How Much Can You Afford?

We recently went camping in the Olympic National Park in Washington. Luckily, I have a senior pass, so I did not have to pay the $25 fee to enter the park, and only had to pay $10 a night for camping instead of the standard $20 per night. But this got me thinking. Without the senior pass, I would have had to pay $85 for 3 nights of camping. Washington State parks and local County parks are even worse.

The “mission” of the National Park Service goes as follows: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” And similarly, for the National Forest Service: “To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Its motto is “Caring for the land and serving people.”

Given the increasing number of Americans who are falling nearer, or even below, the poverty level, I have to wonder if these two great organizations should change their mission statements to say “…. this and future generations who can afford it,” and “… present and future generations who can afford it,” and “… serving people who can afford it.”

Now, I understand that it costs a lot of money to maintain our national parks and forests, and to staff these services, but aren’t the fees charged tied directly to the funding given by Congress to these services? Cuts in funding will inevitably cause increases in the fees charged.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s America, being able to afford it has become a requirement for just about everything, whether we are talking about the luxuries of life or the necessities of life. Plenty of health care, but only for those who can afford it. Being represented by your elected officials is prorated by how much money you have to spend. Freedom and liberty? The quality of your defense in any court of law also depends on how much you can afford to pay. It seems that even the inalienable rights our Founding Fathers so proudly described now only belong to “those who can afford it.”

Necessities of life, like food and shelter, all cost money. The determining factors of how much potential we are blessed with do not include wealth, skin color, gender, or nationality, but the determining factors of how much of our potential we fulfill do include such things as opportunity, education, and lack of hardship. Potential is non-transferable, and national potential is simply the summation of the individual potential of ALL Americans. So it follows that national accomplishment is diminished by wasted potential in ANY American, be they rich, poor, black, white, Christian, or Muslim. Without opportunity, potential is wasted. Without education, potential is wasted. With great hardship, potential cannot be fulfilled, and is wasted. With unchecked illness, potential is also wasted.

So, the conclusion that must be reached here is that helping your fellow American is helping yourself. The next great genius is just as likely to be born in the ghetto as in Beverly Hills, so things like health care for all Americans, education of equal quality in every school district, and social programs and taxation that helps the middle class and poor, instead of the wealthy, all serve to increase the amount of American potential that is fulfilled, and thus the level of accomplishment of America as a whole. And that is good for everyone and bad for no one.

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Running The Government Like A Business

There is a fatal flaw in the idea of electing a successful business executive to be President and run the government. This idea is based on the theory that experience in successfully running a large, complex business organization will be useful experience when it comes to running the government. To a certain extent, this is true. But the fatal flaw in this reasoning is the fact that the government is not a business. The goals and the measures of success are very different for government than for a business. The overriding goal, and the measure of success, for a business is making a profit, unless we are talking about a non-profit business, such as a charitable organization.

In a for-profit business, the goal is to enrich those running the business and the owners of the business, the stock owners in most cases. This is done by having as many customers as possible spend as much money as possible on the business’s products and services. And yes, the best way to do this is to satisfy the needs of the customers, but it can also be done through fraud and things like predatory lending.

With the government, the customers are the people, and the people should also be the owners, but unfortunately, with the way our elections work, the real owners are the wealthy donors – these are the “stockholders” of the government. The bottom line is that running a huge complex organization for profit is not the same as running it for the sole purpose or enriching the lives of the customers – the people.

Still don’t see the difference? Think about this. A business would be perfectly happy having a few billionaires spending millions on their products, while 99% of the population goes without because they cannot afford the product. The government cannot and should not operate in this fashion. The “products” of the government need to be equally available and accessible to ALL the people. That is a completely different paradigm than that for a business.

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Think About It!

If you are a Conservative and think you hate big government. If you are one of those who thinks social programs are unfair and just take money out of your pocket and give it to those who are lazy or undeserving, then I have a question for you.

