a new, carefully purchased access to the Congress, the White House and the media would begin to almost imperceptibly funnel economic advantages to the influential.

Second, a rapacious expectation of almost automatic economic success had been firmly planted in the minds and imaginations of those Americans who found themselves either at the lower edge of the wealthy class or even within a "stone's throw" away from it.  The dreamily ambitious middle class rushed to make the traditional wealth building investments mentioned above strongly anticipating that success was just around the corner.

Because such a significant amount of middle class money was flowing into these "investments in the future," because ambitions had become so exaggerated and because the attachment between expectations and risk had rapidly become obscured and inchoate, there were two additional economic phenomena.

Based on the, by then, axiomatic anticipation that economic conditions would simply perpetually improve more and more almost automatically, consumption began to increase faster than additional wealth was being accrued.  This domestic anticipation became an unexamined habit in no time.  At first, previously established domestic wealth was used to purchase ever greater "luxuries and other indulgences" which were consistent with the imaginary improvements in the standard of living.

However, when the previously accrued wealth had been consumed, it was replaced with debt.  At this point, consumer debt began to support the costs of these continuing, ambitious expectations -- and unsustainable levels of consumer purchases.  The money class stood by anxiously eager to provide this credit.  We now see the inevitable results.

Of course there was unsustainable domestic consumption, but what about the "big ticket" items listed above?  A new toaster, washer, automobile or extravagant vacation could certainly undercut a middle class family's finances, but not with the same gravity as the five and six digit borrowing required to participate in our list of "solid investments."

An uninsured medical emergency, on the other hand, would represent a "fifth" addition to the wealth wrecking list mentioned above.

The Two -- or Maybe Three - Horned Beasts
 Goring the Soft Underbelly of Economic Recovery

Nestled in what we hope is the "mid-term" period of this endless Republican Recession, it's easy to adopt a few mistaken conclusions.  If any of these "ring true" with your own thinking on these matters, don't be too hard on yourself.  The oligarchs have invested literally millions and millions of their "hard earned" dollars to misdirect, obfuscate, confuse and obscure the facts behind the economic disaster.

Let's take a look at some of the more commonly held misconceptions.  These are some of those mistakes.

Mistake 1:  The current catastrophe began in 2008.

Yes, 2008 was the year that the blood actually began to flow, but what we're in right now started decades before that.  For convenience, we can say that the present disaster is the inevitable, contemporary "mature" state of the catastrophe, but we must also rush to add that the fundamentals lurking below this intractable mess can quite comfortably be anchored with the Reagan years.

Remember the Reagan years?

Just think of them as the date of birth for the now infamous "trickle down" economic voodoo plan.

Right now, we would have a hard time remembering the disaster of 2008 had it been a traditional "adjustment."  It wasn't.  Further, had that disaster been even somewhat "traditional," our economy would be raging out of this mess in a "traditional" economic recovery cycle.  It isn't.

Mistake 2:  The economy is wrecked because of government spending.

Wait a minute.  All we hear on the commercial media is that the economy has been wrecked by government spending.  Every Republican who has staggered up to a microphone for the last five years had parroted exactly the same "talking point."

"We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem."

Think for a moment.  Exactly why has this idea, so to speak, "grown so many legs?"

To answer this question, we need look no further back than to the beginning of this talking point.  The day before this talking point was hatched in a neo-con think tank, the talking point was "jobs."

Of course, the "jobs" talking point served well as a sort of populist distraction and as a road weary topic for "fly by" water cooler conversations. The viral utility of this well crafted deception lasted long enough to throw the 2010 Congressional election into the quivering hands of the overly ambitious, but tragically synthetic, tea baggers.

One week after that election, it became painfully clear to the House leadership that it was, unquestionably, foolish to count on these unruly tea bags for any sort of rational legislative work whatsoever.  That legislative work would, of course, have included any effort, no matter how modest or arcane, which might ease the "jobs" problem.

Even a comatose 19th Century loyalist like John Boehner could see that the voters had already grown dangerously tired of the lack of progress on the "jobs" talking point literally hours after their first glimpse of the endless stream of tea bag House bills obliterating ObamaCare, recriminalizing abortion, prohibiting Sharia Law in Oklahoma and so on.

This development cast a sudden shock-wave through the meticulously groomed public opinion ontology in which the oligarchs in charge of the Republican Party had invested so much.  What followed was a wonderfully entertaining, yet morosely awkward, attempt to somehow surgically attach "jobs" to "spending."

After bumbling around with this nearly impossible mission for a month or two, the "jobs" thing was trashed in favor of a full court effort at just the "spending" thing. This interregnum in public opinion manipulation failed because the message, if there actually was one, turned out to be utterly incomprehensible to the public.  One thing we know about oligarchs is that they are always ready to "cut their losses."

Mistake 3:  Things will return to how they were before.

In the wide spread absence of understanding for the scope of the collapse, the decades of constant corruption which led to the current emergency and the grave degree of wealth redistribution which had accompanied it, the default metric employed by voters to gauge the economic recovery became the "restoration of conditions previous to the collapse."

Voters wanted to know when they would get their old jobs back, when their pay checks would look like they did before the massacre, when their houses would once again be worth what they had paid for them and so on.   Even Republican voters.  Even tea bags.

There were a few unguarded words to the point that the "jobs lost in the catastrophe would not be returning," but, when no one really liked the sound of that, the rhetoric was instantly replaced by the far safer and easier fabricated memes of simply bashing the President or lamenting that the sides -- now actively touted as being equally to blame -- "couldn't just get along."

