Tag Archives: economy

100. Basic Causes of Greatest Concern

10 Mar

In my 100 blogs to date, I have tried to cover important governmental, social, medical, and related issues, that profoundly affect our way of life. In this, my 100th blog, I will list some of our most significant current issues, and maybe some possible solutions. I know that my blogs are sometimes imperfect and not very original, but my purpose is to increase the number of voices urging important changes and understanding. So here is a list of ideas to emphasize:

Our American founding fathers when creating the Constitution and other rules, were afraid of the kind of populism that we see today. So they tried to move important decisions away from the ordinary citizens and towards more responsible and intelligent leaders. Here are two examples supporting this lack of trust:
1. The establishment of an electoral college, to prevent direct citizen voting.
2. Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, and not the people.
The founding fathers were afraid that ordinary people could be scammed by unscrupulous politicians. They anticipated someone like our current President.

Societies that over emphasize capitalism and the importance of financial success, foster corruption so that clever manipulators accumulate vast wealth, much of which belongs to the people. It is apparent that anyone (or party) in office for a long time will drift away from the people’s needs and develop methods for increasing their wealth. These methods include donating to Congressmen who will legislate tax loopholes and unfair subsidies.

An age requirement for U.S. President is not enough. Tax returns must be required and other financial and business details provided. It is too easy for very rich people, once in office, to make decisions best for their businesses and not for the country. A notable example is the transport minister for Azerbaijan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. His covert construction contracting, participation in money laundering schemes, and wide-ranging contacts made him extremely rich at the expense of the citizens.

Corruption and unjustified accumulation of wealth, is not limited to politicians. Almost every vital service needed by the people, such as healthcare, education, and insurance, has cheated the citizens and made administrators (and others) hugely wealthy. Many of these rich people donate to Congress and through resulting legislation, make themselves even richer. Donations to congressmen has shifted vast amounts of money away from ordinary citizens, to undeserving administrators (making many millions of dollars). For example, median total compensation for ceos of major teaching non-profit hospitals is 1.35 million. Many make much more. Is it right that many millions of dollars are given to hospital administrators while poor people are being rejected (even die) for lack of insurance? Important services should be provided by the government at little or no cost. I feel that administrators and certain others should be allowed to become somewhat rich, but not extremely so.

Clarification: All “Western” or developed countries are a combination of capitalism with some socialistic features. Pure capitalism allows the unlimited accumulation of wealth with no financial protections for the citizens. Pure socialism is an economy totally controlled and owned by the state. In the USA (and many other major countries) capitalism is primary, and there are “social programs” in areas such as healthcare, education, and supporting the poor. Shifting some funds from the very rich to the very poor through taxation changes and programs like Medicaid is not “socialism,” it is simply the addition of a “social program.”

Last but not least, is the unethical and self-serving practices of many doctors, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners. Diagnoses and treatments are often are more determined by cash-flow than by what is most beneficial for the patient. Here are some examples. In the area of severe back-pain, diagnosis is usually a defect in the spine, and the possibility of simple excessive muscle strain and tension is ignored. Procedures for spinal defects are very expensive whereas procedures for muscle tension simply involve (at no cost) frequent muscle stretching. Here is an example from dentistry. Several years ago, my teeth would develop a dark blue hue, which could be removed by a professional teeth cleaning. Two dentists I went to urged me to double my teeth cleaning sessions, and spent little effort in trying to determine the cause. Fortunately, I was able to figure this out myself, and saved a lot of expense. The blue colored mouthwash I was using, dyed the teeth, and there was even a warning on the label. I could provide a lot of other personal examples, and many are described in previous blogs. An excellent book on this subject is “Confessions of a Medical Heretic”, 1979, by Robert Mendelsohn, MD. This is an old book, but still very applicable to many current physicians (but definitely not all).

Is there a quick fix for all of the forementioned issues? No, but major efforts to improve education could be transformative. Knowledge is important, but developing an ability to reason and research is even more relevant. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that our current administration would fear a well-informed electorate.

99. Change Yes, Trump No

4 Mar

I think our country needs some radical changes to preserve it, and make it exemplary again. Forget Trump’s “great  again”, let’s make it admirable, honorable, and respectable. This blog is “BasicCauses” and I want to look at some of the fundamentals of our system.