Do me a favor and think about your life, and what is important to you. Then try and identify that one person in history whose accomplishments have resulted in what now most positively impacts your life. Maybe this is a great scientist, philosopher, artist, musician, or politician. Whatever technology, medical discovery, idea, invention, or cultural accomplishment has been the most beneficial and important thing in your life, given you the most joy, happiness, money or other fulfillment, that thing exists and is available to you because of the accomplishments of those in the past. Maybe it is as simple as your parents or ancestors working hard and becoming wealthy so that you can be wealthy also. In any case, identify the one person most responsible in the past.

Now that you have a name in mind, imagine that person having been born into abject poverty and not being able to fulfill their potential and make those accomplishments because all their energy was required just to stay alive. Imagine that person dying at an early age because they had no access to health care, and the result was they never made the accomplishments that make your life so worth living.

My point is that every human being has some level and manner of potential for accomplishment, and where the greatest potential appears among humans has nothing to do with race, color, affluence, nationality, or any of the labels and divisions we create to separate and categorize human beings. And here is another relevant truth. Potential is non-transferable. You cannot take it from a poor kid and give it to a rich kid. Also, accomplishment can only come from potential, and the accomplishment of a family, a city, a state, a nation, or any other societal unit, is the summation of the accomplishments of all the people within that societal unit. If any member fails to reach their potential, then their accomplishments are less, and the accomplishments of the entire societal unit are less as well.

So, here is the bottom line. Those of us who support social programs and universal health care do not do so because we have bleeding hearts. We do so because we know that increasing opportunity and reducing hardship are things that help people fulfill their potential and do great things, and the greatness of America depends on Americans, ALL Americans, reaching their potential and doing great things. If you agree that the purpose of government is to assist a nation in accomplishing great things, being strong, being safe, and having a high standard of living, then you must also agree that it is also the duty of government to do what it can to reduce hardship and provide opportunity to all Americans. Inequality is not only a bad thing because people are suffering and have less, it is a bad thing because people are denied the opportunity and freedom from hardship that they need to fulfill their potential, make great accomplishments, and thereby make America and ALL Americans greater, safer, and more affluent. Think about that!

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March Letter To The Editor

So, Trump supporters and Conservatives – are you capable of being honest with yourself?  If yes, then you know that, if Obama had issued a tweet about Bush like Trump did about Obama, he would have been impeached and you folks would have been in an uproar, possibly an armed rebellion!

In fact, there are hundreds of things Trump has done or said, as President, as a candidate and before, which done or said by ANY democrat at ANY level of government would have resulted in that politician being run out of office on a rail and out of politics for good.  You know it’s true.

So, what is wrong with you people?  How can you give Trump a pass on so many things that you would condemn any Democrat for?  How can so-called Christians support a man who was caught on tape saying he tried to “move on” a married women “like a bitch” and that he likes to just grab women by the genitals?  How can Fiscal Conservatives support someone who filed for bankruptcy 6 times?  How can family value advocates support someone who has been married 3 times and cheated on his first wife?

One Conservative told me he doesn’t like having money taken from his pocket and given to someone else.  Is that what you people think social programs do?  I’ve got news for you, that’s exactly what the GOP does, but the “someone else” with them is the very wealthy!

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Redistribution of wealth?

Redistribution of wealth – oh how the Republicans like to trot that phrase out as an evil when they are trying to cut Social Security and Medicare, or ANY program that helps the middle class and poor.
 
But in fact, because the economy ONLY works from the bottom up, and not from the top down, a more appropriate term would be “reinvestment” of wealth.
 
On the other side of the coin, making the middle class and poor pay more for health care while providing big tax cuts for the wealthy, is indeed an evil redistribution of wealth. It is evil not only because of the suffering and hardship it causes, but also because it slows down the economy when consumers have less to spend on things other than health care. Insurance executives and the elite rich are the only ones who benefit, and the benefit is only short term.
 