When unemployment drops to roughly its traditional level and the annual deficit subsides to some figure roughly similar to its traditional level, this will end.  However, the country which emerges from this will not be particularly similar to the one inhabiting the imaginations of Americans.

The violent wealth redistribution will remain a "settled fact" in the aftermath, as will be paralysing divisiveness so carefully installed the cripple the political process which might have, in better times, threatened the over riding scheme of the oligarch class we now see unfolding.

The American economy will see further retraction in organized labor, voter enfranchisement, wealth equality, individual opportunity and so on.  There is, as of now, no factor in the visible field which can alter this outcome much.  The Dow may be at an all time high, but the economic fundamentals for the majority of the country hold little promise for the future.

We may well be able to re-establish a more or less stable state, but we will not regain the competitive prowess of even a decade ago or make much progress toward solving the relentless drift toward more and more upward wealth redistribution.

Mistake 4:  Buy real estate or invest in the market.

The advertisements making this suggestion, especially to younger Americans, are, frankly, horrifying.  If learning the lessons of the last thirty years are too exhausting, learning the lessons of the last ten may not be such a "heavy lift." 

The collapse which materialized after the 2008 debacle instantly reduced the wealth of most Americans by around 40%.  The message of that collapse was that there is nothing which can be done politically to prevent the same forces who now "own" all that money from doing it again whenever they like.

The oligarch class may wait until the "investment barrel" is once again filled before they empty it, but the die is cast.  Elizabeth Warren notwithstanding, the banksters have flourished mightily from this last, most outrageous so far, "barrel emptying" move, and they will not be inclined to forsake the opportunity to repeat it in the future.

This dark forecast encompasses both investments in real estate and in the stock market.  Both reservoirs of wealth were effortlessly emptied, and both reservoirs remain just as susceptible to being emptied again in the future.  The risk of even a very rational investment in either has careened beyond what might be encountered at a gaming table in a crooked, Mafia operated casino.

This advice might have led to an awkward question in past years: "If not real estate or the market, then what?  Where should I put all this money?"

The very discouraging fact is that few of the Americans who would have traditionally been or would have become investors have any money to invest.  While productivity has steadily increased -- along with the profits for the oligarch class who benefit from it -- the flow of wages to more middle class Americans have been stagnant.

The chart below explains the reciprocal nature of the wealth redistribution.  Productivity increases the flow of potential investment capital to the inactive, non-participating coffers of the oligarch/corporate class.  Increased profit is directed at further increases in that upward flow.  Importantly, the more that wealth is concentrated in those purposefully sequestered coffers, the more the economy suffers.

 As the wealth consolidation of this upper class becomes more and more segregated from the mainstream economy [current estimates are that more than $2 Tn worth of ready cash is pocketed away by corporations, mostly off shore], what had previously been a massive potential investment reservoir is now basically empty.  Worse, members in the middle class now have essentially no confidence that such an investment risk is a reasonable one.

What looks like Productivity and Wages is actually fundamental wealth redistribution       (image source)
The "40% number" used to define the scheme's dramatic impact on middle class wealth can easily drift to hyperbole, but the blood soaked reality of it is becoming  unavoidable.  Meanwhile, the middle class is being patiently persuaded to continue to pretend that this either never happened at all, or, at least, that it didn't happen to them.

All this leaves two very troubling "visitors" attending the economic recovery.  First, the potential for profiting from a real estate investment is no longer based on the idea that the entire economy is prospering.  Instead, it is based exploiting  the loss incurred by someone else who lost everything with a mortgage for an artificially high priced house.

Second, the maelstrom on Wall Street is now essentially one which excludes all players who didn't rake in the grotesque gains during the bubble.  No one else has the money -- or the trust -- to play poker there.  The "rotational velocity" of the money already in the market may continue to increase -- hence the record high DJA of today -- but the prospects for a middle class, long term investor are in shambles.

The generational durability of the disaster is also often underestimated.

There are literally millions of young people across the country who would have -- in better times -- been building wealth for all sorts of possible uses.  They aren't.  Worse, they haven't been for decades.  They aren't buying houses or cars because they have neither the savings nor the credit nor the confidence.  They don't have usable health insurance, and they have nothing similar to the employer pension and retirement plans of past years.

Mistake 5: It's worth any price to get a college education.

While union busting is a foundational part of the oligarch scheme, an even more sinister side of the destructive ambition is found just below the obvious.  There are political advantages from the destruction of organized labor's potential in campaigns, but the underlying ambition is far more general.

Union or not, the oligarchs will not rest until they have orchestrated the unilateral deprofessionalization of every credentialed worker possible.  This has naturally extended into the realm of higher education.  The monied class will approve of an education for middle class folks but will not countenance the creation of specialists of any type which can resist the relentless lowering of all incomes other than those of Wall Street.

The President has made some small headway in reigning in the rapacious interest scams for student loans, but even this relief is superficial.  The $ Tn dollar student loan debt may be a real "profit center" for the money handlers, but controlling the future economic success of graduates is the clear shining prize.

The inevitable result of this can be seen everywhere.  The college graduate enters the work force already hobbled with only a small chance for a job in his field as he competes with much cheaper foreign labor, a mountain of college loan debt and, even if he can find work in his field, a pay check paying a salary of $10 or $12 dollars per hour.  They don't save to buy a house or a new car.  They live with their parents.

This all may sound like the forlorn fiddle solo in a tragic movie, but consider the numbers.  There are millions of both college graduates and other young people earning significantly less than it takes to live.  They have been struggling along like this since the 1980's.