I am going to make some major criticisms so I want to make it clear in advance, that I am happy to be an American, vote every election, served in the U.S. Army, and enjoy free enterprise, having created two successful businesses. I generally support the fundamental features of our current governmental system, but believe we need some significant basic changes. The arrival of Donald Trump as our country’s leader, emphasizes the need for  re-thinking.   Please consider the following:

1. The Primary Process and Voting does not yield the best leaders. This is hard to fix, and probably the best solution, better education, may not be effective for a long time. Many poorly educated voters do not have the reasoning and research skills to make the best judgments. Long held and obsolete beliefs are barriers to better choices.

2. Congress is organized so as to promote gridlock. Our current system has too many barriers to completing legislation. There are many different changes that could speed up law making. One thought that I have had is to have one large legislative body and require 52% of votes to pass a bill. Filibustering would not be allowed, but short speeches from many would be allowed.  The quality of legislation could be improved by adding to this body,  various specialists such as University representatives. A major reorganization will not occur in my lifetime, but starting to think about it is important and I may discuss it more in future blogs.

3. The “fourth branch of government”, the press, is being oppressed. It appears now that we need to pass laws or find other means of protecting the press and allowing them to criticize without recrimination. Also, the citizens should clearly support freedom of the press.

4. Rich donors should not have powerful control of our government. I suggest a maximum donation of $100 for all citizens and no donations allowed from corporations or other organizations. Let’s abolish the super pacs and have a true democracy.

5. Our middle-class is not benefiting enough from our nation’s success. We need to abolish tax-loopholes and increase rates for the very rich.  Many wealthy corporations and individuals pay no tax at all because of loopholes.  Even the Pope has criticized “trickle-down” approaches, which rarely work, but are advocated by the GOP.  (“Trickle-down” means: give lots of money to wealthy businesses and simply hope that some will trickle-down to the rest of us.)

6. Congress should not police and regulate itself. An independent body should do this. (The same goes for all Healthcare organizations and many other service areas.) Unfortunately, with today’s polarization, it is not easy to find truly independent persons.

7. A potential problem is “privatizing.” This means moving a function run by the government, to a private, for profit company. A consequence is that some rich person (and staff) will make huge amounts of money and emphasize profits over proper services. In most cases, the benefits of competition do not make up for all the money lost to over-paid executives. For example, privatizing prisons was a failure and was abolished. Politicians sometimes threaten Social Security and Medicare with privatization, which would decrease benefits.  I have said more about this in previous blogs.

81. All Complex Systems are Corruptible

18 Dec

I research medical matters, politics, science, economics, artificial intelligence, manufacturing, and many other topics — mostly because I just enjoy learning. As a result, I see our world as a fascinating collection of complex systems, some natural and some man-made. But in the last few years, I have been impressed by the fact that corruption is everywhere. An interesting and symbolic illustration is contained in a TV series, Life After People showing the deterioration of buildings and other man-made structures — if humans suddenly disappeared. We see how nature insidiously destroys our prized cities, buildings, roads, bridges, etc. Our world is a combination of new amazing structures like the International Space Station, and, all too often, tragic deterioration like the devastation of Aleppo.

Challenge: Name one large complex system without some corruption

Here is my brief list of important corrupted complex-systems:
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1. Life. Almost all living species have corruptive elements. Everyone is familiar with the effects on life of viruses, harmful bacteria, and human mismanagement.
Anti-corruption forces: doctors, other healthcare providers, and the people, themselves.
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2. Computers. At an early stage, computers and their attackers began to evolve together. They are attacked by a variety of viruses which function very similarly to animal viruses. In both cases, viruses modify existing control elements (DNA for life and circuit logic for computers) to reproduce themselves, and to destroy what they have infected.
Anti-corruption forces: numerous anti-virus commercial programs and government and private agencies.
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3. Internet. There are hackers that steal and alter private information, web-sites that promote false political information, various scams, utility disruption, etc. Like the computer topic above, corruption evolved as the Internet evolved.
Anti-corruption forces: specific government agencies, police units, and some commercial and private operatives.