In defending Ryancare, Republicans are pointing to deficit reduction, but as always they seem to be only aware of one side of the deficit equation – government spending. But the other side of the equation is government income, primarily through taxes. Trying to reduce the deficit ONLY by reducing spending on benefits to the middle class and poor, while simultaneously reducing government income with tax cuts to the wealthy, is not a sustainable policy. It will only help with the deficit short term. Eventually, less consumer spending equals less demand for products and services, equals less profits for businesses, equals fewer jobs, equals less income for consumers, equals less consumer spending… and so on – a viscous circle that will never end.
 
The ONLY long-term impact of the Republican strategy is shifting the burden to the middle class and poor, increasing their hardship and suffering.
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Political Lies

So, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes, but lost the electoral vote. A very close election, by any measure.

Throughout the campaign, Trump and his cronies, and the GOP, told many, many blatant lies about Hillary and leveled many false accusations. These were not hidden or hard to check on lies, they were lies and accusations that could, and still can, be easily fact-checked and proven false.

As a result, Hillary lost the election, did not get the job she was applying for, lost a chance to make history, and also by any measure, was severely damaged as a person.

Now, I’m just a logical guy, and as such, I must bring up the obvious logical question. Just what logic or reasoning or law or regulation prevents Hillary from taking legal action against those whose lies caused her so much loss, heartache and damage to her reputation?

Surely slander, libel, defamation of character, and other legal remedies should be available to Hillary, and for that matter ANY politician, when outright lies about them cause such damage to their careers and reputations?

By what logical, reasonable, or sane reasons are political speeches and campaigns exempt from laws and regulations that govern every other kind of communication? If this were an individual who was applying for a high-paying job and did not get it because he or she was slandered on national television, surely legal action would be taken. Are those who have careers in public service and must be elected to get the positions they desire any less deserving of these protections?

As Donald Trump has so tragically demonstrated, American politics are rife with lies, deceit, and character assassinations, and the targets suffer just as much loss as those in the private sector. And with politics, the damage often extends way beyond the individuals involved to the entire country and even the world.

Is it not true that a voter who has been deceived into voting against her or his own self-interest has effectively had his or her right to vote denied? Is that, in itself, a crime against The Constitution?

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The Chicken Or The Egg??

Unlike the famously unanswerable question “what came first, the chicken or the egg,” the economic question of what comes first, Supply or Demand, is easily answered. It’s not rocket science. Without consumer demand, nothing happens, regardless of how much capital businesses have on hand.

 

Entrepreneurs and inventors do not begin by asking themselves “how much will it cost to make” or “what capital will be required to begin.” These things become important later in the process, but the process begins by identifying a want or need that consumers have that is not being filled. How many people will need or want my product? How many people will be able to afford it? How much will they be able to afford to pay for it? The answer to these questions is what drives innovation and business growth.

 

It is true that, when businesses and corporations have cash on hand, they can grow their business by investing in increased production and hiring more people. BUT, this ONLY happens if the consumer demand for their products and services is high enough to justify an increase in production. No business person in their right minds is going to invest in increased production if there is no consumer demand for their products!

 

So, what factors influence the level of consumer demand for a product or service. The two main types of demand are determined by what consumers NEED and what they WANT. Everyone NEEDS the bare necessities of life, like food, shelter, and health care. The need for these things is fairly static and is not impacted by cost, availability, or affluence. Just because these things become expensive does not mean that people can afford to go without them. Conversely, as people become more affluent, the quality of the necessities they purchase may continue to increase, but not the amount. If you are not hungry, you are not going to order more food at a restaurant. One can own only so many houses, and if you are not sick, you’re not going to be spending a lot more on health care. So basically, consumer demand for the necessities of life is tied more closely to how MANY people there are, not how much money they have.

 

The 2nd category of consumer demand involves what people want to have or would like to have, and this is directly tied to their discretionary income – income that is above and beyond what is needed for the basic necessities of life. Discretionary demand is by far the largest component of consumer demand, and it is the most variable and volatile type of demand. This is where most of the opportunity for economic growth and increased profits lies. And this kind of demand is tied directly to how much discretionary income consumers have.

