Making 'Merica Great "Again"

Aside from the Trumpetes’ foolish jabber about turning back the clock on technology, trade, energy and natural resources, employment and management skills, and reality, I think an examination of what it would take to return our economy from a deficit to a surplus system is an interesting idea. Of course, Republicans deserve massive credit for driving the economy deep into deficit spending: Reagan and Bush II were both huge deficit spending believers. In spite of their big talk about the terror of deficit spending, Republicans absolutely rebelled when Obama told them he expected future spending bills to be on a “pay as you go basis.” The Party of Stupid is also the party of “borrow and spend” and nothing is going to change that in any foreseeable future.
However, if we did suddenly become responsible and decide to put on our big boy pants and do the dirty work of turning around the economy, what would we do? This is my list, in order of importance:
  1. Money and politics has to go. Not only does Citizens United need to be overturned, but we need a Constitutional Amendment banning private money (corporate and individual) from our political campaigns. That law needs teeth, as in “you get caught, you hang.” We won’t seriously look at any real solutions until our government is not bought and sold on a daily basis.
  2. The tax system has to be fixed. We’ve been at “war” since 2003 and the only way to pay for wars is to progressively tax income until the war debt is gone. I can see how eliminating the corporate tax could be incentive for business in the US, but that has to be coupled with doubling-down on unearned income taxation, inheritance taxes, and upper-income tax rates. Continuing to encourage rock stars and athletes, banksters and money laundering, and Trump-like con artists with tax incentives to do unproductive money-shuffling has cost the country at least two generations of scientists, engineers, and people who could be doing actual work. Incentives are everything and our current tax system provides incentives for exactly the wrong things; including activities that endanger national security.
  3. The world is on the metric system and the longer we put off moving to modern weights and measurements the less competitive American companies and workers become. Face it, nobody but us cares about the length of the King’s fuckin’ foot. If you think that is an exaggeration, the only non-metric countries in the world are: Burma, Liberia, and the USA. Talk about being late to the party! Thomas Jefferson was the first President to recommend the metric system and we still can’t figure it out. Not being comfortable with the world’s weights and measurements puts a serious crimp in the abilities of American workers, technicians, and engineers. It makes many of our manufactured products useless to the rest of the world. Constantly doing mental or paper/computer conversions slows us down, creates errors, and makes Americans look backward and foolish to the rest of the world.
  4. graphThe current slow death of religion has to speed up. Currently, about 18% of people 60 and younger attend church and fewer than 50% believe in God. That's an improvement over the past 50 years of superstition, but not enough and not nearly quick enough. Every thing from science, energy production, employability, democracy, to national security is being damaged by our national proclivity toward superstition and fantasy. To keep up, we’ll have to grow up.
  5. The war machine and military-industrial complex have to go. Not only do we have to quit pretending we're the world's policeman, we have to admit we suck at the job. We can't tell national security from corporate interests and until we can we need to put our weapons back on the shelf. The US loves war, but we can't afford it. As a peace-keeper, we’re not that talented.
  6. Our public education system needs to be overhauled. First, private education needs to die. When the wealthy can abandon public education and do everything in their power to contaminate the discussion about how to educate the whole country to benefit their class, the whole country gets screwed. Finland provides us with a terrific example and, since our own experiment has been a disaster, we need to look to someone who has built a wheel that actually turns and supports weight. As Jeff Beck said, “Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” We need to rip the pages out of Finland’s education reform book and paste them into our own system.
  7. We have to go back into space. The brief moment when 'Merica was great by almost everyone's standards was when we were in the Space Race and were focused on a big accomplishment. The scientific and industrial spin-offs from NASA were incredible. We owe much of what we know today about climate change to NASA's research. As crippled as our industrial and scientific power is today, without the space race we'd be 3rd world. This is a no-brainer.
  8. Every “for profit” industry in the country needs to be re-evaluated to see if it is working better than when those activities were performed by non-profits and government. Personally, I think deregulation and privatization has been a disaster, but I have not made a scientific study of every area where it has been applied. I have been upfront and close to education, health care, energy, and infrastructure and I am unimpressed with the performance of the private sector.
  9. Our legal system needs to get over its power tripping and empire building and develop a sense of proportion. Police need to go after big crime and quit screwing around with the easy and safe stuff. Victimless crimes do not belong at the top of the priority list. The War on Drugs was a fraud and it’s long past time to admit it. The big money and long-term damage to society is in white collar crime and that’s where the main enforcement and prosecution focus needs to be: cybercrime, financial fraud, corporate environmental and consumer abuse, and the government contracting corruption and bribery that risks national security. Our prison system needs to be refocused on rehabilitation rather than punishment and revenge. We can not be the country that leads in citizens incarcerated and hope to be anything resembling “great.” National, state, and local police departments are over-staffed with unskilled goons who are great at beating up protestors, jailing small-time criminals, and protecting corporate criminals, but they are helpless when it comes to tracking down the lowest-level hacker who has ripped off a few thousand retirees bank accounts. Our law enforcement system needs to be updated and technological to get the right job done. Use the Pareto principle to identify the most effective places to spend time and money and quit knee-jerk reacting to squeaky wheels.
That’s my list. What have you got?