What had previously been a constantly swelling reservoir of wealth to invest in the future has been hollowed out and redistributed.  The point here is that these lost years will not be reclaimed. 

How could they?

Even if we tried?  Even if we dedicated an immense amount of resources and political effort to it?

This is the great multi-generational "hollowing out" which inevitably accompanies such a devastating wealth redistribution and consolidation.  The economy which is left after suffering this kind of "across the board" looting will resemble the economy which entered it very little.

It may seem as if we took our eye off the ball in 2010, but actually we pretty much quit paying attention in the 1980's.

We have to remember all of this when we look at the feeble, faltering economic recovery.  Comparing it to the glory days of our past is just as irrational as comparing our future to the same glory days would be.

Oh don't forget about the oligarchs (Courtesy of Daily KOS)

The game is real.  If we lose completely, the oligarchs will own everything that's left standing.  If we hold our own, we'll have a place to live -- just a place with far fewer, much more modest dreams that before.

MeanMesa's "sequester investment tip?"

Just go to the casino.  The odds are better.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How To Keep From Being Hit By An Asteroid

2013: Asteroids, Meteors and Cataclysms
Without Any Astro-Physics

Amazingly, the entire world watched the rather startling videos of the meteor collision in Chelyabinsk, Russia, and immediately settled back into our famously durable, well tempered stoicism almost at once. One day later, the entire event was no longer urgent enough to elicit so much as a hopeless sigh around water coolers scattered all across the globe.

Naturally, MeanMesa was drawn to the story as eagerly as a horsefly tracks down a pig sty on a hot Kansas afternoon. Further, since all the "big boys with their telescopes and slide rules" had already exhausted all the cosmic mathematics and the dirty shirt preachers had, likewise, exploited and served up more than enough heady, Mosaic astronomical eschatology, there was very little left on the plate in which a high desert blog might "sink its teeth."

The result of this unfortunate circumstance is the following four part post.  Let's have some fun.

Part One: A Very Brief, 5,000 Year History
 of Past Meteor Collisions

On a very pleasant evening of June 29, 3123 BCE, a couple of Mesopotamian astronomers were busy scratching cuniform symbols on a mud disk. The effort was, almost undoubtedly, a part of a larger program financed at the time by some Sumerian king.  The ancient Sumerians were heavily invested in the religious advantages which could be garnered through the careful use of astronomy and, at the time, its quite well respected sister, astrology.

Naturally, these ancient astronomers has no way of arriving at a date such as a the "3123 BCE" because, as far as they were concerned, the world had simply not yet gotten the slightest hint that the current days and years were actually "before anything."  In fact, these early astronomers also didn't have so much as an ancient inkling that it was even June.

What we know about this evening's observations now is derived from an exact artifactual copy of the original astronomers' diary which was made in 700 BCE or so. An archaeologist dug this famous copy out of the ruins of castle in the ancient city of Nineveh, Iraq.

The diary of the astronomers. (image source)
These Sumerian astronomers observed and noted the over head transit of an unusually bright object on their planisphere.  It turns out that they had seen the arrival of what is now know as the Kofels Asteroid.

Once the thing had passed over the horizon it continued on until it hit the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps near the modern city of Kofel.

Scientists now assume that the asteroid had been completely vaporized before the cataclysmic explosion in the atmosphere, but there was plenty of energy released which obliterated a sizeable chunk of the mountain top and launched those rocks high into the stratosphere.  The other geophysical consequence was a regional "impact winter" which lingered under the dust cloud for a decade or so.

The Kofel meteor is estimated to have been roughly twenty times larger than the 60m meteor which devastated Kungusta, Russia, in 1908.  Enough astrophysics. After all, MeanMesa promised.

From a more populist view, however, there were very few historical similarities between the Kofel impact and others which have occurred while anyone was watching.

Naturally, the Sumerian astronomers couldn't see any evidence of what happened thousands of miles away in the Alps.  In fact, although quite educated as Sumerians went, they had no idea that there were any Alps.

Right here, our story shifts entirely away from physical fact and enters into a fascinating "geo-conceptual" cloud which turns out to be remarkably more durable than the "impact winter" was.

By the day following the astronomers' night observation of the  meteor, a few hundred tons of the biggest, still red hot, Austrian rocks launched from that mountain in the distant Alps began to land on a couple of previously nondescript little towns thousands of miles to the East, Sodom and Gomorrah.

June 30, 3123 BCE turned out to be an absolutely horrible day for them.

Part Two: The 5,000 Year Story of the Story

Importantly for this part of the post, while this marked the end of the story for the asteroid, the mountain in the Alps and, predictably, for Sodom and Gomorrah, it also marked the beginning of an incredibly useful story carefully pieced together by the authority -- and allegory -- loving patriarchs of the local pre-Jewish goat herders in the near by regions.  Of course, various, sequentially modernized versions of the tale have gleefully served to "prove" all manner of convenient things for the contemporary inheritors of that Bronze Age patriarchy and their perpetually eager, "authority loving" congregations even up until today.

A quick review of the "3123 BCE" idea, by the way, also reveals that the world of mythological "discovery" was still stuck, waiting in line, for the next 25 centuries for the Persian prophet Zoroaster to repackage the evil Egyptian god Sett into the more manageable Ahriman, thus creating the modern devil or Satan.  The modern destination for the now completely rewritten Sodom and Gomorrah story would rely on the associated concepts of "sin" and "hell" to really flesh out the tale to its current, dramatic, Old Testament splendor.