 

The economic law of Supply and Demand basically says that, if the Supply of a product increases, the price is reduced due to competition, and this stimulates increased demand. But businesses can not and will not reduce their prices to a point where they are losing money. On the other side of the coin, if Demand increases, then consumers are willing to pay more, and this stimulates businesses and corporations to produce more – Supply increases to satisfy Demand. And if businesses and corporations do not have enough cash on hand to increase production or enter a new market? Well, there is a whole segment of the economy dedicated to providing the funds necessary – banks and other financial institutions, and venture capitalists. If you can demonstrate unfulfilled Demand for your products, you will have no problem obtaining the cash, but if there is no demand for your products, then banks will not lend you money, venture capitalists will not invest in your business, and there will be no competition in your market.

 

So, I assume that all Americans want a robust and growing economy, increasing profits, and a higher standard of living for all. So, what economic policies should government institute to cause this to happen? The rhetoric from the Right and the GOP would have you believe that “Trickle-Down Economics,” another name for Supply-Side economics, is the way to go. They talk about the “Job-Makers,” and say we need to have more tax breaks for the wealthy, subsidies for corporations, and lower wages for employees, all so that businesses can afford to increase production and create more jobs. And when doing this results in huge government deficits, out of the other side of their mouths they try and tell you that we have to cut social programs and reduce funding for the Arts and other programs to reduce the deficit.

 

This strategy is, of course, trying to put Supply before Demand, and as such is fatally flawed. In fact, cutting social programs and not increasing the minimum wage is actually reducing the amount of discretionary income consumers have, and thus reduces discretionary demand for products and services. Think of it this way: if you were a manufacturer of toasters and coffee makers, or a retailer selling these items, what do you think would better stimulate the economy and make your business more profitable, having the government give a million dollars to each of a hundred billionaires, or having the government give a hundred dollars to each of a million poor or middle class folks? How many toasters or coffee makers do you think the hundred billionaires will buy?? How about the million middle class and poor folks who now have an extra hundred dollars to spend?? As I said, it isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense.

 

So, the best way for the government to help build a stronger and more robust economy is not to give money to the wealthy and hope it “trickles-down” to everyone, but instead to give more money to the average consumer, and it WILL “bubble-up” to everyone, including the wealthy!

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$1.5 Billion – For What??

According to donation statistics for the 2016 election, just under 1.5 Billion dollars in campaign contributions was raised. For a moment, forget about Republican vs Democrat and think about that number. The percentage of the US population that donated $200 or more was just 0.68%! Only one tenth of one percent of the adult population gave $2,700 or more. Just 2,910 donors gave $100,000 or more.

Those are the numbers, so what’s your reaction? My first reaction is to think about all the good that $1.5B could do if it wasn’t wasted on politics. My second reaction is that a tiny number of people are investing huge sums of money into political campaigns, and to what end? It is folly to believe that these folks are investing these huge sums without expecting something in return.

Now add in the facts that most elected politicians begin worrying about reelection the moment they take office, and that getting elected in our current system requires huge sums of money. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to come to the conclusion that less than 3000 people actually control our government, We The People be damned!

I also have a third reaction. Given that almost all of the money raised is spent on the campaigns, just what is this $1.5B being spent on? Who is receiving and profiting from this spending? Is this a whole cottage industry that contributes to the economy and creates jobs? The answer to this is probably ‘yes’, and this may be the only positive aspect of this entire mess of an election process.

However, because the money is basically being spent on the creation and dissemination of information to American voters, via media outlets, campaign speeches, and thousands of other avenues, there is one salient fact that is so caustic and destructive that any small benefit from all this spending becomes irrelevant. What fact am I talking about?