Getting Answers Without Making Enemies

Back in my management salad days, we had a manufacturing engineering rule that stated, “Any new paperwork/procedure has to directly benefit the person who does the work.” This put some pressure on management when we began to add quality control processes to assembly line jobs. Anytime we wanted to add an inspection, a check box on an inspection form, or a self-monitoring quality control chart to an assembler or technician’s job, we had to find a way to prove to that person that we were making their job easier, giving them more control of their work, and/or upping their value to the company (making it possible for them to make more money).

I get reminded of this requirement every time someone sends me a SurveyMonkey link. Most recently, Google sent me a link to a 3-question about the effectiveness of AdSense, Google’s blog page revenue generator. That pretty much fits my rule. I make a few dollars every month from my blogs and optimizing that revenue would be important to me if that revenue were a critical part of my family income. It took a few seconds to complete the form and, hopefully, we both got something out of the exercise.

On the other hand, an organization that my wife and I occasionally participate in sent us a survey about a change in the organization’s leadership. While there was no indication of how many questions I’d be asked, after a page of questions I realized I wasn’t committed enough to having my voice heard to waste any more time with the survey. I made it far enough to get to the second page, looked at the repetitiveness and irrelevancy of the questions and bailed out. Back in my academic days, I created a collection of surveys for the faculty senate and administration and I made an effort to be concise and user-friendly. I am perfectly happy to be out of that business, though. Doing that kind of work in a poorly managed environment is a wrestling match between the control freaks and the information collectors. I’m only interested in the information and did everything possible to ignore the control freak requests.

Some questions are more complicated and absolutely require more questions: the Myers-Briggs Personality test or the Political Compass analysis, for example. Otherwise, if you can’t get the answers you need in ten or fewer questions, you need to think harder about what you really need.


Buying Fantasies, Ignoring Reality

I wrote, a while back, about my confusion with the crowd of people who use the excuse, “I don’t believe that,” as an argument against facts, logic, experience, and objective observation. Many of these people have interpreted a variety of religions (Islam and Christianity, can’t tell ‘em apart from their fundamentalists.) or by their self-limited world views in ways that prevent them from absorbing information or new skills. As if being uninformed was a credential, too many Americans are convinced their lack of education, skills, or insight makes them specially suited for evaluating the accuracy of science, historical research, sociology and psychology, and politics. This weird worship of stupidity seems to be raising its moronic little head in every area of American life. To the absurd point that one of the least talented, educated, capable, moral or honest people who has ever lived is not only The Party of Stupid’s presidential candidate but who has accumulated a hoard of uneducated, thoughtless, violent and destructive whacko minions large enough to threaten the US political, social, and economic systems.

Wallace Kansas (4) 20120223 DSquatThe problem with going with “I don’t believe that” as a personal philosophy is that it limits every aspect of your life. Lots of difficult-to-swallow things are true: science and engineering history is packed with ideas that were practically worshipped for centuries and, later, proved wrong. A scientist or engineer who hangs on to wrong ideas quickly becomes unemployed and unemployable. An individual who clings to old ideas and skills becomes the human equivalent of a buggy whip. You might be the absolute best buggy whip ever made, but there aren’t enough buggies around to support a hobbyist, let alone a professional. People in the Midwest are waiting for the family owned farm economy to come back; mtr1along with the small businesses and services once needed to support that economy. People in West Virginia are waiting for coal to make a resurgance; regardless of the fact that if coal does come back it won’t employ miners but a few huge equipment operators who will decimate the Appalachian Mountains so that the area will be unlivable for centuries. The problem red state dependenceisn’t that these people are incapable of adapting. The problem is that they refuse to admit that they need to adapt. They desperately want to believe the world will return to how it was “when America was great” and time, technology, international trade, and their own skills will revert to a simpler day. It is never gonna happen, but they refuse to “believe that” and they may continue to refuse until they either die or break the bank.

As long as these long-suffering people insist on clinging to their own past, they can’t be retrained for new work because their philosophy over-rides the scientific method and logic. Worse, possibly, is the fact that the few people living in those places who can adapt tend to simply move away rather than fight the tide. I know. I’m one of those who moved away.