As this useful story journeyed from "oral tradition" to Canonized Biblical "fact,"  not only the original "news report" had to be embellished in persuasive ways, but the imaginary nature of the two vaporized villages also had to mature.  Although it may be somewhat difficult for a modern urbanite to even comprehend what those old towns might have looked like on the 28th of June, we can extract a clue from a picture of the likely site as it appears today.

50 Centuries later, the old magic of the place has dimmed. (image source)
As this relentless Holy embellishment proceeded, a "nip" here and a "nip" there, until, say, the 19th Century, artists dutifully stepped up to the plate to contribute their own effort at "keeping the old tale alive."  Sunday school children would be made far more obedient by the image below than by the image above.

Sodom and Gomorrah of the 19th Century tourist brochure. (image source)
As time wore on even further, this durable story was discovered to also present an even  more sanguine profit opportunity, one even beyond its already well proven capacity to terrify superstitious Dark Age farm boys.  In no time, as it bumbled its way through the magic of Hollywood, the story of the old villages had become an alluring, narcotic, x-rated mix of every modern fantasy which could be transported behind the private safety of locked bath room doors by a 20th Century urban teen age boy.

Sodom and Gomorrah in the sexy, Holy, Hollywood Version (image source)

Painfully returning to the title of this post, if any of this 5,000 years of nonsense offers up a suggestion about how to "avoid being hit by a meteor," -- even though it has been great fun -- MeanMesa has no idea what that might be.

Part Three: How to Keep
 From Getting Hit by a Meteor

For this third part, we'll have to indulge ourselves with a short vignette from MeanMesa's Future History Series.  We find ourselves listening in on a shiveringly cold night somewhere in what used to be Idaho. It's the spring of 2051.  An elderly, wizened gentleman is speaking with his young grandson.

"Go ahead and throw another log on the fire, Jim.  We can get warmed up good before we go to bed -- and if the fire's just a little brighter, we can save this candle your Mom made."  The old man settled into his chair by the fire.

"Do you think that they're all right?" Jim asked.

"Oh sure.  Your Dad packed plenty of warm blankets, and they can stay out of the snow in the back of the wagon, under the cover.  They'll be fine.  He planned to be at your aunt's in Moscow by tomorrow night.  Thirty five miles might seem like a long way, but this time of the year, the road's pretty good and there's plenty of grazing for the ox.

See, it's getting warmer in here already.  Before the Big One, we heated this place with natural gas, burned in it in that old furnace downstairs. With that going on, it'd stay warm in here all night." He reassured his grandson.

"Grandpa, you know Mom doesn't like it when you tell me about technology before the Big One." Jim stated righteously.

"That's right, but I think you still need to know at least a little about how things used to be.  Let's see.  You're eight now which means that you were born about five years after it happened.

Now that things are beginning to get better again, you know, now that the sun's started shining again, and the winter doesn't last all year long, life is sort of coming back to normal.  Why, your Dad even grew some fresh vegetables outside last year.  Those were extra yummy, weren't they?"  The old man smiled.

"Man, they sure were!  This year I'm old enough to help Dad grow even more stuff!"  The boy gazed into the darkness for a moment.  "Mrs. Simpson said that the Big One was God's punishment.  She said that it caught all the sinners by surprise."

"Heh, heh.  No, it sure wasn't any surprise.  We knew it was coming for a couple of years or more.  And, it was an asteroid.  That idea that it was God punishing the world is crazy.  Lots of people thought things like that before the Big One, but hardly anyone thinks so any more.  It didn't just 'drop in' from outer space unannounced.  It was a couple of days earlier than the scientists thought, but they were pretty close.

See, there used to be around seven billion people living here -- all over the world.  At least that was the way it was the day before the 12th of August, 2037.  On the 13th, there were about two hundred million.

The Big One came in low, grazing over the North Atlantic, and it was so hot that it created a huge rain cloud as it evaporated the ocean.  It finally hit in Eastern Poland.  Even though that was a long ways away, everyone everywhere could feel it.

Poland was a country on the Eastern side of an old continent we called Europe.

By the next day, everything in Russia, India and China was on fire.  That afternoon the wave got back here to where we were living.  Our old country was called the United States, but it was a lot bigger then.  There were states stretched way out to the East, but the wave came in as far at the Rockies and pretty much wiped out that part.  

The mountains out there are the Rockies.  We were lucky to be on this side." The old man gestured off to his left.

"It must have been really scary." The boy mused, wide eyed.

"If we had known more about what was going on, it would have been.  But, it was over so fast that no one really understood what had happened."  The old man replied.  "Afterwards, things got worse and worse for a long time.  Now, finally, things are beginning to get a little better again."

"Mrs. Simpson said that it was God's will, and that nothing could be done to make it turn out otherwise."  Jim offered.

"Well, that's the part that sort of gets up my nose.  See, if we'd had our act together, we could probably stopped it, avoided the whole thing."  These words just seemed to drift from the old man's mouth.

"WE WHAT??!!"  The youngster was clearly flabbergasted.  "We could have stopped it??!!  Why didn't we stop it??!!"

"Well, yes.  In those days we had the kind of science and technology that we would have needed to stop it.  Of course, all that's gone now, but back then, sure, there were all sorts of plans to stop it.

The people who were in charge of the world back then thought that it would be better if they got all the money that it would have cost to go ahead and stop it.  Even though she didn't know what she was doing, well, they convinced people like Mrs. Simpson that it was too expensive, too.  So, no one did anything.  In fact, we didn't even try.  I assume that all those people died rich.  Of course, that old kind of money wasn't worth anything after the Big One hit us."  The grandfather sighed.