.        Worldwide, governmental systems are replete with corruption

4. Governments. Worldwide governmental systems are replete with minor and major corruption. Aggressive and often ruthless people are able to become presidents, prime ministers, congressmen, agency directors, tribal chiefs, etc. It is a natural process for such people to gradually take more and more for themselves and provide less for the people. In most nations, a greedy royalty class” emerges that is devoted to increased power and wealth. In many of my previous blogs I have discussed various details of this type of corruption. Very rich people find ways to increase their riches by corrupting officials. Corrupted leaders often lie about things that concern them and re-write history according to their agendas. They often discourage public education, education in general, and attack the press.
Anti-corruption forces: The responsible press, bloggers, ethical politicians, and informed voters.
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5. Businesses. These have several types of corruption. Within a business, competition for advanced positions can be ruthless, and in order to increase profits, faulty or even poisonous products can be sold. Business leaders often corrupt congressmen to benefit themselves and their organizations. Many lobbyists are the vehicle for corruption. Anti-trust laws, first developed in 1890 and 1914 illustrate ongoing USA private enterprise exploitation. The Enron Corp. disaster of 2001 is a lesson in corruption.
Anti-corruption forces: special police units, ethical businesses and politicians, informed citizens, whistle-blower employees, etc.
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6. Sports. A wonderful example of a corrupted complex system is organized sports. Gamblers have bribed athletes to promote their betting. Athletes take potentially harmful drugs to promote their performance. Even governments have participated in this type of inappropriate drug activity. Olympic Game officials have been prosecuted for illegal practices.
Anti-corruption forces: the press, governmental units, police, informed citizens, etc.

.    Corruption is a part of every large system — because it is profitable

There are so many susceptible systems that I cannot cover them all. A few more are healthcare practices, hospitals, schools, and religious organizations. Just added today, foreign interference in elections.

Conclusion. The several examples listed above suggest the universality of complex system corruption. An interesting development is “blockchain” which is a new way of recording and operating almost all financial interactions — and could be effective. It is touted as the ultimate international financial system and as being incorruptible. But history tells us that clever hackers will probably find a way in. It is clear to me that any system created and operated by humans, where it is advantageous to do so, will be negatively exploited. Why is corruption so ubiquitous? — because it is profitable.

After my final editing of this blog, I sense the excessive negativity that I have created. So I want to encourage the reader by saying that the world is also full of safe and enjoyable experiences that we can explore and must expand.

53. Global Dysfunction

3 Apr

To understand the major world problems, we must first separate two important levels of analysis:
Level-1: Morality and ethics (in a practical sense, MOST important).
Level-2: Understanding the way things work, apart from value judgments (also necessary).

In our everyday world and when we vote, we must observe Level-1, Morality. When we try to understand “basic causes”, we need to use bodies of objective knowledge like history, anthropology, and science. And the method must be unbiased reasoning.

The major “basic cause” for global dysfunction (wars, corruption, poverty, etc.) is a natural process of evolution. There are other causes, but I consider the following to be most important. Evolution is a Level-2 consideration and is independent of values and morals. It would be nice if nature included morality in evolution, but it does not. Governments, political parties, corporations and various social groups have a tendency to become more powerful and rich, as a natural process — OR — they simply fade away (like unsuccessful extinct species). Success often involves subtle or hidden corruption, because evolution is morally neutral.

Let’s start with an important example. I believe that the wars in the Middle East are a result of corrupt government evolution. Government leaders, if left alone, will tend to become more powerful and rich. As governments become richer, obviously, the people will lose out and poverty will grow. Any country with a large population of poor people is unstable and is subject to violent correction: revolution. Why is this happening now? Because technology has promoted communication and people are better able to see the corruption and unfairness of their governments. They also see other countries where the people are living better than they are. Rising corruption and improved communication reach a bursting point and violence ensues.

UNREGULATED INSTITUTIONS TEND TOWARDS CORRUPTION

Here are some other examples of natural, but corrupt evolution, more close to home. Banks tend to become larger and richer through mergers and questionable competition. As they develop greater size, they can better influence government bank-regulations to promote their profits.

Insurance companies evolve so that if unregulated, premiums rise and benefits diminish. Some politicians assert that we should not let government come between our doctors and us — but are perfectly happy to let profit-hungry insurance companies do just that. The assertion that competition among insurance companies will correct their corruption is not supported by history.

