10 June 2016

Cuomo v. Citizens United

It is a shame that political action committees and other big private and corporate spenders can have as much a determinative effect on the behavior of American voters as the Supreme Court has allowed them.  The confusion of campaign (mostly media) spending with free speech is not as distorting of our constitutional values as the reliance of a large portion of the public on a  third-party advertising production instead of their own analysis.   The republic was founded on the belief that the common citizen was committed to the goals of the union and would set the direction of government policy based on his judgment of what would best achieve them, not on what the most well-funded advertising campaign told him
The pervasiveness of mass media exposure in Western countries has robbed their residents of autonomous personal thinking.  This is not the fault of the media; it speaks of societal laziness in an era of prosperity-mentality, regardless of the Great Recession.  If New York Governor Cuomo intends to reverse the consequences of the Citizens United decision, he must mount a national program of incentives to motivate voters to reduce their dependence on Madison Avenue-packaged political information.

09 May 2016

Trump’s Contempt

The repeated exaggerations, misstatements, contradictions and inaccuracies of Donald Trump’s rhetoric during his 2016 Republican primaries campaign does not just display his recognition that his supporters are less interested in him as a source of reliable information than as an effective spokesman for their frustration.  Those tactics really expose his utter contempt for the intelligence of the voters on whom he depends for overthrowing the GOP’s establishment. 

Donald Trump has enjoyed exercising the power that his wealth provides.  It is a sad comment on many of his supporters that they cede power over them to someone who has great monetary wealth no matter how he amasses it or how he uses it.  The traditional Republicans and other leaders who oppose Trump’s capture of the nomination resent the possibility that so contemptuous a person will be in line to lead our nation.

That resentment similarly characterizes the reaction of international officials to a possible Trump Presidency.  They translate it into the contempt they feel all Americans must have for the rest of the world to even consider it ok to elect someone like Trump to be the “Leader of the Free World.”

07 May 2016

Targeting U.S. Nuclear Policy in Iran

Commentators on Roger Cohen’s OpEd in the 5/7/16 NYT (“U.S. Policy Puts Iran Deal at Risk”) have focused on reducing Israel’s nuclear arsenal and pressuring its governing regime to change its support for terrorist or strategic Islamic activities.  As long as a religious organization, like the Revolutionary Guard Corps, governs a regional powerhouse like Iran, U.S. and liberal democratic objectives in the Middle East will be frustrated. 

It is commonly said that American culture is widely admired by Iranians.  However, millennia of repression in their society, ruled by autocrats since before Darius, have sensitized opinion-leaders to choose acquiescence to strong-arm government as standard behavior.  This is bound to change because of the information revolution brought on by the Internet.  However, their willingness to resist religious repression is not likely to strengthen any sooner than the corrupt dominance of the Revolutionary Guard Corps would decay as a result of lifting the U.S. trade embargo, as favored by Mr. Cohen.   Moreover, a change in the Iranian government’s international policies must happen first in order to make the end of the embargo acceptable to a Republican-controlled Congress.

Are there enabling tools that the U.S. can provide to the Iranian opposition?  Or is it a matter of convincing them that such resistance is likely to succeed?  In any case, wouldn’t that subversive policy undermine the nuclear agreement?  The large Iranian diaspora in the U.S. suggests the existence of a natural well of liberal democratic sentiment on which an opposition movement could draw.  Mobilizing that movement from a U.S. base would be a more productive target for American policy than direct antagonism of the Iranian governing regime.

06 May 2016

The Obama Recovery and Transforming America

President Obama is disappointed that the economic recovery of the U.S. from the 2007-8 Great Recession is still not sufficiently appreciated by many in the  country (“The Obama Recovery,” Andrew Ross Sorkin, the NYT Magazine, 5/1/16).  However, his prescription for remedying the slow speed of growth in today’s global economy is a fool’s errand.  To attempt a levelling of the playing field by improving labor conditions and environmental controls abroad, particularly in the Far East, should not be the mission of the U.S. government—it would be too interventionist and too costly.

The government is a tool the people can use to incentivize MNCs to react to overseas competition by investing in the reeducation of American labor to take advantage of the information revolution that has transformed U.S. industry.  It’s not simply retraining that is needed, as President Obama acknowledged.  It is recognition by capital investors and labor leaders that the American workforce is grounded on a very advanced and widespread knowledge base that allows it to rely on other economies to supply more rudimentary human skills to complete its manufacturing tasks (not to mention by relying on imported labor to complete many of its service industry tasks.  Understanding of that transformation of the labor market would diminish the power of Tea Party and right-wing enthusiasts that dominates the politics of 2016’s Republican Party nomination primaries in rust-belt states like Indiana.)

America is changing into an information society.  The eradication of its vestiges of physical labor on the factory floor (and in farm lands) will lessen, if not remove, the leverage on its politics held by those who manipulate blocs of easily-influenced dependent thinkers.  Moreover, as summarized in the 5/6/16 Washington Post, Americans do not buy as much “stuff” as they did in the past, reducing the demand for manufacturing output and for the factory floor jobs that produce it.  Public policy should focus on broadening autonomous thinking among Americans in order to maintain the country’s world leadership.

17 April 2016

Disappointing Nuclear Sanctions Relief

Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif should be most disappointed that all the work they put into the agreement between the U.S. and Iran has resulted in no significant increase in economic benefits for Iranian consumers or industry.

The domestic political situation in the U.S. is indeed partially responsible for the reluctance of U.S. and European banks to encourage their corporate clients to do business with Iran.

The revenge of the bureaucrats in the U.S. for the Iranian U.S. embassy hostage crisis has been to encumber trade with Iran.  Moreover, trade with Iran has become less important to the U.S. and Europe in the last thirty-seven years, when Chinese and Indian industrial growth, Russian gas, U.S. fracking, and other developments have transformed international economic relations.


22 March 2016

Readjust Labor for Effects of Free Trade

Businesses ought not to be punished for moving production to low labor-cost countries, because they suffer from it for political reasons.  Business should be incentivized to change production methods in order to take advantage of the higher education and skills of U.S. labor.

Government intervention in the market is needed to minimize the external costs of readjusting the labor force to the new requirements of lower-cost labor competition caused by free trade.  Incentives must be provided to influence businesses to respond to the political demands of displaced workers.  The market itself is unable to supply such incentives in time.  Readjustment required by free trade agreements has been estimated to take as long as ten years.

26 February 2016

Three Reasons We Appear to Be Sicker Now Than Before

People my age seem to have more afflictions than I remember my parents’ generation suffered from.  There are at least three reasons I have this impression:

1)      Medical diagnosis methods and technology are vastly improved.  There are many more illness conditions nowadays, although it may be that we have just identified more of them.

2)      Communications have much expanded our personal awareness of the afflictions of our fellow human beings; in days past we were just not cognizant of how badly off the rest of humanity was.

3)      All of us are living much longer than our predecessors.  Because we are older, we experience many illnesses that our predecessors never lived long enough to encounter.

Would we trade longer lifetimes for fewer illnesses?  As long as our faith in the advances of science lasts, I guess not.

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