Part Four: How to REALLY Keep
 From Getting Hit by a Meteor

If a hysterical effort to perfect the previously proposed "sin free" life to avoid God's wrath isn't a convincing alternative, what, exactly, is left?

Happily, the answer is plenty.

It would be foolish to think that instituting a rational response to this reality needed to include any cooperation by all the "Mrs. Simpsons" of the world.  Of course we will save them as we save ourselves, but we can hardly expect them to be interested in helping.  We should also not anticipate that the folks these "Mrs. Simpson" types keep electing will be much help either.

At least this one made the commercial "news."

Chelyabinsk Meteor (image source)

Now, in terms of "not getting hit by a meteor," the next step is hardly brain surgery.  We have plenty of money, plenty of scientists, plenty of physicists, plenty of astronomers, satellite makers, orbital calculation experts and no shortage of forward thinking NASA program managers.

If we wanted to avoid that troubling conversation with little Jimmy, we would be paying really close attention to voting, candidates, politics, platforms and generally running our government.  We would want the very brightest, innovative folks we could find formulating plans, detecting threats and making decisions about applying all the advantages mentioned above to bring our national -- and global -- assets to bear on the problem which could effortlessly wipe us out in twenty four hours.

Naturally, one of the first places we would look to see this quality of leadership in action would be the Chairman of the US House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee.  The Chairman of that powerful Committee might, in fact, be one of the smartest and most talented people in the entire government.

We'd all feel so much more secure, knowing that we had done our best to protect little Jimmy's future.

Congressman Lamar Smith, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman

Meet Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Science Committee.  His WIKI bio includes:

Lamar Seeligson Smith is the U.S. Representative for Texas's 21st congressional district, serving since 1987. The district includes most of the wealthier sections of San Antonio and Austin, as well as some of the Texas Hill Country.

We can add a few other "illuminating facts" here.  Mr. Smith is a Christian-Scientist, a fact which sounds consistent with his House Committee Responsibilities, but actually, of course, isn't.   Mr. Smith is a vocal global climate change denier with the predictable affinity for the interests of the Texas oil oligarch class.

There's more.

Mr. Smith is an energetic, unrepentant tea bagger who has made all manner of embarrassing Old Testament proclamations about political issues.  Although there were voices -- including Republicans growing nervous about the heavily soiled shambles of the Party's image -- urging House Speaker Boehner not to appoint him to the Chairmanship of the Science Committee, MeanMesa has to assume that the "runners up" for that appointment were even more embarrassing.

Finally, someone told Mr. Smith that a meteor had hit Russia.  He's decided to hold a Committee hearing.

You get the idea.


Friday, February 15, 2013

MeanMesa's Urgent, Heartfelt Apology to the Owners of the GOP

To:  Owners of the US Republican Party
c/o Goldman-Sachs, Building Security
200 West Street
Lower Manhattan
New York City, New York

Subject: Heartfelt Apology and Urgent Request
to Allow Appointment of a Secretary of Defense

Dear Sirs:

Did you get the letter? (image source)

We have purposely addressed this letter as anonymously as possible because we have concluded that placing any specific names on the envelope, a tragic mistake we have made in the past, might only increase the difficulties we have thoughtlessly caused you already.  Consequently, we have taken the liberty of simply depositing this envelope very quietly on the side walk leading up the doors of the New York G-S Headquarters building in the hopes that building security will forward it to you.

First, we would like to offer our most sincere apologies for our recent actions, most notably the horribly wrong manner in which we cast such a majority of our 2012 election votes.  By way of an explanation we can offer only this woefully inadequate account.  During the election we were led to believe that we would be electing the candidates we voted for on our ballots, and that those candidates, once elected, would be in charge of running the government.

What were we thinking?

That was just wrong on our part.  There is absolutely no possible way to excuse what we have done.

Now that the smoke has cleared a bit, and our cooler sides and common sense have once again begun to control our thoughts, we realize that we were deceived.  Oh sure, there were election majorities for Democrats in the House and Senate, but how -- and why -- did we so incorrectly assume that you would allow the elected candidates to impair your own completely legitimate, free enterprise, patriotic, liberty, business  agendas?

So, please accept our apology.  We are good people at heart, and we were just swept away by the deceptions and misdirection of the Democratic campaign -- all those false promises and all that utterly unacceptable ideology.  

Why, in fact, there isn't a single rebellious bone in my body.  I, for one, never wanted to be defiant or unruly at all.

Just like most Americans we want to serve you in every possible way, and we feel absolutely horrible about casting all those ballots for candidates whom you couldn't ever possibly have approved.

It was an honest mistake.  It really was.

Now, having all this out of the way, there remains one small matter with which  you could really help. We realize that you and your friends are very much invested -- of course, quite legally and legitimately, I must add right here -- in the multi-national sorts of business and investments which are beyond the understanding of people of my own class.

Because of this, I'm sure that you've all taken whatever steps were necessary to protect your own assets and investments.  However, for the rest of us, there is still the very small matter of our national security -- a concern which could be made much more comfortable if you were to allow us to have a Secretary of Defense.

It's no surprise that one of those candidates we so wrongly supported, in this case, President Obama, has offered up a nominee who is completely unsuited for your own needs in terms of military procurement and profitable foreign military adventures.  Naturally, you issued orders to your Senators to stop this mistake before it caused any dents in your profit and loss statements.

Since that nominee cannot become Secretary of Defense and run the Pentagon, we were hoping that you would slip the name of an acceptable corporate alternative to the President.  In this way, both of our concerns could be met with the very least amount of confusion.