The fact is that there are absolutely no limitations on, or controls over, the validity and truthfulness of the information being disseminated! Politics is exempt from any “Truth In Advertising” regulations. There are no consequences for committing slander, libel, or defamation of character when it comes to politics. So basically, $1.5B can be, and mostly is, spent on deceiving the American voter. Whomever spends the most on the biggest lies wins! Thus a phrase I like to repeat: “A voter deceived is a right to vote denied!”

There is at least one caveat to all of this. Like everything else in life, it is not this simple and straight-forward. Yes, it’s true that in 2016, the Democrats raised more and spent more than the Republicans. And it is probably true that the Democrats had as many big-time donors as well. But it would be a very large disservice to the truth and reality to simply lump both Parties and all politicians into the same bucket of crap. Yes, we MUST get the big money out of politics and have publicly funded campaigns and somehow take all the lies out of politics, but if you pay attention to the content and tone of Republican campaigns vs. Democrat campaigns, and more importantly, look at the actions of these politicians while in office, it is crystal clear that “We The People” are VASTLY better served by the Democrats than the Republicans. As long as the GOP is in control, our election system will only get worse. The only hope lies with getting Democrats in control first, flawed as they are, and then work towards a better system.

https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/

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Are You Tired Yet??

My February letter to the editor:

So, Conservatives, are you tired yet?  Tired of the spoiled immature brat who grew up into a bully, and that you elected?  Tired of Trump pointing fingers and blaming everyone other than himself?  Tired of your incompetent President and his impotent Administration angering America’s long-standing allies and giving huge recruitment gifts to Isis and terrorists.  Tired of the Executive Branch of your government acting like The Three Stooges without the humor?  Tired of the petty, vindictive, clueless, blustering, egomaniac you elected to be your President?  Tired of the lack of respect and outright attacks on our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and every tradition, check, and safety net that history has shown us to be necessary to prevent a Democracy from slipping into a dictatorship?  Tired of the man who praised leaks of information when it was hurting his opponent, but when they are about him, he calls them illegal and wants to prosecute?  Tired of someone stupid enough to rant about classified information being leaked, and then calling the reporting of that same information “fake news” in the same sentence?  Are you tired of your President getting caught in a flat-out lie in a press conference, and shrugging it off by saying “that’s what someone told me”?  Tired of a President more concerned with lying about his “big election win” than solving problems?

Well, don’t blame me, I voted for a qualified, experienced grown-up, not a Russia-sponsored snake-oil salesman who pulled off history’s greatest, and most dangerous con job!

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Someone!

Someone needs to stop this maniac! And NO, I am not suggesting any form of violence!

Someone in the GOP, someone in government, someone in the Judiciary, someone somewhere knows the policy, procedure, law, or precedent that can be used to stop Trump.

Someone, somewhere has the information, the evidence, the proof, or the recordings that can be used to stop Trump. You do not live Trump’s life for as long as he has without leaving behind the evidence and proof that will reveal who you really are. There is something somewhere that is shocking enough that even Trump supporters will have to sit up and take notice.

Someone in the GOP needs to come to their senses. Someone with even a speck of common sense, integrity, or conscience needs to start the ball rolling and stand up to Trump. Someone, somewhere among the wealthy supporters of the GOP, someone among the Conservative pundits or bloggers, someone in the Conservative power establishment or in charge of a gigantic multi-national corporation must come to realize that, where Trump is taking us, no one will come out ahead.

Someone, somewhere needs to see past their greed and lust for power and realize that turning America into Russia or a third-world country is a threat to what they already have, and will not get them anything they want.

Someone in Trump’s family or his empire must see the insanity for what it is and do something to help stop it. Someone in the Religious community must finally feel the shame and get on the bandwagon to stop Trump.

Setting aside the millions of Conservatives who have been deceived into supporting their own destruction for a moment, someone, some few, among the thousands who create and control that deception must finally realize that they have gone too far.

To the World, to the Muslim world, to Islam, and yes even to ISIS and radical Islam, I say this. Please realize that the vast majority of the American people are victims in all of this, not culprits. We are either against what is happening, or have been deceived into supporting it.

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