Dreams and Nightmares


I lost a friend this week for not having sufficient sympathy for one of my daughter’s in-laws. In retrospect, I think a good bit of our disagreement was about “the American Dream.” The term, "the American dream," first appeared in 1931. Author and historian, James Truslow Adams (1878-1949), wrote about this concept in his book, The Epic of America. He said, [the American Dream is] “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” That is pretty much in line with my own concept of what the American dream should be, along with the goal that my children will be able to come closer to a life that is “better and richer and fuller ” than my own.

whoever_dies_with_the_most_to_bumper_bumper_bumper_stickerSince the 80’s, the American dream has become something more closely linked to “stuff.” The bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys, wins” is more the current version of the American dream than Adams’ description. This is nicely tied to the business man’s claim that “time is money,” when every artist on the planet knows the reverse is true. Money is pretty much just paper or bits of useless metal, at best. Donald Trump proves, with his every living moment on this planet, how little money can actually buy. Most people wouldn’t choose his petty, selfish, friendless life over almost any other lifestyle, cb2bd64378be8ddc0756acdfc0c84c08but (supposedly) he’s “rich.” He has a lot of toys, but he’s a miserable, miserly person. I’ve known homeless guys (We used to call them “hoboes.”) who were happier, more interesting, and were more satisfied with their lives than Trump and his family.

The lack of sympathy, mine, that blew up a decades-old friendship was over this disconnect. For almost twenty years, these in-laws have made it clear that my wife and I are not up to their standards of consumer-ship. They and their son took any opportunity to make comparisons between our possessions and theirs. Theirs were always heavily-leveraged with second mortgages and credit cards and ours were second-hand purchases made with cash. They lived on the edge of bankruptcy until they finally fell off.

My step-grandmother and other role models drilled into my head that I always needed enough savings to survive for at least three months without employment. After the recessions of the 1970’s--and 80’s and 90’s--I grew that paranoid safety margin to at least six months and the older I got the more safety margin I felt I needed to build. Through the Dotcom years and the insane first years of this century, as I approached my 60’s, my willingness to gamble with either credit or speculation vanished completely. The world looked insanely out-of-control and my investments became more conservative by the year until—against all advice from my stockbroker and bank—almost all of our money was in US federal bonds and FDIC insured CDs when the 2007 Great Recession hit.

In the meantime, our daughter’s in-laws doubled-down on everything from new cars, boats, a luxury home in the Nevada desert, and spent money they would never have like it was pixie dust. Then the market crashed and I had to worry about my conservative securities and property. They ended up losing everything and living in a leased cross-country semi, mostly running from debt and living day-to-day. They even resorted to selling their underwater Nevada home to their own daughter, transferring that back-breaking debt to her family.

Like the ant and the grasshopper story, I should (I’ve been told) feel sympathy for the grasshoppers and gamblers who bought into the “time is money” and “the most toys, wins” delusion. I suppose it’s the Midwestern Calvinist in me (according to my wife), but my patience with stupid is all played out. And there wasn’t much there in the first place. These are the same people who bought Reagan’s “greed is good,” who went along with Bush/Cheney telling us we can carry on two expensive wars and reduce upper-income taxes, and who now believe that Trump (a man who can’t make money owning a casino) will make “America great again” with a big wall and negotiating our national debt with China the way he negotiated the bankruptcy of his own six businesses.


Running out of Material

June 10, 2013

In 1997, when I started writing Rat’s Eye Rants, I was 49 and pissed off. I couldn’t have imagined ever running out of material to write about. For some reason, I thought there might be others as pissed off as me who’d want to hear my thoughts and who might add their own to make the Rat’s Eye into a discussion site. Never happened, which mostly gave me some painful insight into how unwanted, unneeded, and dysfunctional my view on modern life was. Weirdly, my same outlook on motorcycling turned into a well-read column in a magazine, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, and a million-plus-hits blog, Geezerwithagrudge.com.

Early in the first decade of this century, my Rat’s Eye output dwindled. When I first started writing the Rat’s Eye, I was working for one of the worst managed companies I’d ever experienced (and I’ve experienced some seriously terrible management). I had the thought that there was almost as much to learn from bad management as good. The first few years of the Rat’s Eye were all about mismanagement because I had a bit of misplaced faith that capitalism and business were something less than pure evil. After five years with Telectronics and five years with Guidant, my faith in capitalism, industry, business, and humanity took a turn for the worse. Since then, when I hear children and other uneducated people babble about the terrors of  “overregulation” and big government, I assume I’m listening to the jabbering of an idiot and tune out. Shit and cream both rise to the top and shit is, apparently, far lighter than cream in a corporate environment. Worse, the structure of most corporations quickly turns cream to shit.

Could be I’m wrong. Maybe toward the end of 2016 I might still be pissed off and full of ideas. I doubt it.