As compensation for this kind act, all the signatories on this letter pledge -- on our sacred honor, of course -- to always vote for your candidates from now forward.  We fully understand how seriously you take such a promise, so don't worry a bit -- we've got your back on this one.

Thank you all very much.


MeanMesa and friends

Monday, February 11, 2013

American Democracy: No Debate, No Checks & No Balances

A Few Fundamental Responsibilities of Citizens

Theoretically, the American democracy was designed to rise to all challenges.  There were no foolish expectations that Americans would simply "get along" as the Republic moved ahead through its life time.  The ingenious mechanism at the foundation of our Constitution was intended to guarantee that no matter what sort of challenge we might face, our structure of government could successfully host our efforts to resolve it while respecting our fundamental commitment to egalitarian participation in the direction of things.

The ancient nation which adopted that Constitution enjoyed a few equally fundamental qualities which we seem to have conveniently forgotten.   One notable example was that the citizens of that early Republic were vividly interested in its success.  In those early days there abounded a great cultural memory of the pre-Revolutionary conditions and the price paid for liberation.

In, say, 1800 this served as a platform to compare, well, everything.  Citizens were innately interested in all things about the government --  policies being developed, decisions being made, debates between politicians, dealings with other countries -- because there was simply no way for them to not fundamentally value their responsibilities in the democracy and respect the tenuous idea that they were, in cold reality, charged with running the thing.  This was not a high flung sort of responsibility, either.  These citizens knew that they "were on the hook" to either make the democracy work or lose it.

Just about everyone in the country had seen first hand exactly what forces were standing by to retake control.  The British may have been the new nation's most visible antagonist, but it was no secret that there were others also lurking in the near by shadows.

Having invested almost without limit in the instruments and institutions of our national security, we no longer peer nervously at our ambitious neighbors.  We, as citizens, haven't had this type of concern for years.  Perhaps the last real instance of worry in this shade came after the Pacific fleet was destroyed in 1941, but even that calamity only strengthened the national resolve to fight for the West Coast if things came to that.

Moments during the Cold War with the old Soviet Union may have been even more darkly threatening, but by that time the threat was no longer graduated or particularly subject to opinion.  It had become absolute.

The point here is that during such times, the United States citizen turned out to be remarkably well versed in the details, facts, estimates, theories, politics and events of the moment as well as also having a profoundly insightful understanding of the "Big Picture" which accompanied such daunting instances.  Of course there were "differences of opinion," but there were seldom deeply seated "differences about the facts."

2013 finds this situation altered in some interesting ways.

Checks and Balances 
When There Are No Checks and Balances

The recent flurry concerning the President's order for drone assassinations of ex-patriot American traitors offers an immediate and chilling illustration.

Amid the predictable feeding frenzy over this issue, MeanMesa watched an uncommon rush to common purpose between the bigots and the hill billies of the Republican base.  Worse, the "red meat" treat also found plenty of volunteers among the more progressive voices.

In literally no time at all, every loyal, patriotic American citizen -- you know, the ones who find time to vote in almost every other election -- was horrified with the possibility that a drone was headed right to the house where they were sitting, eating cheezoes and watching television.

Clearly missing in all this furor was a single voice obliged to call it all what it was: ridiculous.  What's left of the last remaining check and balance process around here, elections, would correct such an over step very quickly.  Granted, voters would have to actually do something, but, well, confronted with such a situation, they might.

Still, the "slippery slope" hyperbole was being gulped down like a chocolate milk shake.  In fact, at the time of this post, that milk shake isn't even half finished yet.

Hysterically, there has even been talk of requiring the Congress to authorize such specific killings.



That would be the same Congress that just cut US carrier deployment in the Gulf from two to one in order to save money.  (Read the story here.)  This while the blow hards are still thumping their chests for war with Iran -- which happens to be "the other side" of the Gulf.

So, things would be much better if the black man had to run to Capitol Hill for permission to use the drones every time, right?  MeanMesa is sure that the target for that attack would wait patiently by his car until all the details got handled.

This is the Congress with a Senate permanently paralyzed by political filibusters and a House with barely enough time to pass 31 bills obliterating ObamaCare, gut Social Security, loot the Post Office pension and still become experts on vaginas, rape, abortion and austerity.

The Republican Party message is clear enough.  "Because of the way WE are, you can't trust anyone!"

Now, sure enough, even the Americans who decided they could trust the President, after listening to the constant fear mongering of the other side, have decided that they couldn't trust the President.  The "reinforcing" message right behind this is also oozing out of the scaredy cats.  "You may be able to trust this President, but what if someone like Perry, Santorum or Cain became President?  Then what?"

Well, what then?

The "what then?" question only begins to intimidate us when we continue to think that there is simply nothing we can do for any other outcomes.  While this stoic hopelessness has been a well financed meme of the GOP for several elections, it is utter nonsense.  If the electorate remains as uninvolved and uninterested as it currently is, we could shortly face a very material version of this hypothetical construct.

This idea goes along with the notion that politics, elections, policies and the like just happen.  They don't.  Whether we are ready to accept the responsibility or not, we create those things.  This is a democracy.

Just having someone available to blame for our own national mis-steps doesn't change the facts.  As citizens, we sign off on everything that goes on in our democratic government.  If we don't like it, we change it -- we don't just complain endlessly.

A Few Conclusions Might Help

First, we really have to disabuse ourselves of the whimsical possibility that the Congress can or will function.  It doesn't function.  In fact, there isn't much of any reason remaining to assume that it will ever function again.