Educational institutions like universities, also evolve to create impossible high costs for education. The solution for this problem is complex and perhaps we need a total revision of the system. One of my thoughts on this matter is have three or four year public (tuition free) colleges where the learning functions are the total focus, and research, sport, and social functions are mostly eliminated. This will be detailed in my next blog.

Manufacturing corporations become gigantic and control Congress through campaign contributions. Enron Corp. a great example of the corruption of corporations that are not properly regulated. Many people in corporations are good and responsible, but it’s often the case that the most clever and greedy people rise to the top and cause horrible problems.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION ?
Generally, more education is helpful. More people speaking out about injustice, lies, and corruption is helpful. Changes to campaign financing are essential because political contributions have a choke hold on our officials. But this is difficult because our current congressmen are a product of this system. It will take a major (non-violent) revolution to break this harmful cycle so that the greatness of America can be restored (yes, a poke at a common political sound-bite). The press could play a bigger role in identifying lies and corruption, but reporters and publishers seem somewhat controlled by fear.

The founding fathers, President Dwight Eisenhower and other great leaders have recognized these problems, but the leaders that profit from corruption are already so rich and influential that change is difficult. Some presidential candidates are obsessed with following the original constitution but disregard the fact that checks-and-balances were included to fight this very evolutionary pitfall, which is a problem as old as the rise of civilization. Final thought: It’s really more complicated than I have presented above, but I think these ideas emphasize an analysis commonly overlooked, and contribute to the ultimate solutions.

48. Morning Joe “Trickles Up”

8 Mar

I was about to totally condemn Joe S. when I did some research and now I have to mitigate the criticism. I am retired and often stay up late at night. So late, that I often watch the early political show “Morning Joe”. This morning I decided to denounce Joe for his advocacy of torture and for his overly aggressive interaction with a female guest. His badgering reminded me of O’Reilly who is a master at suppressing his guests with fast, loud talk.  [Added later:  I changed my mind about Joe’s badgering, when on March 15, he made a gallant defense of Hilary Clinton’s record.]

That would be that, but as I did some research on Joe S., I discovered to my amazement that he condemned “trickle-down” economy, which is advocated (in a subtle way) by the vast majority of Republican leaders. This approach, also called “supply side” economics, says that the way to support non-rich citizens is to give more money to rich people and corporations. This extra money to the rich will make stronger corporations and promote hiring and better wages for the workers. In actual practice, however, this does not happen, and the rich simply enjoy the extra money. Instead of supply-side economics, Democrats tend to advocate a “demand-side” economy. If wages are raised, there will be more spending and the “demand” for goods will increase. Increased demand will promote production and hence economic growth.

For a few decades, now, we have had “supply-side” economics because more and more money has been diverted to the rich.  And everyone accepts the finding that income has substantially increased for rich folks, while for others, income has been stagnant. Every published budget by the GOP candidates has included lower taxes for rich people. In previous blogs I have presented more details.

46. The Candidates 2016

26 Feb

I just watched the latest Republican debate tonight (Feb. 25, 2016) and, being a Democrat, I felt really good about the Republican self-destruction. The press and the candidates all want to complicate the issues, but the fundamentals are really clear.

An examination of written budgets and various issues have indicated, for many years, that Republicans are primarily interested in making fortunes for very rich people and corporations. This is accomplished by lowering tax rates for rich people, simplifying tax code, abolishing regulations, gaining subsidies, etc. When you simplify tax code or reduce regulations, its easier for rich people to circumvent rules. The salaried workers gain nothing because the rules are already simple and fixed for them. Republicans are unashamedly committed to blocking the progress of Democrats and Obama, even if it results in destroying our country. It is Republicans that are dysfunctional, not Congress in general.

So Republicans have a fundamental problem. They can’t be honest and say to folks: “vote for us so that we can become even richer.”

Religion is just a diversion. Under both parties, there is no restriction on beliefs or place of worship. Both parties will provide a strong military, both will follow the Supreme Court and the established law. On the question of foreign policy, both parties are saying about the same thing. But I would assert that Democratic candidates are generally more thoughtful and careful in their decision making.