Second, the GOP's House and Senate "war experts" aren't.  They're bigots.  They are obsessed with "correcting" the last "check and balance" process by undercutting the President.  If that happy dream of theirs includes undercutting the Republic while they're at it, they're willing to pay that price.

Third, we are squarely confronted by the unavoidable evidence that spending cuts, austerity and every other cheaply camouflaged version of adolescent schemes for wealth distribution will not recover the US economy.  Of course the actual facts about the budget, deficit, debt and so on, mean nothing when voters never hear enough actual information -- or even take the time--  to know what they are.

Fourth, we must not expect the "fourth estate" to take any effort to rectify the incredibly saturating misconceptions it has been paid so very well to insinuate into public perceptions of such matters.

Fifth, we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that the traditional process of "checks and balances" remains in place.  Exaggeration?   Think back.  The time to have a debate about the drone wars was during the Presidential election.  The GOP nominee didn't know drones even existed, and the President could hardly  debate himself without "hanging his panties" in front of the FOXite bulls.

Sixth, don't think that the entire world doesn't knows all about the US Republican Party.  They see and hear the crazy, self-serving piety, the misogyny, the oligarchic colonial ambitions, the weirdly convenient religious fundamentalism and the shallow bellicosity.  The rest of the world also remembers the Bush Jr. "Church of Death," giving them pause should they have any inclination not to take the shatteringly grave but fickle "killing power" of the United States too lightly.

We're smiling because we have decided to paralyze the Senate, protect the rich and trash MediCare. (image source)

The rest of the world knows that the United States is now unable to ratify even the simplest international treaty.  The rest of the world knows that with Republicans tacitly in control of the Congress, American leadership is presently crippled, divided, paralyzed and and wounded -- mortally wounded.  The rest of the world knows that a political patriciate has absconded with the control of the American democracy, a recklessly ambitious monied class with obscured motives quite estranged from what has been made to appear to be a simple racist tantrum.

Seventh, our next task on the path back to nation maturity is to quit pretending that the Congressional part of our democracy can still work when the population suffers mass demographies of voluntary political illiterates.  Ask a few of your acquaintances why they voted the way they did -- if they voted at all.  Pay close attention to the verbs in their responses.

"I feel..."

"I believe..."

"I don't trust..."

These are not the way we vote in our democracy. 

These are all evidence of a carefully crafted, logical cul-de-sac.  These are not the products of investigation or even curiosity.  They certainly are not displaying  the evidence of responsibility.  They represent a logical cul-de-sac because each of them is a doleful solicitation to be delivered, not a statement of determination to run things as well as possible.

Should you encounter a conversation partner brimming over with facts and conclusions, you need to take note.  "This one is ready for 'checks and balances.'  This one has an opinion based on something beyond what someone else has simply told him."

The fact is becoming abundantly clear.  There is not a single American who is too busy to be up to his neck in politics.  The neglect with which we have indulged this destructive habit has now come home to roost.

President Barack Obama is famous for his cool, calm and collected attitude toward things.  However, when it comes to the nation's descent into oligarchy, the President is painfully aware.  His Presidential prerogatives during his term in office have been constantly limited by the perpetual threat of civil war.

Although such a war would have ground troops of hill billies fighting for issues of racist supremacy or salvation, the financiers of such a conflict would be a familiar clutch of faces indeed, the Kochs,  Addelson, Rove, Simpson and probably Romney along with the others.  Even the eager, fascist Supremes have remained perched and ready to leap and exploit such a fray.

There is only one power remaining on the planet which can halt this advance.  That is elections conducted by an informed electorate.  That idea, "informed electorate," means voters capable of debating and willing to engage in "checks and balances."

The dreamy ambition of the oligarchs is that they can manipulate that electorate just long enough to render it toothless and powerless.  Once they have accomplished that, the future of the Republic is permanently changed.  Citizens already lacking an interest in operating the democracy all around them will never rise up to challenge the established authority of their new masters.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

On the Ground! - the NM Windows Project

Rounding Out the Windows Project
                            MeanMesa fully acknowledges the difficulty in persuading our State legislature to depart from its current unwieldy, conventional "jobs creation" ideology.  Given our recent history, there is little room for glowing expectations.  It would also be unfair to direct all this blame at the present Governor, either.  The administration which preceded hers had plenty of bad habits, plenty of State revenue and no shortage of unworkable economic growth proposals of its own.
However, this series of posts -- hopefully -- has offered an argument suggesting a serious departure from these ideas of "economic development" we've seen in the past. For an argument such as this to "get traction" the ideas underpinning it must be individually methodical, robust and, most of all, completely clear.

This "poverty" situation may be one we've managed to come to accept, but the stark facts of the State's economy are, frankly, devastating.  New Mexico absolutely faces a disastrous situation in all the metrics which stand behind that "poorest state in the union" label.  This state of affairs is grave enough when considered only as an economic reality, but New Mexicans all over the State are also paying a terrible personal price, too.

In this series we have looked at general ideas about:

a "demand economy," 
the  history of incentives for businesses to relocated here,
the "one approach" mind set for tackling the problem,
the "supply side solutions"  to the State's systemic poverty, 
the MeanMesa proposal for the Windows Modernization Project,
the legislature's role in the project,
and, with this post, 
what the project would look like as it were being implemented.

The links to posts in this series are:

Supply and Demand in the High Desert
New Mexico: Getting Serious About Economy Growth
New Mexico: Recovery Jump Start or Marshall Plan?

[Click on this graphic to see the text clearly.]
We can envision following the windows project through a few landmark progress stages.