Here is my brief assessment of the highest polling candidates:

TRUMP: Impulsive, over-simplifying, unthoughtful, inconsistent and unprepared. He cannot be corrupted by wealthy contributors because he is already corrupted.   He is committed to all the negative factors listed above in my second paragraph.  He is a genius at making money for himself, but how does that help the rest of us. He panders to less-educated people. (Please see my previous blogs about Trump.)

RUBIO: Definitely a good candidate for high-school class president. Not ready for prime time. He may mature and be ready for the 2020 or 2024 election, but he does have the traditional negative GOP values.

CRUZ: He reminds me of the infamous Joe McCarthy, Senator from 1947 to 1957. Or maybe he is more like Pres. Nixon who presided over a culture of dirty tricks. I can picture him telling religious folks that they should plant a seed with him for $1000 and this will be returned, through divine intervention, with a 10-fold profit.

H. CLINTON: A really brilliant women who has the right ideals and has a long list of substantial accomplishments. She is quick witted and debates really well. She would make a very good President.  All of the GOP “scandals” are nonsense and strictly political.

SANDERS: Frankly, what Sanders is saying now, I have been thinking for many years, and it is wonderful to find someone who is enthusiastic about real change.  People like me need to have hope, and Sanders says the right things. If he were to become President, he might only accomplish half of what he is proposing, but even that would be marvelous. The sad part is that he is somewhat lacking in presidential charisma, which doesn’t bother me, but it could affect his success. I voted for him because I would like to give him a chance to show what he can do.

My dream for President and Vice-President is some combination of Clinton, Sanders, and the amazing Elizabeth Warren. I would like to see all of them working to restore our country to greatness: a true democracy, where caring for its people is the main goal.

43. GOP Tax Nonsense

14 Feb

Republican candidates of 2016 have promoted three main ideas for income tax rule improvement:

1. A lowered tax rate for all, but continuing the current general system.
2. Simplification of income tax code.
3. A single “flat” income tax for all.

Where details on plans have been supplied there are some variations within each plan.  All three ideas are seriously flawed and all three provide great benefits for the wealthy, which is why Republicans propose them. And they provide great benefits to their rich campaign contributors.

1. Any lowered tax rate for very rich people will result in either higher taxes for the non-rich or reduced services for them. Its always a see-saw: reducing one causes increase for the other. People at the lower end of the pay-scale pay little or no taxes at all, and so do not benefit. But lowering general tax rates always makes the rich richer.

2. Republicans always love a really simple tax code because they would avoid all of the rules that prevent them from abusing the system. Ordinary workers with salaries already have a simple code and can finish their returns in a couple of hours; or can pay someone a few bucks to do it for them. On the other hand, rich people usually have complex incomes, expenses, deductions, stock trades, salaries they pay, business entertainment, IRA’s, bonuses, subsidies, etc. Rich people like fewer rules because rules limit what they can get away with. It is similar to their dislike of regulations. The more flexibility they have in preparing their taxes, the easier it is to game (cheat) the system. It takes a lot of code to cover all the possibilities. For example, there are many ways to describe what constitutes a valid “business meal expense”. Buy one of those cheap, tax code summaries and you will see all of the situations that need to be covered. I personally ran two small businesses so I understand why the tax code complexity is needed.

3. Most Republican candidates have advocated a single “flat” income tax with a rate of 10 to 15 percent for all. With that plan, rich people greatly benefit: a reduction of the 35% rate to say, 15 percent. Poor people who can barely survive on what the earn, would pay more than their current zero payment. One Republican candidate said: that’s OK because everyone should have some skin in the game — and this candidate is an avowed Christian.

Finally, why is it wrong to make the wealthy wealthier, and the poor poorer? The main reason is that over the last few decades, as the rich profited, they were more and more able to “bribe” congressmen with contributions, so that they would create tax and subsidy laws to make the wealthy even richer. Another reason is that when extremely rich banks and insurance companies failed, the ordinary tax payers had to bail them out. It is also true that most very rich people use a lot of resources such as extra policing, government services, military protection, etc. And they have accountants and lawyers to help them make even more money. Its Ok to be rich, but when some people are homeless and/or starving, the extremely rich need to give some back.