1.  Complete legislation and funding for pilot project

When the Round House is finished with their work, the pilot project will be legally defined and adequately funded.  An over all manager must be selected and hired, and as soon as this office is filled, a full time auditor should probably be the next employee.  

After so many and so frequent occurrences of pilfering and corruption have littered every effort our State has made for decades, we should make certain that the windows project goes over board for transparency and accountability.

2.  Design low cost, thermal windows

The actual windows which maximize thermal efficiency with low cost and ease of installation have to be designed.  The experience of those who have made windows in the past will be a great help.  The final design product needs to be one which is uniquely suited for use in the weather and conditions in New Mexico.

Many of the high end windows are designed for installation in areas with thermal insulation requirements quite different from those commonly found in the State.

3.  Set up staff and facility to finance window installation - train employees with rules

The pilot program will have, accompanying it, a pilot financing program.  There will be rules and conditions in the legislation which creates the program, and the financing section must be able to adhere to the law.  Applicants for subsidy financing or loan guarantees  must be processed correctly, and the results must be subject to an on-going audit.

It's too bad that New Mexico only has one Hector Baldera.

4.  Train workers for the pilot plant
5.  Train and certify window installers

The New Mexicans who will be constructing the windows in the manufacturing plant and those who will be responsible for installing the windows in homes across the State will need training.  Unlike the highly popular and expensive "job training" we see emerging from Santa Fe now, this training will be required for actual jobs when it's been completed.

The criteria for certification will not be extremely difficult to meet, but the process should be designed to discourage nepotism and influence peddling.  In a manufacturing environment, measuring the performance of workers is generally quite straight forward because the labor product can be directly counted.

All the employees in the program will be subject to State labor regulations, but each of them can be fired by the over all manager for failing to produce.

6.  Locate the pilot project plant in an area with high unemployment

The manufacturing facility for the pilot program should be located where the need for jobs is great.  Granted, all sorts of considerations would be easier if the plant site were in a larger town or city, but one of the attractive features of the program is its suitability to more rural locations.

When the pilot program has been through its "shake out" phase, manufacturing facilities can be located all across the State.  Once the full program has been implemented, there could be window manufacturing facilities in six or eight locations.

The State of New Mexico already owns buildings which were never able to be used for their original purpose.

7.  Hire some experienced window makers for setting up the pilot plant
8.  Design the plant, infrastructure -- use existing facilities where possible

Throughout this series the idea of hiring manufacturing workers with window making experience has been repeatedly suggested.  A window making plant is not a hospital, computer factory or a space port, and the advice of experienced workers in the trade will prevent this pilot project from becoming expensively similar to any of those things.

These same experienced window makers will play an important role in directing the training programs for window construction and installation certifications.

The "plant and infrastructure"  mentioned here can actually be rather simple and inexpensive.  Preliminary ideas along this line should include everything needed with respect to roads and utilities, warehouses, site developments such as fencing and area lighting, fire suppression and so on.  The design of the pilot program facilities should accommodate license and code compliance requirements.

9.  Plant construction

The pilot program -- as is the case with all aspects of the project -- should require in-state labor and firms for its construction needs.  Every effort should be taken to make sure that money spent for the project winds up going to a business somewhere inside the State.

Remember, we're working on creating a demand economy, not creating over fed, out of state contractors with connections in Santa Fe.  Don't fool yourself.  This type will be clustered in the shadows, and they will all "know" somebody.

The basic legislation setting up the pilot program should include strong state procurement practice regulations.  All facility expenditures should be designed, specified and bid as compared to the all too popular, "I'll take care of it." approach.  This is designed to spread economic growth all across the State, not simply create another cell mate for Manny Aragon.

10. Set up materials suppliers
11. Set up transportation needs 

At least some of the materials procurement which corresponds to the final design of the pilot program's windows  will, necessarily, lead to out of State suppliers.  New Mexico does not currently have a glass factory -- although it could -- and the State has no logging industry capable of providing the scale or type of materials which will be required.

Contracts to supply the materials needed for the pilot program's manufacturing must be bid and purchased under the State law.  Transparency in the procurement process will be very important. 

Warehousing has been mentioned before.  The inventory needed to support the manufacturing must be determined, and the transportation needed to bring materials to the plant as well as haul windows to installation sites will also need to be organized.

MeanMesa suspects that some of the trucks needed could be extracted from the annual flow of obsolete vehicles which are routinely replaced by the State government.

12. Accept orders for window purchase and installation

When there are completed windows stored in the facility warehouse, trained installation crews, a functional management staff and an operational financing and loan office ready to to business, the pilot project will be ready to accept -- and fill -- orders for new residential windows.

Be Ready For the Bumps

Of course we should anticipate some difficult days as this thing slowly becomes a reality.  For exactly this reason the management of the project must have not only a proven problem solving capacity, but also a good history of learning from mistakes.

Right away we can assume that the State's "free enterprisers" will start howling when the legislation is first proposed in the Round House -- and keep howling long after the first satisfied customers are able to enjoy their homes made warmer and more efficient by their new windows.  We know this bunch.  We've already seen them in action.

Another probable obstacle will be seen when State legislators, frightened with the prospect of actually having to manage something useful, will run screaming off to hire every consultant they can find.  Although consultants are conveniently available to accept not only their over priced consulting fees, but also any politically damaging blame which might arise in the process, our legislators will, most likely, want to stick to them like glue.

So, to keep our eye on the ball, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we're trying to begin a demand economy, create jobs inside the state and help residents have a better life -- not over feed a clutch of parasitic consultants.

Let's make some windows.  Let's start actually solving some of our problems.